DIGC302 Critique of Get Game

Over the course of this semester, I have been following the project of Angus Baillie and Olivia Harris, which they have coined ‘Get Game’.

Aims
In an attempt to make digital games and gaming culture more relatable for the typical, non-gamer student, Angus and I workshopped a couple of ideas at the beginning of the session. We accidentally stumbled across the idea of creating an application that would work like Tinder but with regards to digital games; matching individuals to a game that would suit them.

While creating a Smartphone app seemed a little difficult, the idea of crafting a project that could pair different individuals with a particular game seemed ingenious. It tackled the notion of making gaming culture more inviting by offering non-gamers the chance to find a game they might enjoy without getting overwhelmed in the excess of digital games that are available.

Angus explained the basis of the idea: “Get Game is just a way of getting people connected with games, where those people aren’t necessarily assumed to be well versed in the gaming language.”

The concept seemed to be workable, and as a non-gamer, I was enthused to follow the progress of Get Game as an objective, third party outsider. To help manifest the idea, Olivia jumped on board. The two then refined their aim: To create a platform that will connect different individuals to a game that suits their personality.

Concepts
In their Beta presentation, Angus touched on the concept of ‘The Attention Economy’, suggesting that there is no lack of games available, rather there lacks a channel to get these games to the right players. While there is an abundance of niche games, they all seem to struggle to gain traction and coverage and so they don’t reach their intended target audience. Angus and Olivia wanted to use this as a basis for their aims. Angus explained, “If this one project can get a lot of attention, then it can direct the attention towards those smaller, niche games.”

Trajectory
Angus and Olivia decided to use Twine to create Get Game. This seemed justifiable, as it is simple game-development software that requires very little programming experience and offers the ability to create paths of information, with different elements branching off of each other.

Viewing what Twine looked like in action made me reminiscent of the flowchart quizzes that often featured in the lame teen-magazines I used to muse over.

Image from http://twicsy.com/i/EfWqNc

Image from twicsy.com

It followed suit with the structuring, as it would have a consistent set of options to begin with, that then led to a number of other options, ultimately leading to one end game. I was a little sceptical as I felt that a large database of games would become very confusing and overwhelming in the form of a story map, but Twine did sound promising.

Initially, Angus and Olivia had committed to only including indie games, however as time progressed they became more lenient with the content, adding in well-known games such as The Total War games. For a team that were so passionate about unveiling unchartered games, it was a little disappointing to see them fall back on the mainstream ones.

Methodology
1. Develop a rough database of games to include in the system.
Most of the game data was gained through Angus’ previous interaction with digital game culture, including his work on The Tertangala’s gaming section, his press account for an online game store called itch.io, game podcasts he’d listened to, social justice game developers he followed on Twitter, and a website called Offworld, a new game site run solely by women.

2. Develop categories to sort the games into.
Angus and Olivia started sorting the games out based on characters, contextual settings, story, and the broad elements that defined the games. They then honed in on more specific features such as complexity of controls, how much time the game would demand, what other experiences the game fosters, and purchase price.

3. Add games into the Twine.
The pair then began to fill the Twine with content, building individual paths for each new game. At this point, Angus and Olivia were simultaneously developing different pathways in the Twine, while gaining more ideas of games to include. There are currently 57 games in the Twine, which proves a solid amount of effort went into creating content.

4. Add ‘placeholders’ into the Twine.

Angus added empty links into the Twine so that they would be reminded to fill those gaps with corresponding games.

5. Create a blog and host the HTML.
This proved to be a challenge for Angus and Olivia, who claimed to have tried everything to get the HTML package embedded within their website. To temporarily solve this issue, they uploaded the HTML to Dropbox, and linked to the Dropbox file from WordPress.

Constructive Feedback & Suggestions for Improvement
Angus and Olivia had already produced a rough beta version of their project for their seminar in week 8. It appeared to be a good foundation; the Twine infrastructure worked on the front end, and after I personally completed the Twine I was led to a game that I actually wouldn’t mind trying out. Of course, there were some improvements to be made, but for the most part, the Twine was being developed quickly and it was successfully matching games with people.

For the Beta, I was hoping that many adjustments had been made to the Twine, however they had not. There was still no integration of a ‘back’ button within the Twine, which would’ve allowed users to return to the previous question in case they changed their mind about an answer. There also seemed to be a glitch with the Restart button on the left sidebar that led to a JavaScript Alert:

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 1.43.26 pm

Unfortunately, there were still a number of empty links too. In some cases, the user was left with only one option for each question, forcing them down a single path with no alternatives.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 1.45.07 pm

While I understand that the back end of the Twine is more complex than it appears for the user, it would’ve been great to see each link active, with a game appearing at the end of every prospective path of branches. I know that Angus and Olivia needed to conduct an extensive amount of brainstorming and research to get their idea off the ground, so it’s unfortunate that their hard work is hard to see. However, I think if they used database software, like Microsoft Access but more advanced, there would’ve been less work required when filling the Twine paths. Angus and Olivia had to create a new set of branches for every game that they included, which is highly time consuming. Creating a database, with preset categories, drop down options, and consistent paths would’ve saved a lot of energy, as all of the questions/categories would’ve been pre-emptively sitting there.

For the most part, I felt that there was little progress made between the week 8 seminar and the beta demonstration. Despite this, I was impressed when they presented a WordPress site, which featured a survey that users could fill out to submit a game they’d like to see in the Twine. This was a good idea as it decreased their workload with regards to data collection. The remainder of the website was simple, and featured a brief description of Get Game, Twitter integration, and a link to the Twine’s HTML.

This was the major deal breaker. The Twine’s HTML package was available on Dropbox, and so a link to the Dropbox file was what featured on the webpage. This didn’t seem very intuitive. Not only is the Twine essentially hidden from the public, but it feels as though you have to go through a number of loopholes before actually reaching the Twine. It would’ve been beneficial to host the Twine somewhere else, or attempt to embed it into WordPress rather than offer a separate HTML package. I suggested that Angus and Olivia purchase a domain name and host their site on WordPress.org (not WordPress.com). This way, they can embed the HTML package in their Public HTML file, or can install a custom HTML plug-in that will allow them to embed their HTML in a blog post without WordPress altering its structure.

I loved the Get Game concept, and if the Twine had been closer to completion for the Beta, I would’ve been far more impressed. If Angus and Olivia can make those vital changes before they submit it, Get Game will be one solid final project.

Incentive to Play

While listening to Angus Baillie’s week 7 podcast, Castaway, I couldn’t help but laugh in agreement as he explained how the motivational high of game presentations quickly faded when he realised that the game he presented actually needed to come to fruition.

I was feeling the same.

While we are being completely honest here, I have a confession. My game group specifically aimed to create a game unworthy of being voted for so that we wouldn’t actually have to make it… that quickly backfired when the plan to elect the best games to produce was replaced with the plan to elect all games to be produced. Forced to create this game we had so thoughtlessly crafted, I felt challenged by something Angus touched on in the end of his podcast. He claimed that he aimed to create a game that had purpose, and that gave individuals an incentive to play.

To ensure that our game, Friend Request, was worth playing, we needed to understand why people play games.

Professor Dr Steven Reiss established the theory of ‘basic desires’ in the mid-90s. Basic desires are what Dr Reiss suggests are the impulses that motivate what individuals are striving for in life. Such basic desires include power, order, social contact, status and vengeance.

This means that these things motivate humans, and impact how we behave. Sometimes people strive to attain power because they desire having influence, other times people desire order as they thrive on tidiness and organisation. When we transfer this knowledge to the realm of video games, the point I’m making becomes a little bit clearer.

Games like Bejewelled, Tetris and Candy Crush are appealing because they play on the basic desire of order. Players are not encouraged to organise what they see on the screen, but are rewarded for doing so quickly and efficiently. Other games work with the basic desires of vengeance and social contact. Vengeance essentially refers to the competitive nature of humans, and suggests that we are motivated by competition or trying to get even. Most games that feature high score ranks and leader boards are effectively using this desire. Social contact is, as you would assume. Humans are naturally quite social creatures, and so a significant motivation for some is companionship and relational dialogue.

If we put multiple of these desires together, we have the ability to create a game really worth playing. In regards to our game, Friend Request, order, vengeance and social contact can all be employed.

Order: Scattered on the game-play screen are sprites, cigarette icons and beer icons. At any given time there can be over 10 different icons on the screen, excluding the player’s head and trail of friends that follows behind them. This sort of game style can appear messy, and prompts the ‘order’ desire to motivate the player to clean up the ‘mess’. Because the mess never really goes away, players are often caught getting addicted to these sorts of game, because their desire to create organisation is never quite met.

Vengeance: Building in a leader board that ranks the best scores, and encouraging users to share their scores via social media heavily relies on the notion that humans seek to get even. Ensuring that individuals are fuelled to play this game because their friend just beat their high score is not only a great tactic to apply the vengeance desire, but impedes on the desire of ‘social contact’ as well.

Social Contact: This desire is satisfied with social interactions. As mentioned, allowing users to interact with friends regarding the game through social media will encourage them to play it. If they can satisfy their internal desires to create order and to get vengeance while being relational, our game will have the upper hand in the very polluted video game market.

References

Reiss, S 2004, ‘Multifaceted Nature of Intrinsic Motivation – The Theory of 16 Basic Desires’, Review of General Psychology, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 179-193, accessed 1 June 2015, http://sitemaker.umich.edu/cognition.and.environment/files/reiss-intrinsic-mot.pdf

Legions of Followers

Perhaps one of my most adored childhood video games is The Simpsons: Hit and Run. It had the freedom and exploration elements of Grand Theft Auto, but wasn’t filled with swearing, sex and blood; things an innocent, 11 year old girl is often naïve about.

I remember being so in love with the game that I purchased The Simpsons: Road Rage, another PlayStation game, followed by a couple of The Simpsons comics and The Simpsons show bag from the Easter Show.

My infatuation with The Simpsons franchise wasn’t based on the game itself. ‘Computer games are not just a game, never just a business strategy for maximizing profit, but always also a battlefield where the possibility to realize specific, bottom-up, heterogeneous forms of participatory media culture is at stake’ (Raessens, 2005). The creators of The Simpsons video games had developed more than just games; they had created a world in which the games existed, and in which I as a user could also exist and participate.

Henry Jenkins explains a participatory culture as one ‘with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement… where members believe that their contributions matter’. He goes on to explain that while not all participants must contribute, they believe that they are free to do so when ready (Jenkins, 2006).

Rovio have successfully established this kind of culture with their stylized, wingless birds mobile game, Angry Birds. Blogger J.J McCorvey puts it perfectly: Angry Birds ‘has amassed legions of followers, incited fierce battles between parents and their tablet-weaned children, and won professions of love from the likes of Justin Bieber via Twitter and Dick Cheney on the Today show’.

Angry Birds’ creators, Mikael and Niklas, realised the importance of not only gaining fans, but holding on to them, and have done so through the use of merchandise and other complementary collateral. In 2013, 45% of the company’s revenue came from merchandise alone.

The Finnish gaming company have also been adding new levels to the game so that consumers don’t get bored. On top of this, they have opened the Angry Birds Space Encounter in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and are planning to release a 3D animated movie sometime in the coming 2 years.

Of course, Rovio’s success can be pinned to the brilliantly addictive nature of the game. However, the Angry Birds world has been able to hypnotise consumers, by creating a participatory culture that not only offers members with an engrossing gaming experience, but the ability to participate in the Angry Birds franchise outside of just the game. Mikael understands this exactly: ‘Now we have real fans who live and breathe the thing that we created’ (2013).

References:

Jenkins, H, 2006, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part One), Confessions of an Aca-Fan, weblog, 20 October, viewed 14/5/15, http://henryjenkins.org/2006/10/confronting_the_challenges_of.html

McCorvey, J.J 2013, ‘Rovio Takes Flight With “Angry Birds” But Disney-Sized Success Still Up In The Air’, Fast Company, viewed 14/5/15, http://www.fastcompany.com/3002945/rovio-takes-flight-angry-birds-disney-sized-success-still-air

Mogg, T 2013, ‘Angry Birds Maker Roviio Can Thank Merchandise For Record Profits’, Digital Trends, viewed 14/5/15, http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/angry-birds-maker-rovio-can-thank-merchandise-for-record-profits/

Raessens, J 2005, Computer games as participatory media culture, Handbook of computer game studies, pp. 373-388 Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Urban Screens: Bringing People Together Since ’15

Susanne Jaschko (2007) explores the urban screen as a ‘permeable membrane’, with the ability to combine the inner processes of a building and the external cityscape. The same principle applies with the use of the screen as a mediator between the physical and digital experiences of place.

Often the potential of the urban screen goes unseen, and gets denoted as something similar to a billboard. However, the fluid and interactive nature of the screen that Jaschko discusses makes the urban screen a far more vital element in urban space than any passive billboard.

For a university research project, I had originally planned to explore the use of urban screens in regards to marketing. However, I have moved my focus towards the use of urban screens in developing positive spatial dynamics in public urban spaces. While a large-scale screen would be an extraordinary means of advertising, there lies far more meaning and potential for such a screen to provide artistic, communicative and engaging messages aimed to interact with the audience, bettering their experience of the space they find themselves in.

‘Exploring Urban Screens’ by Krajina details these sorts of interactions between urban screens and individuals, and looks at the way in which screens can enhance a person’s experience of space. She describes the site of the screen as remaining ‘relatively open to the situational poetics of circumstance’, suggesting the screen could be used by individuals as a distraction while they wait for friends, or as a way to avert eye contact with strangers. The social consequences of the urban screen are not weightless. Perhaps it would be interesting for me to explore the social tendencies that urban screens encourage (such as avoiding eye contact), and those that it replaces (such as using a personal device to distract one’s self while waiting). The intriguing thing about a large, public screen is that it draws the attention of individuals from their own private devices to something much more public; a screen that is shared and not only engaged with by just them.

In a sense, the urban screen is a way of reversing the very exclusive and anti-social behaviour that portable, personal devices bring to public space. Not only does it encourage people to look up from their smart phones and tablets, it also encourages a communal experience for those it engages with, forcing individuals to consume the exact same content in the exact same context, so that if they initially had absolutely nothing in common, they now do.

References:

Jaschko, S 2007, ‘The Cultural Value of Urban Screens’, accessed 8/4/15www.sujaschko.de/downloads/274/urbanscreens

Krajina, Z 2009, ‘Exploring Urban Screens’, Culture Unbound, vol. 1, pp. 401-430, accessed 8/4/2015, http://www.cultureunbound.ep.liu.se/v1/a24/cu09v1a24.pdf

10 Minutes To Kill

A podcast review of 10′ To Kill, a French board game, which has 635 backers supporting its Kickstarter Campaign:

Referred to in podcast:

It’s Complicated

I have two jobs and two internships, none of which have provided me with a policy outlining how I can use my personal social media networks. Perhaps this is because, as Robert Howard discusses, social networks are ‘new participatory forms’ that are not yet fully understood. He outlines how the Internet has welcomed the notion of ‘self-produced media’, and how such participatory media has transformed the once simple structure of public discourse, into something quite unconventional, and into ‘complex new communication processes’.

However, social networks have been around since the 1970’s. While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are currently the most popular; they did not birth the idea of social behaviour between computer users.

The seventies welcomed CompuServe, a business-oriented communication solution. BBS then became popular as an online meeting place where users could download files and games and post messages to each other. Then in the late 80s America Online, the ‘true precursor to today’s social networking sites’, was born. Known as AOL, the site became a hub for social interactions, allowing users to make ‘Member Profiles’, to chat anonymously via instant messaging.

Given they have existed for over 30 years, why aren’t social media policies a standard contract within the workplace? Possibly for the same reasons that there are no policies regarding use of your phone, or your email account: people believe they should have complete freedom of expression, and companies think their employees will behave with common sense online.

Cisco, a leading IT company, has released their social media policy that excels where most companies fall short. It respects their employees’ freedom of expression, and rather than outline strict prohibitions, it offers specific disclaimers for individuals who do want to express their opinion on a matter relevant to the company.

The policy also protects Cisco when employees, inevitably, lack common sense in their online discourse. CEO of Mashery explains that ‘people tend to interpret having the ‘right’ to express themselves online as implying a lack of consequences when they say stupid things’. Of course this isn’t the case, so giving employees such disclaimers ensures people don’t automatically assume the stupidity of one employee reflects the entire company.

So while many companies argue that social media are too complicate to regulate, Cisco proves there is no excuse to not implementing an effective social media policy.

References:

Ladies, Don’t Play The Victim

The fight for gender equality will not be easily solved or dismissed, particularly in regards to women in the workplace. In the context of the representation of women in public media, journalist Michael Marcotte believes ‘we’re still not seeing equal participation. That means we are only using half our talent and usually hearing half of the story’. This is true. Women are underrepresented in both public TV news and public radio news. However, this gender discrimination is not limited to being in favour of men.

While we have seen some progress with women moving into male-dominated occupations such as science, technology, engineering and math – in 2012 women held 27 percent of all computer science jobs – there has been little change in the representation of men in female-dominated occupations. Currently, females take up 90% of nursing jobs, 82% of junior school teaching positions and 72% of counsellor titles (see more jobs where women constitute a majority here).

These ‘pink collar’ jobs (jobs long dominated by women) have been the home to disproportional gender representation as long as the newsroom and science technology industry have. While I do not stand against females rising to take their rightful place in a very male dominated world, I do not think that the solution to gender equity is found in assuming women are always the victim.

Being a female, I completely understand the feelings of belittlement and embarrassment that are sparked when I see how underrepresented we are in many crucial industries such as media. Similar feelings arise when I see how we are poorly represented and often displayed as thoughtless, sexual objects in television shows such as Big Bang Theory and The Mad Men (where in both shows, the attractive female protagonist is portrayed as quite dumb, and the ambitious and clever female character is seen to appear much less attractive).

This is not an excuse to present a one sided argument though. Not only are many industries lacking a male presence, but in many industries, that are not necessarily pink collar, women are earning more than men on average. The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that women earn more in occupations such as electrician, motor mechanic, truck driver, bookkeeper, dentist and psychologist.

Yes, in many cases women are still the minority, and yes, ‘there’s a gender pay gap that [generally] favours men’, however gender equality is not an issue of gaining justice for just women. Gender equality is about equality for both genders.

References:

Elkins, K 2015, 20 ‘pink collar’ jobs dominated by women, Business Insider Australia, weblog, 18 February, viewed 2/5/15, http://www.businessinsider.com.au/pink-collar-jobs-dominated-by-women-2015-2

Huhman, H. R 2012, ‘STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?’, Forbes Magazine, 6 December, viewed 2/5/15, http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/06/20/stem-fields-and-the-gender-gap-where-are-the-women/

Marcotte, Michael. (2013). ‘Gender Inequity in Public Media Newsrooms’. MVM Consulting.

http://www.mikemarcotte.com/2013/03/gender-inequity-in-public-media-newsrooms.html. Accessed 30 January 2014.

2013, ‘20 jobs where women earn more than men’, News.com.au, 1 November, viewed 2/5/15, http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/jobs-where-women-earn-more-than-men/story-e6frfm9r-1226751137707