Archive for the ‘Computer Games’ Category

YOU: A Novel

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

I recently finished the science fiction novel YOU: A Novel by Austin Grossman. The novel is about Russell’s returning to get a job with Black Arts a game development studio. Russell distanced himself from his high-school friends with whom he got into designing a role-playing computer game. After dropping out of the liberal arts to law trajectory he had been on, he goes back and gets a job with the company  his friends had created in the meantime. Grossman has worked in game design, so the book has an authentic feel. It is also good on how franchises are maintained as the story turns around the creation of yet another sequel to a tired franchise with flashbacks to when they created the other versions. There are a number of interesting ideas and enigmas to YOU including:

  • YOU is about the dream of the ultimate game. The book starts and ends with the question of the ultimate game and how the imagining of that game is so important to gaming,

    Finally, there is the secret of the ultimate game, inscribed on a series of crumbling scrolls in a language that is no longer well understood. But partial translations suggest that the secret of the ultimate game is that you’re already in the ultimate game, all the time, forever. That the secret of the ultimate game is that the ultimate game is a paradox, because there’s no way to play a game without knowing you’re playing it. That games are already awesome, or else why are we making such a fuss? (p. 365)

  • Part of the issue of the ultimate game is the drive to greater realism as if graphical realism were the only metric. The novel forces us to ask what is realism and whether better graphics are necessarily more immersive (compared with better stories or more open worlds.)
  • Simon, the genius behind the game engine of Black Arts dies before the beginning of the novelistic present in an elevator. It isn’t clear how he died, but it seems relevant at the beginning of the novel. Grossman answered questions about the novel here including an answer about how Simon’s death is a “bait-and-switch.”
  • Finally, there is a really interesting reference to the story of love told in Plato’s Symposium that men and women are separated and want to join up again,

    To forestall any future threat, the gods decreed we should each be separated into halves, and each half hurled into a separate dimension. There was the human half, weak but endowed with thought and feeling, and the video game half, with glowing and immortal bodies that were mere empty shells lacking wills of their own. We became a fallen race and forgot our origins, but something in us longed to be whole again. And so we invented the video game, the apparatus that bridged the realms and joined us with tour other selves again, through the sacred medium of the video game controller. The first devinces were primititive, but every year the technology improved, and we say and heard and sensed the other world more clearly. Soon enough we’d be able to feel and smell and taste and live entirely in our own bodies again. And on that day, he finished portentously, we’d challenge the gods once more.

    “First of all,” I said, “you ripped that whole thing off from that story in Plato. …” (p. 301)

Games with Purpose: Untrusted

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Screen Shot

From Alex I discovered the serious game Untrusted by Alex Nisnevich. This puzzle game asks you to edit Javascript in order to solve puzzles as a way of learning to think like a programmer. You can read about the game at Games with Purpose – a site that is gathering serious games.

The DH Experience Game on Vimeo

Monday, April 14th, 2014

We have put up a video of the The DH Experience Game on Vimeo in the INKE Vimeo channel.

John Montague and Luciano Frizzera have designed a cool game that allows people to play at collaboratively completing digital humanities projects. We are now working with GO::DH to make the centers and projects real ones from around the world.


Saturday, April 12th, 2014

cyoa is a great essay/visualization/animation about Choose Your Own Adventure books. There are visualizations of the choices and some great animations of the flow of choices.

The whole essay/site is beautifully designed (and it has a colophon.) It is gesture of love towards Choose Your Own Adventures.

Blended Learning Award for GWrit

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The Game of Writing (Gwrit) project that I am part of just got support through a University of Alberta Blended Learning Award. See the 2014 Selected Courses. This award is going towards creating a flipped version of Writing 101, a service course that is being scaled up to support large sections by Roger Graves and Heather Graves. With the Blended Learning Award support from the Centre for Teaching and Learning and with Faculty of Arts funding we are redeveloping GWrit to be used in large sections of Writing 101. Here is part of the abstract of the proposal,

Research suggests that by creating a rich online environment for students to connect and interact with instructors and peers they can improve as writers. We are currently building a gamified online writing environment, The Game of Writing (GWrit), for Writing Studies 101 (WRS 101) that can support student writers and alumni. WRS 101 is a high demand service course required for many degree programs across the University. We are creating a large class version that blends face-to-face with gamification strategies. In GWrit students will choose and work on assignments or quests that are part of the course. Their progress on these assignments or quests will be shared with peers and instructional staff; in this way all students can see who is working on the same quests, and they can ask for help or advice from them. Informal assessment will be available online from peers in the class; from paid peer tutors; from GTAs; and from alumni. This represents a significant expansion of the informal assessment available in traditional face-to-face courses, where peers and sometimes the instructor give informal feedback. We also intend to invite alumni to post assignments/quests that come from a workplace writing context. Students who complete WRS 101 will continue to have access to GWrit throughout their undergraduate careers and as alumni.

GWrit started as a prototype developed with support from GRAND. The original idea was an open writing environment where folks could challenge each other to compete at writing and where you could get analytics on your writing (number of words written, tasks completed, and visualizations like word clouds.) This research prototype is now being completely redeveloped by the Arts Resource Centre as a learning tool that can be used by students of our courses. We are adding commenting features so that students (and later alumni) can provide writing guidance in a structured fashion.

Silly Gamification: Code Kwondo

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

I just came across this silly gamification, the Microsoft Developer Movement – Code Kwondo. The idea is that developers get points (and belts) if they learn Windows Phone and Windows 8 programming techniques. This competition is only available to residents of Canada and it includes challenges. I can’t tell if this is simple way of getting Canadian developers creating apps for Windows or if it is patronizing to developers. The imagery is reminiscent of Bruce Lee with nunchuks or Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. Either way they are playing with the Old Martial Arts Master trope. The title “Code Kwando” sounds like someone replaced the “Tae” in “Tae Kwan Do” with “Code” to get “Code Kwan Do.” My understanding of the Korean is that Kwan means “fist” and Do means “art” or “path of”. Thus we have a project that is the Path of Fist Code or Code Fist Art. Not sure they put a lot of thought into this, or perhaps they did.

No girls allowed

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

I’ve been meaning to blog about a nice feature in Polygon, No girls allowed. The essay starts by talking about gendered toys (and toy store aisles) and then moves on to why there isn’t the same gendering in games, but worse:

As for the boys section — there isn’t one. Everything else is for boys.

If the selection at the average retailer is anything to go by, girls don’t play video games. If cultural stereotypes are anything to go by, video games are for males. They’re the makers, the buyers and the players.

It has been fashionable to point to statistics that suggest “forty-five percent of all game players are women.” (Entertainment Software Association Industry Facts) Such facts, however, apply to all games, but not necessarily to retail games which are marketed more to males. The essay therefore looks at marketing and the vicious cycle of designing for a market (young men) that then reinforces beliefs about the market (it is best to target young men.)

According to Roeser, it makes sense from a marketing perspective for the video game industry to have pursued a male audience, which is exactly what it did starting in the early ’90s.

Tracey Lien then looks back at the history of game marketing and notes how it is only recently that there has been such market segmentation. Lien writes about early women developers like Carol Shaw who worked for Atari and how they weren’t designing for a particular gender.

Things changed in the mid 1980s after the Atari crash. Nintendo saved the industry by reintroducing games as toys which were then marketed as toys. Nintendo started gathering demographic information and discovered that more boys were playing which then fed into segmentation.

In the 1990s, the messaging of video game advertisements takes a different turn. Television commercials for the Game Boy feature only young boys and teenagers. The ad for the Game Boy Color has a boy zapping what appears to be a knight with a finger laser. Atari filmed a bizarre series of infomercials that shows a man how much his life will improve if he upgrades to the Jaguar console. With each “improvement,” he has more and more attractive women fawning over him. There is nothing in any of the ads that indicate that the consoles and games are for anyone other than young men.

The marketing segmentation became a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that ignored all the games popular with women like Myst and the Sims. The marketing and media present the male oriented games as the important or real games and the others as exceptions. Perhaps Grand Theft Auto is the exception and Farmville is the norm. Perhaps retail console games are just a fraction of game culture.

This essay strikes me as a great entry into talking about gender and games for a course. I also like the web design with the images that alternate from one side to the other.

On a related note, see the Let Toys Be Toys (for Girls and Boys) advocacy web site.



An Alberta researcher offers object lessons in the gamification of learning

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

I was interviewed by email the other day by Danny Bradbury from the Commerce Lab. The interview is now up at An Alberta researcher offers object lessons in the gamification of learning. Rereading the interview I’m struck by the disconnect between the research we do and what industry does. We do research for the sake of research, but often we don’t connect the research to the concrete problems of practicioners whether a teacher or in industry. For that matter, in the academy, most of us really don’t know much about the realities in business any more than other consumers. We make assumptions, but don’t check them. We don’t actually know what sort of research has been done or not in industry. That isn’t all our fault as industry tends to guard its research as a competitive advantage. Jane Jacobs in Systems of Survival describes the deep differences as between two ethical systems:

  • The Guardian system which is open and sharing, uses force and shuns trade.
  • The Commercial system that is competitive, thrifty, innovative and industrious


Historical Software Collection: Internet Archive

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

The Internet Archive has started a Historical Software Collection. This is part of a larger Internet Archive Software Collection that has a number of collections. What is cool is that they have an in-browser emulator that allows you to play with historical software like Visicalc or Atari’s E.T. in the browser. This is a Javascript version of MESS called JSMESS. They are not just archiving the code, but ensuring that there are ways to try the software too.

I learned about this from David Rosenthal’s blog entry on In-Browser Emulation which is worth reading.

Student game world takes London maps into 3D space

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Wired UK and some other sources have been blogging the Student game world that takes historic London maps into 3D space. The flythrough (YouTube) is from the winning entry to the Off the map collaboration/competiton that brought together maps from the British Library, Crytek’s CryENGINE, and the GameCity collaboration. Undergraduate teams used game technologies to model historic sites from British Library maps. The winning flythrough by Pudding Lane Productions feels like a recreation I would want to play in.