Walkthroughs in Research: Cheating or Education?

*cross posted @ www.gamecode.ca/blog/
The value of being a gamer in game studies research has been on my mind over the last year in various forms. Throughout my final research methods class this past semester, I was hoping to write about why being “native” is often seen as a requirement for game studies, while it is usually frowned upon in other fields (such as anthropology) for reasons of objective distance. Although I changed my topic for my final assignment, the question still lingers in the back of my mind. It was recently reawakened by a recent survey done by Julian Kucklich around the topic of cheating in games research. There was also a lengthy discussion on the gamesnetwork mailing list generated when Julian announced the survey, ranging from claims that walkthroughs are now part and parcel the game itself, and should no longer be considered “cheating” to philosophical banter surrounding the definitional boundaries and notion of cheating.

What does being a gamer first, researcher second have to do with cheating in games research? I know the two are linked, but the more I think about it the more I wonder. It is often said that being a gamer helps the researcher experience the games in the same way that they are by those who play the games – the insight gained by being “in” is invaluable; in order to truly understand what you are researching, to really get ‘it’ you must be ‘in it’. I must admit, I have often been heard stating many of these very statements. But I wonder how necessarily true it is. Don’t get me wrong – no matter how much I’ve described my experiences in EverQuest to non-gamers, they still never really ‘get it’. Even in my own research now, when I meet respondents, I am always adamant about stating my play history. I need them to understand that they don’t need to contextualize everything for me, that I ‘get it’ and so we can skip the introduction part.
It is in this way that all the arguements ‘for’ being a gamer who came to research instead of a researcher gaming because they had to collect field notes, data, experience, etc., make sense to me.

Yet lately, my mind has been questioning every other occupation and field of research that does not require one to be part of the community that they study or care for. How many teachers or day care workers have never had children of their own? How many therapists of marginalized communities do not belong to that community themselves? To be fair, I know two people who were once street kids who now work in the field, knowing the ins and outs of ‘being there’, who have always said it gives them an edge. Although an ‘expert’ via education is equally (and if not at times moreso) respected in many fields.

Coming to the idea of ‘cheating’ in games research by using the ‘tools’ available, FAQ’s, walkthroughs, saved games and add-ons. Maybe instead of viewing it as cheating, we can see it as an education from the books and not from the street.
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Habermas & Identity

In the spirit of keeping my brain from turning to mush now that I am done all my coursework for my MA, I recently purchased Habermas’ The Future of Human Culture, which talks about issues and ethics that surround genetic research. The part that I find particularly interesting is the potential effect on identity. The overall idea is that a person’s identity is intertwined with one’s “nature”. Identity develops from within – from our genetic make up, as well as from outside – socially. If we are to alter a person genetically during the conception stage, pre-selecting traits (medically as well as aesthetically), we potentially alter the essence of that individual’s identity. Although Habermas is asking some serious questions about where we are headed as a species, I wonder what this can bring to theories of identity in the age of technology, cyborg theory, digital life and yes, alter egos found in spaces such as mmog’s.

Technical Values of Reality

*this post may appear somewhat disjointed, but is a combination of ideas that – in my head – float around the same central idea of reality and technology.

After a rambling conversation with a friend of mine last night, I have been thinking about the value that is placed on the ‘real’ and how technology has altered that definition, which is in the process of shifting that traditional definition of (real in a Baudrillardian/semiotic sense). What I find interesting is the struggle to maintain the value traditionally attached to ‘tangible’ reality.

For many, and perhaps Baudrillard included, the concept of hyperreality and simulacra (in its later stages) carry a relative sense of loss. Loss of the real, murder of the real as Baudrillard has penned himself. But after reading an article sent to me by a professor recently, the idea that my adult perception of reality from a technologically enhanced perspective is different than that of my children’s as well as from that of other adult’s who are not as technologically immersed. Much ado has been made about children’s inability to ‘learn’, ‘sit still’ or ‘concentrate’ all because of their saturation/heavy exposure to multiple technological sensory inputs (music, video, chat etc.). What I like about the article is that instead of looking at my children’s generation as dysfunct, or incapable of ‘sitting still’ or doing their homework in silence as a bad thing, it puts it into a perspective of an altered reality, with equal opportunities to learn (among other things) just with a different skill set really…

Without getting into any debateable cognitive material, this generation has learned to multi-task from a very early age, therefore, logically, making them capable of ‘working’ in such an environment. Which shouldn’t be a surprise to me, since I cannot work in silence either. I need multiple things on at once even to write my deepest of papers. Most of my friends cannot work in my environment, but my academic career started when I was a single mother of a 2 year old girl – I had no choice but to multi-task if I ever thought of getting my work done, parenting and sleeping some time in the last century! Point is, for a long time, I thought I wasn’t being a “real” or good academic because I was not shutting myself off to immerse myself in my work. Thanks to a very helpful academic counsellor, I came to realize that I can think just as ‘deeply’ as my solitude-immersed counter-parts.

So if it works for me – why not my girls?

Coming back to Baudrillard, hyperreality. My understanding of simulacra is when there is no longer a binary relationship between signifier and signified. That this binary merges to become both what it is and what it means. This merging of binaries should be seen as an accomplishment I think instead of a loss. Logically speaking, it simplifies reality doesn’t it? What you see is what something is ? I know that this is an elementary view of simulacra, but it makes me wonder about the idea of the ‘real’ being worth more than ‘hyperreal’. Is this value simply a nostalgic move on the part of the ‘older’ generation who had to ‘learn the language of technology’ seeing ‘natives’ of technology [Prensky, 2001] emerging with a different perspective of reality?

And lastly, isn’t this whole merging of binary the goal of (was it Foucault? I cannot remember at the moment – will look for the answer later – but for now, on with the idea). It was stated sometime during this past semester, that the last binary yet to be truly deconstructed or merged was that of being “human” and not being human. This being a tad off base from the rest of the post, but isn’t the merging of signified and signifier via technology a step towards this deconstruction of humaness? Cyborg theory, increase in medical implants and the redefinition of time, space and what real is through technology – aren’t all of these things part of that project?

All this to say that as the definition of what is “real” shifts with each ‘native’ generation, the concept of hyperreal just is what it is – without the sense of loss or value traditionally attached to the ‘old’ ways of ‘real’. Will this not even be a question for my children?

Transition: Harder than it seems

From coursework to … work, the last few weeks have been an exercise in transition. Currently working for three professors on three seperate projects, my perceived ‘art’ of multi-tasking is currently being put to the test, and the hours are alot longer than I had anticipated.

What I find interesting about all three projects, is that they require quite a high level of ‘intuition’ on my part. From being asked to find articles on a particular topic to selecting what is ‘relevant’ or noteworthy within a larger body of research data (which I am collecting), to having to be ‘intuitive’ about what has to be done on a day to day basis for my third contract – overall, I am realizing that alot of work within academia is intuitive… either you ‘know’ what you are looking for, you ‘know’ when you see it or you don’t. Of course, this intuition is a result of a good ‘academic upbringing’ imo, and since I have always wondered if I have what it takes, these intuitive moments are often causes of stress. The good thing is, I know, that if I don’t fall over in failure, my own academic career will benefit.

Pinback

Went to go see Pinback on Friday night (WoooHoo!!. Was another decent venue – old theatre without the seats and nice balcony, the kind of space that no matter where you are, you have a decent view.
The band rocked – they played for almost 2 hours which was nice. Their opening band small sins were pretty good too, but like the clap your hands say yeah show, the opening band rocked harder than their studio tunes. Wishing I had taken an actual camera to the show – here are two pics i took with my cellphone (i never thought it would be useful!)

(mis)Representation Online or Technical Limitations & Online Identity

*cross posted in an altered form here.

While working on a blogging project for my CIN6011 class, I have come to realize a few things about technology, (my) limitations, the internet, as a space of representation and identity… but first of all, let me contextualize this with some of my frustrations with technology – or rather, my limited ability to use certain types of technology to their fullest extent.Throughout the development of the project site, it has been my intention to add short mpeg films of my personal play experiences to demonstrate relevant posts.

I wanted to show my gameplay progression through elements such as dexterity and demonstrate how it impacted my ability to play and broaden the potential for immersion and to understand what ‘they’ mean when talking about ‘intuitive’ controls. It was my intention to demonstrate this progression through a series of posts describing the films – but I haven’t been able to work up the technical ability and extra cash it would cost to buy the appropriate software to record my playtime from console and upload it to the web. Besides hosting issues of such material, I just haven’t been able to think of a (inexpensive) way to do this.Through this frustration, it made me think about my larger body of research; the impact of design and structure on the construction and maintenance identity in mmog’s (yea yea, I know – long title!).

But the main ideas transpose themselves quite well when talking about the internet, or any other ‘structure’ that limits ‘total freedom’ of expression. Ideas are only as good as their implementation. When constructing an identity online, even in a game such as Final Fantasy, the player can only construct it within the tools offered by the design. Of course, in some games such as EverQuest and WoW, Counterstrike and Quake, players design skins and other prgrams that are able to be layered over top the original design to broaden the scope of potential tools – but the player is still limited.

In the case of the project site – the identity of the site (and myself by association) is limited to by my technical abilities, as well as by the tools offered to me by Blogger. Through these limitations, individuals are forced to create a (potentially) false representation of sorts with the limited selections at hand. How is a player to truly create their own identity in someone else’s sandbox? I guess in this case, some of Mike‘s thoughts on open-source online communities/spaces makes alot of sense – but then again, we hit the same tech ability wall/per user.