Weekly Blog Post


This non-linear story could be used to introduce elementary school children to the various sections of the orchestra and the sounds each section produces.

The story begins with a full picture of the orchestra. The picture has a few direct links to learn about particular instruments in the orchestra (i.e. piano) as well as links to other interactive pictures which highlight specific sections of the orchestra (i.e. brass or string sections).

Tools used:

  • YouTube videos
  • Thinglink.com (NEW!)
  • Google Images

Tool Comments:  The “HTML” files used will be a string of Thinglink.com interactive images. The simplicity of the Thinglink.com site makes it a great resource for teachers and other educators who would like to centralize their multimedia artifacts into a big picture.  A link to the initial Thinglink.com image has been added to my blog.

Use-case:

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Title: Fungi Love
Story: A digital, minimalist’s retelling of a well-known Italian plumber’s love of fungi and the strange effect it has on him.

Image

Please click if it is not animating

Production Notes
Medium: Animated GIF (3 frames, 200×200 pixels, repeats 5 times)
Intent: Attempting to use as few colors as possible to trigger a comparison to Mario and to imagine a backstory of his love of mushrooms.
Tip: Use the animation window to create in PhotoShop and turn layers on/off as necessary. In WordPress, GIF has to be full-size (see advanced settings) in order to animate.
Muse/Inspiration: Lego Minimalist representations of cartoon characters

I like it when grounded reality meets up with virtual reality. A reference to a “viral” Stanley Kubrick homage video came across my Facebook stream today. It is very appropriate considering the topic from today’s Interactive Storytelling lecture was Giotto, Cimabue and perspective in storytelling.

Clickie to view the video – Kubrick // One-Point Perspective

The video highlights the consistency of one-point perspectives within the frame of Kubrick movies. Much like Campbell’s hero’s journey, Freytag’s pyramid and Aristotle’s dramatic arc, these are quintessential elements of storytelling.

Hou, J. (2011). Uses and gratifications of social games: Blending social networking and game play. First Monday, 16(7).

Theory

The Hou (2011) article is data heavy and presents a brief introduction to Uses and Gratifications theory. This paper uses the uses and gratifications theory to make a connection to casual games and social games as filling specific user needs.

Uses and gratifications theory (Katz, 1959) is interested in why individuals seek out particular mass communication channels for certain uses in order to gratify certain needs. It is concerned with what people do with media as opposed to what media do to people. The great thing about this theory is that it is a lot like Minecraft ( or Terraria?) because you can dig out your own research niche.

One of the criticisms of this theory is that it is too individualistic and should not be used to make generalizations. Another criticism of this theory is that it does not explain the media use and should not be used to predict future patterns, however, the researchers get around this obstacle through the investigation of prospective gratifications or the “expectancy-value models of media uses and gratifications.”

Very interesting…There is a passing mention of “mind-reading” as a social gratification but no further explanation. Upon further investigation this reference was made to support the idea that “increased friendship and closeness (friends vs. strangers) generally lead to an expansion of cooperative acts (Majolo, et al., 2006), mutual support and toleration (Cords, 1997), and greater accuracy of social judgments.” The actual study that Hou is citing investigates the “mind-reading” capabilities (can you tell what the other person is thinking) of strangers, close friends and/or intimate partners.

Social games

  • Key components, which differentiate social games from other computer games, are: (1) social platform–based; (2) multiplayer; (3) real identity; and, (4) casual gaming.
  • Most social games are found on social networking sites and are browser based
  • The game world is persistent much like an MMO, however, the fact that social gamers play mostly with real-life friends may make it different than an MMO whose players may have never met in real life.
  • People represent themselves since most social networking sites require real name registration. However, this statement assumes that people are honest in signing up to begin with. Anecdotal evidence may indicate that some social gamers actually create dual identities on these social networking sites so that they can essentially play with themselves.
  • Do we agree with Hou’s definition of social games? What about asynchronisity? Freemium (i.e. free to play until you pay to pay)? Rewards? Customization? Virtual Goods? Quests/Goals?

Casual games

  • According to Hou, being casual means that a social game is easy to pick up as opposed to an intense and complex hardcore game.
  • According to Michelle, a casual game is one which I do not have a meaningful investment in nor a salient connection to. Games which can be played on a mobile device while standing in line at your local coffee shop.
  • Casual game design commonly features excessive positive feedback for every successful action the player performs
  • See also Juul

SNS Gratifications (Afterall, this is the typical platform…)

  • Urista et al. (2009) – 1) efficient communication, 2) convenient communication, 3) curiosity about others, 4) popularity to become a popular figure among friends, and 5) relationship formation and reinforcement
  • Joinson (2008) – 1) social connection to keep in touch with friends and maintain relationships, 2) shared identities to join friends’ groups to avoid being left out, 3) content, 4) social investigation to see what friends do and to make new friends, 5) social network surfing, and 6) status updating [or self-expression] to update one’s status or to let friends know your news.

Video Game Gratifications

  • Lucas and Sherry (2004) in the order of importance – 1) diversion to pass time or to stop boredom; 2) social interaction to interact with friends through the game; 3) challenge to attempt to beat the game; 4) competition to compete with other players in the game; 5) fantasy to do things that are impossible in real life; and 6) arousal to play the game because it is exciting. Diversion and social interaction were the most important predictors of the total number of hours they spent playing during a typical week
  • Sun, et al. (2006) in the order of importance – 1) diversion, 2) competition, 3) interaction, 4) meeting strangers, and 5) self–expression.

Hypotheses

  • SNS based – Expected gratifications for social connection (a), social investigation (b), shared identity (c), popularity (d), and self–expression (e) from social games will be positively related to the (frequency, duration and engagement) of game play and/or game activities.
  • Video game based – Expected gratifications for competition (a), challenge (b), social interaction (c), diversion (d), fantasy (e), and arousal (f) from social games will be positively related to the (frequency, duration and engagement) of game play and/or game activities.

Method

  • Self-administered online questionnaires of Happy Farm players recruited through snowball sample. 93 usable questionnaires investigated with 66.2% female and 33.8% male. Mean age was 25.65 (ranged from 20-37).
  • Facebook imported Happy Farm in April 2009. The game peaked with over two million monthly active players within that year and brought in 30 to 40 percent of Facebook’s monthly revenue.

Consider this: It takes anywhere from $100k to $300k to make the game. Approximately 3-5% of the players actually pay to play. Farmville has over 80 million players and a reported 31 million daily active players. If each of these daily active players paid a penny per day that would be $3.65/person/year. Now take that $3.65 and multiply that across the 31 million people and you get about $113 million/year that Farmville makes. Not bad from a $100-$300k investment…(More)

Results & Discussion

  • The findings indicated that respondents played social games more frequently and became more engaged in different kinds of game activities for the purpose of diversion.
  • Neither challenge nor competition were significant motives for playing social games. It is possible that social gamers do not necessarily enjoy the challenge of “beating the game,” or beating friends. Thus, social games do not enforce winning or competing, rather they accommodate more flexible playing styles.
    Is it still a game if no one can “win”?
  • Social interaction predicted both frequency and duration of game playing, while diversion predicted only frequency.
  • Negative relationship between the fantasy factor and game play intensity. That is, the more fantasy the less intense the play is. How could this affect graphics?
  • Should social games be described as social media rather than as just one category of online computer games?
  • Are social games a “unique venue for socialization in a playful manner”?
  • Do social games provide a new “third place” for social structures? (neutral ground, leveler, regulars, conversation, etc…)

Game Examples


Note: The above were discussion points regarding Hou (2011) for an in-class presentation on the casual game revolution. As a side note, the author is currently working on her PhD at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and is interested in social and cognitive psychology of mediated communication. http://www-scf.usc.edu/~jinghuih/Home.html


Readings – The casual game revolution

At the heart of the following lists are the generalizability and applicability of any research findings based on data collected from these worlds. In order to make general statements any researcher must consider the situated environment of the research sample and population. Although it may be easier to access cowboys in Texas, one does not go to a rodeo in order to study the fine art hanging on the wall. That is to say, researchers who take the reality of these worlds out of context and attempt to place them in the grounded reality of “the real world” might find data which is easy to collect but which comes with so many stipulations that it becomes unusable in any other environment. That is where studying games for games sake or virtual worlds “sui generis” comes into effect without attempting to draw any parallels to grounded reality environments.

Pitfalls of using virtual worlds for research

  • Identity is ever changing and fragmented. Identity online may not necessarily correlate to identity off-line. “Some contemporary cognitive scientists are skeptical of scholarly conceptions of self, finding them to be ore like literary metaphors distilled form the surrounding folk culture than like rigorously measurable scientific concepts.” (Bainbridge, pg. 475)
  • Individuals may not be their “real selves” when online (But how do you know your “real self”? Is that even possible? Isn’t our sense of self defined by our perceived social reality in relation to others?)
  • The indigenous culture may be influenced by the rules of the world (“game laws”) and may influence the observations which can be made of the group
  • Game variables may have an impact on user behaviors
  • Williams (2008) “mapping principle” which questions whether the way an individual behaves and thinks in a virtual environment can truly be mapped and validated in grounded reality.
  •  Where does grounded reality stop and the virtual world start? How do you tease (or can you tease) out the effect of the virtual world from the general personality traits and behaviors an individual may have regardless of the environment.
  • Data may be skewed due to the demographics of the members in the virtual worlds.

Praise for using virtual worlds for research

  • Experiments can be “scaled up” from a few to hundreds of subjects and data points
  • Research in virtual worlds can cross sociocultural boundaries and provide data for underrepresented groups.
  • Virtual worlds can offer opportunities for longitudinal research investigating processes over weeks or months that may naturally take weeks or months to develop
  • The abundance of potential research subjects at a low cost
  • Experimental methods are best suited in virtual worlds which allow the researcher to create virtual laboratories.
  • Noninstrusive methods such as content analysis and analysis of information collected by the players, game developers and/or publishers offers a treasure trove of data
  • One might be able to compare the results from virtual worlds like you would compare different nations in grounded reality.

The Malaby article points to fundamental differences in philosophy which affect all branches of the academy including game studies. Malaby strives to prepare us “to recognize a better model for thinking about play, one that draws ultimately on the pragmatist philosophers’ portrayal of the world as irreducibly contingent” however this aim may be overlooking some of the individual nuances (i.e. of purpose and/or gratification) found in play and games. To claim that the world is irreducibly contingent is similar to claiming that all phenomenon in the world are bound by laws which lead to universal truths that are contingent upon things which can be divided into smaller truths. However these “smaller truths” cannot be divided infinitum. In the pragmatist philosopher’s view there are contingencies which group truths together. Malaby wants us to think about ways that play can be categorized and, by extension, easily studied.

I would argue that these pragmatist philosophers are also likely to be logical positivists being philosophically more interested in general data sets than individual differences. The opposing philosophical force would be interpretive researchers who prefer to holistically examine specific phenomena within a larger population. As a loose popular culture example, positivists are more like Mulder from X-files believing the truth is out there. Whereas, interpretive researchers could be compared to Scully who insisted on examining each phenomenon for its own merit and in its natural environment or context.

The view of the individual is different for each philosophy as well. Positivists view an individual as similar to all other human beings and look to categorize general behaviors and beliefs of the population as a whole. This is a problem for interpretive researchers who believe that humans are fundamentally different and cannot be pigeonholed or stereotyped. These researchers look at single phenomena and come up with theories to explain them. Positivists take a different tact and test theories to empirically support or discount them by comparing them to other parts of the shared reality. They define the accepted reality first and test against it.

So why does all this matter? In Malaby’s examination of play, the accepted reality of play was broken into branches. The reality of play that materially contributes to the grounded world and the reality of play that is representational. The mere attempt to break play into two branches is drawing a epistemological line in the sand.  Although parsimony is a primary goal of any research, saying something as simply as possible can force “truths” and stereotypes where none may exist. Or, more importantly perhaps, these larger truths may not account for the phenomenon which is outside of those truths – the rogues and non-conformists among us can relate.  Compared with the readings from last week which called for researchers to consider individual differences and contexts, the epistemology of this week’s readings seem to lean in the opposite direction by calling for a more pragmatic and essentially quantifiable definition of play.

Each of the philosophies comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the researcher to balance these with the known reality of studying the topic of interest. In the case of play, Malaby is interested in classifying play for a better understanding and more serious study of the field especially considering the lack of attention it was receiving. His aims are good but I am not yet convinced (personally) that there are truths out there to be found…only individual differences and realities.


The discussion around awareness in Fine’s Frames and Games chapter reminds me of this infographic.


Articles:

  • Malaby, T. M. (2009). Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience. New Literary History40(1), 205-218.
  • Fine, G. A. (2006). Frames and Games. In K. Salen & E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The game design reader: A rules of play Anthology (pp. 578-601). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Nardi, B. A. (2010). Chapter 4 “Play as Aesthetic Experience.” My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ of Michigan Press.

Rule – No Girls Allowed…? 

If masculine, clubhouse rules successfully support some majority percentage of the gamer community and the gamer community purchases the products supporting the industry then is it fair to expect any of them (i.e. – gamers, products or industry) to spontaneously shake the boat for women to join the club? The great thing is that it does not seem to matter because women are playing games in spite of it all. Unfortunately, the statistics for women’s experience with games are not easy to decipher.   

For years now, The Entertainment Software Association has been stating that women make up approximately 40% of the game market.  The latest essential fact sheet (ESA 2011) claims approximately 42% of the gamers are women. But the statistics can be dubious and (in this case) prone to bias. Are these AAA title players? Facebook gamers? Smartphone gamers? Console gamers? Who knows and, better yet, does it matter?

Less suspect data can be cited from a 2008 Pew Report (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1048/) which claims that women are “slightly less likely (50%) than men (55%) …to play any kind of digital game.” The question that should be asked is – What is the goal here? Are we expecting women to become 50/50 partners in the AAA gamer community? What if that is not what that group generally wants? 

That said, there is no doubt that strides should be made in the gaming culture and the institution to encourage women to contribute to the community – starting from the bottom up and the inside out.

Even at (arguably) the lowest level of the gaming industry (e.g. quality assurance tester) where jobs are a dime a dozen and turnover is high, the ratio of female to male testers does not equate to the ratio of female to male gamers by any stretch of the imagination. Tonya Constant (co-founder of The Ant Firm, a QA company) supports this position by stating that “while 43% of all gamers are female, the truth is 86% of game testers are male.” It is not just the design of the games but the general industry makeup.  Robyn Bremner (game tester for Campcom Interactive Canada) had almost the same thing to say in a cerise magazine interview, “I work in an office of 16 people, 14 of whom are men.” (I’ll even offer up my anecdotal experience of the gender gap in the game community and especially as a game tester for further evidence). To make any progress in this debate the changes need to start from the bottom up and the inside out. No game creation without representation should be the motto. And while we are at it… no pink game creation, full-stop. These only serve to widen the perceived gender divide.

Rule – Boys’ clubhouse rules are different because boys play different…?

Research shows that playstyle and (Eccles – 2002 – Motivational beliefs values and goalscan be different depending on the gender. It may be a little shortsighted and high-minded for all of the articles to have acknowledged and dismissed this on the face.

Two of the three articles included a brief sentence on the possible difference in the time men and women spend playing games. By happy coincidence I was able to find an article title Gaming, Gender, and Time: Who Makes Time to Play? by Jillian Winn and Carrie Heeter which found that “time allocated per session of game play is strikingly shorter among female than male undergraduates, with females typically devoting one half hour or less per play session and males typically devoting 1 hour or more.”

We have to start somewhere, why not start with appropriate role models in pop culture and media?

The ‘current’ pop culture female gamer role models can be confusing…The culture can encourage “relationship building” between genders (e.g. GameCrush) and yet discourage this relationship in gameplay (e.g. 9 Things real female gamers hate about gaming). It is a truly confusing landscape. I want to believe that there is a changing face of games but that face is often obscured, belittled, impractical or non-existent.

The current role models are all over the board.
Objectifying:

And (tongue-in-cheek) empowering…
Big Bang Theory’s take on Female Gamers Video

Patronizing

Or even realistic…
Trina Schwimmer (founder of GamingAngels)
Kellee Santiago  (Flower Game developer)

Unfortunately none stand out on their own. This is a real and actionable item. Role models are the best way to  lead and win the hearts and minds of girls as gamers…breaking the stereotypes is a good start but the girls need lasting role models and prototypes to believe that they can play with the “big boys”.


Old Grandma Hardcore
Breaking all the stereotypes and still playing in the clubhouse (NSFW)


Discussion Questions:

Anyone know anything about RapeLay…aside from the sensationalism of the talking heads and their knee jerk reactions? CNN’s Why would ‘RapeLay’ thrive in Japan?

Is it necessary to create games by girls for girls? Does this encourage a gender gap or help alleviate it?


Articles:

  1. Taylor, T. (2008). Becoming a player: Networks, structure, and imagined futuresIn Y. B. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner, & J. Y. Sun (Eds.), Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New perspectives on gender and gaming (pp. 51-65). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Nardi, B. A. (2010). Chapter 8, “Gender.” My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ of Michigan Press.
  3. Hayes, E. (2005).Women, Video Gaming and Learning: Beyond Stereotypes.. TechTrends, 49(5), 23-28.
  4. Gaming Rules – http://gamingrules.tumblr.com/

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