December 15, 2003

Journey to Wild Divine

Like Jill, I'm fascinated by the idea behind The Journey to Wild Divine game, an "Inner-Active" computer game, which uses biofeedback rings as a central user interface.

In my dissertation work, I'm working towards an examination of embodied computing in gaming that broadens the reach of the avatar beyond a simple sprite-representation on the screen. You can find some other posts along these lines in the category ergonomics, which is the broad term I use to discuss game hardware and HCI -- see the 6th paragraph of this post if you want a brief description, or see my Level Up proposal, which was accepted (unfortunately, a limited travel budget hindered my ability to attend).

I'd really like to experiment with this (and the P5 glove and PS2 Eyetoy) for my dissertation, but it's just not in the family budget. Has anyone ever had success in requesting 'review copies' of game material for dissertation work? It sure would be nice if I could check it out from the library...

Also check out this article, which briefly describes how researchers manipulated users' bodies by sending small electric currents to alter the balance of the inner ear. [via blog - Pål tænker]

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August 15, 2003

PS2 EyeToy

With the PlayStation 2 Eyetoy, you actually become the character on the screen.

I'm curious to see how this plays out [pun intended, cue laugh track]. I remember when I was in elementary school, my folks took my brother and I to Disney World and Epcot Center(recently opened, I believe). My memory is dim on this - it was nearly 20 years ago - but I remember a purple dragon mascot for Epcot and a game of sorts where you would step into an area and do things that the speaker told you to do: "Run!" "Duck!" "Jump!" On a screen, your image would stand with the dragon and his friends, so it looked like you were running or jumping next to them.

I will be curious to see how well the motion tracking works...

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July 3, 2003


Use your middle finger for something other than standard gestures while on the road. [via /. ]

This really fits in with some of the work I've been doing on gesture in games like Black and White and browsers like Opera.

Edit: Another one: Nudges And Vibrations Enhancing Games

Edit2: And while we're at it - this looks like a rad compilation: Midway Arcade Treasures, which is to include (quoting here): "the following classic arcade games: Spy Hunter, Defender II, Gauntlet, Joust, Paperboy, Rampage, Marble Madness, Robotron 2084, Smash TV, Joust 2, Bubbles, Road Blasters, Rampart, Sinistar, Super Sprint, 720, Toobin', Klax, Splat!, Satan's Hollow and Vindicators. In addition, the compilation will include interviews with the creators and developers of these games."

Some of my favorites. If only I could get a copy of Burger Time, I'd be a happy man.

There. I'm done. For now.

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June 26, 2003


Nooface - news about the "post PC interface" [via Matt]

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June 20, 2003

embodied interaction

found a review of a book - Paul Dourish. Where the Action is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. MIT/Triliteral, 2001. - at PURSE LIP SQUARE JAW by
Anne Galloway
(an interesting blog in itself that I found while rummaging through some folks' blogrolls)

Seems to be in line with ideas I want to work through regarding the body's role in (so-called) "interactivity".

So many books to read... and Harry Potter just might get in the way of it all.

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April 28, 2003

Col. Mustard, in the blog, with a keyboard

One of my favorite games of all time is Clue, the "classic whodunit game!" Some people who know me may have heard me angrily mutter under my breath "Col. Mustard with the lead pipe on 495" after a driver cut me off, or "Prof. Plum with the rope in the seminar room" during a frustrating class lecture. I loved this game enough that it became part of my anger management process.

Not only did I have the board game and rent the film more times than it was healthy (you needed to watch at least 3 times for the 3 different endings!), but I also had the Clue VCR Mystery Game (1985), which allowed you to adopt one of the characters as your own while you watched several mysteries play themselves out on the television. Each game (there were several on the tape) allowed you to not only guess "whodunit" but also what characters your (real-life) opponents represented. The acting was terrible, of course, but this was popular "interactive fiction" of 1985, alongside the Choose Your Own Adventure books (the first of which was published in 1979).

So New York Times reports that a Dungeons and Dragons -style DVD - Scourge of Worlds: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure is forthcoming. No, this is not the flash-in-the-pan movie, but a "roleplaying" experience, where you guide your character through a series of choices in order to come to one of four conclusions. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure on DVD. The creator says:

"This is a hybrid," said Dan Krech, president of DKP Effects. "We want to bridge the gap between a video game, a movie and the Internet."

I'm surprised by what seems a backwards approach to developing "interactive fiction" - DVD technology for gameplay does not measure up to the possibilities afforded by a gaming system or a computer. While DVD players might serve well enough for a game like Dragon's Lair and other Laser Disk-style games (in other words, 1980's "one-button" games), the richness of RPGs like Neverwinter Nights will certainly overshadow such a hybrid. After all, who likes to play a game with a remote control?

Right now I'm working on an abstract for a paper I would like to present at Digital Games Research (DIGRA) 2003 Conference (full call available here; abstracts due May 1). My working title is "All Thumbs? Ergonomics, Materiality, and Gameplay" - I want to talk about a specific component of gameplay: ergonomics. I've brought this up briefly before and have been thinking about this since Geoffery Rockwell gave a guest lecture at MITH about gaming. He proposed a rhetorical approach to game interactions (he was mostly speaking of text-based adventure games); when asked during the Q&A about ergonomics, he said that he thought he would leave that for the computer scientists (not a direct quote, but close). The implication was that the body was for science and representations of the body were for the humanities. Ever since, I've been working through this idea of ergonomics and gameplay - how do input devices affect our sense of play, or sense of immersion? How important is the material component of a controller or even a book to our playing or reading practices? [side note: I noticed that one of the articles listed in the Video Game Theory Reader is titled "Stories for Eye, Ear, and Muscles:Video Games, Media, and Embodied Experiences," by Torben Grodal. I'm anxious to see what it says.]

All of this points to the idea that various media have specific methods through which users/watchers/players/readers "interact" (that word again); these methods are based in part on the material conditions of the work. I agree with Matt - the "M-word" just doesn't cut it anymore. Material conditions are an implicit part of our critical vocabulary (ok, I think they should be anyway) - now we need specifics. The current battle, at least in video game studies, is a disciplinary one (which is, of course, inherently political). Christopher Douglas recently summarized many of the discussions currently at play in the field (at least from a humanities point of view), so I don't feel the need to draw up a complete history. I would like to emphasize what I believe are three key ideas implicit in the development of game study as a genre:

1. To paraphrase Stanley Fish, being interdisiplinary is hard. Games are indisciplinary, which means they not only draw from many disciplines, they generally require many disciplinary approaches to understand them. The current battle over whether or not narrative, film, rhetoric or other approaches are *the* approach is somewhat moot. The answer is, of course, that they are useful in their own way, but must be stated with the understanding that they are but part of the (undefined) whole. Why does this need to be said?

2. Because many of the battles waged over the "new-ness" of the field and the proper disciplinary approach have as much to do with creating or maintaining political boundaries as anything else. Claiming a "new" genre as part of one's own discipline emphasizes the importance of that discipline. Likewise, by claiming that games are outside of current disciplinary realms, one carves out a space for games not only intellectually, but politically. The "new" requires new departments, new journals, and new financial support. But one must also be careful in separating the "old" from the "new" - in claiming the new-ness, there is implicit danger in ignoring the historicity of the subject. Games, in other words, were not born from a vacuum, nor are the theories used to describe and investigate them. Which leads to:

3. Methodology and theory are not the same thing. An important follow-up: theory written in stone is no longer a theory. So what's the point? I think we should be less concerned about seperating ourselves from former theories (narratology, film, or whatever) in the study of games and more concerned about how games revolutionize our thinking about older media. We also need to pay strict attention to and even emphasize the importance of our methodology (Aarseth, for example, clearly draws from narratology, just as Manovich draws from film), rather than trying to distance ourselves from the weight of previous theory. The importance of games comes not only from their "new-ness" but mainly from their ability to help us reshape conceptions of so-called "older" media, reformulate previous (and always incomplete) theories, and increase interdisciplinary rigor - all necessary components as creations, memes, characters, themes and stories permeate the weave of media.

Case in point, Games to Film Frenzy, an article I found following a link from Klaptrup's Cataclysms, lists about 20 games that are in various stages of development as film projects. I've been tempted to name the first decade of the 21st century "Revenge of the Geeks" as I look around to see the popularity of comic book characters and games in film work, while shows like Buffy and Angel (in my mind at least) continue to put out some of the best writing on television. In other words, the mutant, the freak, the supernatural, the superhero - in short, the realms of the "geek" (a proud title, in my mind) - prevail. Reading over the list, however, I'm not sure many of the films will do much better than Super Mario Bros. or Mortal Kombat.

In the midst of all this media convergence talk, I'm most excited about the forthcoming Matrix titles. Both the film The Matrix Reloaded and the game Enter the Matrix are released on May 15th. As the game's website states: "This game isn?t just set in the Matrix universe ? it?s an integral part of the entire Matrix experience, weaving in and out of the highly anticipated 2nd installment in the film trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded." A recent issue of PC Gamer reported that the game cost some $30 million in production. The collaboration between game makers and film makers resulted in a series in which a character might exit the frame in the film only to enter a frame in the game.

I suspect that it is in the storyboard stage that we will begin to see true convergence, where the material condition (the mechanics, or the engine) helps shape the overall story progression. More than just the difference between cut scenes (the section of the game that is usually more like film), I see this as active choice - how do we tell a story *best* using as many media as possible? Not just remediation - game to film (or, in the case of Clue, board game to film and VHS game) - but rather a co-mediation. A term such as convergence can be misleading, however, and so this bears repeating: the materiality (the "M" word) - meaning the interface, the physical manifestations of print, screen, and performance, and even the ergonomics - will serve as crucial aids in understanding the current and developing media ecology and our relationship to it.


The Dragon Lair's Project has more information on laser disk games.

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April 16, 2003

Hands On Gaming

Check out the new P5 glove by Essential Reality.

I've long held an interest in the role of the body not just as a textualized, abstracted entity, but as a physical materiality in relation to media objects. In other words, I'm entranced by how we react to media objects - how we read, watch films, play games. What does our body actually do, and how do media objects help form habits, manipulate our bodies, and so on (Hayles might call these "incorporating practices"). I'm interested in all sort of reading, writing, watching, playing performances - interactions. The P5 reminds me of that failed Nintendo product of the 90s - the Power Glove. Hopefully, the P5 will fair better.

Lest we forget other fun game peripherals: the Nintendo Power Pad!

From the Power Pad instruction manual (source):

"Persons with heart, respiratory, back and joint problems, or high blood pressure or under a physician's direction to restrict activity should not use the Power Pad without a physician's advice. Pregnant women should not use. Serious personal injury can result."
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