Up Around the Bend

I had an extended conversation recently with a student interesting in pursuing game design beyond our undergraduate program at my college. We spoke about the types of things you would expect for any student considering grad school- what types of things to look for in a program, how to begin preparing sample work, who to ask for recommendations, which courses to look at in the fall to help her succeed. We also spoke quite a bit about a subject I don’t cover as much with my English students (though, perhaps I should): the culture of the industry and how to handle it. Read more »


Minecraft as carrot: engagement, gaming and the acquisition of transferable skills

Way back in early 2012, I bought my son a little mouse for his fourth birthday. He had played a few very simple computer games at preschool and at the library, and of course he loved the Xbox 360 and his iPad, but he hadn’t shown any real interest in our computers. The computers at the library had kid-sized peripherals, so I thought the gift of the mouse might be the key that would unlock his interest in the computer.

It wasn’t. He never used it.

Sure, we hooked it up a few times, and tried some simple games and apps, but we just couldn’t hold his interest; computer attempts were undertaken very much under duress, so I stopped trying and instead just let him know the little mouse was available if he wanted it. This hands-off approach has helped with many other things — I don’t force him to eat well, but simply encourage; same with reading and exercise and any number of things, and this has resulted in a healthy eater and a good reader with fantastic penmanship for his age. (Reading was hard, though; imagine, the English teacher mom with a kid who only recently discovered reading was fun. Horror.) Now, at last, it’s worked for the computer… because he wants to make his own Minecraft videos. And so, over the past few days, my husband has been teaching kiddo how to manipulate the mouse, how to use the keyboard, and where to find all the cool stuff he didn’t have in the Xbox version. Read more »


Error 404…Your Gamer Card is Invalid

A few weeks ago I made the mistake (as I often do) of getting into a debate about feminism on Facebook. I’m not sure why I do this. By now, I surely should have learned. But when it starts, I’m like a moth drawn to flame. I just can’t stay away.

Somehow, during the course of the conversation, things shifted from feminism in general to feminist gamers—specifically #gamergate.

 “Look at Gamergate. A bunch of girls refused to believe that men and women think differently. They wanted to partake in the predominantly male community and claimed that they felt dismissed because of misogyny.

What happened? They joined in on the “fun” and freaked out when male gamers started treating them with the same competitive condescension that guys typically found to be hilarious.”

This, of course, wasn’t particularly surprising. For anyone who followed the craziness of #gamergate, this was a pretty common argument. The fuss was just a bunch of non-gamers who shoved their way into the boys-only club and then got offended when it wasn’t dressed up in pink with pretty ribbons and unicorns. This was….well…not fine, exactly, but expected. I was prepared.

I pulled up my research, my bookmarks, and my personal experience, armed with statistics that proved that women weren’t a small fraction of the gaming population, and they weren’t all new gamers. This wasn’t a “sudden trend.” We’ve been here for a good long while, and I had proof.

….Except that proof didn’t matter. Read more »


Writing Code Through Gameplay; Learning While We Play

For years we have been talking about learning to write code through game play with things like Gamestar Mechanic and Double Fine’s Hack and Slash (which requires you to change the code of the game’s assets in order to win), but the recent attention that folks like YouTuber SethBling has gotten for writing code with his gameplay is even more interesting. In the following video Seth walks you through how he uses the game itself (and the placement of certain items in game in order to write to the RAM of the game) and trigger a game ending (or “winning”) glitch called the “Credits Warp” that causes you to warp directly to the end credits.

I find this kind of speedrun even more fascinating than the traditional speedrun that usually relies on a series of exploits to make it to the end of a game with record breaking speed. A great example of this is Cosmo’s Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker speedrun that uses a bomb glitch (aka zombie hover) to hover through a dungeon quickly and shave a ton of time off of the final speedrun time.  Read more »


Episode 93: We’ve Got Nothing But Time: On Finding Time to Play Games for Fun and Research

Episode 93: We’ve Got Nothing But Time: On Finding Time to Play Games for Fun and Research (“Save As” to download or head over to iTunes to subscribe)

The episode where we talk about finding time to play games as gamers, researchers, and parents. We are joined this week by guest and NYMG community member, Patrick Love.

Spoiler Alert

When Can We Cancel a Spoiler Alert?

Last year after I finished playing Among the Sleep, I really wanted to discuss the game with someone. The game was awesome and scary and disturbing. I didn’t know how, exactly, I felt about the game and, in particular, the ending, but I craved a conversation about it. At the time, though, I didn’t know anyone else who had played the game, so I was stuck with reading other players’ opinions on the Internet. I knew the game would stick with me, and I always planned to write a follow up post discussing the game in more detail. But, it never seems enough time has gone by. The game released in May 2014, but I still feel it’s too soon to spoil it. I started thinking about Among the Sleep again after last week’s podcast when I named it as my favorite game of the year, but I still felt I couldn’t talk in detail about it. I started wondering how long is long enough to wait before we talk about spoilers?

I know some people feel we should be free to talk about spoilers immediately, and I see discussions of this nature on Facebook all the time. And, I have friends who say spoilers don’t bother them; that knowing the ending won’t ruin their enjoyment. I think I fall at the other end of that spectrum: I never want spoilers. To that end, I’m pretty much fine with never talking about games I love in great detail with those who haven’t played them. I know there are ways around all this. We can write or talk about the spoilers, as long as we have the disclaimer SPOILER ALERT! But, the Internet can make it difficult at best to completely avoid spoilers. And, then there are certain friends who will keep talking, giving everything about the game (movie, tv show, novel, etc.) away even after they have been asked not to spoil it. I can sort of get that too: it’s not that they are necessarily trying to ruin it for others, it’s often just that they are that excited about the game, movie, tv show, or novel, etc.  Read more »


Playing Favorites: Why do we love certain Game Franchises?

Just about every gamer has it: that one series that they love through thick and thin, come hell, high water, or cell-shading. The reasons for loving any series are vast, and range from nostalgia to narrative, from characters to adventures, and just about everything in between. Indeed, thinking about your favorite series and why you love it probably says a lot more about you than it does about the series itself. Read more »


“That’s Just How Things Are,” or Ignoring Potential in the Games Industry

Last week, I wrote about the revelation that Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard was originally conceived as a woman, at least in visuals (not necessarily in terms of game content), a piece that sparked a bit of discussion on my Facebook page about the nature of the industry and reality. “Reality” is something I hear a lot in these discussions, as in, “the reality of the industry is that games like X just won’t sell,” or, “the reality of the industry is that it’s male-driven.” You know the drill; we’ve all heard or maybe even delivered these diatribes on the state of the industry, but this week, those kinds of statements have been much on my mind, as I find them impossibly frustrating in that they are concerned only with what is, not potentiality. It seems fallacious to simply say, again and again, but this is what’s worked, what’s always worked, and so it is what will work.

We know the industry has long been skewed toward men, and I’m not just talking about the obvious dominance of white, cis-male heroes, but in a historical capacity, something that’s being explored in mainstream games journalism with great flair these days, with Tracy Lien’s excellent feature last winter on the history of women and games marketing, and just last week, Jessica Conditt’s look at race and gaming. Conditt’s piece opened with a look back at the early days of computer advertising; those early ads were filled with, and geared toward, men. White men. We know, too, that the developers skew white, and male. We know that the ESA says gamers are more and more likely to be female these days, but we all guess that maybe those numbers don’t reflect even splits among different types of gaming; there’s a lot of pushback when those numbers are quoted. “Yeah, if you include mobile games,” is something I hear a lot, meaning it’s not like women are out there playing console or PC games in equal numbers (see Charlotte’s recent post for some of this, too). But the truth is, we don’t know. We’re guessing.

What we don’t know is this: Who’s really playing what? We can measure some of that. We can measure who buys what, or what people say on surveys, but there are simply too many difficult factors to track to get an absolutely accurate picture of gaming activities across the board. More, we don’t know what people would play if things were marketed differently, or if there was more diverse representation on the development side. We cannot measure the potential of the games industry. Read more »


Play With Your Kids: Lego Fusion Resort Designer; Or, Doing Construction in a Tank Top

This Christmas Pea received a Lego Fusion kit for Christmas. When it was time to choose which kit she should get it was a tough choice. I took the time and looked through the videos of gameplay online and made the decision that despite my hatred of the Lego Friends line with their barbified miniatures, pink blocks, and shopping mall plans, the Friends Resort kit was the best way to go because the game allowed you to customize and play as a female avatar (the “mayor” avatar in the town master set can be female but is not customizable) and when the buildings were being built the construction team was comprised of female avatars (albeit in tank tops and sans hard hats while the male construction workers are more appropriately –and safely– dressed).

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Gender Roles in Character Classes

Fantasy Life, Level-5′s semi-recent contribution to the Nintendo 3DS’s impressive array of games, is all about (as the title suggests) living your role playing fantasies. Although light on plot and structure, the game’s numerous character classes and the ease in which you can transition between them makes it a memorable and enjoyable experience. And the game certainly celebrates these open-ended, do-what-you-want game mechanisms, actively encouraging you to explore the benefits of all of these classes and everything the game has to offer. When I began playing Fantasy Life, I had a somewhat light case of starry eyes syndrome at all these possibilities. Did I want to be the Mercenary or the Paladin? What about the Magician or Alchemist? Understanding that, knowing my tendency to grind, I’d probably play through all of the classes at one point or another, I picked the Mercenary and set into the land of Reveria, a land where, despite this emphasis on choice, our culture’s ideas of gendered jobs still finds a way to permeate into the twelve classes.

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