For those of you that are academically minded, and on the job hunt, here's some information on positions in the area of digital media opening up at Georgia Tech in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture (via Ian Bogost). What I find especially interesting is the emphasis on finding "practitioner/theorists" instead of simply industry experience--very intriguing. If only my computational proficiency was up to par...
This is not really the place to find out about the details of the new WoW expansion "The Burning Crusade". We really don't do game announcements. But since I just sat in on Shane Dabiri's keynote about this, it would be remiss of me not to note the following
- Level cap raised to 70
- Epic flying (yes flying) mounts, with some new content only accessible from these mounts.
- Weather will be implemented, including snow, rain and sandstorms
- Two new races including Blood Elves and one that I either missed or which hasn't been revealed yet.
- New profession: jewelcrafting
- Journeying back into the past of Azeroth through the "Caverns of Time"
- etc etc
There are around 8000 attendees at this gig, and they went wild at various annoucements. But the biggest shout went up when it was announced that there will be auctionhouses in all main cities, and they would be linked.
Capitalist joy reined unconfined. Make of this what you will.
[Composed earlier today]
In the competition for “Luckiest Terra Nova author” I believe that I am today’s winner. Because unlike all the other authors I am sitting on a bench in sunny Anaheim CA, looking at a line of people that stretches off to the horizon. No, I’m not at Disneyland, I am, of course, about to enter the artificial world that is BlizzCon.
Robbie Cooper, for those who have not crossed paths with the globe-trotting London photojournalist at fan faires, guild meets, or conferences, is the Walker Evans of online gaming. His lush, perceptive side-by-side portraits of MMO players and their avatars have already contributed several thousand words' worth of understanding to our emerging picture of life online, but he's not stopping there: The newly launched AlterEgo.net steps Cooper's project up a notch or two to include professional gamers, LAN partiers, and console players -- and is now soliciting stories of online identity, community, and enterprise for a forthcoming book. Tell your friends and guildies to drop on by and post, and by all means check the site out yourself. Cooper's photos alone already merit the attention, and the more he learns, the richer they'll get.
Meanwhile, back here at the deep-thoughts farm: What can images tell us about online social and psychological experience? What can't they tell us? How do pictures complicate the text-centric discusssion of online identity surrounding CmdrTaco's late violation?
And so on.
In the UK or want to study here? Has your local higher education establishment recently started a computer game design course? Do you worry that they are just surfing the Abertay wave and are looking for applications by the bucket-load with all the attendant grant money but don’t have anyone on staff that know the first thing about game design?
IBM hosted the NetGames '05 workshop earlier this month. Billed as the "Fourth Workshop on Network and System Support for Games," it occupies an underrepresented (and technical niche) in the wild west of networked games (incl. MMOG) fare. It is good to see so much of the material available to the public. Check out the program and papers here. Overviews on their GameTomorrow blog: [1.] , [2.] ...
Just when I thought that the CmdrTaco story was the top silly customer service response of the day, I saw this story on CNN. The Whitehouse is going after the Onion, America's Finest News Source, because of their use of the Presidential seal -- included at left but absolutely not, in any way, indicating that the Whitehouse endorses Terra Nova -- in parodying the President's weekly radio address.
According to spokesman Trent Duffy:
It's important that the seal or any White House insignia not be used inappropriately
Scott Dikkers, the Onion's editor-in-chief, responded:
I'm surprised the president deems it wise to spend taxpayer money for his lawyer to write letters to The Onion . . .
I would advise them to look for that other guy Osama (bin Laden) ... rather than comedians. I don't think we pose much of a threat
Apparently the United States government thinks that stories like “Bush Nominates First-Trimester Fetus to Supreme Court” are serious. I hope that the Onion can handle the extra traffic this is generating. When asked how the Whitehouse found out about the abuse, Duffy responded:
We do have a sense of humor, believe it or not
In this virtual world, two levels gives me a couple new pieces of armor, and suddenly I am unrecognizable to anyone who may have run an instance with me. In guild chat, I am a total stranger to people I may have chatted with for months. My history with other players has been erased. It almost makes me wish that I spent my first 45 levels ninja looting!
Rob is still playing, but under the new name of "Violated." Obviously not the first or last time a company has forced a player to change a name, but will this policy become more controversial as more celebrity pseudonyms pierce the magic circle?
As the elves continue working on the Ludium's final report (which should be out in a couple of weeks), they came across the following footage. Courtesy of documentarian Jeanette Castillo.
I'm a historian, so I have vested interest in thinking that the past is important. Yet when it comes to virtual worlds, and video and computer gaming more generally, I struggle sometimes to understand how to think about the history that's involved. That history matters to players, to game designers, and to academics studying virtual worlds, and is often invoked by them, but it isn't always clear what lessons we ought to learn from that invocation, or even whether we're remotely talking about the same thing.
Project Entropia has done it again. Not content with holding the record for highest-value virtual asset sold--the oft-quoted US$26,500 for Treasure Island--it has now taken that record and simply ripped it to shreds.
Richard Pretorius kindly alerted me to the fact that a space resort in Entropia just sold for the relatively modest US$100,000.
That figure is not a typo.
The amount is remarkable in itself, although may be explained by the resort's location, "amidst the treacherous but Mineral Rich Paradise V Asteroid Belt" and the fact that the developers see this as the "primary destination for Entertainment in the known Virtual Universe."
However, also notable is that the auction was supposed to go till December, but it was bought-out early. ("Hey honey, I just impulse-bought a Space Station...")
If Project Entropia didn't exist I'd have to invent it.
Recent conversations among many of us have been sparked by Cory's remark that "WoW is the new golf," riffing as it does on the apparent way that WoW has become a common diversion, meeting place, and source of friendly competitiveness for academics and developers. Extending this idea leads directly to a perhaps troubling outcome: the appearance of something like country clubs in our VW future (although not in WoW necessarily). So why might this be worrisome?
In my view, WoW as the new golf, and the Country Club extenstion of the meme, point to the way in which cultural practices--like golf, drinking single-malt scotch, frequenting the opera, or online gaming--can become a marker of class. It is true that big business has already found VWs, but that has been primarily on the production side. Instead, this would be a transformation that could take place on the consumption end (the increasing blurriness of the distinction between production and consumption aside). What I'm talking about is the development of a distinctive cultural practice for elites. Pierre Bourdieu, in his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste outlines how a social group's incentive to distinguish itself culturally leads to the valorization of practices like those above. But some of the practices are vulnerable to cooption by non-elites. When lower classes can easily adopt the same tastes (as they aspire to move up), then the highest class simply moves on to the next thing (what was single malt scotch is now small-batch vodka, perhaps). In contrast, when the wealthy or landed can restrict access to the most expensive (in terms of overhead) diversions, like polo, golf, tennis, or foxhunting, then they become more durably a part of a class's identity, and competence in it (what he calls cultural capital) becomes a standard and more reliable index of class standing. This explains why many otherwise relatively unskilled folks who are excellent golfers make large sums as "club professionals" and golf instructors--they're selling a competence that has continued, over many decades, to be deperately desired by many upwardly mobile professionals.
So will VWs be a site for broad-based social elitism with all of the techniques of exclusion (economic and otherwise) that implies? The architecture of VWs can certainly restrict access. Would the technical overhead for a distinctively "ultimate" VW experience (including a custom-built engine? extremely high server-user ratios?) be sufficiently beyond the reach of the masses to make it viable? This is also a question of scale; however elitist anyone's activities are in VWs now, in no way is the techno-elite yet the ruling class. But once a generation or two grows up thinking of excursions online not as a private diversion for an individual or a small group, but as an arena for all those who are "the right sort," then won't something like Country Club VWs be on the way? If so, then the current guilds, or the powers-that-be residents in certain VWs without them, are just child's play in comparison, but crucial training nonetheless (as all child's play is).
Perhaps, then, we worry because there is a legitimate concern that VWs, once they become truly taken-for-granted by the (non-poor) public at large, will be sites for all the ugly aspects of society that we find all-too familiar.
The brow just keeps getting higher around here. Terra Nova's newest author, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee anthropologist Thomas Malaby, brings an agile and sophisticated understanding of modernity and its contradictions to bear on the contemporary meaning of play. From the social stakes of gambling in modern Greece (the topic of his first book, Gambling Life: Dealing in Contingency in a Greek City) to the ethical life of code in Second Life (the focus of his current, NSF-funded ethnographic research), the questions Thomas pursues -- and the answers he chases down -- light up the intersection of culture, technology, games, and chance like so many signal flares. Indeed, as I recently heard Thomas remark, while his Tauren druid and my Tauren shaman were out slaying Razormane Geomancers near Thorn Hill the other afternoon, "Die, you fat little spell-casting man-pig, die!"
Durkheim himself, I believe, could not have said it better. Please welcome Thomas Malaby.
Recently the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) highlighted Germany's rigid naming rules (Oct 12, "No Hyphens, Please: Germany Tells Parents to Keep Names Simple"). No to hyphens. A forename must indicate a person's gender (if not, the second name should)... As the director of the German Language Society (which helps enforce the rules) stated it: "Everyone knows you cannot have a name that is 'Refrigerator' or something."
This fuss leads one to wonder about the emphemeral quality of virtual world names. Do they reflect too much freedom and too few anchors in a common experience, or are they liberating? Is there no information worth conveying in a virtual name aside from (often) a minor and obscure peccadillo or pun in the real life of the owner, or is that the point of freedom?
Better late than never, right? News from Ben Stokes: The second annual Games for Social Change Conference is going on today and tomorrow at at CUNY in the Heights in New York City. Here's a bit of info pulled from their press release:
Non-profit innovators, game designers and foundations will come together this week to advance the use of videogames for social good. Hosted by Games for Change (G4C) as part of the Serious Games Initiative, this international conference will be held October 21 and 22... Open to the public for the first time, the G4C conference will focus on partnerships, existing games and emerging business models. Speakers include the General Manager of MTV’s college TV station (Stephen Friedman), a Senior Program Officer from the MacArthur Foundation (Connie Yowell), the CEO of the gameLab studio (Eric Zimmerman) and a representative from the United Nations’ World Food Programme (Zach Abraham).
Conference registration and program schedule is available here.
IP Funny reports on Nintendo's filing of patent for a "video game and game system incorporating a game character's sanity level that is affected by occurrences in the game such as encountering a game creature or gruesome situation." From the abstract:
A video game and game system incorporating a game character's sanity level that is affected by occurrences in the game such as encountering a game creature or gruesome situation. A character's sanity level is modified by an amount determined based on a character reaction to the occurrence such as taking a rest or slowing game progress and/or an amount of character preparation. That is, if a character is prepared for the particular occurrence, the occurrence may have little or no affect [sic] on the character's sanity level. As the character's sanity level decreases, game play is effected [sic] such as by controlling game effects, audio effects, creating hallucinations and the like. In this context. the same game can be played differently each time it is played.
Some highlights from the current issue of The Daedalus Project.
- While the media likes to focus on how strange it is that people have virtual friends, about 80% of players actually play with someone they know in real life (a romantic partner, a family member, or a friend). Thus, MMOs are places where existing relationships are strengthened as much as places where new relationships are made.
- 22% of respondents said that they had purchased virtual gold. On average, these players have spent $135 USD on virtual gold. While older players are more likely to have done so, there were no gender differences.
- Many people resisted Talon's militaristic guild structure, but about 1 in 6 MMO players has had military experience and most high-end dungeons/encounters require a lot of hierarchy, planning, and organization to accomplish. What does it mean when play spaces become more and more like military spaces?
- PvP servers attract younger players as well as more men than PvE servers. This has implications for gender-bending rates. On PvP servers, female avatars are much more likely to be played by men.
All this and much more at The Daedalus Project.
Turns out that my employer (a business school that some may know) has an electronic content thing, and they heard about MMOGs/VWs. The story is here, and has some interesting comments from Cory, Tim, Dmitri and Ted (making this article a Terra Nova quintuple play) and some stuff from me that I don't remember saying but probably did. I sound like an idiot, so it must be me. (For the record, I've never bought anything in the RMT market, but I was indicating that rich people from the First World--ie people like me--are the kind of people who engage in RMT, and for good reason).
Oh, also has some projections about the size of the secondary market which are interesting, but almost certainly wrong.
The english edition of gamestudy.org just opened.
Gamestudy.org is an korean research group that is to take serious approaches to computer games. It was established in october 2004. Last winter, the group hold a representation on MMORPG derivatives markets.
Junsok Huhh, the economist, is leading the group nicely. Some of you might catch his name in recent TN postings.
I, as a regular member of Gamestudy.org, am very happy to deliver the good news to TNers.
Here is the intro.
Dan's excellent panel at State of Play III resurrected the old debate as to whether meat sovereigns ought to govern cybercommunities -- this time in the context of virtual worlds. The Davids (Post and Johnson) offered their usual reasoning: for reasons of (1) incongruity between geographical sovereignty and cybercommunity; and (2) lack of consent of the governed, meat sovereigns ought to step back and permit online communitites to develop their own institutions. And the valiant opposition headed by Tim Wu offered Jack Goldsmith's hypothesis that really, there's nothing new going on when humans use computers to harm each other, and therefore traditional notions of sovereignty do just fine to regulate online conduct.
I've been spending a lot of time looking at markets within world, and received the following account of the life of an ardent capitalist in EVE. I thought it too interesting just to sit in my in-box and so I re-print it here with permission. The author wishes to remain anonymous.
I've been playing Eve-Online for a year and half or so. The first 6 months, I believe, were fairly typical to most players. I started out with a couple of corporations, did a stupefying amount of mining ("rock grinding"). I too did some deep-space work. As they say, nothing beats the smell of rockets and incoming... I lost my fair share of ships and gear. Had great times.
I then went bohemian and became a solo trader. I still lose ships while plying my practice, however it is now just a cost of business. The texture of the wilderness has changed. The trader role can be convenient for some players. Traders just do numbers and travel the dark gloom of space.
As previously reported at
the korea fair trade commission has been looking into consumer complaints about terms of service and codes of conduct for the major korean mmogs. today, after a year-long investigation focused on NCsoft, Nexon, Webzen, Gravity, Actoz and a half-dozen other game companies, the commission published its findings based on the Adhesion Contract Act, and they are sweeping: of twelve tos/coc clauses examined, eight were declared legally void.
As a result, the companies may no longer
Call me inspired by Mia's thread below on Japanese/US gamers. I read the Washington Post's account of USC's effort to create an online game world to improve international relations. The effort, spearheaded by game worthies Joshua Fouts and Douglas Thomas, strives to combine the VOA's outreach with the "can't we all just get along" idea of literally playing nice with each other. The question: Can virtual worlds really foster harmony between groups, let alone nations?
This past spring I had the pleasure of spending three months living just outside of Nagoya, with my task being to interview game players, buy games, hang out in game centers and stores, and generally soak up the culture (a rough job, I know). During the evenings, I also managed to spend quite a bit of time in my MMOG of choice, Final Fantasy XI. I'd started the game about seven months back, but hadn't had a lot of contact with the Japanese players that formed the initial base for the game. I'd heard talk and read postings about the differences in play styles and attitudes between North American and Japanese players, but now I could get first-hand experience.
This is only related to virtual worlds in the most tangential of ways, but some things just need to be blogged. This afternoon I got my first taste of alternate reality gaming, 4orty 2wo's "Last Call Poker." More specifically, I spent the afternoon at the Italian Cemetery playing "Tombstone Hold 'Em," a surprisingly fun poker variant that -- you guessed it -- can only be played at a cemetery. Full rules are here. It was a blast. Other than forgetting that Aces were high despite being mundane gravestones -- my team kept building King-high straights and flushes and getting pasted by danah's Ace-high straights and flushes -- it was a great way to spend an afternoon. In addition, as part of the game, various Last Call clues were dispensed and I'm sure the ARG community will be buzzing tonight.
Read on for more . . .
Here at Terra Nova, we're concerned about quality, and we've maintained a facade of it by regularly inviting new authors whose erudition and skills are great enough to distract the uncareful reader from the obvious inadequacies of the founders. That is the case once again as we welcome Mia Consalvo to our happy band. She is an associate professor in the School of Telecommunications at Ohio University as well as the director of Graduate Studies for the School (for which, as a fellow DGS, I must extend my heartfelt sympathies). She is also Director of Research for Ohio's new GRID Lab (Game Research and Immersive Design) which will have a public arcade and an academic space for the study of games; we suspect her primary duties in that capacity are to make sure all of the games are playing properly, all the time. Mia is unlike the most recent spate of Nobel recipients in that she got tenure for writing about television (Star Trek) and videogames - a very good thing indeed. This just in from the Where is Mia Now Department: She has resisted the siren song of WoW, opting instead to remain in Final Fantasy XI, where you may have seen her for the past year and a few months. She's done research in Japan (this past spring) on Japanese game players, research which still stubbornly refuses to write itself up. And other than Ren, there's probably no one here who has spent more thinking and writing about cheating in games. She's got a piece forthcoming (later this year) in New Media & Society called "Console Video Games and Global Corporations: Creating a Hybrid Culture" (of cheating??), and she's on the steering committee of the group Women in Games International (wigi.org). What a great day for TN. Welcome Mia!
Those who attended the "Architecture in Virtual Worlds" panel at State of Play III on October 8 witnessed a panel that primarily consisted of judges expressing dissatisfaction with the entries in the State of Play Virtual Design Competition. Panelist Ann Beamish from the University of Texas School of Architecture, summed it up best when she said, "I really did want to be surprised." Professor Beamish’s disappointment was shared to varying degrees by her colleagues, who collectively chalked this sorry state of affairs up to the fact that the use of virtual world technologies for high-level architectural projects is still in its very early stages. "We’re still in version 1.0" was a phrase repeated often throughout the discussion.
While some audience respondents were split between agreement and disagreement with the judges' negative views of contest entries, one respondent diplomatically suggested, "It’s possible that the things that were submitted were probably things that people thought you would like." If that’s the case then boy, were they wrong.
The fiasco of the unplanned World of Warcraft epidemic (ref. TN, see [1.], [2.]) as a story has spread far over the internet in the past few weeks. National Public Radio (NPR) offers the latest perspective with an audio round-up ('Virtual' Virus Sheds Light on Real-World Behavior) that hints provocatively at deeper themes.
It seems that all of us here in New York at State of Play III have been busier taking part in the live conversation than blogging. For those not here, it looks like the video archive will be made available at this link. (The opening panel is up already.) There's also a live web feed at that same link, if you're reading this on Saturday. To find SoP III participants more diligent than us on the live blogging front, try this search.
Over at PlayOn, we've recently been playing with social network visualizations for WoW guilds. For data from the entire month of August, we used each co-location event as a proxy for social contact between any two guild members (excluding main cities). You can read more about the details at the link above. And be sure to check out the visualizations. Over the next few weeks, we'll be putting out more data and analyses that relate to this longitudinal social network data.
I just find good visualizations of large complex data sets incredibly cool :)
The Thalo delegation won the overall competition fair and square (despite reports in disreputable media) and with it the Shining Star of Light (left); Kudos to Betsy Book, Nick Yee, Greg Lastowka, Dave Rickey, Larry Yaeger, and Ron Meiners. We believe the mace has been taken to New York, where rumor suggests it may play a role in controlling the flow of events at State of Play this weekend. The delegation from Sysland (Raph Koster, Joshua Fairfield, Mark Terrano, Tim Burke, Nate Combs, and Peter Ludlow) won the Chalice of Saethryd (right), which we understand has been enshrined in a place of honor (relatively speaking) at the IU Law School. The delegation from Aroland was admitted into the Royal Order of Somnambulists and Gluttons (ROGS): Thomas Malaby, Sasha Barab, Michael Steele, Cory Ondrejka, Ren Reynolds, Mia Consalvo; the deciding factor was the bourbon consumed in their conference room at 2:30 am - at the behest of Judge Daniel James, mercifully trying to get them to stop working.
And as the previous example suggests, it was at times hard to see the line between play and work. As a result, work happened. Indeed, it may have happened in abundance, although we will not know for sure for a few months. In the pipeline (and don't hold me to this, you know how things go): Several research-ready, tiny-but-scaleable MMORPGs to be launched at universities; several student-run projects at Indiana; as well as a cross-university research initiative helped along by industry support.
Speaking of students...based on their performance this past weekend, I'd advise you to hire the following people: Will Emigh, Nathan Mishler, Ian Pottmeyer, Victor Chelaru, Ian Aliman (MS/MA); Nick Cassidy, Nick Mendel, David Hall, Derrick Kelley, Derek Strand (BS/BA). Tomas Feher, Master of Thieves, was the executive producer.
[Edit: Bridget Agabra Goldstein, co-organizer, deserves most of the credit for making the ludium run smoothly. If I was smart, I would have asked her to edit this post before it went live, precisely to avoid such an egregious omission as I've made in failing to celebrate her contribution properly.]
Look for a short documentary and a full report soon.
"Atanarjuat" is the Inuit word for “Fast Runner” and is also the name of a young gnome in WoW. Like all gnomes, young Atanarjuat, or "Atan" as she likes to be called, was born in the dwarven newbie arena called Coldridge Valley, but she had an urge to travel—perhaps it was because of her name.
Last night, immediately after being brought into this world, she decided to go for a run. As fast as her little legs would carry her she motored through the Dwarven enclaves of Dun Morogh and Loch Modan. This wasn’t a challenge, as the beasts here were slow and relatively uninterested in her. She passed through the mountains and Dun Algaz, which took a few resurrections because the humanoids camp the entrances and exits, but eventually she entered the Wetlands. Amazingly, she made it through these without being targeted--she said a quick prayer of thanks to the gods of Gnomeregan--and she hopped on the boat from Menethil Harbor to Theramore Isle. Once she left the stronghold there, things became trickier. She was still at level 1 at this point, and so the difference between her level and the level of the beasts around her meant that she drew aggro like Texas Republicans draw prosecutorial investigations. Luckily she met a very nice high-level dwarf who offered to escort her. (He noticed her level and commented that she was in the wrong part of town. Like Blanche Dubois, she wasn’t too proud to rely on the kindness of strangers) He said he’d escort her down through Dustwallow Marsh and the Thousand Needles to her destination. What seemed plausible when looking at the map got very old very fast: after the 20th or 30th resurrection both were starting to get sick of this, and the dragonkin just weren’t budging. So they took the easy option and swam to Tanaris, skirting the coast, entering at Steamwheedle Bay and from there to her destination at Gadgetzan. She was glad to be there at last, but a little disappointed that she had gained so much xp from the trip that she had gone from level 1 to level 2. And of course she was tired from her journey and not in much of a mood to answer the oft-asked question: What the hell is a level 2 gnome doing in Gadgetzan?