Game talkOpen letter to the gaming community

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Sep 012014
 

I am a signatory to this letter. I think everyone should be. I think it should be pretty non-controversial, actually.

We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish.

If you see threats of violence or harm in comments on Steam, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook or reddit, please take a minute to report them on the respective sites.

If you see hateful, harassing speech, take a public stand against it and make the gaming community a more enjoyable space to be in.

Thank you

 

Open letter to the gaming community — Medium.

May 072014
 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the financial future of developers.

The supply chain for creative work

To go back a ways, back in 2006 I suggested that you could look at the winding path a piece of media takes to the public in this way:

086260-rounded-glossy-black-icon-business-dollar-solidA funder of some sort ponies up the money so that a creative can eat while they work. Sometimes this is self-funding, sometimes it’s an advance, sometimes it’s patronage.
020790-rounded-glossy-black-icon-symbols-shapes-thought-bubble-ps A creator actually makes the artwork.
066167-rounded-glossy-black-icon-people-things-people-securityAn editor serves the role of gatekeeper and quality check, deciding what makes it further up the ladder. They serve in a curatorial role not just for the sake of gatekeeping but also to keep the overall market from being impossible to navigate, and to maximize the revenue from a given work.
033343-rounded-glossy-black-icon-culture-castle-five-towersA publisher disseminates the work to the market under their name. A lot of folks might think this role doesn’t matter, but there are huge economies of scale in aggregating work; there’s boring tax. legal, and business reasons to do it; it serves brand identity, making the work easier, to market…
002953-rounded-glossy-black-icon-media-loudspeaker1Marketing channels make it possible for the artwork to be seen by the public: reviews, trade magazines, ads. This is how the public finds out something even exists.
040733-rounded-glossy-black-icon-transport-travel-z-truck25 Distributors actually convey the work to the store’s hands. This role functions in the background, but it’s absolutely critical. There’s a lot of infrastructure required.
086385-rounded-glossy-black-icon-business-tagStores then retail the packaged form of the artwork to the end customer. Stores have their own branding task, and likely serve as a curatorial and recommendation engine all over again, this time trying to find the right fit for the customer.
020767-rounded-glossy-black-icon-symbols-shapes-smiley-face1The audience then gets to experience the work.
009311-rounded-glossy-black-icon-arrows-arrow-circle-refreshRe-users then take the creation and restart the process in alternate forms; adaptations to movies, audiobooks, classic game packages, what have you.

Continue reading »

Mar 242014
 

The debates about “what is a game” happened between multiple overlapping circles that have very little to do with one another… “Games” is never going to fall into one bucket or critical lens… We enrich ourselves and our mutual understanding not by claiming pre-eminence of one circle, but by learning to move between them.

On the Sunday before GDC, I attended and spoke at Critical Proximity, a games criticism conference. It was quite excellent. I am left with many thoughts, which will have to go into a separate post on the subject. In the meantime, there are write-ups available in several places:

As regular readers know, I have been involved in a lot of discussions about “formalism” in games over the last few years. This talk was an attempt to reset the conversation with insights into “formalism in the real world” as Brendan Keogh put it on Twitter, a look into the ways in which looking at the formal structure of games is able to help out and illuminate all sorts of games criticism. Including “softer” or more humanistic approaches, such as historiography, study of play, and cultural studies approaches.To that end, I deployed a set of analogies from other media: fine art, and poetry, and music, to help draw connections between the ways formal approaches and even notation are used in these other fields, and how we might use them in ours.

My talk is below the fold (hover over the slides for the notes text), and for the full transcript plus a link to the video, go here.

There were many other talks I highly recommend… the entire Twitch stream is available (see that same link) and lasts 8 hours!

Continue reading »

Jan 272014
 

Slide1Periodically I have gotten requests for either audio or video of the talk I gave at Living Game Worlds IV back in 2008. I have the slides, but they aren’t even posted up here, and honestly, without the actual talk, they don’t make much sense.

My talk was complex. I just watched it, and honestly did not remember it all; how it came together linking railroad yards, the first major copyright case, Kenyan mobile phone companies, Wagnerian opera, text muds, shipping containers, molecular biology, microtransactions, and of course, the future of games. But yeah, it hit on all that and more.

Videos from LGW IV (mine is “evening keynote”).

It still feels rather relevant today, even if my ending on Metaplace doesn’t. In many ways, what I was talking about has come true via indie games, Unity, Twine, Gamemaker, and countless other “banjos.” In fact, I am particularly hopeful that it will be watched by those who see me as a ludological fundamentalist or representative of “the old guard” or whatever, as there is a moment in there where I jeer at Game Informer magazine for the ludicrous term “impostor games” they used for games that were not challenge-based. FWIW, I also bluntly call MMOs colonialist and racist at one point.

Continue reading »

Game talkReadingGuardian picks Six Gaming Books

 Posted by (Visited 2666 times)  Game talk, Reading  Tagged with: ,
Jan 122014
 

At #2:

Penned by veteran games designer Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun was written 10 years ago, a long time considering the rapid pace of advance for its subject matter. And yet the book remains a key games design text that is still in print and highly relevant. While it was conceived to help games designers, it will be fascinating and informative for anybody involved in any field of design, or those curious about, well, harnessing the power of fun …

– Six of the best gaming books | Life and style | The Observer

Continue reading »

Aug 272013
 

I did a little interview with Patrick Miller for Gamasutra, as part of the run-up to GDCNext. A snippet:

How do you see the role of games (and the kind of experience players expect) changing? Are there any games/other work do you see around you now that is indicative of an emerging trend in this regard — something which you think you’ll later point to as a watershed moment in the evolution of video games?

It feels like we are swimming in this water already and not realizing it. Just recently, Gone Home charted on Steam above some big AAA releases. That’s a landmark moment right there. The press has already turned the corner to a significant degree – the debates over the artistic merits of a title like BioShock Infinite were already louder to my ears than the sort of traditional review discussion we used to get. The titles under discussion by craftspeople at conferences are the indie games, not the AAA games. We’ve seen the rise of artist enclaves, bohemian attitudes, old guard resistance, jejune manifestos (mind you, I think virtually all manifestos are jejune) and all the rest.

I think the floodgates are open. We’re at the point now where the kids who grew up with widespread “mass market” gaming are adults and are steeped in the gamer culture and mindset, and with that is coming all the self-examination, the desire to see substantial thematic content, and so on. The revolution has happened.

via Gamasutra – What’s Next? Koster talks ‘the revolution’, future of games.

I am sure I will take flak for the jejune bit. #nodads ;)

Jun 062013
 

In the wake of Indie Game: The Movie, I was asked on Quora about other works that are descriptive of gamer culture, suitable for someone who doesn’t play games, isn’t trying to learn how to make them, but rather is interested in learning about gamer culture.

Something that presents the human side, rather than the technical, and doesn’t assume a lot of prior knowledge. As many of you know, portrayals of the gaming hobby in the mass media have often been rather sensationalistic or inaccurate.

So here’s a quick list of ones that I have enjoyed and recommend for this purpose. It’s not in any particular order. I avoided “business books” that are more about how a company was built, in favor of ones that tell human stories.

In terms of being interested  in gaming culture, and game development culture, but not in “how-to” books, I would recommend: Continue reading »

Apr 262013
 

This video by Matthias Worch is superb, an explanation of the communication gap that was exposed so sharply by “A Letter to Leigh.

“Talking to the Player – How Cultural Currents Shape and Level Design” | You Got Red On You.

In short, after seeing this, it feels like I have been arguing very much from a combination of the oral tradition and the digital culture — likely because of my background in online games. And the aesthetics of print culture are pretty much exactly the things I was commenting on seeing.

Continue reading »

Game talkA Letter to Leigh

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Apr 092013
 

when people say games need objectives in order to be ‘games’, i wonder why ‘better understanding another human’ isn’t a valid ‘objective’

games need ‘challenges’ and ‘rules’, isn’t ‘empathy’ a challenge, aren’t preconceptions of normativity a ‘rule’

Leigh Alexander writing on Twitter

Dear Leigh,

I have such a complicated emotional response to this. And I think you like getting letters, based on what I see on the Internet.

I would rate better understanding of another human and the challenge of empathy as bare minimum requirements for something reaching for art.

The assumptions underlying this question are the interesting thing. A game of bridge demands great understanding of another human, and great synchrony of thought. A huge number of the games of childhood are designed to teach empathy. We play games all the time in order to get to know people.

But that’s not what you really mean, is it. What you are really talking about is something else entirely.

Continue reading »

Mar 122013
 

dk-paulineThere have been two notable events lately as regards the portrayals of women in videogames.

One is the launch of Anita Sarkeesian‘s video series on Tropes vs Women in Video Games, the first episode of which covers “damsels in distress.” You may recall Sarkeesian as the person who launched a Kickstarter for funds to make this video series, and was promptly attacked in vile ways, up to and including threats of violence. (This would be why comments are disabled on the video, I presume, though that hasn’t stopped the nastiness from returning in a number of comment threads all over the Internet).

The other is the story of game developer Mike Mika, who hacked Donkey Kong for his three-year-old daughter, so that she could play as Pauline instead of Mario. This has resulted in lots of accolades for “best dad ever” all over the Internet.

Pauline is of course a prototypical damsel in distress — as Sarkeesian points out, one of the very first in videogames. From time to time, games have subverted the damsels in distress trope in various ways (in Karateka, the princess seems like a damsel in distress the whole time, but at the end, if you approach her wrong, she kills you; in Metroid, the protagonist famously turns out to have been female the whole time, concealed in battle armor). But by and large, it’s alive and well.

So lots of accolades for Mika, and a lot of vitriol for Sarkeesian. And along the way, a lot of apologia for the damsels in current games. We’ve seen people saying that rescuing women is a male instinct driven by hindbrain biology. We’ve seen the argument that it just costs too much to provide alternate gameplay modes. We’ve seen the case made that games already have a predominantly male market, and that’s why the games are designed the way they are, to maximize revenue — essentially a tautology (and one that ignores early games like Ms. Pac-Man, not to mention the enormous boom in the female audience that came with more casual play). And of course there’s the fact that it is undeniably a classic plot device used in many classics of literature.

My wife Kristen is an as-yet unpublished romance novelist. She’s got one novel out there right now being looked at for full-length publication (e.g., she got past the query and sample chapters). She’s been working on this stuff for years… and I first started paying attention closely back when I did that Love Story Game Design Challenge at GDC back in 2004. And I think there’s a lot we can learn from romance novels — and it doesn’t mean that the plot device has to go away. Continue reading »