February 7, 2007

Humanities Magazine: NEH Chairman Cole Interviews Steven Johnson

I admit no small amount of surprise when I first saw an image of an Xbox controller featured in the latest Humanities magazine, a bi-monthly publication from the National Endowment for the Humanities. While the images are (unfortunately) only in the print version, you can read online the Chairman's interview with Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for you.

I find the whole dance around whether or not video games can be "good" morally, or "good" aesthetically ("great art"), versus just good for stimulating problem-solving skills, quite fascinating (both in the interview and in Johnson's book). But overall, it's great to see games talked about in federal grant-making agencies, at least. The recent interviews with folks like Johnson and Vinton Cerf reflect NEH's continued interest in humanities computing (having provided funding for many of the largest projects in past years), an emphasis that has been recently reinvigorated by the Digital Humanities Initiative.

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January 9, 2007

Zone of Influence

Matt Kirschenbaum has a new blog, Zone of Influence (zoi.wordherders.net), in which he talks about games and, specifically, board wargames. In his "Welcome" post, Matt describes these types of games as ...

cardboard computers; they are instruments for modeling, prediction, and prognostication, but by their nature they are open source with the algorithms laid bare in numerically expressed outcomes on charts and tables. The only “black box” is the designer’s intentions.

He has several posts available already, so be sure to read them all and, of course, leave comments.

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December 22, 2006


Play this, then watch this.

And this.

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December 14, 2006

Games Research Bibliography

The Digiplay Initiative has created a dynamic, wiki-style Games Research Bibliography. Worth checking out and contributing to.

Posted by Jason at 9:35 AM | TrackBack

October 25, 2006

FAS Report of the Summit on Educational Games

The Federation of American Scientists released their report on last year's Summit on Educational Games, which I found to an engaging, informative event. Check out the "Fact Sheet" for the short version, and take a look at some of the educational games FAS produced, including Discover Babylon.

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July 20, 2006

So Grave a Matter

May 7. There hath been a sad case. A woman and man hath been fined for playing cards. They lived very near the meeting house. The fine was five pounds, but Uncle John says it should be more for so grave a matter.

-- Hetty Shepard's Fears about the Future of New England, 1675-77

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June 21, 2006

Bending Stories

Probably one of the more concise, understandable descriptions of a kind of "interactive narrative" I've seen:

The idea of Bending Stories consists in considering the story as a sort of elastic band that the player is free to stretch depending on his actions. The story retains its structure but the player can modify its length and form and thus participate in the narration. In reality the story does not change diametrically from one game to the next, all that changes is the way it is told. However, the player can see parts of scenes and obtain different information depending on the particular path he follows.

Gamasutra - Feature - "Postmortem: Indigo Prophecy" by designer David Cage.

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June 7, 2006


Unfortunately, due to comment spam I've had to start relying on a CAPTCHA - one of those funny image/text verifcation systems (this plugin is SCode). I am well aware of the issues they cause, especially for those with vision problems. Currently, however, I'm just not sure any better way to stop the spam, which has shut our servers down several times in the past weeks. I welcome comments on the change, either through the normal comment feature or via email, which is always accessible: jcrhody AT umd DOT edu. Fellow herders - I sent email around detailing how to implement the plugin. I ask that you choose some effective way to moderate spam (TypeKey, SCode, etc.).

Posting has - and will remain - relatively light for the next several weeks, for a variety of reasons. Once I give it a good spellcheck, I will probably post the talk I gave at Georgetown a few weeks ago. The talk, which I gave alongside Michelle Roper and Mark Sample, was well-attended and enjoyable. After about 50 minutes of presentations, the forty or so audience members, who hailed from GW, Georgetown, UMD, UVA, and George Mason, ran us through our paces with about 70 minutes of Q & A. All in all, a great conversation and enjoyable afternoon.

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March 30, 2006

A Little Help Please? Anyone have Oxford History of Board Games?

Dear kind reader,
If you perhaps have a copy of the Oxford History of Board Games, which is already (apparently) out of print, and only available through fine booksellers online for between $100 and $400 (slightly beyond my humble budget), and is not available through my entire library system for retrieval, I might wonder if you would be ever so kind as to look through the pages of your (apparently) valuable tome to see how much - if at all - said book describes the history of Cluedo (Clue), published by Waddington Games and Parker Brothers?

I would be much obliged.
Humbly, etc etc.
JR (in the Library, with the Rope).

UPDATE: Jesper kindly sent a scan of the page. Many thanks to those who emailed.

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March 29, 2006

New Books on Gaming

Two new books of interest now available:

Unit Operations : An Approach to Videogame Criticism
by Ian Bogost


Play Between Worlds : Exploring Online Game Culture
by T.L. Taylor

Posted by Jason at 6:55 AM | TrackBack

March 8, 2006

Mapping Games and Virtual Tourism

A few interesting tidbits to consider in The New York Times article Is the Pen as Mighty as the Joystick? [free registration required; link will expire].

"It's like writing a travel guide to a place that doesn't exist," Mr. Hodgson said. "Whereas Frommer's guides tell you what hotel to stay in, I tell you which hotel not to stay in because you're going to get dragged down by a gangster."


"The first thing I thought was, 'I need a map,' " said Mr. Hodgson, 33, who spent the first part of his time getting to know New York and New Jersey, where the game is set. With help from the company, he also familiarized himself with a range of weapons, the best ways to blow up buildings and how to extort various characters. There are 50 to 60 ways to murder people in the game — from running them over with cars to garroting — and many ways to shake down a merchant.

Not much to add right now - I'm on limited time. But I wanted to note the article for its focus not so much on the use of guides, but on their creation.

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March 7, 2006

Tools for Game (and New Media) Scholarship

On our way over to Scott's talk today, Marc was telling me about his VIAO, which came with (correct me if I'm wrong Marc) a TV tuner card and some software that allowed him to play his GameCube on his screen. The software also allowed him to record his play sessions. My understanding had always been that there was significant lag with a setup like this, making console game play all but impossible on such a rig. This is why I've avoided buying another video card, and why the Adaptec GameBridge was potentially a big deal (and, at under $100, still seems like a possible solution). Marc says, not so - it works just fine (Marc, have you tried it with the PS2?).

I'm curious about other's experiences - how do you "do" game scholarship? What tools do you use? What tools do we need? Do you record play sessions or, like me, just have a LOT of notes and a LOT of saved game files?

This is at least indirectly related to Scott's talk, in which he gave a nice overview of the ELO, its history and purpose, some of its future goals, and the challenges implicit in the study of new media objects that question, resist, or even outright defy genre. Scott shared several examples from the forthcoming Electronic Literature Collection and generated some nice discussion about genre and the "literature question" (as in, "Is this even literature?"), as well as about general e-lit teaching strategies and preservation and archiving challenges. Though I've followed Scott's blogging (both his personal one and Grand Text Auto), I was pleased to hear about his work in person, which was intriguing enough to run the program well past its normal stopping time.

If you are in the DC area, MITH's Digital Dialogues has a great line-up this semester, including scholars like Scott (today), Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker (March 14) and Alan Liu (April 28) as well as writer Shelley Jackson, author of Patchwork Girl, Skin, Doll Diaries (April 17) and comic guru Scott McCloud of _Understanding Comics_ fame (May 2). There are many others, so look at the full schedule here (PDF).

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February 27, 2006

Review: VGTR

My review of The Video Game Theory Reader, with brief responses from the editors, was posted at the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies. RCCS is a great resource for the study of all things cyberculture, especially if you are looking to build either a bibliography (see Book Reviews) or a syllabus (see Courses).

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February 7, 2006

The Ethics of E-Games

FYI. One can never complain about free journal articles.

E-Games: Far more complex than simple "good / bad" dualities the popular press suggest

The latest Issue of the “International Review of Information Ethics“ focuses on E-Games. Guest Editors Elizabeth Buchanan and Charles Ess have compiled an issue that builds up a collection of philosophically and empirically robust articles and is now available free of charge at www.i-r-i-e.net.

Posted by Jason at 10:06 AM | TrackBack

CFP Reminders

A few CFPs worth considering. Full descriptions after the jump:
"HCI Issues in Computer Games"


*CFP : Videogames and the Alien / Other*
Second Annual University of Florida Game Studies Conference


International and Interdisciplinary Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. Brisbane, Australia, 28-30 September 2006


Sandbox: an ACM Video Game Symposium
Collocated with SIGGRAPH 06
29 July & 30 July, 2006, Boston, MA, USA


Special Issue of Interacting with Computers on
"HCI Issues in Computer Games"

Guest Editors
Panayiotis Zaphiris & CS Ang, Centre for HCI Design,
City University London

Introduction to special issue topic
Computer Games are at the forefront of technological innovation and
their popularity in research is also increasing. Their wide presence and
use makes Computer Games a major factor affecting the way people
socialize, learn and possibly work. Computer Games are also beginning to
attract the attention of educators and education technologists.

With this special issue of Interacting with Computers we wish to explore
the relationship between Computer Games and Human-Computer Interaction
(HCI). Are current HCI techniques and methodologies appropriate for
designing Computer Games? Do we need new Computer Game focused HCI
methods, theories and paradigms? What are the new challenges when it
comes to evaluating Computer Games?

This special issue of Interacting with Computers is inviting
contributions from both the academic community and industry. It will
focus on issues surrounding the analysis, design, development and
evaluation of Computer Games and the issues surrounding them. Potential
topics include (but are not limited to) the following:

* Design approaches and techniques suitable for Computer Games
* Usability studies regarding Computer Games
* Theoretical and/or pedagogical foundations for analysing Computer Games
* Within-game and/or out-game activities and their HCI analysis
* Computer Games and Online Communities
* Social and Cultural Issues and Computer Games
* Accessibility of Computer Games
* Transfer of gaming metaphors to business applications

"Interacting with Computers" is an interdisciplinary journal of
Human-Computer Interaction, published by Elsevier. More information
about this journal can be found at:


IwC special issues contain only 5 - 6 papers, each of no more than
10,000 words (so acceptance will be fairly selective).

Papers should be submitted through the manuscript management system at
http://ees.elsevier.com/iwc/ by the 10th of April 2006. The style
standard is that of the American Psychological Association (APA), more
details about which can be obtained from:

Important dates:
Full paper submission: 10th April 2006 (Monday)
Response to authors: 8th May 2006 (Monday)
Final version of papers: 5th June 2006 (Monday)
Planned publication: September 2006

*CFP : Videogames and the Alien / Other* Second Annual University of Florida Game Studies Conference Gainesville, FL April 7-8, 2006


The University of Florida's Game Studies Group, College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences and Digital Worlds Institute are pleased to announce
the 2006 UF Game StudiesConference: "Video Games and the Alien/Other,"
which will be held in Gainesville,Florida, on April 7-8 2006.

*Guest Speaker*
Lee Sheldon, author of Character Development and Storytelling for
Games whose writing credits include Agatha Christie: And then there
were none [The Adventure Company], Uru: Ages beyond Myst [Cyan], The
Riddle of Master Lu, and Dark Side of the Moon.

This conference explores the figure of the Alien and the Other and the
various functions it serves within video games. Since the original
Space Invaders, video games have incorporated representations of
difference in a variety of ways--specifically, the figure of the Alien
features prominently as an enemy or source of conflict. This
interdisciplinary conference invites both critical and practical works
that engage the implications of this theme of alterity in video games
and related electronic media.

We invite presentations that explore the theme of difference in video
games either through theoretical examinations of particular works or
new media creations which represent the Alien artistically,
programmatically and/or digitally.

Accordingly, we offer two tracks for submissions:

Theory: Academic papers critically analyzing a specific function of
video games or new media in the context of the Alien.

Praxis: Performances, installations, or demonstrations which
communicate an idea related to the topic through the creation of
digital media artifacts. These presentations should also be
accompanied by a short oral explication of the central ideas and
intellectual context. Submissions should include a sample of the work
(e.g. a screenshot) if possible.

Presenters should focus their submissions on one of several key themes:

* Player-Characters and the function of the outsider
* Gaming cultures and subcultures
* Portraying gender, race, religion and the avatar
* Monstrosity, bodies and avatars
* Otherness and online societies (e.g. MMORPG's)
* Xenophobia and alterity in representations of "enemies."
* Designing the Alien/Other through AI and NPCs
* Video game villains and anti-heroes

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

* The Other and the industry -- the role of independent game developers.
* Localization and the alleged erasure of cultural difference
through video games.
* Marketing and approaching new demographics.
* Becoming the Other in online role-playing communities.
* Colonialism and Orientalism within historical simulations.
* The representation (or lack) of religious pluralism in video games.
* Representations of race, gender, and/or sexual preference in games.
* The Evolution of the Alien/Other in games.
* Becoming Other -- choosing a moral path in KOTOR or Black and White.
* Subversive game play.
* Psychoanalysis, video games and the other/Other.
* Becoming Alien/Other in online games.
* Alien/Other and the differences inherent in console or interface
* Close studies of specific Alien/Others and tropes of Alien/Otherness.

Abstract submissions should be approximately 250-500 words in length.
Presentations will be 15 minutes with 5 minutes of question and
answer. The deadline for abstract submissions is Wednesday, March 1,
2006. We accept abstracts in electronic form (preferred) or print.

If possible, please submit proposals through our online system:

Internet Research 7.0, Brisbane 28-30 September 2006


International and Interdisciplinary Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers

Brisbane, Australia
28-30 September 2006

Pre-Conference Workshops: 27 September 2006


The Internet works as an arena of convergence. Physically dispersed and marginalized people (re)find themselves online for the sake of sustaining and extending community. International and interdisciplinary teams now collaborate in new ways. Diverse cultures engage one another via CMC. These technologies relocate and refocus capital, labor and immigration, and they open up new possibilities for political, potentially democratizing, forms of discourse. Moreover, these technologies themselves converge in multiple ways, e.g. in Internet-enabled mobile phones, in Internet-based telephony, and in computers themselves as "digital appliances" that conjoin communication and multiple media forms. These technologies also facilitate fragmentations with greater disparities between the information-haves and have-nots, between winners and losers in the shifting labor and capital markets, and between individuals and communities. Additionally these technologies facilitate information filtering that reinforces, rather than dialogically challenges, narrow and extreme views.


Our conference theme invites papers and presentations based on empirical research, theoretical analysis and everything in between that explore the multiple ways the Internet acts in both converging and fragmenting ways - physical, cultural, technological, political, social - on local, regional, and global scales.

Without limiting possible proposals, topics of interest include:

- Theoretical and practical models of the Internet
- Internet convergence, divergence and fragmentation
- Networked flows of information, capital, labor, etc.
- Migrations and diasporas online
- Identity, community and global communication
- Regulation and control (national and global)
- Internet-based development and other economic issues
- Digital art and aesthetics
- Games and gaming on the Internet
- The Net generation
- E-Sectors, e.g. e-health, e-education, e-business

We call for papers, panel proposals, and presentations from any discipline, methodology, and community that address the theme of Internet Convergence. We particularly call for innovative, exciting, and unexpected takes on and interrogations of the conference theme. However, we always welcome submissions on any topics that address social, cultural, political, economic, and/or aesthetic aspects of the Internet and related Internet technologies. We are equally interested in interdisciplinary proposals as well as proposals from within specific disciplines.


We seek proposals for several different kinds of contributions. We welcome proposals for traditional academic conference papers, but we also encourage proposals for creative or aesthetic presentations that are distinct from a traditional written 'paper'. We welcome proposals for roundtable sessions that will focus on discussion and interaction among conference delegates, and we also welcome organized panel proposals that present a coherent group of papers on a single theme.

This year AoIR will also be using an alternative presentation format in which a dozen or so participants who wish to present a very short overview of their work to stimulate debate will gather together in a plenary session involving short presentations (no more than 5 minutes) and extended discussion. All papers and presentations in this session will be reviewed in the normal manner. Further information will be available via the conference submission website.

- PAPERS (individual or multi-author) - submit abstract of 500-750 words

- SHORT PRESENTATIONS - submit abstract of 500-700 words

- CREATIVE OR AESTHETIC PRESENTATIONS - submit abstract of 500-700 words

- PANELS - submit a 250-500 word description of the panel theme and abstracts of the distinct papers or presentations

- ROUNDTABLE PROPOSALS - submit a statement indicating the nature of the roundtable discussion and interaction.

Papers, presentations and panels will be selected from the submitted proposals on the basis of multiple blind peer review, coordinated and overseen by the Program Chair. Each person is invited to submit a proposal for 1 paper or 1 presentation. People may also propose a panel of papers or presentations, of which their personal paper or presentation must be a part. You may submit an additional paper/ presentation of which you are the co-author as long as you are not presenting twice. You may submit a roundtable proposal as well.

Detailed information about submission and review is available at the conference submission website http://conferences.aoir.org. All proposals must be submitted electronically through this site.


All papers presented at the conference are eligible for publication in the Internet Research Annual, on the basis of competitive selection and review of full papers. Additionally, several publishing opportunities are expected to be available through journals, again based on peer-review of full papers. Details on the website.


Graduate students are strongly encouraged to submit proposals. Any student paper is eligible for consideration for the AoIR graduate student award. Students wishing to be a candidate for the Student Award must also send a final paper by 31 July 2006.


The IR7.0 Doctoral Colloquium offers PhD students working in Internet research or a related field a special forum on 27 September 2006 where they will have a chance to present their research plans and discuss them with peers and established senior researchers.

Interested students should prepare a 2 page summary of their research. This should provide a context for the research, describe the methods being used, the progress to date and expectations and hopes from the colloquium. Please submit your 2 page application by 1 April 2006 to Marcus Foth at m.foth@qut.edu.au

Applicants will be notified of acceptance by 1 June 2006. Successful applicants will be asked to prepare an 8 page paper on their research by 1 August 2006.

Doctoral Colloquium Host and Sponsor: Creative Industries Faculty Queensland University of Technology


Prior to the conference, there will be a limited number of pre- conference workshops which will provide participants with in-depth, hands-on and/or creative opportunities. We invite proposals for these pre-conference workshops. Local presenters are encouraged to propose workshops that will invite visiting researchers into their labs or studios or locales. Proposals should be no more than 1000 words, and should clearly outline the purpose, methodology, structure, costs, equipment and minimal attendance required, as well as explaining its relevance to the conference as a whole. Proposals will be accepted if they demonstrate that the workshop will add significantly to the overall program in terms of thematic depth, hands on experience, or local opportunities for scholarly or artistic connections. These proposals and all inquires regarding pre-conference proposals should be submitted as soon as possible to the Conference Chair and no later than 31 March 2006.


Final date for proposal submission: 21 February 2006

Presenter notification: 21 March 2006

Final workshop submission deadline: 31 March 2006

Submission for publication/student award: 31 July 2006

Submission for conference archive: 30 September 2006


Program Chair: Dr Fay Sudweeks, Murdoch University, Australia, f.sudweeks@murdoch.edu.au

Conference Chair: Dr Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, a.bruns@qut.edu.au

President of AoIR: Dr Matthew Allen, Curtin University of Technology, Australia m.allen@curtin.edu.au

Association Website: http://www.aoir.org

Conference Website: http://conferences.aoir.org

Sandbox: an ACM Video Game Symposium
Collocated with SIGGRAPH 06
29 July & 30 July, 2006, Boston, MA, USA

ACM is hosting a two-day video game symposium on 29 July and 30 July in 2006, co-located with SIGGRAPH 06 in Boston, MA, USA. The symposium will consist of keynotes, panels and papers. In addition, a "Hot Games" session will preview unreleased titles from major game companies and indie developers.

Video games are a singular technological medium, comparable in cultural impact to the telephone, television or the Internet. How can we advance the state of technology while ensuring that the medium flourishes? What role do Indie developers play in maintaining diversity and creativity in this medium? What are the impacts of the medium on society and on individuals?

The symposium seeks papers that describe research and ideas that are original and innovative. Technical papers should contain an empirical evaluation and an explicit description of the advantages of the proposed technique. Other papers should meet the standards of their respective disciplines (e.g. economics or media studies) and will be peer-reviewed. Selected papers will be those that are judged to have the greatest potential for either immediate or long-term impact on the field of game development

Developers and researchers from all related disciplines are invited to participate in this event and to exchange ideas, theories and experiences regarding the state of the field. We seek contributions from the technical, creative, independent and academic communities that design and develop video games and related technology, and also from observers of video games and their impact on society and on individuals.


Topics should center on critical and analytical approaches to video games. The focus is threefold: (1) industry and scholarly perspectives on how video games are designed and developed; (2) analysis of the experience and pleasures of game play; (3) critical articles on the value and significance of video games as cultural artifacts. Throughout, topics should focus on close readings and critical analysis of the design and development aspects of creating unique game experiences. While MMOs, Serious Games, simulations, and pervasive/mobile games are well researched, the committee also invites submissions that explore games from the wide range of popular console and PC titles. Studies of major games with significant player bases are encouraged. The committee welcomes interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to video game criticism, as well as those from the technical, social sciences and the humanities. We invite work across game platforms and titles, on games and literature, games and film, economics, media studies, communication, sociology, games and art, and games and other digital media.

Examples of some topic areas that are of interest include, but are not limited to:

Real-time animation and computer graphics for video games
Distributed simulation and communication in multi-player games
Game console hardware and software
Psychophysics and user interfaces
Artificial intelligence in games
Interactive physics
Uses of GPU for non-graphical algorithms in games
Multi-processor techniques for games
Speech and vision processing as user input techniques
Development tools and techniques
Procedural art
Sound Design and music in games
Mathematical Game Theory applied to video games
Cinematography in games
Game design and game genres
Story structure (setting, plot, character, theme) in games
Games (Casual, Serious, Mobile, Networked, Alternative Reality, Ubiquitous, Pervasive, etc.)
Legal, political, and societal impacts
Women and diversity in games
Gamer culture and community; such as modding communities, LAN parties, creative gamer content and machinima
Independent game developers
Economics and business of the game industry
Game production and labor
Negotiating intellectual property issues in development
Trade offs between creativity and branding in design and production
Alternative distribution models

Please submit full papers, not abstracts. Accepted formats:
-Long Paper (max. 10 pages)
-Short paper (max. 4 pages)
All papers will be reviewed by an independent review committee, which will provide written feedback on each paper. ACM will publish the proceedings and papers will be archived in the ACM Digital Library.

Submission of full paper (long or short): 1 May 2006
Submission of camera-ready papers: 1 July 2006
Submission of Hot Game demo: 1 July 06 *

Conference Chair: Drew Davidson (drew AT waxebb DOT com)
Program Chair: Alan Heirich (alan.heirich AT playstation.sony.com)
Program Chair: Doug Thomas (douglast AT usc DOT edu)

Posted by Jason at 9:21 AM | TrackBack

January 5, 2006

This world is shutting down NOW! Log out!

A few years back, L and I were sharing a train ride back to DC with Neil F. after the ACH/ALLC conference in New York. I recall Neil ruminating on the nature of ruin, and we were bouncing around different ideas as to what constituted the ruins of virtual worlds, the WWW, and cyberspace in general – broken links and 404s, WWW pages with image tags gaping open, walking through the empty halls of MOOs and MUSHs abandoned long ago. December 31st not only brought 2005 to a close, but also the online world Asheron’s Call 2, the unsuccessful sequel to Turbine’s franchise. Warcry’s Crossroads of Dereth has one set of screenshots and a script of dialogue during a server’s final moments – the remaining ruins of a world that no longer exists.

Posted by Jason at 6:08 AM | TrackBack

December 20, 2005

PoP: The Two Thrones

Penny Arcade created a comic for Ubisoft's new Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones game, which is the third installment of this iteration of the franchise originally created by Jordon Mechner.

Posted by Jason at 6:37 AM | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

Morality in Games and Gameplay

An interesting conversation about games, characters, and morality over at TN: Terra Nova: The Grey Area. A reverse trackback of sorts - my comments are in the thread, and I want to remember to return to it.

Posted by Jason at 1:12 PM | TrackBack

December 9, 2005

Maybe they'll explain the title?

Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby, authors of Smartbomb:
The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution
, are holding a Live chat at WashingtonPost.com today at 1pm (starting in a few minutes). An archive of the chat will be available at the above link.

They also blog here.

UPDATE: They did explain the title.

Bethesda, Md.: Why did you name your book Smartbomb?

Heather Chaplin: Smartbomb came from Aaron. He grew up in Orange County playing Defender, first of all. Then, he was interested in how the term came into the culture initially through a videogame, and THEN with the first Iraq war.

It seemed like a title that resonated with the very subject matter of the book - that this is essentially a smartbomb being dropped on our society. The medium fosters "smarts" and is being created by super smart people, they're being carefully guided to exlode over our heads by companies like Microsoft and Sony, and the connections between the industry and military run deep. So...thus you have Smartbomb as our title!


Posted by Jason at 12:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 13, 2005

The Play's the Thing

The BBC presents The Seven Noble Kinsmen: A Shakespeare Murder Mystery, a game where you "take the role of 'The Critic' and solve a series of bizarre murders." Jay Is Games has a review, and the link was gathered at Wonderland. Looks intriguing... by it'll have to go behind my current play (or, in some cases, replay) list: MediEvil (PS), Grim Fandango (PC), Half-Life 2 (PC), Desert Combat (PC - mod of Battlefield 1942), Planescape:Torment (PC), Halo (Xbox), Castlevania (original ported to GBA), Katamari Damacy (PS2), and (when I have time) an unnamed beta test of an unnamable (due to NDA) MMoRPG.

A bit of a full plate, game-wise. You'd think I was writing my dissertation on them or something.

Posted by Jason at 11:14 PM | TrackBack

November 3, 2005

DC Gets Serious About Games

Halloween week was also Serious Games week in Washington DC. Last Tuesday I attended "The Summit on Educational Games" sponsored by Federation of American Scientists, and I have a brief recap and a copy of the agenda under the fold. Then came the Serious Games Summit DC, which I did not attend, but Dennis Jerz blogged Day One and Day Two; additional coverage available at Water Cooler Games (Day One and Day Two).

And yesterday, The National Academies sponsored "Challenges and Opportunities in Game-based Learning." No write up for that yet, but I'll post one when I get back to my notes. The theme seemed mostly to be "There are lots of opportunities, but the primary challenge is funding." I regret not being able to attend the teaching track at the Serious Games Summit, where I would have hoped to hear more about specific strategies and pitfalls about actual classroom use of games (I haven't read through all of the summaries linked above, so I have no idea if that would have happened there either).

I also wonder about the use of games in the humanities classroom, as opposed to math, physics, and other sciences. Because of the scientific nature of the sponsors (FAS, National Academies), I was clearly a rather rare humanities bird in an otherwise science-heavy room. One presenter's slide yesterday even rather amusingly detailed the need for the inclusion of more "artists, writers, and other long-haired folk" in the game design process.

Meanwhile, here is a quick round-up of some thoughts from the FAS Summit from last Tuesday (a quick and dirty summary, with lots of exclusions - enter all usual caveats here).

The Summit on Educational Games
Marriot Metro Center, Washington DC
October 25, 2005

The Summit on Educational Games was sponsored by the Federation of American Scientists and the Entertainment Software Association. After introductory remarks by Henry Kelley (President, Federation of American Scientists), Doug Lowenstein (President, Entertainment Software Association), and Donald Thompson (Acting Assistant Director of Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation), the keynote address – “What Do Games Offer For Learning?” – was given by Deborah Wince-Smith, President of the Council on Competitiveness. The agenda for the rest of the day is attached to the bottom of this document. The summit fielded representatives from a variety of arenas: academics, scientists, non-profit directors and project managers, government workers (including grant agencies as well as military and DOD), textbook publishers, and game designers (Odd World; Firaxis of Sid Mier’s Civilization series; BreakAway Games).

Review of Discussion
A prominent theme throughout the day highlighted both the need and the opportunity for change in the US educational system. As Wince-Smith argued in her keynote, with a global marketplace creating increasing market pressures, the primary way for the US to maintain market competitiveness is to remain at the forefront of what Alan Greenspan calls the “conceptual economy” – the economy of innovation and creativity. Most panelists throughout the day argued that the incorporation of game-like exercises as a regular component of K-12 schooling would require a radical shift in the current US education system, which has remained fairly consistent in structure (agricultural calendar, length of time at school) for several decades. As Eugene Hickok (former Deputy Secretary of Education) argued, education is the one major public social institution that has not undergone radical transformation in the past century.

The current emphasis on standards and requirements from No Child Left Behind presents several challenges to incorporating non-traditional, supplemental material in the public classroom. Furthermore, budget constraints and the competitive textbook industry (highlighted in particular by Scholastic’s VP of Technology and Development, Midian Kurland) compound this issue. Coupled with the large budget requirements that most contemporary games require (10-20 million, and on the rise), the summit’s discussions made clear that the use of educational games in the K-12 public classroom remains in the early stages of development, and would require serious investment. Several times, various constituencies argued for governmental support for Research and Development in public education; currently, there is no budget for this at all - amazing for an industry supported by millions of dollars of public money. In contrast, many corporations spend 10-12% (or more) on R&D.

At the same time, the process of learning afforded by games is encouraging in its usefulness in K-12 pedagogy: staged development and advancement, immediate reward systems (both positive and negative), and challenges based on the skill-level of the user. While more research is necessary to show effectiveness, some studies do show that learning improves when users engage in simulations [see Menn (1995); Sugrue, “Which Comes First: The Simulation or the Lecture?”; Mille, Lehman, Koedinger (1999)]. A great deal of discussion at the summit centered around transferability of knowledge from inside of the simulation to situations that are similar outside of the simulation (with lots of anecdotal discussion from education, corporate training, military training provided in the discussion periods).

Funding appears to be coming from NSF, DoD (and individual military branches, such as the Army’s “America’s Army” brand), DARPA, and occasionally (but rarely) private venture capitalists. IMLS has funded some simulation-type projects, such as “Discover Babylon,” which is being developed by the Federation of American Scientists, in collaboration with IMLS, UCLA, and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD.

In summary, panelists highlighted the potential benefits, the need for further research, the need for (extensive) R&D funding, the difficulty of incorporating game technology in the public classroom, and the need for revolutionary change in our current education system to compete in the global marketplace.

Projects Highlighted

The 1pm session during lunch demonstrated four games in development for educational purposes. Breakaway Games’ Incident Commander is a simulation of emergency response for middle- and small-scale communities to practice their response techniques to events such as toxic chemical spills, train wrecks, fires, and so forth.

The University of Southern California, funded in part by DARPA, developed the Tactical Language Trainer, which is based on the UnReal Engine and uses XML and Python for language database and AI behavior. The user is placed in a 3d environment (in this case, a city in Iraq) and they must use their avatar to communicate with locals, which is facilitated using Voice Recognition software. The user thus engages in linguistic and cultural practices (by speaking and also gesturing and behaving appropriately) in order to accomplish various missions in the simulation (successfully gaining the trust of a native Iraqi by following appropriate customs, for example). The game includes a tutorial and reference material in language and culture training that directly relates to the kinds of examples found in the game itself.

Firaxis presented Civilization 4, the newest incarnation of Sid Mier’s famous strategy game. Civilization 3 has been used in several schools – one of the few computer games (like Oregon Trail) that permeated the school system. There have been studies done on the use of Civilization in the classroom (see Kurt Squire’s work). Civilization, it should be noted, does not claim to aim for historical accuracy, which they admittedly sacrifice at times in favor of gameplay. But the benefit of Civilization is in training students in critically investigating the game apparatus at the same time they are using it (thus seeing how it differs from history and historical work).

Henry Kelley highlighted Immune Attack, a project that purports to teach students about the immune system in a game-like environment. His presentation was cut short by time limitations.

In discussion, Maryland Public Television highlighted their “Research Study Field Trips” – online virtual trips about a specific topic. Tested in two Maryland public middle schools, data suggests increased achievement for students using these trips over students using traditional learning methods alone.


Inside Higher Ed wrote an article on the Summit.

Posted by Jason at 9:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

DC Gets Serious About Games

Halloween week was also Serious Games week in Washington DC. Last Tuesday I attended "The Summit on Educational Games" sponsored by Federation of American Scientists, and I have a brief recap and a copy of the agenda under the fold. Then came the Serious Games Summit DC, which I did not attend, but Dennis Jerz blogged Day One and Day Two; additional coverage available at Water Cooler Games (Day One and Day Two).

And yesterday, The National Academies sponsored "Challenges and Opportunities in Game-based Learning." No write up for that yet, but I'll post one when I get back to my notes. The theme seemed mostly to be "There are lots of opportunities, but the primary challenge is funding." I regret not being able to attend the teaching track at the Serious Games Summit, where I would have hoped to hear more about specific strategies and pitfalls about actual classroom use of games (I haven't read through all of the summaries linked above, so I have no idea if that would have happened there either).

I also wonder about the use of games in the humanities classroom, as opposed to math, physics, and other sciences. Because of the scientific nature of the sponsors (FAS, National Academies), I was clearly a rather rare humanities bird in an otherwise science-heavy room. One presenter's slide yesterday even rather amusingly detailed the need for the inclusion of more "artists, writers, and other long-haired folk" in the game design process.

Meanwhile, here is a quick round-up of some thoughts from the FAS Summit from last Tuesday (a quick and dirty summary, with lots of exclusions - enter all usual caveats here).

The Summit on Educational Games
Marriot Metro Center, Washington DC
October 25, 2005

The Summit on Educational Games was sponsored by the Federation of American Scientists and the Entertainment Software Association. After introductory remarks by Henry Kelley (President, Federation of American Scientists), Doug Lowenstein (President, Entertainment Software Association), and Donald Thompson (Acting Assistant Director of Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation), the keynote address – “What Do Games Offer For Learning?” – was given by Deborah Wince-Smith, President of the Council on Competitiveness. The agenda for the rest of the day is attached to the bottom of this document. The summit fielded representatives from a variety of arenas: academics, scientists, non-profit directors and project managers, government workers (including grant agencies as well as military and DOD), textbook publishers, and game designers (Odd World; Firaxis of Sid Mier’s Civilization series; BreakAway Games).

Review of Discussion
A prominent theme throughout the day highlighted both the need and the opportunity for change in the US educational system. As Wince-Smith argued in her keynote, with a global marketplace creating increasing market pressures, the primary way for the US to maintain market competitiveness is to remain at the forefront of what Alan Greenspan calls the “conceptual economy” – the economy of innovation and creativity. Most panelists throughout the day argued that the incorporation of game-like exercises as a regular component of K-12 schooling would require a radical shift in the current US education system, which has remained fairly consistent in structure (agricultural calendar, length of time at school) for several decades. As Eugene Hickok (former Deputy Secretary of Education) argued, education is the one major public social institution that has not undergone radical transformation in the past century.

The current emphasis on standards and requirements from No Child Left Behind presents several challenges to incorporating non-traditional, supplemental material in the public classroom. Furthermore, budget constraints and the competitive textbook industry (highlighted in particular by Scholastic’s VP of Technology and Development, Midian Kurland) compound this issue. Coupled with the large budget requirements that most contemporary games require (10-20 million, and on the rise), the summit’s discussions made clear that the use of educational games in the K-12 public classroom remains in the early stages of development, and would require serious investment. Several times, various constituencies argued for governmental support for Research and Development in public education; currently, there is no budget for this at all - amazing for an industry supported by millions of dollars of public money. In contrast, many corporations spend 10-12% (or more) on R&D.

At the same time, the process of learning afforded by games is encouraging in its usefulness in K-12 pedagogy: staged development and advancement, immediate reward systems (both positive and negative), and challenges based on the skill-level of the user. While more research is necessary to show effectiveness, some studies do show that learning improves when users engage in simulations [see Menn (1995); Sugrue, “Which Comes First: The Simulation or the Lecture?”; Mille, Lehman, Koedinger (1999)]. A great deal of discussion at the summit centered around transferability of knowledge from inside of the simulation to situations that are similar outside of the simulation (with lots of anecdotal discussion from education, corporate training, military training provided in the discussion periods).

Funding appears to be coming from NSF, DoD (and individual military branches, such as the Army’s “America’s Army” brand), DARPA, and occasionally (but rarely) private venture capitalists. IMLS has funded some simulation-type projects, such as “Discover Babylon,” which is being developed by the Federation of American Scientists, in collaboration with IMLS, UCLA, and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD.

In summary, panelists highlighted the potential benefits, the need for further research, the need for (extensive) R&D funding, the difficulty of incorporating game technology in the public classroom, and the need for revolutionary change in our current education system to compete in the global marketplace.

Projects Highlighted

The 1pm session during lunch demonstrated four games in development for educational purposes. Breakaway Games’ Incident Commander is a simulation of emergency response for middle- and small-scale communities to practice their response techniques to events such as toxic chemical spills, train wrecks, fires, and so forth.

The University of Southern California, funded in part by DARPA, developed the Tactical Language Trainer, which is based on the UnReal Engine and uses XML and Python for language database and AI behavior. The user is placed in a 3d environment (in this case, a city in Iraq) and they must use their avatar to communicate with locals, which is facilitated using Voice Recognition software. The user thus engages in linguistic and cultural practices (by speaking and also gesturing and behaving appropriately) in order to accomplish various missions in the simulation (successfully gaining the trust of a native Iraqi by following appropriate customs, for example). The game includes a tutorial and reference material in language and culture training that directly relates to the kinds of examples found in the game itself.

Firaxis presented Civilization 4, the newest incarnation of Sid Mier’s famous strategy game. Civilization 3 has been used in several schools – one of the few computer games (like Oregon Trail) that permeated the school system. There have been studies done on the use of Civilization in the classroom (see Kurt Squire’s work). Civilization, it should be noted, does not claim to aim for historical accuracy, which they admittedly sacrifice at times in favor of gameplay. But the benefit of Civilization is in training students in critically investigating the game apparatus at the same time they are using it (thus seeing how it differs from history and historical work).

Henry Kelley highlighted Immune Attack, a project that purports to teach students about the immune system in a game-like environment. His presentation was cut short by time limitations.

In discussion, Maryland Public Television highlighted their “Research Study Field Trips” – online virtual trips about a specific topic. Tested in two Maryland public middle schools, data suggests increased achievement for students using these trips over students using traditional learning methods alone.


Inside Higher Ed wrote an article on the Summit.

Posted by Jason at 9:26 AM | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

Spreading the Pun Fun; Plus, Weird News in MMORPGs

Aki Järvinen released his GameGame, a card game about making games (along the lines of the Understanding Comics meta-approach), which is available for download here. Also available for download is the following line from andrew at gta:

Good deal! I haven’t meta game this cool in a while. ha ha. what a card.

I wanted to share. You know, in case there weren't enough puns in the world.

The other big news right now seems to be Greg Costikyan's debut of Manifesto Games, a distribution and marketing company for independent game developers (Motto: "PC Gamers of the World Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Retail Chains!").

Meanwhile, two things I meant to blog last week, but never found the time (so, really, just old news to most). First of all, the characters of World of Warcraft have a plague on their hands. I think it's been mostly fixed now, but apparently characters contracted a disease during a battle with the god of blood Hakkar during an new instanced adventure (named Zul'Gurub, for those interested in specifics). The disease, a curse called Corrupted Blood, is contagious and passes to nearby characters to spread the infection. The disease escaped the confines of the instanced event and got pulled back into the towns, effectively spreading plague-like from character to character. [report from shacknews]

File that under "unintentional events resulting from complex code" (a favorite topic of mine that one day might shape up into an article: "Putting the Wi in Weird: Decoding Complexity").

The second MMORPG news bit: the September issue of PC Gamer included an article about Eve Online, in which it described how the Guiding Hand Social Club infiltrated and, after a year of careful planning, completed an enormous heist valued at about 17,000 US dollars (after converting assets from in-game currency and goods). The article is a good read (and was once online, but has since been removed). TerraNova has an old thread on the topic here.

Posted by Jason at 6:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 16, 2005

Revolution Controller Revealed

Nintendo finally revealed their Revolution controller, the nature of which has created a great deal of speculation over the past months. Alice at Wonderland has notes from Iwata-san's speech, as well as a blurry picture of the Revolution controller. A video was posted at IGN, but it doesn't seem to be downloading [update: click here for the video, then select "watch it now" - the downloadable version (non-subscription) still seems broken, but streaming just worked for me].

update: image courtesy of 1up, who has an article on the controller.

The controller, according to descriptions, appears to be more along the lines of a remote control (one handed) that can be used in all sorts of ways - swung like a golf club or tennis racket, pointed like a flashlight, stabbed like a sword - all read in relation to your position from the screen. From Alice's transcription notes:

This controller has a Direct Pointing Device. Revolution can detect precisely which location on the screen the controller is pointing at. With this technology, you can point at a location intuitively, but Revolution can detect your distance from the screen, and the angle of your controller.

In line with their attention to innovation, Nintendo seems to be encouraging movement beyond the safe bets of franchise game development with blockbuster costs and expectations. Again, Alice's notes:

Brain Training DS had a small development team, and took advantage of the new design. 10 people, and total development, was less than 4 months! Many have been concerned that time and money and risk for next gen is too much. Nintendo wants to provide a stage on which to showcase your ideas. Nintendo is willing to help bring those ideas to life, if seeing the controller today sparks new ideas, Nintendo is ready for your proposals!

We'll see how this all pans out in the marketplace, but the success of Nintendogs and the DS certainly creates a promising atmosphere for the Revolution.

Posted by Jason at 6:33 AM | TrackBack

September 12, 2005

Novel Games, Game Novels

The Video-Game Novel Also Rises discusses the increasing media cross-pollination of computer game worlds. Nothing all that new, since the Halo novels don't make the shelves groan nearly so much as the Wizards of the Coast novels (of the D+D sort, for the non-geek). I just wonder - are any of these new novels really any good?

When you're in the territory of Jane Austen and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, you're expected to go deeper. You're supposed to probe the internal lives of your characters. And this is where these books become really fascinating: They're like the Us Weekly of the gaming universe.

I'm thinking no.

But the article's writer does point out a conflict that I think is already inherent in the game proper, but that is laid even more bare by the novelization of the character:

If you play a lot of games, these books can provoke a weird sort of first-person identity confusion. After all, when I play Halo, I play as the Master Chief himself. So it's passingly strange to have an author suddenly grab the emotional joystick and explain what the Chief feels -- what I feel? -- while wandering around slaughtering enemies.

Posted for the cross-sited media types...

Posted by Jason at 6:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 26, 2005

AC2 Shuts Down

Just a few months after releasing an expansion pack for the game, Turbine announced that they wereclosing Asheron's Call 2. I played AC2 briefly, but was turned off by the (at the time) overwhelming system requirements that brought my FrankenPuter (assembled with care, duct tape, and electricity) to a screeching halt. Although the graphics engine produced beautiful results (individual blades of grass that parted as you ran through), the gameplay was just not on par with AC1. It will be interesting to see how this affects other Turbine products - AC1, D+D Online, and Lord of the Rings Online...

What happens to the ruins of an online game?

Come to think of it, I still have the CD. Looks like they are offering a free month's play if you rejoin... might be worth a revisit for a few parting screenshots.

Posted by Jason at 6:08 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 12, 2005

Is that a bug in my coffee?

Sims 2 content "worse than Hot Coffee" - PC News at GameSpot

What is fascinating to me about all of these debates is that they are actually grounded (or should be) in a rather complex discussion of the nature of electronic materiality.

Meanwhile, in other news, reports reveal that by writing certain letters in a particular order in the margin of the popular novel Great Expectations, Pip and Estella actually run a crime syndicate. Investigations continue.

[not that it matters, but this isn't meant to defend Rockstar, who I think were idiots, though I find this recent attack on The Sims 2 rather silly - and amusing.]

Posted by Jason at 7:41 AM | TrackBack

August 4, 2005

Education Arcade talk @ UMD

Going through my email, I found my write-up of Henry Jenkin's talk on the Education Arcade that he gave at UMD in February. I added the report in my February archives.

Posted by Jason at 7:34 AM | TrackBack

Games and Morality

Two recent Wired articles about structuring moral choices in computer games:

God Games Seek Souls, Not Profit

Christians Code Heavenly Games

Posted by Jason at 6:39 AM | TrackBack

June 13, 2005

Games and Storytelling

The entire first year of lectures from the Games and Storytelling series, a collaboration between the University of Tampere Game
Research Lab, University of Art and Design Helsinki, and two company
partners, Veikkaus and Nokia. More information available at http://gamesandstorytelling.net/

Posted by Jason at 6:59 AM | TrackBack

May 12, 2005

Asian Games: The Art of the Contest

During my lunch break yesterday, I dashed across the Mall to see the Asian Games exhibit at the Sackler Gallery, which is sponsored in part by my employer (an article on Asian Games was featured in the July/August 2004 Humanities Magazine).

The exhibit is split into four sections (see the webpage above for some images and a Flash-driven online gallery). Chance looks at dice games, early forms of Snakes & Ladders, pachisi (what we know as Parcheesi), including some absolutely beautiful pachisi pieces. The Snakes & Ladders game boards were wonderful examples of teaching ethics and culture through games, as each board emphasized a culturally-appropriate morality in climbing ladders - and vice in the snakes. The exhibit includes a board (on paper) specific to Islam, where the images were removed (in an aversion to iconography) and only words describing virtues and vices led to a heavenly temple of some sort at the top of the board.

The Strategy section displayed games like chess, weiqi (go), and backgammon. Many of the chess sets are elaborately beautiful, ranging from the Elephants and Viziers from India (where chess originated in the 6th century) to the Kings and Queens later used in England. By this time, I was rushing to get back, but managed to sprint through the remaining two sections. Matching and Memory included cards, dominos, mahjong, and other matching games, such as a Japanese shell game that had the first lines of a poem on one shell, and the last lines on another. This assumes, of course, that you know the hundred or so poems in the collection. The final section, Power and Dexterity, looked at sports like polo and kickball (not the playground type). In all sections, displays of actual games are coupled with images of actual game play, emphasizing how common and influential games were in the various Asian cultures.

The exhibit closes May 15, so you only have a few days left. For those of you who are interested, but can't make the trip to DC, you should consider purchasing the 325-page Asian Games Exhibit Catalogue, which is a huge, gorgeous book that is on sale for $9.99 (normally $45). You can't beat that.

Posted by Jason at 7:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 19, 2005

Using HL2 as a "Canvas"

Interesting story on slash-dot. The comic Apostasy isn't bad.

Nearly six months since its release, Half-Life 2 is not only making ripples for its being a great game, but also for the works being made from the game itself. Garry's Mod (aka GMod) is a extremely popular and fun "sandbox" modification for Half-Life 2, that allows you to play with the game's exceptional physics engine as well as pose characters, create Rube Goldberg-type devices and other physics phun inside of HL2. Taking advantage of GMod's character posing, the compelling and professionally produced Apostasy is an online comic that follows 3 characters from the HL2 universe and is interwoven within and around the game's original narrative.
Posted by Jason at 7:41 AM | TrackBack

April 5, 2005

God Of War Designer Blog

David Jaffe, game director for God Of War, apparently has a blog. For future reading.

Posted by Jason at 6:04 AM | TrackBack

March 22, 2005

Mystery Solved

Fargo: So I was on my honeymoon when ICO landed at the GameSpy offices. I came back and everyone was talking about it in dreamy, hushed tones -- you'd think someone had just shown Citizen Kane to a bunch of film students.

Well, I guess that answers this question. ;-)

Posted by Jason at 6:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 20, 2005

Welcome Intrepid Adventurers!

Dungeons Deep - Freeware Fantasy Dungeon Game Classics

[via geegaw]

Posted by Jason at 10:56 PM | TrackBack

More Trouble for Genre

Because, for whatever reason, ebr is a building I get lost in, where I can never find an exit (or, at least, the path I want), I just found Aarseth's follow-up to his First Person article.

Once I read through it, I may update my own thoughts on "Genre Trouble." And, for reference, the entire ludology thread.

Posted by Jason at 10:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Gamespot: "Game Master Storytellers"

Gamespot: "Everything is Possible": Inside the Mind of Gaming's Master Storytellers. Interviews with Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Series), Ken Levine (Freedom Force), Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango), and Ragnar Tørnquist (The Longest Journey).

Posted by Jason at 10:14 PM | TrackBack

March 18, 2005

Chronicling Searches in Game Studies

The Chronicle of Higher Education's "First Person" column is being written by a team of game studies researchers trying to garner a dual hire so they can continue their collaborative work. Judd Ruggill and Ken McAllister lead the Learning Games Initiative. Unfortunately, a subscription is required to read the articles:
Game for Anything
A Couple of Rare Birds
Team Job Interviews

Posted by Jason at 6:32 AM | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

Canon Formation

Andrew Stern, over at GTA, puts forward a comment made during his panel discussion at GDC this year:

One of the comments that came out during the panel discussion Why Isn’t the Game Industry Making Interactive Stories is that the game industry has yet to reach its "Citizen Kane moment". This is the idea or hope that at some point someone will finally create a game that uses the medium in such radically new ways that it uncovers a new grammar of expression, and in the process reaches new artistic heights.

Like Andrew, I too have always found the analogy of early Hollywood cinema (CK is no Lumiere Bros production, after all) to games rather suspect, though I suppose useful in its own limited ways. The thing is, I think we *do* have a grammar of game expression and one that specifically incorporates elements of storytelling even (at least, that's what my dissertation is arguing), but because of bad implementation in a lot of games, the sheer *number* of games, the advances in technology that splits games into very different generations, and an industry that perhaps harbors even more control than early cinema ever did, it's rather tough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Toss in there the fact that we still operate with fairly limited understanding of game genre (or, I should say, genres), and the fact that we tend to view games and stories as binaries rather than components of the same part (when story is involved), and I'd say its not surprising that we find ourselves at a loss for a single defining moment.

And let us not forget that Citizen Kane enjoys at least part of its enormous prestige because of the multiple academic and popular voices that declare it so. Canon formation, be it in film, literature, or games, for all its limitations and problems, is also a useful filtering process. I suspect that as we all continue to understand, critique, debate, and teach a critical theory of games, we'll see how the waves (as Andrew so finely put it) crash together to form certain peaks.

mark's reference to Fable’s disappointment as both game and story, despite the hype (in the GTA comments), in fact, reminded me of one of my favorite publication histories, documented by Lawrence Rainey in his article "The Price of Modernism: Reconsidering the Publication of The Waste Land" (The Yale Review 78 Winter 1989: 279-30). T.S. Eliot had already planned to publish The Waste Land in his own Criterion, but he was looking for an American venue as well. Ezra Pound tried to convince The Dial to purchase the poem, and he argued that The Waste Land was “the justification of ‘the movement’ of our modern experiment, since 1900” (Rainey 282). Initially, the Dial only offered their usual $150, which Eliot thought too little. Eventually, and through no small measure of effort on the part of Pound, The Dial decided that they wanted the poem. In recompense, “they would offer Eliot the second annual Dial Award in confidence as the price of the poem, while officially they would pay only the $150 which had been their original offer" (Rainey 291). Rainey points out:

Literary history records few spectacles so curious or so touching as that of the two editors of a major review offering a figure nearly three times the national income per capita—in 1986 terms, the same ratio would yield over $40,000—for a poem which neither had seen or read. (Rainey 291, emphasis mine)

After offering such a substantial award for a poem, the editor of the American publishing magazine found it “disappointing on first reading.” That’s right. They paid that much, for something they hadn’t even seen, and, upon reading, didn’t much care for. Marketing, even in high literary circles, is an amazing thing.

In any case, this desire for a Citizen Kane moment reminds me too much of the "games that make you cry" quest ... Interesting, since the sentimental was for many years both feminized and disdained in literary circles (and, one might argue, still often is, despite valid attempts to recoup the term). Aren't there other ways we can frame successful emotional moments in games outside of either some sort of Rosebud moment or an appeal to the Old Yeller factor? Can't we point to foundational games - ones that really introduced a new element of play, style, or integrated story? I'm pretty sure we could all name a few.... some that even alter the way we encounter some games as stories. I know that some have taken a stab at creating a canon, of sorts (see the attempts by both Costik and Juul), but I wonder what we'd put together if we did focus on a very limited canon? For the first-person sneaker, would you choose Metal Gear, or Thief, or a later title? Why? Tetris seems an obvious choice over many other games, both for its foundational gameplay and because it's 'publication' history is ripe for discussions of copyright and the industry, but I'm sure arguments could be made for others.

What would a very narrow canon - say, twenty titles that you would teach in an Introduction to Computer Game Studies class - look like?

Posted by Jason at 5:55 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 14, 2005

The Blind Fragging the Blind

Michael Feir is an avid gamer. He spent so much time playing games in college he created his own online gaming magazine. But Feir doesn't play the best-selling games and has never seen World of Warcraft -- he's blind.

It doesn't matter. A growing library of computer games has been built specially for blind gamers, using sound instead of visuals to let players know what's going on around them.

This Wired article is about audio gameplay. It just makes you wonder how this style of play might permeate the traditional "video" game. Wouldn't audiogames be a great idea for mobile phone gaming?

Posted by Jason at 6:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 11, 2005

Bioware on Games and Stories

Bioware is responsible for titles such as Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and the forthcoming Jade Empire. Wonderland took notes on their talk at GDC: Storytelling across genres: BioWare's perspective

Posted by Jason at 6:49 AM | TrackBack

March 9, 2005

New Games Journalism

Ten unmissable examples of New Games Journalism via Guardian's Gamesblog.

Posted by Jason at 6:54 AM | TrackBack

February 27, 2005

Sackler Exhibition: Asian Games: The Art of Contest

The Sackler Gallery is hosting Asian Games: The Art of Contest through May 15.

Using boards, pieces, and other game-playing paraphernalia as well as paintings, prints, and decorative arts that depict people playing games, Asian Games: The Art of Contest explores the role of games as social and cultural activities in the diverse societies of pre-modern Asia. It also highlights the paramount importance of Asia as a source of many games—chess, backgammon, Parcheesi, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, and playing cards, not to mention polo and field hockey—now played in the West. In addition to games familiar to Western audiences, the exhibition also examines the Japanese shell-matching game (kai-oi) and incense competition (jishu-ko).

The exhibition received support from NEH, and is also highlighted in "Playful Pursuits," an article in the July/August issue of Humanities Magazine.

Posted by Jason at 8:40 AM | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

XML, Interface, and WoW

Grockwel's latest entry reminded me to start a list for the plugins being developed for World of Warcraft, which sound strikingly similar in a lot of ways to many of the Asheron's Call plugins developed - many of which used XML backend to drive anything from an automated buffing sequence to reading the packets in order to allow users to "see" far beyond their avatar's range.

I'm not currently playing WoW (that would be a dangerous timesuck, however tempting it is - especially after loving the beta test), but I certainly want to keep track of these things, since I'm trying to wrap up that section of my dissertation sometime... this ... lifetime.

As Geoffrey's son points out - these kids of plugins can rapidly change the way the game is played far beyond any empowerment given to players in terms of "storyline agency."

These were all things I examined in my paper for AoIR in 2003 and have subsequently been incorporated into my dissertation. Hopefully I can live vicariously through others' virtual lives in the more recent MMoRPGs.

Posted by Jason at 11:18 AM | TrackBack

February 11, 2005

Entering the Education Arcade: Learning Through Computer and Video Games

Henry Jenkins, Professor of Literature and Director of Comparative Media Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented on the 11th of February as part of the University of Maryland’s Teaching, Learning, Technology lecture series. Jenkins is one of the founding members of the Education Arcade, an initiative dedicated to investigating the use of games and game technology in the classroom.

Jenkins began with an opening slide depicting the 1996 Doonesbury Election game, which places the player in the role of Campaign Manager. Jenkins’ accompanying anecdote detailed how his son came to learn important components of the electoral process (the electoral college, etc.) during his play, but when he tried to play the game on school computers during open lab time, his request was denied because “games” were not educational and therefore not allowed. The school is now a test pilot for the Education Arcade.

Jenkins’ anecdote pointed towards a few key elements when discussing games and education. First, often games that are not meant to be “educational” actually are; oftentimes games meant to be educational are carrot-stick approaches, where learning a fact or figure results in a “reward” of game-play. These games frequently are less successful. Second, games are rarely considered educational, even though a quick review of some of the bestselling titles reveals games are “Rollercoaster Tycoon,” “Civilization,” and a variety of other strategy and simulation games that necessitate a growing understanding of resource management, history, and so on. Finally, games less frequently teach facts, but more frequently teach process; Civilization might not teach specific dates or simulate actual history, but it does teach the importance of various resources in developing various aspects of culture; Jenkins noted later in the lecture that Kurt Squire (U. of Wisconsin-Madison) found that while Civilization 3 might not be ideal for “teaching to the test,” he did count over 300 words that Civilization uses in the game and that are found on the history standardized tests.

“What’s the worst thing about homework?” Jenkins asked. “It’s too hard. What’s the worst thing about a game? It’s too easy.” It is this contradiction that initiatives like the Education Arcade would like to investigate and exploit to better education. What drives people to play games, and how can educators harness that same kind of energy for school-appropriate topics? Collaborations between industry, educators, and researchers to create engaging educational initiatives using popular media isn’t new – earlier attempts in television resulted in shows such as “Our Mr. Sun,” which circulated schools for years (one TV executive called the project “Operation Frontal Lobe”). That collaboration is what the Education Arcade is trying to foster.

While some researchers, like Kurt Squire, study the use of existing games in the classroom, the Educational Arcade also used initial funding to create several design documents (descriptions and rules for games that could be developed) for new educational games. One example: Prospero’s Island, based on the world described in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and developed in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Rather than trying to recreate the play (which would serve little purpose), they propose developing a version of the island that enables students to explore the richness of both the language and the story; one possibility was to turn metaphors into challenges, which allows students to work through how a metaphor works (in general and in the specific Shakespearian context).

Jenkins also described an Augmented Reality Game (a game played in an actual, physical space, such as a museum) actually developed in collaboration with the Boston Museum of Science. Kids teamed up with other kids and parents and solved a series of puzzles using clues around the museum; all of this was coordinated with handheld computers. The experience varied from student to student, and required that they teach each other and their parents – peer-to-peer teaching and learning was built into the game mechanism, reinforcing their learning. Many of these kinds of games can be developed around local community resources.

Media literacy is also a primary goal of the Education Arcade. Jenkins provided some context for this need: in a 2003 Pew Internet and American Life Project survey [available in PDF format here: Let the Games Begin: Gaming Technology and Entertainment Among College Students], 100% of students surveyed said they had at one point played games; 70% still played “once in a while,” and 65% played regularly. 48% agreed that game playing kept them from studying “some” or “a lot,” and – this is the truly disheartening figure – 32% admitted playing games that were not part of the instructional material during class. In a separate study Jenkins’ team did at MIT, incoming students stated that they played games more than they used any other media, including television, the movies, and books. One method for tackling media literacy is to make students media producers; in one example, students were asked to consider the politics of a colonizing process as they created a Flash game called Tropical America [relevant links: Tropical America Game website and the description on the Education Arcade].

Jenkins discussed some of the merits of games in the classroom and, in doing so, highlighted some of the scholarship in the field. He referenced Jim Gee’s What Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, noting Gee’s assertion that games are about problem solving; gamers learn through hypothesis and discovery in an environment free of risk. By virtue of the fact that game-play is re-loadable and repeatable, players (and by analogy, students) can make mistakes and then learn to correct them; the price of a mistake in a contemporary classroom is much higher – so much better then to enable practice. Furthermore, games constantly push at the outer limits of players’ competency by the careful staging of levels that can adjust to the player’s needs and abilities. He also reminded the audience that types of games and simulations, such as Model UN, are already used in education to great effect, emphasizing that their value is not just in the simulation, but in the student work that is necessary as they prepare for the simulation.

The focus of the talk turned to Revolution, a game about Colonial Williamsburg in 1773. The game is being developed by the Education Arcade, with the help of student programmers and graduate students, with support from Colonial Williamsburg. The first chapter is based on an incident where the jittery British confiscated guns under the pretense of an impending slave revolt. Students play characters in the accurately modeled town, and depending on what kind of character the student chooses, they have different influences with various factions (royalists, slaves, and so on). The programmers have customized the game engine so that talking to members of different factions has an effect on game play. Making flamboyant choices – such as aggressive rebellion in the presence of royalists – can have severe consequences.

Available outside game-play are historical documents – newspapers of the time and other primary sources – that detail the events the game is based on, so the game is not – and should not be – played in a vacuum. Teachers are absolutely necessary to the enterprise. Part of the challenge, Jenkins noted, was that 40% of Colonial Williamsburg was comprised of black slaves. Accounting for master / slave relationships in the game was difficult, because making those roles “unplayable” wasn’t a reasonable option; teachers must be present, he asserted, to ensure a cautious and careful approach to these sensitive topics. Currently, Revolution is being tested in Boston schools. Jenkins indicated that the budget for Revolution was around $100,000, but this was using student programmers and involved customizing an already existing game engine (from Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights) rather than building their own.

Jenkins concluded that games are not always fun, but good games are always engaging; part of the challenge is convincing the public, funders, and school administrators that games are not just “for fun,” but that their ability to engage students can enhance their educational experience. A healthy discussion followed Jenkins’ presentation. I asked what how successful fund raising had been, and he admitted that funders were wary for a variety of reasons. I also asked what kind of curriculum support had been built around Revolution. If I understood correctly, while they have collected primary sources (newspapers, etc.) and have the game, it was not clear that there was a specific series of lesson plans integrating the primary sources with game-play. Developing those types of materials may, in fact, make potential funders less wary, if the game component appears balanced with other Internet and computing resources available for teachers, such as what EDSITEment currently provides.

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February 9, 2005

Ludonauts' 2004 Best Reads

Ludonauts - 2004 in Review: Best Reads

The best reads on gaming in 2004. Considered: the uselessness of academic game writing, the usefulness of academic game writing, some things you probably missed.

Also of interest - their 2004 in Review: Best Games

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February 8, 2005

Jenkins / Education Arcade Lecture at UMD

Entering the Education Arcade: Learning Through Computer and Video Games

The Education Arcade represents a consortium of international game designers, publishers, scholars, educators, and policy makers who are exploring the new frontiers of educational media that have been opened by computer and video games. Our mission is to demonstrate the social, cultural, and educational potentials of games by initiating new game development projects, coordinating interdisciplinary research efforts, and informing public conversations about the broader and sometimes unexpected uses of this emerging art form in education. In short, we want to lead change in the way the world learns through computer and video games. In this talk, Professor Jenkins, a founder and co-director of the Education Arcade, makes the case for educational gaming, outlining what video games can bring to education, why the time is right to re-examine this concept, and what the Education Arcade is doing to make it a reality.

February 11, 2005
2:00 - 4:00 PM
McKeldin Library, Room 6137

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February 7, 2005

Galactic Conquest

Galactic Conquest is a mod for Battlefield 1942 set in the Star Wars universe. The latest - and final - release is now available.

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January 3, 2005


(Yet Another Game of The Year Awards)

But wait! It's a little different, because this one doesn't list any of the H2s (Halo2, Half-Life 2, etc.).

Game Tunnel has released their Independent Games of the Year awards. The #6 entry, Anito: Defend a Land Enraged, also won their 2004 RPG Game of the Year Award.

GameTunnel writes:

Play the game as Agila, and you will progress through the towns talking to key people in the towns, moving on to try and spread peace while trying to determine where your father has gone. Returning to play the game as Maya, gives players a completely different story in addition to adding a new perspective to what has really been occurring. It is amazing as you talk to some of the same characters and go to some of the same buildings how players can be involved in the same plot, but interacting in a completely different way depending on who they chosen to play as. Players discuss different things with the characters and come to understand different facets of the same storyline. The way the two storylines were woven together in addition to providing so much intrigue and mystery is something that any true adventure fan should experience.

Sounds interesting...

Anito also was a finalist in the 2004 Independent Games Festival.

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December 22, 2004

Salon's The Year In Games

Salon.com Technology | The year in games

The year in games
Developers, critics, gamers and analysts weigh in: What they loved, what they learned, what they worried about.

Lots of names familiar in the blogosphere, including Koster, Costikyan, etc.

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December 21, 2004

Game Spin Cycle

Grumpy Gamer provides a nice breakdown to the "Games make more money than movies" annual spin. Not news, really, but a nice reminder. Perhaps it is long past time Introductions to critical analyses of games stop opening with "Games are worth studying because ... well, did you know they rival box office sales?"

The sales numbers for Halo2 and WoW are impressive, but hardly the most interesting aspect of either game.

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December 16, 2004

Free Anarchy

Play Anarchy Online without subscription fees

15 December, 2004

Funcom announces that Anarchy Online will be the first major western live MMO without a subscription fee. In a unique move Funcom is removing all cost barriers in the ultimate sci-fi MMORPG, allowing all new players to enter and stay, free of cost! At the same time Funcom is departing from the obligatory need to register with a credit card, making for an easier entrance and registration process.

I've always wanted to try AO after watching several online friends leave for the game when it came out (and actually sticking with it through the debacle that was its launch). As one of the few sci-fi offerings in a field of swordplay, the game looks intriguing. As with all MMoRPGs, there's something daunting about joining in after the game has been running for years - a history that you just can't replicate. But for free - I think I can be convinced, at least for a test run.

According to \., the offer is good only until Jan. 15, so get while the getting's good.

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December 2, 2004

Game Brains

Game Brains (http://game-brains.com/) has a nice collection of selected video game writing (mostly online news articles, with some blogs).

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December 1, 2004

Game Studies 4.1

Game Studies 4.1 is now online, with the following articles:

Alexander R. Galloway: “Social Realism in Gaming“
Zach Whalen: “Play Along - An Approach to Videogame Music“
Castulus Kolo & Timo Baur: “Living a Virtual Life: Social Dynamics of Online Gaming“
Stewart Woods: “Loading the Dice: The Challenge of Serious Videogames“
Aki Järvinen: “A Meaningful Read: Rules of Play reviewed“
Anja Rau: “Game Studies - Review: Germans at Play“

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November 11, 2004

WoW Beta - First Impressions

I began as the human priest Rasselas in Northshire (East Coast RolePlay server - #19 I think? - if anyone wants to join or chat).

The game effectively and swiftly teaches you the basics of conversation with NPCs, training, and fighting within the first hour. Combat is fairly simple - you right click on your opponent to either begin swinging, or select them with a left click and choose any of your available spells. I quickly found that my Smite spell worked much better than trying to melee with my lousy damage (1-3 points) mace. Once I hit level 4, I found the priestess in the Abbey who allowed me to train a few new skills, such as Shadow Word: Pain (30 damage over 18 seconds).

There are plenty enough quests in and around Northshire Abbey to take you at least to level 6 (I am currently level 5 with a few quests to go). Most are "seek and destroy" style - kill a type of kobold, kill wolves for meat, or kill bandits for ransom on their scarves. Deputy Willem gives out the ransom quests - if you play, make sure you complete the bandit/scarves quest to upgrade your weapon.

Milly Osworth's quest for her wine introduces a slightly new twist to the theme; you need to retrieve her grapes from the vineyard, which has been overrun by bandits. In order to get the grapes, you must "open" the chest, which takes long enough that you might get attacked by multiple bandits. Like the others, however, this quest is relatively easy.

In fact, only twice did I find myself in any real danger. The first time was my initial engagement with the bandits who, unlike the wolves or kobolds, would attack immediately within a particular range, sometimes bringing along friends (you could pick a kobold's nose and he wouldn't be bothered). The other danger point involved someone breaking from combat and dragging two bandits over to me. A little run and gun saved my skin both times.

Other quick impressions. The game was attractive, with its own unique artistry - somewhat cartoonish, but clean and crisp. I haven't been able to figure out how to customize the chat to my liking - most chat seems to be global, with combat and area chat mixed in the same small window. I like to have a bit more control over my chat window(s), which was one of the few things I thought Asheron's Call did quite well. AC2 allowed multiple chat moveable windows that filtered according to your customization (toggle on group, global, tells/whispers, all in one window or some on/off in multiple windows).

At early levels, grouping was unnecessary, which gave off a bit of the impression of a single-player game, with lag, banter, and occasional kill competition.

A few other neat things - some basic emotes programmed in to normal chat, so if you type "hehe" in normal chat, your character does laugh (which other players can hear). If you click in your radar, a temporary marker will light up and sparkle, so it can help guide you in (it might actually autorun you there, but I didn't test that).

That's all for now - hopefully I'll have some time tomorrow to move on to a new city.

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November 9, 2004


For those interested in such things, the World of Warcraft open beta has begun. I'm currently downloading the 2 gigabyte client (so I expect to be able to install sometime after the game goes retail... ), which you can get by signing up here.

Once I get my client running, I'll post my world and player name in case anyone wants to join up.

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September 16, 2004

First Person: Reading Notes

With all the excitement of the summer, I've only just now begun working my way through First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. The book has certainly sparked some debate in circles, from the rather heavy (one might say harsh) review by Julian Kucklich to the dynamic (and, again, sometimes one might say harsh) discussion developing over at electronicbookreview (over and/or around - it's unclear to me at this point which "responses" have and haven't been published and/or retracted by ebr, complicated by the fact that their interface is simultaneously fascinating and infuriating).

With many pages to go, I hesitate to offer an opinion on the book as a whole, but I did want to toss out what I found to be a striking passage from Espen Aarseth's contribution. Aarseth is well-known - and deservedly so - for both his oft-cited Cybertext as well as his stewardship of Games Studies. He has argued more than once about the battle royale between so-called narratologists and ludologists and the consequences regarding the 'colonization' of game studies by other fields, like narratology, literary studies, and cinema studies, most notably in his article The Dungeon and the Ivory Tower: Vive La Difference ou Liaison Dangereuse?, as well as in his DAC paper, Playing Research: Methodological approaches to game analysis [pdf] and, according to Geoffery Rockwell's report, a keynote at ACH/ALLC.

In his First Person article Genre Trouble, Aarseth writes:

My warnings about narrativism and theoretical colonialism might seem unduly harsh and even militant. Why not let the matter resolve itself, through scholarly, logical dialogue? The reason for this vigilance, however, is based on numbers. The sheer number of students trained in film and literary studies will ensure that the slanted and crude misapplication of "narrative" theory to games will continue and probably overwhelm game scholarship for a long time to come. As long as vast numbers of journals and supervisors from traditional narrative studies continue to sanction dissertations and papers that take the narrativity of games for granted and confuse the story-game hybrids with games in general, good, critical scholarship on games will be outnumbered by incompetence, and this is a problem for all involved.

Unduly harsh and militant, indeed.

What's particularly puzzling, I suppose, is the assumption that one's training in a field means immediately that one is blind to one's training; e.g., that a person trained in narratology would simply bang away with the narratological hammer, as if theory were some sort of tool to be "applied," as opposed to, you know, theoretical suppositions to be pondered, challenged, debated, and refined. Apparently some are able to negotiate around their own conceptual blindspots, taking degrees in other disciplines before making the intellectual leap into game studies scholarship and leaving the discarded skin of former disciplines behind. If only we were all so adept.

Certainly not all complaints are misplaced. Plenty of articles exist that would have been more fascinating had they eschewed an overt and overriding affection for a particular theory (and that is not a problem unique to game studies). Yet for all the complaints, many of the articles - this one included - complain most generally about the application of terms like narrative, story, or neo-Aristotelian, usually turning to take a quick pot-shot at Janet Murray's 1998 Hamlet on the Holodeck, and yet fail to address particular investigations of story within games.

On the other hand, we have articles like Jesper Juul's Games Telling Stories?, which spends a great deal of time using particular aspects of narrative theory (drawing mostly on Chatman and Brooks) to show how games and narrative don't mix. A popularly recurring example: narratological claims that "narratives are indeed structures independent of any medium" (Chatman 1978, p.20; quoted in Juul). But in doing so, Juul commits the same mistake many accuse narratologists of committing - using theory like a hammer to either support or refute the presence of narrative, of story, or, what Ken Perlin, in his Can There be a Form between a Game and a Story?, unfortunately and vaguely calls "The Novel":

The form I have just described, of course, arises from what I will call "The Novel," which has for some time been the dominant literary form of Western civilization. Whether it is in the form of oral storytelling, written text, dramatic staging, or cinema, the basic premise is the same. A trusted storyteller says to us, "Let me tell you a story..."

Such vagaries are problematic and ignore the material, cultural, and historical context of literary and artistic works. "The Novel" is not simply a catch-all phrase for all literary forms that tell stories - it has a particular intellectual history very well covered in such books as Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel and Michael McKeon's Origins of the English Novel. Likewise, a more complete investigation of Chatman and Brook's point might lead us to discuss more thoroughly the changes form/discourse have upon story - and perhaps even consider new ones. Certainly literary studies - and more specifically textual studies - emphasizes the material alongside the textual, the interface alongside the typeface. And games draw on the literary, the visual, and the performative.

Aarseth states as much,

Games are games, a rich and extremely diverse family of practices, and share qualities with performance arts (play, dance, music, sports) material arts, (sculpture, painting, architecture, gardening) and the verbal arts (drama, narrative, the epos).

but the tautological introduction to that sentence offers an unnecessary caveat, an obfuscation of an otherwise appropriate description of the many media forms that influence games. That they are games seems the most obvious point of all.

I've seen no missive - perhaps I missed it - passed through the ranks of established departments laying sole claim to the study of games. No English departments spiking flags in fertile soil; no Drama departments chasing ludologists off of their performance plots of land. Nor do I understand the rhetoric of colonization so frequently bandied about; games are not some Promised Land, and ludologists - certainly a newcomer group as much as any other - are not the natives. Such rhetoric creates a myth of ownership and an accusation of invasion, neither of which are particularly helpful - or honest - to the history or future of game study.

Maybe I'm missing the urgency that drives the self-proclaimed "militant" message in this piece, the impossibility of investigating such questions "through scholarly, logical dialogue," or why literary and cinema studies are particularly at fault, while "sociology, linguistics, history, economics, and geography" get a day-pass. Game studies is a field that enjoys various influences and, as such, should encourage all types of critical perspectives (even, occasionally, those that are wrong or misapplied). Or to quote a gentler Aarseth from his introductory editorial at Game Studies: "These are interesting times. You are all invited!"

Previous related posts:
Notes: Commercial Games, Genre, Engines, Form - May 6, 2004
Notes on a Form(al) Theory for Games - March 15, 2004
Games Studies Levels Up - November 14, 2003
Joining the Hokey-Pokey (or, Putting My Left Foot in) - June 19, 2003
Game Methodology and Misc - June 17, 2003
Col. Mustard, in the blog, with a keyboard - April 28, 2003

Posted by Jason at 7:57 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack


Relatively recently someone, somewhere, linked to an article where a games industry writer claimed that the RPG he just worked on had XXXXX number of words, the equivalent (if I recall correctly) of some 5 novels.

Does anyone remember this? I'd appreciate the citation if you do.

Posted by Jason at 6:52 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 13, 2004


Michael's Noah's post Writing Fable - part one explores the script behind the anticipated (at least by me) game Fable by Peter Molyneux and the design team behind games like Dungeon Keeper and Black & White (the latter featured prominently in my PhD oral exams).

As a side note: how is that Microsoft managed to get more of the new, story-driven RPG games as exclusive licenses for the xBox, such as Bioware's KoToR (and Bioware's future releases), Fable, and others? Never one for Final Fantasy titles, I need to explore other possible RPGs for the PS2... suggestions welcome.

Posted by Jason at 6:46 AM | TrackBack

September 7, 2004

PBS: The Video Game Revolution

PBS offers The Video Game Revolution:

From Fad to Phenomenon

This is the story of how a whimsical invention of the 1960s helped spawn the computer industry as we know it. Video games have influenced the way children live and play, forever altered the entertainment industry, and even affected the way wars are fought. See how it all began and find out what it means for the future....

The Video Game Revolution examines the evolution and history of the video game industry, from the 1950s through today, the impact of video games on society and culture, and the future of electronic gaming.

Airing in D.C. Wednesday, September 8, at 9:00pm, MPT/Maryland Public Television, Channel 67 (and re-aired Thursday, September 9, 12:00am).

Posted by Jason at 7:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 30, 2004

Gamespot Spots Academics

Redefining Games: How Academia is Reshaping Games of the Future, by Lauren Gonzalez [via GTA]

It's Academic, Really (Gamespot on Academic Study, again)

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August 25, 2004


I recently picked up Battlefield: 1942, a first-person shooter set in a series of WW2 battlegrounds. The game, which has been available for a while now (I rarely am hip enough to pay full retail for games anymore), has two expansion packs; you can pick up the 3 pack for around $40 or Costco has just the first game for about $15. 1942's online play is great, allowing you to make a series of back-to-back battles with a set time limit and a variety of options. This kind of game makes it much easier for me to jump online with my buddies for an hour, as opposed to playing something like Neverwinter Nights or Asheron's Call, where the first hour can be spent simply sorting your pack.

I've never been much for frag-fests, aside from an occasional late-night blowouts on Quake 2 (and one in particular in the library that did not end well). I have, on the other hand, played a number of single-player first person shooters (Quake 1/2, Unreal, Half-life, Return to Wolfenstein, etc.), though I've felt like I missed out on something with never having tried Counter-Strike or the other online versions of these games. 1942 seems to fill that gap, providing solid team play and 5 different "kits" - typical infantry (machine gun, grenades), bazooka guy (5 shots with a bazooka), medic (can heal allies w/in a radius, machine gun slightly less powerful than Infantry), engineer (sniper rifle sans scope, mines, explosives, wrench to repair tank), and sniper (slow loading rifle with a high power scope, grenades). All kits have a type of pistol, a knife, and a type of explosive (usually 3 grenades). Anyone, regardless of kit, can jump into the tanks, jeeps, boats, and airplanes that scatter the battlefield. The tank is a blast (apologies for the pun), but I have yet to master flight, unless mastery involves crashing into mountains.

The logistics are fairly straight forward. Teams (Axis & Allied, with nationality determined by the location of the map) are measured by "tickets" and tickets expire depending on a number of circumstances, including death/regeneration and control of strategic points that freckle the game map (if one team controls more areas, the other team's tickets clock down at a faster rate). So, controlling and defending key points on the map is an essential element of gameplay. Another key element of the play that I like: if you die, you respawn after a brief time period (and at the cost of tickets), allowing you to seek revenge.

I wonder how much 1942's map-building resembles more strategic turn-based war games (such as the kind Matt likes to play). Certainly, the capture and control of strategic points reminds me more of RTS-type games, where you have to harness resources in order to build up and protect your armies, though clearly 1942's first-person perspective and real-time effort is quite different than hovering over the war-gamer's cardboard chips, thoughtfully planning your next move.

One other plus, in my mind, is that 1942 is not just a frag-fest; running headlong into danger is likely going to get you killed. After storming Omaha Beach a few times, I started learning how to use the buildings to flank the enemies, eventually winning the day, despite starting with a lower number of tickets and at a strategic disadvantage. Sniping can be fun, though the long reload time means quick death when things get fierce, like when fighting in the streets of Berlin.

As of now, I have only played with a few friends against mostly bots. Now that my gameplay has improved somewhat, I'm eager to build up a slightly larger team so we can try some PvP battles against opponents that are (presumably) smarter than the AI. I'm also curious about the social aspect of the game. What kind of people, for instance, tend to choose Axis? Usually the weapons are better, so there is certainly a strategic angle there. And since the game has stripped all Nazi-type insignias from the game, the stigma doesn't seem quite as strong - almost an odd reversal of America's Army, where you are always "America" and the opponent is always just "the enemy" (on both sides).

Anyway, if anyone is up for charging Omaha Beach, I’m game.

Posted by Jason at 6:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 11, 2004

Dood, where do you buy your games?

Started searching around for some games that I wanted - either don't have them any longer and want a new copy, or I need it and never had it. Games like Grim Fandango and Planescape: Torment (since I'm mostly focusing on RPGs and more narrative-style graphical games). I noticed that these two games are no longer available on Amazon and I started poking around some of my normal websites: overstock.com, ebgames, eBay (I think I'm the only wired person in the U.S. that has never actually *bought* something via eBay), etc.

I started wondering, though, where other people bought their games. Where do you get the best deals? Or is there no mystical land of game plenty, especially for poor researchers?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by Jason at 6:47 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 14, 2004

A Post in Which I Steal Links and Say Nothing of Consequence

Turning Films into good games: Mission impossible?: an interview with Scott Miller

Mechanics - Dynamics - Aesthetics: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research paper by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek.

[both news items via The Ludologist]

and finally some interesting thoughts in Jesper Juul's talk that he gave back in June: Between game and non-game: The video game as a sandbox for the player

Posted by Jason at 6:35 PM | TrackBack

May 25, 2004

Kid's Play; DDR Gets You Fit

Kids Play (amusing article where kids play and comment on older games like Donkey Kong, Pong, and E.T.):

Your average gamer these days is in his late 20s - young enough to still find new ways to destroy brain cells, old enough to worry about bills and 401ks, and wise enough to reminisce about the good ol' days of videogames. But was the age of Pong, Atari, Mattel handheld football, and Donkey Kong really all that great, or are we just blinded by fuzzy, warm nostalgia?

And, Dance Dance Revolution as exercise routine:

Forget the image of paunchy video gamers holed up in a dark room, surrounded by sticky Twinkie wrappers and empty soda cans.

Dance Dance Revolution players burn extra pounds along with their quarters. Weight loss is an unexpected benefit of a game designed for dance music.

For addition to previous thoughts on ergonomics/haptics/physical play.

Posted by Jason at 5:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 12, 2004

The Perfect Planet

After work reading material: THE PERFECT PLANET: Comics, Games and World-Building by Dylan Horrocks [via games/.).

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May 6, 2004

Notes: Commercial Games, Genre, Engines, Form

[Warning, you might find yourself walking on familiar and well traveled ground. This post, sparked by recent conversation, is part notes, part rehashing of old thoughts, and some rambles towards additional ones. Comments, of course, always welcome.]

In the recent discussion (aka, as the front page reads, Morpheus is fighting Neo in the Construct!Alien vs. Predator vs. Ludologist vs. Narratologist!) about games, ludology, narratology, and whether or not games should make you cry (psychological depth of games) at Grand Text Auto, a subthread emerged on who studies what kinds of games and what role commercial or noncommercial games should play in the discussion.

Espen Aarseth's describes Max Payne 2 as

perhaps the most lavish and successful story-game hybrid out there. I absolutely enjoyed playing it, yet it left me completely cold in terms of its psychology, and I cared about the main "characters" much less than I care about an individual ant in my garden.

Nick Montfort responds:

I would hate to characterize video game scholars as being people who, if you throw them a story, begin to dribble, but there has been great neglect of some of the recent interesting computer game work that relates to literature - probably because it has happened mostly in a slew of innovative non-commercial games. Restricting your attention to commercial games is a reasonable (and perhaps financially sustainable) policy, but making claims about what all computer games can't do, based on such studies, is really rather tenuous.

Behind both statements - and throughout the thread - are several recurring questions:

  • Is psychological depth or player emotional response an accurate measure of success for games or, in fact, any media?;
  • What types of games do or do not lend themselves to stories? Are such narrative attempts successful, and does narrative function in the same way in games as it does in other media (in other words, just because it looks like a story - is it a story in the way we commonly understand it)?;
  • Is it possible to create a 'theory of games' that is both useful and can account for the wide range of game-types or media-types associated with games?;
  • and the always present, What is the relationship of games to literature (or narrative), or is the comparison even useful?

But what caught my eye was the subthread focusing on the commercial aspect of games. In some respects, we can perhaps tweak Nick's statement to read:

Restricting your attention to commercial games any one genre of game is a reasonable (and perhaps financially sustainable) policy, but making claims about what all computer games can't do, based on such studies, is really rather tenuous. [strikes and italics mine]

And that would probably be a fair statement (and speaks to the second question, above, though it by no means answers it). But the vexing question remains - how do we deal with the commercial/industry attachments of many games? This is particularly important to me as I continue work on my dissertation, which over time to focuses more on specific - and specifically commercial - games and less on literary works I saw as related to games - although my approach continues to draw from a blend of narrative and textual studies as well as ludic and interface design principles.

Aarseth counters Montfort's criticism above by stating that

literary critics would not be having this conversation - "so, you only analyse commercially published novels, how opportunistic of you"

And while Montfort's response holds true to a certain degree -

A comparison to a film department that only considered Hollywood movies would seem more apt. Or, perhaps, to an Emily Dickinson scholar who only studied the seven poems she commercially published during her lifetime. If we're going to make the cross-media comparisons.

- Aarseth's point is well-taken. After all, Jack London's Martin Eden is but one of many literary explorations of the business side of 'creative writing.' Many film studies have, in fact, considered only "Hollywood-style" movies. And instead of using Dickinson's published work as a counter to her unpublished, I think the more accurate comparison might be between the relatively unpublished (in a traditional sense) Dickinson and the published - and very public - Whitman. I'm being a bit pedantic, but I am intrigued by the intersections of business and art, of commercial independent game (and film) development, of Barnes & Noble and the 'vanity press.' What institutional differences account for independent game designers' - from the IF writer to the mod and plugin designer - ability to avoid that last (often disdained) demarcation?

Where is the fine line that divides the commercial and the independent? Under which category would we file Turbine's Asheron's Call? Published by Microsoft (until recently), but developed in a studio apartment by a team who paid the CEO with insurance money he received when he was hit by a car (read Jon Monsarrat's story of Turbine's creation - click on Business, "A Company I Founded"). Alongside the rags-to-riches stories, what do we do with the mod designers whose work gets repackaged and sold on the shelves? The plug-in designer whose ideas get built into the next generation engine? The independent developer who uses a commercial engine, like Bioware's Aurora engine?

I suspect part of what is needed (conveniently, since it's part of what I'm writing my dissertation on) is a ludo-textual-studies-style examination and contextualization of the various game engines, an exploration of how rules discourage and encourage certain aesthetic choices, how specific engines help define the formal features of their associated games. Doing so also helps us examine the distinction between commercial and independent games that use (or are based on/enhancements of) commercial engines. Importantly, it also seeks to address the issue of speaking towards one type - platform, genre, commercial/noncommercial, etc. - of game as representative of the whole (as in Montfort's quotation above). Just because something is game-like doesn't mean it must overwhelmingly share properties with other games, a point made forcefully enough in literature that it is seemingly odd for Nabakov or Danielewski or Eggers to use conventions of critical works (footnotes, etc.) as fictional devices. Their very oddity speaks to our expectation of and familiarity with convention within particular genres.

I know some of this is covered in Rules of Play and, while I haven't read it yet, I believe (based on shelf browsing) that this is the kind of important work that Montfort does in Twisty Little Passages (and thanks to the fact that my 3-month old daughter has amazingly achieved a relatively regular sleeping schedule, I hope to tackle the book soon). It's this kind of focus on genre and platform that simply removes from the equation complaints that an argument doesn't account for another kind of game, but also leaves plenty of room for extrapolation.

Which really brings me right back to rehashing the same old points. One final note, and a launch pad for future discussion: Nick summarized Marie-Laure Ryan's conference talk as follows:

She suggested that a cognitive approach to narrative, which saw story as a world that had characters and objects undertaking meaningful actions, actions that had consequences in a system with rules and laws, was particularly amenable for use in understanding some computer games.

I need to plumb Ryan's work for a discussion of what "meaningful actions" might be, in the sense that (coming back to "commercial" games) the potential for meaningful action is, in fact, often fairly limited, although the illusion of meaningful action is at time effectively offered (a focus of my chapter on agency in Bioware's Neverwinter Nights and Turbine’s Asheron’s Call).

Posted by Jason at 5:33 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 3, 2004

ebr + first person

electronic book review has established a thread for Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan's First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game.

Check out the thread introduction or see an overview of the weave.

Also, some thought provoking conversation over at Grand Text Auto - the aftermath of conference posts:

Scriptons, Textons, Possibility Space conversation stemming from the Narr@tive: Digital Storytelling conference

and, The Debate that Never Really Took Place (in a serious way) continues

More thoughts on this soon, once I have a chance (in the midst of moving madness) to read it all.

Posted by Jason at 7:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 14, 2004

Mysterious Games

Gamespot reports that Agatha Christie is coming to your PC. Speaking of the forthcoming mystery roleplaying games:

"There can be no stronger signal of the enduring popularity of Agatha Christie's works than their continued adaptation to other mediums," says Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie's grandson and chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd. "Adapting her stories for completely new formats, such as PC gaming, allows us to introduce classic mysteries to whole new audiences and keep them relevant into the decades to come."

Me? I'm waiting for TSATFO (The Sound and the Fury Online, of course!). Joking aside, it will be interesting to see if they will be able to port the stories into a successful gaming platform.

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April 8, 2004

Free Elder Scrolls: Arena

Download Bethesda Softwork's The Elder Scrolls: Arena for a limited time, in celebration of The Elder Scrolls 10th Anniversary (note that you'll also likely need the DOS emulator).

More background information on The Elder Scrolls titles is also available.

Posted by Jason at 1:15 PM | TrackBack

April 2, 2004


During a recent visit home, my dad and I were catching up on all of the many things he finds time for now that he is retired. Finishing his novel, exercising, catching up on odd tasks around the house, geocaching ...

"Geocaching?" I ask. He takes me up to his study, a finished portion of the attic with a chair and a couch both suitable for napping, turns on his computer, and loads geocaching.com.

Geocaching, self described as "the sport where YOU are the search engine," is wish fulfillment for anyone who ever wanted to come across a map to buried pirate treasure, Goonies-style. With a set of GPS coordinates in hand, the geocacher heads out to the general area of the cache and begins hiking and, when necessary, bushwhacking their way towards the cache site. Since most handheld GPS systems can only pinpoint a location within a certain number of meters (the author of the website's FAQ, for example, has a GSP model that brings him only within 20 feet or so of the coordinates), the geocacher has to search for the cache once they reach the general GSP coordinates.

The caches are all left by other geocachers, often hidden in an old log, tucked under some brush, or otherwise disguised. Once you find a cache, each participant can select some token - anything from a September 11th Commemorative Coin to a half-chewed on pencil (batteries to power your GPS are also popular, according to sources named "Dad") - provided that they leave another token in its place for future geocachers. Some geocaches are "virtual," which is to say that the location itself is the reward (an odd perspective reversal on the virtual and the real, where the geographical/physical artifact is the 'virtual' reward, highlighting the emphasis on the cache contents as a primary motivator).

The entire system relies on a social and technical network. Caches are planned and placed by geocachers themselves, who then provide the coordinates by entering them into the geocache.com database. Each cache has a commenting feature that allows for feedback and help, such as when geocachers are unable - sometimes after multiple tries - to find the cache once they reach the coordinates.

I haven't had a chance to "geocache" yet - hopefully an issue that will be rectified next time we visit with my parents - but I'm intrigued by the combination of sport and game, treasure hunt and token exchange, domain mapping and geography hopping. All sorts of correlations spring to mind in the context of gaming, framing and exploring space, systems of reward and failure, and social networking, but I want to reserve commenting too much until I have a chance to do a little experimental caching on my own.

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March 31, 2004

Campus on the Mall: Games People Play

The Smithsonian Resident Associates Program is hosting a seminar on May 16, 2004 (2-5 pm) entitled Games People Play. If you have the $40 to spare, it looks to be an interesting program. The participants are:

Doug Church, chief technology director, Eidos North America, is the game designer of Ultima Underworld (I & II), System Shock, and Thief: The Dark Project, three games in the top 20 of PC Gamers’ recent list.

Richard Garfield, a mathematician by training, is the designer of the alpha version of Magic: The Gathering card game (Wizards).

Shigeru Miyamoto, senior managing director, Entertainment Analysis and Development Division, Nintendo Co., Ltd., Kyoto, Japan, is the inventor of Donkey Kong.

Moderator Bernard Yee has managed product development of computer games in Asia and the United States, most notably at Sony Online Entertainment, developers and publishers of EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies. He also served as Director of Product Development at Disney Interactive and Director of Creative Development at Disney Online. Bernard has been a journalist, analyst and consultant for the computer games industry, and is currently teaching a class in Game Design and Development at Columbia University.

Posted by Jason at 7:46 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 29, 2004

Game Writing White Paper

Note to self: read the white paper by the IDGA Game Writers' Special Interest Group [via GTA]

Posted by Jason at 7:39 AM | TrackBack

March 15, 2004

Notes on Form(al) Theory for Games

[Edit: apparently my pings freaked out, so apologies to anyone I linked to that suddenly found several trackback entries. Not quite sure what happened there. Please delete all but one. Thanks. JR]

I've been following with great interest the posts and comments surrounding the recent Princeton conference on games. The conference and ensuing discussion reinforced my regret; it sounds like it would have been a wonderful event to attend. The conference title - Form, Culture, and Video Game Criticism - highlight three things very close to my academic heart. Blogosphere conversation sparked by the meeting has ranged from reports (GTA, Jerz, buzzcut), responses to the blog reports (Ludology.org, Jesper Juul), and discussion about "getting along in game studies" (Watercooler Games, and Nick Montfort's Combat vs. Air-Sea Battle at GTA).

If anything has been reinforced by reading through the friendly arguments and academic discourse this past week or so, it is that - to paraphrase Stanley Fish - "being interdisciplinary is hard" (props really should go to Matt K., rather than Fish, for giving me this handy segue, delivered during his lectures for Word and Image. The proper citation, if interested, is: Fish, Stanley. "Being Interdisciplinary Is So Hard To Do." Professions 89. NY: MLA, 1989. 15-22.). The central difficulty of speaking outside of one's own discipline is in part what seems to foster and even bolster our need for things such as a "common vocabulary" and our fears about the colonization of departments, fields (narratology v. ludology, etc.), and so forth.

The critical discussions of games, which draw on a variety of (and occasionally contrasting) traditions, media, and disciplines, unsurprisingly creates in some the sense (sometimes false, other times not) of contention. After all, there is a long history of inter-arts competition. Critically, one early example is Lessing's Laocoon (1772), which explored the relationship of poetry and painting; creatively, we can see examples of competition in artistic representation as early as Homer's ekphrastic description of Achilles' shield (a verbal representation of a visual representation) or later in the familiar poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by Keats (see CJ's post on Conventions of Ekphrasis, especially the commentary on 'paragone competition'; also see W.J.T. Mitchell, esp. Picture Theory, for discussion along these lines).

Goals such as common vocabularies to account for competing interdisciplinary perspectives are admirable but are ultimately chimeras. Certainly we will achieve some common understanding as the field progresses, but it always a responsibility of the writer-researcher to situate their assertions with the appropriate context, peppering articles liberally with clear articulations of key terms and references to supporting documents. Games are objects that draw from a variety of antecedents, which may or may not include (depending on the game) visual art, literature, rhetoric, textual studies, narrative, culture, social science, media studies, computer programming, game theory, film, and any number of fields, disciplines, theories, etc. that I certainly forgot (I'm sure someone will remind me). Expectation of common understanding is not only unrealistic, but ultimately detrimental to the field; of course, this point was made more forcefully by Nick in his simple contrast of Combat and Air-Sea Battle.

In that spirit, I'd like offer some thoughts about the use of form, especially in the context of form from a literary perspective, and how it is useful in the context of game studies. In his reaction to the Princeton conference, Jesper Juul rightly points to the history of structuralism as one possible concern when discussing aesthetic objects in terms of "rules, structure, or definitions":

This is the history that makes a lot of people automatically assume that if anybody talks about rules, structure, or definitions, they must be ignoring the experiences of the user. But the problem is that while this to a large extent is true with literature or film - if you reduce a novel to a semiotic square, almost everything interesting is lost - it is completely wrong when it comes to games.

Yet theories of structuralism and attention to form are not the same thing. Formal analysis may be a component of structuralist thought (certain Russian formalism was an influence), but the study of form is not bound to structuralism. A semiotic square is an interpretative tool - a device that has also been criticized for its lack of attention to cultural contexts as well as potential bias on the part of the user. Using a semiotic square (a critic's tool) is entirely different than examining the formal attributes of a work. Formal choices are sometimes (but not always) at least in part decisions made in the creative process. We should distinguish between noting that a poem is a sonnet (the form is a creative choice) and using a semiotic square to (as Jameson does) provide a reading of Dicken's Hard Times (a critical model).

Obviously, issues of form and theory are not so easily reduced to questions of creative forethought and critical afterthought, but it is an inaccurate assertion that attention to form necessarily reduces novels (or any other literary text or object of critical study) to a point where "everything interesting is lost" and necessarily ignores the experience of the user. Formal analysis is a long standing component of careful literary interpretation. Attention to poetic form helps shape a clearer understanding of a most common reading; a sonnet, for example, leaves clear markers as to how a reader would *most likely* encounter the text. Departures from the norms of the form call attention to the variants and encourage close scrutiny. The use of a particular form also roots the text within a social, literary, and historical context. This kind of thing is the bread and butter methodology of any number of literature sub-fields and especially of textual studies.

Ultimately, I would assert that texts are - at least in part - rule based systems. This is not to say that all texts share the same rules or that all aesthetic objects might be accounted by a single semiotic system; both assertions would also be inaccurate (see Nelson Goodman's Language of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols as an example of a worthy, yet unsuccessful attempt towards such a system). Reading a codex is an operation in perhaps one of the most commonplace and commonly accepted rule-based systems in place today. Books are literary machines, a technology of reading developed and made familiar over hundreds of years. Claims that books are without rules as just as suspect as the claims that computers and their texts are immaterial. Matt Kirschenbaum's recent talk at the Library of Congress, where he dramatically drew upon both textual studies and advanced forensics, was a fascinating rebuttal to such assertions. Textual studies, with its history of exploring variant readings and texts, reception histories, detailing formal attributes of works, and its theories of materiality and contextual history, is just one of many other critical antecedents to the project of a formal analysis for games (and, though I didn't get a chance to read it when it was online, Nick M.'s conference paper seems to be very much in this vein).

Film theory also relies heavily on the analysis of form in order to assert viewer experience and interpretation, including attention to particular shots (establishing, long, close-up, etc.), montage (relationship between shots), motion, angle, lighting, etc. Attention to such form only enhances, rather than detracts from, an interpretation of a film. Understanding film form is a key component to our collective visual literacy, which is in turn one component (again, of many) that informs the design of some games. Certainly, these formal terms are heavily invested with theoretical assertions; it should be a tacit understanding that formal terms are neither static nor without cultural and historical weight.

Acknowledging indebtedness to critical roots is not the same as being bound to them (assuming theories have boundaries anyway). And part of the value in exploring the relationships between (so-called) "old" and "new" media rests in what may be one of the most powerful arguments for our discipline - instead of applying old theories to new, the study of the "new" might just reveal some misconceptions, corrections, or interpretations of the "old."

Posted by Jason at 6:33 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 10, 2004

Game Over (UPN)

Game Over, UPN's animated show about what happens when you turn that console off, premiers this evening at 8 pm. Voice actors include Lucy Liu (of Ally McBeal and Charlie's Angels fame), Patrick Warburton (from Seinfeld), and Rachel Dratch (of SNL).

Posted by Jason at 7:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 29, 2004

Leap Links

Magic Words: Interactive Fiction in the 21st Century, an article on IF on 1up [see also Jerz, GTA, Slashdot].

2003 Xyzzy Awards

NYTimes Deconstructing the Video Game (reg. required), which mentions the Form, Culture and Video Game Criticism conference at Princeton on March 6.

Nick M.'s fascinating Continuous Paper.

Ed Ayers and Charles M. Grisham, "Why IT Has Not Paid Off as We Hoped (Yet)," EDUCAUSE Review 38.6. [via MGK]

Jerz's Playing, Studying and Writing Interactive Fiction

Posted by Jason at 9:49 PM | TrackBack

February 23, 2004

"Dungeons and Dreamers" Chat

A belated post - John Borland and Brad King, authors of "Dungeons & Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Gaming Culture From Geek to Chic," were online Friday, Jan. 30 for a washingtonpost.com - Live Online chat session.

Posted by Jason at 5:35 PM | TrackBack

Curiously Strong Games?

I came across the Altoids Arcade, which has a flash-based adventure game. "Curiously Strong All Night Long" is based around the Altoid Strips and looks very Leisure Suit Larry. I haven't had time to play far, but I found it odd enough that it merited a link and a future look.

Altoids probably has nothing on Crimson Room (US server) by Toshimitsu Takagi. [via GTA]

EDIT: Comments have been closed for this post. Thanks!

Posted by Jason at 7:15 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

February 22, 2004

Mental Note

Gary Alan Fine. Shared fantasy : role-playing games as social worlds. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1983.


Beyond Role and Play, edited by Markus Montola and Jaakko Stenros, product of the Solmukohta nordic role-playing convention.

Posted by Jason at 9:13 PM | TrackBack

February 19, 2004

Memory Card

Mia Consalvo, a game researcher at Ohio University, has started a new blog named Memory Card where she already has an interesting thread about the ethics of researchers using game cheats. [via TerraNova, which has some comments on the cheating thread as well]

Posted by Jason at 7:11 AM | TrackBack

February 18, 2004

News Round-Up

IDGA - Ivory Tower column, Dungeons, Dragons, and Ivory Towers, where Chaim Gingold focuses on issues of collaboration between the game industry developers and academics/researchers.

Michael, of GTA, officially announced the creation of the Experimental Game Lab at Georgia Tech, which is holding an open house on February 27th.

The Associated Press is getting into the game with their recent article on game studies, now syndicated at a newspaper near you.

If you kick a robotic dog, is it wrong? - the Christian Science Monitor looks into the question. GTA delves deeper.

Matt K.'s graduate seminar blog links to much of the conversation around Aarseth's Cybertext (which is, quite frankly, not much - for such an important book, there are surprisingly few reviews of it). Great set of links (and Espen even swings by).

Posted by Jason at 7:25 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 15, 2004

Scattered Thoughts

Such is my mindset right now (we're 'in the window' - the baby's due date isn't for another 17 days, but this subset of the rhody clan is rarely on time).

Close Reading New Media: Analyzing Electronic Literature edited by Jan VAN LOOY and Jan BAETENS
[via GTA]

Other close readings: a great group of essays from Matt K.'s graduate class last semester is available at Rob Kendall’s Word Circuits site.

Also, a reminder: the Games Research Bibliography Database, with over 500 entries and an invitation for submissions.
[via GamesNetwork listserv]

Belated thanks for the review of Misc. by a member of Scott Rettburg's class. The link seems to be down right now, but I wanted to make a mental note, before I completely forgot. More once I can look at the review again.

Cheap@$$Gamer is a blog that posts good deals on games at various online and concrete retailers (and I changed the middle word not b/c I'm a prude, but because I like to avoid setting off flags at the office when checking Misc.).

Need to update our installation of MT to fix a few security issues, as well as implement some antispamming techniques (although some might not work well for Herders - more thoughts on why later). Here's a link to the description of the recent patch [thanks George], as well as what's coming in version 3.0.

Personal reminder to backup the database before the update. I also encourage any herders reading to occasionally back up their blogs through the MT interface. Our hosting providers provides backups and I do a database backup every once in a while, but redundancy's never struck me as a bad idea.

Posted by Jason at 7:50 AM | TrackBack

January 14, 2004

Game-centered Information, Communication & Society

The new issue of Information, Communication & Society [abstracts available; fulltext limited to subscribers] is game-centered, with the following articles.

Mapping the Bit Girl: Lara Croft and new media fandom by Bob Rehak

Boundary Spaces by T. L. Taylor, Beth E. Kolko

The Video Game Lightning Rod by Dmitri Williams

Aside: I was on a panel with Dmitri at the latest AoIR conference, where he spoke of his research on social relationships - online and off - in MMORPGs. He continues to bring some much needed perspective on the current status of research related to games' effects on behavior, both in his dissertation as well as on the Games Research Network listserv. His dissertation, which I will not claim to have read yet, is available for download at his online CV

Geography of the Digital Hearth by Bernadette Flynn

The Sims: Real Life as Genre by Diane Nutt, Diane Railton

From Pong to Planet Quake: Post-Industrial Transitions from Leisure to Work by Hector Postigo

Playstation and the Power of Unexpected Consequences by Alberto Alvisi, Alessandro Narduzzo, Marco Zamarian

Posted by Jason at 7:08 AM | TrackBack

December 17, 2003

Turbine, With Increased Power

As reported on games.slashdot, Turbine announced that they are buying Microsoft the Asheron's Call franchise from Microsoft [AC press release].

Turbine also released a Letter to the Players, with the news everyone wants to hear:

I’m sure that as soon as you read this announcement, your first question was, “Will Turbine develop an expansion pack for AC1?”

Does Bobo like nanners?

I've always felt that AC1 (and the expansion Dark Majesty) was a fabulous, unique, and inventive game in a genre all-too-often cluttered with cliches. No time to elaborate now, but what a fabulous coup for Turbine, who is also developing Middle Earth Online and D+D Online.

If they can manage to meld the graphics of AC2 with the addictive gameplay and storyline of AC1, Turbine should continue to do quite well.

Posted by Jason at 1:45 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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]

Posted by Jason at 4:18 PM | TrackBack

December 10, 2003

Game Program on the Kojo Nnamdi Show

During Kojo's "Tech Tuesday" show yesterday, Mia Consalvo (Ohio U.) and Chris Taylor (of Time Magazine, not - I think - Gas Powered Games) talked about gaming. I only caught the last few minutes of the program, but fortunately you can stream it from the WAMU website. Scroll down to Tuesday in the above link to see the show listing and the link to the stream.

Link to the archives for future reference (show isn't listed there yet, but it will be under December 9, 12 noon, probably sometime next week. In the meantime, use the link above).

Posted by Jason at 7:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 18, 2003

Christmas List

Need a gift idea? Well, I sure wouldn't mind a dual Ms. PacMan / Galaga arcade game cabinet.

Two great games. One low price.

(and my wife will thank you for it. really.)

(or maybe not.)

Posted by Jason at 6:10 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 14, 2003

Gaming Programs

New article - Wired News: Academics Can Be Fun and Games - about increased study of games at universities. [via /.]

Posted by Jason at 7:42 AM | TrackBack

Game Studies Levels Up (thoughts on conference recaps)

I've been following the Level Up! conference reports with great interest. Lisbeth Kalstrup details some of the issues at play in the (so-called) narratology/ludology debate. Lisbeth draws attention to the important distinction between "narrative in games," rather than "games as narrative" - a distinction I hold a great deal of affinity for. At the recent AoIR conference, the 'gaming group' got together for a "Birds of a Feather" meeting (at 8am, no less), and as we did the normal round of introductions, I explained my interests with a similar disclaimer - "I'm interested in narrative in games ... which is not to say, games as narrative." Sighs of relief seemed to penetrate the friendly chuckles around the table.

Which is odd, because I've never had to say, "narrative in books, not books as narrative," "narrative in drama, not drama as narrative," or "narrative in films, not films as narrative." Apples and oranges? I'm not sure, but it certainly seems telling of some issue, perhaps akin to media confusion when dealing with something like a William Blake print. Is it text or image? Both and/or neither? When you surgically remove the words from their illuminate state, what happens? Can you really - as some claim - pull a narrative from a game, without any real consequence to the game itself?

Anyone up for a rousing game of ProgressQuest?

Gonzalo Frasca, of newsgaming.org, provides his assessment of the conference, where he describes his talk as an attempt to move past the "narratologist/ludologist" debate, in which he claims:

such debate never took place and was based on a series of misconceptions and unfounded accusations of radicalism (at least between its main protagonists). . . Right from the start, the first paper ever published on ludology, clearly stated that its goal was "not to replace the narratological approach, but to complement it". Clear as water, right? I would have rather used my article to explore some of my recent research, but I decided to try to tackle this issue and put a final nail on its coffin. Sadly, the issue seems to still be appealing to many of the newcomers, so I am afraid that this issue would keep haunting us for a while. Luckily, all the people I discussed it with (including Aarseth, Juul, Murray, Mateas, Jarvinen and Eskelinen) consider the matter as just a detail in the field's recent history and are ready to get past it.

Andrew of GTA shares his thoughts about the conference, and likens Gonzalo's assertions to Rodney King's "Can't we all just get along?" An interesting choice, since I'm not sure why there is the perception that serious debate needs to be codified as hostile (and I'm not targeting Andrew here; I think he's just picking up on the vibes at play in The Debate itself - or perhaps the debate about The Debate?).

I am looking forward to Gonzalo posting his paper, because I'm hoping it will include a fairly detailed discussion of what he sees as the progression of The Debate. Call me crazy - or maybe I'm just one of the "newcomers" that "sadly" refuses to give up on the issue? ;) - but I actually find the legitimizing process involved in developing an academic field rather interesting. I'm also hoping to see why this is an issue to get past, rather than an issue to build on; in other words, what good came out of The Debate, if any?

As to looking towards the future, Lisbeth details what she believes is necessary for the "narrative in games" crowd:

I believe, what 'we' (those interested in narrative aspects in games) need to focus on now, is the concrete use of narrative devices in specific games, not looking at these games as narratives who should produce the same kind of emotions we know and expect to be rewarded with when we read narratives in books or on screen, but contemplating how narrative devices can be used inside games for the purpose of creating good gameplay and in order to produce a desire for the completion of the game (i.e. how narrative devices can help create "an anticipation of completion" and not retrospection, perverting Peter Brooks a bit).

Lots of great thought in this statement, although I think a lot of work also remains to be done to detail the relationship of story to any media. In fact, as I argued in my paper at AoIR, I think that one of the most radical ways to legitimize the field is to show how study of games can transform previously established academic methodologies and theories (just as hypertext helped reinvigorate - and popularize - scholarship about 'the Book').

Other recaps of Level Up! include:
Jason Della Rocca (with pictures)

EDIT: Here's an excellent conference evaluation by David Thomas of Buzzcut.

Posted by Jason at 7:18 AM | TrackBack

November 12, 2003


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has finally gone PC gold (available Nov. 18). Seeing as I don't own an Xbox (which was the only platform this game was available on), I've been waiting to try out what sounds like a fantastic game. Bioware is the developer, who also brought us the very enjoyable Neverwinter Nights.

Posted by Jason at 6:27 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 5, 2003

Level Up in Progress

Here's a link to the print Proceedings of the Level Up DiGRA Conference [PDF].

And here's wishing I could have gone ... sounds like a great line-up; some of the folks I met at AoIR, and they were great. I've read the work (and blogs) of many others. And I was really looking forward to having an excuse to finish my paper.

I haven't found much blogging about the conference yet, so if you see any details, please post the URL in the comments.

EDIT: Florence Chee's paper made it into a Reuter's story (link via Yahoo!).

Of course, the paper is about addiction to Everquest. The press loves this stuff. Heck, even Oprah loves it!. The article mentions the "world's first interdisciplinary games conference" (which I think is slightly inaccurate, but whatever), but fails to mention Level Up! by name. The only reason I made the connection? The location listed at the beginning of the article: "UTRECHT, Netherlands (Reuters)."

EDIT #2: Wall Street Journal article on the conference

Posted by Jason at 6:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 27, 2003

Women Devs

Interview with several women developers of MMoRPGs over at Warcry. Gender, games, and development has been on my mind lately, so hopefully more on this subject later.

Posted by Jason at 11:14 AM | TrackBack

October 22, 2003

Game Neverending

Got my Game Neverending beta password the other day, even though this round of beta hasn't started yet. But checked out the chat features and so on, which are active... pretty nifty. People I met seemed really nice. Looking forward to seeing how the game pans out...

If you are interested in playing, I think I can submit names to the beta list through my interface? Let me know, and I'll try...

Posted by Jason at 10:48 PM | TrackBack


Samorost by Amanita Design [via anne]

Posted by Jason at 10:05 PM | TrackBack

October 15, 2003

Game Taxonomy Article

Gamasutra is featuring an article by Craig A. Lindley entitled Game Taxonomies: A High Level Framework for Game Analysis and Design [announced on GAMESNETWORK list].

Unfortunately, no time to read it right now.

Access might require free registration.

Posted by Jason at 10:16 AM | TrackBack

October 14, 2003


Slashdot | Free Unreal Engine Release Planned for education or non-profit purposes.


Posted by Jason at 5:21 PM | TrackBack

October 11, 2003

Defining Simulation?

[This is in response to a great discussion on GTA specifically about newsgamings' September 12th (which I reviewed here) and more broadly about reactions to calling the game a "simulation". I would post it in GTA's comments section, except that I always hesitate to clog the narrow comments column with overly lengthy posts... this follows Noah's comment on October 11, 2003 10:02 AM ]

Manovich has some great stuff about simulation - although he is also very clear about distinctions he draws in its use. When talking about frescos, for example, he is distinguishing between "representation on a screen" and "simulation" as immersion. The key difference for him in that distinction (which is focused in this case on Virtual Reality and screens) is the relationship of the material body to the object of study - is it fixed (sitting in front of a computer) or mobile (walking around a wax museum). Manovich also goes to great length to situate simulation within a variety of historical contexts. Finally, his definition of computational simulation cites "visual fidelity" as just "one" aspect. He writes "Besides visual appearance, simulation in new media aims to model realistically how objects and humans act, react, move, grow, evolve, think, and feel" (LoNM 182, emphasis mine). The paragraph at the top of that same page is equally usefully is seeing how Manovich draws distinctions and associations in different types of simulation in "old" and "new" media.

So, to clarify, I wasn't quite asking "how do we define simulation" - which, as this fascinating conversation is pointing out, might not be such a bad question to revisit. My question really was: Does Gonzalo's definition of simulation successfully distinguish narratives and games (which is its stated purpose)?

I'm not sure it does.

I think Andrew and Noah are both totally right - each, in a different way, seems to argue that when defining a term (and creating a 'new' use for it), you must also take into account its historical and cultural heritage (after all, words aren't fixed, but nor are they unhinged). But the 'new' use in this case - functioning as a distinguishing characteristic between games and narratives - strikes me as suspect. By stating "Narrative is based on semiotic representation, while videogames also rely on simulation,[1] understood as the modeling of a dynamic system through another system," Gonzalo essentially argues that narrative is not simulation. And that makes me want to revisit the definitions of simulation in its various historical contexts...

The longer excerpt of Gonzalo's essay was very helpful - he has some really rich ideas, and I'm looking forward to the entire essay. It also brought to mind a few more questions about how he attempts to distinguish games. He writes: "Unlike narrative, which is constituted by a fixed series of actions and descriptions, videogames need the active participation of the user not just for interpretational matters, but also for accessing its content." When I read that, I mentally ask the following questions:

1. How do we define "active participation"?
2. Is narrative fixed? In what way? Are we talking about print narrative, such as a novel? Film narrative? Hypertext?
3. If a game has a narrative element (such as a RPG), how does this definition's distinction between the two reconcile itself?

Gonzalo's definition of simulation also serves an important political function in the long-standing debate that is broadly about the 'nature' of games but so often is cited as the ludology-narratology debate (a name that is, in my mind, an unfair reduction of a fascinating conundrum in the study of media into a dichotomy battle between methodologies). I also think that using this definition of "simulation" as the distinguishing characteristic of games does not successfully accommodate all types of games. Nor does it recognize that the category of 'games' encompasses a vastly diverse population of media objects. Absalom, Absalom and Webster's Dictionary are both books, but that doesn't really help to really define either of them beyond their surface material trappings.

(To be clear - I'm not saying that Gonzalo hasn't considered these things himself, but am rather just arguing against what I believe are the implications of his assertion. I realize that zeal for a subject matter can sometimes come across oddly in a textual environment, so pardon the self-conscious and well-intentioned aside...).

Bringing this back to the specific example of September 12th - I thought a few passages from Gonzalo's essay were striking and maybe speaks to why calling his game/political cartoon a 'simulation' struck some as problematic (as evidenced by Greg's colorful reaction):

"On the other hand, simulation is dynamic and its essence is change: it produces different outcomes."

"This also explains why videogames are not a good realm for historic events or characters or for making moral statements."

"The potential of simulation is not as a conveyor of values, but as a way to explore the mechanics of dynamic systems."

"Simulations also have particularities and referents, but their main characteristic is that they allow tweaking and changing the original model."

"Simulation is an ideal medium for exposing rules rather than particular events."

If we take these assertions as given, would we call September 12th a successful simulation? Or even a simulation at all?

Posted by Jason at 5:12 PM | TrackBack

October 3, 2003

Rhody's Response to Bernstein's Bait

The question is fair enough, I suppose, if in the proper context (fine for a role-playing or other style of "narrative-driven" game, less so for a puzzle game like "Tetris"). In the midst of arguments over how much money the game industry makes (more than box office, less than additional DVD sales and rentals?) or whether or not narratology (film studies, post/Marxism, or [enter your theory of choice here]) is an appropriate methodology for studying games, we still have yet to engage in substantial ways with a very basic question (paraphrased by andrew at GTA):

in the twenty-plus years that games have been around, what do they teach us about ourselves, e.g., about personal relationships, sexuality, the human condition?

Now, here is MB's original question (you can read the full context here here and his more recent addition here):

Take the last twenty years of computer games -- the whole kit and kaboodle. Put them on a shelf. (Yeah, it's a big shelf) Now look over the shelf, and tell me everything we learn about, say, sexuality.

I happen to think that Andrew's revision is both more fair and a tad more approachable. If we adopt all of MB's rules, which involve some fairly substantial restrictions on critical reading skills, sexuality as a topic becomes particularly difficult to engage in the context of games. Sure, we can point to scholarship as early as Turkle and as late as, well, more recent resources dealing with gender and play (my library isn't handy right now), but the restrictions limit such discussion, as MB notes:

I'm looking for what's in the game, not what the audience brings to the table, and yes, I see the theoretical shortcomings of the previous clause.

So let's tackle this on the broader scale, if for no other reason than that game companies are most likely to pander to the sexual codes that are so evident in games while simultaneously avoiding overt sexual themes that are likely to get them in trouble (unless, as in the case of something like Grand Theft Auto, you deliberately offend, resulting in an odd sort of reverse subversive social criticism).

The "human condition," brought up via Andrew's revision, is, as we all know, an equally unwieldy term - one we frequently use to tell our undergraduates why we study literature, but generally vague and problematic, always surrounded by quotation marks as if we must shrug our shoulders when we say it. The human condition, according to who? With all of these caveats, restrictions, concerns, and complications in mind, the question remains - what do games tell us about the human condition? What do they teach us about ourselves?

Andrew and others (see his post for a list of great links) say, "very little," and while I'm not inclined to disagree for the most part, I'm also not sure that I have thought and written enough to really decide that. I do know that I have on rare occasion found myself sitting in awe, as both gamer and scholar, at something that occurred on the screen in front of me. This is one of those stories.

It was Leafcull, Portal Year 11. For the past several months, the towns across Dereth had been tormented by the floating Shadow Spires - and the shadow minions that protected them - until a final battle, and aid from unexpected sources, drove the Spires back into the ground. But not until after the towns of Arwic and Tufa had been destroyed, leaving huge craters in the ground.

The game? Asheron's Call, a MMORPG (the unpronounceable acronym for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) that provides free monthly and (usually) story-driven updates to the game, marking it as a serial-narrative style game. Portal Year 11 was October 2000, and the game was beginning to wind up to the final stages of their first story-arc that spanned a year's time. Shadows - creatures made of little substance and decedents of a rebellious nation - had become a prominent force throughout Dereth, attacking towns and terrorizing the landscape with their floating Spires. Their leader, once a Dericost man named Ilservian Palacost, was the dread Bael'Zharon. Unknown to the Isparians - the people (the players) who had settled Dereth many years later - Bael'Zharon's rebellion was thrown down and his power captured within a series of crystals hidden throughout the land. Several months' of recent explorations had uncovered those crystals and adventurers destroyed them, for not only did their power threaten Dereth, but they also wielded great riches to those who broke them.

Turbine - the developer of Asheron's Call (which is published by Microsoft) - wove an amazing story over the course of several months. They counted on gamers' desire to conquer, and to gain unique riches, because that desire in turn slowly released an evil upon the land. It was an ambitious and thoughtful design that played upon the persistent nature of the world to prevent recalling a decision. Once a crystal was destroyed, there was no reverting to a saved game to preserve it. For many months, destroying the crystals was seen as an act of preservation - the very first crystal, found in the frigid reaches of Frore, had cast an enduring winter upon all of the land (the first "Live Event" in December 1999).

The battle of the Shadow Spires, where Asheron reportedly appeared for the first time in years to help defend the town of Cragstone, "occurred" in the dead space between September and October 2000 patch. In other words, the worlds came down for the patch early one morning and when they came back online, players logged in to find the events already played out. After such effort to drive the plot this far, players felt somewhat cheated. Why did the "big event," they asked, exclude them? The title for that month's patch - "Hollow Victory" - resonated more strongly than perhaps intended.

So the developers set an elaborate stage for the next (and grand finale) event - "Should the Stars Fall" -- Leafcull, PY 11 (November, 2000). A series of adventures (the details of which are too lengthy to explore in detail right now) led to the location of the final crystal - The Shard of the Herald - but with a catch. Those who entered must be marked as player killers (PKs), something that a player can complete a short quest to accomplish (a similarly short quest can turn the player back into a non-player killer). By now, enough had been revealed that players knew that destroying the crystal would release Bael'Zharon.

In his monthly "The Spin From Turbine: A Tale of Six Crystals (or, "It was the best of events, it was the worst of events..."), released after the event on December 8, 2000, AC Producer Nik "Azeraphel" Davidson discussed the rationale behind the event:

A lot of what we did in November came from reaction to player feedback. In prior months, especially regarding the Nexus, players complained that there was no way to intervene in the plotline. People wanted the chance to defend the crystal, to keep BZ imprisoned. We thought that this would make for fantastic role-playing, and tried to come up with a system that would allow people to take a more active part in the event. Thus the PK-only dungeon for the final Shard was created. We wanted to give the players a choice -- to defend the Shard, or to destroy it.

Asheron's Call is played on several worlds (servers) in order to accommodate the number of players. Each world is distinct, although also synchronized in terms of story and events. No one world could diverge substantially from another, because that would radically increase the amount of work for the AC Live Team.

In other words, the crystal, no matter what, had to fall. Now, this wasn't really a problem or a concern. In fact, the crystals on all worlds fell within a matter of hours. Gamers like to break things in hopes of finding something inside of them (a point reinforced to me when my brother-in-law drove his car from GTA3 straight through a window ... discovering a better sports car hidden behind it). Except on one server - Thistledown's players mounted a defense of the Shard of the Herald (affectionately dubbed "Harry") and proceeded to defend the crystal for the entire month (more details are in the article I listed above).

The struggle and consistency of the defense was really quite impressive. Those of us who were on other servers kept track through message boards; we kept each other up to date in games. No one believed that the defenders would hold. But they did, until the very end. All of this is impressive in itself, but one final surprise - and this one was key. A bug in the programming allowed NPK characters to enter the battleroom. Since NPK characters cannot be harmed (and thus stopped) by PK characters, they had nothing to prevent them from simply destroying the crystal. Surprisingly, no one did.

As the letter details, the developers enlisted the help of some players, got behind the controls of some powerful "toons" (avatars), and engaged in a major battle, tipping the scales so that "Harry" could be destroyed. The developers gave them the nod to acknowledge their feat, and instead of pulling the plug in the downtime, gave them an amazing final battle. Nik Davidson reiterated this fact in his article:

In closing there's one thing that I want to make abundantly clear: We did not do this to "make the defenders lose." We did this because the defenders had won.

Humanity is, in part, captured, if not defined, by decisions; the substantial difference between, say, a novel and a game is that in 'traditional' literature, the decisions are made prior to the act of reading (agency during the act of reading is something I'll get into another time). Some of the most amazing (and frustrating) literature involves choices that remain undecided, uncertain, or unknowable - the end of James' Portrait of a Lady is a novel that drives me into fits every time I read it; I spend hours wondering what Isabel is really up to when she runs to Rome. For the most part, however, the decisions in novels arrive to our eyes and ears mostly already made. Tragedy and comedy - humanity - comes from those decisions, decisions that we can only read about but cannot change.

Role-playing games, however, are often about making decisions - enacting the process rather than reading the results. So part of the problem with MB's question is that it eliminates the process of creating outside narratives - notations, descriptions, quotations, and other history-making exercises - that in turn help create the sociology of these types of games outside of the program itself. We have methods for critical approach to novels, for example; we can neatly summarize relevant plot details, define characters, point to passages in the text. How can we accomplish this same level of detail in persistent worlds? Virtual tours only take you to the setting ("Here lie the fragments of the Shard of the Herald; next on our tour, the monument dedicated to the defenders of Thistledown."). Until we have a way of re-creating exact experience in games, we are, much like the "real world," left with artifacts, recollections, first-person accounts (and many of these, as I've discovered in a recent bout of research and writing, are quickly disappearing). Part of our job as scholars must involve an accounting - and criticism - of such game events, because it is in such accounts - the decisions and consequences that amaze us and confound us - that we can begin to tackle the question of their lessons of, and for, humanity.

[Note: Andrew's comment and concern about "well formed experiences" is a really well-stated notion of what I was trying to work through regarding "accounts" of games in the paragraphs above]

[Double note: I hit 'draft' instead of 'publish.' Damn. Corrected now (obviously). Lots of interesting discussion in the meantime over at GTA that makes me want to rethink some of this, but I'm not rewriting this thing right now.]

[Final note: some more AC history, for reference: A Brief History For Travelers]

[On a yet another side note, I found this article particularly interesting.]

Posted by Jason at 9:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 1, 2003

September 12: A Toy World

After having time to play yesterday, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about September 12, the new game by newsgaming.com [I mentioned it earlier here (briefly linking it to Bookchin's version of The Intruder) - also discussed by GTA, GGA, and Jill]. The game requires the Macromedia Shockwave plug-in but is small enough to download in a reasonable amount of time. The introduction artwork features (presumably, based on garb, setting, and subject matter) a Muslim woman bent over and clutching a dead child in much the same way as Michelangelo's Pieta. The full title is listed as "September 12th: A Toy World," which brings to mind the doll-house effect - a mini-model experiment in which you tinker and experiment.

This introduction screen quickly switches over to the "instructions" screen [screenshot below], which details the recognizable icons in the game. Civilians are listed below - a man and woman walking with a child, all dressed in non-descript Muslim clothing. On the top, we see a running man holding an automatic weapon, underscored by the label Terrorist.

The rules are intriguing in themselves: This is "not a game," but a "simulation" without possible winners or losers. "It has no ending. It has already begun" reminds us that the title - September 12th - places us a day after the attack in New York, Pennsylvania, and DC. We are, then, the hand that holds the retaliatory trigger, the proverbial finger on the red button. "You can shoot. Or not."

The game play itself (or the simulation play?) is fairly straight forward - a town is full of the iconic characters introduced to us on the instructions screen. They run from building to building in a non-specific but obviously Middle Eastern city. The terrorists are easily pinpointed by their white head coverings. The player controls a crosshair, which they can use to deploy a missile that strikes approximately two seconds after mouse button is clicked. After the missile explodes, we have about a ten to fifteen second delay before the next missile can be deployed, a wise design decision that forces us to watch the missile land and the destruction it leaves in its wake.

If a civilian is hit (as they undoubtedly will be, based on the lead time of the missile and the speed of their walk) and another civilian walks by, the live civilian will stop and weep over the body of their fallen comrade. Make sure your speakers are on, because this sound is striking. The mourners will then, with a transformation that would stun Bruce Banner, stand and turn into terrorists.

The possible implications to a casual observer? Terrorists are recognizable. They only run with guns - they don't use them (even though the title reminds us of the terrorist attacks the day before, the terrorists depicted in the game are innocuous. They do not attack anything - they just run). American defense/aggression (whichever view you happen to take) only breeds more terrorists, rather than protecting against them. It also, in that any civilian can become a terrorist, homogenizes the fictional Arab city. Unintentionally, perhaps, the game seems to state that the only reaction to American weapons is to become a terrorist. Just as our options are limited to two (fight or not), so too are theirs.

Now, to be fair, I think the folks over at newsgaming are making a solid effort towards using games as a critical tool. I'm not arguing that the above is what the developers think - only what the game seems (to me anyway) to possibly imply. On the other hand, the instructions screen could be read as a subtle commentary on the media's portrayal, or perhaps America's presumption, that anyone who looks Arabic and holds a weapon is a terrorist. It may lead some to think about what may have happened had an alternate, non-military response be pursued in the wake of September 11th. Perhaps the name of the game, the echoing weeping, and the Pieta-style introductory image serve to remind people that there are days of grief aside from September 11th, and places of misery outside of the United States.

While I think that there might be room for these kinds of arguments and discussions, I worry that many who look at September 12th will only see what appears to be the games' seemingly implicit argument - that terrorists are easily identified by their garb and gun, that retaliation (or defense, again according to taste) will create more terrorists rather than fewer, and that isolationism is the only method of prevention (or perhaps just stasis - I did not leave the simulation running long enough to see if the numbers of terrorists moving about actually decreased if no bombs were dropped). In other words, the complexity of the perspective might get lost in the simplicity of game play.

In any case, "September 12th: A Toy World" is certainly worth checking out, if only so you can add to the conversation, which is the developer’s clearly stated - and admirable - intention.

Posted by Jason at 7:33 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 30, 2003

and now for something completely different

My list of Things to Do just threatened to leave if I added one more thing.

But I couldn't help it. For later:

The 9th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition

Obviously catching up on my /. reading during my lunch break...

Cat Mother Open-Sources Game Engine

Posted by Jason at 3:26 PM | TrackBack


As Everyone Else has blogged, newsgaming.com has launched, starting with their game September 12th.

Newsgaming.com, headed by Gonzalo Frasca, editor of Ludology.org, looks to use games as an explicitly critical tool.

I haven't had a chance to play September 12th, but the premise calls to mind the critical game version by Natalie Bookchin of Borges' The Intruder. Bookchin's game only allows the player to progress by doing harmful things to the female avatar on screen (dropping her into manholes rather than allowing her to leap over them, for example). The player implicates him/herself in the demise of the woman in Borges story, sealing her fate as the player must shoot at her from a helicopter in order to finish the tale. A really amazing use of a game to provide a critical reading of a story...

Posted by Jason at 2:58 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 29, 2003

Rubies of Eventide

Rubies of Eventide is a "new" MMORPG. I use the quotation marks because while the game is only 10 weeks into its current 3D incarnation, it started as a MUD some nine years ago. There's a write-up on the game at RPG Vault.

Something that I find particularly nice about this game - the program is a free download with a free trial period before a monthly subscription kicks in. Much nicer than paying $50 to play the game for a month before frustration sets in (my experience with more than one MMORPG).

Looking forward to trying it out once I finish a few key projects...

Posted by Jason at 10:02 AM | TrackBack

September 26, 2003

Wireless Gameboy

Wired News (among many others) reports that Gameboy soon will have an add-on component that allows players sitting within 5-10 meters of each other to play together.

About time.

It's a smart move for both Nintendo and Motorola (who makes the component), as the article points out, setting them up to take on the forthcoming handhelds from Sony and Nokia.

Posted by Jason at 9:55 AM | TrackBack

September 25, 2003

MMOG History

GameSpy's From MUDs to Mainstream: The History of MMOGs

First week, with seven more installments to come.

Posted by Jason at 6:04 PM | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

Duck Marge! Here Comes Another Set of Links!

Cleaning out old e-mails. A list of things I don't want to forget, but my e-mail quota won't allow me to save.

Terra Nova Blog
from the e-mail circulated:

Authors are Hunter and Lastowka (authors of "The Laws of the Virtual Worlds"), Julian Dibbell (author of My Tiny Life and Wired contributing editor) and me (author of "Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier"). The purpose of the blog is to report and comment on critical
developments in the area of emergent collective reality spaces, aka virtual worlds. Our focus is not on the worlds themselves but on the economic and legal implications of the behavior they generate.

An Intentionally Selective and Incomplete Bibliography of Play and Video
Games by Christian Sandvig and David Brandon

Joystick101.org's column on Chris Crawford, game designer.

"Playing the Story, Computer Games as a Narrative Genre" by Jonas Carlquist http://www.hb.se/bhs/ith/3-02/jc.pdf

applied media and simulation games center (amsgc)

Journal of Virtual Environments (formerly: Journal of MUD Research): http://www.brandeis.edu/pubs/jove/

Materials from "Academic Day" recently held at GDC Europe
http://www.igda.org/academia/events.php (and pictures on Jason Della Rocca's blog)

Game-Research.com website

Matteo Bittanti - game blog

And finally - a slew of resources generated from the GamesNetwork Listserv "Games vs. Movies" Thread (to be sorted through later - and all credit to the list for submitting these):

http://www.igda.org/academia/IGDA_2003_Academic_Day_Seamus.zip (caution - zip file)

Posted by Jason at 6:14 PM | TrackBack

September 10, 2003

Game Link resource

Ren Reynolds has a nice collection of links for gaming studies - most valuable perhaps for his list of places to get market data and statistics. [via the GamesNetworks list]

Posted by Jason at 10:55 AM | TrackBack

September 5, 2003

Serial MMoRPGs

I just learned from Klastrup's Cataclysms that Lisbeth received a newsletter from Star Wars Galaxies claiming (quoting Lisbeth here):

Two interesting items: first, they claim they are, after a month, the second largest massively multiplayer game in the US (after EverQuest). And they introduce a Monthly Story which, at least this month, seem to consist of treasure hunt kinda quest.

Lisbeth adds "It could be highly interesting to study how engaged players are and will be in this monthly "story"."

The idea of a monthly story is what captured my imagination in Asheron's Call, eventually leading to about 2.5 years of pretty consistent play on my part. Asheron's Call has had, since the Sudden Season event in December of 1999, a montly update that includes both long and short term story features. So far, they've had several story arcs that have lasted nearly a year each...

So I too will be interested to see how Star Wars Galaxies fares as they try their hand at a serial storyline...

Posted by Jason at 3:39 PM | TrackBack

History of Tabletop Roleplaying

An interesting look at tabletop roleplaying games: A Brief History of Roleplaying, Part One. [via games.slashdot]

Posted by Jason at 10:01 AM | TrackBack

September 3, 2003

More Game Articles

In a (strangely) unrelated Google, I came across SIGGRAPH 2001 - Essays, which includes several game related articles from the 2001 conference.

Posted by Jason at 2:11 PM | TrackBack

September 2, 2003

Playing the Arbiter

Capcom fighting games are going tabletop RPG, which makes me want to ask the question: What do tabletop RPGs [note] offer us that computer games do not?

This question has been sitting the back of my brain for several weeks now, even since (pardon the geek out moment, for those friends of mine who still snicker at the phrase "twenty-sided dice") my Neverwinter Nights (a computer RPG) druid wanted to protect some animals rather than slay them. The situation? A multiplayer game with myself and a companion (playing a mage), whereby the mage's idiot familiar decided to go toe-to-toe with a bear that I had just charmed in my nature friendly way.

See, druids, they get along with animals (at least in the fabled game world in which they exist). So when your companion wastes it with a healthy fireball ... well, there's an issue, you see. It sort of ruins your ethos.

In the P&P game, it's easy. I would tell my companions to step back; I'd feed the bear some berries, maybe chat with it using a druid-y spell, and then move on. Job done. But the druid's companions in Neverwinter Nights - say, a saucy wizard with a fireball at the fingertips - they will be attacked even if you, as calming druid, are not. Thus, bear for dinner. But what is my druid wants to be a vegetarian?

The computer is programmed to initiate conflict between certain animals and PCs (player characters, for those still snickering about "twenty-sided dice") in outdoor environments. So, in towns, dogs will bark, but not attack. But stroll outside of Neverwinter's gates, and that wolf (or boar, or bear) will bite, although the deer will just run away. In other words - the druid - friend to nature - is more likely to encounter friendly animals in the city rather than in the druid's more natural environments. Presumably, in a "roleplaying" game, you adopt an ethos with your character. In certain classes - such as a druid - the ethos is a bit more clearly defined; generally a friend to nature (though not necessarily to people), druids defend nature's balance. They typically do not, for example, allow party members to blow animals to bits with balls of flame likely to initiate raging forest fires. Perhaps I'm being a bit deterministic about how I think a druid might be played, but the point is, so is the computer game.

Neverwinter Nights, in my estimation one of the more interesting computer RPGs on the market, is based (loosely, at times) on the Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 ruleset. Dungeons and Dragons is a pen and paper game; play is guided by an arbiter - the Game Master or Dungeon Master (GM or DM, respectively) - who interprets rules, depicts scenarios and settings, and plays the roles of the NPCs (non-player characters, ranging from passive barkeeps to a dastardly antagonist). What fascinates me as I play Neverwinter Nights is how the program both limits and evaluates your play - both how the program functions as a DM as well as how programming functionally limits and enhances the scope of the Pen & Paper rulebook.

My druid, for instance, suffered no consequences after participating in such an ecological attack. On the other hand, I was immensely pleased that I was able to non-violently resolve a situation whereby an unusually intelligent wolf was eating the cattle of a nearby farmer, but the game did not reward or punish me for such a play. In other circumstances - when I believed that the social circumstances deemed that a prison escapee deserved another chance, for example - the game clearly determined that I had faulted by adjusting my alignment score towards "Evil" (alignment, for the uninitiated, is a scale, from Good to Evil on one side, and Law to Chaos on the other, that helps shape the personality of a character). Compassion towards animals merits little notice, but clearly Neverwinter Nights believes in a just prison system.

One method that I have noticed that helps the player maintain a feeling of control over these circumstances involve the difference between dialogic and non-dialogic instances. Dialogic instances are moments in which active dialogue between the PC (e.g., you) and the NPC allow for a decision to made. In many cases, although not all, a careful exploration of the dialogue tree (a series of potential conversations that a PC might pursue with an NPC) provides enough information for you to make the "right" choice. If an NPC reveals a certain enjoyment in the violence of their escape from prison, chances are that you can collect the bounty with a relatively clear conscious and little fear of an alteration of alignment. Those who make claims about the open-ended nature of hypertext clearly have not been called "Evil" by a computer game.

On the other hand, there are plenty of times where non-dialogic instances - spaces where the player must make a decision based on evidence and experience, rather than guided discussion - influence the experience of play, if not the evaluated morality of play. Thus, a druid who has no chance to tell the bear to back down - it just isn't programmed into the game - instead enjoys his first taste of crispy bear meat.

Pen & Paper games, however, are almost always in dialogic mode - a constant conversation between Dungeon Master and players that perhaps allows for a more supple roleplaying experience, if a more time-consuming one. In these cases, the mechanics of gameplay - dice rolling, reviewing rules, making such decisions - can be a hindrance in and of themselves.

*A brief NOTE: tabletop RPGs fall generally into two categories whose borders tend to blend. I tend to classify tabletop RPGs as traditional Pen and Paper (P&P) roleplaying games, in the vein of Gygax's Dungeons and Dragons (and its subsequent versions up to the recent 3.5 edition), GURPs, White Wolf, and various other types. Some might assert that tabletop RPGs, per se, are different from P&P in that they are a mixture of strategy and roleplaying, often played using miniatures and sometimes elaborate sets (Warhammer is one such example). While I think that ultimately the distinction is worthy of further investigation, for this little piece I'm more interested in the distinction between human-mediated and computer-mediated games.


personal asides (pay no mind):
- contextualize in relation to AoIR conference paper.
- for future discussion: die rolls and the Wi Flag in Asheron's Call

Posted by Jason at 5:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 27, 2003

Video Games in the Classroom?

Today, August 27, at 2 p.m. (EST), The Chronicle of Higher Education: Colloquy Live discussion is about Video Games in the Classroom?, with James Gee, professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who recently published his latest book: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

If you can't make the talk, don't worry - the transcript will be at the address listed above.

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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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August 8, 2003

Oscar, Your Name is MUD

Something to look at later: TriadCity, self-described as "a large-scale multi-user role playing game with a literary orientation, currently in beta". This MUD now boasts an Oscar Wilde bot, wit included. [via /.]

Posted by Jason at 10:27 AM | TrackBack

August 6, 2003

Books of Interest

URLs available where appropriate, forthcoming books have dates in (parentheses). This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list; hopefully one day I'll post a full bibliography. Oh, and don't expect an order. There is none currently.

First Person New Media as Story, Performance, and Game

Edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan
(November 2003)

Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman
(October 2003)

Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media

Edited by Mary E. Hocks and Michelle R. Kendrick
June 2003

Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction

Nick Montfort
(January 2004)

The Video Game Theory Reader

edited by Mark J. P. Wolf , Bernard Perron
(August 2003)

ScreenPlay: cinema/videogames/interfaces

Edited by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska
Dec. 2002

Video Games: A Popular Culture Phenomenon
Arthur Asa Berger
Transaction Publishers - October 2001

Handbook of Computer Game Studies
Goldstein and Raessens, eds.
MIT Press (Forthcoming)

Understanding Digital Games
Bryce & Rutter, eds.
Sage (Forthcoming)

Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture
by Johan Huizinga
Routledge, 1980

Man, Play, and Games (2001 reprint of 1961 edition)
Roger Caillois, Meyer Barash (Translator)

Digital Play
Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Greig de Peuter
McGill-Queen's University Press - June 2003

Video Game Bible,1985 - 2002
Andy Slaven
Trafford Publishing, July 2002

What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literracy
James Paul Gee
Palgrave Macmillan, April 2003

Game On (based on the Barbican exhibit)
Lucien King
Universe Books, August 2002

Posted by Jason at 6:30 PM | TrackBack

August 5, 2003

MMOG Subscription analysis

Came across An Analysis of MMOG Subscription Growth, which tracks (according to numbers released by the developers, as well as press releases, etc.) the numbers of subscriptions over time for all of the major Massively Multiplayer Online Games.

There are a number of caveats attached of course, many within the document analysis on the website. The number of subscriptions should not be confused with the number of subscribers or the number of active players.

I know several people, for example, who have more than one Asheron's Call account (some people have 5, 10, or more), so while that accounts for, say, 5 subscriptions, it really only accounts for one subscriber. It seems to me that developers should be able to handle this by making subscriptions scalable - buy three characters for $9.99 a month, 5 for $15.99, etc.

The other issue is that while someone might hold a subscription to a game, that doesn't mean that they are actually *playing* the game. I, for example, still have my subscription to Asheron's Call even though I have logged in only once in the past 50+ days (to pay "rent" on my house, so I don't lose it). It might seem absurd that I pay money on a monthly basis to maintain something that I don't play, but considering that I have about 3 years worth of "research" invested in a game I write about, it might not seem so odd.

I do think that a lot could be gained by offering a "character storage solution" - a private company working w/ MMOGs to store character database files for a lower cost, with transfer fees high enough to prevent an easy back and forth.

I hate to know that someday - perhaps in the near future - my characters will disappear into the ether forever (research or no, I'm not willing to keep paying for a game that I have no time to play, especially with other MMOGs to test out and other free games - like Neverwinter Nights - that provide hours of great content with no monthly fee). An odd sentiment, but considering the time investment in previous years, perhaps only but *so* odd...

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July 25, 2003

Reading Video Games

If you can read Italian, check out: ludologica [via ./ games ]

And do me a favor and translate these for me, ok? Ciao.

Posted by Jason at 6:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 23, 2003


A little Spacewar history, including a copy of a 1972 article on the game from Rolling Stone.

Posted by Jason at 9:52 AM | TrackBack

July 22, 2003

A Class I'd Love to Teach

Check out Communications 480: Ethnography of On-Line Role-Playing Games [via Many2Many] - a course taught last semester at U. of Washington, where the class was required to play EverQuest during the semester and blog about it. For those who think such classes are feather-light, that 'play' is on top of a decent reading list, 2 exams, and a term paper.

Just a few years ago, I taught a two week module on Myst and found the students strangely resistant to it, although those same students had a blast during a class 'trip' to LambdaMoo ...

Posted by Jason at 12:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 9, 2003

Summer Read #2

Dungeons & Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture From Geek to Chic

Once upon a time, I thought about writing my dissertation about cyberpunk, the 'hacker' figure, and traditions of the hero. Potential title: From Geek to Chic: Hero Figures and Protogonists Who Wear Pocket Protectors. Alas, I would have been scooped (at least in title).

In any case, the number of books coming out on computer gaming culture is growing, which makes this dissertator happy (hey, they *do* publish books on gaming) and a touch nervous (call me Scoop ... or Scooped?).

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July 8, 2003

Let the games begin

Pew Internet and American Life Project just released their report: Let the games begin: Gaming technology and entertainment among college students.

[EDIT/Aside: CNN confirms Gamers not just male loners. Well, thank goodness.]

The report's summary of findings:

While the last few years have seen tremendous growth in gaming, for one segment of the population, college students, gaming is virtually a commonplace. Computer, video and online games are woven into the fabric of everyday life for college students. And, they are more of a social/socializing activity than most suspected.
All of those surveyed reported to have played a video, computer or online game at one time or another. Seventy percent (70%) of college students reported playing video, computer or online games at least once in a while. Some 65% of college students reported being regular or occasional game players.

Students cited gaming as a way to spend more time with friends. One out of every five (20%) gaming students felt moderately or strongly that gaming helped them make new friends as well as improve existing friendships.

Gaming also appears to play a surrogate role for some gamers when friends are unavailable. Nearly two-thirds (60%) of students surveyed agreed that gaming, either moderately or strongly, helped them spend time when friends were not available.

Two-thirds of respondents (65%) said gaming has little to no influence in taking away time they might spend with friends and family,

Students integrate gaming into their day, taking time between classes to play a game, play a game while visiting with friends or instant messaging, or play games as a brief distraction from writing papers or doing other work.

Gaming is integrated into leisure time and placed alongside other entertainment forms in their residence, and that it forms part of a larger multitasking setting in which college students play games, listen to music and interact with others in the room.

Most college student gamers seem to associate positive feelings with gaming, such as “pleasant” (36%), “exciting”(34%), and “challenging” (45%). Fewer students reported feeling frustrated (12%), bored (11%), or stressed (6%) by gaming.

Close to half (48%) of college student gamers agreed that gaming keeps them from studying “some” or “a lot.” In addition, about one in ten (9%) admitted that their main motivation for playing games was to avoid studying.

College student gamers’ reported hours studying per week match up closely with those reported by college students in general, with about two-thirds (62%) reporting that they study for classes no more than 7 hours per week, and 15% reported studying 12 or more hours per week.

One third (32%) of students surveyed admitted playing games that were not part of the instructional activities during classes.

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June 26, 2003

Laugh it up, fuzzball.

Ever want to be a wookie?

Now you can - Star Wars Galaxies launches today.

As if I needed another temptation. Do I dare to answer the call of "research"?

Posted by Jason at 10:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 24, 2003

Pixels for Sale

As several other gaming-related blogs have mentioned (as thus, here for my own archives), a fascinating article: Edward Castranova's The Price of 'Man' and 'Woman': A Hedonic Pricing Model of Avatar Attributes in a Synthethic World.

(by the way, I have a nice virtual bridge I'll let go - cheap!)

Posted by Jason at 6:57 AM | TrackBack

June 23, 2003


Just found out that my paper - All Thumbs? Ergonomics, Materiality, and Gameplay - was accepted for the Level Up conference sponsored by Digra (check out the program). Now I just need to, um, save money for a plane ticket to the Netherlands. And, um, to the a(o)ir conference in toronto (blogged about earlier here.) Hmm.

Oddly, I haven't received written notice - I just saw that GrandTextAuto posted that the conference proceedings were up, so I looked for my name.

Posted by Jason at 4:21 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 20, 2003

PS2 for Two?

games.slashdot poses a good question - what games are fun to play with your spouse that are cooperative rather than competitive?

Lisa and I noticed this difficulty a while back, so this is as much for personal future reference as anything else (once we both finish The Matrix ... in all that free time we have).

Posted by Jason at 2:27 PM | TrackBack

June 19, 2003

Joining the Hokey-Pokey (or, Putting My Left Foot In)

I'm hoping that we can dig deeper into this discussion of the difference between textual interpretation and operation, all of which seems to be attempts for us to grapple with this always present and rarely (well)defined concept of interactivity (with a book, a poem, a board game, a film, or a computer game). In some respects, the differences seem functionally different because of the operations' embodied-ness as opposed to interpretation's mind-function - so, say it a little less crudely, while sharing space with the interpreting mind, the body is involved in operations (non-trivial effort, as E.A. would say), whereas the mind is the dominant partner in 'traditional' literature (novel or poem), sidelining the page-turning-but-otherwise-latent body. This is what I think I'm reading in the following quotations from the comments of a really excellent discussion on GrandTextAuto:

The difference between the virtual environment of a novel (or a poem like the Inferno) and that of a computer game is the difference between description and simulation. They're not the same; the latter requires not just interpretation but operation as well. Theories of textual interpretation don't explain how people operate cybertexts. (nick)
It seems that the boundary you're speaking of is between knowing (through description) and being (through experience). Textual interpretation, as you point out (and correct me if I'm reading you wrong) is a form of knowing,not of being (or operating). (peter)

Knowing vs. being is a bit existential for my mind, so I'll have to avoid it until I can wrap my head around it better. But I am intrigued by the difference of description and simulation that (as I perceive it in this discussion) is one that might be defined as separated by primary mind-interactions (description) rather than mind & body interactions (simulation).

Overall, as I'm following the various discussions here, in other blogs, and on various lists, it seems like one of the central desires on the part of everyone involved in (call it what you will) computer game/video game/GIVE studies is an apt and direct attention to the material conditions in which the game exists. How so? By paying attention to the specific material conditions of a game, we can recognize "it" for what "it" is. The ludologist argument is valid, but so is the film-analysis argument ("such-and-such games use film techniques, as described here and here") and the narratologist argument ("such-and-such game uses narrative in this way").

What do I mean by "materiality"? I'll reveal my literary prejudices - to be clear, I'm referring to the type of attention to material conditions on par with practices in textual studies. Textual studies (as I'm sure most of you already know) focuses rapt attention not only on the text, but also the trappings of the text (the material conditions), ranging from graphic art, bookbinding, types of paper, variants, fonts and so on all the way down to line breaks and comma choices (and this is far from an inclusive list, so forgive me if I didn't mention a favorite component). All of this is also considered in its historical moment.

Several of us had a brief trackback / comment frenzy along these lines a few months back when George asked "Is it accurate to call print an information technology?" (if interested, be sure to follow the trackbacks as well). I mention not only because it strikes me as relevant to the conversation at hand, but also because I'll just borrow Matt's comment to save retyping the names of folks in the field I'm referring to: "The immediate progenitors here are people like Johanna Drucker, Jerry McGann, Marjorie Perloff, Charles Bernstein, and Randall McLeod, who have been mining the materiality vein in rich and sophisticated ways for quite some time now in their writing about the avant garde (and textual studies)." Matt K. modestly did not include himself in the list, but his forthcoming _Mechanics_ certainly will be a useful and important addition to this long-standing discussion, especially considering its attention to all things electronic/digital.

Further relevancy of materiality?

First, it helps us work through issues of virtual environments, pen&paper environments, and so on, by developing specific descriptive vocabulary dedicated to discussing the particulars of a game's material environments - this draws from film techniques (when appropriate), narrative techniques (when appropriate), but perhaps most importantly also paves the road easily for integration of this "new" methodology everyone seems to clamor for without (hopefully) alienating those others who don't think discarding previous methodology is such a good idea (I'm probably distorting the argument, at least in someone's mind, so I ask for leniency and/or input). It would give us the freedom to use - most of the time - general references to games (thus keeping our blog posts, comments, etc. short) but also allow a quick break down of material components. In short, it would hopefully (as Nick so aptly described) avoid descriptions that were either "very vague or hideously elaborate". Currently, "virtual" doesn't do it for me, because of some of the concerns already mentioned - how do we count certain board games? Do Pen&Paper RPGs count? Does virtual = digital? and so on. Nick mentions that D&D would count as a GIVE, but how then do we distinguish playing a Pen&Paper version of a module called Neverwinter Nights from a session online of Neverwinter Nights?

Second, I think a more in-depth discussion of material conditions helps us work through this issue of body/mind that appears to be one of the functional differences between our conception of interpretation/operation, virtual/non-virtual, ergodic/non-ergodic, and so on. Because while "interpretation" might be adequate for some traditional literature (say, _The Great Gatsby_), I feel much more like an operator when reading an artist book by J. Drucker, or Danielewski's _House of Leaves_, or a great Powers issue. In fact, in the many times I've read House of Leaves, I still feel like I'm driving the book rather than reading it (prompting me to feel less like a reader, and more like a practitioner of textual ergonomics). In any case, if the delineation of interpretation vs. operation is a mind/body thing, or a knowing/being thing, I'm not sure what to do with these avant-garde (and no so avant-garde) objects....

I'm afraid this might be all horribly muddled, but I'm sketching these ideas on the metro on the way to work, so blame any rattles on the tracks ;)

Posted by Jason at 12:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 18, 2003


Alas, no major posting today (at least this morning). Working on an addition to the code/form/content discussion, which requires more thought and time than my 45 minutes of writing allows. So, hopefully my draft will be ready tomorrow or Thursday.

Since I'm laying out some writing plans, I also want to expand on the notion of crafter, which can be both in and out of the game. The crafter player type might be proficient in building in game items (whether it be a master crafter in Everquest, a barkeep or miner in Ultima Online, or even a person who is quite proficient with that cube thing in Diablo 2), but they also might be the type who enjoys building/coding enhancements outside of the game for other users - such as plugins, mods, and the like.

I also want to talk about cheating a bit, since I found Aarseth's concept of "cheating" a touch different from mine.

Posted by Jason at 7:32 AM | TrackBack

June 17, 2003

Game Methodology (and misc.)

Lots of folk tinkering with blogs yesterday (yes, in my little world, two = "lots"). Rain must bring out the handy(wo)man in all of us. I recall Neal Stephenson saying something like "PC people are tinkerers; Mac users are aesthetic creeps." Well, maybe he just said "non-tinkerers." In any case, I think his point was that the Mac's sealed computers don't exactly lend themselves to tinkering. What does that make bloggers? Creepy tinkerers? I don't know. It's early, so don't expect me to make sense, or have any thread of argument.

Speaking of which, I think my wisdom teeth might be coming in. I only have the bottom two, in some weird shift of evolutionary oddness. And no so the backs of my gums are sore and I find myself constantly running my tongue over what feels like rough edges trying to poke through soft tissue. Maybe not dinner time conversation, but there it is. So I think I need to find a dentist - anyone in the area have suggestions? I would prefer someone who doesn't laugh (or heck, even smile) when the tools are laid out, glistening. In fact, someone who just blinks I-Dream-of-Jeanie-style in order to remove plague and tartar. No drills necessary in that. Saw Little Shop of Horrors one too many times as a kid I guess. L's worse - she screamed during the dentist scenes in Finding Nemo, prompting one kid in the birthday party group behind us to mutter "wimp" softly under his breath. L makes my dentist phobia look like affection.

On to business - read Espen Aarseth's DAC2003 talk Playing Research: Methodological approaches to game analysis, available with other talks from the conferencehere. As I mentioned earlier, papers made available like this - although you lose the 'moment' of the conference - are a real boon to those of us who are not in the European hotbed of game discussion. The article in part continues a major discussion in game studies at this point - the question of methodology. I've written about this some before, but clearly this is an issue very much at hand that is unlikely to disappear for a while.

The basic argument seems to run thus: on the one side, we have a lot of early discussion of games that draws from traditional fields of inquiry - narratology, rhetoric, film studies, and so on. Now, because discussion of games (at least initially, and still some now) were very much integrated with discussion of early hypertext, and because discussion of hypertext sometimes went a little too far on the "we embody postmodern theory" gambit for a while, I think that some people understandably reacted against that. So, there was a call for something "new" - which is all well and good, except I think some people (and I'll likely count myself among these) have a reaction when they hear the word "new" that runs something akin to suspicion - mainly suspicion that the "new" is often something "old" with a new suit. Often these two groups are called ludologist (for the "game" people) and narratologists (which is the label usually employed when referring to anyone using an "older" theory). [remind me to come back and enter some links to the digra list discussion about ludology and narratology]

But here's the thing - I think what both sides are really looking for is a way to use some of the traditional methods/terms/etc (and ask some traditional questions) while recognizing that games - while influenced by other media (avoiding "older" here, intentionally) - are unique unto themselves. Narrative theorists want to be able to say "I'm interested in narrative in Asheron's Call" without someone hollering back "games aren't narrative!" And likewise, ludologists seems to want to say "games should be taken on their own terms" without a narratologist pointing out "they were influenced by other media."

One thing that I've found quite curious as this has played itself out over the years is that it appears as though - unlike some parts of the sciences - the humanities has very little experience in accepting failure of a hypothesis as a reasonable and (more importantly) successful aspect of scholarship. Yet it is precisely in trying and failing that we are able to experiment with notions of media, form, and methodology - letting us see what was effective and what was not enables us to draw the best aspects of various methodologies while we - at the same time - work towards forming an individually "new" one. Games are multimedia; our theories should be multimethod (that sounds more awkward that I'd hoped, but you get the idea).

Running low on time, so I'll put out a few other ideas from Espen's article that I found useful and interesting.

He offered "games in virtual environments" as an alternate name for "computer games." This also cropped up a bit on Grand Text Auto (esp. the term "virtual"), and I was pleased to see that virtual did not mean "digitally virtual" but allowed for inclusion of board games and (importantly) games like Dungeons & Dragons. Still, I'm not sure about the term's clarification potential over computer games and other specific terms (like Pen and Paper Role Playing Games), so I'd like to give this more thought.

He also referenced Bartle's typology of players:

The four types are socializers (the players who play to enjoy the company of other players),killers (players who enjoy preying on and harassing other players),achievers (players who like to win and triumph)and explorers (players who enjoy discovering the game ’s secrets and hidden mechanics, including discovering and exploiting programming

To this, Aarseth added cheaters, which I think is an important category, but inappropriate in this context. I think most of those four types have a cheater element within them, and so I would put cheater as a potential subcategory (or a flag) on each of those types. Instead I would add crafter, the player interested in making, building, and distributing /collecting craft items in the game.

More on this later - have to catch the metro.

Posted by Jason at 5:40 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 12, 2003

Taxing Taxonomy

While I want to add more to the conversation we're having about content/style, I'm taking a brief aside because I have wanted to (however briefly) engage some of the really interesting discussions happening right now in the gaming community regarding terminology, classification, and categorization. As I mentioned before, the Digra listserv has been hopping with activity over terms like narrative/narratology, ludology, and interactivity.

And Nick's latest post over at Grand Text Auto brings us back to the general discussion of drawing up categories and to the specific distinction between virtual and non-virtual environments/ games. One remark in particular seems to have garnered significant interest:

Then there's the question of when a game actually has a virtual environment and when it doesn't, which I just alluded to. I'm still wondering if chess and hopscotch have virtual environments

(Mental aside: While I have to run to work, I want to come back to this quotation).

What strikes me initially about these conversations (and I'm as guilty in this as anyone, so let's assume the finger is pointing at me) is that it seems as though we're all talking in terms of taxonomical structure and, implicitly, its hierarchical, inheriting structures. So while we all nodded our heads when Lev Manovich wrote in The Language of New Media that this is a database age (I'll dig for the quote later - I'm pressed to get to work), we then turned back to our flowcharts to see what games fit under what category.

So I'm suddenly trying to think more in terms of theory as database. Having worked on a few databases, I understand the basic structural development, so I'm trying to imagine what the tables would look like, what queries I would build, what keywords I would use, and how we might structure our thoughts differently if we were to build a database, rather than a taxonomy (in the strict sense - an ordered, inheriting system), of games?

Posted by Jason at 5:37 AM | TrackBack

June 10, 2003

Power Up

The digiplay list announced Power Up, a gaming symposium in Bristol the 14th and 15th of July.

Lots of reading today, topped by some necessary yoga. Carpal tunnel is not our friend.

Posted by Jason at 5:37 AM | TrackBack

June 6, 2003


Tis the season for nostalgia, apparently. Matt's recent post had me thinking about my early computing memories - playing Choplifter on an Apple IIc, with its tiny green and black screen. Playing Zork on our new IBM-clone with my dad, as I typed the commands and he carefully drew maps on graph paper. Or the many hours I spent on Prodigy message boards while listening to The Connells' Darker Days over and over again. Listening to that album brings me back to the little computer study every time, in an odd Bergsonian memory shift.

While reading through the blogs this morning, I came across Newly Digital: A distributed anthology of early computing experience, which I saw on the MT devs' company website - Six Apart - as I was reading about their forthcoming TypePad. If blogging has done anything for me, it has renewed my enjoyment of web surfing (and since this has become a post of asides), although not for the term "surfing" itself. I always feel more like skulker than I do a surfer, as I peer around the corners of a link.

In any case, I was surprised when I came across Newly Digital after reading some posts and reactions to Matt's entry. Nostalgia isn't uncommon, of course, but in my experience it tends to come in waves (or, maybe I just find it that way). Waves of nostalgia and memory sweep across the various gaming message boards I read - for months the boards will be crowded with trade offers, OT (off-topic) randomness, l33t sp34k, and PK smack talking, but then someone will post a memory of the "early days," which in turn creates a wave of "Do you remember..."-type threads. Recall that several of the graphical Massively Multiplayer games been around almost four to six years (to say nothing of the years of text-based games before that). Asheron's Call started beta test in late 1999 (release was Nov. '99). Everquest was available about 9 months prior to that, and Ultima Online's adventures began in 1997. That's quite a lot of time to build memories.

I often think about the future of these games - what happens when they cease to be profitable? What will we make of the ruins of these worlds, if at some point we recover them? Or will gamers simply continue their quests on their own, running hacked code on pieced-together hardware? Will people figure out a way to save their character, frozen in an odd stasis, world-less?

One of my favorite passages on nostalgia is from Richard Powers' Plowing the Dark. Chapter 16 starts with the first lines of ADVENTURE blinking on a character's screen, late at night, sent anonymously across the network from one of the eighty-six users logged in from a variety of facilities on the west coast:

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building.

The passage is a beautiful composition of collective and individual memory, shifting between Jackdaw's childhood recollections and the eight-six users' shared nostalgia:

His eyes took in the summons of the words. His hands on their keys felt the fingertips of that seventh-grader still inside them. He stared at the sentences and saw his father, one Saturday morning in 1977 when young Jackie had been acting out, taking him to the office and parking him in front of a gleaming Televideo 910, hooked up to a remote main-frame through the magic of a Tymeshare 300-baud modem.

All a trick, Jackdaw saw in retrospect, an elaborate diversionary tactic to fool a boy into - of all things - reading.

The chapter begins like a small wave, foreshadowing a crescendo comprised of Jackdaw's childhood memory blended with collective recollection as the eighty-six users type subsequent lines from the game to one another over the network. The experience is a carefully crafted commentary on individuality - a playful negotiation between the second-person, non-specific "you" of the game, the collective "we" of the shared nostalgic experience, and the personalized individuality of Jackdaw's recollections of, and gratitude towards, his now-deceased father. The chapter ends softly, like a receding wave:

... the broadband conference drifted into static, releasing its system resources, relinquishing the moment of brief coalescence, dispersing all participants to chip away again at their various private galleries, their maze of tunnels spreading through the unmappable hive.
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June 5, 2003

Read On

Came across an electronic version of Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design while browsing a book list recommended by Adrian Miles. Also found this one intriguing:

In Palamedes' Shadow: Explorations in Play, Game, & Narrative Theory By: R. Rawdon Wilson Abstract: This is a work of narrative and literary theory that explores the parallels between literary texts and games. It also provides a nice, introductory overview of the main theories of play in the Western philosophical tradition. Published: 1990

Good thing I'll soon have all that reading time riding the DC metro in to work.

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May 23, 2003

Second Life

No, I'm not talking about all those who are graduating today from UMD, including several friends getting their PhDs in English (ah, inspiration!).

I'm talking about Second Life, the game in development by Linden Lab. Currently in beta test, this game may be what The Sims Online is not. I hope to get a beta account and provide some more details, but for now, check out their website and this article about it on Slate.

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May 20, 2003

Stop the Madness

Been a slow posting week or two (end of semester craziness, even though I'm "done" with coursework), but stay tuned - with the Matrix on my eyeballs (both film and game), the series finale of Buffy just hours away, and recent (offline) conversations about games and disciplinary boundaries, I'm bound to write something soon ;-)

One quick note: earlier I posted about Turbine (makers of Asheron's Call & Asheron's Call 2) taking on Middle Earth Online, a forthcoming MMoRPG. Well, they also signed on for Dungeons & Dragon's Online - forthcoming in 2005. I've always been fond of the AC 1 engine, feeling that the interface suited me much better than Everquest. I found AC2's engine beautiful, but hard on my system, which discouraged me a lot in game play, leading me to shelf my Tumerok Healer until I decided it was worth shelling out some clams for even more RAM. Since I've followed Turbine's development since AC was in beta, I'm very curious to see how things pan out with the derivative Middle Earth Online and D&DOnline, especially since original content has always been one of the central aspects of what I've liked about their work.

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May 13, 2003

Grand Text Auto on the Information Superhighway?

A new collaborative blog is in town: Grand Text Auto. Self-described:

grandtextauto is about computer mediated and computer generated works of many forms, including interactive fiction, net.art, electronic poetry, interactive drama, hypertext fiction, computer games of all sorts, and shared virtual environments. The discussion, by people who all work as both theorists and developers in these forms, considers questions of authorship, design, and technology, as well as issues of interaction and reception.

The "drivers" are Michael Mateas, Nick Montfort, Stuart Moulthrop, Andrew Stern,
Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Read Andrew Stern's introduction.

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May 12, 2003

Middle Earth Online

I heard about this possibility sometime last year, but it looks as though Turbine Entertainment is officially on board for the development of Middle Earth Online [non-flash here], to be released sometime in 2004. The press release is in the extended entry, if you want to read it.

Turbine is known for Asheron's Call (aka AC: Dark Majesty after the expansion pack) and Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings. The first AC came out about 6 months after Everquest. While AC has never gained the popularity of Everquest (and its 400,000+ subscribers), I've always felt it to be a more enjoyable game. I'm a long time AC player - I beta tested the game and still play my first retail character: Rasselas, now a level 81 archer/enchanter. Rasselas was born in November 1999 and I played him for quite some time before realizing that I had a gimped character on my hands. I created a new character - a swordswinger focuses on finding the Sword of Lost Light (now, about as valuable as a toothpick) - and played her (yes, a female character) for some months before changes in the AC game system allowed me to tweak Ras enough to make him a viable competitor. He's never been "uber," but playable was all I wanted.

One of AC's hooks for me is the monthly updates - every single month the Live Team develops the story a little bit more, very much a serial video game. While not exactly Dickens, AC has provided some really interesting characters. Rare are static Good vs. Evil typologies so typical in a fantasy setting; usually the characters are somewhere in between, whether they be the tormented and mad Martine, a human who was experimented on by the mysterious Virindi, or Asheron himself, whose choices always create a bit of suspicion in my mind.

Since Turbine creates such wonderful, original material, I'm curious how they will fare with adaptation. Licensed material is getting an online shot-in-the-arm: where would you prefer your playground - in Middle Earth or in Star Wars Galaxies?

--- Press Release [ from http://www.prnewswire.com ]----
LOS ANGELES, May 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Vivendi Universal Games, Inc. (VU Games) announced today that it has entered into a production agreement with
Turbine Entertainment Software Corp. to develop "Middle-Earth Online," a massively multiplayer (MMP) game to launch in 2004. The game will be developed as part of VU Games' long-term agreement with Tolkien Enterprises to create interactive entertainment based on J.R.R. Tolkien's epic novel "The
Lord of the Rings."
The 3D role-playing game (RPG) will immerse players in the Middle-earth
world where they will choose their identities from a cast of archetypal Tolkien characters, form kinships, build race-specific dwellings, explore the landscape, craft unique items and weapons, and perform myriad other activities to bring the world-renowned fantasy realm to life.
"We are extremely excited to be working with a world-class developer like Turbine. Their track record and proven expertise in building, launching, and supporting massively multiplayer games is exceptional, making them the right
partner for a franchise as beloved and well-known as J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings,'" said Jim Wilson, EVP Product Development, Vivendi Universal Games. "Together, our goal will be to bring the vision and spirit of the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien to life in 'Middle-Earth Online.'" More information about "Middle-Earth Online" can be found at http://www.lordoftherings.com/meo .
About Turbine Entertainment Software Corp.
Turbine Entertainment Software Corp., headquartered in Westwood, Massachusetts, is a pioneer in the design and production of massively multiplayer (MMP) games. Turbine's first MMP game was the award-winning
Asheron's Call(R). Turbine recently completed work on the G2 Engine as seen
in Asheron's Call(R) 2 this year. This groundbreaking technology and Turbine's commitment to shipping quality games on schedule continues to strengthen Turbine's position at the forefront of MMP gaming.
About Vivendi Universal Games
Headquartered in New York, Vivendi Universal Games ( http://www.vugames.com ) is a global leader in multi-platform interactive entertainment. A leading
publisher of PC, console and online-based interactive content, Vivendi Universal Games' portfolio of development studios includes Black Label Games, Blizzard Entertainment, Coktel, Fox Interactive, Knowledge Adventure, NDA Productions, Sierra Entertainment and Universal Interactive. Through its Partner Publishing Group, Vivendi Universal Games also co-publishes and/or distributes interactive products for a number of strategic partners, including Crave Entertainment, Interplay, Majesco, Mythic Entertainment and Simon & Schuster, among others.
(C) 2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Asheron's Call is a
registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or
other countries.

SOURCE Vivendi Universal Games, Inc.
Web Site: http://www.vugames.com

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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 18, 2003

Video Game Theory Reader

from Matt:

Video Game Theory Reader

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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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April 14, 2003

Geek Alert

BBC reports a new study on Everquest - "Breaking the Stereotype: The Case of Online Gaming" - reveals that gamers aren't all geeks.

Thank goodness. Never know what geekiness might do to my nerd status.

Demographic statistics listed in the article:

Its key findings included:

Over 60% of players were older than 19.

About 85% of players were male.

Fifteen percent of people play for more than 50 hours a week.

A "significant minority" (15%) adopt a character gender opposite to their own.

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April 9, 2003

Game as art, game as criticism, game as activism.

Last night, I drove up to Baltimore to see Alex Galloway give a presentation at the Maryland Institute College of Art as a part of their New Media Forum series. Galloway is the former Director of Content and Technology @ rhizome and co-founder of Radical Software Group (RSG), the group developing Carnivore.

Galloway's talk was advertised as "How to Hack Multiplayer Games," a procedure that would lead to what he called "game remixing." Still very much a work in progress (he admitted that hacking the games was turning into more of a chore than he had thought it would), this notion of game remixing is a combination of "mod" creation and world collision. The example Galloway provided was a mod he created using the Half-Life game engine. The level was a multicolored explosion room - you wandered around with your crowbar (the basic "weapon" in Half-Life), slamming it against the floor and wall to create explosions of light and sound. Ultimately, Galloway and his collaborators want to create a scenario whereby several games of Half-Life intersect with one another (perhaps running a variety of mods?) - several large, intersecting, performative avatar spaces.

Since this notion of "game remixing" is still very much a work in progress, Galloway spent most of his time discussing projects already (or almost) completed. Perhaps his best known work is Carnivore. RSG adapted a network surveillance tool used by the intelligence community. RSG's Carnivore listens to network traffic and then filters the data through artist-built clients, creating effects that range from splashes of color and code to animations of graffiti I personally liked Jonah Brucker-Cohen's "Police State" client, which takes flagged data (such as catch words associated with terrorism), coverts it into the appropriate police code, and transmits it in binary as commands to control several little remote control police cars.

Here's a snip from Brucker-Cohen's website:

PoliceState is a Carnivore client that attempts to reverse the surveillance role of law enforcement into a subservient one for the data being gathered. The client consists of a fleet of 20 radio controlled police vehicles that are all simultaneously controlled by data coming into the main client. The client looks for packet information relating to domestic US terrorism. Once found, the text is then assigned to an active police radio code, translated to its binary equivalent, and sent to the array of police cars as a movement sequence. In effect, the data being "snooped" by the authorities is the same data used to control the police vehicles. Thus the police become puppets of their own surveillance. This signifies a reversal of the control of information appropriated by police by using the same information to control them.

What is fascinating to me in this piece is the distinction between the "engine" (Carnivore), the "client" (Police State), and the "performance" (on of any installations of Police State, the result of which depends on the network traffic intercepted) - how might these be used to investigate other media objects? I can think of one necessary addendum to the list - the "record" of the event, which in this case manifests in a variety of ways: still images, films, verbal (spoken and written) descriptions. Which leads to a perhaps not-so-new but still intriguing question - how do we talk about an object composed of multiple nodes? How do we track the development of such an object and discuss it in critical terms? I'm thinking personally of the difficulty in tracking an online game like Asheron's Call - thousands of players (though still quite a bit fewer than Everquest), thus multiple performances. The engine remains somewhat static, although the performance within that engine constantly stretches, breaks, bends, manipulates those rules. The client itself is manipulated through a variety of methods, either by "skinning" the client, or by using any number of client add-ons through (in AC's case) the Decal project. The engine and the client, combined, help set the rules of engagement - and I believe that one can make a case for a descriptive language of this (in fact, some have, and it's what I'm writing my dissertation on) without falling into a structuralist trap of determined meaning. In other words, the performance - of reading, of playing, of artfully bashing like in Galloway's Half-Life mod - is manipulated and limited by the engine and the client, but (like reading) this does not result in one type of performance or interpretation.

Enough of my aside - some more things from the talk that I'll lay out quickly, hopefully with time to discuss them in more detail later (clearly, Galloway sparked quite a few ideas in my head).

Other things Galloway shared:

MTAA's "Simple Net Art Diagram" which aims to demonstrate the belief that the artistic act happens in the process - in the wires:

A quotation from conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (Googled: from "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Published in ArtForum, 1967), emphasizing the importance of the framework - the machine - over the performance:

"In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."

Low Level All-Stars DVD - a collection of video graffiti from the Commodore 64 computer. Rad.

Also included: Galloway's "How to Win" - a transcription score and video documentation (of his fingers, not the screen) of every level from Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers; "2x2" - a modified Gameboy game displaying video feed broken down into 4 pixels total (thus, 2x2); Cory Archangel's Nintendo Mods; and "WYSIWYG" - Galloway's code-front project.

Final comment - my title says "Game as criticism." While I was watching the presentation, I kept thinking of how we do and can use games as methods of interpretation and criticism, such as Natalie Bookchin's version of Borges' "The Intruder." More on this in a bit - my morning freewrite has accidently colonized my afternoon writing session.

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April 8, 2003

Staying in to play

John Paul Bichard announced his new project "Staying in to play" on the digiplay list today. Here's a clip of the description:

Bichard is developing a 3D video game environment during his 90 day on-line residency at the variablemedia.org site. Regular visitors will see the environment, structure and functionality of the game mutate and modify, towards an indeterminate end.

I took a brief glance this morning and was struck by two things. First, I was amazed at the environment (basic as it was) delivered by Shockwave. Once the world begins to mutate, I'm looking forward to examining this in more detail - will Shockwave allow an easily designable (I'm not sure how easily it was done) virtual world?

Second - it was empty. I only had a few minutes, but I wandered the mountains, hoping to spy something aside from the glorious green plume that marked my entrance point. No such luck - so I'll be checking back over the next few days to see how the world develops. I wonder if they are using some sort of tracking software to monitor the developments, or if, like many virtual worlds, the cleanliness and sparseness of the "new" disappears under the press of virtual bodies, towns, and homes.

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