Tag Archives: Games

Games as a way of seeing the world

Here’s an update on some of what I’m thinking in addition to my general ethnography/description of distributed cognition and teamwork. Part of this post is tweaked from some correspondence I’m having with Michele Knobel on Facebook. :p Most of this is a jumble of ideas, but I figure it would help if I wrote it down. And why not share it?

Last year I was reading a lot more philosophy and history of education than I usually do, esp. with regards to social justice, dominant culture, inequalities of access and participation, etc. So, when I read Ian Bogost’s Unit Operations, that stuff was on my mind. I was also thinking about Raph Koster (A Theory of Fun) and Stephen Johnson (Everything Bad Is Good For You) and how their whole point is about pattern recognition. Part of learning is recognizing patterns. For Koster, gamers begin to see the underlying mechanics of games. For Johnson, current media genres and conventions are making us smarter than old forms. As in, shows like CSI make us guess what is going on with the detectives rather than explicitly state what’s going on for the benefit of the audience, so we have to work our brains and figure out the patterns.

So, anyway, I was thinking about systems thinking, which essentially necessitates a form of pattern recognition. To think about a system, you have to recognize the system. Specifically, with regards to social contexts, people can learn to see the larger system that they are in (“sense of self” I think it’s called) and see that their actions have consequences and that other actors in the network (I guess this relates to actor-network theory and activity theory, too) affect them.

So, Bogost writes about unit operations, that what’s important for a literary form and for games are the parts of the system that operate on each other. His emphasis is on the interaction between the parts. These parts can be thought of as genre conventions… kinda. And I was thinking that games don’t exist without a player and players don’t exist without a social context. Players must enact the game actions and assume the identity or point of view of the game actions. And they do this as part of a larger cultural practice. Thus the player-game cyborg could be thought of as a unit in a larger social system.

Personally, at least, I can use the idea of unit operations or the idea of me being an actor in a network or whatever to evaluate my actions and its affects on others. Think of The Sims‘ Needs meters maybe, except extend the meters to social things instead of just individual things. In other words, the framework might enable me and others to metacognate about our roles in society.

Games serve two purposes here. On the one hand, specifically designed games could help people learn ethics through role-playing specific actor roles or unit operations. On the other hand, games in general can help train people to see patterns of a system and possibly transfer that skill to everyday life and impose that way of seeing things to themselves within a system. To scaffold this, I wish RPGs would better emphasize consequences to player actions. Also, RPGs use XP bars and such; we could try considering social skills and actions/motives as something you could measure and gain experience in.

I also read a paper by Knobel and Lankshear‘s about Internet memes and thought that maybe it would be possible to relate memes to genre conventions/units. Maybe they don’t relate, but maybe the idea of memes can be used to promote students critical thinking and consumption/production within a larger system. Or maybe all that is really needed for all of these things is some level of reflection.

Does that make sense?

Sam & Max Informer round

Some friends of mine from high school and I (and now some more friends from college, work, etc.) play a game called The Informer. Basically, it’s like the Dictionary game except that instead of writing fake definitions for words we write fake continuations of prose. We call it The Informer because it was originally played using the book by that same title by Liam O’Flaherty featuring the craziest non-sequiter, detective noir crap ever. Anyway, I ran a round of The Informer recently and used the Sam & Max games as the text. You can see the round and results on the Sam & Max Informer round page I created.

Incidentally, the compiled volume of Steve Purcell’s Sam & Max comic books is finally in reprint, called Surfin’ the Highway. The last time I read any of them was back in high school, about 18 years ago! I think my brother might still have some original issues lying around. He should sell em! Our comic book obsession finally worth something!


Check out this game called Skyrates!

platform: web browser with Flash

narrative genre: WWI-style air pirate/trading. Think Sky Captain, Last Exile, or Crimson Skies.

player action: plot way-points between floating islands/cities to trade goods between them, wait a few real-time hours, fight bandits in a top-down view using keyboard controls, upgrade your plane, and repeat. Short bursts of actions with nice hour(s)-long waits so you can do the work you’re supposed to be doing in the office/school. 🙂

Come play and send me a note so we can form a Wing (clan, guild…)!

map view with trading and waypoints

combat view

Microids to release Still Life Sequel

Still Life box art from Wikipedia

OMG.  I thought Still Life was the best adventure game of 2006 or 2005 or 2004 or whenever the hell it came out.  It’s been so long, I don’t remember, but a quick Wikipedia read tells me it was 2005.  I remember everyone was gaga over Indigo Prophecy (AKA Fahrenheit), but while IP had neat new gameplay, Still Life had the much, much better story.

Every once in a while, I would hop over to a forum thread about the Still Life ending, hoping to get some sort of closure to the game.  This last time, I was hit by this news:

Microids to release Still Life Sequel – Microids.com


X3: Reunion

X3: Reunion

I had heard that a patch for X3: Reunion was out last year, but only this week was I able to get to it and try it out again.

If you read my previous post over a year ago about space flight sims, you’ll know that I stopped playing X3 originally due to bugs in the game that prevented one from completing the main storyline. I was trying out X3 back then mostly because of my disappointment with DarkStar One and Freelancer.

Continue reading X3: Reunion

Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War

So this past week I’ve been playing Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War. I don’t know if it was my subconscious memory (Deus Ex 3‘s teaser trailer was recently released back in November or December) triggering a newfound interest in the games or just coincidence that made me think about playing them again.

Deus Ex

Deus Ex start screen

Deus Ex: Invisible War

Deus Ex: Invisible War start screen

Anyway, I wanted to remember why I liked the first game so much and why I was disappointed with the second. Upon playing them again, I fully remembered both these things but I was also struck by how complex the story was in both of the games. The problem with the second game is not limited to the general dumbing down of the RPG elements that made the first game so great (see [A] below). I think I saw hints of a deep, deep story, just as in the first, that they only superficially were able to convey, making references to the first game without explaining what those references meant. They didn’t go deep enough to elaborate the complexity of how everything is connected and how the previous generation’s actions profoundly affect the situations the current generation found itself in. (Many characters in the second game are either descended from characters in the first or are in fact the same people from the first game.)

Continue reading Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War

Oblivion mods

OblivionThis post is old, but… I figure I should publish it rather than intend to edit it more…

After getting a new hard drive and video card, the first game I reinstalled was Oblivion. I wanted to check out all the cool fanmade mods that’ve been made over the last 2 years since I first played. To the left is a screenshot of the mods I’m running.

Basically, running the official mods plus the Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles expansions, Francesco’s overhaul mod, a couple of mods that make NPCs look better, the Natural Weather series of mods (plus a bunch of texture packs which aren’t listed to make the game look even more awesome), and some quest-type mods. The most amazing one is the Tales of the Fiend quest mod. I definitely recommend it.

You can find it and other mods in several places. First, TES Source and Planet Elder Scrolls are great sites with ratings and such, but I tend to look for links off of those sites to sites run by specific modders to read up on the latest happenings and download the latest versions. For good lists of recommended mods check out TOQL and UESP’s must have mods.

Half-Life 2 mods

I got The Orange Box two days ago and tried out Team Fortress 2 for the first time. It is a lot of fun, and I really, really suck at it. I figure a lot of my suckage is my noobness but even after I learn the game and the different classes well, I’ll probably still not be your first pick as teammate. 😛

Team Fortress 2

Anyway, Aaron actually gifted me copies of Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 about two months ago after he bought The Orange Box. The Orange Box comes with HL2, Eps 1 and 2, TF2, Portal, and Peggle. I’ve paid Aaron’s generosity forward now and gifted HL2 and Ep1 to another friend of ours.

While in Portland last month, I played Portal on Scott’s computer in the mornings while waiting for guildies to wake up so we could do our days of boardgaming. (Awesome game.) So, TF2 was really the only new game for me, though I really wanted to play Episode 2 after having HL2 and Ep1 fresh on my mind.

Yesterday, I spent some time downloading a bunch of HL2 mods. Here’s a list:

Continue reading Half-Life 2 mods

Quit World of Warcraft today

After collecting auction data over the weekend, putting pretty much everything I have in my banker mules on auction yesterday, then collecting the money and selling anything that didn’t get bid on, and finally depositing all my gold into the guild bank, I quit WoW today.  I almost teared up yesterday and today.  Auctioning everything and then collecting my mail took hours.  Yeesh!

But the tears (almost) were from melancholy as I’ve spent a good 3 years of my life with WoW and have made many friends (who I hope to see in future games).  And of course, my dissertation is on WoW players as they learn teamwork in raids.

I sent some farewell messages to non-guildies (as I plan on keeping in touch with the guild through our online forums) and sat next to Thrall in Nagrand while logging out.

Ironically, for some reason all my characters had a present in their mail for the collector’s edition pet.  I don’t know if all players who bought the collector’s edition were likewise affected, but, after 3 years, Thoguht was finally able to get a panda.  Damn you, Blizzard!  😛

Best DS games I played in 2007

Best DS games I played in 2007 (I haven’t yet played Phantom Hourglass)

Hotel Dusk screen

Hotel Dusk – This game is a masterpiece in storytelling.

Phoenix Wright

Phoenix Wright series – Perfect games for bus riding; no frenetic movements or audio required! The cases are completely over the top and they have a cool habit of relating to each other across the series.

Trace Memory

Trace Memory – Also known as Another Code. The previous game by the people who made Hotel Dusk. Also good, but not as. Still, by the end of both games I wished there were sequels to them so I could spend more time with the characters in both stories. Mark of good character development and backstory, I’d say.

Dragon Quest Heroes - Rocket Slime

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime – fun game. I played this before Dragon Quest VIII, which by the way is an excellent PS2 game.

Minish Cap

Minish Cap (technically, a GBA game…) – borrowed this from Andrew and Yo. Just about as good at Ocarina of Time, which basically means it is really, really good.