Category Archives: 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

Starting a daily drawing

I’ve always regretted not keeping up with drawing and art after college. Part of the problem was feeling like my drawings could not compete with photography, part of it was feeling like an impostor while getting an art degree since I wasn’t angsty and postmodern enough, part of it was my general laziness. There are a lot more parts to it, and at the time it was okay for me to let go as the jobs I kept getting allowed me to be creative while serving some educational/social purpose. I became a designer instead of an artist.

But then graduate school happened and I became a social scientist. And it sort of crept up on  me that something was missing. Now that the dissertation is done, I’ve been feeling a little (sometimes a lot) out of sorts for the past 3 months or so. Directionless; sapped of energy; too many games to play, not enough time; too many projects to work on, but none of them all-consuming like a dissertation is; too many people to coordinate with and manage. Some of this feeling is just temporary as I transition to a postdoc and become better at dealing with OMG-people!

Today, in an effort to motivate myself and feel productive again while I go through the transition, I decided to pick up a pencil and draw again. I think it’s been over a decade since I actually just drew something that wasn’t for a design project. I think this first one kind of sucks and I’m a bit disappointed with the scanner I’m using to digitize it, but it’s probably a good first stab at getting back into the groove. I’m going to try to draw something every day, and hopefully this blog will chronicle some improvement to my drawingz skillzors.


From mark's daily art

I hate dealing with insurance agents who don’t care about people

As you may know, Robin and I were rear-ended by someone about three weeks ago. The car’s fine, we’re fine but needed some medical treatment, the other driver’s fine. Pretty minor, but there’s permanent emotional trauma caused by, first, having to deal with the guy who hit us who became confrontational when we asked for his insurance information and, second, his insurance (Pemco, btw) who keeps trying to downplay what happened.

Essentially, we were turning left, the light turned yellow while some cars ahead of us continued to turn, we stopped since it was red *before* we got to the intersection, the dude rear-ended us and told us that he thought we’d run the red. When we pulled over to trade info, he kept saying that it wasn’t necessary because there was no damage, while we kept explaining that we have no idea if we suffered bodily damage because back and neck injuries can take a while to manifest. He then became confrontational when we insisted on getting his insurance info and kept saying that he could see that we weren’t injured. We got that sorted out after a little bit of yelling back and forth. The next day it was clear that our backs and necks were tweaked. Over the next couple of weeks, I have gotten better on my own while Robin has gone to the chiropractor and massage therapist a few times. The dude’s insurance agent called me up and tried to make a deal with us stating that it wasn’t an accident since there was no damage to the vehicles and that we didn’t suffer real injuries since they weren’t permanent. She kept saying “let’s nip this in the bud before it gets serious” and then said that she would have to escalate the issue and contest our claims to injuries if we did not agree to her deal.

Let me just say, for the record, that I think it’s preposterous for vehicle injuries to matter more than people injuries. If, by definition, we did not suffer an accident, does that mean Pemco is saying that the dude deliberately hit us? Did he accidentally hit us or deliberately hit us? If the former, then it’s an accident! If the latter then I need to press some criminal charges against the guy. It’s even more preposterous to consider injuries as only counting if they are permanent. So, if I had broken my arm, according to Pemco, I wouldn’t have suffered an injury because it’d eventually heal. WTF?

Anyway, we called our insurance agent and explained this situation at which point our insurance (Progressive, who we love, btw) pointed out that we shouldn’t be talking with the Pemco person at all since Progressive is paying for our medical bills and is going to attempt to recoup the costs from Pemco directly in an act called subrogation.

I tweeted the ridiculousness of the situation this morning and had a brief talk with Moses about it:

7:12 AM Moses: so some jackass drove his car into yours and now the insurance is being shifty because there was no vehicular damage?
7:14 AM me: yes
Moses: dude, so sorry, that’s a biter on all counts
me: but luckily our insurance company is covering our costs since we have personal injury protection
Moses: right on, that’s good at least
7:15 AM me: i just hate dealing with insurance people who are shits
Moses: absolutely
it’s bad enough that they’re insurance people
me: our insurance (progressive) is subrogating our claim (and I learned a new word so that’s good)
Moses: wow subrogating
sounds . . . I don’t know, medical
me: hehe… I had to look it up on wikipedia
7:16 AM Moses: possibly a form torture
“Subrogate him until he talks!”
me: the dude’s insurance was like “it’s not an accident since there was no vehicle damage. instead it was a ‘bonk'”
BONK! really? wtf?
Moses: WTF
a “bonk”
me: yeah
Moses: that’s incredibly poor
7:17 AM me: it’s sad how out of touch people can get in their professions
Moses: no kidding
I mean, I at least understand when it’s customer service for an airline and they’re over seas
7:18 AM they have no sense of the geographic constraints I’m working with
but “bonk”?
7:19 AM me: when I said, “well people were injured” she just said “well they aren’t injuries since they aren’t permanent”
Moses: /double face palm
7:20 AM that woman needs a fucking dictionary
me: we’d had to be wheelchaired or something for her to count us as injured
7:21 AM Moses: incidentally Injury n.:any harm done to a person by the acts or omissions of another. Injury may include physical hurt as well as damage to reputation or dignity, loss of a legal right, or breach of contract. If the party causing the injury was either willful (intentionally causing harm) or negligent then he/she is responsible (liable) for payment of damages for the harm caused.
7:22 AM me: well, she did say that she wasn’t disputing liability
which tells me that she understands that we were injured
Moses: mm hmm
7:23 AM if she didn’t she wouldn’t just be sleazy, she’d be utterly incompetent