On Competition

Originally published at the author’s blog, Stay Classy, on April 9th.

Patrick Miller made a blog post today called “Fighting games aren’t just about competition” in which he says some on-point and perceptive things. I suggest giving it a read over.

However at the beginning my book gets a mention as a partial inspiration for the post, and I had some thoughts about what he talks about in it, so I wanted to write these out.

If you want the executive summary that might get you to skip this blog post: I agree with Patrick’s post pretty much all the way through in the general. This post of mine is about specifics and adding in some of my views that you would find in the book (and my other work/talks). More after the jump.
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Baseball’s Curious Geography

Facebook+MLB+Fandom+Map2

Originally published at the author’s blog, Simpler Creature

I was never really good at geography. I’m still not, really. I can’t name many capital cities, and though I know the names of a lot of countries, I’ll still screw up which one is which on a map. It was never a major focus of my education growing up, and I haven’t had much curiosity about it as an adult.

I do find geography fascinating in a sports media context, however. I recently stumbled upon a link to the above map that shows which MLB team Facebook page has the most “likes” on a per county basis. On the surface, the map depicts much of what you might expect: the regions where teams are geographically located have the most fans. For example, New England seems to love the Red Sox. New York, half of Connecticut, and parts of NJ and Pennsylvania seem to like the Yankees. The south, with the exception of parts of Florida, seem to like the Braves.

Interesting though it is, let’s be clear about what the map shows. It’s a breakdown of Facebook “likes,” so we’re only talking about people in those counties who are 1) on Facebook and 2) interested in “liking” a baseball page. I’m a Red Sox fan, I’m on Facebook, but I don’t officially “like” the Red Sox page according to the language and mechanics of Facebook. It should also be noted that the color coding is based on the “most” likes, though it doesn’t indicate by what margin. So a county might be pretty well divided across teams (Yankees and Mets, say) but if a small majority like one over the other, boom, it’s coded for that team (I think this explains why there are supposedly no counties that support the Mets or the Athletics, when obviously those teams have large fan bases).

So while popular news outlets have been rushing to use this map to declare that the “Yankees are America’s Team” they may want to tread with some more caution, given that the data shown is limited in many ways with regards to how sports fans engage with sports media (hint, it’s probably not on Facebook much). Ah, who am I kidding, most of the posts about this map are just link bait anyway.
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Reflections on Game Design for Expression, Fall 2013

So last fall, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone — a statement that will be especially relevant later in this post — and teach a game design class. Now, for those of you who don’t know, while I work in the games domain, my background isn’t in design, primarily. I come from a mass communication and cultural studies background, so my work tends to be sociological in nature and more about players and games as cultural artifacts than about how to “make” them. One of the best things about working at this lab, however, has been a chance to engage with design as a process, to talk with students doing that work, and even be part of making a game or two. So I decided that I wanted to try and teach a design class that leveraged what I knew.

The question became: what kind of design class could I offer? We’ve already got excellent courses taught by others in the lab on game design, digital and not, so I didn’t want to try and retread that territory. A lot of my work focuses on LGBTQ identity in games, and I wondered to what extent that would be useful, when it hit me: what have a lot of queer game devs been advocating for? Making small-scale, personally-meaningful games using free tools. I’d even had exposure to some of those free tools, like Twine and Stencyl, myself — they were things I felt I could teach students. Perhaps most importantly, I had a lot of contacts with developers who had made those games. Could I teach a course about making personally-expressive small games?
And thus was CMS.S60, “Game Design for Expression,” born.
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Saintsception

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Originally published at Stay Classy in February

This has been a long time coming. It’s time… to blog about Saints Row. Specifically, the latest game in the series, Saints Row 4. We’re going to get there in a roundabout way, however, so bear with me until this is over.

I want to talk about how Saints Row 4 is a game, about games, about games. If you’re interested in hearing more about this topic, feel free to join me after the cut. Definite (though not Earth-shattering — puns!) spoilers for Saints Row 4 and potentially for Saints Row: the Third ahead.


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Friday Games: Fashion = POWER!

Above: Yuna, Rikku, and newcomer Paine are the stars in Final Fantasy X-2. Image Credit: Square Enix

In honor of the Final Fantasy X-2 HD re-release, we will play games where fashion is a gameplay mechanic, including the new Final Fantasy XII Lightning Returns, The World Ends With You, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, and others.

Come join us at MIT this Friday, March 28th at 4pm in building 26, room 153 or watch online on our Twitch.TV channel.

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Friday Games: Designer Aerjen Tamminga

Pleasant Dreams

We’ve handed the reins to this week’s Friday Games to our affiliate, Aerjen Tamminga:

This Friday will be an exploration of some of the Euro Games that inspired me to make Pleasant Dreams. I often (accidentally) make games with indirect conflict due to my over-exposure to Euro Games.

Come join us on Friday, March 21st, 4pm at MIT in building 26, room 153 or watch online on our Twitch.TV channel.

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Friday Games: Karaokards

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Ste Curran is visiting the MIT Game Lab to give us a tase of his unique style of game related storytelling as well as showing his soon to be released game Karaokards which recently was successfully funded on Kickstarter.

We’ll start at 4pm at MIT building 26, room 153 or you can watch online on our Twitch.TV channel.

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Commercial Games for Academic Literacy

Classroom

It’s no secret that video games have a long history with education. Some of the oldest educational video games have been around for decades. While we spend a lot of time and effort developing educational games, we should be discussing the potential of commercial games to foster academic literacy and successful learning strategies. I am positing a new way of looking at games for education. This involves stepping away from the classic dichotomy of ‘serious’ learning games versus commercial games and instead looking at how games affect their players and what we can glean simply from playing. Games, both digital and non-digital, open up a space for people to explore, strategize, and learn. They offer new perspectives on old subjects and allow players to break into difficult subjects with ease.

Rome total warIn the past when people have discussed the use of commercial games for learning, they usually take the standpoint of exhibiting a few gleaming examples of educational content within the perceived barren wasteland of commercial video games. Games like Sid Meier’s Pirates, Civilization, or the Total War series are often held aloft as these gems of education within the commercial game scene. I love these games as much as the next person, but we need to stop looking at games for the content they teach us and instead look at how the games teach us to learn. We need to focus on what games teach us when we aren’t asking to be taught.

When assessing the academic use of video games, we tend to focus on two aspects of a game: content and gameplay mechanics. Either the game can teach students about a subject through walls of text, graphs, maps, and historical information, or it illustrates its usefulness through asking players to perform tasks like multiplication or balancing a chemical equation before the timer runs out. This isn’t the way we should be looking at the potential in games. Let’s look instead at how we can walk away from a game better equipped to be an active participant in education. I’d like to give you all an example of what I argue is the ideal format for learning in video games.
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Friday Games: Strider

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Wall-clinging! Cybernetic attack dogs! Russian dystopia! Nobody’s entirely sure what “Special A-Class” REALLY means, and we’re pretty sure there’s no real explanation for why a bizarre, plasma-powered tonfa-sword-thing should be called a “cypher,” but it’s difficult to deny that the acrobatic, laconic, robot-animal-deploying Strider Hiryuu is among gaming’s most iconic action heroes. This week in Friday Games we’ll look at a few of Hiryuu’s video game incarnations, from the NES game based on the character’s manga origins, to his playable appearances in Capcom’s Vs. series fighting games, to the recent Metroidvania-y series reboot by Double Helix.

We will start at 4pm ET in MIT room 26-153. You can also watch online on our TwitchTV stream.

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Deities, Democracy, and Disaster: Twitch Plays Pokemon

Democracyprop

Imagine handing your friend a Gameboy and telling them not to play. Instead, they can only input each and every command you tell them. Now, imagine that another person joins you, and your friend must give equal weight to both the newcomer’s and your commands. Now imagine that 100,000 people are in that room with you, all telling your friend what to do at the exact same time: that is TwitchPlaysPokemon. TwitchPlaysPokemon started out as a simple social experiment. As described by the channel’s description page: “TwitchPlaysPokemon is a stream that lets you play Pokemon with a lot of other people by typing commands into chat.” A week into the stream, and it might as well be called “Religion and Politics Simulator 2014.”

TwitchPlaysPokemon as seen by players on Twitch.TV

TwitchPlaysPokemon as seen by players on Twitch.TV

For anyone unfamiliar with the online livestreaming of video games, Twitch.tv is the number one resource for both streamers and spectators: a holy land of sorts. Anyone with a little time can set up a stream and broadcast anything they want (within Twitch’s rules) directly from their computer. Twitch’s chat system allows for constant contact between streamers and spectators. Not only can players interact with their viewers, but the viewers constantly interact with one another. In streams that have tens of thousands of viewers, Twitch chat can get quite intense. The chat has become notorious for its quirkiness and fanaticism, but TwitchPlaysPokemon is the first project to harness this fervor and channel into something resembling productivity. Viewers become players through the simple act of typing a command into the chat window. The command can only be one of seven options: up, down, right, left, A, B, or Start. The streamer’s program reads the input and applies it to the game. Multiply these commands a few thousand times and the result is a game character that looks like spasming rat on an oblong wheel alternating between a dead sprint and a dervish like spin.
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