Dear Esther is, in short, complicated. It’s hard to describe. In my brief research, the best description I have been able to find is “graphical masterpiece”, which was the description given by Joe Martin in his review for bit-tech. Graphical masterpiece, however, does not really account for the music or the feelings it evokes, so maybe something more along the lines of sensuous masterpiece or a beautiful invocation of the senses, but neither of those quite sound right and that is not what I’m here to talk about. I am here to talk about what Dear Esther is. It is very complicated and certainly up for discussion so here goes. (more…)
Archive for the ‘New Media’ Category
Tags: Andrew Orlowski, collective intelligence, crowd sourcing, hive mind, Larry Sanger, Open Source, Wikipedia
It is a truth universally acknowledged that despite personal hard disks that can store more information than the average public library, new search technologies, multiple ways of organizing a lifetime of intellectual endeavor into files, and folders, and libraries, if you nevertheless set out to find one single known file on your laptop you will never, ever locate it. You will be condemned to an eternity of playing the “You know, I’m sure I remember I had a file about. . . ” game. Serendipity, however, still holds a powerful sway over our actions, and sometimes the fruitful search for what we knew once existed turns up something we had forgotten we’d ever had.
Such was the case recently when I was searching for an article I was sure that I had written a number of years ago. As I was about to conclude that I must have dreamed it, I stumbled across an antique e-mail in my draft folder, a message that I’d written back in October of 2005 but never sent. Why I never sent it I don’t remember. Clearly it was an e-mail that was involved in a rather intense discussion so maybe I was doing that all-too-rare of human actions: hesitating before I actually sent an e-mail. But since this is me, that is unlikely. Maybe I felt the discussion had been beaten to death or wouldn’t be of interest to others. Maybe I hadn’t finished the message, although it looks pretty complete to me now.
Whatever the reason, I was startled to find how closely the e-mail was reflecting many of my current reservations about the rise of the clowd. This post itself doesn’t explicitly concern games. But the Bioware/Hepler controversy that I wrote about in my last post has made me realize I need to pay some serious attention to one of the most pervasive myths of the technoosphere: that there is a wisdom in crowds.
Tags: Bioware, casual games, hardcore games, Jennifer Hepler, Reddit, Twitter
Sometimes you get a situation where all the worst aspects of our current new media environment collide and form a perfect storm of hideousness. So when you take Reddit, add in a sprinkling of Twitter and stir it all with a bunch of rabid gaming fanbois you might expect something truly appalling to emerge.
Way back in the gaming Dark Ages (2006) a woman who was then a senior writer for Bioware gave an interview in which she expressed the opinion that game developers should build in an interface option that allowed players who were more interested in story and character interaction to skip the boring combat portions of the game in the same way that most story-driven games allow you to rapidly skip through all the story and dialogue in order to get back to ripping out entrails with a pike. It is a pretty inoffensive proposal, all things considered. She never says that games should be less combat-oriented, or that stories should play an even more prominent role, simply that there should be an option that allows for the gameplay preferences of a particular group.
Tags: Apple, Facebook, Facebook Changes, Facebook Timeline, information technology, new media, Technology, Twitter
Occasionally you come across something on the Web that forces you to stare unflinchingly into the dark heart of humanity. Well, OK, on the Web that happens more than occasionally and not simply when you are frequenting 4Chan. Sometimes, however, the experience isn’t simply repellent and/or tedious but actually illustrates something profound about the evolution of human nature and its vexed relationship with digital technologies.
Recently, my friend Laurie posted an article about the impending Facebook changes from CNN’s Tech blog. Peter Cashmore’s “You’ll Freak WhenYou See the New Facebook” highlights Facebook’s impending overhaul of its profile pages in order to introduce its new “Facebook Timeline.” Some of you may in fact have had your profile switched already. Cashmore acknowledges that most users will probably hate the change initially but then they will think it is the greatest thing since Al Gore invented the Internet:
Tags: game reviewing, gameplay, videogames
In the month or so since L.A. Noire has come out, I have read review after review proclaiming it to be a revolutionary game. I have heard this before. Reviewers call games genre-changers or “like nothing I’ve ever seen before” or innovative or even, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun, “game-changers”. I hear this yet again and I am once again disappointed in its usage and game reviewing as a whole. Let me be clear, L.A. Noire is not a bad game. They accomplished what they set out to do, but having completed the game (+/- a few somewhat repetitive side missions) I have seen very little to justify such accolades as mentioned above.
L.A. Noire is a detective game. The game is set in 1947 Los Angeles. The player starts as a patrol officer and progresses through several different crime desks and police stations. The 40s have become an overused setting of late, but I find this forgivable because of their lesser used character choice.
The gameplay is befitting of the game though again not necessarily revolutionary. The game employs an evidence system somewhat reminiscent of The Curse of Monkey Island in its simplicity. Basically, music cues the player that he is near evidence. Once selected, the player “examines” (rotates…) the evidence until the game informs him that this is relevant in some way. The player then questions people of interest at the given location. These interrogations are new for Rockstar because, while this studio has been one of the principle proponents of open-world gameplay, they have a tendency to not have a karmic aspect and/or not allow speech decisions. The player watches short cutscene introductions and must listen closely. At the end of the cutscene, the player must decide whether he believes the last statement to be truth, doubtful, or a lie which the player must support with evidence collected throughout the case. What results is a combination of Rockstar’s typical cinematic narrative style with a clue-based lie-detector minigame. If anything, this is revolutionary for Rockstar. I also do not consider a lie detector system to constitute real speech by itself.
I have heard one realistic claim to innovation that Rockstar could boast in this game. I read a review explain Rockstar’s new methods of voice and facial expression capturing. I will admit that the detail in faces and facial expressions was very skillful and with such a star-studded cast including John Noble of Lord of the Rings and more recently Fringe, it was nice to look at in-game characters and see detailed representations of their real-life counterparts. Character detail is nice. It adds to immersion, but detail alone does not make a game. I enjoyed L.A. Noire and I recommend trying it, but I ask that we all just take a moment to think about the real meanings of some of the words we use to describe games.
Game reviewing doesn’t really understand what it is or what it is supposed to be yet. Reviews have a tendency to focus on consumer advice. Pressure is added to this whenever the game is particularly hyped or coming out of certain studios. The problem with throwing around words like “revolutionary” and “innovative” is that they spread like wildfire. If one review uses them, all the others have to or their reviews will be buried under the oncoming tidal wave of hype. It is what it is, but, at the same time, it is bad policy especially for gamers that are on the fence looking for a real idea of what they would be buying into. In any case, this has been a refreshing comeback from a long absence of game-related writing and I invite any and all to comment as you will. I could use a good game discussion.
Tags: Clans, Democracy, Gaming Communities, Guilds, Jedi Academy, Syndicate
I’ll probably start off with this story in every blog post that I write in my life, but when I was thirteen years old I had the honor to found and lead a clan called The Order in the game Star Wars: Jedi Academy. What proceeded was a five year journey that would change my life. I met hundreds of people online, made friends around the world, and most importantly created just the kind of organization that Clay Shirky describes in his book Here Comes Everybody. Clans are different then other online communities, but still operate below the ‘Coasean floor’ and still use the interaction of promise, tools, and bargain in order to achieve this. Still, online game communities serve as excellent models of organizing without organizations and raise interesting questions about the democratizing effects of online social tools.
Online communities in video games go by a number of different names and these names can highlight some very important differences. In Jedi Academy, communities are called clans, while in most other games they are called guilds. Some games have different names for their communities according to the content of the game. For example, both Second Life and EVE Online refer to their communities as corporations reflecting the economic nature of the game-play. In general, however, games that come with a developer supported interface, tools, and other systems that allow the players to create and maintain communities are called guilds. For games that do not support communities, players create their own systems in order to organize clans. For example, in the games Counter-strike and Jedi Academy, the game does not support the creation of guilds. Still, players band together and create communities anyway, usually signified by changing avatar’s name to share some characteristics and staying to one server or location. Clans are an important example of organization below the Coasean floor because of this fact: players go out of their way to create organizations where there were none before and where none are required or even supported, but they do it anyway. There is little value to an organization like a clan other than the enjoyment of it’s members. Without modern social tools, creating a world-spanning organizations simply in order to enjoy a game would be too costly compared to their value.
Shirky borrows the idea of the Coasean Floor from a 1937 paper called “The Nature of the Firm” by Ronald Coase to help show what online social tools do for group forming. The Coasean floor is the point which transaction costs are high enough that no matter how valuable an activity is it is not worth creating an organization to do it. Before online social tools, communication and organization costs money, of which there is none for online gaming communities. The internet, the mobile phone, and other technologies changed this. For example, it no longer matters how much time it takes for a message to reach point B from point A; it matters how long it takes for the recipient to notice they have a message. Clans operate below the Coasean floor, regardless of the fact that there is no system to support them, they create themselves anyway at very little cost. “Loosely coordinated groups can now achieve things that were previously out of reach for any organization structure, because they lay under the Coasean floor.” (Shirky, 47) Applied to clans, this means that anyone can form an organization around a game they enjoy, even if the game does not support such organization.
Clans are created through the interaction of promise, tool, and bargain, just like how Shirky describes other online organizations are created. For guilds in games that have a goal, joining a guild means joining with a promise to progress in the game farther, earn better rewards, and work together better. For clans, the promise tends to be more like “let’s identify together in order to make the game more interesting.” Games with guilds tend to have a lot more replay value, are updated consistently, and are much more populated. People create clans in order to increase replay value in games that aren’t constantly updated with new content, joining or creating a clan is like making your own content. In the case of Jedi Academy, this is often done through role-playing. In Counter-strike, this is done through inter-clan tournaments. The internet also offers a number of tools that are critical to the formation of clans. Most importantly of all is the design of the game itself, Jedi Academy‘s game-play is a much better equipped game to foster the development of clans than Counter-strike‘s game-play is. Both games however, support game-modding, which means to literally add in your own game content. This allows players to customize their games and create game content that supports their clans. Finally, communication programs like X-Fire and online internet forums make communication between members easy and easily allow players to connect to the right place so that members can play together.
Most interesting of all is the bargains that clans develop. Shirky writes that “A bargain helps clarify what you can expect of others and what they can expect of you.” Clans establish joining procedures, codes of conduct, complicated hierarchies and ranks, and even governing documents. These governing documents are particularly interesting, because nearly always in both guilds and clans democracy is the basis of the governing system, usually combined with some sort of oligarchy. Observations have shown that nearly all online communities (but particularly clans) will go out of their way and force the vote into their system. The vote is a powerful bargain, giving every member of the organization a say in what is going on. However, the most successful online gaming community, the Syndicate, is governed by the benevolent dictatorship of it’s founder. Contrary to what is anecdotally the best model for governing an online gaming community, players will still design their communities with democracy in mind.
An often found model of clan leadership is the ‘officership’ model. A few selected members, titled officers, make the decisions for the organization as a group. These decisions can range from who to recruit, who to promote, what server to play on, to various game-play related decisions. These officers are often selected by the other officers, but vote enters anyway generally through two ways. Between the officers, decision making is always done through a majority-rules vote. Also, any larger issues that the officers do not feel they can make alone are submitted to the organization for vote. The Syndicate runs with an officership model also, except that the officers serve simply to advise the guild master on the best course of action, however what action to take is the guild master’s responsibility to decide. This model, as long as the guild master acts to the benefit of the organization, is far more efficient because it reduces the transaction costs of the leadership of the clan. An organization within an organization that suffers just the same benefits and problems with online social media as the organization does as a whole.
Why then, are communities forcing the vote into their bargains? One could use this as evidence that new social tools are indeed democratizing the world, that guilds and clans are examples of a new age where democracy and the vote are the default mode of governance. However, before this claim can be argued, one has to ask oneself an important question. If we find democracy in guilds and clans in America, will we find it in guilds and clans in other countries as well? Will the vote be held to the same respect in China, or will authoritarianism be the default governing style of online gaming communities? What about in the middle-east, will theology be forced into every governing document, or does that one depend on the game’s content? Where does the officer oligarchy fit into the picture, if most guilds and clans use a combination of democracy and rule of the elite? I would like to say that guilds and clans can be a case-study of the internet democratizing the world, but I’d be willing to guess the answer is that we have just gotten really good at teaching our youth about the importance of the vote. So much so, that they force it into even the smallest and seemingly most inconsequential of groups: the clan.