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.

Speaking of video game competitions...

Does anybody else beside me remember this movie? I so badly wanted to be this kid. But it is funny to read through this article and look at all the errors in the movie.

Here are some links to video reviews of the movie, both of which are amusing

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sharendipity Issues

SO, I had a fun and convoluted adventure with Sharendipity. I hoped that it would be an easy process, despite having messed up my hand late on Thursday, thinking I would need to only do a minimum of typing. Sadly (though for the wrong reasons), I was right...

To begin with, in general project terms, I'm a hater, in general of applications on Facebook. They just drive me crazy. I hate to use them. I have two on my profile, one (Scrabulous) because I got hooked before the whole system went superflue with them, and the other (Courses 2.0) to mimic a feature that they removed from Facebook. I went to the facebook link for Sharendipity, and it asked me to give it my information and other such frustrating stuff, so I just said no, like I always do. I just hated the idea of adding another app. From there, it was a trip to the Sharendipity main page.

Upon arrival, I saw that there, front and center, was an Asteroids "applet" to be played. I was pretty excited about this, and so I clicked on it, loading up the Java application (which looks EXACTLY the same as the initial Facebook screen), and telling my browser that I trusted the provider of it. Soon thereafter, star and a dialog box pop up on my screen, but in a bizarre location, blocking other data. I can't click on the dialog box. I can't even close the window. Eventually, I use the toolbar and close it from there, trying again.

Same problem. Again, a box of sorts opens up, in some sort of twillight between 'in front of' and 'behind' the windows that are in that area. I notice some words at the bottom of the window, but I can't catch enough of them before they are gone. Eventually, redoing the same process twice more, I'm able to collect what the words say: "Frame rate has fallen below the minimum rate for application".

I try another application ("Bloomshine") and have the exact same problem, sans starry sky screen. Again, it totally mucks up my desktop outside of the proper window, and opens up a dialog inviting my to Alpha Sharendipity, but doesn't let me select it. This time, my Firefox crashes. Ugh. As someone who truly hates putting applications on my Facebook, and is generally against "being viral" on Facebook (I HATE it when people invite me to apps), I just found the whole exercise frustrating.

Sharendipity-doo-dah day

I have to admit that I had a really difficult time using Sharendipity. I tried using some of the tutorials, but most of them were about behaviors and not specifically about getting started or where to begin. Also, I didn’t come into the program with an idea of what kind of game I wanted to make. I know that Greg advised against this. Maybe I should’ve made a game that involved listening! So overall I had a negative experience when I was trying to build a game. My game ended up being nothing special. It was a lot like some others I’ve seen with just an object that flies around and shoots things (it my case it was a little palm tree). Violence has permeated every game!

All that being said, I really did enjoy using Sharendipitty to play other people’s games. It made me really impressed that there are this many people out there who can program online games with ease. This was definitely my favorite part of the program. One thing that it solidified in my mind is that I am a game player, not a game maker, and there is a huge difference between playing a game and making a game. I spent a good amount of time playing “Death’s Door,” and also a version of Asteroids. Then I tried out the personalize option and played around with each game just a tad…although I was still having trouble making the games do what I wanted them to. Oh well. Such is life.

Judging by these two paragraphs, I had on one hand not very much fun with Sharendipity, but on the other a good time playing some simple games. I’m going to end by saying that the fun outweighed the frustration I initially encountered.

Nightmare on Share Street - Sharendipity- Marlon
Never has a link looked so sweet! This hand’s on assignment was one of the most gut-wrenching, difficult and frustrating experiences I’ve ever partaken in, in terms of the world of technology. With no former programming experience to speak of I found the interface extremely difficult to navigate and found myself time and again needing to go back to start over. Maybe it is the PC I am working on or the internet connection, but things seemed pretty buggy to me as I worked on this project. The screen would seizure from time to time as if the blinking frames had come to a lull before everything would shut down. I found myself gritting my teeth and turning red through much of the experience and would consider myself at least mildly tech savvy, proving, that perhaps, the program could be simplified. This program, in my opinion, is not ready for release to beginners like me, as the interface is so static that I nearly felt powerless in my controls.

The game I made is exceedingly simple and has no sort of scoring method. In fact, most of the objects don’t even explode on contact. Nonetheless, this Game, SuperNova, would make for a good flight simulator for people to learn how to control with the key pad. I started with the idea of creating a Hubble Space Telescope educational game, where one would have to photograph certain systems and stars and identify their place relative to the rest of the Milky Way galaxy. This, however, turned out to be much more difficult than expected, and what you see is what you get.

Just make sure to steer clear of the black holes. They were a nifty pickup for me, I’d argue, making each turn that much more treacherous. Perhaps, someday, when I find the interface and navigation table simpler, I might be able to finish my Hubble Space Telescope game. In the meantime, however, I can only integrate components that others have contributed, identifying the greatest advantage to this computer program—the sharing aspect and the world wide web.
Happy trails space adventurers!

Cross Video-Game marketing

This is just too on-point and amusing not to share:

Pocket Monsters

In this chapter from Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing Kline, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter take aim at the cultural capital and control fueled by the marketing industry and how it has been applied to the relatively new medium of video games. The authors start by providing a broad overview of the marketing apparatus in question and the potential power it has to shape the development and adoption of new product.

Kline, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter then move into a discussion of the management of game systems and properties as “branded” commodities, requiring the development and maintenance of brand cachet and loyalty. This loyalty must withstand assault not only from competing games and game systems but also other entertainment options (as we only have so many hours per day).

The discussion of games in relation to other media outlets leads naturally into a discussion of how video game marketers use these opposing media for the promotion of the game products, thereby co-opting some of the threat posed to their properties. In order to distribute the image and message desired to the target audience, namely media-savvy, cynical gamers, these video game advertisements have become less like ads and more like the media they are embedded within, taking cinematic, dramatic or humorous, tongue-in-cheek approaches to promotion.

The barriers between the different mediums are further blurred by the synergistic flow between television, movies, books, music and video games. This flow exists in all directions, with properties being passed between all potential outlets with no restrictions. The flow even allows entertainment products to be incorporated into advertisements, as well as advertisements to be incorporated into entertainment products (i.e. product placements). To illustrate this fluid and all-encompassing approach to the creation and control of culture through marketing, Kline, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter provide examples of the reach and deliberate cross-genre production marketing effort put forth by the Pokemon franchise.

Leaving aside the fact that Kline, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter take a somewhat elitist view of media, culture and advertising, there is another aspect of this cultural marketing effort which they neglect to address: counter-arguing. The marketing field is represented as an all powerful juggernaut, able to impose its will on the masses without limit. Despite the view put forth by videogame marketers that “marketing…can turn a mediocre game into a successful one”, the roll of independent reviewers, particularly in this age of wikis, blogs and instant information access, is hard to ignore and should not be discounted.

(As an aside, if anyone has not seen the “ZeroPunctuation” videogame review series, you really need to check it out.)

Sharendipity Hands On Assignment: Big Ten Conference Asteroids

After seeing Greg Tracy's presentation in class, I knew it would be very difficult to create a game from scratch, but I tried nonetheless. Although my effort proved to be unsuccessful, I gained an appreciation of those who do spend hours of time working on these games and perfecting every little detail to perfect their games.

Even though creating your own games from scratch is very time-consuming, the nice thing about Sharendipity was that I was able to take someone else's game and make it my own. I didn't have to spend tedious hours creating every single aspect of my game from scratch, I could use what others have already created in the Sharendipity community. I decided to borrow an Asteroids game and put my own personal twist on it. Being a big Badger fan and after seeing Greg's gravity Big Ten game, I thought it would be cool to have a Big Ten Asteroids game. So I went on Sharendipity in search of an already created Asteroids game in which I could edit to make my own. After finding one, I went online and found images of all the Big Ten mascots and used them as my asteroids and ships. Of course, I used Bucky as the rocket ship to blast the other mascots. Switching the components in the game (ex. the rocket ship to a Bucky logo) was very simple, which was nice. Finally, my game was complete.

Unfortunately, borrowing other's games and using them leads to everything not being exactly the way you want it to play. For example, Bucky doesn't shoot lasers from the top, he shoots them from the left side I believe, which is inconvenient. So there are definitely draw backs in personalizing other's games, but it is awesome if you just want to create a simple game in a hurry for others to enjoy.

The game isn't the best by any means, but hopefully you all get a chance to play it a little and enjoy it (whether it be having fun or making fun of it). Here's the link:

Thursday, June 26, 2008


After seeing Greg Tracy’s examples of Sharendipity in class I knew I was going to have to try to create a simple game. My plan was to create a classic Breakout game, but trying to make a ball bounce off a rectangle proved to be very difficult. I struggled for around half an hour, messing with detail after detail until I finally gave up. The last thing I wanted to do was write a page about my failures, so I decided to create a lame alien shooter game. I also chose to cheat and use many of the objects/behaviors already shared in the community.

First, I needed to find my shooter, something I could have shoot lasers. I decided to take the default spaceship object they had and change the picture on it. I’m not going to share what the picture is, you’ll have to play the game to find out.
The main idea of the game I created is to just shoot things until they are gone. I imported an animated gif as the enemies. They randomly fly around and make an explosive sound when shot. The enemies also spawn every .7 seconds so if you slack the game FPS will kill your computer and your browser will probably freeze.
It took my awhile to get everything working, and even when I started the same up today the enemy picture was messed up. I tried to get music in the background but didn’t succeed. Hope you enjoy the game, or at least get a pity laugh out of it.

Here is the link:

Maybe the violent video games had an effect...

Having spent the last few days playing with Sharendipity I have a number of comments. The first relates directly to some of the other comments posted on the blog, namely issues with existing games and the interface. There were a number of interesting games I wanted to explore, such as the "Gravity Ball" within the physics section, but was unable to make it work on all occasions. It appears that, despite the fact that Sharendipity uses a Java applet which should be supported across platforms and browsers, some of the controls (specifically those relating to the keyboard) do not all function properly. The only combination which I could make work on a regular basis was IE7 on Windows XP. At this point my blood began to boil...

Which may explain the game concept I attempted to develop. I really enjoyed the "Hunting Season" game ("I can't believe you shot Santa!") and was really interested in the "Facebook Fishbowl", where images of your friends on facebook populate the screen and move about randomly (it's also supposed to display their status, but that didn't work for me). I'm guessing you can see where this is going... I decided to attempt to combine these into a "Friend Hunter", allowing you to take out your frustrations and disagreements in a safe, online environment (ie. catharsis).

Unfortunately, or fortunately if you are one of my facebook friends, this is where the plan fell through. Though I was able to locate the function which imports friend pictures, I was unable to make sense of it for two reasons: 1) I could not have the help documentation (or any other internet window) open in conjunction with the editing space and 2) I was unable to resize the editing space in order to see all of the code at once. I will admit that this failure may also have to do with my overambitious idea, but given that it should have required no additional coding, consisting soley of gobbing together existing functions....

Regardless, I do recomend trying out the "Hunting Season" game, and will continue to play with and explore the possibilities offered by the Sharendipity platform.

Wherein I Fail...sorta (re: Sharendipity)

I just spent the last little bit goofing about with Sharendipity, too. I attempted to come up with some sort of game or interaction among the objects I created, but I ran into a few stumbling blocks. The first one was that every time I tried to view another webpage in a separate tab from the Sharendipity-in-Facebook app (Firefox 2.x, Mac OS X 10.5.3), the Flash screen featuring Sharendipity blurred out all other content. This means that when I tried to open up the tutorial pages, I couldn't do so while still working in Sharendipity at the same time. This resulted in me twice losing work when I had to close the window.

The real problem, though, is that I realized that I really have no concept for a game. This is what Jasun mentioned in class today - design before you develop! While it's fun to play around with a sandbox/construction set, that is really only going to take me so far. I decided to mess about with the Sharendipity games already out there, and played the flower bloom one. I played it for _ten_minutes before I glanced at the clock again, and probably could have kept going. I'm actually going to give it another spin in a second here.

So while I can't fully endorse Sharendipity as either easy enough or fun enough to grab my attention, I think if I actually had an idea for a cool kind of game that I would actually want to go somewhere with, to have a toolkit at my avail would be excellent. God knows I'm no programmer.

(The thing I did have the idea to make was some sort of bullseye/target shooting game, but not only did I lack in concept, but I think some of my art ideas were also falling well short of the mark. Then I started having operator errors, so to speak, with Sharendipity itself.)


At first I was really excited to try out some games the users created and explore the limits of what people have discovered. Unfortunately, I encountered two things that prevented me from doing this. First, my web browser was missing a necessary application to use this program or it was that this certain application wasn’t enabled. After ten minutes or so of screwing around with my web browser I finally got it working. So, I decided to try out some games. To my dismay, the controls just weren’t responding. I told the ship to go right…it didn’t’ go right; instead it got pounded by rocks until I died every time. I tried out a couple of other games and the same problems occurred. I don’t know if this is computer specific--I hope it isn’t cause then this company is going nowhere. But, I’m sure it is just me.

As for editing I was able to mess around with that a little. I tried to keep things simple and mostly tweaked the images in the game and once I messed with the force applied to an object. It was fun being able to manipulate and personalize certain games, but I could not play them. It looked good, but the aesthetic value is meaningless without game play. Once again it probably is just my computer, but it’s all I have at the moment. When I got back to Madison I will try it out on some other computers and hopefully the games will start responding to the controls listed in the instructions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Violent Video Games - Jeffrey Goldstein

Starting off with a snapshot of Mr. Goldstein to put a picture to his words.

The first thing I noticed about this article was its “encyclopedia like” style and that it is full of a ton of good information and quotes. Goldstein begins the article stating his goal of looking critically at definitions and empirical studies dealing with the video game violence issue. He also lists a few questions that he hoped to answer by the end of the chapter. They are:

What is a violent video game?
How does its violence differ from other media violence, and from real life violence?
How do consumers of video games perceive the violence before them?

Since there is so much information and references in this article, I’ll go through some of the things I found most interesting in each of the sections.

In his first section, Meanings of Violence in Video Games introduces a couple interesting ideas. First he talk about the Third-Person Effects in Media Research, which is the idea that media affects others, but not oneself. This effect has even been seen in older children talking about younger children. We have also seen this effect in a number of media pieces from class. Additionally in this section he proposes the idea that the exaggerated use of violence in video games, film and other media is a product of the American society. This is interesting because I know I’ve heard before that there have been studies where non-Americans watched sessions of American television and after surveys it has been shown that they saw the world as a scarier and meaner world.

Goldstein introduces three research strategies mainly used when studying the effects of violent video games; correlational studies, experiments, and meta –analysis.

First he goes into correlational studies and addresses right away that there is little causal information that can be pulled from these. Any study he mentioned, he quickly said no significant relationship could be concluded.

His experiments section has the more detail and information. I’ll go into a few of them because I think they are interesting. First, the study conducted by Craig Anderson and Karen Dill where they tried to find two video games similar in everything but violence. They chose Wolfenstein 3D and Myst. Even though the experiment found some interesting things, it was criticized because the games, which were supposed to be similar other than violence, were not.
He goes through multiple experiments and for each of them presents their flaws. Even in the meta-analysis, which is when you take the data from many studies and try to find conclusion with all of the data clumped together.

At the end of the article he concluded that, “the research is too inconsistent and insubstantial to allow any conclusion to be drawn.” Overall the article is an excess of information and experiment about video games and violence, but it draws no conclusions.


"Imagine what America might look like if a sizable minority of its elders secede into their own communities. That’s just what’s happening, except until now no one was talking about it. It’s called age-segregation and it’s an increasingly popular form of societal secession. More than 12 million Americans aged 55 and older are expected to live in these gated playpens in the next decade or so, and that’s a very conservative estimate..."

David Williamson Shaffer and James Paul Gee Reading Summary

Reading Summary
“Before Every Child Is Left Behind: How Epistemic Games Can Solve the Coming Crisis in Education”
David Williamson Shaffer and James Paul Gee

The Crisis
In the wake of the 21st century and all her advancements, the environment for businesses’, workers, governments and states are quickly evolving (Shaffer & Gee). As “old [American] capitalism” crumbles beneath the pressures of a system predominated by a need for American innovation, the endless quest for ownership over the term “new” moves perpetually forward—undermined only by a major flaw inherent to capitalism. American’s have reached a juncture where the laws of capitalism no longer favor the red, white and blue. No, in fact, a high standard of living comes at a heavy price. “Commodity jobs” and labor favors cheaper job markets. The jobs, much like water, travel from high to low behind the whip of capitalism—from the First to the Third World—acting like gravity in this familiar equation.

What actually defines a “commodity job,” argues Shaffer and Gee, is simply the jobs vulnerability to be outsourced. This includes anything from high to low end jobs according to all normative and societal accounts. From the family doctor to the guy that screw’s on J.I. Joe head’s at the factory, any job outsource-able will inevitably be outsourced (Shaffer & Gee).

The New Crisis
The “new wrinkle” that has formed on the blueprint of American capitalism has elevated the ‘crisis’ of old to the status of ‘new’: namely, that highly skilled positions—those once safeguarded by geographical constraints—can now also travel across seas.

Moving on Up!
America has responded to this crisis by orienting training and education in America towards occupations demanding skill and innovation. America looks to hew itself into the image of the cutting edge of the 21st century. America, however, is not alone in this race, as Third World countries also want to become the place of technological dominance. Thus, Americans must “work and learn smarter” to continue to compete in the race towards innovation and discovery.

Schooling and De-Innovation
Cut backs, however, in funding for the sciences, the arts and any fields on the forefront of innovation have stunted the evolution of the American educational system towards this promising direction. Instead, America continues to produce more commodity workers in a nation without a sustainable commodity production job market of its own. As “standardized testing… [produces] standardized skills,” the average Joe America is being cheated out of an applicable educational curriculum, leaving many children behind despite governmental efforts.
Key Insight: “China has 300 million skilled and educated workers, more than the entire population of the United States… Inspired by the goal of leaving no child behind in basic skills, [America is] leaving all of our children, rich and poor, well behind in the new global competition for innovative work.”

As we attempt to approach the “highest levels of the value chain,” American’s in general, which have been focused as a whole on in improving proficiency in reading, have failed to gain other, more pertinent skills—such as the ability to understand a complicated technological symbol system.

Preparing for Innovation
The skills necessary for achieving innovation don’t start in college, but instead, begin as early as kindergarten (foreign language metaphor—better to learn at a younger age). This includes immersing children in technology from a young age. This also includes immersing children in complex conversation even if they don’t fully understand, even at a young age. This type of speaking should be “school based” and not simply vernacular. This school based conversation, in ideal circumstances, would resonate from school to the home. Public schools, however, are not holding up their end of the bargain.
Example: “The Age of Mythology”: Video game dealing with complex problem solving, decision making and spatial skills, being able to modify any component of the game as pleased.

The New Equity Gap
Children’s pop culture, argues the authors, is more advanced than ever before. This represents an avenue of opportunity for educators, as any number of games and technologies that kids might be using in contemporary America generally have more advanced use of technologically relevant subject matter.
Key Insight: This leg up, however, can hinder those American public schools on the more barren side of the digital divide. Without technology being present in many inner-city schools, already disadvantaged students are only hindered more. Overall, Americans are investing more time and labor in get-rich quick areas such as law and business, shying away from more Asian dominated technological fields.

The Solution
With liberals and conservatives equally contributing to, rather than diminishing, the growth of this crisis, the solution doesn’t just lie in economic reform, but in Epistemic games. A good example of an epistemic game is Madison 2200 in which student ‘urban planners’ design a city that will function healthily, to the best of their capability. This requires a deeper understanding of societal, scientific and economical issues (Remember the MIT guy from The Video Game Revolution when he taught is son how to budget on the Sims.) This game has been used with success when applied to “at risk” students.

Epistemic Frames
(1) MUST NOT be standardized. (Madison 2200 versus standardized tests in sociology, economics, psychology and other arts and sciences)
(2) Madison 2200 (game) taught students how to understand the complexities of city planning, and more importantly, how to carry over that knowledge to other situations. Digital Zoo represents another game detailing other disciplines (Biology and Physics).
(3) These games, above all else, are highly fact-oriented to improve their external effects after the game is over.
(4) Yield innovative thinkers because they are opened to this range of thinking well before college and the professional years.
(5) From Assessment orientation → Epistemic orientation = an improvement. Just because a student can memorize and regurgitate Newton’s Laws of Motion does not mean he can apply them to practical life.
(6) Overcoming the “fourth-grade slump” when children have a problem going from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”
(7) The new model for learning in a global society rich in culture and digital culture.

Mizuko Ito, "Education vs. entertainment: A cultural history of children's software

Mizuko "Mimi" Ito is a scholar and researcher at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. Her article, "Education vs. Entertainment: A Cultural History Children's Software," makes up a chapter of the recent MIT Press edited volume The Ecology of Games.

Ito's contribution stems in great part from work she did on her dissertation and is largely ethnographic in nature, just the type of research that Goldstein and Williams called for in yesterday's readings. In this piece, Ito endeavors to map the landscape of software developed for and marketed toward children over the last 30 years, making some interesting observations and delineating certain features in so doing. She is careful to point out that the commercial nature of much of this software places it and a "boundary zone" between education and entertainment - an issue for many types of materials consumed by young people, but perhaps particularly acute in the digital realm. For purposes of this article, there seems to be no great differentiation made between computer games and more traditional video/arcade-style games; in fact, most of the titles Ito invokes have been traditionally played on a home computer.

Ito begins by identifying three "genres" of children's software: academic, entertainment and construction, and goes on to state that she plans to examine the genres from the points of view of their "production and at sites of play." This is approach seems as though it will cover issues pertaining to children's software in a comprehensive way.

In this dense and complex academic article, Ito makes several excellent points. First, she notes that new technologies (children's software included) do not emerge in a vacuum; rather, they are cultural byproducts and artifacts like any other, subject to a variety of stages of acceptance - a period known as "interpretive flexibility." She cites the bicycle as another innovation that went through this same period; for anyone interested in learning more about that, check out a book entitled The Adman in the Parlor for hilarious turn of the 20th century ad copy about bicycles - it is quite instructive.

Ito also cites the importance of how other media interrelate with new technologies. She pays special attention, for example, to examining ad copy, thinking about distribution and in what contexts the game is adopted (introducing these notions as a concept called the "circuit of culture").

After providing this framework for her discussion, Ito then gives a detailed historical account of how educational and children's games came into being, through a variety of pathways (via educators, via commercial means, etc.) Ito also discusses how these games were then targeted not only to children, but also to educators, parents and other children's culture gatekeepers. Here, again, she denotes three types ("genres") of games: academic, entertainment and construction. Each one of these genres has played out slightly differently as children's electronic/computer gaming has developed, and Ito gives a history and example for them all. Briefly, games she denotes as "educational" include early titles such as Rocky's Boots and Oregon Trail; many of these games and their companies can trace their roots directly back to academe or to K-12 institutions. Games deemed "entertainment" include the types of things produced by traditional toymakers (e.g. Mattel) using branded properties (e.g. Barbie). Construction games are a wide gamut that range from Will Wright's Sim City titles to, interestingly, the programming language known as LOGO. LOGO is a particularly interesting case, because one of, if not the primary, learning outcomes of that software is to teach kids computer literacy. It may be one of the first examples of software created with that sort of intentionality and with those goals in mind.

The last portion of Ito's article is consecrated to sharing and discussing the results of on-site interactions and observations of youth playing a variety of computer games in an afterschool club setting. These 5th Dimension computer clubs, interestingly, also exist at an intersection between leisure and instruction/education.

The anecdotes from the play recorded at the club suggest that even in ostensibly linear educational games, kids will find ways to develop their own play methods and mechanisms for problem-solving and will "freestyle" within the game, if given the chance. Often times, achieving an outcome is prized over the methods.

Also interesting about the sequences is the fact that the kids' play seems to always include adults interacting and mediating the game experience. Ito also cites the importance of "the element of spectacle," which often runs in contrast to what authority figures (e.g. supervising adults, game designers) think the outcomes should be.

Ito has the highest hopes for the construction genre of gaming in an educational context, citing their tool-mastery aspect and the creativity and individuation they inspire.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


On March 29, 2006 the United States Senate, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary met to discuss possible regulations and the constitutionality of prohibiting video game sales to minors. The Chairman for this proceeding is Senator Brownback from Kansas. The goal of this meeting is to discuss the recent developments in state efforts to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors and, as put by Chairman Brownback, “to try to get and to build a factual basis of why there as a legitimate state interest in legislating on violence in video games and their targeting and marketing toward children” (3). This whole proceeding is mostly centered around a group of two panels. In the first panel the discussion is mostly related to effects of video games on children and in the second it concerns the constitutionality of regulating video games.

The first witness is Reverend Strickland whose brother was shot by a teen that is reported to be an avid player of video games. He talks about how his brother was a police officer and the teen age boy took his gun and shot him as well as two other officers. To this the boy replied, “life is a video game everyone has to die sometime” (6). He talks more in depth about how simulators relative to cop killing games create such behavior.

The next witness is Ms Carll is far more concerned with the way violence is portrayed in video games as well as sexual and racial themes. The sort of aggression against women especially in violent games is “depicted as humorous and glamorous and is rewarded” (9). Her recommendations for helping to alleviate worries is: 1) teach children about media literacy and 2) link violent behaviors with negative social consequences. However, Dmitri Williams from U of I believes that we should take more skeptically to the video game violence epidemic. The studies so far have been way too short and inconclusive to decide whether or not regulations apply.

Now, the constitutionality issue around violent video games arises because of the first amendment. One comment that I think puts the issue best is this, “our Constitution mandates that the Government regulate behavior, not speech that is perceived as likely to cause undesirable behavior among listeners or recipients” (27). Since the science is lacking quite a bit in these issues it may be too soon to impose government regulations on video games. Kevin Saunders, Professor of Law at MSU, believes that the first amendment issue can be resolved by: 1) argue sufficiently that violent material, when presented to children, is obscene or 2) is that video game activity is not an activity protected by the first amendment. Whether or not these to strategies will work I believe that more long term studies should be conducted first and the focus should be on the parents obligation to filter and teach their kids about inappropriate forms of media.

Nina Huntemann CV

Assistant Professor, Communication & Journalism, Suffolk College. Ph.D., Communication, February 2005. University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dissertation: "Policy and Culture in the Digital Age: A Cultural Policy Analysis of the US Commercial Radio Industry".

Feminist Studies Certificate, Women's Studies, September 2001. University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Other info available on the site. Note the name of her website, too - ""

I do NOT promote playing this game, but it does seem relevant

And here's a "news" story about it:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Civilization... sorta

For those who haven't played Civ before, here's a link to an open-source replica. Stiil being developed (like all open-source software) and can be a little buggy, but worth the cost :)

UCC and video games: a double edged sword

The ugly side of the Spore Creature Creator:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summary of “Open-ended video games: A model for developing learning for the interactive age” by Kurt Squire

This article focuses mainly on discussing the possibility for open-ended games to become tools for both educating and interacting with people, be it strictly as a way to build skills or as a tool for evaluating society. This is done through looking at open-ended games as possibilities for a “designed experience.” Kurt Squire begins by pointing out several properties of open-ended simulations or “sandbox” games. He claims that the games allow players to develop “productive literacies,” meaning that they are able to use the game to “produce both meaning and tangible artifacts” (168). In this way, these games can be used to foster development in certain areas. By creating “targeted games,” programmers can try to teach new concepts, skills, or ideas to the players. In effect, they teach the gamer new ways to develop specific ways of thinking about the game, or the subject of the game. He continues to explain that these games utilize several different methods of game play to support learning.

From here, Squire move onto actual examples of using open-ended games to first learn about the way that game play can describe personality and differences views of society, and then as a method of education. This is possible, he claims, because these games are “more about inhabiting a world from a general perspective, which the player can play out in whatever manner suits his or her taste” (171). To this end, he also argues that these games say more about the players because of the extended timescale that these games are (on average) played for.

First, Squire describes the results of his testing of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Squire seems to be looking for reactions involving the way that race, gender, and class are depicted in the game. He describes three different reactions and methods of game play, from three different groups. First, there is Honovi and his friends from an African-American community; then, a group of white kids from a working class neighborhood; finally, a group of high school age, economically poor African Americans. Each group produces its own concerns and methods of game play. Honovi enjoys customizing cars, and the culture of hip-hop represented in the games. However, when in front of his friends, he cares more about violent chases and jumps. The working class white kids say that they find the game to be a bit offensive in its racial stereotypes. And the final group says that the game presents an unrealistic idea of class mobility, and that the idea that a video game could cause the violence they see in their neighborhoods ignoring larger social issues. From these results, Squire concludes that the there is no one true experience for playing GTA: San Andreas, but instead that different versions of the game exists for different players within different sociological groups. He writes that in essence “Players learn the rules of the system, using them as a backdrop to play off of, a context to perform within, rather than as a stable system of meaning that they’re ‘inculcated’” (178) with. The game becomes one of “possibility spaces,” for both the intellect and identity of the player.

Squire’s second subject for testing is the educational value of historical open-ended games, such as Civilization. He uses the third game in the series as a tool for teaching students about geography, politics, and history. First, he notes that the play style of the players, like in GTA: San Andreas, cause an individual experience of game play to exist for each student. After his tests, certain students took away from the experience different things than others. Many gained a better knowledge of world geography. Others walked away believing that all of civilization has acted according to a series of patterns, based upon lines of money, imperialism, geographic location, and natural resources. Judging on what each student walked away with, one could begin to understand where a person’s true interests lie.

The last section of his article centers on the Apolyton University. The school, run by students for students, where the core mode of education takes place using games like Civilization. The school claimed that these games foster the student’s abilities to analyze situations and come up with creative ways of solving problems. From here, he moves to his final conclusions about the way that these games turn “players to producers” (187). The games become individual exercises and experiences in learning, identity, and assessment of values. The players find themselves more interested in certain aspects of the games, such as Jason, who went so far as to study the culture of Scandinavia so as to better understand their role in the game Civilization III. In the end, he cites that open-ended games are still in their early stages, and as such we remain in the early stages of finding ways to analyze ways in which these games can be used as tools for growth and learning. He however cites the hope that eventually they will help students, teachers, and players in general better reflect upon the ways that they can “teach themselves to learn” (193), which was the overall goal of the exercise involving Civilization.

Friday, June 20, 2008

For those of us frustrated with MAME

Here are some free Internet games...the "50 best on the internet" in fact...just in time for the weekend. I would suggest bookmarking this page if you are interested, or if you have a lot of time to kill.

Atair 2600 Emulator Hands-on Assignment

For our hands on assignment for the week I choose to use the Atari 2600 emulator instead of the MAME program because MAME was way too confusing. The ROMs I got for the emulator were Pong and BMX Air Master. I could not figure out the BMX game controls, but it was just a biker in a half-pipe. Was it fun? I could not tell you, but I’m sure it could’ve held my attention for ten minutes had I figured it out. Pong worked though, and what a time it was. The colors and the game structure are so simple, but make for such an enjoyable experience. Surprisingly I sucked at the game. I think most of it had to do with the difference between an actual Atari controller and a keyboard, but I’ll admit I wasn’t good. Being accustomed to well defined graphics, Pong does leave me with a feeling of wanting more, but seeing everyone obsessively playing on their blackberries is a testament of Pong’s timelessness.

I really wish MAME would have worked for me because there are a bunch of games for it that I really would have enjoyed playing. However, there are a ton of games posted on the website where I found the ROMs for the Atari emulator. So as time frees up or as I step away from xbox 360, I’ll have to check more of them out. The website where I found all the games is as follows if anyone is interested:

Double Fisted MAME troubles…followed by some NES action

Having just spent a good hour trying to get MAME running, and having finally done so, I am not surprised at all that the Wii Shop does as well as it does. For anybody who wants the opportunity to play the old classic NES games, or other older games, but wants to smash their computer after 15 minutes of this, 5 bucks a game doesn’t sound so bad (if you’ve got the money).

My main problem was that once I got the ROMs (which I downloaded from either or and had them in my MAME folder, I would click on the game it would tell me that I was missing some required files to play the game. So I went to their FAQ section, which was no help at all. Then I finally found a web forum that was supposed to help out with problems like this. It took me a long time to navigate through other questions to get to mine. Pretty much the problem turned out to be that the ROMs I was downloading were not complete, and that there were missing files. This sent me back to the sites I previously mentioned, where I then had to just do trial and error until I found some ROMs that were complete. This was frustrating too because I didn’t get to play the games that I really wanted to.

Once I got some games running though it was really fun. I have always been a fan of emulators and ROMs, ever since my friends first started downloading them in middle school. It was great not to have to bang on my old NES or blow on the cartridges just so I could play Double Dragon 2. In this way I think that the online technology is great…however it is very frustrating. After this experience I will probably still play games on the MAME system, but once they are up for download from on the Wii I will probably just get them there. Which is unfortunate, because it means I will be paying money, but if the money is going to Nintendo I don’t mind quite as much.

More MAME and Marble Madness

I found this cool youtube video of someone clearing the entire game. I thought some of you guys might want to see this game if you hadn't before. I posted my experience as a comment on this entry.

MAME Hands-On Assignment

During the process of attempting to get MAME to work and to actually play a game on it, I became increasingly frustrated with the complicated process one had to go through just to play a game on it. It also didn’t help that there wasn’t a place to go for directions (for those who aren’t good at figuring some things out technologically) or anything. The whole program seemed to be geared more towards the person who would be easily able to figure out how to use it on his/her own and that definitely isn’t me.

After giving up on trying to figure out the MAME program, I decided to do some searching of my own and was able to find a site where you could download RealArcade and play some classic Atari games for free for 60 minutes, then if you wanted to have unlimited access, you had to pay $10. The six games that I was able to play were Pong, Asteroids, Centipede, Super Breakout, Missle Command, and Tempest. So I played the various games for an hour and this is what I observed.

I first started with Pong because I had played it before. However, the computer was very good and I proceeded to get beaten very quickly. What was cool about this, is that the screen replicated what you would see at an arcade with the yellow incasing around the screen. The next game I played was Tempest, which was like Asteroids, but the controls were horrible, which immediately turned me off to the game. My next adventure was Missle Command, which was surprisingly fun. I had to shoot down enemy fire with missles to protect the city from being destroyed. It took like 2 games to learn the controls, so I could see how this could be successful in the arcade because it was easy to learn and fun. Centipede was up next, which was another game that was easy to pick up. However, this game really didn’t appeal to me so I didn’t play it very long. I played Asteroids for like 5 minutes, then became hooked on Super Breakout. I played this one for like half an hour and had a blast. There’s something about this game that appeals to me, I think it’s the challenge of trying to improve. It’s a very simple game, but has lasting appeal much like some of the other games that Atari made back in the day. Overall, I had a great time and definitely see how some of these games became so popular in arcades. Most are easy to pick up, but difficult to master, leaving you wanting to keep coming back for more.

MAME and such

Maybe it's that I'm doing something terribly wrong, but I just can't seem to get the MAME application to do much of anything. I downloaded it, and installed it as a .exe, and then… mostly sat there unsure of what to do next. I looked for a README file, but none was to be found, and so a quick travel back to the website and hitting up the FAQ, I managed to be able to get Robby to load, but I couldn’t get it to go beyond the opening screen without getting vertical grey bars of death.

I’d be curious what the game plays out like, especially when I think about it in comparison to one of my favorite sites, In some ways, the problem of virtualapple is the same – you need to rely on the quality of the ROMs that you have. Further, how do you actual go about having a proper interface? It isn’t standardized via MAME, unless I’m missing something. I stopped by the FAQ and learned that it seems as though the control can often be specific to the game’s setting, though you can set them.

I stepped through this process, but was still unable, even with help from FAQs to actually even see what the game played like. The process became so frustrating (it was a third attempt), I eventually just gave up, and went and found Oregon Trail. This satisfied me immensely. Life was good again.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Being the not so tech savvy person that I am, I'm having great difficulties in figuring out how to actually play the ROM after downloading it. I'm on Windows if that matters. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Celia Pearce "Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go: A Conversation with Will Wright"

Celia Pearce's article "Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go: A Conversation with Will Wright" talks about how interactive entertainment and simulation are what gamers want. They don't want a game that tells them what to do and offers little alternatives in the decisions the player can make, they won't wide open situations that the player can structure themselves. Their conversation discusses a lot about how Wright, the creator of the Sims video game, feels about the interactive and simulation characteristics of games and how that makes them so fun to play. Wright goes on to talk about what draws him to video games and that's the interactive environments that allow the player to be creative. When players see what they have created and it's unique to them, they invest in it emotionally. Wright talks about the inspiration behind Sim City, a game called Pinball Construction Set where the player created a pinball game and then could play it. He also talked about a flight simulator game where he would test out what would happen if he crashed or did certain maneuvers. He would experiment with the game because he was free to do so. Then he talks about his favorite board game Go, which is a really abstract game and how it brings people's different mental models into agreement as the game progresses.
Wright also starts to talk about how people personify and identify themselves with the characters in The Sims. Like when planning what job the players are seeking for their character and what relationships they seek, they refer to the character as "I." But when the character fails or rebels, the character is then refered to as "He". This is a real interesting dynamic in that it applies to other situations. For example, when the Badgers win the football game on Saturdays, the fans usually say we won. But if they lose, I usually end up saying they lost. Like I'm putting it on them when they lose, but in a pseudo way accepting credit when they win. Kind of interesting.
They go on to discuss how people pursue different goals and how they're working on a multi-player version of The Sims so you can use the help of other characters to accomplish you goals.
Then, Wright talks about how he wants players to appreciate how connected things are through space and time. His goal is to make the possibilities to be as wide as possible, with as much space as possible. I immediately thought of GTA here, because even though you have missions to complete, you as a player are free to do whatever you want. You choose to do missions, so if you don't want to, you can simply roam about the environments trying new things and doing whatever you want.

Then Wright starts to discuss the blurring of the consumer and the producer which Greg Tracy talked about yesterday with regards to Sharendipity. Wright thinks that there are media like the internet where the interaction between both is a "smooth ramp." The Sims has that same blend in that you create your character and are the audience and you can put your storyboard and what you've created and put it on the web.

The final big topic of discussion is that in games time isn't always linear. You can always go back and load a saved game, etc. He compares it to films like Run Lola Run, which is pretty good, I suggest you check it out. Basically, the film replays the same scenario in which Lola is trying to get money for her friend Manni who is in trouble and needs it. The whole scene replays with things being different every time. It's a good example, because the entire scene starts with Lola waking up to an alarm and goes from there playing the whole scene, instead of just rewinding and starting from a specific spot in the story.

Legend of the Last Toymaker - backposted...

Shigeru Miyamoto - Legend of the Last Toy-Maker

His tale is told much like a fairie tale (note even the titles), and its tone is given higher precedence than the actual content that it is sharing, though it does give us that content. The authors seem most interested in imbuing this store with a kind of mythic weight. Shigeru Miyamoto isn't just the man that brought us Mario, he is an artist, he is the ever-wide-eyed toymaker, the man who can imbue childlike joy and imagination into his games.
Clearly, the way that the authors tell us this story wants to impress this upon us. We are given an omniscient narrator (who also tells us of Miyamoto's many handlers - have those handlers, perhaps, had their fingers in the telling of this story?), we shares with us the journey of Miyamoto from childhood into early adulthood and then through the adventure that is there in Nintendo.
Miyamoto goes to Nintendo during an era of change - the video game is just being ushered in and the current patriarch of the company Yamauchi, really wants to leave a legacy on the company's history. In this time, Miyamoto is hired, and given the task of packaging Radarscope for a US Market.
A (supposed) conversation between the two highlights Miyamoto's general philosophy:
- memorable characters
- artistic products
- less reliance on violence and more on larger themes.

In Radarscopes place, he creates Donkey Kong, much to the skepticisim of Nintendo's sales force. It ends up being a smash hit. In follow up, he creates Super Mario Brothers, to be bundled in with the Nintendo Entertainment System (the American version of Japan's Famicom). Super Mario has several interesting developments: a boss, a world to explore (giving it epic scale), easy skill hurdle to enter the game, high hurdle to master the skill.
As we follow Miyamoto in the aftermath of this we see a little more of his philosophy. Rather than start with a monster/weapon/spectacle, Miyamoto's game often start with a location, and then the idea: "Where is the fun here?". Philosophy matters, here. Like an old-fashioned toy, many Miyamoto games are largely open-ended, and can just be played ad infinitum, to the hearts content of the player, much like a toy soldier. Who cares about realism, Miyamoto asks, if the fun isn't there to be found. In the modern era, it is interesting to see how current designers have begun to view this as an "old-fashioned" outlook, even though they owe much of the ways that they explore this space TO Miyamoto. In the end, it is very similar to Miyamoto's conflict with Nintendo's early salespeople, looking for the tangible, and Miyamoto, championing the intangible: fun.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Has anyone succeeded in actually running games under MAME OS X?


Free Donkey Kong web version

Play Donkey Kong here.

The unending quest for high score

Yesterday in class we talked about how some classic arcade games actually benefit from not having a narrative and being solely about bettering your score. This really reminded me of a documentary that came out last year called "The King of Kong." The movie centers around the battle for who really owns the highest score in the original Donkey Kong. I'm sure that some of you have heard of this movie, probably even seen it, but if you haven't I highly recommend it. It manages to be both funny and compelling. Plus the whole thing centers around a classic arcade game. Below are some links about the movie.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

MAME Hands-on Assignment for the Week

The world of ROMs and emulators is familiar territory for me. In middle school I found out about them and thought it was unbelievable that all of these games were available to download. I started out with some of the classic consoles like Nintendo, and had hundreds of ROMs. After a couple of months my collection grew to thousands including games across many different consoles. I knew what the MAME was but never really tried it out before because the console games had my attention.

While the games on the site Downey gave us looked interesting, I was looking to find some popular arcade games. Just by searching Google I found a massive list including games such as Galaga and Space Invaders. I downloaded the MAME OSX and figured it would be just like the other emulators I’ve seen, but instead it was a bit confusing to set up. Most emulators I’ve used give you the option just “Open ROM”. The MAME OSX had a unique way and finally after making a .zip file and placing it in the ROMs folder (which was tucked away in a place I never expected) I started playing. I figured out the keys by basically pressing all of them and seeing which caused a reaction. After a couple levels I was satisfied with my progress, but itched to play some of the games from my childhood. Many of my trips to Chuck E. Cheese ended up with my brothers and me glued in front of the TMNT game so I searched the site for it and loaded it up in a flash. It was just like I remembered and wasted a chunk of my night—luckily I still had time to write this up. Both emulators and ROMs are easily be found by searching Google. I highly recommend trying some out from all of the old consoles.

I found the ROMs on the site below but remember only download the games you own!

Origins of an Industry: Cold Warriors, Hackers, and Suits 1960-1984

In the chapter entitled "Origins of an Industry, Cold Warriors, Hackers and Suits 1960-1984," authors Kline, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter provide an excellent overview of and context for the development of the video game industry over the past almost fifty years. The authors quickly dispel an apparently commonly held belief that the creative, profit-driven entrepreneur (think the Silicon Valley of the 1980s) has been the primary innovator in the computing (and, thus, the video game) industry.

Rather, the authors make the case that these dual industries (which I'll refer to simply as the computing industry) were products of a generation before, a direct result of Cold War preoccupations (e.g. the nuclear arms race; the technology push symbolized by what came to be known as the "Space Race") that brought together the military, academia and industry in a collective R&D team the repercussions of which were eventually felt in the popular culture via the innovations spurred by this collaboration.

Within the walls of academia, a group of hitherto mostly unnoticed technology geeks who had both a special interest in the emergent field of computing and access to the multi-million dollar, room-filling machines began to come out of the shadows and into prominence within the new paradigm of the military-academic-industrial partnership ("complex," as the authors perhaps more polemically term it). Primarily young men, these "hackers," as they came to be known, possessed a technical prowess that was combined with a larger-than-average dose of curiosity and desire to be hands-on with technology, and their experimentations became critical in the quest for innovation that, curiously, happened largely outside of the confines of the traditional scientific research paradigm. The authors do point out that much of this innovation, funded by governmental defense concerns in so many cases, came at the cost of an uneasy alliance, for many of the original hackers were stridently anti-establishment in the sense that their ethos demanded an adherence to an ethic that ran contrary to one that had the country embroiled in Vietnam, for example.

The authors go on to explore how a variety of elements commonly considered to be fringe cultural phenomena, such as science fiction, various types of non-mainstream gaming, an interest in problem-solving, and so on (what I like to collectively refer to, sans judgment, as "nerd culture") began to move from the margins and influence the mainstream, largely due to the hackers now engaged in influential technological innovation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, the introduction of role-playing games (particularly of Dungeons & Dragons) had a massive impact on nerd culture, in general, and hacker culture, in particular, and variations on both the theme and the nature of those games quickly appeared on mainframe computers at universities across the countries, a portent of gaming things to come.

Meanwhile, post-war America had developed into a prosperous land of suburban plenty, creating a fertile ground for the gaming industry to come in that it provided the physical space (e.g. malls), the youth culture (the post-war baby boom generation and one generation beyond) and the disposable income that put a TV in every home and the leisure time to watch it. As many former hackers migrated beyond the walls of academe and into industry (and here we see the rise of the Silicon Valley that many must think of when they think of the computing industry), these factors began to synthesize in such a way that the country and the culture were ripe for the new forms of entertainment that video games would soon provide. The authors identify three key "paths," or inroads used by video games to entrench themselves into the fabric of American society. They were:

  1. Arcades: Atari (with Pong) first made it big here. Arcades grew up quickly in the 1970s and malls, also exploding at this time, provided the perfect place for them.
  2. The Home Console: A number of gaming consoles for the home were created in the mid-1970s, blending in seamlessly with that other ubiquitous technology device, the television. A home version of Pong made a bit of an early smash, but it wasn't until microchips could be placed inside swapable cartridges that the home consoles really took off.
  3. The Home Computer: Initially, market differentiation, technological limitations and price meant that home computers were not seen as a gaming device, yet it did not take long for game-eager home computer users to begin to use the machines in this way.

The chapter closes with a discussion of the major players in the video game world of the early 1980s (what is widely considered video gaming's "Golden Age"). Already discussed, Atari became a leader in video gaming via several arcade hits but also with its hugely popular home console and its arcade games ported into cartridges for home play. The advent of the 1980s also saw the introduction of Pac-Man, the game that changed everything and spawned a cultural revolution that saw crossover from video games into just about every other realm of media and consumerism imaginable. This also marked a point in time, the authors note, in which development of the gaming experience and its entertainment value became just as important (or perhaps surpassed) as improving technological aspects of the games. The authors also describe the game developers themselves, who sound surprisingly like the hackers of MIT from just fifteen to twenty years before.

As early game innovators like Atari sold out to larger media conglomerates, new upstart companies rose in their wake, and Activision, Electronic Arts and others stepped in to take their place. These new companies were often set up as game design houses solely, breaking from the old model that saw hardware companies with an in-house cadre of game developers working to sell more of that company's hardware via successful games. It was at this time that the game developers themselves, often fiercely individual hacker types, began to forge their own identities as game designers, introducing easter eggs into their creations and becoming reflective about their work such that issues of aesthetics, virtuality, and artistic merit began to come to the fore. Designers also began to place a great deal of import on the seamless intersection of graphics, interface and software. In short, games became more and more sophisticated.

Improvements in graphics, networked play and other game innovations thrilled developers but also did not escape the watchful eye of the military, who saw in games an opportunity for training of its personnel, the ability to run extremely nuanced simulations, to try out tactical strategies, and so on, and who continued to implement video game-like environments as training tools throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The authors point out that this interplay between the military and gaming industry was "a sophisticated way of getting the entertainment sector to subsidize the costs of military innovation and training."

The authors then discuss another merging of sectors; in this case, the video game industry with larger corporate America (media companies and the toy industry, in particular). In today's marketplace, it is common to think about large media conglomerates and the synergies between video gaming and, for example, movies or other media. But in the 1980s, these notions were new and, ultimately, very risky. For a number of reasons, the game industry experienced a severe slump in the mid-1980s, and many corporate giants that had eagerly gobbled up game companies ended up losing a great deal of money on the deals. Some companies disappeared altogether during this period.

In sum, this first rise (and subsequent fall) of the video game industry had many long-term and lasting effects. It served as a conduit for the emergence of hacker and nerd culture from the shadows into the mainstream as a major cultural and economic force. It whetted the American public's appetite for entertainment media delivered to them in their homes in an electronic format. It created demand for ever-increasing, exponential technological innovation. It also upheld a longstanding (and perhaps ominous, to some) partnership between entertainment, technological and military development. The many outcomes of gaming's early days can be clearly traced through this article, which offers an interesting and extremely comprehensive introduction to the socio-cultural history of video games and suggests that their implications go far beyond a bit of light entertainment and are deeply entrenched in many important aspects of American society and institutional structure.

Musical interpretations of 8-bit

Today in class the classical guitar version of Mario Brothers reminded me of this band...they are called "The Advantage" and they only play old Nintendo themes. As in...that is all they do. I know there are a few other bands out there like this, but The Advantage is my favorite.

Here is a link to their myspace and to their official website...they are pretty awesome.

Cool Versions of Old Games (for the Mac)

Ambrosia makes some cool games; here are a few that are takes on old classics:




Swoop where you shoot stuff in space and stuff (Meteor?):


Herz, JC

Joystick Nation
Chapter 4
A la re Cherche du Arcades Perdu

This chapter traces the history and development of the videogame parlor, from the advent of coin-op amusements of the 1890s to the 20 year heyday of the videogame arcade in the 1970s and 80s, to its subsequent decline and replacement with the brightly-lit, ‘family entertainment center’. The author, JC Herz, then addresses the migration of the gaming community to the online world.

Herz begins her study of arcade history at the beginning of the 1900s with the appearance of penny arcades, nickelodeons, phonograph machines and the kinetoscope. From the very beginning, there was concern that cheap coin-op entertainment would ‘drive the arousable masses to riot and iniquiety’. The rise of these amusements corresponded with and catered to the influx of blue-collar working-class into the cities. The invention of the ‘parlor’ in the early 1890s accommodated a mixing of working class with upper class individuals, primarily young and male. Herz quite reasonably points to this blurring of class distinctions as the real ‘threat’, rather than the amusements themselves. The early arcades were a great equalizer in that anyone with a nickel had access to the latest and greatest technology.

Another point the author makes in the ‘some things never change’ department, is the concept that ‘new’ means ‘improved’. As the x-ray and fluoroscope (oops….sorry ‘bout those feet!) machines migrated to the medical office, phonographs and gramophones are replaced with the kinetoscope and mutoscope. Each machine has a new feature, making it an improvement over its predecessor. Herz makes the point that ‘automatic’ became the buzzword back then, much like ‘virtual’ is now.

We move on in time, and the kinetoscope is relegated to the seedier peepshow, while pinball becomes popular. It it still seen as a threat by the status quo, due in no small part to Marlon Brando and James Dean and the corresponding “Rebel Without A Cause” imagery.

In 1956 the first enclosed mall was built, and by 1974 there were 13,714 of them. By 1982, that number increased to over 20,000 in the US and Canada. The rise of the shopping mall corresponded to the development of the microchip, which paved the way for mall-based videogame arcades. The early games were innovations, the likes of which had never been seen before: Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Battlezone, Defender, and Pac-Man. By the early 80’s game quality was declining as the arcades were becoming seedier.

This led to what the author calls the ‘arcade sanitation crusade’ or, in this reviewer’s mind, the ‘Chuckie-Cheesification’ of the video arcade. The arcades were getting grubby, only attracting 15-year-old boys, and there were no good videogames coming out. It was then that arcade proprietors noticed the steady appeal of skee-ball, followed by the crane machine and the kiddie coin-op, ticket-spitting ‘redemption games’, such as those found locally at Chuckie-Cheese’s and in the Wisconsin Dells. These places are very heavy-handed in their attempts to appear safe and secure, so as to reassure parents, who then whip out the credit card.

At present, the egalitarian, merit-based world of the video arcade has moved online, where a person’s grades, paycheck or social class means nothing if their avatar just got its butt kicked.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Patricia Greenfield Summary

Patricia Greenfield’s chapter on “Video Games” focuses on the downsides to video games and the possible solutions to such problems. The main arguments against video games seems to be the lunch money teenage boys appropriate for arcades, their “apparent” addictiveness, and associated aggressive behavior. However, studies have shown that families with gaming consoles spend an average of 42 minutes a day as opposed to an average of TV habits which double time spent on gaming. Another concern is the price of such a habit, though, it is shown that kids spent only 5 dollars a day and skill is rewarded with increased play time. But what is the attraction?
It can be most closely associated with the everyday use of TV and its dynamic visual imagery. Games that see more users usually possess a higher level of dynamic visual imagery. Also, games provide of interaction with the visual imagery. Being able to actively control what occurs on the screen has an attraction to children because they make a personal connection to what is going on.
Violence in video games has been associated with aggression of the player, but other factors are important in this subject. Video games that involve the presence of two players, whether cooperative or competitive, seem to act as catharsis for users instead of provoking aggression. Also, the popularity of games does not depend on violence. So, instead of creating games with undesirable social themes, game manufactures should aim at action games without violence because popularity will not be at a loss.
Another benefit to video games is the skills involved with them. Gamers are presented with obstacles, but not just static physical ones. They have to account for the computers programmed movements. Two primary skills are hand-eye coordination and parallel processing, especially in action games. Some games, such as fantasy games, involve creation and a multi-dimensional character structure. If the benefits of games are employed correctly they can be transferred to actual life skills.
Vital to gaming is the challenge it puts forth. Having a series of levels greatly determines the amount of interest and time a player will spend on one game. Having a series of levels may be responsible for addictiveness, but it can better be described as long term appeal.
Video games definitely have a function in life, though bad does come with good. If game manufactures design games wisely then the skills learned from them can be carried over into other aspects of our lives.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


As an exercise to see if everyone in the class can post comments to the weblog, please write a comment to this entry introducing yourself to the rest of the class!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Readings are online

The required readings for our course are now online here as PDFs (you'll need your UW-Madison NetID to get to the page). I expect students to buy the printed reader as well; these are made available as a backup.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Wii would like to play

Our class Wii system has arrived, and looks to be in good shape.