Casual Gaming: An introspective ramble

Over the last month, I have been playing a lot of casual games (gearing up to the big ones perhaps hehe). I have been no stranger to digital casual play – I shamelessly bought the highly addictive shareware solitaire package Pretty Good Solitaire – something about having over 700 different solitaire games intrigued me (although I only play about 5). Of course, I spent my share of time in the world of Bejeweled, back when I played mmo’s intensively. Always saw it like a weening process from hardcore mmo-play to mindless clicking to getting up and getting back to the rest of the world. Of course, Farmville and CafeWorld (damn you Facebook!) – while fun for the 3 minutes of actual ‘play’ these two games offer (harvesting, planting, arranging/making food & arranging your restaurant…), the design pretty much keeps them ‘casual’ in the sense that you cannot devote excessive time or ever get intense (immersed?) into the gameplay as such.

Then there was Zuma … ahhhh Zuma how many hours have I spent trying not to blink as I tried to stay a few steps ahead of the ever-faster stream of incoming marbles, thumb aching from the xbox joystick (damn you!) as I try to spin my frog fast enough to keep up (might sound lame, but one you can get VERY sucked into this, let me tell you!). I made it to the last level, but never finished it. My daughter eventually started a game of her own and finished it in half the play time than I had put into it. Seeing the ending was gratifying enough for me (as simple and anti-climatic as it was).

The thing about Zuma for me, was that while it may be classified as a casual game (arcade actually), there was nothing ‘casual’ about the way I played it or how much I played it – at the time. Without getting technical about where the lines between casual and other types of gameplay, for me, it is usually about how hard it is to put the controller/mouse down.

The latest casual game to enter my play-o-sphere is Kingdom for Keflings. I know … it is hard for me to even be saying any of this out loud – but I think there is a place for this kind of gameplay, and merit in thinking about what goes into this kind of gameplay; why it often takes a back seat to other gameplay styles and genres. I know that personally, I have spent more intense bouts of play in KfK over WoW on several occasions. A lighthearted sim-kingdom game, I often found myself playing this game with the same sort of zeal as when I was a little girl playing with dolls. I would catch myself talking out loud when I would build a new house, Wizard or Sculptor’s place and had to pick up a Kefling to designate them the resident artist or wizard “I am going to make you the mayor young lady – do a good job” – “, I caught myself saying as my lady Kefling screams and flails her arms as my giant self would walk across the kingdom. When assigning tradeskill tasks, I would often consider things like how far my Keflings had to walk to bring the resources to their destinations – do I want my lady-Kefling cutting down the trees or carrying the logs to the lumber mill?  Hearing myself mutter “come on out of the crystal mines m’lad, you can work in the tailor shop instead” – I was a bit surprised at how ‘into’ the game I got.

I have always enjoyed the trade-skill/resource collecting part of of MMO gameplay. It was one of the reasons I loved Horizons – not many mmo’s really get it right, but Horizons was all about the trade-skill, less about epic battles for me. Kingdom for Keflings – on a very basic level, fulfills this desire to collect and build things, and sometimes even add my own little story to it. My partner thinks KfK needs some action, ability to invade each other’s kingdoms, etc – but I like the mellow head space playing a few hours of KfK  puts me in – no stress, no timers, no monsters; just mellow resource collection, mellow music (elevator music reminiscent of ‘Walking on Sunshine‘).

All of this to say, what makes this a ‘casual’ game? The design – in that it does not ‘demand’ much of the player? Low point of entry? Scope of gameplay complexity? I know on a personal level, the amount of time and energy dedicated to gameplay and strategizing (yes, I strategize in Kingdom for Keflings – to maximize efficiency of production) and the immersiveness I feel, I have had more ‘casual’ experiences in mmo’s, mindlessly grinding to level up or waiting for a group to gel. For me, the casual / hardcore line is based more on how I play, and not the game itself.  I guess in a way, it bothers me that so many dismiss the numbers of female ‘game players’ because they play ‘online, flash-type games’ and solitaire, etc. While I understand that the term “gamer” may not be applied to this demographic, they should count for something as defined perhaps by the player experience instead of the game they play. While a bit off center from this is the same way that sports games (and their immense fan base) are often put into a different box when talking about gamers, gameplay and the casual/hardcore debate.

Guess I should go back to the literature on casual / hardcore gaming – its been a few years!

Kinephanos Issue 1

We are proud to announce that the first issue – Digital Imageries : Culture and Reception edited by Marc Joly-Corcoran et Martin Picard is online at http://www.kinephanos.ca/.  Also –

In order to unveil its online publication, you are cordially invited to the official launch of the first issue of the journal Kinephanos, “Digital Imageries : culture and reception”, edited by Martin Picard and Marc Joly-Corcoran.

The launch will take place on
Monday, January 25th 2010, 5 to 7 pm,
@ L’Amère à Boire,
2049, St-Denis St.(metro Berri-UQAM or Sherbrooke), 3rd floor.
For more information, you can visit the journal Website : www.kinephanos.ca

Hope to see you there,

The team of Kinephanos

CFP ECREA 2010 Preconference: Avatars and Humans

I was hoping to go to AoIR this October in Sweden – but after seeing this CFP, I might have to take my October travel voucher to Hamburg, Germany. After reading the cfp (posted below), I said to myself that this is “my” conference, how could I not submit/go!? Would be the perfect place to flesh out some of the issues I am having post proposal defense (there is a doctoral round-table section) – or even as a place to present my framework as a foundation for thinking about the avatar/human relationship… Continue reading

P.S.

Six years of Digital Conversations – wow. Started this thing in January 2004 as a place to think through some of the stuff I was doing in my B.A. …wow. My blogging resolution for 2010 is to get back to using this space as a place to flesh out the thoughts in my head, no matter how unformulated they may be.

A New Year: Resolutions and Schedules

2010 … wow. Why does a new year always astonish me! I know that time doesn’t stop – or even slow down, but it sure as heck feels like it speeds up!

I have set my resolutions to task, and spent the better part of the day trying to get my head back into an intellectual/academic space. As much as I love the holidays (summer, winter or otherwise), stepping completely away from academic work always seems like a good idea at the beginning of my holiday, but always comes back to bite me in the behind when it comes time to get back to work. So, my sluggish post-holiday brain struggles to get revved back up to the pace it was before the holidays. Slow, but not impossible.

With my comprehensive exams out of the way, and officially in writing mode, I am staring at my calendar, trying to plot out a 22 month research & writing plan. It is tempting to take this unstructured (by someone else) time as another ‘working’ holiday, but I fear that without deadlines, those 22 months will fly by like time always seems to. So, in an attempt to break my panic cycle, I am setting another ‘to-do’ list chalk full of dates and deadlines.

First up – in regards to conferences, the Canadian Game Studies Association’s annual conference is coming up in May and the deadline for submissions is today. Also, I am aiming to submit for the Association of Internet Researchers annual meeting being held in Sweden this year – submission deadline is in February (scroll for full cfp). On the writing side of things, I am working towards at least one journal publication for 2010. I have a few things – mostly co-authored, that I have been meaning to edit and submit. Finally, thesis wise – it is time to play. I have never been as stressed to play anything before. In many ways, I am stepping out of my ethnographic comfort zone and heading into realm of analysis that I am not used to. I am moving away from my sociological roots, at least for now.

Apologies if this post is a bit rambling, and disjointed – I hope to be able to start posting more exploratory bits as my research pushes forward.