Saturday, March 31, 2007

Terra Nova Guest blogger

I have been invited by the folks at Terra Nova to be a guest blogger for the month of April.
About TN: "Terra Nova is a blog about virtual worlds and their implications. Virtual Worlds include synthetics worlds, MMOs, MMORPGs, Social Worlds, MUDs, MOOs, and MUSHes. Terra Nova authors include scholars, practitioners and writers."
I've been following the blog (and having amusing n00b raids involving level 1 gnomes and the like with various TN authors) since the very beginning in 2003, so to be invited as a contributor is awesome. I'm all for bigger soapboxes. For those of you who don't already subscribe to Terra Nova, add it to your feed already.
A great way to kick off April! I will be posting various snippets of my research thoughts, and blogger-esque games musings there shortly.
**Bonus factoid: Terra Nova is part of the CNet "Blog 100"

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cory Doctorow and the Totalitarian Urge - Audio available

On March 8th, SFU hosted a talk by Cory Doctorow. I had the privilege of being there in person, but for those who couldn't make it the audio archive of that talk is available here.

Lecture presented by the SFU Faculty of Applied Sciences’ Leonardo Institute.
“It’s about how technology changes the way we view social problems,” says Doctorow. “Older mechanical technologies make us see the world as deterministic, knowable and manipulable. New emergent technologies like the Internet teach us that control is an illusion, the universe is out of control and laughing at us, and that the more we watch and control, the more problems we have.”


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Friday, March 16, 2007

The war against obsessive game play

I didn't come up with that phrase, this Korea Times article did, linked from Hanna's blog Seoul Digital City. It was only a matter of time. The story is about a Korean venture start-up that has developed an inaudible sound sequence that will tell game players to 'stop playing' at a subliminal level.
Too freaky. Who knows what else they could tell me to do while I'm playing (methinks I gotta stop this recent habit of clucking like a chicken at red lights though). This, in my post Cory Doctorow talk mindset...the implications are numerous for what exactly one may consent to when logging on.
In her informative post, Hanna touched upon some of the complex societal pressures Korean youth face, hinting at various school/family imperatives to excel in studies, along with mandates to increase online education and e-textbooks. The situation seems part and parcel with fallouts of people's modern fetishization of 'E-ness,' including 'obsessive game play' by which some Korean youth have exhibited self-destructive behaviour. So naturally the games are an issue, because unlike their North American counterparts, Korean youth find it really tough to self-destruct with other things like meth because the access just isn't there.
But now I'm being facetious. But there is a point.
Perhaps I could be clearer. Put simply and admittedly generally, why are we targeting the games, or the device when it is abundantly clear to everyone that things like excessive game play are indicators of what is probably a much broader complex societal ill? Is it because in 'treating' something we can put one finger on, we're convincing ourselves that we're fixing things?
I think of the situation as similar to what we often see in Western medicine--treating the symptom rather than the cause. Addiction itself is often diagnosed in in these terms. We can't fix unemployment, the nastiness of Capitalism writ large, kids being abused in their homes, our fragmenting communities, the repercussions of globalization and so on.... so, banning a drug is naturally much more within our reach. So we do that and pat ourselves on the back while spewing 80s war on drugs rhetoric.
The problems are devastating. The behaviour that people engage in to deal with those problems have devastating results. But, the problems are still there.
In the Korean context, we see youth dealing with the world they've been dealt, creating within what has been created. The problems found there or anywhere else, won't be solved with one-variable solutions. I've got my work cut out for me in trying to convince people of that, eh?

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Monday, March 05, 2007

User experience research and such

Last week at Nokia, I presented some findings on the user experience research we did through using N80 mobile devices and the Metrocode application for the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale cell phone tour. The audience was very N-Gage-ing (sorry, couldn't resist), were a great bunch, and asked a number of really good and interesting questions.
Some that I'd like to share here were oldies but goodies that qualitative researchers like myself often encounter in quantitative-oriented audiences on a regular basis, like:
  1. How is this research representative, given such a small sample size (like, say n=30 versus 1000)? Short answer: Qualitative research often doesn't claim to be representative. Rather, the objectives of this type of research are to spur inquiry, inspire, and give examples of 'exceptions to the rules.' Example: wheelchair ramps, though made for a 'select' group, are ultimately good for everybody so designing for that is a good thing. Besides, if random large samples and their quantitative analyses were the be all and end all, wouldn't we know everything we need to know by now? Ultimately, in this type of research, randomness, generalizability, and largeness of sample size would not have helped.
  2. Isn't this research biased? Short answer: glad you asked. The cheeky answer would be to say that all research is inherently biased and qualitative researchers just acknowledge those biases more...? Um... the not so cheeky answer is yes, research absolutely needs to be evaluated and considered amidst its funders and standpoint epistemologies of all participants, especially the researchers. In this research, I personally know that I designed the project with certain 'controls'. For example, instead of using just Nokia products, we had some focus groups that used their own mobile phones.
  3. Vancouver is a specific test-case, as are your general participant demographic of twenty-somethings. Isn't this too specific? Short answer: This is a similar concern to #2, and #1. The plain truth of the matter is that we're not after generalized data in this type of research. The types of insights generated by focusing on very specific cases is to be able to better observe and articulate contingencies in product/service design plans that might not have been accounted for (which happens all too often). Why is Vancouver different from Seoul? SHOULD we design technologies geared at a generalized average or disregard one 'fringe' group altogether? Probably not.
I think that once these differences in types of research are generally understood for their respective strengths, they are used in amazing ways to improve things. Grant McCracken writes about just such strategies used by Nokia here. I'm optimistic.
My blog on the Biennale's latest appearance in the news, including links to related discussions on the research by team members is here.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

What makes you drive faster?

From the BBC, an article titled, "Games 'make drivers go faster.'" Thank goodness they put single quotations around 'make drivers go faster,' which makes me assume that one of the editors has 'some sense.'
These kind of stories make me want to 'shoot myself.'
According to survey data, more than a third of young drivers are more likely to drive faster on roads after playing on-screen driving games. Cue the usual 'games are bad for us' hand-wringing at this time, ad nauseam.
Thankfully, they got commentary from game designer David Perry (too bad he's presented as someone who has a vested financial interest in the perception of driving games as harmless) who is quoted as saying, "Anything that affects your emotions will affect how you drive. The guy in front, the music on the stereo...those are the things that make you speed up, not a game you played an hour ago."
Hmm... watching any Vin Diesel movie makes me want to drive faster. Policy implications?

Read more here>>

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