Archive for the ‘Technology and Society’ Category

vr

Virtual Reality demonstration, courtesy of the Knight Center for Journalism at the University of Texas-Austin (Creative Commons License).

Will 2017 be the year of Virtual Reality?  Part of the answer to that question involves recognizing that we’ve gone through several periods since the early 90s when someone, somewhere would be ask: is this the year for VR?  And it never was.  Nevertheless, with gaming permeating almost all aspects of life in over-developed nations, broad cultural familiarity with body motion controllers thanks to the popularity of the Wii, and new systems like those being built around the Oculus and Vive (not to mention the fact that the systems are backed by deep-pocketed tech company players who can afford to sustain losses), VR may start to emerge as more than a high-end gaming oddity.

VR promises to offer some amazing enhancements to existing gaming experiences and to open up completely new sensory experiences.  But what I’ve been thinking about lately are two isses that seem a lot more prosaic.  This first is that almost no one is asking the obvious question: do we actually need VR?  The default development and marketing assumption is that people are clamoring for this, but are they?  In the first of two posts examining games and VR I want to focus on one gaming area that VR developers have already been targeting heavily: space exploration sims.

Part 2 will focus on a concern sparked by reading a recent review of some of some new VR apps: how is VR going to influence the design of the spaces in which we live?  What will VR mean, in short, for the design of our houses?

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testPlease don’t tear this world asunder
Please take back
this fear we’re under
I demand a better future
Or I might just stop wanting you
I might just stop wanting you
Please make sure we get tomorrow
All this pain and all the sorrow
I demand a better future
Or I might just stop needing you

David Bowie, “A Better Future”

Well, as has been obvious to the rest of the world, the US has been on a bit of a drunken bender for the last year and a half, behaving a lot like a college student when his or her basketball team loses (or, let’s be honest, wins or loses): smashing shit, blowing things up, setting things on fire, tipping things over.  Decency, taste, respect, fairness, democracy.  Stuff like that.

Then on November 9th America, bleary-eyed, mouth like sand, head pounding, woke up, rolled over. . .and discovered it was in bed with Pennywise the Clown.

“Did you and I. . .you know. . . Oh God!”

This was to be the third in a sequence of posts (after “The Griefing of America” and “The Trump Card“) that was going to look at some ways in which adapting concepts from the world of game design could improve some elements of the democratic process.  A couple of them were going to be tongue-in-cheek but there were also a couple of serious ideas mixed in there.

Now all that is beside the point.  The challenge is now a lot more basic.  To attempt to safeguard the democratic process from further abuse and to hold on to the idea of America as a nation that welcomes difference, celebrates diversity, and doesn’t spend all its time immersed in a fearful haze of mutually contradictory conspiracy theories.

Yeah, only that.

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Rage

Rage this way, Flikr image by Anne. Creative Commons License.

The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy — everything.

George Orwell, 1984

Recently I’ve turned my attention again to the question of the connection between games and what we often refer to, in all seriousness, as real life, more specifically, to the potential for games to intervene in reality and transform it in some way, hopefully for the better.  The is the concept of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) popularized by Jane McGonigal (although not originating with her) which is distinct from the co-opted cluelessness of “gamification” (whose only purpose is to sell you stuff).  It is also different from the concept of Augmented Reality Games where reality serves as a platform for the game, but the purpose is more traditionally one of entertainment and diversion only (think–gah–of Pokemon Go).

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is, not surprisingly, as a response to the horror of the current US presidential election season, which feels as if it has been going on since about three weeks after the last election was decided.  Many conservatives and liberals in the US, who can’t even agree on what to put on their toast in the mornings, seem united in their belief that the current election season has not simply plumbed new depths but has in fact powered up a giant drilling rig (drill, baby, drill!) and is boring straight for the center of the planet.

Before we can talk about how games might improve the US electoral process in a couple of small but significant ways, however, we have to look squarely at the nature of the problem.

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Image of Solitude

“Solitudes” by ArTeTeTrA. (Creative Commons License)

Go Outside and Smell the (Paper) Roses!

It is no secret that videogames are blamed for a lot of the world’s ills.  Simplistic associations between videogames and societal violence persist despite the ambiguous and often downright flawed research in this area.  I suspect this particular gaming albatross is never going to disappear, but just in case that it does, the forces of reaction are lining up new evils to associate with interactive entertainment, chiefly childhood obesity and addiction.  This of course is nothing new.  Governments have routinely targeted the new media of the day in order to try and expand their control over information; parents have regularly lambasted the media du jour in order to dodge responsibility for their own parenting decisions.  I am, however, routinely shocked at how effective the level of societal brainwashing has been.  Many of my students have absorbed the “evil influence” argument to some degree.  This is perhaps not so surprising in those who don’t consider themselves gamers (although many of them are; they just don’t play “those games,” you know, the bad ones; playing Candy Crush obsessively doesn’t make you a gamer but playing Call of Duty does, in their minds).  Yet even people who have been playing and enjoying all manner of games for years, who think of “gamer” as part of their identity, have absorbed some of these negative stereotypes.

Yet behind all of this there is often a much more basic dismissal directed at games, a snooty high-mindedness that declares that those who play videogames are simply “missing out.”  What they are missing out on is sometimes unspecified; the proposition is left hanging, a vague assertion that gamers are missing out on “life” in some unspecified way.  Sometimes the criteria are established: they are missing out on “social interaction” or “the great outdoors” or “creative play.”  Such charges are, of course, usually based on hopelessly romantic notions of what each of those entails.  Anyone who has stood in line to get coffee at Starbucks with a group of people who can barely look up from their phones long enough to voice their order (and in fact usually continue texting, etc. without even offering the person serving you your drink the courtesy of eye contact) should know better than to offer platitudes about the vast and exciting world of stimulating social interaction that is waiting for people just outside their front door.  Moreover, it is worthy of note, isn’t it, that this “gamer generation” of “millennials” (and I honestly have no idea what that word means anymore, if it was ever supposed to be anything more than a term of abuse ready-packaged for deployment by grumpy curmudgeons like me) are actually those who are seeking out experience, the extraordinary and the extreme, in unprecedented numbers.

With all of this as background, it occurred to me recently, that the real hidden tragedy associated with videogames is that it is the people who don’t play them who are missing out. (more…)

I’m not even going to pretend that there isn’t a conflict of interest here.  A better, more ethical person would take steps to maintain their objectivity and protect their sense of integrity.  But in a world where news anchor Brian Williams can singlehandedly drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan, and the US Supreme Court has declared that money is people, I will simply press on.  In the immortal words of Brian Williams, once more unto the breach!

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Crazy Desperation

You haven’t updated your status in three fucking hours! What’s wrong with you! (Photo by Eneas de Troya, Creative Commons License)

I’ve been taking a break from Facebook for several days.  But it seems Facebook doesn’t like being “on a break.”

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Witchcraft Image by Kelly Garbato

Image taken at the St. Joseph, MO museum by Kelly Garbato. Available via Flikr in accordance with Creative Commons license.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is a blog that I like to check in with from time to time.  Written by four experienced UK game journalists, it focuses exclusively on PC Gaming (the fact that this still exists will certainly be news to major game retailers here in the US), the sense of humor resonates with me, and the focus tends to be thoughtfully eclectic.

Recently, one of the team, John Walker, posted an extended discussion of sexism in the gaming world in particular (that is both the world of players and the world of developers) and the tech world in general.  (It is a lengthy article, but if you are a reader of this site you’ll be used to that by now!)  Anyone involved with games who hasn’t been living under a rock (sadly, that actually excludes a lot of gamers, it seems, as will be seen in a moment) is aware of several general issues facing the gaming industry when it comes to gender.  There is the persistent problem of the underrepresentation–scratch that, the massive underrepresentation–of women at every level of game development.  While women make up a significant percentage of players in most casual gaming genres, they are still a distinct minority in many “traditional” hardcore gaming genres.  There is a pervasive culture of harassment of women players in many gaming genres which ranges from downgrading women’s participation by treating that participation as unusual, to the outright abuse that comes from feeling women have no place at all in gaming.  I’ve written several pieces for this blog that have looked at the hate-filled campaigns directed at women who have spoken out about misogyny in the world of gaming, or even at those women who have dared simply to offer an opinion on game design.

Walker’s article–“Misogyny, Sexism and why RPS isn’t Shutting Up”–makes no bones about its intentions.  But the real interest of this article is that for a lot of people outside the game industry the most obvious question would be why the article was even necessary.  So, you are going to continue to call out sexism and misogyny where you see it.  Awesome.  But, er, is there a problem with doing that in the world of gaming?

Oh yes.  A big problem.

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