WINDOWS 93

Screen Shot of Windows 93

hug + hack = infinity

At one of the talks at CGSA 2019 I learned about WINDOWS93. It is an emulation of a non-existant early version of Windows that looks a bit like Windows 95, but has all sorts of joke applications in it.

This and other examples of interactive games that mimic everyday software was presented by Benjamin Unterman in a paper titled, “Games Imitating Life.” Unterman theorized that there are three types of such games:

  • Realistic interface designs where a game pretends to be a real interface like that of a cell phone, but you end up messaging fictional people.
  • Complicit designs use realistic interfaces to bring people into a satire or joke interactive. I think Windows93 would be such an example.
  • Antagonistic designs pretend to be some productivity tool, but they subvert the interface as you play.

My conference notes for Congress 2019 are here.

Doki Doki Literature Club!

The Literature Club is full of cute girls! Will you write the way into their heart?

Dr. Ensslin gave a great short survey of digital fiction includ the Doki Doki Literature Club! (DDLC) at the Dyscorpia symposium. DDLC is a visual novel created in Ren’Py by Team Salvato that plays with the genre. As you play the game, which starts as a fairly typical dating game, it first turns into a horror game and then begins to get hacked by one of the characters who wants your attention. The character, it turns out, has both encouraged some of the other girls (in the Literature Club) to commit suicide, but they edits them out of the game itself. At the end of the game she has a lengthy face-to-face with you breaking the fourth wall of the screen.

Like most visual novels, it can be excruciating advancing through lots of text to get to the point where things change, but eventually you will notice glitches which makes things more interesting. I found myself paying attention to the text more as the glitches drew attention to the script. (The script itself is even mentioned in the game.)

DDLC initially mimics the Japanese visual novel genre, down to the graphics, but eventually the script veers off. It was well received in game circles winning a number of prizes.

The Unpredictability of Gameplay: Mark R. Johnson: Bloomsbury Academic

The Unpredictability of Gameplay explores the many forms of unpredictability in games and proposes a comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding and categorizing non-deterministic game mechanics.

Today we celebrated the publication by Bloomsbury of Mark R. Johnson’s The Unpredictability of Gameplay.Johnson proposes a typology of unpredictability:

  • Randomness (initial conditions of the game)
  • Chance (during play)
  • Luck (in/ability for player to affect final outcome)
  • Instability (outside the game)

Mark’s book nicely connects gaming and gambling. It helps us understand the way microgames in larger videogames can become a form of gambling. He looks at loot boxes where players are encouraged to spend small amounts of money over and over to get virtual goods inside a larger game. In Japan Kompu Gacha (or complete gacha) was eventually discouraged by the government because too many people were effectively gambling in their attempts to collect complete sets of virtual goods by paying over and over to open loot boxes. Compu gacha and other forms of loot boxes in videogames are a way for developers to monetize a game, but they also create metagae contexts that are, in effect, gambling. What is interesting, is that people don’t think of videogames as sites for gambling. One wants to say that this is another  (micro) form of casino capitalism.

Modelling Cultural Processes

Mt Fuji with the setting behind

Sitting on a hill with a view of Mt. Fuji across the water is the Shonan Village Center where I just finished a research retreat on Modelling Cultural Processes. This was organized by Mits Inaba, Martin Roth, and Gehard Heyer from Ritsumeikan University and the University of Leipzig. It brought together people in computing, linguistics, game studies, political science, literary studies and the digital humanities. My conference notes are here.

Unlike a conference, much of the time was spent in working groups discussing issues like identity, shifting content, and constructions of culture. As part of our working groups we developed a useful model of the research process across the humanities and social sciences such that we can understand where there are shifts in content.

Mt Fuji in the distance across the water

Racism, misogyny, death threats: Why can’t the booming video-game industry curb toxicity? – Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is reprinting a story from the Washington post, Racism, misogyny, death threats: Why can’t the booming video-game industry curb toxicity? The story is one more on how nasty online gaming can be. The usual companies try to reduce the toxicity of game culture and don’t really succeed. So we are left to just ignore it?

With no clear methods to effectively monitor, halt or eliminate toxic behavior, many in the gaming community have simply tried to ignore it and continue playing anyway. Many of the titles cited most for toxic players remain the industry’s most popular.

‎GoQueer Locative Game

‎Queer places are, by definition, sites of accretion, where stories, memories, and experiences are gathered. Queer place, in particular, is reliant on ephemeral histories, personal moments and memories. GoQueer intends to integrate these personal archives with places for you to discover.

I recently downloaded and started playing the iOS version of ‎GoQueer from the App Store. It is a locative game from my colleague Dr. Maureen Engel.

Engel reflected about this project in a talk on YouTube titled Go Queer: A Ludic, Locative Media Experiment. Engel nicely theorizes her game not once, but in a doubled set of reflections show how theorizing isn’t a step in project design, but continuous thinking-through.

You can also see an article reflecting on this game by the title, Perverting Play: Theorizing a Queer Game Mechanic.

Nakamura: Transmedia Storytelling within the Media Mix system in Japanese Pop Culture

Today I had the honour to introduce Professor Aki Nakamura from Ritsumeikan University who talked about Transmedia Storytelling within the Media Mix system in Japanese Pop Culture at the JSAC 2018 conference in Edmonton.

He began by introducing us to transmedia storytelling. He talked about how transmedia franchises can extend the fictional world through space and time.
Continue reading Nakamura: Transmedia Storytelling within the Media Mix system in Japanese Pop Culture

EaaSI | The Software Preservation Network

I just learned about a new project called EaaSI | The Software Preservation Network. Stanford will be one of the nodes. They are looking at how to provide emulation as a service. They are using technology from Freiburg called bwFLA Emulation as Service.

Emulation as a strategy for digital preservation is about to become an accepted technology for memory institutions as a method for coping a large variety of complex digital objects. Hence, the demand for ready-made and especially easy-to-use emulation services will grow. In order to provide user-friendly emulation services a scalable, distributed system model is required to be run on heterogeneous Grid or Cluster infrastructure.

The Emulation-as-a-Service architecture simplifies access to preserved digital assets allowing end users to interact with the original environments running on different emulators. Ready-made emulation components provide a flexible web service API allowing for development of individual and tailored digital preservation workflows.

Emulation is going to be important to game preservation. Already the Internet Archive is making games and other software available with emulation. There is also the MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) project that is a community project that has traditionally allowed people to play older games right from the bit sequence off cartridges.

Home – DIGRA 2018 Conference

Last week I was at the DIGRA 2018 Conference in Turin, Italy. The conference was well organized and the quality of papers was high. As always, I kept conference notes here.

I was struck how game studies is less and less about games. Of course, games are the subject of research, but game studies is less about the appreciation of games and more and more about what we can learn about other things through games. Games, like literature, have become a lens for looking at other things making the field richer and better aligned with other fields like media studies or literary criticism.

Next year the conference will be held in Japan and linked up with Replaying Japan. I look forward to the encounter between these different game studies cultures.

Kompu Gacha: Banning Loot Boxes

I’ve been meaning to write for while about Kompu Gacha (or Complete Gacha), a game mechanic that was popular in Japanese mobile games until it was banned in 2012 (see this story too). Kompu gacha is an extreme (or complete) form of the gacha game mechanic which was in turn inspired by the ubiquitous gachapon vending machines you find in Japan where for a couple of coins you get a small loot box (sphere) with a random gift in some theme or series. Children collect items by buying the loot boxes with the hopes of getting new trinkets in series that they collect and trade. Mobile games in Japan borrowed this well known play mode and began to include virtual loot boxes that you could buy in-game. Developers fine tuned the system to the point where millions of yen were being spent on vanishingly rare items. This led to a public controversy after there were cases of youth spending thousands of dollars that then led to banning the loot boxes.

There are a number of reasons why this mechanic and its banning are interesting:

  • It is an example of the grey area between gaming and gambling. In fact, Belgium has also outlawed video game loot boxes as gambling.
  • Gacha mechanics in general are economically important to Japanese mobile/social game design.
  • They are an interesting mechanic in and of themselves and show how an element of randomness that has consequences can be fun. Philosophers and historians of gambling have noted the importance of the element of real risk to the intesity of gambling. It gives everyone a chance to be heroic.

I should mention that it was Mark Johnson and Tom Brock who drew my attention to loot boxes. They have been doing important research on loot boxes and giving papers on the subject.