Gamer Identity

Recently in a course I’m assisting, I asked the students to go around the room and choose which one of Richard Bartle’s (1996) player types they identify most strongly with. Bartle’s types include the achiever, the explorer, the killer, and the socializer. The article focuses particularly on Multiple User Dungeons (MUDs), but the player types are easily applicable to almost any variety of game.

Achievers are the type of people to go through a game with the goal of completing everything the game has to offer. If there is an award to be won, the achiever is going after it. Explorers are 371x168xI-Love-Gaming-300x136.jpg.pagespeed.ic.vxSMo2OKe0less inclined to competitiveness and instead spend their time finding the outer edges of the game. Easter eggs and secrets are paydirt for explorers. Killers are pretty much exactly what they sound like. Related quite closely to griefers, they spend their time hunting down other players, preying on the ‘weaker’ types. Finally, the socializers are those players who spend their time chatting with or helping others. They may be a knowledgebase for the other players or they may simply enjoy spending time with others instead of seeking their own rewards.

As the exercise unfolded, the entire class identified most strongly with the achiever role with a few leaning towards the explorer role. Not a single student identified themselves as a killer or a socializer. After some more questioning a few students admitted to inhabiting either of those roles when the mood suited them, but still, none strayed from the path of the achiever for very long. Whether the result of the exercise was a byproduct of having a class full of MIT students or if most people just identify more with the achiever role is impossible for me to tell. The fascinating part, though, is that I knew several of the students don’t typically play video games, yet they all were able to identify their player type quickly and easily. I was intrigued and decided to keep digging. “By a show of hands, how many of you play video games?” All but a few hands went up. “Ok, how many of you consider yourselves to be gamers?” Only a small handful of students kept their hands in the air. Interesting.

So what then does gamer mean? It clearly isn’t just ‘one who plays games’. It is much more complicated than that. It comes with a whole set of characteristics that aren’t easy to pinpoint. It’s the classic  ‘know it when you see it’ identification. With issues like #gamergate and other re-defining moments in the video game industry, it is time we look at the term gamer and either discard it or reshape it.

I’ve long held the opinion that anyone who plays a game is a gamer. It’s been a matter of inclusion for me. I want the term gamer to be less strange. If more people identify as gamers, it somehow validates my own longtime gamer identification. After speaking with this class though, I had to change how I define gamer. Take a moment to think of what gamer means to you.

gamer

So, is gamer a negative term? More than likely, you’ve conjured up a very particular image in your head. What are some of the characteristics there? We can toss out the negative stereotypes right away: antisocial, dependent, detached, lazy, and perhaps even misogynistic. Those are some of the words that I associate with gamer, yet as a gamer I would argue that I’m nothing like that. I would also say that the vast majority of people I play games with are nothing like that. In fact, most of the players I know are inventive problem solvers who care a lot about other people. As far as I’ve noticed, that archetypical image is very rare yet the word gamer still holds that stigma. If we toss out all of those negative stereotypes though, would more people self-identify as gamers? I doubt it.

Even with the realization that the stereotypes are pretty far off base (as stereotypes tend to be) there is still a deep seated negative association with the term gamer. I’d argue that this negativity comes from the medium itself. The industry has been associated with misogyny for quite a long time at this point. #gamergate churned up a huge amount of animosity around gender in the video games industry. The industry definitely does not have the best track record when it comes to the representation of anything outside the realm of white, male hegemony. It’s very slowly getting better, but #gamergate definitely shows the impetus for more change. For a long time, the argument has been that games are ‘for boys by boys.’ It’s long past time to throw this argument out. Almost everybody plays games so it’s time that everyone have a chance to both make and be seen in games. Some people discard the fact that most people (men, women, and other) play games as irrelevant by saying something along the lines of, “yea everybody plays games, but they aren’t real gamers.” What’s a real gamer though?

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That statement typically sets the stage for the creation of a dichotomy between ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ games, as if somehow one game is more canonical in the gaming world. Nothing irks me quite as much as this separation, especially considering it’s almost impossible to actually distinguish ‘harcore’ and ‘casual’ games when you actually sit down and try. Hopefully people are spending their free time doing whatever they want to do. To argue that anyone can spend time playing games ‘harder’ than someone else is just ludicrous. Is someone participating in a four hour raid in World of Warcraft somehow more legitimate than someone spending their four hour plane ride crushing some candy? No. I also wouldn’t argue that both of these people are gamers though.

mobile-gamer

One student in class posited that a gamer is anyone who prioritizes games. I find this definition to be perfect. We often use this same logic when referring to other pastimes: movie buff, quilter, bird watcher, sports fan. While it might not be fair to apply these labels to people without their consent, they definitely do not come with the same negativity.

Even without all the negative associations with the term gamer though, many people probably would not want to admit that they prioritize games over other aspects of life. Video games have existed for decades, they’re the largest entertainment industry in the world, and many people now make their living playing games, yet somehow we still have not legitimized games as a pastime. They’re so fundamentally similar to sports to have evoked the term e-sports, but most parents would happy to let their child participate in a soccer or volleyball tournament for an entire weekend but would get upset to think their child might spend that same amount of time playing video games. It’s not my place to argue for or against the legitimacy of sports playing (physical fitness and socializing being just two of many examples in support of sports), but I would argue that as a pastime, video games are incredibly similar. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before we start to see video games alongside sports as legitimate pastimes. Until then, the term gamer will continue to be a problematic identity.

It might instead be better to get rid of the term gamer altogether. It’s long history may be too hard to wipe away. As more people continue to play games, perhaps other (less problematic) terms will emerge. The industry continues to grow every year without signs of stopping, so as I mentioned earlier, it might just be a matter of time before the legitimacy of gaming wipes away the stigma of the term gamer.

 

Reference

Bartle, Richard (1996) Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades. Players who suit MUDs. Journal of MUD Research. Vol. 1 (1), June 1996.

Images

wtfgamersonly.com : http://www.wtfgamersonly.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/I-Love-Gaming.jpg

http://hntb.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/gamer.jpg

seanpaune.com : http://www.seanpaune.com/images/blog/people/computergamer.jpg

venturebeat.com : http://venturebeat.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/mobile-gamer.jpg

Posted in Thoughts Tagged with: , , ,

SC2 Notifications GIF extravaganza

Much has happened since we demoed the “Workers Killed” notification panel for StarCraft 2! Thanks to the combined efforts of GameHeart and DreamHack, this past month has been the fastest turnaround from unveiling to production code on our MIT Overseer research project to date. Thanks to everybody who helped us test the code, find bugs, and especially to MiTNicketh (Nick Mohr) for implementing the feature in the first place!

We’re not done yet, and we do need more help with testing and feedback. If you’re in a hurry, this is all you need to know:

  • Start up StarCraft 2 and invite a friend (or three) to a party
  • Click on “Custom Maps”
  • Select any 1v1 or 2v2 melee map
  • Click on “Create Map with Mod.”
  • Search for and select “GHMITTest”
  • Play a 1v1, 2v2 or FFA melee game
  • Watch the replay
  • Let us know if you see any bugs!

With that, here are the changes we are testing:

Dropship Alerts on the Minimap
NewDropIf a dropship (warp prism, overlord or medivac) picks up a full complement of healthy troops, observers will see a ping and exclamation mark on the minimap that tracks the dropship for five seconds, alerting viewers to incoming drop shenanigans!

Orbital Scans on the Minimap
StarCraft 2 Proleague introduced their own version of Upgrade Notifications, as well as a really nice minimap representation of orbital scans. It’s a great idea, so we’re trying that out with GameHeart, with a smaller ping and a little more transparency to the animation.
NewScan

More colors for Workers Killed Notifications
The Workers Killed Notifications got a lot of testing in DreamHack. We noticed that observers (such as the talented FunKa) still continued to open the 1v1 Workers Killed panel at the end of skirmishes, which displays worker deaths in the colors of the aggressor. Prior to DreamHack, we knew that our notifications, which highlight the color of the player hurt by the attack, might clash with “more color = more advantage” design principle behind Blizzard’s standard interface.

NewWK

We didn’t notice anyone seeming too upset by the clashing colors, but we certainly felt a little uncomfortable every time the 1v1 panel appeared on the stream. To address that, we have tinted the background in the color of the aggressor and made it slightly darker and translucent. We hope this still makes it completely clear which player’s base is being attacked during worker harass, while establishing a visual connection to the attacker’s colors in the 1v1 panel.

Our system can handle up to 4 panels, one for each player who could take damage in a 2v2 or 4-player free-for-all game. This means that if two players attack the same mineral line at once, the background color of a single panel may alternate between two colors. If one player attacks two opponents at once, you would see the same background color for two separate panels. We think the transparency will reduce the cognitive dissonance, but this is certainly a place where more feedback would help us tremendously.

The panels now automatically disappear 15 game seconds after the last worker death instead of the 20 seconds shown in DreamHack. And if you hate the Workers Killed Notifications, you can always hide them as an observer using Control-Shift-W. Even in replays!

Tweaks to Upgrade Notifications
upgradestweakFinally, we’ve made a few changes to Upgrade Notifications, which only appear in 1v1 games.

The countdown is now one decimal place and we’ve adjusted the fonts a little. It means it takes slightly less computation (our code runs once every 0.1 seconds instead of 0.01 seconds) and we fixed an elusive display bug in the process. As seen in Proleague and DreamHack, new notifications now push old notifications upwards instead of stacking above existing panels, so there’s less “bouncing” up and down as multiple upgrades complete.

NewDeniedWe’ve also gotten a good response to the “Denied” notification when a research building is destroyed while an upgrade is in process. Previously, “Denied” would show up only in the last 15 seconds of research completion. Now they’ll appear whenever an upgrade is destroyed.

What’s Next?
We’re planning to provide details on how Custom UI creators can customize the look of the Upgrade and Workers Killed Notifications, so if you really like the gradients of Proleague or the brushed metal aesthetic from Blizzard, or just want to reposition them on your observer screen, we’ll have more news for you soon.

Posted in Research Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Friday Games: SC2VN the StarCraft Progaming Visual Novel

sc2vnss

This Friday, we will be video chatting with Team Eleven Eleven, creators of SC2VN, the StarCraft Progaming Visual Novel.

sc2vnalphabattleStill in development, SC2VN is a fascinating marriage of the visual novel game genre and eSports. You play through the daily dilemmas of an aspiring professional gamer who has moved to South Korea to break into the highly competitive scene. The protagonist must not only face the challenges of the world’s best StarCraft 2 players, but also the issues that come with leaving everything behind to pursue a dream in an uncertain industry. Players interact with progamers (some fictional, some based on real professional players), team managers, and fans.

Team Eleven Eleven, consisting of Vogue, Shindigs, Hikariix, Irahi, Zircon5 and Temp0 (aka TJ, Tim, Stephanie, Alli, Virgil and Kwame), will be giving us a look behind the scenes in the development of their game. We will start with a few words from the developers over Skype, followed by a playthrough and read-along of their latest 30-minute demo.

Bring your voice acting skills to MIT building 26, room 153 at 4pm on Friday May 9th, then stay for discussion and Q&A with the developers of the game! We will also stream the event on Twitch.TV channel.

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New “Workers Killed” notification panel for StarCraft 2

Workers Killed animated GIF

Last year, we ported our “Upgrade Notifications” to the GameHeart for StarCraft 2 with a ton of assistance from Ryan Schutter and Ahli. Taking advantage of the structure of the GameHeart Extension Mod, we’ve prototyped a new feature for community testing and feedback. If “Workers Killed” panels turn out to be desirable, the code itself can be easily integrated into GameHeart in the future.

The “Workers Killed” notification is a little pop-up tab that appears on the left side of an SC2 observer screen that shows how many workers have been killed recently. Our goals for this feature are to make it easier for StarCraft 2 observers, casters, and spectators to identify and assess the amount of economic damage during attacks on the mineral line.

Closeup on Workers Killed tabIt’s pretty simple: Every time a worker is killed, our code waits 20 seconds. If another second worker dies in that period, we open up the panel and show how many workers have been killed. After 20 seconds pass with no workers being killed, the panel disappears and we reset the kill-count to zero.

Here are a couple of possible situations in which the notifications can help:

  • Hellions or Banelings kill multiple workers: Casters can tell exactly how many workers died during a single blast, eliminating the need for mid-game “caster math.”
  • Periodic attacks by Medivacs, Oracles or Mutalisks over the course of a game: Casters can easily discuss the effectiveness of each separate attempt.
    Multi-pronged harass: Observers can track the total number of workers lost without opening the 1v1 Workers Killed panel open.
  • Scouting worker deaths: This is very common and does not bring up the notification. 2 or more workers must be killed to bring up the notification window.
    Mineral line attacks in 2v2 games: Separate color-coded notifications appear for each player losing workers.
  • Big battles occurring near bases and mineral lines: Viewers can watch the battle itself while casters can point out the long-term consequences of worker pulls and losses.
  • Post-game analysis: Observers can hide notifications mid-game (Control-Shift-W for workers, Control-Shift-N for upgrades) or use a custom interface file to hide them by default. Their visibility can also be toggled by observers during replays.

As we add more features to GameHeart, we are constantly thinking about how much screen real estate we’re using. We want to make sure that our automatic notifications never stray into the annoying territory and are only open when helpful. We also want to ensure that our code doesn’t affect game or player performance.

In other words, we need your feedback and help! Since our work runs on top of GameHeart, it’s the same process as starting a GameHeart match. Go to “Custom Maps,” choose a 1v1 or 2v2 melee map, and click on “Create Map with Mod.” Search for and select “GHWorkerKilled,” an Extension Mod that includes our all our notifications and (as far as we can tell) all of the current features of GameHeart.

Kudos to Nick Mohr for implementing this new feature. Good luck and have fun!

Posted in Research Tagged with: , , , , , ,

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

sr4-tank

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.

Posted in Events