Category Archives: Life

Announcing: Reed Summer Game Jam


Join Mark Chen ’95, game designer & researcher—and friends—for a month-long game jam on the Reed College campus this August 1—23

Part workshop, part lab, part on-going brainstorm and creation space. During the Reed Game Jam you will:

  • Gain an understanding of the game development process:
    • Idea generation;
    • Writing a game design document;
    • Testing mechanics for both digital and tabletop games.
  • Learn about current state of games in academia &
  • Participate in hands-on research activities.

The goal? Produce at least one Kickstarter-ready game.

The Jam (in Psy108) will be open from Tuesday—Saturday extended hours; closed on Sunday, and open 9—5 p.m. on Monday.

INTERESTED? Email Brooke Hunter ( for the application link.

Deadline to apply Tuesday, June 25, 2013

So, here’re my August plans! Huge thanks to Brooke Hunter at Reed for making this happen.

This is primarily for Reedies, but others are welcome to apply. It’s basically a Maker space kind of set up. A bunch of smart people dropping in when they can to collaborate on game-related projects. I’m taking donations for food, transportation, etc. 🙂

Ballard Writers Collective

I recently joined the Ballard Writers Collective, and now I’m webmastering for them and doing freelance web work for local authors.

They’re a great group, led by Peggy Sturdivant, who, among other things, are exploring non-traditional forms of publishing, firing ideas in my head about how to find workarounds to the semi-broken academic model.

Many of the authors need web and new tech help. It’s easy and enjoyable for me since most of the work is WordPress related, but I forget sometimes how difficult it can be to enter the digital space, having basically been a cyborg my whole life…

IAmA This guy who did his PhD on WoW

I did an AMA on Reddit about my WoW dissertation after someone found it and posted a thread about it back in 2011, but apparently I never archived it, so here you go:

IAmA This Guy who did his PhD on World of Warcraft

(the best comment: “Do you find it odd that you are still a virgin?”)

and the original thread that found my dissertation defense videos on YouTube:

This Guy did his Ph.D. dissertation on The World of Warcraft

oh wow. it’s been 10 years

since I started blogging using a blogging site. (actually hand-coded a travel blog in 2000 while my bro and I were biking across the country)

Somehow I’ve become a good alum

So, a couple of weeks ago, I hung out with 5 Reed College students, hosting a week-long “externship,” a new program Reed is trying this year. The basic idea was to let them job shadow me for a week before Paideia.


When I was originally approached about this back in October, I had just finished my postdoc position at UW, so I told Brooke, the career services person, that they’d basically just be hanging out with me at an internet cafe designing, reading about, and playing games. She still thought that sounded interesting, so I wrote something up and posted it:

Continue reading Somehow I’ve become a good alum

That’s a lot of games…

For the past 6 weeks, while keeping appointments, applying to a few jobs, following research project leads, etc., I’ve mostly been playing digital games. Attempting one or two sentence descriptions/reviews…

FTL: Faster Than Light – A gem. Roguelike meets Space Alert is an odd description but sort of makes sense. IMHO, best game of 2012. I played this in September (got early access as a kickstarter) but threw it in this list since it’s so good. 59 hours.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – The atmosphere of the original mixed with simpler 2-actions-per-turn mechanics, almost like a board game. Almost reminds me of Incubation, which btw is a really great tactical puzzle game. 130 hours.

Divinity 2 – Action RPG with lots of quests but not much decision making. Combat is engaging and challenging on higher difficulties, but. ultimately. it’s mostly a grind, like Kingdoms of Amalur. 70 hours.

Dishonored – Stealthy play through. Love the art design. Game was so-so. ~20 hours.

Defender’s Quest – Tower defense meets RPG. I kickstarted this for the artwork. I wish there was a branching storyline with interesting decisions and less grind. 46 hours.

Cthulhu Saves the World – I love the humor and the attempt to minimize the grind, but man… I just couldn’t do it. 42 minutes.

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, episode 1 – I kickstarted this one, too, mostly due to their previous work on the indie King’s Quest fan game. Episode 1 is really quite good. Longish wait times between screens, though. Reminds me of Still Life (the really good first one, not the meh second one). Erica Reed, like Victoria McPherson, is an FBI agent tracking down a serial killer. ~8 hours.

East Side Story: A Carol Reed Mystery – Odd 1st-person adventure game featuring photographs using Photoshop’s watercolor filter. One in a series of games. Unfortunately, I found it really quite boring and the artwork more quaint than edgy. No relation to Cognition. Didnt’ finish. ~1 hour.

Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes – I’ve got this love hate relationship with Nancy Drew games. Each one has needlessly time-consuming travel elements (the town map that you drive around in is cool, except that you don’t actually get to drive and just point at a location–after tediously hotspot searching with your mouse–and wait, wait, wait). The voice acting is getting a little tired (same woman for like a bazillion games whose voice is starting to sound pretty old), making me hope they recast soon. But still… I like the NPC interaction (though I wish it had branching dialog). The Haunted Carousel, btw, had the best, almost Planescape-like, dialog. ~8 hours.

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel – The very first scene has possibly the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard, killing the game. ~15 minutes.

Captain Morgane – I liked So Blonde, but this game felt like a step backwards, actually. Bizarre choice to give the main character a French accent (while the rest were mostly English) yet not know any French. Three art styles mashed together (lovely manga/comic-book-inspired illustrations for the cutscenes and backgrounds, dated low-poly character models during the main point-n-click adventure game, and bizarre super-deformed animation during mini-games). Sometimes humorous writing, but really weak intro and ending. ~8 hours.

Clover: A Curious Tale – I like it a lot. Reminds me of the later and much shorter Android game Quiet, Please! Unfortunately, I got stuck, and, apparently, there are no walkthroughs for this game. I would have thought this game would’ve been more popular… ~3 hours.

Dirty Split – Wow. I love the retro 1960s art. Short but fun game with good voice acting. Free! ~3 hours.

This puts a too-small dent into the backlog I have. Seriously. I think it would take another two months to get through all of the games on my list. Starting December, however, I’ll be ramping up research projects and game design, probably reserving only about 20-30 hours a week for playing instead of 50 or so.


And that’s the end of that chapter….

Yesterday was my last day at UW as a postdoc with the LIFE Center, the Institute for Science and Math Education, and the Center for Game Science.

I’ve decided to pursue a few research projects that I think would best be done while not distracted by a day job.

Namely, I’ll be reviewing an ass-ton of free game making tools, while also playing around with game interface design and some simple game design in the process. I’ve gathered a list of over 2 dozen free tools out there covering all sorts of game genres: adventure games, RPGs, platformers, interactive fiction, etc. My hope is to 1) get back into game design, practice art, try out some ideas, 2) produce a document/series of blog posts that is useful to a k16 educator who wants to incorporate game design into their existing courses (whether that’s English, social studies, math, or whatever) but doesn’t know which tool is appropriate for their needs, and 3) get ready to teach a course on game design in the spring at Pepperdine. What’s great about this teaching gig is that it’s primarily an online course (with face-to-face meetings bookendings), so I can stay in Seattle.

Anyway, I’m also hoping to play a ton of games, as I’ve accrued quite a backlog over the last few years. Look at my Steam profile. Most of those games I haven’t played yet.

First up: the remake/sequel to X-COM, named… XCOM!

Yes, that X-COM. The game that I used to wake up at 5 in the morning some days to play before classes while a senior at Reed College. The game that I used to stay up til the wee hours for. It was the only time in my life when I could be totally fine with 5 hours of sleep per night for weeks. The game that started my love affair with the turn-based squad-based tactics genre (Jagged Alliance capturing my heart in later years). What’s funny is that at the time, I felt like nobody knew what I was talking about when I described these games. I always wondered why the creators of the original X-COM moved onto smallish projects, thinking they were underdogs, not capturing people’s attention. (Anyone remember that email tactics game?) And now, sort of out of the blue, X-COM is getting a massive, big budget remake. Looking forward to it. I hope Julian Gollop is getting props.

Leet Noobs: a new book for a new year!

Two weeks ago, my book came out on Amazon!

Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft

Leet Noobs cover

Continue reading Leet Noobs: a new book for a new year!

Penny Arcade Expo PAX11, Aug 26-28, 2011

So, like last year, I was in a panel this year at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX)!

It was me, Chris Paul (Seattle U), Roger Altizer (U of Utah), Nathan Dutton (Ohio U), Todd Harper (MIT GAMBIT), and Shawna Kelly (USC/Intel).

While last year we presented a general overview and introduction to games studies/games research in academia to people who may be interested in games as a career but don’t want to go into the games industry, this year we each had five minutes to share where we’re at and what we do and then share the work of someone else in the field that we like.

Continue reading Penny Arcade Expo PAX11, Aug 26-28, 2011

Family reunion in Hawaii

Yes, I know… not nice to brag. Beach party on Oahu with 4 generations, Kilauea Military Camp in Volcano National Park with younger sub-group, and snorkeling Kona with Robin (and hanging out with cousin Leo’s family for one excellent dinner).

It was great seeing grandma there (she’s the oldest family member). Also great to see nephew Timo!

I love my family and each reunion reminds me how awesome it is. Next reunion is set to be either in Vancouver or Taipei!

Hawaii Hsu Family Reunion 2011