The Bazin Gap

I could write a longer, more elaborate response to Greg Costikyan’s article in the Escapist. The rant – which has little with which I would really disagree – repeats our frustrations with the banality of games, with the sense of failed promise, and with the structural problems in the game industry that may be responsible.

But instead of elaborating a long, considered answer, I’ll get to the meat of it, and what I think our job as academics, critics and writers really should be.

We need to create an audience for those games that we want to see. The problem isn’t really the developers, and only marginally is it the “suits.” It’s the gamers, the market – its educational level, its expectations, its sense of aesthetics, etc. It’s who is and is not in it, and who leaves it when they hit 20 and who stays in it. It’s about the gap between gamerly attention and broader engagement – a gap that I think is circumstantial and fixable.

Academics have spent too much time worrying about what developers think of them, and the industry both enjoyed the attention, and enjoyed picking on the academics (for all the wrong reasons). I think we need to spend more time thinking about the players than the producers, for all our sakes.

I could flesh out my thoughts here, but better that we do it via comments.

Violence in Videogames

Recently, Bill Harris made a post regarding violence in videogames.

Some of his comments focused on Grand Theft Auto in particular. While I agree with many of his points, I find his analysis of GTA troublesome.

In particular, he refers to the violence inherent in the system as ‘unnecessary’ because they do not provide positive feedback to the player. That is, there is no point to killing random people because the player receives no in-game advantage as a result. He then goes on to conclude that since there is no possible game design reason behind the violence, the inclusion of the violence is purely a marketing ploy on the part of the developer.

This seems like an unfortunate application of meta-gaming as design criticism. Continue reading

Syphon / Filter

Just a collection of game-related nubbits that have emerged this week you may have missed. Gimme a break, I didn’t go to DIGRA, I’ve been working on computers all week!

This week’s favourite rumour is that Capcom are planning a Resident Evil for the DS using RE4′s control system. Touchscreen zombie death + multiplayer = very little academic reading.

Wage Slaves

A quite fascinating article, continuing the shocking trend of writing on the 1up network that isn’t infantile. This time, a focus on farming in games, specifically the criminal rings that have popped up to engage with the growing virtual economy.

Gamecube Dad Murder

Of all the stupid reasons to mention videogames in a violent murder … this week … this father’s obsession with True Crime made him a freakish ogre, culminating in the beating death of an infant. (ideas for True Crime 2 percolating now in my head.)

Man Convicted Of Xbox Moddery

Naturally enough, the copyright battle is heating up with a few more court cases, and this chap cops a few hours down at the local library. The ones that will be interesting to watch are where someone has made money from selling homebrew PSP software, apparently the legalities of that are monstrous.

I Wanted To Believe! (doof doof doof)

Another 1up story, this time an interview with the Spanish digital artist who produced that amazing Nintendo On video, which is probably the most exciting idea in digital entertainment these days. Quite the polemicist, that boy.

Guardian Unlimited Games Blog – Aleks Krotoski

Not a story, but just a good site to check every so often, Aleks Krotoski at the Guardian games site, sharp analysis at high speed.

Bizzare Case Of Realism

Bizzare Creations, working on the next Project Gotham Racing, released an image that punters were quick to dismiss, allowing Bizzare to go “no, check out these wireframes!” to a chorus of coos. The magician’s assistant in the crowd strikes again. The images are incredible, though.

Dreaming About A New Games Research

I literally had a dream last night that there was a book of games research that didn’t get bogged down in definitional problems. One essay, in my lovely dream, had the following:

“The more time we spend working out what interactivity is, the less time we spend on a critique of the ways it changes our imaginations and political economies.”

Clearly, I have become silently and internally furious that games research continues to engage with the appearance of its own genitals. If we were a child, we’d need therapy.

Not being a visitor to DiGRA this time around (a lack of funds, illness and not understanding what a ‘lightning roundtable’ was outside the realm of Dungeons & Dragons), I cannot say much about game studies broadly. It should not be, however, that I write that with a certain degree of relief.

William’s anecdotes should be read with a degree of worry. A comment he makes below is worth putting up on the front page: “Some… supposedly game-centered theorists are interested in finding or inventing questions for which their method is a solution.” Tanya Krzywinska may have started something of a New Games Research catchcry with “Play The Damn Games. Play Them A Lot.”

I don’t mean to suggest a line of argument here, or to point anything too obvious – but as a blogger, I couldn’t let a moment of anger go without a pressing of the ‘send’ button.

DiGRA 2005 Follow-Up, on Gender and Gaming

I’m back from Vancouver. I’ve got some notes:

There was a strong emphasis on educational and sociological perspectives towards games at the conference – and a relative paucity of direct engagement with the games themselves. In particular, I saw a lot of papers dealing with girls and gaming (and little, I’m afraid, of women and gaming, or gender and gaming.) There was a lot of the “kid’s media” presumption in the paper selection.

There’s a sort of pattern about the girls-in-gaming theories I saw. I’m going to somewhat caricature them into a template that I want to critique. Since I’m not per se a social scientist or educational theorist, I don’t think I’m really qualified to say much about particular lines of research in this area, but I still think certain things need to be brought into the open. It’s not so much about the issue of gender in games, but rather on a certain kind of approach to dealing with it.

Here’s the template: Continue reading

The Theory Behind Chaos Theory

Clint Hocking, if you remember, was the newcomer to this year’s Game Design Challenge, and the lead designer and writer on Splinter Cell and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. The ever resourceful Thom Moyles managed to get an interview with Hocking, where he talks about the role of narrative in games, the changes from the first Splinter Cell to Chaos Theory, and the state of creativity in the games industry. He’s also not afraid to use the word ‘agency’. Check it out.

Great Moments in Internet Gaming Forums

Sometimes the Internet provides for good instead of evil. During last week’s Xbox 360 hype gigantomachia, Eurogamer had a story about new rumours – the hardware design, the name confirmed, and a debate between … okay, an internet forum debate between Eurogamer regulars flared up about the qualities of the name.

Then, something wonderful happened.

Three-six-tee. 13-Apr-05 19:10:58

360 is a hermeneutic circle in the sense Heidegger intended.

Let’s see you smart-asses chew on that. My God.

I mean, far aside from the great point he’s making about Heideggerian metaphysics (and fuck, even Heideggerian ethics) and console games, and the quite splendid things you could do with that in terms of a paper on CD-Rom / DVD discs, the tone of the post is just superb. A contempt so sheer he or she ends with “My God.” And what a challenge!

So lets rise to the challenge. Lets chew on that like smart-arses and send it into Eurogamer as a feature. My God.

Just Noticed

Okay, nothing smart today. Just an observation. Is anyone going to tell Microsoft that their new console looks like a … ahem … sanitary product with a string missing?

I don’t want a console that has tapered edges for easy insertion.

( Hey, Microsoft, I’ll withdraw this post if you fly me to Los Angeles for E3 and show me the damn thing. I’ll write whatever you damn like. )

Cross-straits relations in Vana’diel

The MMORPG that I am studying, Final Fantasy XI, is experiencing distributed denial of service attacks on its servers. From an announcement by Square-Enix:

It has come to our attention that recent technical difficulties with our PlayOnline server are due to an organization-wide DDoS attack from an anonymous third party. We have determined that this activity was undertaken with malicious intent and specifically targeted our network. Our technicians are taking every measure possible to prevent further attacks. However, attack methods have varied, which has caused a more time-consuming review of our network protection.

Discussion on the Allakhazam forum points the attack at Chinese protesters angry about the deletion of references to Japanese war atrocities from history textbooks: the DDOS attacks began on April 9, the same day as the protests in China.

In FFXI, this issue is linked to the question of “gil-sellers,” players who farm in-game resources for real-world cash, who in FFXI are usually characterized as Chinese: many who are suspected of being gil-sellers have placed comments in their searchable information fields like “”Resisting all Japanese goods, long live the People’s Republic of China.” This ends up begging the question of just what they are selling, if not “Japanese goods,” when they sell in-game currency and goods.

This attack is not isolated to game servers: much of the Japanese Internet infrastructure is under attack. But FFXI is the only major MMORPG produced in Japan (although servers are, I’ve been told, hosted in Hawaii), and evidence of the Japanese language and player-base are ubiquitous, as are other in-game performances of Japanese reference. There are a number of interesting questions here, but among them is the fact that the game is marked as “Japanese” in a way that other games are not nationally marked (and, insofar as I do read the game as part of the Japanese fantastic genre, I am perhaps somewhat complicit in this: in my defense, I also read World of Warcraft as part of an Anglo-American fantasy episteme and discourse about race.) It is interesting, for example, that no matter how angry the world gets at US foreign policy, there is no campaign to take down Xbox Live.

The Gaming Spectrum

Gonzalo Frasca is in town (Melbourne, Australia), so its fun times for all. The opening of the Games Lab exhibit at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is tonight, and he’ll be speaking and answering my rude questions at a seminar speech tomorrow night. Games Lab opens with State of Play, a set of games focussing on political and aesthetic outer limits; September 12, Kuma, Waco Ressurection and many others. The curator, Helen Stuckey has released a statement reflecting the show’s direction here, and there’s and a quick article in today’s The Age newspaper.

2005 will be an important year for the commercial side of gaming, to be sure, but looking through the Games Lab exhibit, I was reminded that the most interesting games and gaming ideas will probably gain more and more attention. Games Lab is fairly unique in its set-up, and resides within another fairly unique institution, ACMI, that I would be better served describing in tomorrow’s review.

Gonzalo will also be speaking tomorrow a couple of times, and I’ve charged myself with providing the networked world with relays of them.

At the other end of the spectrum of games:

Publishing giant Electronic Arts has lowered its fiscal year 2005 estimates as a result of disappointing sales of recent releases. Previously, the company expected net revenue between $3.275 and $3.325, but has revised its estimates between $3.100 and $3.125 billion.

Skewed perspective, much?