Archive | March 2015

The Threat of Anonymity

The Internet has been a major game-changer for globalisation. While there are miles of distance between nations on opposite sides of the world, the boundary-crossing nature of the Internet has allowed for unprecedented global interconnectedness. However, problems arise when opposing parties interpret and analyse situations, messages, and images in contrasting ways.

Tomoko Koda investigated the cultural differences in avatar expression across Japanese and Western avatar designs, and found that those living in close proximity of one another could interpret avatars designed by those near them, while those not living in close proximity of one another had different interpretations of such avatars. Although the Internet seems to be compacting parts of the world together, clearly it is also highlighting many of the misinterpretations that occur across different cultures.

We see this misinterpretation in Julian Dibbell’s ‘A Rape In Cyberspace’ where an individual who gets raped in the virtual world, becomes overwhelmed by the emotional anxiety of the event. The victim, while only having been the victim of a virtual rape, feels a very real sense of trauma regarding the situation, however the rapist, Mr Bungle, does not sympathise with this. For what was an investment of time and life on the victim’s behalf, was merely a form of entertainment for the culprit. It turns out that Mr Bungle was not a single individual, but a group of young students encouraging an impressionable controller to have some ‘fun’ and engage in such an act.

Mr Bungle’s actions were a result of immature peer-pressure, however, this was more serious than pushing your mate to have a beer or cigarette- while there may have been no physical repercussions for their foolish virtual actions, the victim found herself with genuine emotional and mental distress.

Cyberspace allows for this sort of misunderstanding, and misalignment of perspectives, however it is not the Internet itself to blame, rather the anonymity it facilitates. ‘With respect to cyberspace, identities are easily cloaked in anonymity’ (Chawki, 2006). The ability to present ones self as a faceless and nameless character on a screen often causes individuals to feel invincible. This invincibility then manifests itself in the form of thoughtless and idiotic behaviour, like that of Mr Bungle. While privacy and security are significant factors to consider when being active online, individuals using an anonymous username for purposes more sinister than these pose as a threat to the cyberspace community.

‘Criminals who wish to use a computer as a tool to facilitate unlawful activity may find that the Internet provides a vast, inexpensive and potentially anonymous way to commit unlawful acts’ (Chawki, 2006). Anonymity aids the processes of criminals, and often makes it hard to ever find culprits. This is concerning because beyond the typical cybercrimes of fraud and distribution of child pornography are the crimes that appear to be no more than virtual, but actually affect their victims in a way that real life rape, abuse and personal violation would.

So don’t be like Mr Bungle and become a part of the threat of anonymity.

References

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Distinction Please!

BETA GAME PITCHES

While I have tried to develop some of my own game design ideas, nothing quite matches the ideas of my fellow students that I’ve heard floating around. For this reason, I aim to work with others. I plan to put together the Prezi presentation for one of the groups, and will help in any other ways I can. My skills align mostly with the media group, and so I will ensure that I am actively participating in this group, filming let’s play videos, and documenting the development of the different game designs.

FINAL GROUP PRESENTATION

While I feel limited by my lack of extensive knowledge surrounding games and game culture, I have experience in graphic design and illustration, and am adept in marketing as I major in advertising and marketing communications.

These will be my major assets, and therefore I plan to contribute to the final game presentations by:

  • Creating game artwork
  • Helping with the projected design of the games
  • Developing an integrated marketing communications plan, including:
    • Researching the behaviour of the intended target markets
    • Developing potential advertisements for the game
    • Creating a social media campaign to support the game
  • Helping with the logistical aspects of the presentation, including:
    • Developing a concise and realistic budget (my dad’s a trained accountant, it’s in my blood)
    • Creating a list of items and procedures that require expenditure
    • Exploring the potential problems that might arise regarding the funding
  • Helping with the general organisation of the presentation group by:
    • Keeping individuals accountable, ensuring each person is completing what they said they would
    • Ensuring that we meet our deadline
    • Ensuring that each person is aware of their presentation day responsibilities

DOSSIER

Using my blog, I have already begun to compile my weekly contributions to the project development process. I will ensure that my dossier includes a diverse range of materials, including video, research, tweets, comments and blog posts. While I was a late bloomer in this subject, I finally feel like I can take ownership of something; I’ve created two Let’s Play videos so far, and am eager to create more content that will help me to learn more about the digital game culture.

I want to, and aim to, work hard in this subject, and while I do find myself a little confused at times, I try my best to understand the theory, and to engage in the practical work. I find the readings intriguing and would really love to get a Distinction for this subject. It doesn’t have to be a higher end Distinction, I’m not too picky, but I am aiming for a grade somewhere between 76 and 79. I hope that my inexperience of the whole gaming world doesn’t inhibit my ability to achieve this grade.

Two Places at Once

This week we were directed to design our own digital game based on the space and place of our university. I was persuaded to find something I take interest in and base the game around that- pretty simple really. I wanted something that would reflect some of my own character, however all I could think of was how exhausted I was from the fast-paced journey I had endeavoured upon to arrive to class on time.

That’s when the idea was birthed.

Why not create a game based around one of the most common problems university students face: getting to class on time (or getting to class at all for that matter). My visions were fast developing and I could see a landscape something like that of Tony Hawke: Pro Skater.

The aim of the game would be to get to class before the tutor arrives. Each mission would require the player to make it to a different building and room each time, with all faculties on campus involved. The player would be able to swap between 3 different movement settings: walking, running, skating. Different obstacles would meet the player, such as traffic on the stairwell, path closures and bumping into friends, and players would be offered bonus points if they could fulfil sub-missions along the way, such as purchasing a coffee or printing out homework. My idea was rapidly growing, and I was becoming overly involved with it, playing out different potential levels in my mind.

‘I thrash, ollie, and grind my way through an abandoned park, then a suburban neighborhood and a parking garage. As I move through these spaces, I get better and better at maneuvering on my skateboard and the spaces I encounter are increasingly complex. Yet as I move through these spaces I am actually relatively immobile’ (Murphy, 2004).

This is exactly how I felt. In my mind I was outside, running amidst the autumn breeze, stumbling down countless flights of stairs, rushing to building 19, however in actual reality, I was also immobile. I was gaining a sense of the immersive interaction that Sheila Murphy outlines video games can offer, and I was merely thinking about playing a game. Murphy discusses the continual overlapping of our world and the world of the game that occurs when we engage in video games. Unlike television, we are not simply static consumers, but are enabled to be so engrossed in the game that the ‘character controls me [us] more than I [we] control him’ (Murphy, 2004).

It occurred to me that this blurring of two inherently different worlds replicated that of what we repeatedly do in our own minds. While physically we may be stationary in one place, mentally we could be absolutely anywhere, figuratively exploring places that exist on the other side of our world, or even places that don’t exist at all outside of our own mind. Escapism.

Video games are often criticized for their ability to foster escapism, embodying ‘the alluring unreality of something erroneously conceived of existing on the other side of a screen’ (Calleja, 2010). This notion seemed almost nonsensical, given that video games seem to emulate the very nature of our own imaginations. How intriguing that we can be both completely physically present in a real-life moment, but also be completely present in the world of our imagination, or the world of a game.

References:

  • Murphy, S 2004, ‘’Live in Your World, Play in Ours’: The Spaces of Video Game Identity’, Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 223-238.
  • Calleja, G 2010, ‘Digital Games and Escapism’, Games and Culture, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 335-353

Mirror Mirror

I often criticise my boyfriend for being terrible at taking photos of me, despite me feeling like I look super fine. I have a number of photographer friends who always upload stunning photos of their significant other to Facebook; you know the ones. They are candid, perfectly framed, flawless photos.

However, I can’t blame my boyfriend. It feels as though every time someone else takes a photo of me, I could’ve done a better job using even the dodgy reverse-camera on my phone. I’m not one for taking copious amounts of selfies, however I will admit that I get that ‘super fine’ feeling when I do take the occasional picture of myself. Love it or hate it, this selfie phenomena is one that refuses to die. Why?

Let’s explore two reasons why we love capturing ourselves.

The Mere Exposure Effect

Social psychologist, Robert Zajonc, conducted a set of experiments in the 1960’s that supported his hypothesis that the mere repeated exposure of an individual to a stimulus object enhances his or her attitude toward it (Zajonc, 1968). Essentially, we prefer things that are familiar to us. We spend far more time looking in the mirror than we do looking at photographs, so we are more inclined to like the former rather than the latter.

“We see ourselves in the mirror all the time—you brush your teeth, you shave, you put on makeup,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Center. “Looking at yourself in the mirror becomes a firm impression. You have that familiarity. Familiarity breeds liking. You’ve established a preference for that look of your face” (Feeney, 2014).

Assymetrical Faces

The mirror also offers more than familiarity; it offers a consistent image of our assymetrical faces, however what we see in the mirror is the exact opposite of what everyone else sees. Due to the familiarity we have of mirrored images of ourselves, we are more comfortable with the reversed shape and construct of our face, and not the way it looks to others. The reason I think my selfies are better than the photos my boyfriend takes is because I never see myself from the non-mirrored perspective as my boyfriend does. When he say’s the photo looks good, he means it. To him, the photo is an almost true depiction of my face and me.

So how do we solve the issue of stressing over how we look in photographs? Rutledge thinks it is simple: take more selfies.

“People who take a lot of selfies end up feeling a lot more comfortable in their own skin because they have a continuum of images of themselves, and they’re more in control of the image,” she says. “Flipped or not flipped, the ability to see themselves in all these different ways will just make them generally more comfortable” (Feeney, 2014).

References

Feeney, 2014, ‘Why Selfies Sometimes Look Weird To Their Subjects’, The Atlantic, accessed 19/3/15 http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/why-selfies-sometimes-look-weird-to-their-subjects/359567/

The True Mirror Company 2012, ‘Seeing your non-reversed image for the first time: First Impressions’, True Mirror, accessed 19/3/15, http://www.truemirror.com/FirstImpressions.asp

Zajonc, R 1968, ‘Attitudinal Effects of Mere Exposure’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monograph Supplement, vol. 9, no. 2, accessed 19/3/15, http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic472736.files/Zajonc.pdf

Thrown into Space

Feeling lost, and unsure of what project group I should join, I slipped into my safe zone and joined the ‘media’ group.

I was feeling chuffed with my decision to join such a group because this week we got to test the Oculus Rift. While I had never seen this technology in person, I was familiar with it, and felt like I was about to experience something from ‘Back To The Future’. I put the headset on, and was welcomed by a bright green landscape, picturesque balcony and panoramic ocean views. While the graphics weren’t exactly high definition, the experience felt overwhelming, so much so that I felt mildly dizzy when I took the Oculus off. I was pretty impressed, however my ‘Back To The Future’ expectations weren’t met.

The Oculus did not fail me though! I then tested a program called ‘Elite Dangerous’. The name sounds as cool as the simulation is. This time I was thrown into a spaceship, and explored an open galaxy based on our very own Milky Way. This was much cooler than time travel; I was drifting through a realistic 1:1 scale simulation of space, getting glimpses of the moon and distant stars.

Sadly, I couldn’t float around space forever though, and left the spaceship to film a Let’s Play video of The Resistance board game (found here).

Now, you’ve probably noticed I’m not the most proficient in gaming technology and lingo, however I’m eager to learn. Below is what I can actually bring to each of the game groups:

Media: Like most of us, I’ve done a vast amount of blogging (potentially too much blogging). I’m familiar with all the foundational social media platforms, and as I want to pursue a career in digital media & marketing, gaining further experience in managing such platforms would be invaluable to me. I’m organised and take initiative, and feel like media is my strongest point.

Modellers: I was first inspired to make a Crash Bandicoot board game, simply because it’s a piece of nostalgia for most students my age. I think it’d be a really simple concept that could deliver a vibrant and enjoyable game. I have a scrupulous attention to detail, and while I am a sucker for PS2 classics, I will implement as much of this pedantic behaviour in any game design that seems to intrigue me.

Makers: I’m a quick learner, and am confident in using Photoshop. I think I’d be able to help in building graphics and characters, and help with the design/aesthetic side of things. I’m a perfectionist, so I hope whatever I make looks flawless.

Optimize Your Identity

I felt as though I had a brief existential crisis after reading the Johnny Mnemonic short story by William Gibson. The main protagonist, Johnny, is a data trafficker who undergoes cybernetic surgery in order to have a data storage system implanted in his brain. The entire story entertains the world of cyberpunk, with surgical technological implants being a contemporary trend, and cybernetically enhanced dolphins being a somewhat norm. This genre is something I had never really stumbled across, however it has caught my attention!

David Tomas wrote a thorough commentary/analysis of the Johnny Mnemonic work, addressing 3 main observations, the third of which I will focus on; the ‘social regeneration of ethnic identity under the influence of cyborg-governed process of technological differentiation in marginal late-capitalist creolized technocultures.’

Technology is altering our sense of self. It causes individuals who had once belonged to a specific social class or ethnical background to be identified by their level of technicity. We can see this in our current society, just look at the ongoing segregation of Apple and Android users. We no longer strongly associate with our gender, race, political views and/or religious affiliations as people traditionally have, but rather with what extends beyond just us. “In Gibson’s world cryogenic processes and enhanced digitalised senses redefine identity” (Coker, 2011).

Plastic surgery is one of these ‘extensions’, and is now quite an established means of customising ones own body. It, along side medicinal implants such as pacemakers and hearing-aids, have catalysed the process of ‘technologizing’, ‘in which bodies are reassembled so that they can function more optimally’. Identity is now imparted in technology that optimizes us.

Mikey Sklar, is one of a small but growing group, who have had a Radio Frequency Identification computer chip implanted into one of their hands. This has enabled Mikey to replace his door locks with an electronic system and replace any other traditional password-lock system, such as his computer and credit card, with a simple swipe of his hand.

Mikey is optimizing his own self, and therefore optimizing his own concept of self. While I am apprehensive about the movement of implanting computer chips and other technologies straight into the physical skin, I can understand the admiration of technical virtuosity, and the desire for it’s excellence to morph itself into our own identity.

References

  • Gibson, W 1984, Johnny Mnemonic, Burning Chrome
  • Tomas, D 1989, The Technophilic Body: On Technicity in William Gibson’s Cyborg Culture, The Cybercultures Reader, no. 8, pp. 175-89, Routledge, London
  • Coker, C 2004, The Future of War: The Re-Enchantment of War in the Twenty-First Century, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom, pp. 77

Getting to Know Takenoko

There is a clear distinction that proves to me whether my friends fall into one of these two groups: 1) Decent and admirable, or 2) Pure evil.

It’s when I pull the Taboo, Cluedo and Boggle out, that I learn who is actually the devil in disguise. It seems I have a sort of board game addiction. While I know not every body loves board games as much as I, I call it blasphemy when my friends perform a childish tantrum because they’d rather die than draw absurdities in a friendly game of Pictionary.

I had never understood this anxiety when faced with board games, until this week. I was introduced to two games I had never seen before. One was called ‘Story Wars’; an almost unregimented game whereby you have to defeat opponents by explaining your plan of attack (something you might see on The Big Bang Theory), and the other an intriguing composition of luck and strategy, titled ‘Takenoko’.

It was this second game that had me at hello.

Upon first impression, it was delightful to look at. The packaging was brightly coloured, and sported a panda holding a little pink umbrella. In all, the game was cute! It also smelt new due to the crisp cards and fresh, wooden pieces. I was so overwhelmed by how much I was enjoying this game before we’d even begun playing.

Then we began to play- the instructions were awfully specific in the contextual story of the game, and vague in the actual play-by-play steps. It seemed that each element was explained in an illogical order and so we found ourselves constantly flicking back and forth through the book.

Finally we sort-of, not really, got the hang of playing, and just bluffed our way through the bits that didn’t make sense. I must admit, once we eventually reached a state of confidence the game was actually enjoyable. The objective was to gain as many ‘power points’ as possible, achieved through growing bamboo stalks, creating unique land patterns, and munching through other players’ bamboo with the panda. When it was not your turn you were able to evaluate what your next move would be – as you would in scrabble – and reflect upon the moves of competitors. Xu, Barba, Radu, Gandy and MacIntyre (2011) discuss the elements that support social interaction and bodily presence in board games, one being ‘the work required for play to happen’. This refers to the activities that one must perform in order to continue playing, including analysing your own potential moves and those of competitors. These steps are referred to as ‘chores’ and are proved to be essential for successful social play. It was obvious amidst our game play that each of these interactions made for a far more engaging experience.

The final 5 minutes of the game felt intense- a feeling I didn’t think would occur during a pastel pink packaged game. This intensity turned to celebration when I marched into victory, winning the game. While I have often heard it said that winning is always fun, the IR Theory discussed by Xu, Barba, Radu, Gandy and MacIntyre (2011) proves this point, suggesting that positive performance can ‘enhance emotions’ and result in ‘social enjoyment’. This is one of the key elements that causes physical board games to be so effective.

I have to say, Takenoko was a beautiful example of a physical game that results in ‘successful social interaction, including bodily presence, mutual focus of attention and synchronization of emotions’. It honestly leaves you with a rollercoaster experience. It starts off great because the graphic design and illustration work is impeccable. It then feels like a train wreck, because you’ll find you don’t actually understand the point of the game. Fortunately, it ends on a high, as you fluently glide through each turn and conclude that the 20 minutes of struggle to begin with were totally worth it.

References:

  • Xu, Y, Barba, E, Radu, I, Gandy, M, MacIntyre, B 2011, Chores Are Fun: Understanding Social Play in Board Games for Digittal Tabletop Game Design, ‘DiGra 2011 Conference: Think Design Play’, pp. 12-13