Leet Noobs color images

One thing I was disappointed about was that I had to get rid of a bunch of color images from Leet Noobs when I rewrote it as a more general audience book.


I have no idea why it took so long for me to think of this, but I’ve collected the images from my original dissertation and put them all in one PDF. Here you go: Leet Noobs images!

The book has the cover illustration, though, so maybe it’s all a wash.

NASAGA 2015!!!

Last week I was at North American Simulations and Gaming Association (NASAGA) 2015, in Seattle this year.

NASAGA2015 logo

After loving it last year (see this write-up), I volunteered as soon as I got back to Seattle from LA over the summer and basically got put in charge of the conference website by the conference co-chairs, John Chen (no relation) and Jeannette Davidson from Geoteaming.

Volunteering ballooned into a bigger job than I thought it would, but that’s fine. I still had a ton of fun and met so many awesome people. In addition to the website, I also designed a geolocation game that we played Thursday evening using GPS devices and featuring a puzzle inspired by the light rail that everyone had to take to get downtown. Wee!

Most of the work was done in partnership with Melissa Peterson, who I got to know a lot better this year than last year. She and I were two of the people in the group I was with that was trying the #gameaweek challenge last year, but this past week I really enjoyed working with her… She’s awesome.

As it happens, I also was invited (first by Melissa… so maybe she was buttering me up) and accepted nomination and then a vote into the board! So now I’m a board member for NASAGA! Other board members include Samantha Knight, Melissa Peterson, Christy Cavanaugh, Jeannette Davidson, Jen McCann, Linda Slack, Dani Abrams, Chuck Needlman, and Chris Saeger. I can’t be excited more to be working with them. :)

One thing I’d like to work on is stronger ties with other associations (ABSEL, ISAGA, JASAG, SAGSAG, etc. Basically everything associated with the journal Simulation & Gaming). I also wouldn’t mind if NASAGA did a bit more to bridge the gap between research and practice… and so I’m volunteering to help out with NASAGA 16 in Bloomington, Indiana Oct 26-29 with Christy Cavanaugh chairing. At one point she invited me to co-chair but hadn’t realized I was also being invited to the board… I have been advised that serving on both is really, really ill-advised. Tho she’s doing it, so who knows?

On the last day, I did a rapid-fire game jam after a quick intro to 12 free game-making tools from the big list I did in August. Here’s the slides from that:

Jam w Free Digital Game Making Apps!

Jam with Free Digital Game Making Apps!

Playing the Witcher 3 again

So, I got a new graphics card (970 GTX) to play through the Witcher 3 again with higher graphics qualities…

But upon installing it, I was reminded that I could import my save game from The Witcher 2:

Screenshot 2015-08-27 15.06.57

Having played through 3 once already, I know there’s a simulated save game import through a barber shaving interrogation scene, but I thought… ah hell… I should prob just replay 2 so I can remind myself what the story was about and have a more meaningful experience with 3. I remember thinking that there’s all this mention of Yennefer that really didn’t make sense to me when I played 2 way back when, but now having played 3, I could appreciate mention of her like people who’ve read the source books…

I don’t have much space on my HD, though, so I had to uninstall 3 to make room for 2. Then I got this:

witcher 2 decision


Jeez. Ok. What the hell… Might as well uninstall The Witcher 2, install The Witcher, and start completely over!

I do remember The Witcher relatively well, having done a review of it for E-Learning, but I never played through the Enhanced Edition.

But, you know, then I thought: there’s probably some good mods that’ve come out since The Witcher was first released… And lo and behold:

witcher.rise of the white wolfHurrah!

So, last week, I finished The Witcher with Rise of the White Wolf. The Enhanced Edition seemed like an improvement, but it was still pretty clunky. Combat takes some getting used to, characters clip and stutter like crazy in cutscenes, and there’s something seriously wrong with how Zoltan looks…

Anyway, this week and next and maybe longer, I’ll be playing The Witcher 2 (with mods). And hopefully in October I can finally do my second comprehensive playthrough of The Witcher 3. Maybe by then there’ll be some good mods for it, too.

*Knowing what I know now, it seems crazy that no one in The Witcher mentions Yennefer explicitly (though, interestingly, there are little tidbits here and there of the Wild Hunt and a tale of a witcher and a sorceress being in love, etc.). And, wow, Triss totally took advantage of Geralt’s memory loss… Making me rethink what choices I want to make in 3 next month…


Game Making Tools Round Up

Games are about two things: agency and empathy.

Games are made up of systems of rules or constraints and particular goals. When a player explores these systems, they make meaning from the relationship that emerges out of their actions with the possibility space of the game systems. When they start to understand the systems, they gain agency–the ability to make decisions and affect change.

Games are also made up of stories. A designer has a particular story or experience they wish to convey, and a player has a particular history with a game that can be retold and shared. This sharing of experiences, like good books, are the surest way I know towards building empathy.

All this is to say, we ought to encourage gaming literacy with a focus on building these two things. And not just encourage playing games in a critical, reflective way, but also encourage all people to make games and tell their stories.

Luckily, there’s a ton of free game-making tools out there that are easy to use, many of them requiring no programming experience and some of them not even requiring art. It’s often assumed that making games is about the programming and art, but I believe the true power of learning game design is in learning how to plan and design relationships and experiences.

So, here’s a round up of some free tools that anyone can jump right into using. You could try them out over a weekend, during a game jam, or whenever you have free time!

Continue reading Game Making Tools Round Up

WIP Coastal Run game using Twine #gameawhenever

Pepperdine University Coastal Run/Walk Game test

Not final at all but a test to see if I could recreate the awesome Three Fourths Home mechanic of having to continually hold a key down to progress in the story using CSS and javascript in Twine.

In Three Fourths Home, you hold the key to drive your car through a thunderstorm. In this game for Pepperdine, it’s to keep running in a charity 10k.

Currently, it seems to work only for desktop computers… Holding a key down interferes with a touch event from a touchpad, apparently… Also, I spent almost all of today trying to implement a similar touch-here-to-keep-playing thing for touchscreens, but whenever I seemed to get it to work on iOS, it stopped working on Android and vice versa. bleh.

Anyway, thought I’d document it as part of the #gameaweek #gameamonth #gameawhenever challenge. :)

twine2.coastalrunAlso, I should mention that I started this game during the Reed College Paideia Game Jam last weekend, organized by the awesome Joe Wasserman! Another Reedie, Kylie Moses, and I here in LA did a concurrent satellite jam where we were co-present via Google Hangouts.

Also, also, this is my first go at using Twine 2.0, the snazzy browser-based tool… though I had to revert it to SugarCube format so that stuff I knew how to do would still work…

My AirBnB experience: 9 different places in 9 weeks.

For the most part, my AirBnB experiences have been really positive. So far each one has had at least one thing wrong with it, but often getting to meet someone new or seeing a different part of the city or having other really nice amenities easily makes up for it. Better experience and/or cheaper than many hotels, and, as with hotels, if you spend more you get a nicer experience. Still, this post is a listing of those nigglings.

Once I got to LA in September, I decided that I wanted to live in a bunch of different places to check out different neighborhoods before committing to a place more permanently. My appointment at Pepperdine is for this school year, which is about 8 months, so the plan was to check out different places for 2 months and then sign a 6-month lease. At the time, this plan also made sense because I knew I was going to be gone for 3 weeks at a couple of different conferences in October, so why pay rent for those 3 weeks?

Continue reading My AirBnB experience: 9 different places in 9 weeks.

What has Mark and the new Gameful Design Lab been up to? Read this draft mission statement excerpt!

Empathy and Agency and Radical Games

Gaming is not a valueless activity. Deep, meaningful relationships develop through gaming, and the cultural life one leads defines their existence as human. To devalue someone’s life is to dehumanize them.

Empathy: Players build meaningful relationships with other players.

Like any other activity with a community around it, gaming is a social and cultural phenomenon. People can bond and form lasting relationships over any affinity. Furthermore, gaming is often about mentorship, hanging out with friends, learning together, and can be about dealing with difference and learning to play off each others’ strengths.

The Pepperdine Gameful Design Lab wants to encourage this community building, to encourage empathy and friendships among all of gaming’s aficionados and hobbyists. By taking gaming seriously but with a playful attitude and tackling what it means to be a gamer collectively means we can live happier more fulfilling lives. We can develop an inclusive community about being good to each other in the shared pursuit of the well-played game.

Agency: Players build meaningful relationships with games.

Games are made up of interconnected systems (rules, mechanics, structures). Players explore and learn how these systems are interrelated through their play, and, in doing so, they become part of the system. A game doesn’t exist except in the enactment.

Players bring with them some sort of imagined future, an ideal state or outcome or maybe even just the hope for some improvement to the current state. Through their activity and “living the system,” players attempt to exercise agency and steer the game’s narrative, all the while themselves being constrained and controlled by the game.

The Gameful Design Lab also wants to encourage resistance towards the inherent control in a game’s rules and structure, to make the narrative emerge from this struggle and transgression. In playing games and designing games, players gain a gaming literacy. They start to understand systems through experience.

Our lives are made up of interrelated systems, of course. From navigating health care to applying to college, from dealing with bullies (online or otherwise) to being a community activist, success often depends on being savvy to our lived systems and understanding them enough to make meaningful decisions. Understanding them well enough to critique them, to resist, and be radical in the face of stupid systems.

Radical Games

If gaming literacy is about deconstructing systems and building meaningful relationships, and our mission is about increasing this literacy, it stands to reason that we need especially to help those who are continually screwed by our life’s systems.

To this end, we propose two main strands of action: 1) develop radical games that encourage transgressive play and empathy building (and moral and ethical reasoning), and 2) host workshops and game jams for those most in need that will encourage the creation of deeply personal radical games.


#GameAWeek NASAGA edition: Curate! or Stuff Matters! or some other title here…

This past week I was at the North American Simulations and Games Association (NASAGA) conference for the first time.

The stories are true; it’s unlike any other conference. There’s a purity and sincerity to it that’s pretty refreshing. Other academic conferences can get pretty cynical and snarky. I like snarky, probably more than the next guy, but there’s no place for that at NASAGA. Everyone is just so enthusiastic and optimistic and really fucking cares about other people, it’s crazy awesome and really hard not to feed off that energy.

All the sessions I went to were semi-structured, hands-on play and debrief of mostly tabletop simulation games that address serious issues and are meant to be used in varying contexts (schools, NGOs, indigenous, healthcare, etc.).  Some of the people attending have been doing this work since the late 60s! They lived the new games movement. Wow…

When I first heard of the conference, in my naivete, I assumed “simulations” were all about the 3D virtual world stuff for the military, since that’s how I’ve come to associate the word in the last 10 years. But NASAGA’s “simulations” are about learning games that simulate complex systems for players to grok and critique. The best games are pretty damn great, remind me of great euro games…  and I’m sorry this conference has been under my radar for so long.

Anyway, the last day had a 3-hour gamejam for local museums and historical societies. Specifically, Eli Pousson from Baltimore Heritage and Abram Fox from the Laurel Historical Society  were there as our gamejam clients. I made this card game with the help of new friend and comrade-in-arms Bret Staudt Willet. I’m using this to fulfill my #gameaweek challenge. :p

Continue reading #GameAWeek NASAGA edition: Curate! or Stuff Matters! or some other title here…

sporadic ramblings of a gamer in academia