Friday, July 11, 2008

Schools out!

Thanks for a great class, everybody. I'll leave the weblog active for a few months in case anybody ever wants to post some more video game goodness here. Hopefully we'll get to run this course again at UW-Madison sometime! Cheers,


Second Life

My experience with second life is the first time I have ever explored a virtual world. Seeing the way people interact and roam about these worlds was totally alien to me. The closest experience I’ve had prior to this would probably be Final Fantasy, but the characters in that game are only programmed. It is also funny to see how the materialistic world also enters into these games. Especially interesting to me is the idea that you can actually buy cyber real estate and create your own estate in the virtual world. Why this appeals to people I’m not sure. The part that involved roaming virtual worlds makes sense to me and communicating with other avatars, but buying virtual real estate just seems a little ridiculous. My avatar I choose to use, as you all saw, was a blue dragon. Although I did some modding, I think the blue dragon still exists. I don’t think I’d ever really enjoy playing as my true self in such a game--Probably because it would not feel real to me. In either case, I like to keep my person to people that actually are agents in my life—at least in actual reality. I am glad to finally see the world I have been completely uninvolved with but understand the attraction and value of such games.
p.s. my character won't publish to the blog for some reason, but he was a stick figure holding an accordian--nothing major

All Bow Before the Accordion Thief

I logged in under the name AuroraNever during my play of Kingdom of Loathing for this weeks hand on assignment and had quite an interesting experience therein. Who knew that the world of biting sarcasm and stick figures could be so uneventfully-eventful. Yes, indeed, I too followed the tutorial with the Toot Oriole on Mt. Noob, north of the plains. I found this character to be rather hilarious, having made the game play more interesting with his off-beat humor and snide manor, though, I have to admit, I’ve met snarkier folks in my life. The toot sent me down into a cave at the foot of the mountain where he had hid some shiny pebbles. He said that I could spend several of my allotted adventures in the cave and so I ventured inward, hoping to see some stalactites if I could.

My passageway inside the cave was blocked by a stack of large crates. Therein, “[I] saunter up to the pile of crates and, pretending that it's the jukebox back at Al's Diner, hit it in exactly the right place with your elbow. It sets up a series of reverberations that resound through the corridor, blasting all of the crates to powder. Moxious!” After all of my effort, however, this only marked a dead end., I gained two sarcasm points from this adventure and ended up ‘looking cool’ in the act, so all in all, I can’t really complain.

A cave in! Oh no! This marks the second of my twists-and-turns in this game. I move the boulder and gain one ‘fortitude point’ while commenting on how good this will be for my figure. I move, under the boulder lifted above my head, and continue on. Luckily, at this point in my journey, my growing thirst does not go unanswered, as I come upon a blue body of water. There, I use a Frisbee to scoop the water and drink it. Apparently, it was delicious.

Finally, my actions do not go un-awarded, as I found behind a pile of laundry the pile of shiny pebbles the Toot had sent me in after. I bring the pebbles back to the bird, but he doesn’t do much of anything in response. From there, I adventure into the Hall of The Legends of The Times of Old. Herein, I do not have the proper keys to access the doors, and gesture to one day find my way through.

All in all, I found the tone of this game interesting and its twists and turns rather random and funny. I like the minimalist approach taken by the games authors in creating a world in which I can roam about unabated while getting a few laughs out of the process.

Kingdom of Loathing

I would just like to preface with the fact that MMOGs don't appeal to me at all. Personally, I don't see what the fuss is about and what their appeal is and I just don't find them interesting. So I decided to stay away from World of Warcraft and Second Life, and wanted to give Kingdom of Loathing a shot. Suprisingly, I found it fun.

I started out by creating a character (dubbed Tom Cruise) and picked the character of a Disco Bandit. When I started the game, I spent about a half hour interacting with the Toot Oriole, which was my first introduction to the humor and sarcasm in the game. Liking sarcasm, this hooked me into the game a little bit. I did some tasks for the Toot Oriole such as buying gum on a stick to fish for a worthless trinket, killing bunnies for meat, repairing his favorite action figure, and going to get a golden twig from a hermit. After completing the tutorial, I was left to explore a little bit on my own. I went to the nearby plains and into Cobb's Knob where I fought a Knob Goblin BBQ team, got medicine for a guard who stubbed his toe, and taught a kid about vandalism and petty theft.

Overall, I had a better than expected time playing this game. The wit and mostly text-based really intrigued me and this is a game that I would definitely consider playing if I wanted something to do. However, I still refuse and will never play World of Warcraft.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Vodka Martinis and Saucerors

I began playing KoL just before the beginning of the week, hoping to get an edge on the work I knew that I'd need to do. Overall, I chose it, largely because I was looking for something that wouldn't have a truly MMO feel. I've seen too many people get sucked into WoW or other games, and I didn't want to be yet another casualty to them.

Making my character, I patterned it after my best friend (as much as one could), and so I quickly decided that she would be a Sauceror (my best friend is more saucier than pasta chef).

Quickly, one of the things that I found most appealing is the way in which turns are handled. There are only a finite number of turns that you can use in a particular real-world day. In essence, the game only lets you play just so much, and after that, you simply cannot adventure any longer for the day. In a way, this puts a natural limit on the ability of a player to just gun a whole crap-ton of hours on the game, and just continuously farm an area for cash. If you want to farm an area for value, it absolutely will LITERALLY take you days to do so, if you want to really spend the time. Personally, I love this feature. It also helps to both stoke and suppress the addictive nature of the game.

Since I took that screen shot of my campsite, I've progressed a few levels, and am soon to make Level 7, I hope. Right now, I'm at Thyme Wizard. Wish me luck in leveling up!

The End of the World...of Warcraft!

For this last hand-on assignment I decided to take advantage of my WoW account. I started playing again after the semester ended with a group of friends--shame on me, I know. Not many things have chanced since I played last so there are few new experiences I can chat about. Instead of commenting on an hour of play I'll talk about the past two months and my playing.

I don't consider myself one of those "hardcore", end game players. I'm more into the PvP (player vs player) part of the game. PvP consists of Battlegrounds and Arena games. The battlegrounds are instances where 10v10, 15v15, or 25v25 players battle it out in games of capture the flag, controlling areas, or killing a leader. In arenas teams of 2v2, 3v3, or 5v5 battle each other to the "death" with the winner's rating going up and the loser's going down. All of these reward the player with "honor" which he can turn in for items. I've had many experiences in the BG's and arenas, most being the victor.

My character at the moment is "Wait" a undead priest. For the past two months I've been leveling as fast as possible so I can play with my friends at 70. I cheat and use mods to quest--mods that show me what to do, not actually cheat the leveling system. I plan to PvP with my friends until the summer is over and they quit, then try to sell my account for whatever I can get for it.

I highly discourage anyone to play the game, since it can be addicting and a waste of time, lol.

The screenshot below is a shot of me "camping" another player. Camping is when you wait by the players corpse until they resurrect and then killing them again, etc etc.

Daily Life on a Synthetic Earth

Castronova's goal for this article was to give unaware readers an overview of how someone gets into a synthetic world and what to do when you enter. He does this by taking the reader on a "tour" of the typical experience of getting involved in a massive online rpg.

The tour ends up being more than half of the article and needs no explaining, but there were three important moments in it. He goes over all three in the most important section of the article, "reality check".

The first of the moments he reflected over was when the avatars attributes felt like they were your own. He states that it seems to be psychologically natural because you begin to feel the avatar as just an extension of your own body. He claims it is similar to a man with a prosthetic arm calling it his own arm.

The second moment is when you acquired an emotional investment in a virtual world event. This occurred when Ethelbert took 5 of the 10 bottles Sabert had found and Sabert became angry. It may seem silly to those who haven’t ever played an online game to become emotionally flustered because someone took something that is made of 0s and 1s from you.
The third and final point of reflection is when Sabert was thankful for Ethelbert when he gave him the gold piece. The difference between the bottle and the gold piece is the gold piece cant help you fly like the special ale. So what value does it have? Financial value. Massive online games have an economy just like in the real world. That is why Sabert was filled with joy when he received the gold.

Castronova then goes on to talk about how factors in the game can jump the digital line and effect events in the real world. The real world economy can be affected by events in the game. A good example of this is the gold farmers that are well known from World of Warcraft. He also goes into that social effects and political effects can also spill over and affect the real world.

Overall this article is like an “idiots guide to” MMORPGs. It is clearly meant for readers who are inexperienced in the online gaming world or those who are looking to learn about it.

Hermit Permits and Earning Meat

I first played Kingdom of Loathing several years ago, when it first came out. It was all the rage among my nerdy community of Internet friends and, steeped as we were in the lore and mythology that goes along with said communities, all the inside jokes in KoL were heartily received. The beauty of the game was its ironic simplicity, particularly in the face of the ever complex MMORPGs that were becoming popular at the time. For someone like me, who enjoyed throwbacks to an earlier time, when the Internet was a "text-based medium" (har har), the stick-figure drawings and simple interface were charming and welcome.

We quickly got into the game and, as I played for purposes of class, I remembered how truly addictive it is. The hook, in this case, is to see what quirky, fun inside joke lies around the corner; it's certainly not cool graphics that brings one into the game.

The other great part of the game is that it's browser-based, making it accessible from just about any computer with an Internet connection. No fancy software is needed, and it's easy to log in and play a few moves from, say, work - not that I am advocating this.

I chose to be a Pastamancer this time around, and I am tickled by the fact that the game has both Pastamancers and Saucerors, mirroring the classic RPG distinction between various kinds of magic users...oh, the list of references to the canon of RPG and geek culture goes on and on and on. This game is so clever.

Thanks for getting me cracked out again.

Lots of Moxie have I

For this weeks hands on assignment, I entered the world of Kingdom of Loathing as Buddy-Lee, the Disco Bandit. Right off the bat I felt a little lost, as little informmation was provided about the different character classes. After a little thought I managed to map the short descriptions given onto my pre-existing schema of characters for this style of game (WoW, D&D) and began to feel much more at home. After creating my character, a much more simplified experience than experienced in similar games, I proceeded through the "tutorial" sections provided by the bird on top of the mountain. I quickly began to try to "game" the system. As I knew that I would only be playing for a short time, I repeated the first "quest" over 80 times, racking up extreme levels of the different drops (still a little unsure what these will do). Following this I proceeded onto the next quest and slayed the horribly vicious bunnies (see, Tim the Enchanter was right).
All things considered I enjoyed my time in the KoL. The stripped down user interface did present some problems (I had issues returning to the main screen after entering the inventory, skills, etc.) but the sarcasm and overall style presented a truly enjoyable experience. I never made it out of the training area, which I beleive to be the reason why I was working/playing in isolation, but hope to soon. I wouldn't recommend this game to people who have never played a MMO or RPG before, but for fans of the genres it is a wonderfully loving and insightful spoof.

Sharendipity in the news

The Capital Times has an article on Sharendipity today in "77 Square":
Sharendipity was founded by Gehring, Greg Tracy, Jeffrey Hoffman and Dale Beermann, who all worked together at UltraVisual Medical Systems. UltraVisual was acquired by Emageon in 2003.

Emageon went public in 2005, and moved its operations from Madison to the Milwaukee suburb of Hartland the following year. The quartet had made enough money in the IPO that they could afford to leave Emageon and stay in Madison.

"We didn't actually have a concept," said Gehring. "We actually sat around a conference table and brainstormed about things we might work on. We had worked together for years, and we knew all it would take was the idea, and we could build whatever that was. We had broad experience and different areas of expertise. We just had a lot of confidence that we could figure something out."

Gehring said that inspiration for Sharendipity came from his two daughters' math schoolwork.

An early idea for the company was software that would allow students to visualize and better understand algebraic equations.

That evolved into a more general platform that would enable algebra teachers, students or parents to make algebra software. But it was broad enough that other users could take the software and create physics software, or a game. The company hopes to help people create their own applications.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More evidence of videogames in culture

The Cal vs Washington State halftime show:

Retrogamers rejoice

Being an insane fan of the original 8-bit Megaman series, when Nintendo announced that they were releasing a new Megaman game for the Wii I freaked out adequately. Then when I found out they were doing it in 8-bit, and having it play much like the old nintendo classics, I freaked out even more. Here is a link to the story:

But, what this really gets me thinking about is how now that we've advanced graphics so far (think about how good GTA4 looks) they are going back to retrogaming programs. I've heard rumors that if this megaman does well, they are going to start up making sequels to old classics with the same graphics and platforms as the games we remember and love. Siiiiigh. It's a happy thought.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whose Game is this Anyway?

Article summary- Marlon H.

This article starts out by noting the creative power offered by several games, including City of Heroes (Coh), which behaves much like a “high-tech deck of crayons,” serving the gamer in their ability to create (even in cases of copyright infringement) super heroes. This, again, reminds us of the upcoming game Spore, in the two games abilities to create worlds, obscene creations (if intended, such as Boobalicous, a Spore character created by someone that caused controversy for her robust, naked mid region). With the use of these “Creation Engine’s” as the starting point of his article, T.I. Taylor makes it perfectly clear that from creating “tax protests in Second Life, to offering out underage prostitutes in the Sims, anything is possible in the world of games such as these.

Taylor continues by explaining that the original form of these games came in the package of text-based MUDs. “But the current terrain of multiuser game space looks quite different…the move to commercialized virtual environments is presenting some unique challenges for users negotiating between their private lives and corporate interests” (126). The boundaries once erected between consumers and producers have been seriously warped.

Taylor’s thesis: “The struggles, discussions, and debates taking place in game communities about the status of player and company ownership, as well as questions of responsibility and accountability” goes to the heart of our everyday interactions with technology and culture, within our “citizenship in commercial society.” In short, the precedents being set now for the “networked future” of media have been arbitrated through “commercialized systems of authorship and exchange,” wherein there is quite a deal of interplay between the creators, consumers, and regulators, etc., of games.

The many spheres of communication orbiting around any video game—e.g. fan forums, etc.—represent the “collective production of game experience.” That is to say, if these newer forms of media did not exist, the game would not be recognized as the same, as they have been incorporated on the fringes of the game space, and once clean, now tangled boundaries separating the game from the rest have become faded and smudged. Consumers, essentially, serve as a wall of the echo chamber for game creators, “beta-testing” games for creators.

Other than the game creators there exist a plethora of co-constructions that play a hand in deciding the formulation of the space surrounding the game. Taylor mentions designers, managers, legal counselors, marketers, and everyday players, creating a perpetual tug-of-war over the game.

Culture matters- today’s ‘culture’ sees a great extension in authorship rights, explains Taylor, wherein well-branded and well-protected brands pervade into cultural spaces, begging the question of how much creative control the average consumer has. Consumerism, he argues, is colliding with citizenship. This leads the article down the avenue of exploring the consequences of commercializing virtual community spaces (e.g. Sunny-D and the digital Hills?).

.With so many corporations being considered legal ‘citizens’ in the court of law, Taylor argues that copyright laws, which are meant to die off after said author kick’s the boot, can today be as immortal as any number of undying corporations. And what about the creators of the pieces within the larger work owned by the corporation? Well, they have no rights to it either. It’s the corporation that owned them when the piece was created and therefore the corporations it remains.

Indeed, Taylor points out, it is hard to imagine a world without brands. This same war has extended to the digital world today on a worse level, as people are unable to alter characters legitimately (back to the Marvel heroes example). This is where we really get into the meat of the article, as Taylor questions when or whether it ever should become ok for a piece of intellectual property to become public domain.
This leads the discussion down a familiar avenue dealing with file-sharing networks such as Napster. “Game worlds,” explains Taylor, “do not lie outside of our ongoing cultural battles, anxieties, or innovations but very often mirror them quite well” (p. 129). This leads us to question, again, whether players are in fact co-authors of the game spaces that they help change over time. Should people be allowed to sell high scoring game accounts that they put labor into creating? This bothers game creators that charge a monthly subscription for playing the game, as any financial shortcut under the table for a player means cash out of the pocket for the game creators. The larger question on Taylor’s mind, however, is about the “nature of the game and the status of the artifacts in it” (p. 130). Within this view, this phenomenon represents something potentially damaging to the game. This type of problem could be especially damaging for games that rely on reputation, etc. This could be especially damaging to Massive Multiplayer Games, wherein it could undermine the entire game, status, structure.

Clearly, with the ban on auctioning characters and powers, many people feel cheated, as the labor they invested in the game should be worth something. The corporate realm, however, controls the sword and usually wins out in battles over intellectual property. When an entire account can be whipped out at corporate headquarters, players are reminded squarely about where the power lies. Relying heavily on his example of EverQuest (EQ), Taylor continues his discussion with the idea of ‘unruly play,’ and of whether or not people can actually ruin game play by playing the game wrong. Indeed, with game makers so wrapped up in the worlds they create, its no doubt that newer gamers might sometimes play the game in a different way, a style that formed free of the bias accrued by the creators during game creation.

When EQ players found a way to open more than one application while playing the game—such as an mp3 or another game screen—this allowed players to play the game in a way the company had deemed ban-able. This would give someone a chance to undo mistakes, to look up directions online, etc. that was unfair to the other players who knew not these secrets. The author is not interested in the rightness or wrongness of this debate, but is rather interested in the discussions this raises about ‘fair play.’

Taylor then folds this debate back into earlier considerations taken into account by the article, such as EQ’s right (or lack-there-of) to pull the account of a player that chronicled a violent rape and revenge murder scene that took place within the game space. Should not this person have the right to freedom of speech, to print a fiction about the game? According to EQ, they did not. The biggest question coming out of all of this is, of course, whether or not the corporations have such rights to do such things to consumer authors?

Eventually EQ apologized to the author, perhaps pointing this debate conclusion in the direction of the consumer. With EQ itself being deeply rooted in fantasy lore that came into being before the game, people are forced to extend the same debate about ownership into the past, along with projecting it to the future. Are EQ creators hypocrites for creating such a double-standard?

Remapping Ownership- With new ideas of market relations emerging in the face of this dilemma, one is reminded of Sharendipity, at least for this class, as Taylor discusses the ability of game users on many forums in contemporary games, being equipped in such a manor, as to being critical to game space development. However, “despite some interesting moves within development communities to reckon their players as agents within the construction of the product… the power of corporate authorship claims” continue to trump the rest (p.146). In response to this and concerns expounded by female gamers about stereotypes surrounding the appearance of girl Avatars, Taylor argues that we must reassess our vision of the digital world, of co-ownership, and of user experience and independence.

The idea of creating a “Guild Summit”—a congress of sorts in which top players represent the world of gamers in negotiations with management—plays into the conclusion of the article as an interesting segue into future possibilities. This issue is far too complex for game designers to tackle alone, and thus, there must be an interplay and exchange through all of the areas surrounding a game space. There must, more than anything, be movements towards employing more progressive depictions of intellectual property, and of the possibly elastic nature of those rights.

Rise and Fall of Infocom

My article was "Down from the Top of Its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc. by Hector Briceno, Wesley Chao, Andrew Glenn, Stanley Hu, Ashwin Krishnamurthy, and Bruce Tsuchida. This article chronicles the rise and fall of Infocom from its rise by members from the MIT's Lab of Computer Science and their take off on the heels of it's very successful text-based game Zork. Also contributing to its success were developing an effective system for supporting new platforms, maintaining an engineering culture that excelled in writing games, and marketing its products to the right audience. However, when they tried to transform to business products and with a little bad luck, Infocom fell.

First, the authors give us a little timeline that shows the goings on in the company and the games that they were putting out, along with the economics as well.

Like I said before, the company started out with some LCS students at MIT creating this game Zork. Zork was a text-based game where the screen consisted of text and a command prompt. The player enters text to respond to the prompt and then the game returns with more text. This game was cool to players in that even though they couldn't see anything on the screen, they could picture the game playing out in their minds. In 1979, the MIT guys decided they wanted to work together outside of the lab and started their own company and their first objective was to make Zork available to the blossoming home computer market. The demographic of computer buyers worked out in Infocom's favor in that computers were expensive, so the buyers were wealthy and refined people who liked to read.

However, Infocom ran into many problems in getting their game to fit the memory specs of the personal computer. The authors go on to describe their Z-machine design which just went right over my head. The company was finally able to fit the game and really took off when the Apple II version sold 6000 copies. Then, they describe the company's culture which was very laidback and I got some laughs about the trial they held for the death of goldfish.

Going on the success of Zork, the company began coming out with more and more games. Marc Blank wrote Deadline, which was a mystery game. Dave Lebling wrote a science-fiction game called Starcross, and Amy Briggs wrote the first romance game aimed at women. Each game had to be different since it was only text-based. So it had to be new and have new puzzles. The games were made cheap and the company was turning huge profits. They were consistently at the top of the bestseller lists of computer software.

The games appealed to players because the brought the intellectual aspect of reading a novel with the puzzling nature of logic puzzles. Then, the authors go on to talk about Infocom's unique marketing strategies. After publishing unsuccessfully with a company called Personal Software, Infocom decided to do it themselves and repackaged all the games. Infocom also got into the published tips aspect as well selling books to help the gamers through puzzles.
Unfortunately, the downfall was not included in our reading.

I think that the article was an interesting read into how some of these game startups got started. And how the evolution of gaming started out without even graphics, but just text-based. It says something to the appeal of video games that these games were successful.

Things get a little more interesting.

I continued to poke around about RE5, but it appears that Capcom decided the argument held enough water to change the game.

Racism and Zombies!

This is one of the more interesting news pieces I've seen about race and a video game lately. Is this racist, or is it just because of the location of the game's story? (This post relates to the recent controversy over Resident Evil 5).

And for those of us who played Resident Evil 4, is this any different than the racial stereotypes that are included in that game? (For example, the rural Spanish-speaking Eastern European zombies).

Bogus Author

Here are a couple links to articles on the woman Sarah mentioned:

A Rape in Cyberspace (or TINYSOCIETY, and How to Make one) by Julian Dibbell

The article/recount A Rape in Cyberspace (Or TINYSOCIETY, and how to make one) by Julian Dibbell concerns the account of a “virtual rape” in the internet society of LambdaMOO. LambdaMOO is a text based online virtual reality that involves mainly a house and a community of users. The story is told from the point of view of Dr. Bombay. Dr. Bombay is, for most of the article, a newbie to the world of LambdaMOO. However, most of the story concerns a sadistic player by the name of Mr. Bungle. In the beginning of the article Mr. Bungle’s horrible crime against other LambdaMOO users is described. In essence, Mr. Bungle used a text-based program to commit a virtual rape on several other characters. A player named Iggy was summoned during his virtual attack, and trapped Bungle in a cage of words.

After the virtual rape, the community of LambdaMOO was forced to decide how to punish Bungle. Many called for his “toading”—for all intensive purposes, a death sentence on LambdaMOO. His character would be turned into a toad, thereby wiping all of his character traits. The only users able to make this happen are known as wizards. The wizards are not only users, but they are also programmers. One problem stood in the way, however. The wizards had recently shelved their judicial powers in LambdaMOO. They decided to relinquish any powers they had that could affect the social lives of the MOO. Now, members of the community would be forced to fend for themselves. In effect, this forced the users to create a kind of social system, complete with laws and rules, in regards to the conduct of LambdaMOO members. The need to punish a crime created the need to make a system for punishing crimes.

The different kinds of social structures varied, and there were arguments on all sides. Many wanted to see if Bungle could be tried under RL (real life) laws. Still others didn’t believe that LambdaMOO was about ultimate imaginative freedom. These users take a very anarchist look at the society, and instead of “toading” Bungle they instead wanted to see him banished from LambdaMOO. This discussion prompted many larger questions poised by the narrative. Many ask if it is not better to release violent fantasies in an online environment than in real life. Even others began to point to the way that this kind of virtual crime was really a crime of the mind, leading to the question of “Where does the body end and the mind begin?” (22). While the form of virtual government continued to be discussed in a forum called *social, a large meeting was finally called. Almost all the members of the community showed up to the online debate, including Dr. Bombay and eventually Mr. Bungle himself. When Bungle shows up to the meeting the tension is palpable, almost as if this were a RL community meeting about a criminal. However, Bungle answers for his actions only in sociopathic ramblings, so he is quickly ignored. While no concrete form of social law was settled upon, in the end a wizard named Tom Traceback made the decision to toad Bungle.

The aftermath of Bungle’s toading is both felt by many and felt by none at all. That is to say, very little had changed in LambdaMOO after, but many still remembered the horror and question of Bungle. There was however, a new system set up, wherein wizards would only act according to a series of votes and petitions put forth by users. Therefore, the action of the wizards became dependant on the will of the users. Yet Bungle was not dead. A few days after his initial departure, Bungle returned under a new name—Dr. Jest. Through a loophole he managed to set up a new, totally clean account. A guilty user now became a new, clean name.

This drives the narrator, Dr. Bombay, to seek out Dr. Jest and try to get some answers from him, which he never does. Bombay then dips back into the argument for rape as a “crime against the mind,” since even in RL it is classified with other “crimes against person or property” (27). He goes into saying that the actions you command into a computer don’t so much “communicate as make things happen, directly and ineluctably, the same way pulling a trigger does” (28). In the end, Bungle’s ultimate trick is revealed: Bungle was not a single user, but instead a community account of an entire NYU dorm floor. On the night of the rape it wasn’t just one user acting, but one user typing while a room of others encouraged the action and suggested new, twisted ways to torture the other LambdaMOO users. The new user, Dr. Jest, was just a fragmentation off from the original group that was Bungle. From this Bombay is left questioning the essence of LambdaMOO and other online virtual community spaces, the difference between appearances and the “realities” of a virtual reality.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Game

I think this one is far more fun. :)

More Pop Culture

Enjoy this fantabulous Chick Tract on the evils of RPGs (such as D&D).

Square Pegs, 1982 - Pac-Man Fever

Enjoy watching Ms. Sarah Jessica "Carrie Bradshaw" Parker as the high school nerd.

Monroe St. Library, Madison Public Library System

I visited the Monroe Street branch of the Madison Public Library to check on the video game offerings at this neighborhood branch of the local public library system.

This was the library that was in my neighborhood when I was a kid, and I spent many hours, especially in the summer, perusing its shelves.

I was very surprised to discover a seemingly dwarfed library; truly, the space is the exact same size but seems much smaller to me now that I am older.

This library is also filled to the gills with children - there were probably ten, or more, of them on site during my brief visit.

The library's shelf space has been largely repurposed since the last time I visited (probably 20 years ago). Simply put, there are much fewer books, and those that are there are dominated by nonfiction (Visual C++ for Dummies, etc.). Beyond that, there are racks and racks of media - DVDs, books on tape, DVDs for kids, books on tape for kids, music CDs for kids and adults and so on.

What there is not, in this small and unruly library (filled with screaming kids), is any type of game or software for checkout. I was surprised by this, given that so much of the small space in here is consecrated to every other type of media imaginable.

When I inquired as to what the status of games were at this library, and at others in the system, the reference assistant told me that they simply are too cramped, spacewise, to be able to offer any titles. When I asked where I would have to go to find something (already knowing that the downtown main library does offer software), we honed in on the Sequoia branch, further to the west side of town, which is probably triple the size of poor Monroe Street.

Sure enough, we were able to locate titles in the online catalog - but for kids - available for the Mac and PC as CD-ROMs (at least that's how they were coded in the catalog).

The state of the Monroe Street library makes me awfully depressed. This is not how I remember it from childhood.


Mifflin St. Branch

Stopping by the public library was an interesting experience. I didn't know what I'd be finding there. I was reminded about when I was in middle school, and I would always try to find my way to the computer in the library to play the games that were available. There really weren't many, and they were all educational games, but I sure did manage to waste a lot of time doing it anyway, because it was an excuse to not be doing other things.

The public library branch on Mifflin Street was an interesting experience. There were a few rows of games, and far more than I expected. The games were largely educational, it seemed, with a few things that were clearly 'after my time' ("The Magic Schoolbus"?), and also a surprising amount, to me at least, of branded projects. A few Barbie titles, but also a TON of Star Wars titles. This was maybe the biggest surprise. It seemed like it was a pretty clear split between Mac and PC.

They were kinda messy. It looked like the games might have been, at one point, in alphabetical order, but it had fallen out of order at some point. I imagined that there were some small number of kids that were hitting it up, going through, checking out as often as possible, but overall largely ignored by the majority of the people that go up to the kid's section.

Overall, it was definitely a surprising, interesting experience.

Union South Arcade/Games Room

Instead of going to a local library I chose to go to an arcade instead. I went over to Union South because last year when I was in the Intramural Bowling League I noticed they had a good amount of arcade games. Going over there this morning I was definitely surprised by the amount of machines they had: 13. Also, which I had not been aware of before, was the fact that each machine had a rating on it. There were a total of three ratings:

Green Sticker(GS): Suitable for all ages
Yellow Sticker(YS): Life like violence mild
Red Sticker(RS): Life like violence strong

The game machines at Union South consisted of:
Ms. Pac Man GS
Tekken 3 RS
Die Hard YS
Time Crisis II RS
Monopoly Pinball GS
Crisis Zone RS
Trophy Hunter (rating N/A)
Dance Dance Revolution Super Nova GS
2005 Golden Tee GS
Police Trainer GS
Gauntlet Dark Legacy YS
Silent Scope RS
Emergency Call Ambulance YS

From these results we can see that five games had a green sticker rating, three games had a yellow sticker rating, and four games had the red sticking rating. So our union has done a well job of maintaining game machines for everyone and supplying a diverse amount of games within each rating category. It is good to see that the Union, while mostly occupied by people with ages 18+, is still concerned for any young goers that may happen to be bowling there or what not. It was especially nice to see that they still had some taste for the retro games even though they only had one: Ms. Pac Man. Unfortunately Memrial Union got ride of its game room, but it would have been nice to see how they would have compared.

Leaving the Library Behind

Rather than visit the local library, I opted to head out to a local arcade and see what was on tap and who was playing. Only problem is there aren't really any arcades left in town, so I ended up at Star Cinema in Fitchburg, on one of the busiest movie weekends of the year observing who played any of their five video games.
Now, with only five videogames available (including the "claw" machine) the selection obviously leaves much to be desired. Looking at the lobby as you enter, to the right is a "Mrs. PacMan / Galaga" game, left standing all alone, and to the left is the claw machine, a boat-racing game, a pinball machine and "Time Crisis 2". The potential audience for these amusements ranged from 5 year-olds to octegenarians, with a roughly equal split between male and female. Note that I said "potential audience", as the actual audience engaging with these games was much smaller.
During the 2 1/2 hours spent observing from 5 to 7:30 on Friday night(and yes, I did get to talk to the manager after about an hour), I only saw three people actually use any of the games, all of whom came from the same group of about 12 boys and girls in their early teens. The game of choice? The claw machine (ah, young love), at which no one was a winner. There were, of course, the requisite young children who would run over and start mashing the buttons and pretend to play, but for the most part it appeared that people did not even register that the games were there.
At this point I decided to become a part of the experiment and see how people would react to someone playing one of the games. Unfortunately, the only game I have prior experience and some modicum of skill with is "Time Crisis 2", a first person shooter where you have a gun and a foot-pedal. Releasing the foot pedal causes your character to crouch, with no other controls provided. I played for approximately 25 minutes, timing the gameplay to include the exit of viewers who had just been watching "Wanted", a styled and brutal, but semi-laughable, action movie (exploding rats as a weapon? yeah right). I figured if any group would have a reaction, it should be them as they were already "primed for violence". The actuallity of it was quite different, with my "spotter" (a friends sister who works as an usher) noting no reactions among any of the exiting crowd. The only reaction either of us observed was again a small child who was "playing" beside me (the game allows for two players) until his brother dragged him away to go see "Wall-E".

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My Adventure to the Kress Family Branch Library

Once I heard we had until Monday to hand in these assignments I decided to check out my hometown library to see what games they have accumulated over the years. The Kress Library is part of the Brown County Library system. Its in my hometown DePere, Wisconsin and I haven’t been to it in years. The library overall is pretty small but I was pleasantly surprised with the selection of materials they had available.

I was quite surprise with the range of games the library had to offer. Being a huge sports game fan, I looked for new sports games right off the bat. They had Madden 2008, but only for the Wii. I thought that was interesting, that the library didn’t have any game for the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. I don’t know if this was because the 360 and Ps3 have M rated games and they are against that or if they feel that the Wii would attract more rentals. The vast majority of their games were for the ps2 including, Ratchet and Clank, Sly 2 Band of Thieves, Star Wars Battlefront, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses, Robotech Invasion and Winning Eleven 8. There were also a few Gamecube games such as Sonic Mega Collection, Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door and Mario Kart Double Dash. I asked the librarian if they had any other games and she suggested I look on the computers. So I went on to the computer catalog and noticed that you can request any item from the system of Brown County librarys. That means my video game options were 7x’ed. I searched the catalog for a number of games, including most of the major sports ones, and they had everything I searched for. Oh the other hand when I searched for GTA or a war game they didn’t have it. They are clearly stocking up on games that are very player friendly and for teens or younger.

Also when I was on the computers I noticed a number of computer games that I could sit there and play. They were all little kids games such as, Backyard Basketball, Kelly Club, Dora the Explorer: FairyTale Adventures, Star Flyers: Royal Jewel Rescue, and Arthurs Computer Adventure.

Overall I was happy with my visit to the Kress Library. Most of the games seemed to be pitched at the tween to teen age groups, while the games actually on the computers were more so for the younger kids. The library is a much cooler place with computers and video games, I might have to check it out more often.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Hands-on Assignment: Week 3

Videogame Demographics and Options at College Library:

Marlon Heimerl

College Library turned out to be the go-to source among Wendt Library and the Union South on this fine Saturday afternoon. The latter two must have been closed on account of the holiday weekend. Nonetheless and ergo, this hands-on assessment will recount a journey that took me to the farthest reaches of campus (ok, so it isn’t that far from my house to get to College Library), wherein I discovered much about the excess of games that make their home at the educational utopia that is College library (no, really, it’s alright though).

I have categorized the games based on a number of earmarked differences that look into whether the games are ‘sports’ related, ‘fantasy’ or ‘racing’ related, or whether they are what one could consider for ‘all ages’ (along with all other game rating’s according to the same criteria), or ‘war’ based games (or ‘first-person shooter’ games, including the genre of ‘survival horror’), all encompassed by the larger category of ‘violent games’ (that could, in all reality, be considered in the assessment of virtually every game category herein assessed, depending on ones definition of ‘violence’).

Sports Games offered by College Library:

NBA Live ’08 (PS3 & Xbox 360), College Hoops (NCAA) 2K8 (PS3), NCAA ’08 Football (Xbox 360), Major League Baseball 2K8 (Xbox 360), Wii Fit (Wii), Hotshots Golf (Wii), NHL ’08 (PS3 & Xbox 360), and PES 2008 (Xbox 360), Summer Sports Wii (Wii), provisional game titles: Smack Down vs. Raw 2008, Tony Hawk’s: Proving Grounds,’ and Pinball Hall of Fame (Wii)accepting that in terms of this assessment, professional wrestling and skateboarding will be called sports).

Total: (≈12 games)

*Note: Though Wii sometimes represents a challenge for categorizing its games along with other systems—due to its uniqueness of style, sometimes befuddled graphics and strange controls—Wii will still be considered on an equal field of assessment, especially because its range of games vary from family oriented titles such as Summer Sports Wii to grotesqueries such as Resident Evil, House of the Dead, and the Godfather; demonstrating a range of both violence and nonviolence like any other system considering its game options.

Racing Games: are subcategorized because racing in certain contexts is for sport: Burnout Paradise (PS3), Motorstorm (PS3)

Total: (≈14 ‘sports games or two ‘racing games’)

Fantasy Games offered by College Library:

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360), Dark Sector (PS3), and Night’s: Journey of Dreams (Wii). [And a subcategory]

Adolescent/Youth Fantasy: Castle of Shikigami III (Wii), Folklore (PS3), Star Wars Lego (Wii), Pet 2 Dogs 2 [contestable] (Wii), Viva PiƱata (Xbox 360), Blue Dragon (Wii); Super Donkey Ball: Banana Blitz (Wii)

Total: (≈10 fantasy games)

War Games & Explicitly Violent Games offered by College Library:

Battalion Wars 2 (Wii), Virtua Fighter (Xbox 360), Condemned 2: Bloodshot (PS3 and Xbox 360), Evil May Cry (PS3) Deadrising (Xbox 360), Dynasty Warriors 6, (PS3), Mass Effect (Xbox 360), Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360), Prey (X box 360), House of the Dead 2 & 3 (Wii), and the Godfather: Blackhand edition (Wii):

Total: (11 war/violent games)

What’s interesting to notice is that each game category occupies roughly 1/3 of the overall makeup of College Library’s collection. The world’s being explored within these categories often represent (1) Sport’s world’s (which often entail underlying forms of violence) (2) Fantasy games (often dealing with war or violence on some level); and (3) War and explicitly violent games, which often contain an underlying premise of gore and horror).

Though in my 30-minutes at College Library, no other patron visited the game kiosk, it was clear to me that the primary audience meant to be reached is male college students with extra time on their hands and little cash in their pockets, as most of the games dealt with genres predominantly pertaining to masculinity—sports, war, gore and guns—stretching the breadth of boy culture and societal indicators of that culture, present here on campus today. This peace-sign amalgamation of games—each occupying roughly 1/3 of the selection) illustrates two things:

(1) What ‘rents’ on campus in terms of video game’s accessible via one of the university’s major library’s—assuming that the product matches the demand—are games dedicated to competition, expressing masculinity, and living out fantasies on either the field, court, or the 3D fantasy landscape, or

(2) These video games represent a concession by the public that exciting, fast paced, violent and competitive based sandbox, RPG, and non-educational games are wanted by college kids wracked by studies and just looking for a good time.

Hands-On Assignment: College Library Video Games

For my hands on assignment this week, I decided to stay right here on campus and see what College Library had to offer in terms of games you could check out. I had heard during the end of last year that they were going to start getting video games, but hadn't really paid much attention to it. So I went in to College Library and into the Open Book Cafe and they had a pretty decent selection of games for Playstation 3, X-Box 360, and Nintendo Wii.

For the Nintendo Wii, games included The Godfather, Summer Sports, Lego Star Wars, We Ski, Petz Dogz 2, the Wii Fit, and House of the Dead, just to name a few. For the Playstation 3, the games they had in the library were NBA Live 08, NHL 08, Grand Theft Auto IV, and a game called Bloodshot. Finally, for the X-Box 360, they had NCAA Football 08, MLB Baseball 2K8, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, WWE Smackdown v. Raw 2008, Burnout, Dead Rising, Saints Row, Viva Pinata, and Tony Hawk to name a few.

Looking at this selection, I couldn't help but notice a few things. This immediately made me think about the gender articles we read. It seems like almost all of these games would be games that would apply to males. Many are sports and first-person shooter/violence type games. However, it's hard to make that assumption when I saw games like Petz Dogz 2 and Viva Pinata also available to be checked out. So it seems that even though College Library has a wide variety of games, most of them are themed towards males.

Even that College Library has video games that students can check out makes a huge statement as to how important video games are becoming as media in our society. Video games are being accepted as valid forms of media and are important to society in it's influences and College Library has realized that the impact of video games cannot be ignored. And if there is a demand for them, which there is because the library website says they have 110 titles and they probably only have about 40 not checked out, then I think it's awesome that UW has stepped up and started including video games in our libraries. Another thing that is cool is that you can go to the website and request video games that you think the library should purchase.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Yet More from Billy Mitchell

Being a little bored today, I stumbled across this video on YouTube and thought it would be interesting to share for those of us who can't get enough of our class' new favorite villain Billy Mitchell.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Smart Bomb

The narrative largely follows Dr. Michael Macedonia, a Gulf War veteran turned military simulator (after failing to secure funding for a MMO startup). In essence it shows us the way in which MMO kinds of technology are being used by the US Military to train soldiers. Rather than using 3-D modeling to create fantasy worlds, they are using the modeling to create digitized versions of real places with which to train. Before operations, pilots will know what to look for, and will know what is out of place.

One moment very early on in the article that I found incredibly disturbing was the take that Macedonia seemed to have on Ender's Game. This is a truly fantastic book, and the author manages to give it an excellent one paragraph synopsis. I always viewed it as having a cautionary element, with a military willing to use children playing games for their own ends. To quote the author, in speaking on this topic to Macedonia: "He explains that it was a source of inspiration for lots of people in the militaary when it came out in the eighties. 'I've always been fascinated by what you could do with a six-year old,' Macedonia muses." I find this take-away from Ender's Game seriously disturbing, and I know from that moment on, personally, I looked at Macedonia with a huge element of revulsion.

"If you can play Nintendo, you can operate this." This seems to be the thing that the US Military is taking advantage of: a culture that is preprogrammed to be savvy with certain kinds of complicated controls and means of thought. While I don't personally think that it is likely that violent media CAUSE violent behavior, I do have a feeling that it lowers the threshold required to bridge into violent behavior. Again, another illuminating quote, talking about ROTCs lining up to play the game: "They're a little glassy-eyed and utterly delighted, just like you can imagine the children who followed the Pied Piper into the ocean might have been." It is also worth noting that the military itself has concluded that there is no direct correlation between videogames and an urge to kill, but they use these games as a means to teach HOW to do certain things properly. Knowledge can be disseminated. Quoting Col. Wardynski, from the article: "What a video game does, at heart, is teach you now, in the midst of utter chaos, to know what is important and what is not, and to act on that."

After the end of the cold war, the US Military, left as the sole military force of a superpower had to evolve into a force that could handle the new challenges of no singular enemy, but rather small, disparate groups who viewed the US as an enemy. This new military challenge couldn't be handled the same way that old forces were handled, on major battlefields. In this space, a new kind of military was needed, and a new soldier.

The new soldier of the future will be wired - with multiple network access, graphic overlays, lightweight computer which provides further assistance. In essence, it makes the soldier almost like a cross between two figures from movies: Predator and The Terminator. This isn't just providing info directly to the soldier, but back to command, for their knowledge as well.

THe military's use of games began with 1980's Battlezone (a 1st-person tank game), then Flight Simulator, and then Doom, to the Sims, and beyond. Doom was a flashpoint, where it seemed as though moving into games seriously began to be thought about by the military. America's Army follows in the vein of what these others were, but is geared to prepare people so that entering the US Army would be an experience that they might already be prepared for, from day one. (I somewhat wonder what it might mean for the US's ENEMIES to get and use this to prepare for the US Army as well, but from a 'know thy enemy' perspective...)

What really stands out to me is how the 'protaganists' of this story, as it were, evoke to me the kind of images of formerly nerdy children who never managed to find emotional maturity and became bitter man-childs. They seem angry at the world, smug and wallowing in privileges now, king of their new castles (Macedonia p204, Zyda p205). Games permeate their existence, but in a way that seems to suggest to me that they view the world as a game, rather than the world as a real play THAT CAN BE INFORMED by games. The distinction, to me, seems to be an important one.

J.C. Herz, "The military-entertainment complex," Joystick nation: How videogames ate our quarters, won our hearts, and rewired our minds

J.C. Herz, "The military-entertainment complex," Joystick nation: How videogames ate our quarters, won our hearts, and rewired our minds (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1997), 197-213

Readings for this class do not get much more straightforward than this chapter from JC Herz's book on videogames (referenced yesterday by Dr. Steinkuehler, incidentally). Herz, herself, has, interestingly enough, worked as a consultant for industry and for defense concerns, which I found quite salient.

At any rate, this chapter has as its goal to point out and then document the profound interlinking of the videogame/entertainment and defense industries. The interest the two share is technological, financial and even philosophical, to a certain extent. Earlier in class, it was pointed out (perhaps by Dr. Halverson) that the need to synthesize and analyze great deals of information presented dynamically and simultaneously is growing ever important in our information economy, and the case is the same for military applications. Herz notes that "most modern warfare takes place behind the screen, anyway," with controls and gadgets becoming secondary to their virtual information displays. She also points out that the use of videogame technology does a great deal to validate it (whether positively or negatively is a personal interpretation) outside of the confines of wasteful passtimes in video arcades - although it is worth noting that the entire chapter is characterized by a sarcastic, cynical tone. Perhaps Herz's knowledge of the inner workings of both industries, independent of each other as well as collectively, is to blame.

The type of gaming most often relevant to military applications, as we have already learned, is simulation ("M&S," it is called), and this article simply underscores that point. She was also able to glean interesting insights from some important industry insiders in the defense contracting, military and gaming industries, all of whom cited the relationship among them as being critical to military advance and success and game and technology development. In short, Herz suggests, all one need do is follow the money trail to establish this relationship.

Also of note is another point we have discussed previously, which is that there is a reality threshold that designers and military personnel are aware of, in which, on the one hand, games become unplayable for entertainment purposes due to being too realistic, and the realism in the military arena becomes counterproductive to the ends of training soldiers to kill (i.e. empathy for the enemy is inadvertently instilled if the enemy appears too real).

The bottom line for this chapter is simply that there is an intrinsic relationship between military and gaming development (and, arguably, with all digital technology development, really). Perhaps awareness of this fact is the important first step in being able to develop mindful critiques of them both. Herz does not offer a particularly hopeful solution to this situation - in fact, she might not see it as problematic, per se, in the first place - but the direct connections she has drawn among the various players involved are important for any student and scholar of video games, and for any social critic interested in a broader picture of how technologies are developed in our society.

"The Frag Dolls" [America's Army]

No, I am not making this up.

I went to the America's Army website last night. I "can't" play the game, because, as far as I know, it doesn't run on Macs. That having been said, I'm not really comfortable downloading it, anyway, and would prefer not to. Instead, I looked over some of the media and support materials for the game, particularly some of the videos on the site.

The one I want to share with the class is called "The Frag Dolls." I watched this video that is just a few minutes long. It features footage from a gaming convention or some kind of competition or event. From what I gleaned, Ubisoft, who must now have some sort of relationship with this game/project, assembled a group of gamer girls who also happened to be "hot" (in the gamer convention sense), andthen let people challenge them on AA.

From the comments of the Frag Dolls, it was apparent most of them hadn't even played the game before, which I found amusing. I wondered if they were maybe Ubisoft employees, or something. Given that, I also found it amusing that they were mostly kicking ass for the majority of the competition.

In the interest of brevity, I'm not going to spend too much time trying to deconstruct all the issues at play here of commodification, gender portrayal, selling via sex (appeal), etc. It's all pretty surface. One thing that also bothers me, though, is the term "frag" in the first place. I realize that this is now common parlance in video game culture, particularly in FPS games and in militaristic ones, but I really have trouble separating it from the way it was historically used in Vietnam and elsewhere, where it meant murdering a CO of your own unit (who was usually a jerk, a bad person, mistreated soldiers, etc.). It's just an ominous, creepy term to me. The way it's bandied about now just kind of weirds me out. The way it was then applied to a bunch of T&A girls (who were also obviously really good gamers, but that is secondary to why they were chosen) just seems crass and disrespectful.

I dunno.

Where did that Memorial Union video game arcade go?

A Capital Times story today has the answer:
After 37 years of operation, the video arcade on the first floor of the UW's Memorial Union shut down in May. In its place, a Peet's Coffee Shop will open in the fall.

The revenue for the arcade room had plummeted 80 percent in the last five years alone, according to Roger Westmont, vice president of Modern Specialty, a southern Wisconsin company that rents out video games, jukeboxes, pool tables and dart boards.

Now, all those games have been "dispersed into the ether," as Bob Wright, the Union's recreations service manager, puts it. Modern Specialty has relocated most of the machines to the Dells.

Update: A related article -- the rise of the DIY neo-arcade? -- at Isthmus.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

games and gender by diane carr

Games and Gender by Diane Carr

Throughout this article Diane touches on gender in video games through its representation, players and player culture, and aspects of the games industry. She starts by talking about gender and how it is represented in games. First she introduces some statistics on female gamers. In the UK the average age of women who game is between 30-35 years old. She points out that many theorists believe that women are turned off from video games because of the “look” of female avatars. Female bodies in video games are greatly exaggerated, and while males are exaggerated too they are not solely view for sexual interest.

She goes into how the whole industry of video games is male by default. Some games such as The Thing and Abe’s Oddysee where all the characters in the game are male. But she also urges us to remember that although representational factors are important they aren’t the only factor dealing with gender and video games, as we all know a player controls the avatar.
In the section on how the rules of the game are just as important as the representation Carr brings up the example of Baldur’s Gate where the characters, whether male or female, have the same characteristics. But then in the Sims the gender of the characters determine how the act etc. She argues for these and other reasons mentioned that the manner in which gender is inscribed in the game at a representational level might be over-ruled by the player. She also mentions then creation of “Jen” the main character in the game Primal. When the company attempted to export the game to Japan, the Japanese claimed that Jen wasn’t attractive enough and wanted a change.

From that she starts to talk about the culture of the gaming industry and how it is male heavy. The games are made by males and marketed for males, in fact she shows a stat where 90% of the makers of Anarchy Online where men. The majority of women working in the video game industry are those “booth babes” who take pictures with eager boys.

Next she goes into the “pink games” or attempts to make games for girls and the “grrl gamer” which relates back to From Barbie to Mortal Kombat. She also briefly talks about how sometimes gaming magazines try to lure girls in by having special girl issues, but most the time they are just filled with things guys want to see.

She ends by saying that with games becoming mainstream media the line between male and female players my become forgotten or at least reworked. Also she realizes that just by having female avatars doesn’t mean more females will start to play games because there are so many other factors dealing with gender in games.

Games and libraries (and research money)

An American Library Association press release:
The American Library Association (ALA) will launch an innovative project to track and measure the impact of gaming on literacy skills and build a model for library gaming that can be deployed nationally. Funding for the project will be provided by a $1 million grant from the Verizon Foundation.

The announcement will take place later today at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Anaheim, Calif.

“Gaming is a magnet that attracts library users of all types and, beyond its entertainment value, has proven to be a powerful tool for literacy and learning,” said ALA President Loriene Roy. “Through the Verizon Foundation’s gift, ALA’s gaming for learning project will provide the library community with vital information and resources that will model and help sustain effective gaming programs and services.”

As part of the grant, the American Library Association will work directly with 12 leading gaming experts to document the use of gaming as a literacy tool and monitor the results of gaming initiatives. The information will be used to build “The Librarians’ Guide to Gaming,” a comprehensive, online literacy and gaming toolbox, which will then be field-tested by additional libraries.

The experts creating the best practices during the initial phase are from the following libraries:

Ann Arbor District Library, Ann Arbor, Mich.;

Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, Charlotte, N.C.;

Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus, Ohio;

Georgetown County Library, Georgetown, S.C.;

Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis, Minn.;

Old Bridge Public Library, Fords, N.J.;

Pima County Public Library, Tucson, Ariz.;

Reidland High School, Paducah, Ky.;

School Library System of Genesee Valley BOCES, Le Roy, N.Y.;

The New York Public Library, New York;

Todd Wehr Library, De Pere, Wis.;

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Ill.

“In today’s technology-driven world, where learning does not stop at the classroom, the role of libraries in supporting literacy and learning is more critical than ever before,” said Verizon Foundation President Patrick Gaston. “Gaming for learning presents a tremendous opportunity for libraries to further literacy skills in children as well as adults.”

The Power of Play: The Portrayal and Performance of Race in Video Games

By Anna Everett

Introduction: Young People, Games, and Learning

Certain research suggests that video games affect children disproportionately, augmenting the incidence of childhood obesity (fueled by “addiction” and addictive tendencies), and strengthening gender socialization, poor academic scores, intensification of aggressive behavior, and, presumably, providing fortification for racial pseudo-identities, stereotypes, and racial perceptions (or presumptions).

The burning question on Everett’s mind is how do young people interact with videogames while (or through) learning about race and difference in the world? Everett’s “critical framework” pushes for an assessment of popular game titles, their maker’s intentions, and how they “reflect, influence, reproduce, and thereby teach dominant ideas about race in America” (Everett, 140).

Are video game player’s influenced by certain video game author’s perceptions about a certain racial group within certain contexts? Could the context itself provide an insight into the racial arguments made by said game author? With television media research having already provided a map for critics to assess the ghosts out of any burgeoning technology, all video games were up for inspection and consideration, or for the guillotine, correlated with a angered third party prosecutors.

That is, of course, why this article is meant to explore “how the shift to digital and more interactive forms of media influences how and what young people learn from race” (Everett 1). How certain can we be that the racial lessons impressionable children have learned from video games are the proper ones?

Though things may look bleak, despair not, for video games may have one largely redeeming quality—they have the potential to provide a superior educational platform and access to a tailor-made, more enriching learning environment. (BUT, one must remember to question what form of educational experience users will be experiencing? And investigate to what end the ‘teacher’ (video game console or software) is pointing the ‘student’ (video game player).

Do video game creators reflect societal standards or are they creating a demand that didn’t exist before they overtly fell down the slippery-slope of sexually explicit and gratuitously violent content. Certainly, the underlying premise of Oregon Trail was that Indians were the enemies, and that people had to wrangle their wagons into circles to keep the enemies out at night. Does this not reflect the dominant ideas surrounding race relations between Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon people and Native American. Is not the underlying premise that the winners write the history and this effects feelings towards certain racial groups?

Racial perceptions take root at a young age. Anna Everett points to research indicating that from the age of five, children have often already formed strong opinions about race and differences between people. “Racial narratives “are “representations [of] belief systems” that follow the same line of logic that keeps “sexist and misogynistic constructs” afloat. Moreover, racial narratives have been largely overshadowed by the general portrayal of the woman as a sex object, prizes, and stereotypes. As the struggle for woman equality has more often then not followed a similar trail to that of the African American, so too is their portrayal often misguided.

Learning Race & Portraying Eace: Urban/Street Games, etc.

“Richly detailed and textured urban landscapes” provide a familiar setting for inner city children to learn and assess, from a safe gaming environment, the perks and pitfalls of living in the city. This type of game performs a crucial academic function—grounding the game in reality. These games blow GTA out of the water in their ability to put the gamer in situations relevant to actual life. Rather than dealing drugs as a Russian immigrant in America (the game makers holding desperately onto that day watched Scarface and got really excited) and deal with powerful, persistent and problematic lessons about race in American culture” (Everett, 142)

Grand Theft Auto – GTA
Key- “GTA teaches dominant attitudes and assumptions about race and racial otherness through what we term ‘racialized pedagogical zones’ (RPZs)”

From Mario to the Godfather
The use of racially marked characters is a relatively new occurrence. Mario represents the first major racially identified (Italian) character marked by some stereotypical attributes, and the common misconception that all Italians like squishing mushrooms with their butts. Based on the fact that Shigeru Miyamoto, the Japanese creator of Mario is, well. Japanese, one could expect that some archetypal images and borderline stereotypes made it into the game design, such as Mario’s love of pizza and pasta—but who doesn’t like pizza, really? The Godfather: The Game represents a much more blunt example of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

Despite the plethora of options to work with, racial depictions remain regrettably narrow. Evidence in testament to this is 50 Cents Bullet Proof. These misconceived plots steer societal perceptions toward fulfilling the prophecy selected for them by the media. As soon as every black male wants to be 50 Cent, a whole century of civil rights work will be seriously damaged.

Urban street games, however, represent a movement in the right direction. With culturally specific cities as the playing field, players learn important lessons about race and urban culture. These games are meant to “capture the cultural sensibilities of particular racial and ethnic group’s world experience.” A sense of “perceptual” and ‘social’ realism us crucial to the success of this conception of gaming.

Characters continue to be predominantly white in video games. Black characters generally play the more stereotypical version of African American’s—an athlete, a violent man, a gunman, etc. Most of the time black and Latino males are secondary characters. In newer, better urban street games, “designers strive for greater cultural authenticity, the spatial environment itself, where the characters live, play, fight and compete, also becomes a culturally specific location that animates ideas about race, class, and gender” (Everett, 145)..

In these urban street games, one must master a set of skills, technical (navigation, etc.) and cultural (subject matter and game play). NBA Ballers represents a vise city of sorts in which basketball players must learn how to balance life in the fast lane and on the court. Moreover, African American females still represent the most victimized group in games. This, of course, does not compliment the misogynistic portrayal of many women in games. Urban street games give the power back to the women and to the African American community. The loopholes that the urban street game industry will have to jump through include first-person shooter games that portray minorities as brutal or violent, and “fantasy-driven notions of black masculinity “ (Everett, 149). The ultimate goal is to produce a platform for “technologically mediated notions of race.” (DISCUSSSION question: does a notion so subjective render it dangerous to manufacture or program into gamers through gaming?)

GTA Reconsidered
RPZs – Racialized Pedagogical Zones – Chess as an example: is there any reason why white always gets to move first? It represents a double edged sword—video games as tools for teaching about acceptance and as tools for hate speech. It remains common to have the “super predator black male stereotype” terrorizing the ‘hood’ on any number of games—e.g. 50 Cent. The violence found in these games, similar to GTA, have a tendency to push for the values and attitudes of a “larger social structure” (Everett, 155). And what if a gamer wants a white Avatar while they only come in black, is that a legitimate gripe (as some GTA players grumbled)? This is an interesting question to consider. From the digital divide (and the lack of home computers in the inner city) to the uneven portrayal of black and other minority characters, it is interesting to dedicate time to assessing the effects of video games on children in comparison to depictions of minority groups.

The Brighter Side? Pedagogical Value

“What matters most to our inquiry, is the fact that video games teach—they are pedagogical—and that ‘what we’re learning from them bears no resemblance whatsoever to what we think we’re learning’…the video game playground on- and offline too often replicates racist attitudes, values, and assumptions found in larger social structures.” Boy culture was centered around division, rivalry and conflict. The “descriptive trifecta of nonwhite as uneducated and poor, etc. also pervades video game atmospheres. The digital divide also renders inner city kids with access only to gaming consoles, stunting their ability to do more difficult computer related tasks.
Any discussion of games in the future should consider two perspectives:
(1) Must continue to act like watchdogs over racial content making it into video games, including research, etc.
(2) These discussions should consider more closely the educational opportunities that present themselves in terms of video games.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A touch of the confused at the Madison Public Library

For this assignment I went to the Central Madison Public Library, located at 201 W. Mifflin Street. When I first entered the library, I thought that the “interactive games” section might be located by the DVD and Video rentals, so I made my way into that section. After finding nothing that I could use there (except I did see that they keep the graphic novels by the DVDs), I went over to the help desk and asked if she knew where they kept any games, be they educational or other. The woman at the counter seemed a little confused by my request. After a few minutes of searching, she suggested that I either go to the section of books on media entertainment (which I didn’t do) or go upstairs to their children/teen section. She seemed to believe that the games I was looking for would be in the teen section, even though I told her I was looking for any kind of game at all. Once upstairs, the guy working at the counter in the children’s section knew exactly where the games were. He pointed me toward the back corner and said, “Yeah, they’re all kind of mixed together back there. You know…the fun ones and the educational ones.” This statement was pretty telling in that it showed that the conception of educational games as being separate from "fun" exists outside our readings and our class.

Once I was in the game section I noticed that while most of what they offered was “educational” gaming (including games from the Reading Rabbit series, a few How Does it Work games, some Dora the Explorer tie-ins), there were definitely a lot of entertainment games. Today in class we mentioned Oregon Trail, and there was an edition of that on the shelves, a game that to me blends genres. In particular, I saw a lot of Star Wars games. I had a touch of nostalgia when I saw the original Rebel Assault game, along with a few other oldies. They also had a copy of Myst. There were a couple Pokemon games, a few Sim games (Simcopter, Simtower among them), also Roller Coaster Tycoon. And, bearing on our game play and discussion from today, even a couple of Barbie games. I choose to make note of what I saw as the two ends of the spectrum for Barbie: they had a copy of Barbie: Secret Agent and also a copy of Barbie: Fairy Princess.

From these findings it seemed to me that the target group for these games was definitely kids, no doubt about it. I found it interesting that the woman at the help desk seemed completely confused by the idea of the library having games, be they educational or other, while the man working in the children’s section knew precisely what I was looking for. My guess is that a lot of kids come in looking for games, but not too many people on the first floor are. Seeing as how there were some action games, the library obviously wanted the option to be open for games to be (as the clerk put it) “fun.” The fun never got more violent than the assorted Star Wars space battle simulators. I don’t think they had a gender or race in mind. I feel that the library was doing its best to provide games that would teach, while still allowing early teens to find something with a little bit (but not too much) of a punch to it.


Since this Friday is a federal holiday, you can turn your assignments for this week on Monday if you like! (Oooh. Ahhh.)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Summary of “Chess for Girls? Feminism and Computer Games” by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins.

This article focuses on a topic familiar to our class discussion, video games and girls. The article begins by talking about the game Chess, and the idea of “Chess for Girls,” a parody commercial from Saturday Night Live. The article moves on to explain that it is going to be about exploring the different attempts to answer the question of why video games are seen as “boy’s games,” and attempts to offer ways that games can become a medium enjoyed equally by both sexes. The authors show how one of the reasons that gender roles are so tightly associated to video games comes from a “commoditization of gender.” The problem is that the marketing of products has become so thickly engrained in genders that it is difficult to break the cycle.

The article then moves into describing the kinds of games, which have been made to appeal to female gamers. Certain types of games, and certain types of language, have become representative of how games are talked when it comes to marking for girls. A lot of the article focuses on different studies of what is defined as masculine compared to what is defined as feminine. Then, there is a fairly generic description of how to define different kinds of video games. Examples are given of the roles of female characters in games. Most are either overly sexualized heroines, or damsels in distress. After a detailed breakdown of what these roles mean in popular culture, the authors reassert the fact that violent video games are the best-selling, and that most of these games do not provide strong female characters, or if they do, there is a problem of sexualizing certain kinds of violence. Furthermore, violence is seen as an aspect that alienates girls from videogames.

Next up is a challenge of basic stereotypes about men and women when it comes to computers in general. Men are supposedly more interested in, and more proficient with, computers. The fear is that if we don’t make computers more interesting to girls, then we are putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to computer technology. This is described as creating an “alien culture” for girls. Tests have shown that boys more than girls, when given the option, will indeed play with computers.

The toy stores are taken to task for the way that they demand that games are immediate hits, and for the way that they genderized their toys. Barbie is brought up as being both good and bad. Some argue that Barbie is the best way to market games to young girls, and that she is not just an bimbo but in fact a character who helps feed into stereotypes about women. From here a description of different “games for girls,” and the positives and negatives implied in each.

The latter section of the article discusses the more militant, feminist calls for girls and games. One section discusses how the only attempts for making games for girls so far is just adapting women into games which are still meant for boys. They call for a reevaluation of the basic systems of games, that the platforms themselves need overalls. They can’t just “put the game in a pink box” (18), so to speak. A larger debate on the
kind of products and programs that are for children then arises. From this, there is more discussion of specific feminine characters meant to balance the field between strong male characters and strong female characters. Lara Croft is discussed, as is Barbie (again). To me, the article sort of began to repeat itself at this point. There was another discussion of media portrayal of women in video game ads, and the way that there is more media specialization for what are commonly thought of as men’s interest compared to what is commonly thought of as women’s interest. Then, women in other sources of media (such as books, Anne Rice novels specifically) are brought up. A page or so later the big question of the article is brought up. The “core question” is whether changing the market of games for girls should involve “changing the generic base of the game industry” or “shifting the kinds of cultural competencies recognized within the existing generic repertoire” (32).

At the end, the article picked up again with its discussion of girls who are doing their best to embrace violent video games through their feminist views. They seek to take command of both sexual imagery of women and the stereotype that games, partially violent video games, are man’s territory. This type of gamer is frequently referred to as a “Game Grrl.” In the end, these girls still play with male characters, but they seek a very different kind of relationship with them. They have groups that help with harassment online, and do their best to take online gaming by siege. After this, there is a short summary of the arguments that have been made, the sources of stereotype involved (toy stores, marking, social constructions), and the efforts that are being made to break down the barriers between girl and game.

"Media Analysis in the High-Intensity Marketplace: The Three Circuits of Interactivity" Article

The reading for today was "Media Analysis in the High-Intensity Marketplace: The Three Circuits of Interactivity" by Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, and Greig de Peuter. They address multiple angles in their analysis of media that include media theory: time/space bias, political economy, and cultural studies. Then they present the three-circuits model to show how all these concepts come together.
First, they talk about media theory and Innis' theories regarding it. They adopt Innis' concepts of the "bias" of communication technologies, their role in the rise of fall of "empires", and their relation to "oligopolies of knowledge." Innis says the media effects the perception of time and space. Info can be sent over great distance and some can preserve memory. Then, they discuss Innis' idea of the oligopoly of knowledge by those who create the new media by exercising their political and economic control over it. Then they introduce the ideas of McLuhan. He states that the notion of media an extension of our senses. As it applies to games, games should be a medium of communication and games (the example of NBA Live) translate the game at the virtual level to the reality of hand/eye coordination and screen navigation. Then, the authors go on to criticize McLuhan saying the he doesn't pay attention to the relations of social power that structure media (resources to be able to afford games), and criticizing that "media is the message" overlooks content issues (gender, violence, etc).
Next, they talk about the political economy and Marxist ideals. They go into depth about Garnham's ideas, that the role of media can be seen under two aspects. Media industries are themselves businesses, selling information and entertainment to consumers, with their own interest in speeding the process by which these commodities reach the buyers. This is media saturation of innovations. And Garnham says mass media are the bearers of advertising. This is the view that the market is oversaturated with media which contributes to the "mediatized" marketplace. With the case study of video games, the authors state that political economists haven't addressed games and are ignored because of their perception as being mindless entertainment.
Next, they look at cultural studies. They talk about how media influences our culture and how video games such as Tomb Raider can convey messages about culture regarding gender, consumerism, etc. They also bring to my attention the interpretation factor, in that all consumers won't interpret the same messages from the same media. For example, I take a different message away after playing GTA than a concerned parent would. The criticize cultural studies as well saying they don't address the specific qualities of new media (what makes video games different), they underplay the commercial structuring of the video game industry, and they risk taking for granted that audiences are shaped by the media already.
Then, the authors come up with the model of the circuit of capital, then the sub circuits of technology, marketing, and culture. The circuit of capital models the production of commodities and that brings in money through purchases to start the cycle again. The three sub circuits in respect to video games are cultural (designers, gamers, players), marketing (marketers, commodities, consumers), and technology (programmers, consoles and computers, and users). Then they add the "interactivity" aspect of games that include the degrees of openness or closure, option, and limitation.
As a reader, this article was very hard for me to grasp where the authors were going and with the diagrams it just made it more confusing. I agree with the authors angles of media analysis and their connections to video games, I was just confused with where they were going with it.

An interesting, if flawed, take on interactivity

Below is a link to the website for FABLE, a game from Microsoft, where your actions change the way you look, the quests available and the in game NPC interactions.