Monday, July 24, 2006

Bonnie's critique of Play between Worlds

Bonnie Nardi, a professor I admire for many reasons, has posted an insightful critique of T.L. Taylor’s (another professor I admire) new book, Play between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture (MIT Press). She asks a number of pointed questions, to which I have my own responses to add to the 2^8 order dialogue. Cheers.

Taylor points out that while women and men both enjoy the social aspects of role playing games, it’s not just chat women are after. As she says, calling out chat as the main driver trivializes the activities of competing, playing, and socializing which go far beyond chat. In my preliminary interviews on gender and WoW, the word competition comes up as something that appeals to women who play.
I think that was a great point, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Taylor writes quite a bit about the hypersexualized images of women in games. I am not an expert here but my sense is that World of Warcraft has toned this down somewhat, although representations of females with Barbie Doll proportions seem to be a permanent part of the culture in games and everywhere else. My darker question is whether women care about this.
I would say, from my own experience as a WoW player "Yes." I do think that our choices in the female avatar 'looks' are quite limited, as are the skin colours/features/ and much more than just sexual stereotypes. I found I either had to play a hyper feminized night elf if I wanted to be 'pretty' or if I wanted to be strong and not as sexualized, I would play a Tauren.. with boobs. It is actually a common stereotype in the game that Tauren females are often the 'real' females (as opposed to guys who are just saying they are female) because they are the least sexualized Horde characters.

There’s tons of references to pop culture, most of which I’m sure I’m missing, but, for example, Jethro Tull’s Bungle in the Jungle. The game takes you back to the Middle Ages but it also takes you back to your own cultural experiences. Is this part of the elusive depth of play?
An interesting thing I've mentioned before is that the Night Elf village is... Korean. They have the big Korean-style gates, and Night Elf vendors in Darnassus and Moonglade also sell Kimchi, Mandu, and other such food delights along with clothing like Hanbok (traditional Korean dress). The game also has a rich narrative that is compelling... that does draw upon Tolkien, but more recently even within the WarCraft real-time strategy games 1-3... which lay the foundation for the faction wars between Alliance, Horde, and their internal allies.

Taylor comes pretty close to suggesting that game companies owe their users because of all the player-produced content, as well as free beta testing, and so on which add up to what she calls “labor.” I can’t quite see this. Labor, if that is what it is, is voluntary.
My colleagues and I are wrestling with this very question as well, in a more meta form, which is the line between work and play... and just what it is, and how to define it. I'm involved with a technological analysis tool called TEDA, which stands for Techno-Experiential Design Assessment. It looks at the 'fitting' of a technology in someone's lifeworld... and one of the major categories of the Ethos protocol within TEDA is something called "projects and cultivations" versus another major category of "chores and ordeals." In life, someone may have more of one than another, and seek to fulfill different aspects of this in a job or hobbies. What WoW seems to be, is a compelling combination of these facets... so it is ambiguous to call it either work or play as those are currently (inadequately) defined, worthy of more complex exploration to be sure.
Bonnie's comment also makes me think of fan fiction and the extraordinary labour involved in creating community, narrative, and life associated with something like a soap opera.

Back to constructing more amusement...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Talking to the media: for academics

Today's Leonardo workshop was our "Communications workshop," or what I call "Talking to the media: for academics." Run by Tim Padmore and Doug Rushton, the workshop was designed to help us (as scholars on the cusp of world fame and media attention) engage the mass media by practicing answering pointed journalistic questions about our research in front of a camera. We had to prepare slides before the workshop and make a short presentation on our topic of choice. We then acted out the experience of being interviewed at a conference by a reporter on the presentation we just made.
So far, my experience with interviews of this nature have been "trial by fire" so it was valuable for me to be able to experience it in a safe "training" environment rather than the 'real' thing. It was also great to each get in-depth critique from Tim and Doug while we watched ourselves (!) after the interview on the television.
A valuable thing I think every academic should have to do if they want their research to be represented in the public sphere in a positive manner. I told them afterwards that they should do these seminars for Faculty (or anyone else interested) at SFU. As much as some people may think they're 'old hat' at this... it never hurts to learn more. It's a skill that must be practised, like anything else.

Tim Padmore is a retired physicst, journalist, and public servant, through all of which runs a streak of communications experience. Doug Rushton is a professional media trainer with a lifetime of journalism experience in print and television.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Vanuatu life

A piece on Yahoo! tech news asks "Do more tech toys make you happier?"
As one might guess, the answer is a resounding "NO," because with those tech gadgets come all sorts of things like work and stress. Nothing particularly surprising there. The interesting thing was the study, done by London-based New Economics Foundation (NEF) measured happiness by a "Happy Planet Index." They came up with the happiest place: Vanuatu (an island in the South Pacific, that relies primarily on tourism and small-scale agriculture. They were, again not surprisingly, quite low on the GDP scale.
I know where I'm going to absorb some happiness!

Read the article>>

Friday, July 14, 2006

Vancouver International Game Summit

Vancouver International Game Summit
November 27-28, 2006
Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- July 13, 2006 -- Reboot Communications today proudly announced the first Vancouver International Game Summit. Taking place at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver, BC, the two day conference will bring together the innovators responsible for the explosive growth of the West Coast gaming industry, providing them with a platform to share knowledge and develop industry partnerships.
Tapping into the fast growing pool of game creators residing on the West Coast of Canada and the U.S. the first Vancouver International Game Summit will provide a forum for developers and producers of console and PC games, mobile games, online games and more. The event
will not only be a learning and networking opportunity for the gaming community, but will focus on providing information and insight with the goal of industry growth in the coming years. It is expected to attract over 750 attendees, representing gaming companies and trade associations from around the world.
"With close to 3000 people working in the gaming industry in British Columbia alone, it's hard to underestimate the incredible pool of talent residing on the West Coast of Canada and the U.S. This community is responsible for some of the best and most popular games on the market today, so we felt there was a lot to be gained by the overall industry from the creation of an event that would allow for sharing of knowledge and vision," said Greg Spievak, CEO of Reboot
Communications. "We are excited to host this groundbreaking international event and judging by the response we have already received from the gaming community it is clear this event will be a heavily anticipated happening."
This year's conference will focus on the following subjects:
- Creative Crossroads - How rising costs of development limits creative innovation
- Content Development in the Next Generation
- How the content creation process has changed the next generation consoles
- Is Bigger Better - The impact of increased team size on creative development
- Effective Project Management In Next Generation Development - How to
manage large productions effectively
- Designing Emotion - How to use technology to deliver emotional experiences
- Interactive Storytelling - Merging storytelling techniques with interactive experience
- Teaching with Video Games - How interactive entertainment can be used explore the link between learning and fun
- Balancing the People Equation - Developing games without exploiting your employees
- Community Management - Developing and maintaining effective gaming
communities online
- Massively Multiplayer - Designing massively multiplayer games
The conference is also currently accepting presentation proposals. The
call for papers is open until August 31st, 2006. For more information
on submissions and the event visit

Job posting: Assistant Professor at UC Davis

The Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor beginning July 1, 2007. The appointee must have a broad interdisciplinary background and research expertise in public culture as it takes form in media and/or space.
Topical interests may include mass media, film, photography, art, built environment, landscape, urban or architectural space. Eligible candidatesmay have research expertise in any geographical area and must be capable of making broad connections between disciplines and fields of study. Special preference will be given to candidates who work in text as well as in video
or other media. Teaching is based on a standard faculty load of four one-quarter courses per year. Candidates should have a Ph.D. in anthropology or related disciplines by time of appointment and be able to demonstrate excellence in teaching and research.

Applications received by October 16, 2006 will receive full consideration. Applicants should prepare a curriculum vitae including the names of three references; a cover letter that indicates completed research, current research program, and teaching experience; copies of up to three
publications representing the applicant's current research, two graduate course syllabi and one undergraduate syllabus. Applications should be sent to:

Janet S. Shibamoto Smith, Chair
Search Committee
Department of Anthropology
One Shields Avenue
University of California
Davis, CA 95616
e-mail:, phone: 530-752-7388

Address administrative questions to Royce McClellan, phone: 530-754-4936;
fax: 530/752-8885; e-mail: The position will remain open until filled.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lisbon TMP conference pics up

Been out of of town at the Technology, Management, and Policy Consortium which took place in Lisbon this year.

Check out the pictures at my Flickr site>>

...while I climb the mountains in Vancouver again (mostly mountains of -work-).