Game talkBrenda’s games

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Apr 302009

Brenda Brathwaite is one of my many brilliant friends from the game industry, and this is some of her recent work:

The object of Train is to get a collection of people from Point A to Point B by placing them in a boxcar and sending them on their merry way. Played among a group of three people, players draw cards from a pile that can impede other players or free them from existing obstacles. The first player to reach the end of the line wins.

The destination? Auschwitz.

The “game” didn’t stop there, however. The game board, pictured above, is an allusion to Kristallnacht – Brathwaite explained that she needed to break a fresh piece of glass each time she “installed” her work in a new location to properly evoke the violence of the experience. She even typed the game’s instructions on an actual SS typewriter, which she purchased solely for that purpose.

There were audible gasps in the audience when Brathwaite revealed Train‘s shocking conclusion; one attendee was so moved by the experience that she left the conference room in tears.

— The Escapist : TGC 2009: How a Board Game Can Make You Cry

You should read the whole article. I could add commentary, but I am sure you can guess the sort of thing I would say.

Apr 302009

This was cool — State Representative Nancy Landry of Louisiana just held a town hall meeting in Metaplace. A big part of the event was Q&A sessions with a middle school class run by teacher Margret Atkinson of Northwestern Middle School, and in attendance were the state’s Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, and the school’s principal, Debby Brian. I believe a few blog posts elsewhere and a video of the event are forthcoming. Eidt: and here’s one.

I was asked to give brief remarks on digital citizenship, and here they are:

So I was asked to make a few comments about digital citizenship, and I think the thing that most strikes me about an event like this is the fact that citizenship is the same whether it exists in the real world or a digital framework. Here we all are at this wonderful event, and the things that we are talking about in this cartoony, digital world are big important, real world issues, like funding for science education, and the legislative process.

Online communities are a VENUE, not an end in themselves. They are just a new way for us to engage in very old practices. And I think that if we managed to transplant some folks from ancient Athens and given them an intensive course in language and computer literacy, they would be perfectly at home with the substance of the discussions today!

At the same time, I think that it also highlights how important that digital literacy IS; after all, without those lessons, they would be less able to participate. And as our society’s tech capabilities grow, I think it’s wonderful to see that our society — and legislators — and principals and school superintendents, and teachers — are willing to invest in that literacy so that future voters, citizens, will be able to participate to the best of their ability using this new technology.

So I want to just say thank you to all of you for taking the plunge!

Apr 282009 is a personal finance site that won the judges’ award at TechCrunch40 the same year that Metaplace won the audience award. It helps you do budgeting and other such dull tasks, all in slick interface.

Despite the zillions of products out there to do this, we still managed to wheel, deal, and borrow ourselves into a financial crisis (that is still ongoing, though swine flu may be eclipsing it just now). Clearly, something was lacking in the appeal here, for if said product category were truly successful, we wouldn’t be in this fix.

Now, Mint is in closed beta on a feature that turns personal finance into a game, complete with points earned for doing things like socking away some cash into the savings account each month, or switching to a credit card with annual rewards. Get enough points in a sustained way, and you too can be a Financial Guru.

This seems like a fairly straightforward harnessing of game-style incentive systems towards a laudable goal (though I should note that said credit card with rewards is likely from one of Mint’s partners). But honestly — money is points anyway, isn’t it? Why is it that we value the cash less than the flat-screen TV?

Continue reading »

Game talkRichard Bartle’s IMGDC keynote

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Apr 252009

…is quite wonderful. It basically makes the case that freeform play (and even user-created content) should be the elder game on top of a more directed and guided play experience — and that we don’t tend to see this because of historical divisions between player types.

Here’s the PDF.

PS, I’ve periodically gone digging to find the origin of the term “elder game.” Anyone know? This old MUD-Dev post references the moment when it probably became common currency…

Game talkWerewolf invades Silicon Valley

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Apr 242009

There’s an interesting article on CNet this morning about how the party game Werewolf (also known as Mafia) is quite popular among Silicon Valley tech folk lately (the article traces it to 2007 or so). It’s been popular among game designers for much longer than that, of course — I think the industry interest in it may have crested a few years ago, actually.

The thing that piques my interest in the article, though, is the suggestion that the game’s themes may be why it resonates so strongly in the go-go-go Silicon Valley culture. You see, Werewolf is a game in which you have a group of people lying to the other players.

Fundamentally, Werewolf is about deception by a minority, and about the ways in which manipulation happens. Villagers lose when they fail to act rationally, fail to cooperate to a sufficient degree, and fail at institutional memory.

“If you think about what the fundamental skills in play in something like Werewolf are, they have to do with persuasion and communication. For entrepreneurs in particular, this is kind of a lot of the currency of their everyday lives,” Slavin said. “Bringing the types of interactions that are most typical in those scenarios…and turning them into something useless, something that only has social currency instead of live-or-die consequences for the company, is (fun) in the same way that it’s fun to bankrupt your friends in Monopoly, not in real life.”

“Those are incredibly important lessons for an entrepreneur,” Ventilla said. “You’re constantly reminded of just how much you need to do until you’re really top-notch at those things.”

— Why do young techies want to be werewolves? | The Social – CNET News.

I suppose this is healthy or not for the entrepreneur (and Silicon Valley as whole!) depending on whether they prefer to play as a villager or as a werewolf…

Game talkGames for Health conference

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Apr 232009

It’s coming up!

5th Annual Games for Health Conference in Boston on June 11-12 with Pre-Conference on June 10.

Over 60 sessions on many many topics.

People who enter beb09 @ registration get a 15% discount

Also direct registration at:

Content summaries so far at:

Apr 232009

Club Cooee went open beta today… and it looks like a better-done Lively, but running on your desktop as a widget. Basically, it turns the VW experience into a desktop IM client. Or vice versa, perhaps — they describe themselves first and foremost as a messenger client.

Looks like it’s free, depending entirely on the sale of virtual currency for monetization (they run a two-currency system, like most virtual worlds do today). You can buy items and animations, and build your own rooms to some degree. My favorite feature, though, is drag and drop sharing of music and pictures from your desktop.

There’s gaming pedigree here — the company was founded by the guys who did The Settlers and AquaNox.

Game talkThe Enigmatrix: another diagram of games & stuff

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Apr 232009

The Complex Universe of Games and Puzzles, Simplified, claims Wired. I think I disagree mightily with many many of the links and clusters (code and math are way more tightly related than that! And I can’t tell why they see Board Games and Games as separate nodes. And…

But it’s a cool visualization, and there are lots of cool gems hidden away. Ah, look, there’s Sprouts, a game I always forget the rules to.

Game talkGoogle 3D Web plugin

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Apr 212009

Add one more competitor to the race to create the standard for web-delivered 3d. This time, it’s Google, with a new API called O3D.

The O3D plugin leverages hardware accelerated rendering, which means that it is powered by the GPU and can deliver strong rendering performance. The API supports loading 3D models, much like Mozilla’s high-level C3DL library. Google has published several open source demos which show how the API can be used to build interactive 3D Web applications with JavaScript. One of the demos even features a JavaScript physics engine.

— Google joins effort for 3D Web standard with new plugin, API – Ars Technica.

It’s not compatible with Mozilla’s Khronos effort, but Google says they intend it to converge over the course of a few years. And yes, it is fully cross-platform. There’s a shader language (again, non-standard, doesn’t match HLSL or Cg), and of course it supports loading SketchUp as well as from Max and Maya. It also can run inside an OpenSocial gadget, or run offline in Gears.

It’s a developer release only, found here. But it’s very worth keeping an eye on. Google has to get it adopted, of course, and that will take using powerful distribution leverage, the way that Flash uses YouTube and Microsoft uses NetFlix and Windows Update to push Silverlight.

Here’s a video.