Checking in from Seattle

I’m in Seattle for a couple more days, but I thought it was about time to check in now that things are quieting down following the Penny Arcade Expo. I should mention, too, that I passed my dissertation proposal defense on the day before I left (hooray), so after I turn in some brief additional material, I’ll finally get to pay some more attention to a couple gaming-related papers I’ve got floating around.

Continue reading “Checking in from Seattle”

Last-Minute Links

I’m defending my dissertation proposal today at 1:00, and then I leave for Seattle tomorrow for a week. I’m headed to the Penny Arcade Expo, and I won’t be bringing my laptop, so things will probably be pretty quiet here for a bit. Here’s a few last-minute links to check out in the meantime:

Game ratings: Eurogamer (link via Game Politics) reports on how some developers feel that the ESRB is veering a little too close to McCarthyism. The examples offered here—which include seemingly arbitrary guidelines, the complete proscription of sexual content, and quashing even satirical resistance to authority—seem pretty reminiscent of the Comics Code, which arguably stunted that industry for decades.

Geek venues: Jacob sends along a link to UK geek venues. Every country should have a map like this (it would make my job easier).

Women in IT: Slashdot features a link to a Computerworld article about how women in the IT industry cope with the men’s-locker-room atmosphere. I link directly to Slashdot to begin with because it actually refers back to one of its own posts as an example of the men’s club attitude.

Almost casual gaming: Kotaku reports that European Xbox 360s are seeing some price cuts and some renaming; it’s unclear to me whether the US consoles will be similarly renamed. The high-end “Elite” system will keep its name. The “Premium” (which Kotaku recently referred to as “the standard,” as it seems to be the bare minimum for playing games on actual disks) will be renamed the “Pro”; it recently dropped from $400 to $350 over here, and comes with a hard drive, a wireless controller, and a headset for online voice chat (though the online service is an extra $50 a year to actually play games on it). The “Core” system, which will be renamed the “Arcade” version in Europe, recently dropped from $300 to $280, and has always included a wired controller, with other peripherals extra.

The “Arcade” version will be coming with a memory card preloaded with five Xbox Live Arcade games, perhaps including Pac-man. This sounds something like the strategy I suggested in a recent post—that is, making a cheaper Xbox system more explicitly aimed at casual, downloadable games—but it’s still priced way too high for actual casual gaming. Even when Microsoft is trying to go “casual,” it still sort of veers toward “hardcore.” (Can I coin “hardcasual”? “casualcore”? Maybe I should just stop trying.)

That’s all for now. Feel free to drop me an email if you feel like saying hello at PAX!

The Saga of Ball

For many, the highlight of last year’s Penny Arcade Expo was entirely unplanned: A crowd of people made the best of their long wait in line by knocking a big, blue ball around. Later, while Gabe drew a strip onstage and Tycho fielded audience questions, someone requested that the ball be included in the strip, and the artist happily obliged him. (See lower left corner, third panel. An old character made it to the second panel by special request, too. I’m blanking on the relevance of the still-beating heart and the crowned hot dog, but those were last-minute additions too.) After the convention, the event apparently became somewhat legendary, with “ball footage” posted around the web and references among my interviewees. One of these people suggested that this illustrates the heart of gamer culture: Geeks just wanna play.

I’m fascinated to see now that Penny Arcade has made an “All hail BALL” t-shirt, announced the week before PAX 2008. This strikes me as a fairly brilliant merchandising/marketing technique. The only ones who will really be interested are those who have fond memories of the ball at last year’s PAX, which drastically limits the market for such a product. That’s okay, though: PA has its own venue where their most fervent fans are sure to appear, and some of those people seemed intent on getting the ball somehow included in the annals of PA history. The reference will be completely opaque to outsiders, so the shirt basically functions like a secret handshake with other fans. And, as I realized at Comic Con this year, some people buy fannish and geeky apparel just to wear at other cons—as a button on one person’s backpack said, “Being a fan means never having to ask, ‘Where would I wear that?'” When I go to PAX next weekend, I’ll be surprised if I don’t see dozens of people wearing this shirt.

This move really helps characterize Penny Arcade as an outfit that takes its cues from its own fans, while still doing projects in their own style. Kudos, too, for having the restraint to let the subject lie dormant awhile and suddenly announce the shirt the week before the next con.

Party in the Stacks

Cleaning out my mailbox, I came across a New York Times article forwarded to my from Lee S. several weeks ago about how librarians are hip now.

How did such a nerdy profession become cool — aside from the fact that a certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies.

Continue reading “Party in the Stacks”

Judging Books

Jacob refers me to a bunch of really good-looking sci-fi book covers from the SF/fantasy arm of Orion Books. From the above link on “We Made This”:

Fairyland by Paul J McAuley uses a holographic foil and irridescent cover stock; The Separation by Christopher Priest uses an uncoated stock and a deboss; and Hyperion by Dan Simmons uses a spot varnish over black. […]

From a quick browse of a few online sci-fi forums it looks like existing readers aren’t overjoyed at the new look, but that’s really not the point — these covers are designed to reach out to a new audience who wouldn’t dream of picking up the standard sci-fi book.

There are eight in the series, produced in-house by Emma Wallace, with a brief that was simply ‘do what you want, but bring them to a new audience’. She’s done that in spades.

Jacob and I are sort of design snobs, so this new vision is welcome as far as we’re concerned. He suggests that there are likely many people—sci-fans included—who are turned away by fantasy-art-style covers, despite that the article suggests that “existing readers” prefer the old look. As he pointed out to me, though, there’s probably a big overlap between the readers who like such covers and the readers who frequent sci-fi book forums. I wonder, then, who will really be attracted by this new approach: the less hardcore (or less “faithful”) SF fans, or those who typically wouldn’t even have read SF in the first place?

Politics of the Metaverse

Two quick links that seemed of potential interest:

Game Politics reports on a call for an “avatar’s bill of rights” that would recognize virtual representations of people as governed by rights, not just end user license agreements (presumably only covering those in online worlds, but I haven’t read the whole article it links to yet).

And on a related note, GameDaily reports on the virtual “death” that may ensue from the nigh-inevitable government taxation of virtual goods and services.

This Nerdy Life

On this week’s This American Life (“The Spokesman”), Ira Glass denounces the rampant proliferation of the term ‘nerd’:

Adults don’t understand anymore what it means to be a nerd. Have you noticed this? ‘Nerd’ somehow has become a badge of honor. You meet all kinds of people who say proudly that they were nerds in high school. It’s like anybody who had anything that made them feel different now says that they were a nerd. And that population, the population that thinks that it was different, that’s, like, everybody who went to high school. You know? People who were chubby, people who were in band, people who liked comic books, people who just didn’t drink. I’ve met people who are actually popular, who actually had a social circle and boyfriends or girlfriends, who now claim they were nerds. That is just wrong. I believe that we have forgotten the sweaty, unsexy, cringe-inducing face of hardcore nerddom.

That’s a new take to me. I’ve talked to a lot of adults describing themselves as nerds now who acknowledge that they weren’t nerds as teens, and I’ve talked to some who acknowledge they were nerds as teens. I’ve never heard anyone say “I was a nerd in high school” who didn’t have a fairly plausible explanation for it—and I’m not sure why chubby kids, band geeks, and comics fans shouldn’t count, seeing as how plenty of these got picked on pretty badly and actually belonged to the “Nerd Crowd” in high school. Also, I think it’s funny that an NPR personality and known comic book reader would have a hard time understanding that being a popular adult with a social network is not mutually exclusive with being (or having been) considered something of an outcast in other contexts.

All of that said, the episode isn’t entirely about nerds, but those interested in one nerd’s personal history may find the whole prologue worth a listen. (Thanks to Lee S. for the link!)