Thursday, June 28, 2007

The curse of a social being

I am trying to clear my plate, as I have a few things which require my full attention for the next month. But looking around there are huge amounts of work I have to deal with. So I set out, optimistically, thinking it's just my own lack of initiative which has caused this. I send off an email, another, another - soon I have sent off a long list of emails, and I am ready to deal with the responses and get things over with.


OK... let's try something else. I have more work coming up. I write a suggestion for things that needs to be done within a certain date, as that's an absolute last deadline, and bring this up at the nearest meeting. These are things that concern more than me, and if I am to be involved, the proposed schedule is important - I do know how much work both I and they have to deal with. I get a thank you for the initiative, and I settle happily back, reassured that the responsible parties will understand the importance of getting on with things.


Right. I am now running out of things that I can initiate. In the mean time I have not been sitting around with my hands in my lap, I have been responding to an endless stream of requests for work that urgently needs to be done, ideas that need to be discussed, decisions which need to be made, projects that need to be finished. I really have enough work, I just need to get those other things out of my life, and it's not like I can do anything until I get a response, is there? So I work my ass off (like everybody else), while waiting for some kind of response which will let me finish the stuff I feel responsible for.


Well - I need to finish something. I really do. If only to feel that I am not absolutely useless. So I try to get private matters in order. I have a family which needs to be part of this though, I can't just go ahead and make decisions over their heads, barging into their private space to clean up, to change, to organise, to fullfill my own needs for achievement. So I try to agree with them when to do things, what to do, in what order, how to start preparing, what they need to do and what I need to do so we can actually get those extremely mundane tasks which we all know about and we are all responsible for, done.


What is wrong with this? The problem is that I am so dependent on so many people, I have gotten involved in too much with too many, and I also tend to say "yes" rather than "no" when others need help. So rather than pushing, demanding attention and crying for help with my stuff, here, now, I have been waiting for others to realise that they need to involve themselves, and in the mean time been helping everywhere. Now I am totally spent, drowning in unfinished tasks, accused of being unable to finish the simplest of them, and feeling like it is true. Then somebody asks what they can do to help. The horrible thing is, with what I have gotten me into, the answer is...


Well, there are still some things I can do. I am taking a break now, for lunch, and then for about an hour, which will be spent cleaning the living room. If I am going to sit around all alone being stressed and miserable about things I have failed to finish, at least I can do that in a tidy room.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Game in' Action 2007

I have been away, and then I was away. Drowning in exams, I haven't taken the time to write anything from the Game in' Action conference in Gøteborg. It was also a conference with no web access, something which was more than a little frustrating. I realised how much I rely on an available net connection, for simple things like "Are you sure your plane leaves from Landvetter?" What you mean am I sure? What is Landvetter? The airport? There's more than one airport? More than one with international flights? Help, where's the internet connection! Anyway, it was Landvetter, and I got back in time.

Jonas Linderoth opened the conferences, and as he is also a member of the researcher's guild, I will let him represent both sides of the conference, the academic and the social.

On the academic side, this was a very interesting conference in the way that it had some extremely established keynote speakers: Henry Jenkins, James Gee, Jonathan Dovey, Helen Kennedy and T. L. Taylor, while it had some quite inexperienced - in gaming - presenters of papers. A lot of the papers were of research just about to start, or very sketchy research with undeveloped theoretical or empirical base. Some were great though, and it is good to see that there is so much diverse activity in the game research field.

Among the good stuff I want to point to the work of Tina Lybæk and Emma Witkowski, who did not present a paper (their computer with all the things they had prepared, including all paper copies of the presentation was stolen the day before), but talked about the source for their paper: the Let's play initiative.

Another was Hilde Corneliussen, as always a very thorough reseacher who this time had made the effort to count female and male npc's and characters in WoW, and connect them to a discourse of gender and power which went beyond the issues of hypersexualisation which is so easy and so common.

For the most part I followed "The Truant Track" - the presentations made by members of the WoW researcher's guild, as I had after all gone to Gøteborg mainly to meet up with this group in the flesh. There were, as far as I was able to count, 17 members there, and the visit spawned a wicked role-play plot and a couple of new members. Following The Truant Track was no loss at all, perhaps quite the contrary, as all held interesting, stimulating presentations. I do however want to apologize to Luca Rossi for playing out an RP line behind his back on the monitor, and making all the Truants stare intently on the screen to read mine and Espen Aarseth's (who was not at the conference, and hence performed an ingame coup) comments, and not on the screen with Luca's notes. Sorry, Luca!

The last night of the conference there was a dinner most suitably situated at Liseberg, the Gøteborg amusement park. Here the researcher's guild kept on doing research, by bodily experiencing ilinx. Below is a brave group of game academics about to get on the roller coaster. No, I have not yet scanned the (in)famous picture taken ON the roller coaster of six game researchers in different stages of terror or joy.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Summer, work, fun

Summer is here with the insane intensity of the north west. We yearn for it for months, starting in September as we cling to the memory, growing to desperation in May as the last snows threaten the fall of cherry petals. Then, suddenly, from one breath to the next, it's there. You leave for work wearing a wool sweater, and walk home in a T-shirt, carrying the layers of clothing in your arms. Everything looks different. The green is greener, the blue is bluer, the white is whiter and the sun is everywhere. It hammers through the windows in the unconditioned office in the afternoon, it pokes in through the north-face bedroom windows at 2 am, it seeks out the breakfast table, it burns the plants at noon.

The people change quickly. From pale and tired, the faces change through burned to brown. Light shoes makes the gait easy, and bright colours and light materials are carried as if they were flags of freedom. "You prize the summer" people greet each other, as bare shoulders and sandals replace boots and coats.

In all of this, the teachers have to work. For some perverse reason, since time immemorial, Norwegian schools have their exams in the best time of the year. When the world is remade by light and heat, students and teachers both are sweating over exams. And like any normal teacher, I do the same. Tomorrow I am off to Bergen, to assess a couple of exams.

But then I am doing something special: I am off to meet a lot of guild members at Game in Action at Gøteborg University. In the three days of the conference, there are guild members presenting every day, and one of us is the keynote on Friday. I am just going to chat, network and meet friends and colleagues. It will be great!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Seductive quest objects

Revisiting Ragnhild Tronstad's Ph D dissertation, I am reading about seductive quest objects, among those, boxes (page 166 - 168). Her exellent analysis of the different ways to interact with a box in TubMud may at first glance look trivial, but it is at the core of an important understanding of interaction, secrets, seduction and trust in games, particularly World of warcraft.

In WoW, one of my characters is a rogue, and since I am a little compulsive about these things, a rogue who has trained her lockpicking skills fully, at all times. This means I can now open all doors and all boxes I have so far encountered in the game - if they can be picked.

Rogues such as mine is in high demand for once speciality: to open boxes. There are very few other options for this in the game. Boxes drop regularly from the NPC's, and inside there is loot, everything from green, pretty nice stuff at different levels, to blue (rare) and purple (epic) loot. But without special instruments and high blacksmithing skill, only rogues can pick the locks and open those damned boxes.

This means that rogues enter into a very peculiar sevice provider system, and the level to which you trust a rogue can be seen in how you let them treat your box.

If you don't trust them, you run around until you find a helful rogue, and ask/demand/beg them to open the box for you - in which case you put the box in the "do not trade" part of the trade window, and the other person manipulates the box through this window, with no real access to the box. It is like holding on to it while the other person fiddles with the lock.

If you trust them, you may group the rogue and give them the boxes. In this case the rogue will have to empty the boxes, but it lets you transfer many boxes in one go, saving time for both parties. It's also an strong gesture of trust, as the rogue may run off with your loot. The grouping is important because it will let you see what the rogue actually takes out of the boxes, as being in the same group lets all see the loot of others as it's picked up.

The most offhand, relaxed way to treat a box when you know your rogue, is when you just mail it, and get the contents back in the mail. No control of the box, no control of the loot: you trust the rogue quite explicitly to deal with you honestly.

Why don't all just do the last thing? It's much easier than to carry the box around all the time. Two reasons, the first is the trust issue. But the second is the reason why the trust issue is important at all: The seductive nature of the locked box. This is why sometimes my rogue opens 8-10 boxes for people, collected over several levels. Even if you know the object in the box is quite likely to be useless to you, the exitement and secrecy of the locked space, opening, gaining access, being surprised is extremely attractive: it's not a rational cost-efficiency issue, it is a desire to see that which is hidden, the seduction of the mystery.

Which is why I am so delighted with the trust shown me when the guild mates send me their locked boxes - they offer for my eyes only that first glimpse into the mystery contained in the locked box, and they trust me to treat this privilege honestly. It is, indeed, a pleasure.

Friday, June 01, 2007

articles on the visual side of games

I am looking hard for articles discussing the visual impressions of games. Have I gone blind, amd I using the wrong search words, or are there hardly any serious discussions of the graphical game interface?