Saturday, August 27, 2005

Game library for the SIM students and TKM department!

Yesterday i spent the whole day in stockholm shopping games to get our game library started! I primarily bought PC games, since everone has a computer, and board games. And a cardgame and some PS and PS2 games. and some classic RPG books. One step at the time, we just need to start with at least _some_ classics. In the last shop, Dragon's Lair, i realized two things: 1) I have to take a taxi to get home, and 2) Now way I can take all this on my own back to Gotland. So early this morning i met up with Iwona's son Kai, who now is on the ferry, and loaded half of it into his, very big bag! So now there will be games availiable for both students and teachers when the semester starts.

Im so glad I finally got this done. Have been arguing for more than a year that the SIM students need to be able to borrow games. Comparing the situation with how it would be if we taught literary studies and didn't have Shakespear or Strindberg availiable in the library. Our prefect was able to find some money in the budget for it, and even if this only is a fraction of the games we would like to buy it is a start!
For our game library For our game library
For our game library

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

DIGRA05: Perform or Else, Organum

Notes from DIGRA05 (http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005)

...While watching the view, in a quiet moment, all of a sudden, we hear the most terrible screaming from inside the venue. It turns out to be Eric Zimmerman and Robin Hunicke playing the Organum. I got to try it out myself later on, when participating in McGonigal’s, Lowood's and Isbister's “Perform or Else: An Interdisciplinary Workshop on Extroverted Game Play”. Three players get to control one direction each (up-down, left-right, forward) by making sounds into the microphones.


Eric and Robin and the Organum
Eric and Robin by the Organum

Screenshot, Organum
Screenshot, Organum. This was a large projected image.

Organum heard Robin
Organum heard Robin

Perform or Else: An Interdisciplinary Workshop on Extroverted Game Play

Jane McGonigal
Department of Performance Studies, University of California
Henry Lowood
Curator for History of Science & Technology Collection, Stanford University
Katherine Isbister
Associate Professor, Dept. of Language, Literature and Communication

Quote from the abstract:
Richard Schechner, the founder of performance studies, famously said: “Playing is at the heart of performance.” We believe the inverse is true: performing is at the heart of play. In the Perform or Else workshop, we will investigate a particular kind of player performance: “extroverted game play” — gaming that is performed in front of an audience, and which is motivated by external performance goals as well as internal game play goals.

http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php?id=317

In the workshop, when making sounds into the microphone of Organum, I realized (as I sometimes do) that I’m definitely not fond of performing (hey, most of the time I sit in a dark corner programming something that imitates feelings). In the workshop McGonigal asked the audience several absolutely hilarious questions regarding the level of extroversion and extremeness in performance. She had cards with them written down; different examples for different categories of players/performers (yes, another player-type categorization). McGonigal separated between different kinds of performers:

IMG_4259_performances IMG_4260_expressive-performer

I enjoyed this workshop a lot. I think need to pay more attention to performance studies. The first student I ever supervised, Annika Bergström, used a performance perspective while doing her thesis. She was also the one insisting on that I couldn’t miss out on McGonigal’s workshop.
In the same workshop Katherine Isbister gave an overview of different physical games such as DDR, Donkey Kongas, Eye Toy and pervasive games. Then she must have said something really interesting about emotional contagion, since I have put a lot of marks around the term, a title: “Emotional Contagion” by Hatfield E. Cacioppo, and Rabson, and the word BUY with capitals.


I didn’t get the whole workshop, since there was so many sessions going on at the same time, so I couldn’t relax: instead I tried to go at two sessions at once; I didn’t want to miss Celia Pearce’s speech

Theory Wars: An Argument Against Arguments in the so-called Ludology/Narratology Debate
I missed out on the debate though, due to my restless running between sessions.
The full paper is available here:
http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php?id=114

DIGRA05: The future of Electronic Games, Murray

Session at DIGRA05 (http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005)

Janet Murray: The future of Electronic Games: Lessons from the First 250,000 years.

As the title of the speech implies Murray used a very broad perspective. She talked in a kind of stealthy speed: it felt all relaxed and easy, but afterwards I realized that she had taken us very far very quickly. Some of the thins she asked was who the phantom narratologist is, and proposed the use of the term “Computer Game Formalism” instead of “Game Studies”. Murray also argued against making single orthodox readings of games. She continued by going into the areas of cognitive science, the evolution of symbolic media, showed Michael’s and Andrew’s Façade, leaving us with the words “procedural agency”. It was a great speech, check out the text and the slides, they are available here:
http://www.lcc.gatech.edu/~murray/digra05/

Janet Murray projecting Espen Aarseth
Janet Murray projecting Espen Aarseth in her featured speech.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

DIGRA05: Styles of Play, Steinkuehler

Session at DIGRA05 (http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005)

Styles of Play: Gamer-Identified Trajectories of Participation in MMOGs
Constance Steinkuehler , University of Wisconsin-Madison


Constance couldn’t make it so Kurt Squire presented instead. He started off by showing the Bartle player types and referred to the Liadon Interview (2004) and showed how he falls into both categories of achievers and socializers. (It made a good point, however I'm not sure anyone ever have suggested that the Bartle types exclude each other.) Steinkuehler has made a study using “repertory grid interview techniques (Fransella & Bannister, 1977) to elicit community-member identified categories (e.g., “kinds of people who play”) and their dimensions of similarity/difference in order to extend and elaborate Bartle’s (1996) original framework”. Squire gave us this list of constructs (?):

1. Social interdependence vs. social independence
2. Play vs. efficiency
3. Social negotiator vs. social aggressor
4. Game system knowledge
5. Prudence vs. risk taking

If I'm not mistaken these would be the categories, or constructs, that came up through the interviews with the players. Steinkuehler uses personal construct theories, and that would, according to her “enable the researcher to develop taxonomies representing how participants themselves carve their social world up into types and kinds rather than inferring such typologies from other sources. The result is a more indigenous framework for examining who plays MMOGs, how and why – one which allows us to get at the sense gamers themselves make of the social spaces they play in rather than the sense we as observers, designers, and researchers make of them.”
When formulated like this it seems somehow obvious that this would be a good way to do it. I’ll keep watch for her next publication, as I do since I heard her the first time at MUD Dev in the spring 2004.

http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php?id=229

Monday, August 22, 2005

DIGRA05: Build It to Understand It

Session at DIGRA05 (http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005)

Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern
Build It to Understand It: Ludology Meets Narratology in Game Design Space



Mateas and Stern revive and ask new questions in the established ludology vs. narratology debate. To them, the “debate has been sterile, primarily abandoned with no satisfactory progress”. Mateas and Stern points out that a common ludological position has been that narrative is fundamentally incompatible with agency, but this is a conclusion based on unsuccessful efforts of game developers to date.

I couldn’t agree more. This was what I was after in 2002 when I wrote my masters on a similar subject. There I used the term story construction instead of “narrative”. Just having had programmed a commercial story driven computer game (The Diamond Mystery in Rosemond Valley) I was sure that there must be a ‘better’ way of doing it. As far as I know there is no one that has pushed it as far as Mateas & Stern with the Facade since then. When I first heard (2003) that they were really building a system that would both have a strong agency and use an Aristotelian tension arc I was amazed (and, I have to admit, sceptical.) And now it exists. Download it from http://www.interactivestory.net/. It is popular too: today, 2005-08-22, it has been downloaded 43,687 times since 2005-07-08 from one of the three mirror sites where it is available (download.com). This does make it necessary to revisit the ludology vs. narratology debate.

Mateas and Stern state:
“Industry attempts to create interactive stories have made use of existing game architectures. Their failure to create high-agency interactive stories results from the poor affordances existing architectures offer for stories. […] Without a design and architecture mutually constraining each other, attempts to design for “character” or “plot progression” are doomed to failure precisely because existing game architectures don’t provide authorial support for these concepts. As a result, narrative is commonly reduced to a linear overlay on top of the actual game mechanics.”

Mateas and Stern use Rittel and Weber’s concept of “wicked problems”, and describe game design as such: for a wicked problem any attempt to solve the problem changes the understanding of the problem. “All existing games form tiny islands of partially understood regions of design space; all around these islands lies a vast ocean of unexplored potential design space waiting to be brought into existence through the invention of new features and approaches, and mapped out through the hard empirical work of exploring a variety of designs.” Mateas and Stern argue that it is necessary to try out these wicked problems that are part of game design in practice. To build the games: “Theoretical and empirical analyses certainly provide the designer with useful approaches, techniques and vocabulary for thinking about the design problem. But such analyses can never be strongly normative. The only way to explore new regions of design space is to make things.”

Again, I couldn’t agree more. In the three-year game education we have here at Gotland University the aim is that the students build a lot of smaller games. (Instead of large monoliths). Here one can read about hat Mateas and his colleagues are up to in the Experimental Game Lab at Georgia Tech: http://egl.gatech.edu.
By exploring the wicked problem of combining what they call local and global agency Mateas and Stern have showed that the common ludologist assumption that agency is impossible to combine with agency has been “overreaching and premature”.

Now – what I would be really interested in knowing is how the wicked problem of narratology/ludology has changed the understanding of the problem. Would for example an Aristotelian tension arc be possible to achieve, alongside with agency a qualitative playing experiences be possible to achieve in a multiplayer game? I hope there will be studies of Façade that I can read in the future. And I hope that Mateas and Stern, having done what many thought was impossible will inspire others.

The full paper is available from the DIGRA site:
http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php?id=242

Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern

DIGRA05: Matchmaker

Session at DIGRA05 (http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005)

Timothy Burke from Department of History, Swarthmore College:
“Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match: Artificial Societies vs. Virtual Worlds”


Burke’s main point as I perceived it was that it would be good to instantiate several instances of virtual worlds during a game’s life cycle, since it would be interesting to study. I couldn’t agree more. I wonder if it is realistic to hope for anything concrete coming from Burke’s direction in the future or if he did as so many of us do: recommend things for other’s to do when we realize it is impossible for us to do it ourselves due to the fact that resources and time are limited. And yes, emergence _is_ cool.

http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php?id=241


Timothy Burke

DIGRA05: Half-Real

Session at DIGRA05 (http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005)

Half-Real: The Interplay between Game Rules and Game Fiction;
Jesper Juul


Jesper Juul prefers the term “fiction” rather than “narrative”, arguing that the world only exists in the player’s head anyway, at least if it’s not a reality-game. Juul sees fiction as a help to the player to understand the rules about the game. After some time of playing the player learns to ignore the fiction. If something doesn’t make sense in the fiction of the game “it is just the rules”. This would according to Jesper explain the lack of role-playing in MMORPGs, since the fiction would be ignored in order to optimise the game play according to the rules of the game. He quoted Haider & Frensch (1996) when mentioning information reduction, and said “Games are half-real”.
I appreciate Jesper’s point about fiction vs. rules. It is a good distinction to make, and I agree that it is a help to the player in the beginning, and that it gets less important as the player start playing by the rules instead of by the underlying mechanics implied by the fiction. In my world though I just see the fiction as the back-story and nature of the world. Terms like diegesis and ontology come to mind. The actual narrative of MMORPGs are built at so many different levels and the fiction that Jesper is addressing I would place, in terms of creators; in the hands of the developer’s, and in terms of the overall text of a MMORPG id place in the box of “designed narrative potential”. The actual narratives from developers occur, but players create the mass of narrative. I don’t think we can ignore the term narrative when it comes to games, but we need to apply it in a way that is practical. Sorry if got you wrong Jesper, you can just slap me next time we meet :)

http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php?id=264

Jesper Juul: Half-Real: The Interplay between Game Rules and Game Fiction

DIGRA05: The Game of Life

Notes from session at DIGRA05 (http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005)

The Game of Life: Narrative and Ludic Identity Formation in Computer Games; Jos de Mul (Thursday)

Jos de Mul and his colleagues have made an impressive framing in order to close into their core focus; Identity formation in computer games. For me, this is of course highly relevant. They are entering into a project that will span over several years as they explore this, and I will, as far as I can, follow their work closely. They are using an interdisciplinary approach, which they summarised. I threw down some notes while listening, but it was so quick so I'm not sure this will be either correct or make sense:
1. Narrative identity and mimesis as lived experience, expression and self-understanding. In this they draw upon the writings of Paul Riceur, but also recognizes the flaw of it being so focussed on narrative in the traditional way.
- They would rather use the expression ludic identity and play as
o Lived, a playful configuration of human every day life.
o Expression via ludic actions and
o Reflective self-understanding via play.
2. Another perspective is the media theoretical;
- Descriptions of media specific characteristics of ludic media
- Comparative analysis of general differences between narrative and ludic expressions
- Technological-interactionst approach.

They also juxtapose autonomous self-construction versus commercialization, globalization and technological homogenization.
2. Qualitative-Empirical approach where the domestication of technology would be viewed in terms of a) commodification b) appropriation and c) conversation.
They will also be looking at program design, and identity formation in different contexts, in this case technological platforms; a) mobile identity, b) web identity, c) game identity. Game Identity would be between homogenization and heterogenization.

At this point in the speech a new speaker was introduced: Joost Raessens (Utrecht). He spoke about domains of participation, and re- and de-construction of these. The reconstruction would be an exploration of a navigable space and selections in that. The deconstruction would be a demystification of simulation resulting in a better understanding of simulations. Here he referred to Turkle and her thoughts on how we are being seduced by simulations.
He also presented a political and ideological perspective where in particular they would look at:
1. Top-down versus bottom-up
2. Homogenization vs. heterogenization
3. The real (true world) versus the possible (fable)

All in all I realize I need to look deeper into their work; to make sense of these, to me, very interesting but rushed notes. In particular I would like to know how they would approach the social-communicative aspect if identity construction where identity is built by being mirrored in other individuals. I would also like to know if they are making any difference between self-identity and fictive character identities, and if so, how.

http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php?id=131

Playful Identities

Friday, August 12, 2005

Summer in Stockholm

The summer has passed quickly in an intense feeling of now. I have spent it in Stockholm, in my tiny apartment in the south part. Geska made sure I could have a desk at the head office of the Interactive Institute, which has been perfect, especially when it was so hot in July; air-condition! After coming home from the Digra conference in Vancouver I got a terrible flue/ammonia, and I haven’t gotten back my sense of smell since then. Quite practical when having cats in a small apartment, but only if being there alone…

Geska me Peter Kullgard in Daydreams new office Rikard
Geska Me Peter Rikard

Most of the time I have spent working with the course “Introduction to Game Analysis and Design”, this year we had a hundred students. Luckily the help-teachers have made an excellent job, so it has been manageable.
I also managed to make my yearly report of my research to Teesside and finalize my paper “The Player’s Journey” which will appear in this book: “GAMING CULTURE AND SOCIAL LIFE A gaming research volume edited by Patrick Williams and Jonas Heide Smith”. (http://jonassmith.dk/gamingculture/)

It was good making that yearly report. I went back to last years report and compared. The main direction that I was not aware of a year ago was how much energy I would put into the IPERG project. It was strange to get this feeling of “OMG - I’m on track!?!?” and “what what what!? Haven’t I been unproductive and lazy!?!?!”.

Another nice thing was that an article I presented ("Historiekonstruktion i virtuella spelvärldar) at a conference in Stockholm about a year ago, and that was published in a Swedish literary studies journal (Tidskrift för litteraturvetenskap) was reviewed by Jonas Thente in Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish daily newspaper, the 12th of July. I was really happy to realize that Thente had read the paper and had appreciated the point of it.

Review 2005-07-12

EA had a party thing at Café Opera in Stockholm a week ago or so, they have this Europe-tour promoting and recruiting. Of course I had to go, curiosity hasn’t killed me this far. Met Peter K and Rikard E there, and we got this feeling of being back in the nineties before the bubble burst. I have a selected kind of hearing focussed on my own subjects, and I heard “The character of a gun” when their new FPS was presented, and “facial emotional expressions” when the new boxing game was showed. The character of a gun; the feel of it. Tactile. Hm. The boxing game, the facial expression were truly impressive. When I studied I had a side-job to do subtitling for Canal+ (FilmNet) and I did a lot of boxing matches, subtitling voice-overs so I saw a lot of it, and I have to say that wow, EA has done very it realistic.

EA reception at Cafe Opera in Stockholm EA reception at Cafe Opera in Stockholm

On Sunday I go back to Visby, and soon after to Bonn, for an IPERG Plenary, and then to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I need to start organizing that, I’m staying the fall as visiting scholar at Michael Mateas’ Experimental Game Lab, and a place to stay would be good.

I realized I never wrote anything about the Digra Conference since I got so sick, I will post a retrospective thing here soon. And links to some pictures! What about Eric Zimmerman bouncing in a bed with a shower-cap on!

Eric Zimmerman