Thursday, May 31, 2007

My first caricature...cooooool.

Terra Nova author Lisa Galarneau caught this lovely article from Something Awful.

Something Awful indeed. The vitriol coming from the article was quite entertaining, as it proceeded to lay into a multitude of topics related to the Internetz including Second Life, and Terra Nova blog, where I guest blogged last month.

Not only was one of my posts referred to as a Paradigm Post for "Terrifying Teachers," but there was an inset editorial cartoon alluding to the emotional reaction to the raid that I discussed in my original post. He later goes on to say that if people enjoyed my post, then they would also enjoy "Medieval history of German shoemakers, shoving a pencil up your nose and into your brain, and Wired Magazine." Save for the pencil thing (ow), the other two don't seem that bad... and being compared to Wired Magazine was just downright sweet.

Hell, now I know for a fact I'm special. I wonder what I'm drinking from the green bottle (American Dew?). That, and I have more hair than advertised.

Next, I'll see if someone will burn an effigy of me somewhere. If you do, can you YouToooob it so I can see?:D

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's the ~Second~ Life for the VPD

Friends and colleagues Gerri Sinclair and Joanna Robinson of the Great Northern Way Campus are in the front page story of the Vancouver Sun. The story covers the Vancouver Police Department's win of a bid to have a recruiting presence in Second Life. You might remember Gerri and Joanna's from their Second Life efforts while recruiting new students for the GNWC last November. Nice work!

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Ethnography and mobile design

I wanted to share an informative article from the BBC that interviewed Jan Chipchase, principal researcher at Nokia Design on how he has used ethnographic insights to inform the design of mobiles. His work includes bringing research teams into the actual cultural contexts of use in order to make better business decisions for Nokia.

Read the rest of my post at>>

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Serious Games - a UK connection

Yesterday I attended a seminar by Professor Robert Stone from the University of Birmingham on his definition of Serious Games in the UK. The talk was organized by New Media BC, UK Trade & Investment, and The British Midlands. Vancouver was their last stop after having presented in Boston and Montreal this past week.

Recent UK serious gaming case studies have delivered successful proof-of-concept demonstrators to a variety of stakeholders, illustrating the value of incorporating human-centred knowledge into the early project design stages. These results are applicable regardless of whether the demonstrators are based on traditional gaming concepts (preserving the quest for entertainment and engagement), or on the straightforward exploitation of the quality and functionality of games engines and software development kits for contemporary interactive 3D applications (such as part-task training).

Professor Stone took us through why the original "VR" was unsuccessful (think the huge goggles and people shooting from a cabled "gun") because of certain things like 'dotcom mentality', but as he highlighted most importantly, that "most developers forgot the human user."

He also talked about how it is not the technology, but the content that immerses and used some video footage of his son playing CounterStrike and "peeking" around corners, thoroughly immersed. That is, his son did not need to be in a VR chamber, but just a simple computer interface with compelling content sufficed to create an environment in which his son was throughly immersed (so much so, he did not notice Prof. Stone videotaping him or commenting on his play). heh.

Prof. Stone went on to show us how his grad students in their 'spare time' were using game engines like that of the Far Cry "Cry engine" to attempt prototypes for different types of 'serious games' like those that address trauma medicine, military applications where a simulation/game would be useful (like explosive ordinance vehicles), and post traumatic stress.

There was also the case where he had the chance to shoot a minigun and learn that there's a delay from pressing the button, to shooting... and the resultant kickback that one must recover from. So, user factors like this must be accounted for when creating a simulation.

In the question period, asked him to discuss instances of 'user engagement' in his study, and he talked about spending 3 days in a Johanesburg morgue observing how autopsies are done, along with the minigun example. Given his examples which ideally take into account environmental and cultural factors, I would really like to see his future research staff include people focusing on even more user informed inquiry, possibly from the fields of sociology, anthropology, urban studies, and cultural studies (being Birmingham, and all.).

This seminar certainly got the imagination going. A good chance to see what is happening in the serious games research end, and afterwards hear about the governmental support provided by the British Midlands (things like, "if you need research done on how to locate your company here, it's our job to help you." :).

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Where would I fit in the games development cycle?

Last week, there were several lectures and panels that I found interesting. One in particular at the OGDC stood out because it's near and dear to me: User Research.

In this panel, they talked about the interaction between User Researchers and the Users, but also the internal dynamics of the group,which includes ethnographers, social psychologists, and usability engineers. I really enjoy hearing about this type of interdisciplinary collaboration, as it closely resembles what I experienced through a "social science research cluster" interacting with other clusters while working at the New Media Innovation Centre (NewMIC) before I started graduate school. However, like many beautiful utopian creatures born out of the dotcom boom, that creature went bust--but I've been looking for places which encourage that spirit of collaboration ever since. It's encouraging to see tech companies like Microsoft see the pragmatic value in ethnographic praxis. Along with Intel and IBM, they sponsor conferences like EPIC.

The expression of an ethnographer's utility in the games development cycle was interesting to me because I have expressed similar principles in my own industry work. Reminds me of SAD (Systems Analysis and Design) projects I did way back when...

The development cycle can be thought of like this:
  1. Concept
  2. Prototyping
  3. Production
  4. Polish (Beta)
  5. Post-release
Typically, ethnographers like myself have been consulted (if at all) during the last stage (Post-release) and given insights that may be incorporated into future designs.
The trend that some teams are going towards though, is bringing in ethnography to inspire at the first concept stage... and increasingly at even the fourth polishing beta stage. Involving cultural insights through ethnographic narrative at more stages of the process stands to benefit the company a LOT. I mean, bottom line kind of stuff. Imagine making a million (or more) dollar mistake, all to find it could have been avoided if someone had been on the ground. It's happened before.

Anthropologists have been studying games and play for a long time... before the world became flat, before it became digitized. While there are certain universals, game play is something that is so culturally subjective and interesting--using an ethnographer just makes cultural (and financial!) sense.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Conference April-Mayhem

I am calling the last two weeks my Conference April-Mayhem of 2007. Between Research Assistantship duties and my own dissertation research to-do's, it's been an extremely stimulating (and exhausting) time. Given the three conferences that I briefly talk about in this entry, it's hard not to be 'thinking of the world.'

Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Conference International Conference and Trade Show Vancouver

Wearing my RA hat from April 29-May 1st, I combed the trade show floor and interviewed international delegates. Primarily, I was in charge of talking to the companies from Denmark. The Danish government, as part of their CanDan initiative, sent a 25+ person delegation in order to make connections and foster deeper relationships with research institutions and industry here, as well as with delegates from around the world.

Of interest was the re-announcement of what the provincial government calls the Hydrogen Highway. Premier Gordon Campbell is working with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to make a hydrogen-friendly path from "BC to BC" (British Columbia to Baja California). During the conference I learned what people were working on in terms of hydrogen vehicles (like bicycles, cars, trucks, buses) and the challenges of implementing those technologies.

Innovation Systems Research Network ISRN 2007 Conference in Vancouver

Directly related to my participation in the H2FC conference the days before, from May 2-5th, I was a graduate research assistant for the ISRN conference, where we discussed the local contexts of innovation (like Fuel Cells). The network is at the very beginning of a very ambitious data collection endeavour that spans the country.

The Innovations Systems Research Network (ISRN) is a network of researchers examining innovation in various cities and regions across Canada. The members of the network are loosely associated with four sub-networks: in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and Western Canada. The ISRN's goal is to better understand how economic, social, and political conditions influence innovation and hence economic development at the local, regional, and national level. The knowledge resulting from this research is intended to assist policy-makers at all three levels of government to better understand innovation dynamics and craft more effective policy.

Online Game Development Conference, Seattle

This past week I was shaking things up in Seattle at the OGDC 2007 conference. It was an information-packed two days, which included prominent speakers in the game industry and exhibitions. I felt very privileged to be there, as it gave me a chance to learn about the most current and specific struggles of people involved in the production of games. I found myself drawing tiny crowds during lunch and break times when those around me heard that I conduct research on Korean online game communities. After all, people were curious who this gal with the VIP badge was! The intimacy of the conference allowed for the making of friends, with the approach of quality versus quantity. Way cool.

After the conference, Lisa Galarneau and I hung out (she and her Microsoft Games Studio User Research panel got some press coverage). Being kindred spirits as well as ethnographers interested in games research, we had lots to talk about. She was kind enough to give me a tour of her workplace at the MGS Millennium campus, along with showing me the not so touristy areas of I-5 Microsoft land. Btw, I'm way better at MMOGs than driving games :P

So that was the coles notes of what went on... And now I'm back in Vancouver, defragging, working on papers, getting my shiat together for comprehensive exams so life can move on...
Photos of the conference April-Mayhem can be found in order of activity on my flickr set.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

OGDC Conference 2007

Today I'm on my way to construct some amusement at the Online Game Development Conference in Seattle, Washington. The Chair, Peter Freese, has been kind enough to invite me, and it looks like they've got an exciting program of speakers lined up. It's a mix of industry and academia dialogue in which I am looking forward to participating.

For those not on FB or Flickr (and have therefore have not seen some of what I've been up to), I'll be posting the coles notes of the previous week's nuttiness for the Vancouver conferences here soon. Being the host city for a conference means that you're mostly working on the back end/graciously hosting/still relatively attached to home obligations/not staying in a hotel in the middle of the action. Maybe being out of town will give me a much needed chance to reflect and catch up. One can hope!

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