Chungking Espresso

Hey I’m a Journo Now

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on October 6, 2009

sleeper

So I’ve been a bit absent from this blog lately, pouring most of my time into schoolwork. I just finished my thesis proposal, which I’m split about posting here because 1) it’s ridiculously long and 2) I don’t want to share the core concept until I’ve written a lot about it. Is that selfish or stupid? Anyhow, the main goal is to expand Bogost’s concept of procedural rhetoric to incorporate subversive readings by players and understandings of game space that go beyond simply acknowledging them as the places where mechanics and players meet. The ancillary goal, from a design perspective, is to flesh out that vague middle letter in the MDA formula.

For News Games we’ve mostly been prepping the book for review at a couple of university presses, and we’ve got a number of fresh, new writers who’ve tackled a bunch of the more recent games we’ve come across. So I haven’t written much there, except for a piece about the Dante’s Inferno marketing campaign that got a nice amount of buzz for a day or so.

The big news is that I recently acquired an associate editor position at Sleeper Hit, which is an ideal foray into enthusiast press for me for a number of reasons. First, I spend a lot of time and money on new games, but I usually don’t have any school-related reason to write about them. If I don’t write about a game right away, my memory of the play experience slowly fades into vague talking points for arguments on Twitter. Being an editor at Sleeper Hit means I’ll get first pick on review copies of games, which will save me a lot of money and give me a reason to write about almost everything I play (something I used to do on this blog). Second, I’ve never played a game that I hadn’t read anything about beforehand. Doing product reviews means I’ll need to write about games before I get a chance to read what other reviewers have thought about them–an exciting and scary opportunity. Third, the website is relatively new (having broken off from GameTopius, I believe), so I’ll have a chance to influence its direction and expertise.

Finally, it’s a long-awaited chance to work with my friend Tom Cross of GameSetWatch fame. Tom was my first game blogging compatriot, introducing me to Jon Mills, who introduced me to the Brainysphere bloggers. Tom is a fairly strict narratologist, and I’m a fairly strict ludologist. We’ll be able to learn a lot from each other by editing each others’ work, clashing in the “Versus” column and podcasts, and generally having a good time reviewing games. So please stop by the site in the next few weeks to see my first honest efforts at pure consumer reviewing, and thanks again for being such good friends and readers.

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Oh, cool

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on September 13, 2009

Look what I came across while ego-surfing myself, from Ian’s CV:

Books:

Bogost, Ian, Simon Ferrari, and Bobby Schweizer. Newsgames: Doing Journalism with Videogames.
Under review. Expected publication 2010.

Book Chapters:

Bogost, Ian, Simon Ferrari, and Bobby Schweizer. “Newsgames.” In News Online: Transformation and
Continuity
, edited by Graham Meikle and Guy Redden. London: Palgrave, forthcoming.

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News & Games Digest, 8/19-9/10

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on September 11, 2009

DocMan

So I’ve decided to stop double-posting my News Games articles here and on that site, because I realized it was probably annoying for my readers. But I also don’t have the time to write clever sidenotes for each one, because I’m writing like four research papers right now. In any case, this is still just as much an archive as it is a blog, so here’s what you missed if you don’t follow the News Games blog.

Making Stimulus Readable & Playable is about an interactive map of California that helps you track where stimulus money has gone, breaking it down by county and category of each project funded. Made by one of the alumni of our project studio, it attempts the ideal of directed activity through an infographic. Basically he added a quiz to the thing, and the quiz requires you to teach yourself how to use each feature on the map. Pretty cool stuff.

Red Faction Guerrilla: Proceduralizing Terror? takes apart a Kotaku interview with some dude from Volition wherein he claims the game has nothing to do with the Iraq War. Rather, they looked to the struggle of Afghanistan against the Soviet Union for inspiration. Really? Of course it’s about Iraq. In attempting to create a blank slate of a space, they wrote all their own ideas about the conflict onto it. They also allow players to do the same. So you get people crashing airplanes into buildings.

Batman and the Rhetoric of Incarceration is my take on being Batman and the evils of Arkham, including a healthy portion of what it means to practice non-lethal apprehension of criminals and the thin line you walk when you depict the mentally infirm. I don’t really know if Arkham Asylum is an evocative space; it’s pretty drab for the most part. But I suppose you can treat it like it’s the primary antagonist, because it’ll kill you more than any stupid mutated thug with a peashooter will.

Game Bloggers Search Engine I created this nifty thing with Google Custom Search (beta). One of the things I hated about blogging was that I always had to sift through a million archives and ask people stupid questions on Twitter, all because Google was clogged by press releases whenever you searched for a game. This thing only searches independent, non-commercial blogs that avoid printing news and previews. Also, I created tabs that let you parse the search for gameplay, narrative, social issues, etc.

I got in a fight with a Joystiq editor a few days ago, by the way, because I maligned the writing of one of his fellow snarky aggregators. Basically, this dude wrote a “column” on Batman that had a neat three-part structure: 1) you play a role when you play videogames 2) this game’s role is a flying ninja 3) this ninja doesn’t kill people. This wouldn’t be something to comment on if the article didn’t begin with a warning that it was “pedantic” and “verbose,” or if the commenters on the site and a number of other Joystiq editors hadn’t told the guy that he was the best critic on the Internet, a genius, and various other honorifics he didn’t deserve. As long as these morons continue to clog my Google queries and ignore actual game critics, I’m going to make fun of them on my Twitter feed. And I’m going to be mean if they try to talk to me.

Re-Organization

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on May 20, 2009

Hey readers. I’m sorry about the lack of updates. I’m 4 or 5 days in on no-cigs-attempt-number-4, and it’s going pretty well. Since it’s going pretty well, though, my brain isn’t functioning properly right now. I can’t bring myself to finish a post. In lieu of anything new to give you at the moment, I’d like to call your attention to the fact that I reorganized the categories on this blog and added a little bar for them on the right side of the screen. Now you can find a bunch of old gems you may have missed due to my lack of organization. Back with a real post soon, I hope.

Pardon the Bookkeeping: JAG Stat Tracking

Posted in Miscellany, Schoolwork by Simon Ferrari on May 12, 2009

This is more for my own record-keeping than for your reading pleasure, but some of my friends might find it fun to tear into me for how I present this information and/or be inspired to go check out the stuff we’ve got on the News Games blog.

The News Games blog has enjoyed fairly consistent amounts of visitors throughout its existence. November and December (2008) saw the highest number of unique and repeat visitors (10,479 and 605, respectively) because of some high-profile linking by mainstream gaming websites. Q1 of 2009 saw a slight dip in readership despite increased recognition by other websites (7,694 unique visitors), and numbers have been steadily rising through the beginning of Q2 (with 5,691 unique visitors thus far). The top referring links were from (in descending order) Kotaku, Slashdot, Game Set Watch, and Digg—although the most consistent flow of readers came from no referring link at all, which means that a number of our regular readers bookmarked the website themselves.

Recorded visit lengths show that roughly 20% of visitors stayed long enough to thoroughly read at least one article, three percent read multiple articles (spending up to an hour on the site), while 2% browsed the website for longer than an hour! Readers came from at least 21 countries, with all continents represented except Antarctica. Seventy-six percent of readers came from the United States, 6% came from Canada, 4% from the UK, 3.4% from Brazil, 1.6% from Australia, and 1.2% from Singapore (other countries represent less than 1% of the readership).

News Games has published 91 articles over the past 6 months, which averages to one post every other day. Once normalized, the posting schedule was one article on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The articles cover topics such as (but not limited to) journalistic connections to mainstream games; analyses of news, editorial, and documentary games; connections between games and the journalistic values of verification and transparency; explorations of interactive info-vizualization and traditional newspaper puzzles; and general musings on the current state of print journalism and the nature of games as a serious artistic/informational medium. Readers and contributors have authored 116 unique, non-spam comments on articles over the course of the project.

The most popular search query used to reach the site is “journalism games,” followed closely by “news games” and “news games georgia.” This implies that either a decent number of Internet readers were interested in the subject beforehand or became interested in the subject after the project had been linked by popular gaming websites. The latter query also shows that the project has been recognized and explicitly associated with Georgia Tech. Following the most common queries are “newspaper games,” “tenants of journalism,” “ethics in games,” and “journalism kids.” The searches show that our project has become associated with the disciplines and business models of traditional journalism, the question of morality in games, and the potential educational uses of news games.

News Games enjoyed a healthy dose of mainstream attention throughout the past six months. Gawker Media’s Kotaku, one of the most popular and influential videogames-related websites in the world, linked an article called Do Really Games Qualify As Escapist? in late November of 2008, netting a decent amount of outside attention for the blog and challenging mainstream gamers to consider the ability of games to address social issues. This article was also picked up by Digg, a popular bookmarking and crowd-sourcing website. Game Set Watch, the respected casual arm of the games industry mega-site Gamasutra, linked four articles from News Games through Q4 2008 and Q1 2009:

Newsgames in the Pipe (a hypothetical business model for making newsgames in the newsroom)

Technical Aspects of Breaking Newsgames (a followup to the previous article)

Dead Rising and Interventionist Media Ethics (about an action reporting videogame and its possible relation to the media ethics of Conrad Fink)

Huys/Hope – Turkey’s First Political Game (an analysis of the connection between Turkey’s first editorial game and its relation to journalism and Gonzalo Frasca’s Madrid)

The Online Journalism Blog published an article in early Q2 2009 called Now That Journalism is In Trouble, Why Not Play With It? that aggregated numerous writings from the News Games blog, setting up a discourse on the question of videogames as a possible solution to the problem of news media companies failing to reach wider audiences in the era of the Internet. This article was picked up by the UK Guardian newspaper, a bookmarking website called Slashdot, and Kotaku. Readers treated the idea with a mix of excitement and fear, thinking that both games and the news might be possibly tarnished or at least changed irrevocably if the connection between the two were strengthened in the future.

The most recent recognition of the News Games project comes from Professor Roger Travis (of UConn) and his Video Games & Human Values Initiative, which linked the article Beyond Good & Evil and Photographic “Truth” (about another action reporting game and its reliance on a naïve view of documentary reality).

Our project received some attention from academics as well, which was exciting (and, frankly, amazing) considering the relative youth of the project and its niche focus. Two professors had the News Games blog as required reading for media studies classes in the spring semester of 2009. Professor Ed Halter of Bard College drew upon the site for case studies in his Film 106: Introduction to Documentary Media. Professor Casey O’Donnell of the University of Georgia blogrolled News Games for his Introduction to Game Design class; students in this class were required to write 250-word synopses of games-related articles from the blogroll each week, many of which ended up being drawn from News Games.

Because the University of Georgia was close by Georgia Tech geographically, the project’s spring 2009 graduate assistant (Ferrari) visited UGA to deliver three lectures in February. The subject of the lectures was an introduction to news, editorial, and documentary games (as well as the work of the News Games project); he spoke to a 150-person class on Introduction to Reporting taught by Professor Barry Hollander—as well as smaller classes taught by Casey O’Donnell, Game Design and Introduction to New Media. The latter lecture was attended by Dr. Hugh Martin, a senior faculty member of UGA’s Grady School of Journalism, who responded to the idea of teaching newsgame production in the context of J-school positively. Journalism students and professors responded well to the idea of integrating newsgame production into the newsroom/reporting process. Ferrari shared some resources on learning Adobe Flash-based game development to the students who were interested in pursuing the idea further in their own coursework.

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Brief Interlude, RTB

Posted in Miscellany, Projects by Simon Ferrari on May 4, 2009

I’ll probably be able to finish the second (slightly longer) piece of my response to the hipster discussion between Jeffries and Pixel Vixen later tonight, but Ian just sent me another proofreading job:

racing-the-beam

The opening chapters of the book, about Stella and Combat, absolutely brutalized me the first time I read them. I’m hoping that it won’t happen again, but it’s a lot harder to do this kind of thing when you’re trying to quit smoking. Pray for me.

Insurance Man Calleth

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on April 26, 2009

So the other day while I was shoving my mouth full of veggie burger and waffle fry, some dude called me and wanted me to tell him my social security number and the value of everything I owned. Apparently he was the insurance guy for my mom and dad, and he’d just figured out that my stuff wasn’t covered under their plan even though I’m renting from them. This led to about 20 minutes of him itemizing my things and deciding how to get me covered. I eventually had to reveal to him the fact that I’d spent most of the scholarship and assistantship money that I’d accrued over the past 6 years on cigarettes, DVDs, books, and games. Sorry UGA philosophy and classics departments, I bought games and DVDs with your money! Hopefully I’ll make you proud some day (and maybe there’s some solace in knowing this would amuse Roger Travis, who’s also managed to sneak some classics money into games studies).

delicious library

Fortunately for me, the DVDs, books, and games are all covered at a student rate because I bought them for school. The downside of all this? The video I have of all my junk isn’t going to cut it. No, I need to record the ISBN number off of everything I own. Fortunately for me, tech guru Bobby Schweizer showed me the Delicious Library a few months ago. Heading over to their site, it turns out they cite insurance bookkeeping as one of the strengths of the program. Okay, so it costs 40 dollars. But I can hold my stuff up to my laptop’s camera for instant recording and price-matching! It even recommends other stuff I might like, while trying to find the best current deal on the product. Then when I’m finished going through my 300 books, 200 DVDs, and 100 games I can publish them straight to my blog! Then everybody can see what a spoiled brat the great state of Georgia has made me.

To my credit, the only reason I could spend so much on movies and games for my studies is… that I don’t spend my money at bars like everybody else.

Always a Good Sign

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on April 23, 2009
image credit: Phaidon Press

image credit: Phaidon Press

So I’m writing my term paper for Bogost’s design class on The World Ends With You. I’ve written about it once before from the perspective of a playable interactive map. Now I’m tackling the controls and its ludonarrative coupling. I’ve decided to begin the work with an introduction arguing for recognition of a new thematic genre that I’m calling “the mutual reliance game.” I’ve written about the subject copiously before in regard to Left 4 Dead and (a bit tangentially) about Braid – where I think the player relies on the benevolence of the game’s creator to see her through. Anyhow, following Jason Rohrer’s assertion that game AI is “basically the same” as a second player, I’m going to focus solely on games with AI compatriots who are more than cattle to be escorted.

I feel like by critiquing this game a bit, we’ll be able to chip away at the essence of the difference between playing L4D with the AI, with friends, and with random pick-up groups. I kinda wished I’d saved writing about L4D for this class instead of for my 3D design one, but I feel like there’s a dearth of good writing about TWEWY. I need to do a bit more searching through academic writings, but the game is so relatively new and niche that I find it hard to believe that anybody with a professorship has gotten around to writing much about it yet. So far I’ve come up with a decent write-up (can’t find the link right now, my mind is burnt out) that Ray Vichot linked me from one of the only game blogs he can stomach and Yahtzee’s review as counterarguments. The first claims its a bit emo while covering at a surface level some of what I want to get at, and the latter is Yahtzee’s usual hyperbolic bullshit about ludonarrative dissonance. I paraphrase: “it’s a story about fuck-ing (that’s a British accent) Sesame Street values and all I’m doing is scribble-scrabbling with my stylus like a Japanese FRUiT maniac!” I love the guy, but he said the same thing about Braid.

I’m always afraid to write something in long form about video games, because I’m afraid what I’ll write has already been written about somewhere else on the web. I received a hearty bit of encouragement from Google! Typing in “mutual reliance” will list this blog as the top search. Typing “mutual reliance in games” will do the same, and it won’t turn up much else. Perhaps game bloggers have a problem with tagging? Get with web 3.0, people. In any case, I’m moving forward confident that I kinda came up with the idea on my own. This is an invitation to please write in the comment section: “Gotcha Bitch! (insert an academic’s name here) already wrote about it here (insert link here for me to build my citations)!”

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Crap.

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on March 25, 2009

My bike got stolen while I was in class.

Goodbye, bike.

Goodbye, 20 minutes of sleep you saved me every day.

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My Spring Break

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on March 13, 2009

For my spring break I get to come up with a thesis topic and proofread this for the 2nd edition:

pgames

The hardest things for me to catch are going to be errors of fact (I’m a grammar Nazi). So if anybody remembers reading this and being confused by an example or getting angry because your favorite game had been explained poorly, please tell me!

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