Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who's the first ever woman keynoter at GDC week?


I'll be giving the research & design keynote, called "The Future of Collective Play", at the 2007 Serious Games Summit, part of the weeklong annual Game Developers Conference.

GDC is roughly 20 years old. And I get to be the first woman keynoter? Woo! Thank you CMP game people.

I'm really, really happy about it. (Seems like just a few years ago - 2003? - that I was still a Conference Associate! Trying not always successfully to explain to everyone what a pervasive or alternate reality game was!)

I'll also be presenting the Game Studies Download: Top 10 Research Findings with Ian and Mia again this year (our #1 is really quite lovely) and sitting on the panel Erasing the Delta Gap. So it will be a busy GDC for me. But GDC is usually my favorite working week of the year. See you there!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Sorry State of Game Studies

Game scholars, we have a problem.

We are very good at explaining, often passionately, why digital games are worthy of serious scholarly attention. But we are so NOT good at organizing venues for lavishing that attention. And our collective failure to demand, create and support serious venues for critical games research is both embarrassing and disappointing.

In September 2007, the international meeting of the Digital Games Research Associaton will be held in Tokyo. The DiGRA meeting is generally viewed as the most significant scholarly conference in the field of game studies. A theme has been announced ("Situated Play"), a call for papers issued, and a word limit set. Full paper submissions are due 3 weeks from today.

And yet. There are no instructions anywhere regarding WHERE to submit papers. There is NO INFORMATION whatsover about what format to submit papers in, or in what style (MLA? ACM? Chicago?)

This sucks.

I am trying to prepare my research for submission, but I am so disheartened. How can the 2007 DiGRA Meeting be taken seriously, when it shows such a lack of respect towards the researchers who want to contribute? How can we adequately prepare serious research when it feels like we are working into a void?

I am disheartened that the most serious, organized opportunities for games research publication increasingly are through organizations like ACM and IEEE-- and they want technical research, or prototypes, or lab-based psychological/physiological research. (So does the game industry.) For the most part, they don't want theory, they don't want work that looks at the aesthetic, social, philosophical, historic, and other critical humanities aspects of games and game culture.

I always thought THAT was what DiGRA was for. And frankly, I have always thought that the DiGRA style research was vastly more important scholarship. Game culture needs to be understood, not just innovated.

I'm not railing specifically against the organizers of this particular DiGRA conference, or against the DiGRA board. We all share responsibility--where is the online outcry demanding more information about the DiGRA conference? I know there are other game studies conferences, but DiGRA is only major organization for games scholars. As a performance studies researcher (that's the field I have my PhD in) I can count on Performance Studies International as an reliable organization and a major venue for presenting new work. DiGRA should be the PSI (or MLA, or SIGCHI, etc.) of game studies.

Scholars, please get mad, make noise, join me in demanding a serious venue with concrete guidelines for DiGRA participation and submission.

UPDATE: They now have a FAQ page for the conference with a template, you can find it here. But the general consensus on the DiGRA member listserv is that the conference and organization is in need of major overhaul. Some of us have been discussing forging a better structure through a DiGRA North America chapter... stay tuned for a better game studies!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

surgery is crazy

Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
my first experience with IV sedation and surgery today. better than i expected, plus i now know that i love valium. anxious flying, be vanquished forever!

4 days in bed recovery planned, no pain meds other than straight up ibuprofen because of allergies.

i bought vera wang pajamas last weekend for the occasion, somehow thinking that it would make a noticable difference in my morale... but i feel too gross to put them on yet. at least they cheer me up looking at them folded up on my night table next to a vase of white roses and some l'occitane honey lotion that will be used fby kiyash or foot reflexology to distract me from pain. there is also a stack of "fun reading" such as the new American Fascists book, which is very serious and scary and yet (I swear) full of insight for someone who identifies herself as an existential game designer. A real post on that later this weekend when i am more lucid.

i start teaching my new ubiquitous computing/game design course on monday... i hope i am up for it! recover! recover!

i am also hoping to drag myself -- okay, have kiyash drag my self -- to the Palace of Fine Arts a 7 pm for a little Vanishing Point live event Saturday night. if you're in the area and feeling playful, check it out!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wii Warning: Do Not Simulate!

I love the Wii. You probably know this already. I have been publicly declaring my love for Wii for months... on CNN news and on CNET, for example.

But I want to issue a Wii Warning.

No, not the kind of Wii safety manual warning pictured here. A different kind of warning, to game designers and game critics and game researchers.

I want to suggest that we ought NOT to be talking about the wonders of Wii in terms of "simulation."

Consider the latest issue of Game Developers Magazine. There's a great post-mortem of a Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam skating game for the Wii console. In general, a really excellent read. But I was troubled by part of the article, in which the developer (Toby Schadt) discuss why the Wii is so great and how the game sought to take advantage of the new controller.

From the post-mortem:

The first thing we investigated was how the player changes direction and whether we could use the Wii remote to introduce a new way of turning. Tilting the controller to turn was the obvious solution, as it mimics the way skaters turn their boards. That's why the Wii is so compelling--the way you control your character in a game is a more realistic analog to what you would do in the real world, as opposed to pressing buttons.

This reads, at first glance, like a perfectly valid assessment of the pleasures of Wii interaction. Indeed, I would say it perfectly encapsulates current conventional wisdom among many Wii writers and designers (and subsequently, players, who are influenced by reviews and such). You can even see a funky Hong Kong accessory kit for the Wii that "brings you more realism for playing with Wii."

But: 1) I don't buy it, and 2) I think it could retard the future of game design to talk about Wii interaction like this-- all "mimics" and "realistic analogs".

I certainly get that the Wii controller is way more fun and cool because it's not just pushing abstract combinations of buttons. But you know what? I think it's way more fun and cool because MOVING VIGOROUSLY--shaking, waving, pumping, pointing, and so on--is more fun that pressing buttons. Not because it's a more "realistic analog" of what a game avatar is doing. Just because it's REALLY more fun.

Don't get me wrong. I know that the Wii gameplay is MUCH more intuitive than traditional console games precisely because there is a better analogy between real-world gesture and in-game action. I don't want to minimize that. I know it's cool. And I know, more importantly, that it also helps make the game system transparent to "non-gamer" folks who get scared off by abstract console input.

Let me try to say it another way. Wii is awesome because you are REALLY playing. You are not vicariously playing through an avatar whose movements you immersive yourself in. You are REALLY doing stuff, REALLY sweating, REALLY pumping out endorphins. I know that you're not REALLY "skating" or REALLY "bowling", in the case of the Tony Hawk game and Wii sports respectively. But you are REALLY using your body in totally fun, original, happy-making ways.

The real stuff you are doing also lets you be more expressive as a gamer. (Just watch some YouTube videos --like this, this, or this--for evidence of that.) This is no small thing. The opportunity to joyfully perform physically for an audience -- face to face, as much Wii play is among friends and family-- or online, in the case of Wii demo videos, is a truly awesome thing.

Indeed, the fact that there is a real, live, embodied performance happening when a player engages the Wii games creates the kind of gameplay legibility that enables "non-gamers" to get in the game, and that creates a setting where you can really cheer on other players. (Very enthusiast Guitar Hero players and most DDRers, of course, also fall into this category where real physical performance is produced.)

So when you play Wii games, are you simulating? Or are you REALLY playing and performing? I say the Wii does not simulate. The Wii is real.

For me, this is a subtle but extremely important difference. I don't want game designers to make more and more "immersive" gestural games, where the goal is to more perfectly map your real gesture to the characters' game-world action. Instead, I want game designers to make more and more FUN gestural games, where the goal is to make the players' movement as fun and addictive and legible and expressive as possible.

This is a quality of life issue. Better psychological immersion into a digitally-represented game world does not inherently improve quality of life for the player. More active immersion--if we think of Wii immersion as the ability of a player to become "one with the machine", a kind of cybernetic immersion--does inherently improve quality of life for the player, by increasing physical expressivity, producing high performance joy, improving health, and creating game settings where fa much greater range of friends and family members can come together and have fun.

So when you're loving your Wii, remember: Do Not Simulate! Play and Perform FOR REAL.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Make the Top 10 List! Ut's the Game Studies Download

It's that time of year again! Ian, Mia and I are compiling our annual top 10 list of game studies research findings for the Game Developers Conference. And we want your help!

Our goal is to communicate to professional game-makers the brilliant insights of academics who are studying games. We'll be summarizing the research findings of 10 outstanding researchers and research groups for game developers at the most important annual industry event. But we need you to help us decide what should be on our list!

We can consider any published scholarly work in the area of videogames, computer games, or mobile games. The work can be in the form of an article, a book chapter, a book, or even a white paper if it has a strong research bent. We are especially interested in research about console games and non-MMORPG PC games. (But we're open to ANY digital games research.)

To be eligible for our list, the work must have been published for the first time between March 2006 and March 2007.

You can see slides and download handouts from last year's Top 10 Research Findings here. You can see press coverage of the Top 10 list here and here.

If you have a suggestion -- and please, feel FREE to nominate your own work! we'd love to hear from the original authors -- post it here in the comments, or email me (my first name, which is Jane, at my domain name). Include a link to the article online if possible, or at least tell us where to find it.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Kiss Me!

Happy New Year's!

I got two great kisses for New Year's. (Okay, 3 if you count Meche licking my face.)

First, a big smooch from my husband Kiyash at midnight.

Second, an even bigger smooch this morning from the Contra Costa Times, which is running the nicest profile of me I've ever read. I don't normally link to press coverage about me, but they ran a cute picture of me with my pink cell phone on my even pinker desk, and they even mention "my beloved black and white sheltie named for a videogame character, of course" which means you know they understand my soul. ^_^ Thanks CCT!

As long as I'm linking, if you haven't seen this, CNET ran this great edited transcript of the Second Life interview I did a couple of weeks ago with Daniel Terdiman. He is doing a lot of brililant writing about games, in general, and so I'm always glad when he calls me. I really like the way this interview turned out. He even let me talk about why the Wii is going to be good for democracy! Love it!