Chungking Espresso

Back to School

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on August 30, 2010

September is here, so I’m back at school with plenty of exciting goings-on to share.

In mid-August I left my internship at area/code. The project I worked on most of the summer as a designer should be going into open beta soon, so I’ll post a link to it and share my postmortem when that happens. As it was a social game, I’ve spent most of my summer playing and thinking about social games. I attended the seminar at NYU where my academic mentor announced his critique of the form with Cow Clicker, and I listened to my game design mentor discuss his problems with and hopes for the genre on NPR. But I don’t know if I’m any closer to having a concrete opinion of them other than that I really don’t want to think about them anymore.

I now consider living and working in New York for a summer to be an absolute requirement for any aspiring game designer or academic. Frank Lantz and area/code act as a kind of magnet for game developers in the area. I spent most of my summer drinking, arguing, and playing Super Street Fighter IV with Mark Heggen and Kevin Cancienne of area/code, Charles Pratt, Rachel Morris, and Noah Sasso, C.J. Kershner of Kaos Studios, Ramiro Corbetta of Powerhead Games, and Andy Nealen of Hemisphere Games. New York is also filled with design teachers, like Eric Zimmerman and Colleen Macklin, who bring an unfettered exuberance to the study of games that you don’t see from many academics.

A few great folks left the city while I was there, but, according to Frank, “they’ll be back”: Mark Essen is building a game design program at UCLA, Scott Anderson moved to the Phoenix indie cluster to finish Shadow Physics, and Jesper Juul went back to Scandinavia to have a baby or something. The amount of learning and friendship I developed over this short period of time is unmatched by any other experience I’ve had since the beginning of my game studies.

With the impending confirmation of the NYU Game Center as a degree-granting body, and with the recent (totally deserved) attention lavished on the efforts of Babycastles to create a DIY arcade for the city, New York will likely be the Mecca for indie game development in the near future. I have mixed feelings about this, because I’m not entirely sure that I want the same LA/NY divide observed in the film industry to occur in the game industry. To that end, I’ll be writing a lot of nonsense this year about the need for Southern indie development along the Atlanta-Austin axis.

This semester I’m officially beginning as a digital media PhD student in the LCC department at Georgia Tech. I only have to take two classes, Media Theory and Culture & Cognition seminars, but I’ll be posting my writing assignments from those for anybody who’s interested. My personal research will likely revolve around the literacy, philosophy, and society of competitive gaming. To that end, I’ll be joining a competitive Halo Reach clan and hopefully attending e-sports tournaments (holler at me if you know anybody decent who’d like the idea of recruiting a soldier-ethnographer).

This semester also marks the beginning of a new phase of newsgames research. Ian Bogost’s studio here at Tech has partnered with the expressive intelligence studio at UC Santa Cruz (run by Michael Mateas of Façade fame) to work on an AI designed to convert local news stories into editorial games. We’ll be starting the News Games blog up again with the new crop of Master’s students here, focusing on our usual newsgame critique, deep readings of the graphical logics of arcade games, and local media issues. I’ll also be writing bi-monthly updates on the project at the PBS Idea Lab blog.

I haven’t scheduled all my conferences for the year, but at the moment I know of a few that I’ll be attending. At IndieCade I’ll be part of the artgames seminar along with Charles Pratt, Naomi Clark, and John Sharp. IndieCade also coincides with Brandon Boyer’s birthday, so you should probably be there. Ian, Bobby, and I will be at SEIGE, the Grace Hopper conference, and FutureMedia Fest to talk about our research and the Newsgames book (which releases in a month or so). I’m also planning on attending GDC for my first time this year, but I don’t yet know how I’m going to fund it.

I’ll be rebooting Rules of the Game in the coming weeks with less of an emphasis on reviews, and I’m going to try posting the notes I write while playing the games I play on this blog before developing them into full articles. When the Another Castle podcast comes back from its summer vacation, the first two interviews of the new season will be with me and Andy Nealen. I’ve also got a piece in the next issue of Kill Screen, my first attempt at pure games journalism. So much writing to do, and so much time do it: this is a nice place to be in. Thanks for reading!

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Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Janet Murray

Posted in Gaming by Simon Ferrari on March 24, 2010

In 1997, Janet Murray published Hamlet on the Holodeck. It was one of the first attempts, from within the humanities, to gauge and classify the storytelling potential of the digital medium. Except for the notable influence of Brenda Laurel’s earlier research into computers as theatre, Murray drew primarily from the work of programmers and designers at Xerox PARC and DARPA. She combined technical knowledge with years of experience as a scholar of Victorian literature and science fiction. While recognizing a potential for the misuse of technology, she predicted a utopian future where we would co-create narratives of romance, danger, and exploration within a seamless virtual reality. This is considered a primary text of the “narratology” school of game studies, although Murray herself has always encouraged others to study games as distinct from their capacity to tell stories.

Murray explicated the four essential properties of the digital medium: it is procedural, participatory, spatial, and encyclopedic.

Procedurality refers to the computer’s ability to execute code.

The computer is participatory insofar as it responds to input.

Spatiality means that the computer can model space and time.

The encyclopedic capacity comes from the computer’s ability to store more information than any prior physical media.

Murray’s discussion recognizes that procedurality is the medium’s unique and defining trait, but she gives them all equal consideration. She pairs off these properties to explain where complex structures in computing come from. Procedurality and participation combine to form interactivity. Spatiality and participation together lead to the navigability of virtual space (following the advent of the graphical user interface). Encyclopedic capacity and spatiality give rise to the field of information design, primarily concerned with organizing data to make it more transparent, accessible, and compact.

Read the rest of the post at The Border House.

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