Friday, January 19, 2007

Unasked questions

After the launch of TBC, I am pretty done with answering the same questions for the nth time. That's why I am writing this post. It's a public service announcement for people who don't know what to ask about games.

List of questions: Will be updated when needed.
  • Are all computer games the same?
  • Are all gamers the same?
  • What cultural genre is the most common reference for games?
  • Why is that?
  • Why is it so common to have a conflict in a game?
  • How do games entertain?
  • What skills are needed to create computer games?
  • What industries are threatened by the growing game industry?
  • What changes in the current media structure are games a part of?
  • How does social interaction take place in games?
  • How are games social objects?
  • How can games challenge/confirm current social structures?
  • What kind of people make games?
  • Who do they make the games for?
  • How can you argue that digital games is a new art form?
  • Will games become more important than books?
  • (One stolen from Mark Bernstein) What can games teach us about the human condition?

These are just some suggestions. If any readers have more suggestions, feel free to add in comments.
Warning: If you suggest anything to do with violence, addiction or in other ways related to the game media panic, I am not publishing your comment. Those questions most people manage to ask all on their own, and this is an attempt to think of something different. Doesn't have to be new, just not more of the same.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Research I'd like to see

Now there's a loooong list of this, but after a morning of "Will the Burning Crusade ruin our children and youths" I would love to see this project:

Find a group of 30 year olds. Random selection method of their choice. Interview them about their main interests between the age of 12-18. That will be from 1989 - 1995. What did they use the most time on? How much time did they use on their homework? How were their grades in this period?

Look at their position in society today, how are they doing?

The different types of media have been around for long enough that we can know if youth and children are ruined by their media consumption. Why not check from this end, rather than speculate from the other end?

And yes, lots of methodological traps here. Got to be a very good sociologist to pull this one off well.

Italy in January?

If so, here's a game conference for you (Yes, I really wish I could just pack up and go. I need a rich benefactor):

An Interdiciplinary Conference

The conference "The Philosophy of Computer Games" will be held in Reggio
Emilia, Italy 25-27 January 2007. The purpose of the conference is to
initiate an investigation into philosophical issues that is relevant to
current research on computer games.

Registration can be made by sending an e-mail to There is no conference fee.

They asked a new question!

NRK P2 kulturnytt (08.05 - 08.30) woke me up this morning to ask about World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade - it's a sufficiently big event that the more serious channels have noticed it. and you know what? They asked a new question! Rather than the usual "do people get addicted, is it dangerous" (yes, I am taking the question seriously, but answering it well doesn't fit in any of the news formats I have been subjected to so far!) they asked about the cultural background of WoW, and it's connection to Tolkien.

Now, I could have said a lot about WoW and the fantasy and science fiction genre (there's a big fat thesis there), for instance C'thun telepathically sending prophecies of tragedy, betrayal and failure to individual players while playing in the Silithus raid instances - call of Cthulu, anyone? And if that wasn't a sufficiently clear link to Lovecraft, the Dranei are tentacled, huge and come from outer space. If you have read your Lovecraft, you'll assume they are not as friendly as the Alliance might think - but at least they won't be great pals with Cthun:
In At the Mountains of Madness, for example, the Old Ones are a species of extraterrestrials, also known as Elder Things, who were at war with Cthulhu and his relatives or allies. Human explorers in Antarctica discover an ancient city of the Elder Things and puzzle out a history from sculptural records.(wikipedia)
Anyway... no time to talk about this in 30 seconds on radio, but at least I got to make connections to the wider literary, cultural and mythic universe WoW draws in, and I am ridiculously happy about it.

Pathetic, isn't it, when the high-point of the day is when a journalist thinks of a new question?

Update: just remembered - this is where I learned that NRK has a gamedesk! Googling it and searching at so far only gets me hits not related to their desk: a group of gamers congratulating one of their own, Roar Halten, with landing a job there, and an interview where the same man is among those interviewed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Luca is done!

And I think he's happy! See him dance with joy in the video to thank the people who helped him.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More on what women should do

The same journalist who wrote about how women are responsible for not getting raped, is now overwhelmed by the responses to her article, the comment field to it is closed and she needs to explain what she really said.

Problem is - it's not really getting any better.

Rather than agreeing that yes, it might have been badly written, what she meant to say that was of course, you are not guilty of your own rape even if you happen to walk home from a party and be drunk and wear a short skirt and high heels, she keeps on talking about responsibility, and women's responsibility to be careful. As if we don't know we have to look out?

Statistics shows that women are not more often victims of violence than men. Actually, it's pretty much 50/50. The difference is that women are a lot more afraid of violence than men are. We are already scared into submission - the girl who happens to be walking home at night isn't a common sight.

Anyway, once she has done a pretty good job saying that of course women can't be blamed, I am just saying "be careful", the editor does something really interesting.
De som i feminismens navn fraråder kvinner å selv ta et ansvar for ikke å bli utsatt for voldtekt, gjør kvinner en bjørnetjeneste. Det er voldtektsmenns eksistens som fratar kvinner friheten, ikke restriksjonene kvinner legger på seg selv for å unngå å bli voldtatt.
She claims the feminists are telling women not to take responsibility.

Feminists have taught women self defence, been promoting comfortable shoes easy to run away in, made it clear that being a woman isn's something that needs to be advertised through make-up and provocating dress, built shelters for abused women, worked for the rights of rape victims - the list of what has been done in the name of feminism to support and promote responsible behaviour by women is long! The editor has the right to get education, hold a job, own property, wear pants and vote because of feminists and feminism. Attacking feminists by claiming they - we (I am a feminist in this!) - are telling women to act stupidly is just ridiculous. No feminist I know of has ever said a woman should refuse to take the responsibility for her own life. Perhaps some feminists have refused to judge when others have displayed "unacceptable" behaviour. Being non-judgemental is, I hope, not something special for feminists.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Women and rape

Checking in on one of my favourite angry Norwegian women blogs, I found a post I really want to support. It's about an article in a newspaper, and about women, rape and responsibility. Lots of citations and links in Norwegian here, sorry about that. I am pretty sure there are equivalents in all languages.

Drusilla is really upset that a female journalist says that women need to look out so they don't get raped:
Det største ansvaret for å unngå å bli voldtatt på gaten må dessverre kvinner selv ta. Det kan synes urettferdig og opprørende. Men de mest effektive forebyggende tiltak mot overfallsvoldtekter er det de potensielle ofrene selv som kan sørge for. For det handler om å la være å gå alene gjennom byen nattetid. Om å bruke penger på drosje hjem, om å sørge for å få følge med noen, eller om å gå hjem tidlig nok til at det ennå er folkeliv i gatene. Den som vil være mest mulig sikker på å unngå å bli voldtatt av en ukjent, rår selv over de mest effektive tiltakene.
It basically says: Don't be alone outdoors at night. Get somebody to walk you home, take a taxi or go home early.

The interesting thing about this statement in my opinion is what the journalist writes just before that statement:
Slike overfallsvoldtekter med helt ukjente gjerningsmenn er utypiske og sjeldne. Det er blant mannlige bekjente og festdeltagere de fleste potensielle voldtektsforbrytere befinner seg. De aller fleste voldtekter og voldtektsforsøk utføres av en mann kvinnen kjenner, eller som de på forhånd har vært sammen med på nachspiel eller et utested. Men statistikken er en fattig trøst når man hører mannsskritt nærme seg i en stille gate på sen kveldstid. Kvinner som har opplevd slike voldtekter eller voldtektsforsøk, merkes for livet. Og for svært mange kvinner er selve frykten for at de skal bli offer en stor plage.
This is a reference to statistics that shows how rapes by strangers is uncommon, and that most rapes are normally committed by male friends, aquaintances, fellow party guests or others it would be natural to turn to to be walked home.

So according to this journalist, women's options are: be raped by somebody you know, or by a total stranger.

I want the nights back.

Games science

Here's one answer to my own question some days ago, a link into the world of German game studies. They call their journal nothing less than games science, and I am happy to see it and curious about what hides behind the title. Finally a good reason to work on my German skills, sorely neglected for years. They haven't published any articles yet, though, but they have some links to game research resources in Germany. They also have a game research navigator, where they have positioned gamestudy works according to how they interpret the connection to the wider field of critical analysis. Interesting, even if I know I could argue for a while why I don't like this map, and prefer to make my own. But that's what happens when new voices are added, and it's a good thing!

For those who prefer their reading in English, Anna sent me to Alexander Knorr's blog.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The headmaster's blog

Looking for something totally unrelated, I found that at Stockholm Institute of Education the headmaster has a blog. She uses it to discuss relevant issues of educational politics. Neat, huh?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Games, violence and faith

As promised, a look at the Journal of Adolescence, Volume 27, Issue 1, and the articles on games and adolescents.

This issue of the journal is dedicated to adolescent video game playing, special issue editors are Craig A. Anderson and Jeanne B. Funk. They have sent out a call for papers and had what looks like a very serious stack of responses. I can't fault the methodology of the researchers, they have all their variables and koeffisients in place. But I am still not convinced that video games are dangerous and make youths more aggressive. But let's look at an article.

"The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors and school performance." by Gentile, Lynch, Linder and Walsh (2004)

The clearest finding in this article was that if kids spend a lot of their free time playing computer games, and this free time is significantly larger than the time they spend doing homework, their grades suffer. Also, if the kids use the computers for homework, not playing, they get better grades. Further on, they discovered that kids who play a lot of computer games argue more with teachers and with their parents. They also found that kids, particularly boys, prefer violent content in the games. From this they concluded that violent games make kids argue with parents and teachers. This makes me ask: How about this hypothesis from this material: Children who play a lot of games don't do their homework. Children who don't do their homework argue with their teachers and their parents.

I think it's significant that the article does not even consider that the childrens' lack of homework might lead to confrontations without any computer games involved. I also think it's significant that they ask specifically for "violence" in the games (what do you prefer), and not for "action". In games the faster-paced, actionfilled games often have a high amount of hostile acts, as that is a good way to express danger, risk and winning or losing. There are however games which are not confrontational in the way of battles (racing and sports games), but are still action filled. But if you ask a 8-9th grader to rate a game from 1-7 on a scale (Likert) of violence, the pupil will not say: But I like a racing game, and that's action filled, not violent. The kid will remember the spectacular crashes and the fires and the speed and the competition, and will put it at a fairly high "violence" rating.

What they did find was the same as has been found in all studies of media violence: Parental control - as in parents actually checking to see what the kids are doing, taking an interest and assisting in the management of their time, leads to less confrontations in general, and better adjusted kids. In the days of video tapes it meant not to use the video as a baby sitter, in the days of computers it means not using the computer as a baby sitter. But the article does not consider that it confirms this decade-old truth - actually, probably older: If you care about what your children are up to, they adjust better and are happier and more functional.

An interesting piece of information came up in this article: Video games are officially dangerous.
Indeed, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pedriatics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Medical Association recently issued a joint statement that there is a "causal connection" between media violence and aggressive behavior, but that it is a complex effect (AAP, APA, AACAP, & AMA, 2000).

The article uses this as an argument for saying that games are dangerous. If all these American associations with long and impressive names say media violence is dangerous, then it has to be dangerous.

What I always miss in these articles is a touch of sceptisism. If the connection is a complex effect, why are the studies so simplistic? Why have nobody explored WHAT the adolescents react so positively to, when adult limits and adult interest gives such a good response on violent behaviour? According to the simplistic logic of exposure to media, children in extremely poor neighbourhoods or less developed countries should be peaceful and friendly, and not express hostility of any kind. Can it be that lower aggression, less confrontations and better grades connect in a positive manner with the amount of interest the significant adults take in the children in question? I know it's daring, but look at the adults who are in touch with kids, be it their parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers, coaches - can it be that their interest, feedback and behaviour has a large impact on adolescents, no matter what the topic of interest is?

Well, that's one article out of 8. Some of the others are better, and connect better to other research and other discussions, some even exercize a critical view on their methodology. I'll be back.

Let's Play!

AOIR's conference in Vancouver is named "let's play", and is of course pretty irresistible to me! Deadline for submissions of abstracts is February 1st 2007, and I am almost in tears, trying to figure out how to get time for all the writing which has to happen NOW - and this too. But I would love to go here, and it would be a nice compliment to DAC 2007 in Perth - one at each side of Equator.

I'll just have to get going on the idea production.

New Year!

All the best wishes for the new year to you all.

This new year looks pretty much like the old one. It's raining, although there's a film of sleet on the lawn. Weather has been dreary this "winter". At least: we can't complain about not getting enough rain. Oddly enough, the prices on water-powered electricity keeps going up, and it's cheaper to heat the house with oil - which reached 60$ a barrel this morning. I remember when I thought it was a good thing for the Norwegian economy that the price passed 20$. That was before the invasion in Iraq.

This is going to be a year of changes for me, both physically and professionally. Also socially, as my son (my little one, who is about 25 cm taller than me) will most likely be leaving for more education/the military, and us old folks will be just a couple again. Time is catching up on us fast. Economic changes too: This is the last year of paying on my student loan! I can hardly believe it, in two more payments I am done paying for my time at the University. My brain will belong to myself once more!

I think it's going to be an interesting year, hopefully not in the chinese curse manner of interesting.