Wednesday, January 27, 2010


My colleague Svein Brurås wrote about an extremely good piece of journalism in a Norwegian newspaper, and I just want to join him in pointing towards it. Good journalism is worth celebrating and sharing.

What it's about? Nothing really. Just a lonely man nobody noticed, who died from a stroke while he was out on his bike. The story the journalist uncovers through very careful and through investigation is nothing special either, it's just heartbreaking, and very, very good. It's in Norwegian, sorry, other-language-readers. Google Translate may help a little, but it won't give you the tone in which the story has been told.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Being Human

I have just recently discovered a television series which made me an instant fan. BBC's Being Human is the perfect mix for me, it has a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire, they live in a small town in England, and they are struggling to fit in. It's a mix of True Blood and East-Enders and contains buckets of the delightful humour that tends to be such an integrated part of the best British series. The harddisk has been cleared of several other dramas in order to make space for this one.

This made me consider why I like the monster theme so much. I love True Blood as well, despite its much more heavy handed story-telling, and am on principle a fan of dragons, cheering for the monster, not the knight.

I think the title of this series captures the reason for me. Being human is about a desire to belong to society. It's all about solving or at least dealing with the issues that arise when you're different, in order to be able to live in peace simply as a regular human being. The many stories of monsters confirm the value of humanity, whether the monsters try to live like us, they try to extinguish us, or they are us. The monster without or within, the unhuman or the inhuman, is what defines humanity, and makes being human something desirable. Or, perhaps a

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Games and entertainment technology

IADIS - International Association for Development of the Information Society - are organising a conference in Freiburg, Germany, in July 2010. They have a call for papers, deadline is February 19th, and the conference is called GET - Games and Entertainment Technology. The CFP is very wide, generally, if you do something related to electronic games as a researcher, designer, programmer, teacher or artist, you'll fit. They also invite for very diverse types of presentations, from posters to full papers, as well as corporate exhibitions and showcases.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The end of the magic?

I have been playing World of Warcraft for almost five years now, and a lot of my research and writing has come out of that play. I am both fascinated with online games as a medium and cultural artifacts, and an enthusiastic happy player. Or, at least, I was the last until the new patch - 3.3.0. Now I have suddenly lost it.

In order to play WoW well at the high end - intense heroic grinding and raiding - you needed to have friends and connections. To function well as a gamer in World of Warcraft meant to function well as a friend to a large group of people. You had to be reliable, follow a certain set of rules and know your players in order to get good groups and easy "runs". After a while you had a friends list and was in enough such lists that you would be accepted, included and assisted. If you did a mistake, people would forgive, as they'd know it wasn't common, and you could play well and share generously the next time. In short: You invested social capital and it had value.

Now, not so much.

In order to advance now, you need to grind enormous amounts of emblems, and to grind those emblems you either have to have the above mentioned friend group already established, or you need to group with strangers who you will most likely never meet again. (Check Cross Realm Dungeon Finder and User Interface Section: Dungeon Finder.)

Knowing you won't ever meet said strangers again makes people behave oddly. Suddenly old rules are thrown over board and people become greedy and cruel. The new group set up allow things like "vote to kick", which is extensively used to kick people who for instance have low dps. Low dps comes from bad gear, and in order to get good gear you need to do instances. However, if you get kicked from the groups you participate in due to bad gear, you can't get good gear. Further, it allows for rudeness and impatience. Healers and tanks are still hard to find, but you don't need to be polite to your tank or healer any more. Tanks run to rush through the instance as quickly as possible, then get angry with healers who don't keep up. If the tank is slow, the entire group goes ballistic, insisting on higher speed through the instance. It's all about grinding as many badges as quickly as possible. As for conversation: Why talk, why be polite and say hello or goodbye? It's not like we will meet again, after all. And so the "tip of the day" shown on log-in about "being polite in group may get you invited back" is put to shame. There's no way to pre-sort the group for the instance, no way to screen out the ninjas or the flaming idiots, and hence no reason to be nice. The 3.3.0 patch makes niceness a less efficient gaming strategy.

And then we come to looting. At one point the looting options are better. Blizzard has included a "disenchant" option, which lets a person choose "disenchant" if there is an enchanter in the group. This option is equal to "greed", and if three people choose greed while two choose disenchant, it will be a greed roll, and people receive enchanting materials or the object, depending on their preference. But there are still people who pick "need". And they pick "need" on all kind of weird things, most notably trade materials such as frozen orbs. Frozen orbs used to be rare but important, now they are plentyful due to the fact that there are other orbs replacing them in crafting (crusader orbs, for instance), and they can be had at a reasonable price at the AH. Normally people would pick "greed" for that kind of craft objects, but that has suddely changed. Now it's all about "need". And you get a particular type of "need" - people who avoid needing until the roll bar is almost gone, then they hit "need" after all others in the group have chosen the more politically correct and polite "greed".

So, why do people still use the automated cross-server group-finder? Because one of the vital emblems for buying new gear is most easily obtainable through using it. Hence, Blizzard forces the players into very uncomfortable, conflict-fraught situations where they can not utilise their social capital. Although there is one way around that. If you already have a group of good friends, you can make pre-set grinding groups and enter with healer, tank and three dps into the instance-finder system. Then you get to play with your friends.

So, the new instance finder is good for: People with experience and good gear. People with a well-established group of friends. People who don't care about social play, and have no qualms about abandoning a group, kicking a slow player or ninjaing loot. The new, unattached casual player has absolutely no chance at having fun in this system.

Shame on you, Blizzard. But, well, I guess you don't want more new players. Perhaps 11,5 million is enough, really?