November 25, 2014

The Player’s Point of View: Theme and Framing the Experience

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So a while ago I started a Google spreadsheet file dubbed the “Game Tracker,” wherein I keep list of games that I’m interested in playing in the future. As the list grew and grew; and then grew some more – in concert with my available time shrinking and shrinking; and then shrinking some more – putting the games into an assortment of buckets so that I could prioritize my interest among like-seeming games became important. But hold onto this thought!

Now rewind back two years (give or take) when I was working more actively on the Game Genome Project. If you need a refresher, the Game Genome Project is a BGG guild comprised of various individuals looking to develop a nomenclature and/or classification scheme for boardgames. The basic premise of the project is this:

The Game Genome Project is a comprehensive and collaborative effort to identify the full range of traits (aka genes or characteristics) that can be used to describe board games along with the corresponding tools and practices for assessing and assigning these traits to individual games. The purpose of these activities is to provide the board game community with a more effective and commonly understood lexicon (vocabulary) for discussing board games and support analytical investigation of the boardgaming hobby.

One of the “traits” to investigate relates to the theme of a game, and we quickly arrived at two major distinctions: the theme as it relates to mechanics (level of abstraction vs. fidelity), and the theme itself as a subject and frame of reference for the experience. Theme as it relates to mechanics is a highly fascinating topic, and will be covered in more detail in the future. Till then, and to satiate your burning desires, I’ll direct your attention to this most excellent post by qwertymartin: How do you wear your theme sir?

As for theme as subject and frame of reference, there are a few key dimensions we considered: Scope, Setting, and Subject (yes, I deliberately made them all s-words!). To discuss how these work and apply, I’m going to bring us back to my little “Game Tracker” conundrum and see how these dimensions of defining a game’s theme might be used as a frame for understanding different experiences. Here we go!

November 17, 2014

Culture Storms and the Evolving Medium of Games

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I’ve been wanting to write something on the culture storm within the video gaming community that’s been brewing and raging over the past many months. On one hand, I’ve stayed relatively silent on the issue because it hasn’t been clear how best I, and this blog, would make a useful contribution to what has become a total quagmire of internet vitriol. On the other hand, my own thoughts are sufficiently confused on the subject that writing about it at least forces me to articulate the thoughts I do have and try to work towards resolution in my own mind. It’s therapeutic on some level.

The culture storm I’m talking about is related to #GamerGate. If you are aware of the controversy, you probably have some of our own opinions and thoughts. If you haven’t heard of it – wikpedia’s GamerGate article appears to provide a fairly detailed account of the issues in play. I’ve taken to calling this a “storm,” as opposed to a war or conflict, because I think it’s far messier than what a war with cleanly divided sides might suggest.

Ultimately though, I don’t want to talk about #GamerGate directly. My feelings, after reading far too much (from both sides), is that trying to sort out the root causes, motivations, and rationales for pro-GG and anti-GG camps is like trying to fight your way through Minos’ Labyrinth. Except instead of facing the Minotaur you face a never-ending stream of photo collages of retrospective twitter posts, the authenticity and context of which is routinely unclear or absent. Its total confusion on both sides of the fence, with the extreme contingents on both sides screaming conspiracy, causing whatever facts or salient points might have been raised in the middle ground to be completely lost. Phew!

So, I’m not talking about #GamerGate. If you are looking for another voice, Erik Kain wrote a nice piece back in September that encapsulates my frustrations with the whole situation rather eloquently. Instead, I want to focus on the issues that have come out of the controversy that ARE important topics to discuss relative to the health and future of gaming culture and industry overall.

You are probably asking “what are these ‘issues’ that we can pull out from the fire and talk about?” I’ll frame each one below, and try my best to frame the different perspectives that come into play on each, and then include some of my own thoughts based on my own experiences and what I’d like to see happen.

November 5, 2014

All Roads Lead to Amber

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So has anyone read Roger Zelazny's Amber novels? For those that haven't, or need a refresher, here is the gist:

The Chronicles of Amber is a 10 book sequence split into 2 parts. Part 1 was written between '70 and '78. And Part 2 was written between '85 and '91. These are fantasy novels set in an alternate reality, of which Earth as we know it exists as one of many different worlds/realms. The basic universe exists as a sort of continuum between chaos and order, with the Courts of Chaos and the Logrus on one end and Amber and the Pattern on the other. All of reality is spread between these two poles.

The stories are quite engrossing and all 10 books are about as long as one book from the Games of Thrones (for reference). The major plots revolve around various Lords and Ladies of Amber (or Chaos) going about their power grabs in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The books mostly focus on the political intrigues and dynamics between the characters, and not the usual fantasy trappings - its almost the progenitor for something like the Game of Thrones in that regard. But better and more concise in my opinion.

Other than a rather odd (diceless apparently!) RPG set in the Amber universe, there haven't been many games using the Amber setting (although I've heard rumors of it being difficult to license). This is about to change!

November 4, 2014

Fall-time Spectacular: The State of the Blog!

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It's been too long right? I know, I know, you are wondering, where has he been!? The answer my friends is that I've been here, just not writing as much as I've been intending to. In fact, I'm starring at a virtual stack of half-finished term papers ... err blog posts ... that I'd love get finished and submitted to the interwebz professors; but life has been hectic lately. I'm sure you've all been there.

Part of me is also a little torn about what direction in which to take the blog. One thing I'd like to do is have more frequent blog posts, which of course requires me to actually write blog posts more frequently. This conundrum is somewhat at odds with the fact that I haven't had a lot of extra time lately in which to write said blog posts (hence the lack of posts over the past few months). Sigh, it is a circular and terrible circumstance. What to do?