DiGRA 2005: Changing Views: Worlds in Play, 2005 International Conference

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An Irrational Black Market? Boundary work perspective on the stigma of in-game asset transaction

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Date created: 
2005-05-31
Abstract: 

Eastern Asia's online gaming market has undergone spectacular growth over the past seven years, this has been due to the mass broadband internet distribution in South Korea and Taiwan. According to a survey conducted by the Taiwan Network Information Center(TWNIC 2004), Taiwan has over 9.36million broadband internet users, and within these users,18.11% stress out that their most frequent online activity is playing online games, this number implies that there are at least 1.96million online gamers in Taiwan alone. Along with the growth of online gamer populations, is the bursting growth of secondary markets for in-game assets, in these markets players trade in-game assets or currency with real cash. In the past these transactions take place between individual players, but with the fast growing demand for large amounts of in-game currency, many internet cafes and workshops transformed their business into specialized "production" and selling of in-game currency. By hiring low-waged workers known as "currency farmers" to play around the clock in "producing" in-game currencies, these "in-game asset companies" are able to keep an abundant supply, without violating most game companies’ strict policies to hunt down "macros" and "treasure cloning." Despite the prosperous growth of these secondary markets for in-game assets, the general public and the media still sees these transactions with a negative perspective, often portraying them as black markets filled with fraud and violence, 217 out of 242 (89.67%) reports of in-game asset trade found on the United Daily News(one of Taiwan’s most popular newspapers) used descriptions like "black market" "dangerous" or "strange." This kind of news agenda-setting matches the society’s moral panic towards gaming and cyberspace, consolidating the general stereotype of in-game asset buyers as irrational, heavy game addicts, and the sellers as frauds gaining unearned income. But are the participants in these markets really irrational? Are the sellers really gaining unearned income? Past studies on these secondary markets for in-game asset were mainly based on economic perspective, focusing on the possible effects of in-game markets on the real world economic markets, or descriptions of the mechanisms of in-game economy. Economics define rationality as "efficiency" and "consistency," efficiency means that the individual will choose the comparative advantageous choice after comparing the costs and benefits of every available choice. Consistency is an assumption made for economic-modal analysis, meaning that every individual has a specific set of preference that will not change over time. From the economics view, the most often heard buyer’s explanation: "Why shouldn’t I buy these in-game assets? I don’t have time to slowly progress in the game, just a small amount of my salary can make the game more fun for me. And besides, the time I saved can be used to be with my friends and family, or even used to earn more real money." Is a perfect example of economic rationality, the individual allocates his/her limited resources in the most efficient way according to his/her preference. The sellers on the other hand, must carefully calculate the amount of time or labor cost deployed into the production of in-game assets, and afterwards the seller must spend more search cost or even more labor cost of hiring "delivering person" to eliminate transactional risks in order to finish the transaction, again a wonderful performance of economic rationality, if at some point the costs exceeds the benefit, the seller will surely quit immediately. The economic perspective explained the cause of these markets and the individual incentives for participating in these transactions, but the economist missed out on the society’s impact in forming these markets. In other words, the economic explanations does not explain why these markets came to be seen as dangerous black markets, if it is the "virtual" nature of the goods involved in these transactions, then why isn’t the digital music industry viewed as a social problem? Obviously there are hierarchical differences in how different markets are viewed, and the economic explanations disregarded the cause of these differences. The supply and demand explanations offered by economists also ignored the actual interpretation of the participants’ behavior from their own view, and the hierarchical differences within gamer communities in facing "sellers", "buyers" or "currency farmers". The common image of the buyer as "rich working adults" and the sellers as "teenagers with too much time to spare" may just be an indication of the more delicate forms of segregation among gamer communities. In my research I will gather information on the process of these transactions and the participant interpretations of their action through participant observation and in-depth interview. Then try to explain the cause of the societal black market view, and the participent’s strategies to fight back, cover, or pass(Goffman, 1979)from a "boundary work" perspective, which is a more flexible analysis of how groups are created, formed, and maintained through social interaction to distinguish "we" and "others"(Lamont, 1992; Zerubavel, 1991). And finally I will try to combining the society’s impact and the participants’ action, to explain the formation of these markets, and various interaction mechanisms within them. References Goffman, E. (1979). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York, Penguin Books. Lamont, M. (1992). Money, morals, and manners: The culture of the French and American upper-middle class. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press. TWNIC (2004). http://www.twnic.net.tw/download/200307/0407release.doc Zerubavel, E. (1991). The fine line: Making distinction in everyday life. New York, The Free Press.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Early Games Production in New Zealand

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Date created: 
2005-04-16
Abstract: 

THEME: Internationalism: Worlds at Play This paper reports on research into the early history of computer and video games in New Zealand. It focuses in on the anomalies of the availability and supply of game systems to this small nation, and its burgeoning market of players, particularly in the 1970s and 80s. Several early consoles (the Vectrex, Coleco and Intellivision) were not released in New Zealand. At the same time, however, there was a significant local production scene. At last count, six different companies were involved in arcade machine manufacture, and there are at least four different early consoles that were made in New Zealand (Sportronic, Tunix, Fountain, Videosport). Handhelds were both imported from Asia and (part) manufactured locally. On the microcomputing front, an important early site for home gaming and the programming of games, computers like the Sega SC-3000 (which made it into few markets outside of Japan) were a big success in New Zealand, spawning several magazines and many user’s groups. This illustrated paper will present an overview of this largely unknown history. It draws on in depth archival research, interviews with key industry participants and collectors. It will discuss why the availability of games in this market differed from more mainstream ones, and what some of the factors were that contributed to game technologies finding their markets (or not). These include the small size of the overall market, a lack of distributors, local tax restrictions and import licensing, and the practice of ‘dumping’ excess stock. These factors not only ensured a time lag between when games were released internationally and in New Zealand, they also seem to have created the conditions for a local manufacturing scene. Also significant are the resemblances between local products and internationally recognisable ones: the locally written ‘clones’ of classic games like "Scramble" and "Panic" whose relations to the ‘original’ need to be understood in terms of homage and esteem as well as being functions of what was technically possible. Local programmers drew inspiration from others’ concepts, as distinct from their code. This research has been conducted for an exhibition on the social history of gaming in New Zealand, to open at Te Manawa museum in late 2005 www.temanawa.org.nz/gameplay

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Game mediated communication: Multiplayer games as the medium for computer based communication

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Date created: 
2005-05-31
Abstract: 

BACKGROUND As computer games have evolved over time many new features and game aspects have been introduced, such as the player-to-player communication of multiplayer games. Here, interaction between players can make up the major content of gameplay, shifting the burden of producing the plot away from the game designers to the players themselves. While there still has to be a degree of plot and narration also in a multiplayer game, much focus is on the communication activities of the players participating. Player-to-player communication may be divided into in-game communication and out-of-game communication, the latter often taking place in web based forums. Such out-of-game communication may include the buying and selling of desirable game items, as reported by Castronova: "Records at one web site show that on an ordinary weekday (Thursday, September 6, 2001), the total volume of successfully completed auctions (N-112) was about $9,200." (Castronova 2003). In-game communication can be subdivided into in-character and out-of-character communication, the former being performed in such a way that the atmosphere of the game is preserved. This can be a key aspect in many multiplayer games, and may leave a strong impression on the player. Also in action games with a modest number of players and a high degree of fast combat situations, player-to-player communication may be a key feature, as observed by Wright et al.: "The meaning of playing Counter-Strike is not merely embodied in the graphics or even the violent game play, but in the social mediations that go on between players through their talk with each other..." (Wright et al. 2002). With real time player-to-player communication in place, multiplayer games fulfill all criteria for being Networked Virtual Environments, as defined by Singhal and Zyda: "1) A shared sense of space, 2) A shared sense of presence, 3) A shared sense of time, 4) A way to communicate, and 5) A way to share" (Singhal and Zyda 1999). Also, if the communication is taken to include not only text but also sound, then crucial parts of the "Rich Interaction" outlined by Manninen can be implemented in multiplayer games (Manninen 2001, 383-398). Regarding the time spent in multiplayer game environments, a survey conducted by Egenfelt-Nielsen in 2002 showed that 46.94% played 12 hours or more per week (Egenfelt-Nielsen 2002). A study by Castronova shows that 31.5% of the players over 18 years of age devoted more time in a typical week to playing the online game EverQuest than they did to working (Castronova 2001). Sony Online Entertainment Inc. reports having sold over 2 million copies of EverQuest, experiencing over 118,000 simultaneous players during peak hours. (Sony 2004). RESEARCH QUESTION As in-game communication is a key issue in many multiplayer games, the aspect of computer mediated communication in general may be closely associated with those games. As such games are being played by large numbers of players, its possible that these games may be perceived by many as the natural place to perform computer based communication in general. The research issue addressed in this paper is to find out if computer based chatting is spontaneously associated with multiplayer games by some individuals, and, if so, the nature of these associations. METHODOLOGY Two studies were conducted through interviews with students in two cities in Sweden. The students, 10-15 years of age, were interviewed about their computer based communication activities. Whole school classes were interviewed, to ensure that not just students interested in computer related issues participated. As a key aspect was investigating spontaneous associations, the interviewer never mentioned computer games related issues. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS Results show that multiplayer games were spontaneously pinpointed by 16.83% of all students using computer based chat. Positive remarks dominated significantly, but some negative aspects were mentioned, such as difficulty chatting and playing simultaneously. Geograpical differences were minor, with the students in the capital city of Stockholm being slightly less frequent to associate computer based chatting with multiplayer games, 15.56% versus 17.89% in the smaller city of Umeå. The Umeå students associated computer based chat with multiplayer games to a somewhat higher degree when positive sides of chat was discussed, 14.28% compared to 11.11% of the students in Stockholm. Spontaneous association of computer based chatting with multiplayer games is just slightly more common among the younger students, 17.07% (age 10-12), as among the older ones, 16.67% (age 13-15). A larger difference is seen regarding positive versus negative issues of chatting. Among the younger students, only 2.44% mentioned multiplayer games when discussing negative aspects of computer based chat, while 5.00%, of the older students did this. Both these figures are low, however, compared to how often multiplayer games where brought up when discussing positive aspects of the chatting: by 14.63% of the younger students and 11.67% of the older students. Of the answers spontaneously mentioning multiplayer games, 76.47% came while discussing positive sides of computer chatting, and 23.53% while discussing negative aspects. Typical examples include: "Then you can play in teams, because you've got to talk then" (boy, grade 9), and "That you can warn your friend in Counter Strike" (boy, grade 6). Some answers describe situations where chatting is used to express strong feelings, like "That you can scream when you get shot" (boy, grade 7), and: "That they say swear words when they play" (girl, grade 9). The last quote above is one of relatively few negative-context associations of chat with games. Most of the negative associations that did occur related to the flow of game time, "It can stop the game" (boy, grade 4), or: "When you miss something because you chatted. In games i mean" (boy, grade 7). As has been pointed out in (Juul 2003), most action games have a 1:1 mapping between player time and the event time. Thus there is a need to manage simultaneous chatting and playing in order not to miss any of the gameplay. It is interesting to note that this is perceived as a problem by some, indicating that further development in this area might result in improved multiplayer games. REFERENCES Castronova, Edward. 2001. Virtual worlds: A first-hand account of market and society on the cyberian frontier. CESifo Working Paper No. 618. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID294828_code020114590.pdf... Castronova, Edward. 2003. On Virtual Economies. In Game Studies – the international journal of computer game research, volume 3, issue 2, December 2003. http://www.gamestudies.org/0302/castronova/ Egenfelt-Nielsen, Simon. 2002. Online gaming habits. In Game Research – the art, business and science of computer games. http://www.game-research.com/art_online_gaming.asp Juul, Jesper. 2003. Time to play – An examination of game temporality. In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Edited by Wardrip-Fruin N and Harrigan P. MIT Press. Manninen, Tony. 2001. Rich interaction in the context of networked virtual environments – experiences gained from the multiplayer games domain. In Joint Proceedings of HCI 2001 and IHM 2001 Conference. Edited by Blanford A, Vanderdonckt J and Gray P. Springer-Verlag. Singhal, S., and Zyda, M. 1999. Networked virtual environments: Design and implementation, ACM Press. Sony. 2004. Square Enix to publish Sony Online Entertainment’s EverQuest® II in Japan. Press release from Sony Online Entertainment, May 11, 2004. http://sonyonline.com/corp/press_releases/051104_square_sony.html Wright, Talmadge, Eric Borgia and Paul Beridenbach. 2002. Creative player actions in FPS online video games – Playing Counter-Strike. In Game Studies – the international journal of computer game research, volume 2, issue 2, December 2002. http://www.gamestudies.org/0202/wright/

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Among pasta-loving Mafiosos, drug-selling Columbians and noodle-eating Triads – Race, humour and interactive ethics in Grand Theft Auto III

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Date created: 
2005-05-28
Abstract: 

This paper explores the intersection of race, humour and interactivity in GTA3. Interactivity has been extensively researched, race issues in games have been scarcely studied (Leonard 2003), but hitherto no research has focused on humour aspects of games despite the popularity of this subject in non-academic discussions on the Internet (BBC News 2001; Perry 2001). Previously, content analysis of games has been focused on narrative aspects (Aarseth 1997; Murray 1998) or psychological links between games and violence (Grossman 1995; Irwin and Gross 1995; Griffiths 1997; Kirsh 1998; Anderson and Dill 2000). It has been claimed that a substantial part of this research "tend to view video games as toys for kids, rather than sophisticated vehicles inhabiting and disseminating racial, gender, or national meaning" (Leonard 2003). This approach to video games as being ontologically frivolous might be traced to the moralizing dynamic of academic activity (Gustafsson 1994). This paper is based on assumptions challenging these perpectives, treating video games as a powerful medium for diffusing cultural and symbolic meanings. In this paper, we will expand and develop this stream of thought by arguing that video games provide in addition to diffusing cultural and symbolic meanings, new loci of reflection and critique of issues of social concern, such as ethics, ideologies, stereotypical depictions of race, class and gender. In this paper the dimension of race will be developed. This theoretical development will be elucidated by analysing Grand Theft Auto III, which is one of the most popular game titles during the last years, and generally in the history of games. The game has become highly controversial and much-talked-about not only for its explicit depiction of violence or global popularity, but also very much for the sarcastic and humoristic representation of society issues such as law enforcement, ethnicity, modern (American) urban life, crime, legal systems and class differences. The analysis is based on a fundamental assumption that video/computer games are texts and should be read as such. Just as Ien Ang (1985)sees the TV series Dallas as a text this analysis will be based on a similar belief. In the case of computer games this assumption is more controversial since the object of analysis is not linear as texts and films. This issue divides video game theorists – those who treat games as texts, so-called narrativists (Murray 1998), or those who oppose this notion and believe games require a totally new "ludological" approach (Aarseth 1997)based on the intrinsically unique characteristics of play in video games. Although we do not criticise the ludological approach GTA3 will be read as a text thus supporting the arguments of narrativists. We will juxtapose two drastically different analytical perspectives when studying racial issues of GTA3. The first perspective is Critical Race Theory (CRT). It posits that racism is a normal and not abnormal phenomenon in society (Delgado and Stefanic 2000a). Another assumption in CRT is called "interest convergence" meaning that the rights of ethnic groups are only promoted and accepted when they converge with the interests of dominating (white) groups, creating a status quo which is hard to challenge (Delgado and Stefanic 2000b). CRT believes this status quo can be opposed in the form of storytelling where the myths, presuppositions and other discourses of race oppression are questioned. CRT writers pay particular attention to legal storytelling and narrative analysis as a way of opposing discriminating discourses of race within the legal system. Basically CRT writers assume that race is a social construction and are consequently opposing any anti-essentialist arguments. Various social constructions of race created for different races expose the different racialization of ethnic groups. Somewhat contradictory to the anti-essentialist notion, CRT believes in the unique voice of colour which means that each race has specific and unique knowledge that can only be communicated by that race. Furthermore CRT calls for revisionist history that re-examines majoritarian interpretations of history trying to replace these with explanation more in agreement with the knowledge of minorities. CRT also criticises liberalism due to its belief in colour blindness and neutral law principles. The humour perspective derives from three competing paradigms for comprehending humour (Morreall 1986). One views humour as an expression of feelings of superiority over another person (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes). Another aspect of humour, noted by Aristotle and Cicero and neglected until Kant and Schopenhauer developed it into the incongruity theory, perceives of humour as reaction to the perception of some incongruity. According to the third and latest theory, the relief theory of e.g. Herbert Spencer and Freud, laughter is the venting of superfluous nervous energy. Our analysis will be grounded on the first two perspectives. We will argue that the CRT perspective is consistent with the first theory of humour, the superiority theory, but that the other, the incongruity theory, enables us to move beyond CRT and presents a novel way of looking at games. By presenting stereotypical images of race in GTA3 as humorous, the player is provided with cues for reflecting and evaluating his/her own perspectives on issues of race. Through the unique properties of game interactivity players are allowed to explore different levels of incongruity in a way not possible with other linear forms of media. These perceptions of incongruity stem from the juxtaposition of images of race in GTA3 and the expectations of players, further exposing the characteristics of these expectations and providing impetus for personal reflection. Aarseth, E. J. (1997). Cybertext - Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, Johns Hopkins University Press. Anderson, C. A. and K. E. Dill (2000). "Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology78. Ang, I. (1985). Watching Dallas : soap opera and the melodramatic imagination, Routledge. BBC News (2001). Crime plays in GTA3http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/reviews/1642890.stm. Accessed 2003-08-13 Delgado, R. and J. Stefanic (2000a). Critical Race Theory – The Cutting Edge, Temple University Press. Delgado, R. and J. Stefanic (2000b). Critical Race Theory – An Introduction, New York University Press. Griffiths, M. (1997). "Video Games and Aggression." Psychologist10. Grossman, D. (1995). On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Boston, Little, Brown. Gustafsson, C. (1994). Produktion av allvar: om det ekonomiska förnuftets metafysik. Stockholm, Nerenius & Santérus. Irwin, A. and A. Gross (1995). "Cognitive Tempo, Violent Video Games, and Aggressive Behavior in Young Boys." Journal of Family Violence10. Kirsh, S. J. (1998). "Seeing the World through Mortal Combat-colored Glasses: Violent Video Games and the Development of Short-term Hostile Attribution Bias." Childhood, a Global Journal of Child Research5. Leonard, D. (2003). ""Live in your world, play in ours": Race, video games, and consuming the other." Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education3(4). Morreall, J. (1986). The philosophy of laughter and humor. Albany, N.Y., State Univ. of New York Press. Murray, J. (1998). Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, MIT Press. Perry, D. C. (2001). Grand Theft Auto III Review. IGN. http://ps2.ign.com/articles/165/165548p1.html. Accessed 2003-08-23

Document type: 
Conference presentation

The Play’s the Thing: Practicing Play as Community Foundation and Design Technique

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Date created: 
2005-06-04
Abstract: 

THEME: Interdisciplinary: Changing Views It is generally understood that game development is a collaborative art – requiring and benefiting from the talents of individuals from disperse disciplines and backgrounds. In a professional setting, these individuals may or may not find ways to communicate effectively, depending on the size of the team and the strength of its leadership. But in the end, they are generally employed under the assumption that they can and will find their way amongst those of differing educations and biases to some sort of collaborative effort, harmonious or not. If they can not do this in the end, they can always be replaced. The basic nature of cross-disciplinary trial and error in a business setting is quite brutal: those who can play well with others, stay; those who cannot, move on. This rather haphazard approach to collaborative practice may have worked to date, but as game development becomes more and more complex, more specialized and requiring of larger and larger teams, the question of how to train a new generation of developers, not only in their own specializations, but in cross-disciplinary teamwork seems more important than ever. At the University of Southern California, there are a number of initiatives underway that try to answer not only the question of how or under what discipline to teach games, but, more importantly, how to create cross-disciplinary communities of students and researchers that can from the foundations for multi-talented teams that all speak and play the same language of game design. One such initiative is the USC Game Design Community. The goal of this organization is to use game play itself as a community building tool and design practice, to build a community of game designers and developers who communicate in the shared language of activity and play. Inspired by independent and alternative games culture, the USC Game Design Community is a collaboration between the Institute for Multimedia Literacy at the Annenberg Center for Communication and the Interactive Media Division at the USC School of Cinema-Television. Monthly game play events alternate between the Institute for Multimedia Literacy and the Game Innovation Lab at the School of Cinema-Television. These events include experimental play projects, game critique salons, and social teambuilding exercises. Through these interactions, the IML and the Interactive Media Division hope to raise cross-disciplinary dialogue, build a community based in playful practice, and empower students and researchers from all areas of game expertise to expand the palette of game design for the future. The results of these community building efforts will hopefully be seen in a series of interdisciplinary game projects funded by the Interactive Media Division and supported by the Game Design Community. The past year has included the following initial events which have each been documented and evaluated as to their success in building community and creating shared practices between various disciplines: a) Cooperative Game Play Experiment Inspired by the New Games Movement of the 1970’s, the Cooperative Game Play Experiment is an ongoing investigation into building community through play. By exploring the New Games Movement, the community hopes to facilitate discussion around the social mechanisms of digital games and how they can be improved for more quality social interaction – both in our games and in our development teams. b) Surrealist Game Play Experiment Inspired by Surrealist games and activities, the Surrealist Game Play Experiment is an ongoing investigation into unlocking creativity and introducing playful practice into the game design process. Word games, visual plays, provocations and re-inventions are the heart of Surrealist games and activities, a sort of "provocative magic" that results in unexpected and surprising results. By playing these games, the community hopes to spur creative thinking and discussion about the nature and practice of art and design and its relation to the more technical aspects of game design. c) Game Salons In an effort to promote literacy and critical thinking, the Game Salons are regular screenings and "deconstruction" of influential new video games. Game features are presented by students who have developed extensive save files and are prepared to discuss the game critically. Games include the controversial Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and other influential titles. d) Teambuilding Events The community provides an ongoing forum for networking and team-building across University departments. Currently, this has been specifically geared toward development of teams for the Game Innovation Lab Research Grant (see below). In addition to in person networking via board games and multiplayer game events, prospective projects and talent are all listed on the community site for potential match-making. e) Game Innovation Lab Research Grant This grant provides $20,000 in funding for innovative games. The grant is awarded to multiple, cross-disciplinary student design teams based on project submissions. One or more teams receive a grant in the Fall, in the Spring, and in the Summer. Winning teams receive up to $20,000, a team office and equipment in the EA Game Innovation Lab, access to the lab’s usability testing facility and a faculty advisor/executive producer. All USC students are eligible to participate. The goals of the grant are to: • Provide funding and support for innovative student game projects and cross-disciplinary game development • Address important design problems that may have useful applications in the game industry • Investigate new game mechanics and push current game models beyond existing genres Current projects funded under the Game Innovation Grant are: Dyadin – Cooperative Game Play This project explores the potential of cooperative play mechanics in a 2-player adventure game. The story of Dyadin involves two overlapping worlds, and two characters occupying these worlds, but only able to affect objects in their own space. The core mechanic involves moving closer or farther away from the other character to change color and affect objects in the space. Players must cooperate or they cannot escape the puzzle and combat based levels. Dyadin was funded by the Game Innovation Lab as the first in a series of student-produced games addressing important design problems and innovations. The crew is a cross-disciplinary team from the School of Cinema-TV Interactive Media Division and the Viterbi School of Engineering. The Spring 2005 project(s) will be announced in December 2004. This experiment in using experimental types of game play to bring together a cross-disciplinary game design community is an ongoing process. The proposed article would be an evaluation of the various techniques attempted and the success, failure and learning found in them. In addition to post-mortem analysis, documentary footage and game results, there is also the potential to play some of the more successful game experiments with the conference audience, thereby extending the reach of the community beyond the limits of the USC campus.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Abstract of Dynamic Range: When Game Design and Narratives Unite

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Date created: 
2005-06-01
Abstract: 

This paper proposes a tool and methodology for measuring the degree of freedom given to a player in any resource-driven game (that is, any game in which managing resources is an integral part of the gameplay). This concept, which I call the Dynamic Range, can be used namely to evaluate a given game system’s potential for developing emergent narratives, as defined by Henry Jenkins in his publication Game Design as Narrative Architecture. While Jenkins places at the heart of the creation of narratives the concept of spatiality, I will argue that narratives can be triggered just as well by a game’s very system – the rules that govern that which Janet Murray calls the participatory. Different game systems can stimulate narratives to different degrees; these possibilities can be examined by drawing a game’s dynamic range. I define the dynamic range as a measure of the extent to which a player can modify his resources in order to face a particular challenge requiring a specific set of said resources, without impairing his future odds of winning or survival. While resource-driven games can be globally defined as focusing on players managing resources toward the accomplishment of a goal, this definition needs some improvement if we are to put it to good use in the growing, conflicting context of game versus narrative as pointed out by Jesper Juul. I believe it is certainly possible to combine both of these worlds, although doing so requires us to move away from the Aristotelian model and reshape our definition of storytelling so as to center it on the player-reader, and not on the designer-author. All games do not allow a player to manage resources equally; specifically, games relying on manual dexterity and skill will usually offer less choices and decision-making problems than, for example, strategy or role-playing games. If one is to study the measure of a player’s freedom depending on different game systems, then, it follows that the latter example is a more interesting and complex question; after all, the freedom of a player in skill-based games is usually directly – and sometimes solely – dependant on the player’s perceptual or motor skills, hand-eye coordination, etc. When one is to evaluate and measure player freedom in resource-driven games, a theoretical tool is needed. That is why I propose a model to do so: to draw a game’s dynamic range is to compare the usual statistical values, amount of resources, or other mathematical attributes of the player in a normal situation, and the maximum statistical fluctuations he can attain by optimizing his resources to face a particular challenge. This paper compares the game systems of two computer games, Diablo and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. What results from such a comparison is that, Diablo being a linear game, its game and character improvement system is as such, making the player’s character slightly better overall as he progresses in the game; whereas in Morrowind, arguably the most open-ended single-player video game ever, the player acquires but few artefacts giving a constant statistical improvement, and even those items are overpowered – both in raw statistical logic and common in-game usage and practicability – by the magical objects offering a short but strong increase in a select attribute. Thus Morrowind’s gameplay system favours the feat rather than the steady, constant increase in power, giving a creative player the ability to do almost anything. One key result from such a game design difference is that it stimulates emergent narratives. The term, following Jenkins’ definition, should be understood as a narrative emerging from the player’s manipulation of the game’s context. A player who is given a lot of freedom when playing a game – translated as a wide dynamic range – is prompt to creatively use that freedom so as to constantly reinvent the game. Indeed, some Morrowind players have their characters take off their armour before going to sleep, though it is a tedious process and has no statistical influence of any kind; others have their character regularly take Skooma – an illegal narcotic substance comparable to cocaine – not for the statistical boost in strength it offers, but to create the narrative track of playing a character addicted to heavy drugs (Note that the game itself does not make the character addicted; this is entirely the player’s own interpretation of the events he causes) . As beings communicating primarily by words, we function with tales and events, not numbers. Hence Morrowind players share their stories and accomplishments a great deal more than Diablo players used to when the game was at its popularity peak: its very wide dynamic range allows them to undertake quests way too perilous for their characters, and accomplish them by creatively using all the game system’s resources, whereas all Diablo characters follow the same road in a narrow dynamic range, thereby limiting the possibilities of a player having something interesting and unique to say. While a player cannot truly create events while playing a video game – he only gets to choose between pre-generated events, or, perhaps, to bring many pre-generated elements into an unexpected situation, as Juul wrote –, he can create new cognitive and psychological sense out of pre-generated events, in the same way we construct causality and attribute feelings of sympathy to a dog wagging its tail after seeing a neighbour’s dog, even though it may be that the two events are completely unrelated. Using the notion of dynamic range can help video game developers determine the amount of emergent narrative possibilities to include in a game so as to strike a balance between game and narrative, paving the way for alternative means of storytelling. ----- Sources used: Henry Jenkins, Game Design As Narrative Architecture Available online at http://web.mit.edu/21fms/www/faculty/henry3/games&narrative.html Jesper Juul, A Clash between Game and Narrative: A thesis on computer games and Interactive fiction Available online at http://www.jesperjuul.dk/thesis/ Aristotle, Poetics; Penguin Classics, Toronto, 1996 Roger Caillois, Les Jeux et les Hommes : Le masque et le vertige ; Gallimard, Saint-Amand, 1967 Mark J.P. Wolf & Bernard Perron, The Video Game Theory Reader; Routledge, New York, 2003 Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace; Free Press, New York, 1997 Pedro Faria, Jarulf’s Guide to Diablo and Hellfire Available online at http://members.core.com/~dfrease/Body/JG1.html

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Towards the unification of intuitive and formal game concepts with applications to computer chess

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-04-17
Abstract: 

In computer game development, an interesting point which has been little or no studied at all is the formalization of intuition such as game playing concepts, including playing style. This work is devoted to bridge the gap between human reasoning in game playing and heuristic game playing algorithms. The idea is motivated as follows. In most chess-like games there exist many intuition-oriented concepts such as capture, attack, defence, threaten, blocked position, sacrifice, zugzwang position and different playing styles such as aggressive, conservative, tactical and positional. Most human players use to manage these concepts, pergaps in an intuitive way, as they were not well formalized in a precise manner. A good formalization of these concepts would be an important step towards the automation of human reasoning in chess (and other strategy games) for better understanding of the game, thus leading to better playing. The goal of this research is to take a first step towards the unification of both "paradigms", namely human reasoning in game play and more formal heuristic concepts. We focus on computer chess as an example but the result could be also applied to most two-player zero-sum perfect information games. The applications of such a formulation are practical, such as better game understanding and opponent modeling, as well as educational: it would be nice to have these concepts somehow formalized. Then we suggest a way of transfering these intuitions into formal definitions. We propose an interpretation technique for describing chess positions and evaluation functions. The technique consists of interpreting and mapping part of the algorithmic scenario into quantities such as integer numbers. With such a mapping a given concept is likely to be described in a very precise way. As an application we look for candidate definitions of the following concepts: attack, defence, threat, sacrifice, zugzwang, aggressive play and defensive play. For each one of them we use the previous technique and propose a formal definition. Thus we give the first formulation of game playing styles -at least to the author's knowledge- and we show how this definition goes through for the game of chess. We describe different possibilities when moving from intuition to the formal setting, varying from a simple formulation through a connectionist approach. Then we show as an application how an evaluation function can be modified in order to include a given concept. This new evaluation function should take into account the degree of presence of the given concept (eg. how defensive is a given position) and thus it can be incorporated into a computer chess program. An advantage of allowing one to modify in such a manner an evaluation function is that one can combine different evaluation functions and -perhaps- get the better of each one of them. Although this is a first step in the given direction, some more difficult tasks will remain, such as the formalization of the so called positional, strategic and tactical play. References B. Abramson. Learning expected-outcome evaluators in chess. In H. Berliner, editor, Proceedings of the AAAI Spring Symposium on Computer Game Playing, pages 26-28, Stanford University, 1988. B. Abramson. On learning and testing evaluation functions. Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, 2(3):182-193, 1990. T. S. Anantharaman. Evaluation tuning for computer chess: Linear discriminant methods. International Computer Chess Association Journal, 20(4):224-242, 1997. E. B. Baum, Warren D. Smith. Best Play for Imperfect Players and Game Tree Search. 1993 J. Fürnkranz. Machine Learning in Computer Chess: The Next Generation Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Vienna, TR-96-11, 1996. A. Plaat, J. Schaeffer, W. Pijls and A. De Bruin. Best-First Fixed-Depth Game-Tree Search in Practice. IJCAI'95, Montreal. J. Schaeffer, P. Lu, D. Szafron and R. Lake. A Re-examination of Brute-Force Search Games: Planning and Learning, Chapel Hill, N.C., pp. 51-58, 1993. AAAI Report FS9302.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Opening the Production Pipeline: Unruly Creators

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-05-29
Abstract: 

Opening the Production Pipeline: Unruly Creators and Enjoyment John A. L. Banks Online Communications Director Auran www.auran.com Project Leader Australasian CRC for Interaction Design Postdoctoral Research Fellow (As from January 2005) Creative Industries Research Applications Centre Queensland University of Technology This paper draws on material from a recently submitted PhD dissertation, "Participatory Culture and Enjoyment in the Video Games Industry: Reconfiguring the Player–Developer Relationship". The dissertation is an ethnography of the game developer–fan relationship. Working from the intersection of cultural studies and new media studies, it offers an analysis of the rapidly transforming, reconfigured relationships between users and media producers in the games industry. It provides a mapping of the relations between production and consumption practices in the video games industry, through an ethnographic account of Auran, a PC game development company located in Brisbane, Australia, covering the period from mid-1997 through to 2004. It is about my entanglement, as both a researcher and creative industries worker, in the network of relations built between Auran and online gamer fans. From June 2000 my relationship with Auran shifted when I accepted employment as the company’s online community relations manager. This role largely involves managing Auran’s relations with an online rail-fan community that formed around the game development project, Trainz (www.auran.com/TRS2004): a train and railroad simulation released in December 2001. I examine how Auran has increasingly incorporated and involved train and rail fans in the process of designing and making Trainz. Using the tools provided with Trainz, users can make their own 3D rail world layouts and import 3D models of locomotives, and then share them with other users through the Trainz website Download Station. This end-user creativity and innovation is an integral part of the simulation’s design. These participatory culture initiatives in the games industry are potentially redefining entertainment software towards an open-ended process in which users participate directly in the design, production and marketing processes. Involving fans in the game production cycle has become part of wider media industry trends in which audiences are engaged in ways that are reconfiguring the consumer–producer nexus. The commercial success of the Trainz project over a series of releases (most recently Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004) has come increasingly to rely on the unruly assemblage of this ad hoc distributed coproduction network of voluntary fan labour. This paper describes how the creative activities of a network of fan content creators have become integral to the continuing Trainz project. The disorganised network of immaterial, affective labour of fan community content-creators, forum moderators, beta testers and promoters is a collective labour force and power that Auran requires and relies on. It is precisely this reliance that also opens up possibilities for reconfiguring the boundaries between the proprietary and the non-proprietary. Drawing on recent work by Tiziana Terranova and Maurizio Lazzarato (among others) that considers the status of labour in creative industry networks, I discuss how Auran has sought to manage and enlist this unruly and messy network of affective, immaterial labour. I argue that this is not simply a case of the exploitation of unknowing fans as a source of free labour, as it is from these uneven negotiations that participatory culture itself is being made. I briefly engage with fandom research by Henry Jenkins, Matt Hills and others to consider how these emerging dynamics between Auran and the Trainz fans indicate a significant reconfiguration of the networks through which categories such as fan, consumer, producer and developer are made. I argue that these complex and necessary entanglements of the proprietary and the non-proprietary, the commercial and the non-commercial, are not necessarily an appropriation of fandom by corporate bottom-line agendas. It would be a mistake to view these emerging participatory culture relations as shaped and configured through an opposition between the commercial and the non-commercial, the corporate developer and the fan community. Rather than being exterior and oppositional terms, these entities that are "Auran" and "the Trainz fan community" are immanent to these proprietary–non-proprietary and commercial–non-commercial dynamics. What if these participatory and interactive potentials are not so much constrained by informational capitalism as a condition of possibility for the functioning of the new economy? What are the ideological implications of opening the production pipeline to unruly fan creators? How should we respond to the video games industry’s invitation to participate in the making of new media objects and projects? The opening of the game industry production process to end-user involvement and labour is a strategy to extract and capture surplus value. The paper argues that a condition of possibility for this relationship, and for the emergence of participatory culture, is the fans’ passionate, affective investments in these networks and their creative potentials — in other words, a surplus enjoyment. Drawing on the work of Slavoj Žižek, I suggest that — far from being a site of opposition to corporate strategies — the Trainz fans' passionate attachments to trains and rail— fan affect — is instead the very mechanism through which ideology functions. Are fans’ affective investments contained and controlled by management strategies? What if the very possibility and success of these strategies rely on an unruly excess of fan enjoyment? This relationship between surplus value and surplus enjoyment is not an obstacle to capital. Nevertheless, this excessive supplement which sustains the day-to-day operations of participatory culture networks, such as that described in this paper, cannot be seamlessly harnessed to commercial imperatives — it is radically undecidable. This undecidability and radical contingency in the messy relations among the commercial and non-commercial do not get in the way of doing and making participatory culture. They are not an obstacle to be overcome, but the very condition of possibility for making these networks. This paper’s core argument is that there is a necessary, but quite undecidable, relationship between surplus-enjoyment and the productive surplus-value that game developers such as Auran seek to extract from the labour of these emerging fan networks. In seeking to think through the implications of our participations in the making of these participatory culture networks with rigour and with the wealth of detail of a particular case history, this paper offers a modest witness to the negotiations and renegotiations of these participatory culture relations and to the disturbing enjoyment in playing and colluding in the networks of informational capitalism.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

The Ability of Online Branded Games to Build Brand Equity: An Exploratory Study

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-05-31
Abstract: 

This paper deals with the convergence of online games and advertising in the form of "Advergames". As such, this topic discusses a relatively new arena in which businesses from many diverse industries are taking an interest in video games simply for their ability to serve as online advertising vehicles. Because it deals with an aspect of gaming that is having a growing impact in the business world, this paper is applicable to the "Industry and the Academy" theme of the DiGRA 2005 conference. --------------------------- The Internet offers us many novel ways to spend our idle time, and increasing numbers of Americans are taking advantage of these opportunities. A growing trend toward turning off the television and tuning in to the Internet is forcing many marketers to enter a relatively unexplored advertising arena where the best methods of reaching and influencing customers are as yet unknown. Studies have found that many Internet users spend their online time playing video games, a realization that has led some major marketers to launch into a new marketing format that merges games with advertisements into a hybrid form of branded entertainment called "Advergames". The advergame advertising format has a strong potential to overcome the weaknesses of previous forms of online advertising that marketers have been struggling with, such as banner ads and pop-ups. Studies investigating the viewing behavior of visitors to Websites have utilized eye-tracking devices to discover that the average individual looks at less than half of all banner advertisements to which they are exposed, a fact that appears to stem from an intentional avoidance of the ads (Dreze and Hussherr, 2003; Chan, Dodd, and Stevens, 2004). Advertisements that people purposely avoid viewing simply do not have an opportunity to make an impression. More intrusive advertising vehicles, such as pop-ups, have been found to be even less appreciated by online consumers. A recent study found that 35 percent of pop-up ads are completely ignored with 50 percent being closed before the ad has had the time to fully load onto the viewer‘s screen. In addition, this study found that these intrusive ad formats are regarded as distracting, irritating, and even insulting, resulting in very negative attitudes that have the potential to actually damage a viewer’s impression of a brand (Chan, Dodd, and Stevens, 2004). It is worth noting that negative consumer reactions to these forceful persuasion attempts is exactly what would be expected according to past research on reactance theory and advertising (Clee and Wicklund, 1980; Friestad and Wright, 1994). This theory and its supporting studies suggest that the more blatantly aggressive an advertisement is, the more likely viewers are to disregard the ad and to develop negative impressions of both the advertiser and the advertisement itself. Advergames, on the other hand, represent an advertising format that has a potential to overcome this resistance to marketing messages by providing consumers with an enjoyable and interactive experience. Studies of other interactive ad formats have found that interactivity and animation tend to produce positive attitudes (Raney, Arpan, Pashupati, and Brill, 2003; Dynamic Logic, 2003; Dynamic Logic, 2002). This enjoyable experience can be expected to result in positive feelings toward the advertised product and the advertisement itself, an affective reaction that has been found to influence brand attitudes and intentions to purchase the product (Brown and Stayman, 1992). In addition to providing an advertisement that consumers are likely to enjoy, building a video game around a marketing message offers several unique characteristics. First, the consumer that chooses to play an advergame does so by their own volition; it is something that they want to do (quite unlike looking at banner ads or pop-ups). A second unique characteristic is that exposure to an advergame involves active participation and interaction with the marketing message, something that cannot be accomplished via television, magazines, radio, etc. Also, players that enjoy an advergame will continue to expose themselves to the advertisement for as long as they are having fun. Depending on the quality of the game, this exposure can last from several minutes to the better part of an hour, a span of time much greater than can be achieved through traditional media (such as a 15 or 30 second television spot). This new advertising format appears promising, but little research has been conducted that proves its effectiveness or justifies its widespread adoption. This lack of evidence supporting its ability to generate brand equity has led to the research question, "Does the use of branded online games (a.k.a. Advergames) generate a higher rate of advertising recall than the use of traditional banner advertisements?" In order to shed some light on this question, an exploratory study of the relative merits of these two advertising mediums was conducted. A sample of online gamers played a branded advergame and an unbranded game that was coupled with a banner ad, and were then queried to determine their ability to remember the brands to which they had been exposed. Not surprisingly, the advergame yielded a much higher rate of recall than the banner advertisement (68 percent versus 16 percent, respectively). While the results were very positive, the study also resulted in the identification of several variables that future marketing research involving advergames will need to consider when developing a study design. These included the need for a sample that is as representative of the overall online game playing population as possible, exposing respondents to the advergame and the banner ad for equal lengths of time, and using an advergame and comparative media that are roughly equivalent in their entertainment value, and that have not been previously seen by respondents. In summary, this paper shows that advergames have a promising future as an Internet advertising vehicle. Interest in this medium can be expected to grow for many years to come as academics and marketers alike continue to explore its potential to solve the need for an effective method of reaching the vast and growing population of online consumers. References Brown, S. P., & Stayman, D. M. (1992). Antecedents and consequences of attitude toward the ad: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(1), 34. Chan, A., Dodd, J., & Stevens, R. (2004). The efficacy of pop-ups and the resulting effect on brands – A white paper by bunnyfoot universality. Retrieved September 26, 2004, from http://www.bunnyfoot.com/bunnyfoot_popup.pdf Clee, M. A., & Wicklund, R. A. (1980). Consumer behavior and psychological reactance. Journal of Consumer Research, 6(4), 389. Dreze, X., & Hussherr, F. (2003). Internet advertising: Is anybody watching? Journal of Interactive Marketing, 17(4), 8. Dynamic Logic. (2003). Interactive ads yield better than average results in getting consumers closer to the point of purchase. Retrieved September 25, 2004, from http://www.dynamiclogic.com/na/research/btc/beyond_the_click_dec2003.html Dynamic Logic. (2002). Rich media campaigns twice as effective at lifting brand message association. Retrieved September 25, 2004, from http://www.dynamiclogic.com/beyond_0602.php Friestad, M., & Wright, P. (1994). The persuasion knowledge model: How people cope with persuasion attempts. Journal of Consumer Research, 21(1), 1. Raney, A. A., Arpan, L. M., Pashupati, K., & Brill, D. A. (2003). At the movies, on the web: An investigation of the effects of entertaining and interactive web content on site and brand evaluations. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 17(4), 38.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Contexts, pleasures and preferences: girls playing computer games

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-05-27
Abstract: 

What kind of computer games do girls like? Games developers, various games theorists, and educators who are keen to exploit the apparent pedagogic potentials of computer games without alienating female students, have all pondered this question. In this paper I address this question via my observation of computer gaming sessions with year 8 girls at a single sex state school in South London. What emerged is that gaming preferences are alterable and site specific. Girls in the mood to exploit the social potentials of the situation choose dual-player ‘pick-up-and-play’ driving or fighting games, and preferred to use the consoles. Girls who wanted to play alone put on headphones and used the PCs to play games that rewarded a deeper investment of time and attention, such as action adventure or simulation games. Some participants would swing between these options from week to week. As this implies, preferences are not static – our choices depend on where we are and what we have had previous access to, they reflect what we know, who we know, what we’ve tried, or tired of, and what we will admit to. The question of ‘preference’ is explored as it relates to a set of commercial games offered to a group of players in a particular context. I am concerned with unpicking the notion of preference itself, by cataloguing the various factors that impinge on users’ choices, rather than merely reiterating that (or if) girls are predisposed towards particular game genres, or with how their level of enthusiasm might compare with their male peers. Preferences are informed by a variety of factors (such as previous exposure, access, peer culture) and these factors are shaped by gender – in other words it is not gender per se that is accountable for any differences in taste between male and female computer game players. Such distinctions reflect patterns in games access and consumption that spring from gendered cultural and social practices. Access and situation shape inclinations, and simply offering these users access to alternative games in new contexts was sufficient to generate changes in their stated preferences. I made a point of including several games with strong female leads, expecting that these games would generate a higher degree of interest than others, if female central characters were of import to these particular users - but this was not the case. What did become apparent is that the girls’ increasing gaming competencies enabled them to identify and access the different potential play experiences offered by specific games, and to selectively actualise these potentials according to circumstance and prerogative. Thus, I argue, it makes sense to investigate games preferences, within a mobile and incremental paradigm: that of games literacy.

Document type: 
Conference presentation