By Ari Levy
By Ari Levy
I’m blogging for Ada Lovelace Day on the 2nd day of the Game Developers Conference, where I have been handing out our Ada Lovelace pins since yesterday, when they arrived at Tracy’s Hotel. Frank Lanz, who gave a talk this morning about his ARG Chain Factor, started his talk by saying “Happy Ada Lovelace Day everyone,” minutes after I have him his pin. Thanks for the shout out Frank.
As most of our friends and supporters know, the Game Development Community is overwhelmingly male, but for those of you single male game designers out there, if you want to meet some cool chicks, you should head on over to West Hall. That’s where they are hosting the Education Summit and the Serious Games summit. It’s where the majority of academics are hanging out, and it’s the one place at GDC where you will see the most notable participation from women, both in the audience, and on the dais. Two of the highlights for me thus far have been Jane McGonigal’s keynote yesterday on the ability of game designers and players to transform the world and solve the world’s biggest problems. According to McGonigal, games produce a number of the components that people in the “science of happiness” are now calling vital to human well-being. They include a number of factors of Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow,” and include not only challenge but different forms of social interaction, such as dancing. She showed one of her recent ARGs which is an experiment with the discovery that embarrassment actually makes people happy; the game is designed to embarrass you by doing various dancing maneuvers (including some in public), with all participants wearing masks in their photo or video documentation. She also talked about how games allow us to solve complex, often frustrating challenges that require high levels of tenacity, and urged everyone, with s series of design challenges, to use games to take on some of our most pressing problems .
Margaret Robinson gave a fantastic de-construction of Spore as a learning game, based on some research she’s been doing since the game came out in September. Apparently teachers are not using the game, but they are using the FREE (very important feature) character creation tool. Controversies abound around the game's unscientific science, but intelligent design proponents have been using it to promote their cause. A notable exception is Anti-Spore, a blog created by a Christian father who objected to Spore’s “intelligent design without a Creator” message. After numerous comments its author revealed the site to be a hoax. Robinson closed with a recommendation that game companies find ways to lower the barrier of entry for using mainstream in the classroom, either by giving games away (bureaucracy’s can get challenging where money is involved), or by providing site-wide licenses to schools and developing curriculum plans for teachers. Even with those initiatives, the barrier of entry will continue to be high due to the resistance of the majority of educators to games in general. The talk was both entertaining and informative and I hope she’ll post her Powerpoints online.
The fact that women are so well-represented in serious games and games education is promising and a hopeful sign for female participation in the game industry in the future.
By the way, in case you didn't know Ada was a bit of a bit of a gamer. :) She liked playing the numbers.
This evening I donned by Mah Jongg bracelet and made my way over to USC, where both Jacki and I had the pleasure to attend the installation of Ludica's own Tracy Fullerton as the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair of Interactive Media at the School of Cinematic Arts. The declaration at the beginning of the ceremony met with rousing applause before Dean Daley even finished her sentence. Keynote John Riccitiello, Chief Executive Officer, Electronic Arts gave the keynote, pointing out that this is the first generation in which both parents and their children are playing video games. Characteristically humble and eloquent, Tracy gave a lovely and brief thank you, acknowledging friends, colleagues and students for their support. We are extremely proud of Tracy and this well-deserved and long overdue accomplishment, and it was an privilege to share with her this special honor.
I had a nice chat with reporter Chris Nuttall from the Financial Times last week and this is the result. Enjoy!
Ludica is very pleased to announce that Beyond Barbie® and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming, Edited by Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner and Jennifer Y. Sun, and featuring Ludica's "Towards a Virtuous Circle" has been released. We want to offer our thanks and congratulations to the editors, who spent two years collecting, editing and refining the contents of this sequel to the 1998 classic on gender and gaming, From Barbie to Mortal Kombat. The book so cram-packed with great articles and takes the discourse to another level: we highly encourage anyone interested in the topic to grab a copy!
Does anybody remember the "No Comment" section in Ms. Magazine? This usually included advertisements, statements, or articles that were so blatantly and preposterously sexist that no further explanation was required.
This one, from Wired, comes compliments of Kathy Mancuso, one of our new DM grad students here at Tech:
Why? The female characters will not have "ginormous tits." Let us all heave a collective sigh of relief. Another reason: the game can be dumbed down for the "casual player." For more, click the link above.
A new study from the University of Toronto shows that, while girls and women test lower on certain spatial skills, playing action-based video games over a period of time eliminates the discrepancy:
This is very interesting because most of the prior studies seem to indicate that the discrepancy is a biological "fait accomplit" that creates a a barrier of entry. To the contrary, Spence at al seem to be showing that with practice, the brain can actually be rewired to improve in these areas.
This leads to an inevitable, and probably unprovable, research question: Are these differences genetically predisposed or are they "prewired" though socio-cultural and cognitive input in childhood? Is it possible that the activities boys are encouraged to do, including video game playing, wire their minds differently? If anyone is aware of any research on this, let us know!
An Interspecies Game
This challenge raised the question: Why shouldn’t games be available to more than just humans? Indeed!!!
The challenge had only three rules:
1. The game must be playable by a human and at least one other species.
2. It can't be an ordinary game that's simply being played by an animal.
3. Special hardware to let the animal play the game was allowed, but couldn’t be the point of the game.
Alexi Pajitnov, Steve Meretzky and Brenda Braithwaite, all truly amazing game designers, more than rose to this challenge, expanding the boundaries of game play beyond the human race.
Alexi (last year’s winner of the infamous Needle and Thread challenge) decided dolphins as a species had a lot to offer… especially if they were saddled… and part of an augmented reality game where the dolphins in their water element provide the movement for humans virtually positioned in a cabin atop the saddle. The two humans on the Dolphin Ride “team” could administer shocks to different parts of the saddle to steer their mounts. Game play consisted of shooting targets balls of different colors, but the big win was when you shot the other team’s dolphin. It was hard to understand exactly what in this game was fun was for the dolphins.
Steve Meretzky used an extreme multiplayer game concept and populated a “TrayStation” with trillions of bacteria (after rejecting a game that involved larger and less numerous ants). In his BacAttack the growth of the bacteria becomes a threat that you can keep in check via microwaves. Surviving bacteria can mutate and evolve and may develop immunity to the waves. But the best part of this game is that the human player has the rights to any new organisms that come out of the game and can license or sell them to opportunistic biotech companies. Now, I am no expert on what bacteria consider fun, but I doubt they enjoy that lethal microwave death ray!
Finally, Braithwaite, the first “person of gender” to be part of the Challenge, chose a species close to her heart for her game design. Inspired by play with her own dog, she presented a doggie version of an ARG Facebook social network for the furry set.
Dog owners in 50 cities head to the site OneHundredDogs.com to get challenges for their dogs and themselves. Doggie challenges are based on normal doggie skills, and human ones on human skills. Completing a challenge gives points and access to more challenges, and the dog with the highest score becomes the Alpha Dog for that city. But the genius of this game is the network it creates for humans and their pets; and the last nine of the hundred dog challenges require dogs and their owners in all the cities to work together to complete the full game.
What was obvious from this very entertaining session was the unbridled creativity of the participants (not to mention the exuberant moderation by Eric Zimmerman). I could see myself playing each of these games should they ever be made. The first game was very competitive, even to the death (well, maybe I wouldn’t go THAT far), and the second more like a god game with a defenseless opponent (did the bacteria even have a chance to ‘win’?). Only OneHundredDogs offered undisputed fun to the other species, in a spirit of true interspecies cooperation. Now cooperative game play is just not as widespread as the competitive genres, so it was refreshing to see it still exists and can provide enjoyable play.
Of course, the challenge had to have a winner, decided by a boisterous audience vote. It was a near tie between Meretzky and Braithwaite, requiring a second vote, where BacAttack won by a slim margin. This panel was one of the highlights of GDC for me. Not only were my own concepts of what games and game players could be greatly expanded, it was also great fun to see these awesome designers apply their talents to such an exotic challenge.
Our friend Tony Kolz sent us this fantastic article about Teenage Girls dominating the web. This flies in the face of all the assumptions people make that girls are not comfortable with technologies. It seems that where communication and self-expression is concerned, girls rule!