Gaming in the Wild

After I defend my dissertation proposal, I have all kinds of grand plans, including revising and (re)submitting more papers to journals, conducting a slew of interviews for the dissertation and other projects, and getting reacquainted with sunlight. One project I think I can safely keep running in the background of my mind for awhile, however, is my observational study of handheld gaming in public spaces. Basically, every time I see someone playing a handheld gaming system or a game on a cell phone, I make a note of the scene.

In the year or so that it first occurred to me to do this study, I must admit that I have seen very few people in public on gaming-specific handhelds, and it’s tough to tell what people are doing on a cell phone (texting or Breakout?). I know one good place to look for people is a the airport, and I’m surprised to say that the examples I noted are more social than I expected. I saw one woman on a PSP leaning on (who I assume was) her boyfriend, who had his arm around her. I also met someone at South by Southwest who said he pulled out his DS on the plane and ended up playing with the stranger next to him (whom he called his “nerd buddy”). It’s easy enough to see people on handhelds at Comic Con and PAX, of course, but these are a bit outside what I’m looking for.

Eventually, I’ll do some interviews to find out where people use their handhelds and play cell games, I’ll check out the Nintendo-sponsored WiFi hot spots at McDonald’s, and I’ll take my own Nintendo DS outside and see if I happen to run into anybody who wants to play with a stranger. Apparently, it does happen (even if most of the comments in that thread are from people exclaiming that card-carrying nerds must be banished for venturing under the sun’s fiery gaze). Any thoughts on where else one might find handheld gamers in the wild?

Oops

If you sent me an email to my geekstudies.org address recently and you’re still wondering why I haven’t replied, it’s because I set up a convoluted email forwarding scheme that turned out not to work after all. Hopefully I got everyone who fell through the cracks, but if I missed you, feel free to try me again.

Swiping from Kotaku

Kotaku had a few interesting links the other day I wanted to make sure I got back to later:

Comments: Last week in comments featured some thoughts by readers, including one that criticizes other Kotaku readers’ bigoted comments: “This week has been awful for those of us who like to pretend that videogaming is not a hobby dominated by 13-year-old boys and the 30-year-old men that think like them.”

Concert-goers: A post on Video Games Live casts the orchestral game music show as an interesting conflict between high and low culture; specifically mentions “whooping and hollering,” the “priceless” looks on faces of people on their way to Phantom of the Opera down the street, and cosplayers “invading” a place “where more sedate crowds in business casual (and occasionally formal dress) generally rule the roost.”

Art appreciation: Kotaku also comments on and links to a “top 27” list of “art games”. Funny that games created intentionally to serve as works of art get put in a post titled “Timewasters: Top 27 ‘Art Games.'” Is this a sign of lack of maturity in the art game scene, or simply a lack of recognition and respect among gamers who are more fannish in their tastes?

Porn: And finally, Kotaku quotes the Chairman of Take2 on what bothers them about the AO rating (which was slapped on Manhunt 2, as I described elsewhere): “If you can’t market it because you aren’t allowed by the licensors or the retailers won’t carry it, then the rating doesn’t have any meaning.” Kotaku write Mark Wilson follows up: “My issue with AO? It sounds like I’m buying porn. And I don’t want to wear a trenchcoat and fedora every time I want to get my pretend murder fix.”

That is, of course, the point: Gaming legislation is trying to legally regulate violent games in the exact same way that porn is regulated, but the potential problem with this (if you think porn and/or violent games ought to exist at all) is that the licensing and retailing policies the Take2 chair describes prevent a porn gaming market from existing at all, let alone on the scale of a porn video market. As a strong supporter of free speech, maybe I should advocate for a porn gaming market, but what worries me personally are the attempts to create an environment in which thoughtful (but violent) games might never even get made out of fear they would be denied sale.

Video Games as Visual Narrative Spectacle

Here is something I wrote for my own personal reference several months ago, but never showed anybody. I figured I might as well throw in a few edits and post it here, as long as I don’t have much time to offer original writing right now.

There is a scene in God of War in which you scale a cliffside as you search for Pandora’s Box. As I played, I heard a periodic thumping noise, but I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, and I couldn’t just change my camera angle to look around for it; the “camera” switches angles automatically, as per the designers’ decisions, to enhance dramatic effect. Eventually I climbed far enough along the cliffside that the camera moved to a high angle, looking down at the protagonist from above, and revealing the source of the thumping beneath him.

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Explaining the Appeal of German Board Games

A recent Escapist article offers a thoughtful take on how board games have achieved such high “mainstream” success in Germany. Tyler Sigman offers the following formal factors as the keys to success, which video games should be borrowing (quoted entirely from original article):

  • High Production Values. Quality components and well-executed visuals contribute a pleasant aesthetic to the play experience. Wood pieces and heavy chipboard are common.
  • Session-based Play Times. With rare exception, games top out at about the 90-minute mark, the high end of what can be comfortably played after a nice dinner. “Appetizer” games in the 20-40 minute range are also an important part of any publisher’s catalogue.
  • Family-Friendly Themes. It’s not an issue of censorship; it’s an issue of marketing. The more risqué the subject, the less buyers there are.
  • Make Games, Not War. War is not a popular subject in Germany, and it’s one that is by-and-large absent from Euro-style games. Don’t confuse this for a lack of direct player competition, however.
  • Low Downtime. Downtime is clunky, and it engenders disinterest in the waiting (bored) players.
  • High Player Interaction. Playing against other humans is what keeps things fresh, unpredictable and challenging.
  • All Players Survive ’til the (Bitter) End. May the best player win, but may all players have fun.
  • Balanced Randomness. A skillful application of randomness is the key to making a game appeal to both experienced experts and rank beginners.
  • Mechanics over Theme. Innovation is a major factor; players won’t latch onto a game with ’70s, ’80s or even ’90s mechanics.

I think this is a sensible analysis, though I agree with my friend Tony’s assessment that the link back to video games sounds a bit tenuous in certain examples; Counterstrike hardly seems like a “mainstream” example from where I sit. I’m also very wary of all claims about such-and-such country being a haven for such-and-such geeky medium, where everyone loves the material and it’s free of stereotype and stigma (especially since visiting Paris and discovering that comics—American ones, at least—are considered no less nerdy there than they are here). I think this is a common rallying cry for American geeks who want to change the popular perception of their own fan interests, inspired by a bit of truth but inflated by a lot of hope. All of that said, I must admit that I have found myself wondering lately “what makes German tabletop games so neat,” and this article does a decent job picking that question apart.

Nerds in the News

I turned in the first full draft of my proposal to my advisor this past weekend, and I will be defending on August 20th, just before leaving for PAX. I’m still quite busy getting back to people I met in San Diego, Lisbon, and Paris, in addition to revising papers for journals—but I can’t pass up two explicitly geek/nerd articles in the New York Times posted in one week, can I?

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Best of Craiglist: Nerds Are Jerks

The Morning News directed me to a “best of Craigslist” (Boston) essay about the difference between being “cool” in the US and being “mates” with fellows in Australia. Frankly, the essay confuses me. I think it is saying that living in an “advertising culture” makes American boys who get picked last on the playground grow up in to self-absorbed hipsters and geeks, whereas boys in Australia are all about selflessness and group membership.

Continue reading “Best of Craiglist: Nerds Are Jerks”

For the Ladies

Dan took my call for links to heart, and has sent me yet another I cannot pass up: Shiny Shiny, “A Girls’ Guide to Gadgets.” Specifically, he referred me to some Pac-man accessories (perhaps knowing that I may be willing to challenge gender norms if it means getting to wear Pac-man jewelry), though that in turn led me to a Zelda map belt dubbed “Geek chic of the week” and also a post on top geeky slogan shirts. I’ve noticed that most geek-oriented shirt sites tend to offer only a portion of their inventory in “girl sizes,” so it’s interesting to see what sorts of things get pulled up by a girl-oriented geek site.

Nerds Make Sense of Love Lives Through Research

A study linked to from Slashdot suggests that “smarter teens have less sex.” Highlights from the comments include:

Well, then I must have been ultrasmart… 😦

And:

Now I am conflicted. Half of my inner geek wants to laugh and take the joke, and the other wants to rail on you for creating causation from correlation.

(Thanks to Dan Moren for the link.)