Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lagged - again

Exhausted, jet-lagged and writing.
I have no idea what this will be like. Somebody will read it and wonder what the author was thinking. I can't answer, sorry. It is just happening. Much of my best writing happens like this, when I stop trying to be clever and just dig deep into the forgotten resources of my mind. I am not sure that this is one of those occasions, though. Only the reviewers will know.

Deadline tomorrow. I'll get up at 6 am and finish. Part of me wishes I'd have stayed home. The other part knows I can never work as intensely and intently if I don't go away.
Done. And I am done. And it is done. Tomorrow I will definitely not write.

Friday, February 23, 2007

New positions for Ph D candidates

The University of Oslo announces up to 20 new positions for Ph D stuents! These are open and not yet tied to any particular topic or part of the University. This means that if you have a great project, you are invited to apply along with everybody else. Some strategic considerations will be made when the projects come up for the final acceptance.

Dance to the music

It's my birthday today, and I am old enough that I really don't care to tell you the exact number. But I know I don't look any younger than I am, I am a woman at my own age, looking it. I have long been forbidden entrance to the stores where women my age can buy clothes more suitable for 14 year olds but in my size, the prohibition enforced by a strict "No, mom!" from kids no longer kids and much taller than me.

But I can still have wonderful birthdays, so this morning I was up real early and cleaned the bathroom and had a shower and did my hair nice and hurried back into bed to pretend to be asleep before the family came to wake me up. They pretended not to notice that I snuck past on the way back from the bathroom, and woke me up with a song. As lovely now as when they were 5 and 3.

Then we had breakfast, and they had set the table and made an omelet and collected a heap of presents. I got lots of silly stuff from my many loving family members, but the one that almost made me cry was a CD I had wanted to buy, but forgotten, and then my husband remembered, my daughter bought it and her girl friend packed it.

It was a memento mori. It was "Dans til musikken", written by a friend from our student days, and performed by different Norwegian artists as a homage - published the same day he died from cancer.

So, on the day celebrating my own my birth and life I danced the morning away with my husband and children, to the music of a dead friend, his music insisting on the dance.

And in China today is the festival of lanterns, a day celebrating freedom from strict regulations, love, matchmaking and, of course, a day with lanterns everywhere. Here in the darkness of February, while the winter holds us firmly in it's cold, dark grip, I like that thought. At the other side of the planet they celebrate my birthday with lights, lanterns, everywhere.

I hope they dance too.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Women in Games

Hilde Corneliussen and I were at this conference in 2005. I suspect it's the event that broke my voice, but that has nothing to do with the topic - unless you count the passion of many of the participants as part of the conference theme.

If you are interested in a different and quite good game conference, I recommend this one, independent of gender.

Women in Games Conference to be held at the University of Wales, Newport on
19th-21st April 2007

This spring sees the annual Women in Games conference take up residency at
the University of Wales, Newport. You are invited to register for this
unique opportunity to see some of the best voices in the industry talk of
new platforms, players and perspectives in the advent of third generation
hardware releases.

Currently in its fourth year, Women in Games is an annual conference with
the distinct aim of highlighting the most recent, groundbreaking work in
computer game research and development to both academic and industrial
worlds. It has consistently addressed the empowerment and professional
development for women working in, and researching into, games and the games

Aims of Women in Games
1. Give a voice to women in the games industry.
2. Analyse and monitor the role of women in the games industry.
3. Provide networking opportunities, especially for women developing and
researching games.
4. Support and encourage students, researchers and developers to explore and
redress the game industry's gender imbalance.
5. Disseminate research into games (past, present and future), especially
(but not exclusively) with reference to the experience of women playing,
developing and responding to games and game culture.
6. Disseminate information on the latest technologies and the best design
and development practices.

The University of Wales, Newport event will focus on the various issues
currently circulating in games development, in particular the changing face
of games design and the diversification of forms. Issues of game play;
players, performance and agency are circulating around the markedly
different platforms commercially available to the gamer. Women in Games 2007
seeks to capture this zeitgeist in a series of academic and industrial
panels that profile contemporary issues in development and criticism.

The Women in Games conference is the only conference of it¹s kind in Europe
focused at the issues around women and gaming. The keynotes in 2007 have
been selected to represent a new generation of thinkers working with the
issues at hand.

Further information can be found at http://www.womeningames.com; those
interested in the event should contact conference organiser Emma Westecott
at enquiries@womeningames.com.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Understanding Digital Games

Jason Rutter's Amazon list is on Understanding Digital Games. His own book is right there on top of the list of course, but he has a nice selection of other books which are helpful tools for students of games. I love these lists made by other scholars, reading them is a little like fishing in WoW - most of the time it's just another fish, but once in a while it's something really special!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Me, the Other

Second Person is out now, and while I havent' seen the book and the pages and my name right there on them, I know it exists.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Somebody keeps trying

Somebody keeps trying to log into my blog. For about a year I have, at irregular intervals, had to change my blog password because "I" have requested a new one. The last week I have had three letters from blogger reminding me that I have now changed to new blogger.

I don't think it's anything special, I think it's somebody who thinks their blogg login name is the same as mine, and so they keep trying. Perhaps they are new to blogging, pick a name - mine is quite common - and try to log on with it. It's still a little uncomfortable. At least, with the new system, there's less of a chance that they get it randomly right, my login no longer has anything to do with my name, and the emails of reminder don't change the password.

Still, it's a little uncomfortable. As if somebody are constantly checking the door of my house, to see if it's locked.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Saying no

This is the season of saying no. Not because I don't want to. Not because I don't care about the things I am being asked to comment on, participate in or help out with. I just have to start protecting myself and my own time. There is too much going on, and I have found my ability to work 18 hour days is limited. Something slips, and I worry about what it may be next. Because I do care. And I keep telling myself that soon I will have things back on track, and I can start saying yes again.

But I find myself envious/angry/bitter as I see opportunities slide by. I have learned to say no, but I haven't learned to accept the neccessity. That is a more advanced class, I guess. Got to practice: being sensible, then being graceful about it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Axes and consoles

In Trondheim a young man asked, with much righteous indignation, what use we have of 8 million gamers. Can't all that energy be spent in better ways? I didn't answer directly, because I saw it could lead into a lecture far too long for the already overflowing timeframes of the meeting. I just talked about how society is full of surplus activities, and gaming is just one of those.

This is, however, the point. Gaming is a surplus activity, a leisure activity. If you are cold and out in the rain, you want an axe. A carpenter can build a house with an axe, and this is a smart skill to have. But once you have the house, you have the car, you have the fridge filled from the store, you have clothing, you have safety and what you need to maintain this in a reasonable future - once you have this, what are you to do with your axe? Go build another house? This is what we are doing today, filling up the planet with more and more of what is considered "real values", objects originally needed to cover immediate needs are turning into objects of status and pawns in social games.

It is at this point that human society turns to other questions, other challenges and other past-times. We read and write fiction, we listen to music, we sit together and drink and exchange ideas, tell jokes and hang out. We watch movies, we go on vacations, we apply make-up and we knit pretty new gloves. What's the point? Why do we need the leisure time of billions? How many trees could we have cut down in the hours spent watching television? How many fields could we have planted? How many mountains could we have moved? How much medicine could we have produced if we could harness this wasted energy going into watching television and singing in choirs? Playing instruments badly, or growing orchids where they should never grow?

If we could harness this energy which goes into the leisure time, there would be no progress. While progress can be made through hardship and hard work, it also demands a certain level of slack. A society which has no slack may come up with some desperate measures for survival, but at the cost of other things we take for granted, like freedom, democracy, the right to make your own decisions. The moment everything must go into approved production, free choice is lost.

So, what are 8 million gamers good for? Nothing much. Just the same as writers, readers, philosophers, painters, gallery guests, dancers, athletes, sportsfans, filmmakers and cinemavisitors, chefs and gourmets or the fishermen patiently waiting for a fish to bite at the beach in Hudson River. They are here to spend some time doing something other than what is expected of them, to make room for new thoughts, ideas and opinions, to create diversity.

All we really need is an axe, and the skill to use it. The rest is luxury. I approve of such luxury.

Playful Identities

This is a blog I have visited once in a while, but which has developed in surprising (for me) directions. The writer, Michiel de Lange, has been visiting Africa, among other things tracking the movements of cattle herders by GPS - and having quite a few experiences on the way. Fascinating!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Games, movies and dollars

In the name of mythbusting, a little post today about the "games have passed movies" myth.

The exellent Aphra Kerr has written The Business and culture of Digital Games. On page 48 you find an estimate of the value of software and hardware sales in 2003. She estimates software sales to be 18 billion US $ in this year. In 2005 the box office of the American movie industry was 23 billion US $, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Now software sales may have gone up between 2003 and 2005, and we may argue that hardware should count, but if we do so, we have to consider other sources of revenue for the movie industry, such as television and video. And how about video/dvd recorders? Are they not hardware, which in that case should be counted?

I don't think this is a big deal, an 18 billion dollar industry is nothing to trifle with, and deserves to be taken seriously. But it's perhaps time to take note of this claim as a prophecy, strategy, or just plain wishful thinking, for a few more years, until we can decide on comparable variables and put the numbers on the table.

Of course, if somebody have better numbers than what I have found so far, I am happy to learn about it. Would be fun if it was true!

Monday, February 05, 2007

New Blogger

And I finally caved and shifted to New Blogger. I am biting my nails hoping it works out well. Really. But that means I have categories. I have been thinking that perhaps I'd like those, now I just have to put the tags in. Metadata. Very important.

Women and golf

An interesting detour on a day when I suddenly find myself free to write and I really enjoy writing and I am having a great time and I just need to check a reference and I didn't find it but I found an article about women in golf clubs and damn, that had nothing to do with it, but was interesting, because golf is a game too and women golfers are women gamers and what this study tells us sounds all too familiar.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Boys will be boys...

In one of the large Norwegian newspapers there was recently an article about game addiction, and how Norwegian hospitals are now treating young people who can't deal with their game addiction. They describe gaming and the feeling of mastery that you get from games as a high, comparable with using drugs or alcohol.

Yes, games are designed to give a feeling of control and mastery. We all like it. It's what drives research, athletes, artists. It's what gives us reliable, competent people in all kind of positions. It's not a bad thing.

The problem appears when a game is the only place where a human being can feel like they do anything good, where they have any kind of self-worth and are important to others.

Recently (but long before WoW) the performance of boys has dropped dramatically in schools not only in Norway, but all over the western world. Girls outperform them in many ways, mastering the education system, taking control of their futures. The educational systems have been adjusted to foster this, and it has been successful. Girls get better grades, girls continue for higher education. So far the professors are still men, but if nothing happens the gender gap will soon go the other way, as girls master the system of education, and boys fall by the side.

Education is the most important thing a person does from they are 6 years old until they are 25. If they can't perform well in this field, they are failures. Failures in the eyes of family, friends and the society in general. They know they will never get the job they want, they know a million little decisions are taken away from them.

I think this is very, very wrong.

People are individuals. Not all are cut out for 19 years of school, and they shouldn't be. There are so many other types of tasks, tasks which ask for other skills than the ability to control your physical and mental urges for hours and hours, while paying attention and processing information you are being fed. The society needs to change, to aknowledge the importance of all tasks which keeps the world moving towards a balanced and sustainable future. While we need a big stack of researchers and we need them NOW, that doesn't mean we don't need the other potential in a population. Knowing things are going down the drain isn't enough, if nobody can actually do the work to get us out of that sewer.

As for the boys? They shouldn't need to play WoW to feel appreciated. They shouldn't need to be a brilliant warlock in order to feel they have something they can actually be good at. Being young is hard, and society doesn't make it easier through rewarding only some types of expertize, while severely punishing the pursuit of many different interests. When I was in high-school, these boys skipped class to work the boats (work farms, do other types of unskilled seasonal labour which still existed and was still available to youngsters), trumping their lack of success at school with the thick wad of cash in their pockets. What is there for the 16 year old who needs to feel he does something that matters? Robots stole his job. Then we designed mobs to keep him occupied and off the streets.

The irony is overwhelming.

Talking in Trondheim

Tomorrow I will be talking at Samfundet, one of the older student societies in Norway.

What else? I am still alive, things are happening, and The Burning Crusade is eating it's chunk of energy, energy which is hard to come by at this time of the year. In a few weeks I am going to New York for three weeks, hiding to write again, more desperate than ever, I am writing on the paper for DAC 2007 in Perth, but didn't manage to meet the deadline for the AOIR conference in Canada. Or at least I thought so until I just checked. heh, still have six days, and I have a stack of things I am working on which can be used. There's still hope...

Ph D Comics

By way of Anne Galloway's wonderful blog, I got a reminder of a site I used to read - until I finished my Ph D and didn't have that type of frustration any more. Going back was entertaining though, and looking at old archives I found this interesting field journal from a tour to meet other Ph D students. What can I say but: I'd like to meet James!