Dec 212010
 
ibogost Gamification Tweets

ibogost Gamification Tweets

I’ll start this post as someone who has lived and worked in the game industry for a while now and then switch into a more “objective” register as I attempt to analyse this phenomenon from the perspective of an anthropologist and historian of game development coming from the perspective of the field of science and technology studies (STS).

Dear rest of the world now interested in games, serious games, educational, game development, gamification, or whatever other term you’re going to use to dismiss games as something akin to Nutella, which you can spread liberally on your dry toast, whether that is my inbox, US educational agendas, social networking, job hunting, or whatever you’ll thow up in the next couple of years: blow.

Its clear by now, most of you are not really interested in coming to the table and taking games and game development seriously. You’re here for the free food and don’t have a whole lot of interest in being part of a conversation that might very well convince you that games are art, educational, fun, sad, moving, motivating, frustrating, beautiful, ugly, or anything else that they clearly are, and have already been for years. I’m tired of you not taking seriously the incredibly complex creative work of an entire industry. The lame belief that by “adding points and stirring,” which is only a continuation of the previous generation of thought, “add technology and stir,” or, “add social networking and stir,” which has also clearly been done half-assedly and resulted in as much as one would expect from such feble approaches to topics so complex.

That bit of vitriol aside, from whence did it come? Continue reading »

Sep 242010
 

Alright… Zero Punctuation is one of my guilty little pleasures and I’ve been a member of the Videogame Voters (“Grassroots”) Network since I first heard about it in 2007. I think whole-heartedly that games are art (so much so that I no longer even pay attention to the argument because it has descended into absurdity) and as such should be protected under the first amendment. I agree wholeheartedly with what Yahtzee is saying, that indeed the anti-fun-brigade is throwing poop at videogames. But, unfortunately, and I’ve written about this and talked about it at conferences before. As the game industry has constructed itself thus far, it isn’t the same as books, film, television, radio, newspapers, etc. That isn’t to say games don’t have that potential, but that the game industry consistently shoots itself in the foot making games look more like “commercial speech” (speech for profit) over critical social and political commentary, which is what the whole first amendment is about.

I’m not even saying that games don’t do this already. Clearly, one need to only look at a game studio like Molleindustria or Persuasive Games or Brenda Brathwaite‘s installation games like Train and Siochan Leat to see the truth of this. But, this is not what the game industry predominately produces and as such is not how it is perceived by the general public. Now, it is true that major media does not predominantly produce this either, but it is percieved to by the “Lay Man” as Yahtzee calls them.

The trouble is this. I can create film, books, television, radio, newsletters, etc, critical of social or political issues and release that information to the broader public. Local movie theaters, public television (which, yes, is on the decline), public radio (which, yes is on the decline), printing presses, and numerous other venues await me to speak upon. In games, the situation is quite different. I can release my game online, on the Internet. These are not the games that legislation is attacking. It is attacking major videogame manufacturers, who I cannot publish with. If game companies were more open about their development tools and communities (which Microsoft has attempted to be, and even Apple has pushed this direction as well, although that is arguable until recent App Store changes), then I think the argument would hold, that mainstream videogames are indeed speech, and as such should be protected.

But I can’t speak on my Wii. I can’t speak on my DS, my PS3, my PSP, or even my bloody NES. It is largely a broadcast medium; a commercial medium. So while I deeply and firmly believe that games should be protected and current efforts, like those in California, are unconstitutional, the game industry is its own worst enemy in this respect with its tight control over content.

Of course, one might argue that the tight control is necessary for the functioning of the ESA/ESRB’s ratings system. True. But the foundational software development platforms need not be as tightly controlled. Major distribution channels can be governed, much like Apple’s much lamented, “walled garden,” which the videogame industry invented. At the same time, as someone who speaks, I can release my source-code to the world and anyone (with requisite knowledge) could play the game. There is a “public access” path to the mainstream. Interestingly enough, even though circumvention of an “mobile phone’s” copy protection methods to install unauthorized software is now legal despite the DMCA, the videogame industry has managed to exempt itself from this. The R4 and other mod-chips that can be used for copyright violation can also be used to create unauthorized games.

Long term, it is about raising awareness that games are bigger than Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and now Apple. Games are a medium for speech and rhetoric. At the same time the game industry must also perhaps begin making changes that speak towards the importance of the medium rather than strictly bottom lines.

Jun 202010
 

Because occasionally, even us guys need something a LITTLE fruity.

  • 2 oz. Tequila
  • 1 oz. Cointreau or Tripple Sec
  • 1 oz. Margarita Mix
  • 2 oz. Cheap Beer (Demo Version: South Paw)
  • Ice to fill typical pint glass
  • Optional: Salt on rim

Typically Margarita mix is used for the entire corresponding 3 oz. of mix. It makes it “meh” as far as I’m concerned. Simply too sweet. Trading that out for a cheap beer makes it both fizzy and not so sweet. Mmm… Here is to Father’s day after the baby is asleep.

Jun 152010
 

For the most part anymore, when I submit to conferences I assume that, more than likely, the paper will be accepted. The primary exception of course is GDC (the Game Developers Conference), which I submit one or two ideas to every year. I’ve managed acceptance twice, which I tally as success, but year over year that average goes down (I’d still make a good baseball player with those numbers). My assumption isn’t based on bravado or ego, simply that by the time I take the the time to submit something to a conference, I’ve attended the conference or one very similar to it, and have in many cases reviewed for those conferences. In short, I have a good sense of what the conference is about, who the audience is, and what I should say and how I should say it.

GLS (Games, Learning, and Society) was a surprise to me this year, as “The Curious Case of Osy Osmosis: The Uncomfortable Balance Between Game Design and Education,” was not accepted. These things happen, but I was quite curious what went wrong in the process. I have been extremely excited about talking about Osy, which has since begun the commercialization process and extensive visual overhauls (revised visuals can be seen in this blog’s background). It was a chance to talk about the kind of collaboration and structure that has lead to the kind of success we’ve had in creating games (that happen to be educational) and the success of these in the classroom.

What was frustrating for me, and I believe a serious issue for conferences like GLS,  was that despite none of the comments from reviewers coming back negative, reviewers rated the submission low enough (via the radio buttons) that it was knocked out of the running. In once case a reviewer wondered about the innovativeness of the project. To which I wonder, how does one anonymously demonstrate innovation? It has built into it the idea of uniqueness. If I post a link to a video, I compromise anonymity. If I provide information on what we are doing and how we are doing it, I compromise anonymity. If I talk about the company and what it is doing, I compromise anonymity.

So what results is a non-opportunity to talk about pricesely what Mark talks about in his blog:

What’s new is this huge cultural shift and ppl in academia and k12 who not only take games seriously (and not just serious games) but also are starting to welcome participation from games and fan culture. Participatory culture (Jenkins) allows new kinds of stakeholders. Reform isn’t just griefing (cf Dibbell) anymore.

We have a group with successful funding, teacher support, commercialization support (for sustainability) to bring these areas together. But, I didn’t get to talk about it. Because it, “isn’t innovative enough”. Or I didn’t know how to talk about that innovation anonymously. What it teaches me, is that anonymity in this case hurt both the review process and the broader academic community. Or I hurt the community by abiding by rules that likely I didn’t need to. Perhaps I should have provided Vimeo links regardless of their linkage to me. Perhaps the UGA branded video with students and researchers working together would have demonstrated more clearly what we’ve done. But, it wouldn’t have been anonymous, but it would have demonstrated the importance and innovation of the project.

The abstract of the non-talk is below:

This presentation draws on two years of ethnographic fieldwork gathered during the design and development of Osy Osmosis, a game developed developed cooperatively between game developers, scientists, educators, and funded by a $1.3 Million dollar National Institute of Health (NIH) grant. “Osy” was the first game developed as part of a project, which had already developed several immersive 3D simulations. The presentation discusses the role that game mechanics came to play as interdisciplinary boundary objects (Leigh Star and Griesemer 1989) facilitating discussions between content experts and game designers. The presentation also posits a new possible space for game development that brings together designers and scientists to create games that are simultaneously fun/engaging and educational. Often times these provide new opportunities to experiment with designs and technologies that might otherwise be set aside for more tried and true methods. Osy Osmosis began with the questions: “Is there a game in osmosis?” “Can we make a core mechanic out of that?” Osy occupies this strange new space and the presentation discusses its design and development as well as the “faultlines” (Traweek 2000) encountered during the development process. The case of Osy is particularly compelling, given the success the project has had in engaging students and bridging disciplinary divides. Game developers have the opportunity to make a difference in the classroom by designing games that are fun to play, but have educational content hidden away at their core. At the same time, difficulties are encountered at the interface between teachers and standards based learning, which creates particular difficulties for designers and developers hoping to address these new educational possibilities.

Jun 042010
 

In a recurring trend, in which I spend time doing things that I find interesting, but are not precisely those things I SHOULD be doing… The blog has a new look. I took the Suffusion theme and modified it based on some of the ongoing work that I’ve been doing on a game, Osy. It actually appears that as long as UGA doesn’t pull the VentureLab funding out from underneath us, Osy will appear in the iTunes App Store for both the iPod/iPhone and iPad in November. Depending on how that goes, perhaps she’ll make her way to the Android Market as well. You’ll also notice a bit of a difference in the visuals between Osy last year and Osy now. I’ve also been investigating new means for torturing my NMI Capstone Students and theme development is something that they’re always doing, but I try not to throw them into the fire without doing something myself. Hence, the new theme.

I could likely pretend that I learned something today that would advance the book manuscript (since the book needs a website, right?!?), but that would be a lie. So, back to work with me! Oh… And we recently pitched another game to the NIH based on a game using neural physiology to inspire its underlying game mechanics… And I wrote another little Apple Script. Apparently I’m working on too many machines and I’ve found myself using rsync to synchronize sets of working files. GEEK!

?View Code APPLESCRIPT
-- Sync Folder for Mac OS X
-- Casey O'Donnell
-- http://www.caseyodonnell.org/
-- This script takes a dropped file (or several) and syncs it with another location
-- using the rsync command
--
-- The source and the application are released under the wxWidgets Licence, which
-- can be found here: http://www.wxwidgets.org/about/newlicen.htm
on open fileList
	set szPathName to ""
	set szPathDest to ""
	set szRsyncCommand to "rsync -E -r "
 
	repeat with i in fileList
		set szPathSource to quoted form of POSIX path of (i as text)
 
		set iLength to length of szPathSource
		set szLastChars to get characters (iLength - 1) thru (iLength - 1) of szPathSource
 
		if (szLastChars contains "/") then
			set szPathSource to get characters 1 thru (iLength - 2) of szPathSource
			set szPathSource to szPathSource & "'"
		end if
 
		set szPathDest to quoted form of POSIX path of (choose folder with prompt "Select a folder or volume to sync to:")
 
		tell application "Terminal"
			do script szRsyncCommand & szPathSource & " " & szPathDest & "; exit"
		end tell
	end repeat
end open
Apr 282010
 

I have a problem. I complicate things in order to simplify them. wxBlogger began that way, as did wxCURL, as did wxSync. Each began with the idea of simplifying some of the more mundane tasks that I do each day. Since I began working with Unity 3D, I’ve found on several occasions that using Mac OS X’s built-in right-click “Compress …” did strange things, particularly with executable files, that would only be discovered by Windows users later. Global Game Jam 2009 this bit us. It’s bitten me several other times.

Now, theoretically, I could open the “Archive Utility” application housed in (/System/Library/CoreServices/) and change its preferences, instructing it to use the more Windows friendly “ZIP” format rather than… Well, whatever it does and calls “.zip”. But, that would be simple, right? What would be interesting about that solution?

Thus I taught myself a little Apple Script and whipped up what I’ve called “WinZip,” which is clearly not this WinZip. My little deal is a Mac App / Apple Script that does the work of making a Windows compatible ZIP file for you without having to know the commands or do it yourself in the Terminal. The source code and application are all released under the wxWidgets License.

?View Code APPLESCRIPT
-- WinZip for Mac OS X
-- Casey O'Donnell
-- http://www.caseyodonnell.org/
-- This script takes a dropped file (or several) and compresses them in a Windows
-- compatible format using the "ditto" command.
--
-- The source and the application are released under the wxWidgets Licence, which
-- can be found here: http://www.wxwidgets.org/about/newlicen.htm
on open fileList
	set szPathName to ""
	set szPathDest to ""
	repeat with i in fileList
		set szPathName to quoted form of POSIX path of (i as text)
 
		set iLength to length of szPathName
		set szLastChars to get characters (iLength - 1) thru (iLength - 1) of szPathName
 
		if (szLastChars contains "/") then
			set szPathDest to get characters 1 thru (iLength - 2) of szPathName
			set szPathDest to szPathDest & ".zip'"
		else
			set szPathDest to get characters 1 thru (iLength - 1) of szPathName
			set szPathDest to szPathDest & ".zip'"
		end if
 
		tell application "Terminal"
			do script "ditto -c -k -X " & szPathName & " " & szPathDest & "; exit"
		end tell
	end repeat
end open
Apr 282010
 

I’ve seen a couple of emails go out about the event, but I wanted to blog it for my students. The New Media Institute (NMI) Capstone class will be presenting and demoing their projects at the upcoming Personal Media, Public Good conference at the University of Georgia. We’ve designated our twitter hash tag as #DSNMI for the event, which will likely be tweeted primarily with the #PMPG hash. The students have put together some pretty impressive projects this semester. Here they are, in order of appearance beginning at 4PM on May 1 at the UGA Miller Learning Center in room 101:

NMI Capstone Project: point39point39
Point39 has the answer to the magazine industry’s current crisis. Point39 transforms the print version of many publications into interactive, dynamic issues that can be viewed for a cost from the internet or on the iPad. Publishing companies will send their PDFs and magazine requirements to Point39 with which we will then transform their print documents into a new interactive magazine based on their demands and our suggestions.

NMI Capstone Project: MimioMuseMimio Muse
Mimio Muse is a multi-platform collaborative networking system for the use with Mimio interactive boards. It is perfect for intensive and creative professional environments. Mimio Muse offers the synergy of digital collaborative systems such as wikis with the advantages of face to face interaction.

NMI Capstone Project: Uncapped EverywhereSharpie Uncapped Everywhere
Unncapped Everywhere by Sharpie is a branded smartphone application for the iPhone. Through the application, users create and discover virtual art by interacting with Sharpie products. By allowing users to harness their artistic side, they will learn more about Sharpie products and the world around them. In addition to the iPhone application, the Uncapped Everywhere project includes social media, online and retail marketing elements.

NMI Capstone Project: DawgStopDawgStop
DawgStop addresses the common fears and discomforts of new incoming students in order to help them transition with ease. With 47 operating buses and over 31,292 students that board the buses daily, the bus system proves to be an integral part of campus, yet an aspect that students find intimidating. Our goal is to mobilize the students by improving the accessibility of the buses as well as offering up to date information about significant happenings on campus. Take a ride with DawgStop, and be in the know wherever you go!

NMI Capstone Project: paoPao
Pao combines the idea of a personal secretary with the convenience of a digital ID, capable of simplifying product purchases, event and facilities access. Pao is currently being marketed at UGA and has the potential to expand to many other universities all over the world. It can also expand to the business sector; Pao’s features can adapt to fit the needs of businesses and organizations. Companies could benefit from Pao, using its unique technology to pass through checkpoints and make purchases.

NMI Capstone Project: GradyfestGradyfest
The GradyFest website incorporates all aspects of the event. The website encompasses news updates, event and student information, video clips with ratings and comments, an interactive game, and connectivity to other multiple social media platforms.

Mar 302010
 

I gave a talk at 4S in Washington DC this fall entitled, “Software/Code is Society Made Malleable.” It was a riff off of an essay by Bruno Latour titled, “Technology is Society Made Durable.” In that talk I was exploring the shifting field of technology as numerous devices integrate hardware/firmware. I’ve put the abstract of that talk at the bottom of the post. The gist of the talk, which was actually delivered using the Nintendo DS Emulator and slides developed with the DS Homebrew Toolchain, looked at several particular issues as they relate to how user/consumer/players are dominated (literally) under the shifting field of technology as it swerves with cultural and political-economic change. Certainly the iPhone falls into this category as well, but so does my Television, which can automatically update itself over my home network.

I recently noticed that direct contradictions often emerge when you watch these arenas long enough. First Sony says they will not remove a feature from users Playstation 3 consoles. Within less than a year, they’ve changed their mind, demanding that users install an update that removes features from their device, or it will largely cease to function. Now for the kicker, if PS3 tech savvy individuals figure out a way to install the updated firmware and restore those capabilities that were taken from them, they stand the possibility of being pursued for criminal activity.

Or, as I concluded the paper:

Thus, it is the possibility for shift, change, and swerve that makes technologies capable of being part of hegemonic discourse. Their adjustment to users and appropriations over time is precisely what makes them difficult and different. “Domination” becomes less about stationary stability and instead about stability over time and shifting fields of user activity. “At an accelerating pace in the twentieth century, the ruling relations come to form hyper-realities that can be operated and acted in rather than merely written and read” (Smith 1999, p. 84). Malleability seems the key to durability and domination.

Here is the abstract for the 4S talk:

This paper seeks to think through the consequences of software/code intertwined with silicon/hardware in as a means of understanding what Barnes and Latour refer to as “domination” amongst the technologized social order (Latour 1991). Based on participant observation amongst amateur and hobbyist videogame developers over nearly five years, this essay examines the role that software/code plays in rendering “malleable” wholes. Put another way, this essay grapples with what Dorothy Smith refers to as “ruling relations” or how the local is regulated by the extra-local (1999) through constant shifting fields of software/code. It is postulated that software/code’s ability to shift and adjust over time is precisely what is necessary for the state or systems of control or domination to persist; it is foundational to the hegemonic negotiation. Specific cases surrounding homebrew development amongst Sony’s Playstation Portable (PSP) and the Nintendo DS (“dual screen”) are used as particular examples as to how ruling relations are maintained despite and in spite of a shifting socio-technical landscape. These two handheld computing devices offer a productive lens for understanding how software/code and silicon/hardware are put at play, where differing “hegemonic projects” (Omi and Winant 1994) push and pull one another in sometimes surprising ways.

Mar 292010
 

There has been a sudden surge in folks talking about this whole “Work/Play” thing. I talked about it in my dissertation quite a bit, but mostly felt that it was already kind of overdetermined. Too many people have written about it in a way that I think is neither well rooted in empirical work or well theorized. Thus in my work I dissect “work/play” into distinct “aspects” or “components,” because I doubt there is a unified sense of “work/play.” Of course this hasn’t stopped anyone else from running around yelling the two words in close proximity and hoping that the more difficult empirical and theoretical work gets done for them.

I’ve been trying to find an objective language for the argument that is beginning to emerge from my observations, but it simply hasn’t come to me. So I’ll not sugar coat it. Many people pimping games at work are pimping games that really suck. Points are the lowest common denominator game mechanic. If your “game” can’t push the mechanics further than that, the game may still suck. Now, in the case of “class,” sucking less may be enough to re-engage students. Can players form a guild to raid the test? Can they replay any number of times? What would a class that enacts an innovative game mechanic look like?

But lets think about the workplace for a moment. Ribbon Hero is an interesting attempt to bring game mechanics to that horrific monster that is Microsoft Word. I only wonder if the game rewards “good” formatting (using styles sets) more than the willy-nilly formatting that I so often encountered as a journal editorial assistant. What might a game about Word that wasn’t set in Word look like? What I think the real power of games is the ability to divorce topic from conceptual idea. This is what actually helps us find the core concept and bridge it to new areas. What does this mean? What if I could perform some other task that corresponds to filing my email? Giving me points for filing my email is only a moderate improvement and ultimately when I get tired and realize that I don’t really care about the points, the task returns to what it had previously been, work. What if, instead I could perform an interesting “sorting/filtering” task in a graphically engaging and interesting environment, that actually corresponded to working on my inbox? Now there is some work/play.

But, most game designers are going to have a difficult time convincing anyone that they can make a game about X without making a game about X. Too many clients, funding agencies, etc can only understand a game about X in a game about X. If it is a game about proper fire-fighting technique, it should be a game with fire-fighters. If it is a game about AIDS, it should be about AIDS. But that isn’t the power of games, right? I can make a game about the way AIDS works without making a game about the immune system or anything else. I can make a game about cellular function without making a game about cells. I can make games that isolate the system we’re ultimately hoping people to recognize/critique/learn in some cases more effectively by pulling it outside its native environment.

Ultimately however, funding agencies will fund games about X before they fund anything else and ultimately these games will fail long term. I look at things like this recent grant to Yale and many of the DMLC HASTAC projects that are being funded and can’t help but think they’re helping to dig the grave for innovative serious/educational games that don’t suck. The numerous attempts to fund serious games and educational games may very well implode in on itself as players/students recognize bad game design, and they will. When players/students reject those things that have received so much money, there will likely be a funding backlash against researchers, who may be attempting to actually make games that don’t suck. Of course this isn’t to say that these projects wont all succeed swimmingly. I’ve simply been making games in this space long enough now to recognize the risk.

Mar 292010
 

Andrea says that I’m simply too nice, but I do probably talk to too many students. It doesn’t help that I’m probably more opinionated than I ought to be. Combined with working in a journalism school, I find myself saying things that frequently find their way into print. Of course, I often wonder if anyone ultimately reads those things I say. A recent experience talking with a student about DynamicBooks was a fairly good one. I have a tendency to talk through the complexity of an issue rather than making it clear cut, which either has me come off sounding like an idiot (which, perhaps I am) or on a side of the argument that I’m not on. But the student managed to capture that there are really several issues at play with this particular gimmick.

While I wish the article that attempted to advance an argument, rather than just presenting Kent and I’s comments, it was an interesting experience in not feeling like only one aspect of my comments were taken into account in the writing of the article. I wonder if Kent feels the same way, it is his picture that made its way onto the page…