This is one of my favourite ads. ‘Ad’ doesn’t really do it justice.  It’s one minute of film. One of the reasons I think it works is because they’ve actually folded the perceived negative aspects of gaming such as violence and sex into positive virtues of life, experience and learning.  In other words it ain’t the media so much as what we do with it that matters; how we interpret, play, create.  And the other reason is because it’s so moving because it’s about imagination and the power of dreams :) And it reminds me that we have such a janus-faced view of technological culture.  We see it as contrasts, either as liberating or repressive, bad or good, enlightening or ‘shrinking’.  When of course it’s all of these things and none of them depending on  how we relate to it.  A progressive critique wouldn’t talk of morals but of effects which is inherently messier but far more interesting and personal.  This ad kind of embodies that approach for me: dubious virtue.

Went to the games exhibition at the Science Museum yesterday.  Tremendous stuff.  Aside from making me nostalgic for the nascent gameplay of Pong and Space Invaders I discovered the art of Ocean Quigley, designer of The Sims aesthetic who had some really moving pieces that reminded me of some of the artwork around existentialism and the novels influenced by that movement, where the bodies were often ‘blank’, bodies as vessels and yet more moving and affecting because there was nothing else to the form.  Freaky.  Odd.

Dscf2521

The other was the work of  Koichi Sugiyama who unbeknown to me introduced classical music into gameplay.  Listening to some of his work was wonderful and you can see how some of the more ambient soundscapes in new games is influenced by this work.  Compare that to Roy Hubbard’s Warhawk for the N64, a brilliant early piece of new wave in games [see this top ten games tunes from the time].  I’d never thought much about the importance of audio in gameplay but hearing the history and then playing some of the games on display made me realise how utterly central it is to the experience, it sets the whole tone for how you interact, your mood. So, well worth going for these two things alone. 

But then tucked away at the end of the exhibition is a great piece on the making of GTA IV, complete with Post-Its representing different narrative threads interspersed with sketches of pimps and their cars.  Wonderful stuff.  Didn’t have time to see what the different colours represented and how the post-its mapped out to my knowledge of the game which would have been good.  Haven’t seen anything like this since the Pixar exhibition, again at the Science Museum, and the making of amongst other things, Toy Story and the characterisation and storyboarding behind that which was so full of insight around the way in which the toys themselves would ‘behave’, how their materiality affected their character.  No such character craft in GTA where the  effort and thought seems to reside in the ‘environmental’ factors and geography where the action is played out.

Dscf2525

The geography is just fab… so envious.  I’d love to try and create some sort of psychogeography of GTA, mapping our navigation, movement, the cues we use from abstracted navigational signifiers [roads, signposts, the 'map' in game itself!] etc. loosely based as they are around Miami, San Fransisco or New York and our experience of navigating the space through our senses.  Someone must have tried to do that already… or at the very least done work on the geography of gaming ‘environments’?

Gtamap

Link: BBC NEWS | Programmes | Newsnight | Newsnight’s ‘Geek Week’.

I’ve really enjoyed the Newsnight ‘Geek Week’ and especially the package on MMOGs.   However, it annoys me how gamers [and anyone interested in anything that uses technology] are referred to as geeks.  And not just by Newsnight, by my colleagues at work and friends – by people who should know better.   

So instead of trying to work I got to thinking what it means to be a geek?  The myriad of definitions don’t help a lot.  e.g.:

  • A geek is a person who is fascinated, perhaps
    obsessively, by technology and imagination. Geek may not always have
    the same meaning as the term nerd (see nerd for a discussion of the
    disputed relation between the terms). wikipedia
  • A carnival performer who does disgusting act OR eccentric: a person with an unusual or odd personality 
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

my favourite:

  • The sort of person who would get really excited at the
    prospect of using a text editor on a 900 megahertz workstation to write
    out the definitions of technical terms.
    www.scotsmist.co.uk/glossary_g.html

Despite not having a consistent ‘definition’ the term has a great deal of currency. Are people who buy Plasma screens Geeks?  Why not?  If people playing Second Life are then where does it stop, at the type of technology or the passion for the product?  Does it help in defining an increasingly large cohort by psychographics’ or attitude or is it just a demeaning [for most of the definitions are demeaning] term for non-users to normalise their own existence – the ‘Other’, the ‘geek’?  When a 53 year old woman from a town in the north of England becomes a ‘geek’ are we not dismissing so much of the richness of well, her:

 

After watching your video about Second Life, I have to say I AM
HOOKED, and have been for some time now! I’ve been involved in 3D VR
chat programmes for around seven years now as a user and now couldn’t
live without them! When SL hit the PCs I popped in just to take a look
round and WOW, I was instantly hooked. You can be whatever and whoever
you want to be – I’ve met and talked to some wonderful people. In March
2004, I flew to New York and married the man of my dreams after we met
in Active Worlds.com and I’ve never been happier. By the way, I’m 53.
Keep up the good work Newsnight!
Viv Garbacki, Burnley
 

So geeks are somehow ‘abnormal’, they display charcateristics different from the ‘population’ that is they play games. But when these ‘abnormal’ types turn out to be very ‘normal’ people where doe this leave us?  Viv may be an anomaly but there are lots and lots of anomalies; there are lots of Viv’s. 

GodofwarGood, if obvious, observation from Aleks Krotoski on the Guardian Games Blog from a games conference in Dundee:

Women don’t play games because they perceive "gamer" as (and I’ll quote
an excellent presentation by Mette Fairgrieve from the ITU in
Copenhagen) "male, a young man or boy, antisocial, guzzling coke and
pizza and lacking basic hygiene."  Women (and men who don’t play games)
don’t play games because they don’t see gaming as an asset to their
self-image.

An "asset to their self-image".  Hardly suprising when there aren’t really any counter-images of gamers.  All the images /advertising I see for games and gaming are dark, hard, aggressive , serious and ‘masculine’ and which are almost universally sexist.  It’s a bit immature and ‘teeange’ on the whole.

So where are the positive images for women, and indeed some men, to  have for ‘self-actualisation’, to ‘identify with’?  And where’s the humour and fun? 

SimsImage is tied to the game itself of course and whilst I’m not saying that women want fluffy fun games there is certainly scope to go beyond the genres of: action; immersive worlds;  and kids ‘cartoon’ games, few of which are set to appeal to women generally.  You only need to look at how many films, programmes, even some issues! etc. that are more popular with women have been taken up within gaming.  I can’t think of any excepting Sims.  Alice mentions that some 60% of people playing Sims are women [and they've sold 56 million copies - fuck that's a lot], and infers that this is partly due to the gameplay – building, creating, relating as opposed to destroying, killing etc. prevalent in ‘male’ dominated games :-o You can certainly see from the ‘products’ available within the Sims range that they’ve tried to build on popular programmes like Sex in the City

Perhaps the most telling contribution however, is that women refer tothe ‘practice as  ‘playing’ rather than ‘gaming’.  Many women [people, whoever] play games, they are not ‘gamers’.  My son, who is 5, talks in the same terms, he wants to play StarWars Lego but he doesn’t identify with being a gamer [yet] and nor do I particularly want him too because the definition as it stands is too narrow, the ‘Other’, despite the work of some excellent female games designers, does not have a seem to have the platform or the power to contest this.  Come on, big up the Play!  Big up the Fun!  Use some irony and satire to undermine the "gamer", the moody teenage gamer boys with machinic thumbs and a penchant for black clothes and Kurt Vonnegut novels.  Heck, that last comment’s not going to make me popular is it?

Link: Wonderland: Red vs Blue deets.
This is mental [and also no doubt as old as the air I breathe but there you go]: a bunch of people have been making ‘films’ from their Halo games.  Red versus Blue are a series of films created from Halo ‘games’ where the ‘directors’ [a group of friends] strangely enough ‘direct’ characters, set scenes and, crucially, add their own audio over the top – to give it that Jon Motson action feel ;-)
That’s just geeky shit, right?  Well yep, but evidence that the world is getting geekier: approx. 1 million people a *week* download and watch this high drama [well, drunken comedy actually]!  But a week!:

Every week, Mr. Burns gathers Geoff Fink, 28, and Jason SaldaƱa, 25, and some other friends to play a videogame called Halo. They edit the on-screen images into roughly five-minute videos that have plots, recurring characters and original soundtracks. Like puppeteers, each man controls a computer-generated character on the screen. They also provide the voices along with friends in other cities, who send in their audio tracks over the Internet. The group distributes the series online and on DVDs. Now on its 29th episode, the low-budget production has attracted a cult following and shows signs of crossing over to a broader audience.
From The San Fransisco Chronicle [PDF copy].

Now I know that broadcasting video game content is not new but this amateurisation of the mass market is quite incredible.  The Red versus Blue production team was set to do the same for Sims 2 with it’s movie making function.  How soon will it be before films of games become the object of gaming in their own right? A productive outcome to having fun – creating and sharing videos?

And then there’s Blinkenlights.  Ben just showed me this.  Awesome – playing Pong, Tetris and Pac-Man using the lights of public buildings [all done in association with the buildings owners].  Now this is plainly not scalable but it raises the question of games as a public spectacle.  We used to work on the premise of games as only providing personal enjoyment.  Being in control was perceived to provide the main form of utility.  Is this still true?  Some games are so good as to be filmic quality whilst others, like the mobile games that Blinkenlight produce on public buildings are a proper public spectacle to rate with any other.  Fascinating where this could lead – shop windows as interactive games walls?  Project your own gaming at home onto your window, ‘watch’ you favourite gamers on TV/mobile/PC/games platform [which are all merging as products and experiences anyway. non?]….

Link: we make money not art: Back Seat Gaming.

I love this idea being devloped at the Interactive Institute in Stockholm.  This, to me, is a great innovation.  Gaming is a good way to pass time – especially when you’re trapped, like when a passenger in a car.  The one constant when travelling, with the exception of the UK where the norm is gridlock, is that you’re moving. The landscape is changing. Changing landscape, GPS and a captive, restless audience = GPS game. Simple. Fab.  Anyway, it’s still in the research phase so I’m not going to get too carried away.

Admission: I’m not a gamer.  I spent 6 months back in 1992 playing Super Mario on a Nintendo 24/7 with nothing but microwave faggots, reefers, and cheap lager for company.  Half a year of my life is a black hole.  Gone with nothing to show for it but some dodgy aquaintances from Liverpool.  I dare not get sucked in again. I’m weak. That said, I love the developmenst in gaming.   Alice has found a funny account of what could happen if EA get their way and move gaming into ‘mainstream culture’ and take games into reality TV land.   Sims on acid!
[via Wonderland]

 

Link: we make money not art: Grand Thieves’ Audio.

Bunk have taken political satire to a new medium if not a new level. GTA Vice City gets some new friends for your journey [are these the sort of people that would go in for car pooling?!] around town such as the Army Recruitment Officer. All available as MP3 downloads you can use as ‘radio’ while you maraud around. Nice idea.

Link: ‘Half-Life 2′ players call in sick | News.blog | CNET News.com.

I knew it. All this talk of gaming being good for you, we needed a bad news story to balance things out and to make me feel like less of a loser for not being a hard-core gamer.