Evil Candy Crush

Yes. King is a slimy kind of entrepreneur that does not care about fostering community and developing a relationship with their players. And don’t get me started on the whole trying to copyright the word Candy – which thankfully (as far as this article goes, has been retracted). And the whole game industry hates King, and everyone is raging on about the evils of addictive gameplay and the how it forces the player to participate in the pay-to-play model…(which, btw, is not new as many of these articles mention but rarely have I seen such venom written about the other games that follow the P2P model…. mmo’s included)…

I am not defending King. I don’t like the claim to ownership to an idea that is clearly not original. I am not disagreeing that their game is addictive (much in the same way that Bejeweled and Tetrisw was for me… and any other puzzle type game that sucks me in beyond normal play habits)! But what I AM tired of reading about is how King – and Candy Crush are evil because it FORCES people to pay for their game in order to advance (regardless off some tongue in cheek articles…). That they lure people with the free game and then FORCE people to pay to get ahead (isn’t this the ENTIRE PAY TO PLAY MODEL!?!?!). So the leveling up process requires the player to wait 30 minutes to regain a life and not power-ups, which were “earned” in the early levels disappeared (although they did introduce the daily spin …yay ;-)). Many articles claim that it is IMPOSSIBLE to progress without paying money to King. That you NEED these power ups to progress and that waiting 30 minutes for a life to regen is impossible since evil King designed the game to be addictive.

I made it to lvl 519 without shelling out a cent. There are many ways to accomplish this without giving out my credit card information …. of course, one could wait the 30 minutes to play one (potentially short) game. One could choose to play ‘for fun’ and as such not worry about how far ahead they get, or – if you choose more subversive methods, there are ways to have more lives when you want them, etc…. (sharing? cheating?, ‘using’ your networks?) so many other ways to get ahead besides paying the evil company that forces you to play their game. I am not saying I don’t want to blaze through Candy Crush for my own personal, addictive puzzle-game obsessed reasons – but I do have AGENCY .. and that is the ONE thing all these articles seem to miss the boat on. Like blaming casinos for gambling addictions (and video games!) – the addiction and choice to pay to play falls on to the back of the player, never – in my opinion – the game – no matter how evil the company is!

Post-PhD: The Liminal Academic

That liminal, ‘in-between’ stage can sometimes be a very fantastic place to be. I love taking the train when I travel because I’ve always loved that feeling of being in between where I left and where I was going. I loved that “liminal” feeling when I was a student. There was a freedom in that in-between stage of what/who I was before I went back to university, and becoming what I was working towards. Finishing the PhD was one of the most exhilarating and scary things I have ever done (short of raising two human beings!). After the defense, there was such a sense of accomplishment; of reaching the end of something big. But what that end really meant was the beginning of something new all over again.

For some, the transition between PhD and professional life is an smooth one. Perhaps they have a teaching position lined up or have successfully applied for a post-doc. But for others, that post-phd phase is a scary, bottomless vat of unknown. A full time job of sifting through grant and job applications, searching beyond ones area of expertise and desired geographical locations as well as contemplating employment opportunities outside of academia proper that are at least related to the focus of the last 10 years… Suddenly, liminality is no longer a space of freedom and unbridled opportunity. Added to trying to find one’s place in the academic world, the post-phd/pre-employment liminal period of academic life gets filled up with self-directed (and often unpaid) projects and events aimed at staying in-the game, maintaining connections with colleagues, keeping up that intellectual momentum until something comes through.

And I believe it will. During a recent lunch chat with my phd advisor, he reminded me that it is all about timing. Keep at it, and when the timing is right, someone, somewhere will be looking for exactly what I have to offer. But even though I believe that good things will happen, I am a bit more uncomfortable with liminality without a specific destination in sight.

Random Thoughts on ‘Always Already New: Media, history and the data of culture’

Finished reading Lisa Gitelman’s Always Already New: Media, history and the data of culture a few days ago. I have to say, I was quite pleased with it on a few levels. First of all, I bought in at the same time as Hayles’ How We Think. It was completely haphazard – I love Hayles’ work, and Gitelman’s book was recommended to me by a colleague – so it was much to my delight that in the opening pages, Gitelman discusses Hayles’ work – and wraps the book up with thoughts on the digital humanities.

Other than happy connections, I really liked how Gitelman set up the direction of the book. Interesting, clear and pretty to the point that history is not absolute; that it can be told from many perspectives and can (and often should) be cognate of the peripheral contexts that contribute to creating that history. The ‘example’ chapters were really interesting – I never knew that the phonograph was originally invented as a dictation/playback object. As a sociologist, it made me a bit warm and fuzzy to read about the social forces that shaped it into a musical device. Of course, I know that social and economic elements impact/influence/shape the form and function of objects, but often, history tries to be “about the facts” in a way that does no account for the nuanced ways that history is shaped. Indeed, Gitelman talks about the difficulty in tracing such histories of  technologies (and objects), since often, it was only the ‘facts’ and milestones that were documented – not the subverted appropriation of the object over time until it is fully re-purposed as was the case of Edison’s phonograph.

I admit to being a bit confused heading into the section on ‘The Question of the Web” as she began with a part on the materiality of card stock and bibliographic content as ‘proof’ that could be constitutionally protected (referring to the 1968 court case of United States v. O’Brien and the burning of a draft card). But as I read along into the transition of digital copies, then digitally created content, I had my “hmmm … aha!” moment I enjoy so much when reading. The last section on the book focused on ARPANET and the development of the web… at first I was a bit ‘oh no, not this … again … ‘ but Gitelman brought be back by focusing not on the technological development (that I’ve read more times than I care to count) but on the process of documenting the process of development.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book – there were a few passages that I marked with a sticky tab for future reference – I would definitely recommend it for a good, thoughtful weekend read.

This is Not a Review: My thoughts on Hayles’ “How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis”

Finished reading Hayles’ How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis about a week or so ago and overall, I have to say I really enjoyed it …  of course with a few “buts” in there for good measure. I really like Hayles’ writing style. I personally find it complex but not complicated. I find her tone very accessible even if I have to stop and think after a paragraph once in a while – I like being forced to ponder what I just read before moving on. The opening chapters got me thinking about the differences between traditional and digital humanities, how they can work together in a complimentary ways,  about the different types of reading on and offline and the differences and values of them, the growing trend of interdiscplinary and networked research groups and what that brings to ideas of collaboration and results, and ultimately, the debate between narrative and database moving forward in thinking about structures of information.

As always, I was left highlighting and taking notes for future use – one of my favorites is the idea of “epistemic actions” – which, following Hayles “are understood to modify both the environment and cognitive-embodied processes that adapt to make use of those changes” (p. 98). One of the main goals in the opening chapters addresses ‘attention’ and how it is shaped and therefore, in turn shapes what is being attended to (in the case of the text, media and texts for the most part) … my favorite passage:

Weaving together the strands of the argument so far, I propose that attention is an essential component of technical change…, for it creates from a background of technical ensembles some aspect of their physical characteristics upon to which to focus, thus bringing into existence a new materiality that then becomes the context for technological innovation. Attention is not, however, removed or apart from the technological changes it brings about. Rather, it is engaged in a feedback loop with the technological environment within which it operates through unconscious and nonconscious processes that affect not only the background from which attention selects but also the mechanisms of selection themselves. Thus technical beings and living beings are involved in a continuous reciprocal causation in which both groups change together in coordinated and indeed synergistic ways” (p. 104)

It is particularly that last sentence that grabs me and makes me want to push my research further into this direction, beyond the avatar and back to my original line of inquiry of human-tech interactions and the ways it alters the very concept of identity.

I hate to admit it, but as I got further into the book, it seemed to lose something for me. The first two “interludes” (all the way up until midway through the 5th chpt actually), I started to lose focus. Chapters 5, 6, 7, & 8 were interesting, but I felt they were ‘examples’ of sociotechnical change, and how the role of the concepts of narratives and databases play within it, but each chapter felt extremely descriptive without that ever-craving “wrapping up” of ideas – purpose and point – in each chapter. This was harshest in the final chapter. A fantastically descriptive chapter entitled “Mapping time, charting data: the spatial aesthetic of Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolution”. The chapter really made me want to read Only Revolution and experience this project in time/space/materiality for myself, but as the chapter was coming to an end, I realized that the book was almost finished, and there were only a handful of pages left. When I put the book down, I was left with the feeling that I had read 4 really great ‘examples’ of different arguments the opening 4 chapters developed, but I was left with wanting it tied up in a bow for me at the end. I wanted her to tell me how each chapter worked in terms of restructuring the way we think, perhaps it is wrong, but I wanted it spelled out for me – I wanted to hear HER conclusions, not be left pondering my own … what if I was wrong? What if I missed a key point? What if I just ‘didn’t get it’?!!! … but then, perhaps that is the whole point.

Thinking About Hybrid-identity and Hybridity

Sometime during my Master’s research, I started to really question whether or not my work was truly about ‘identity’ (in a traditional sense). Coming from Sociology, the term has a lot of baggage, and while I was talking about the player-avatar relationship, or what exists/develops between them, I was always hesitant to firmly stake it as “identity”.  (For an interesting read on moving past “identity” as a term, read Brubaker and Cooper’s “Beyond Identity“). But at the the time, and up until my PhD defense last month, identity was the closest term to what I was talking about.

During my defense, I was asked whether or not I was talking more about player-avatar ‘hybridity’ rather than a (hybrid) identity proper. In the moment, I was very open to consider this shift in terminology but did not have the time to reflect on what it would mean to my overall conclusions. It would surely solve the many many times I’ve had to explain that my work was not about THAT kind of identity (I do not address issues of gender, race, or conscious/purposeful development of selves as such). So after having a few weeks to think about it, I have come to the conclusion that my Master’s work was indeed about identity proper. In my MA, ‘hybrid-identity’ explained what  developed between the player and their avatar and this ‘hybrid-identity’ was upheld and sustained by a wide range of social aspects both within and external to MMORPG gameplay. My theoretical framework was focused primarily on interactions between the player and the gameworld (to various extents).

But thinking about my PhD work, focusing on single-player gameplay and player/player-character relationships within the larger networked process of play, I think it is not necessarily about ‘identity’ proper (as something that becomes distinctly separate  from both the player and the player-character) inasmuch as it is about a hybridity between the player and the player-character. In this, I agree with my committee member who posited the initial question. Now, I need to go back and really flesh this idea out before I can make any significant shift in terminology, but I think it is the right direction that will help me iron out some of the issues I had when using the term ‘identity’. I have a few ideas already on how to make the conceptual shift and am really happy to have new direction to bring my work to its next level.

Making room (again) for sociality in MMOG’s

A recent blog post over at TAG  got me thinking about the role of down time in MMOG’s. Something a lot of (but not all) gamers complain about. It seems that if a game is not chalk full of action, it is often deemed boring or not very good. Over the years, MMOG’s seem to have fallen into this mindset as well, making quests faster (and easier imo), combat is swift, recovery time often little to non-existent, and corpse recoveries that used to take hours turned into a respawn or resurrection…Some people like the fact that the pace of MMOG’s have gone the way of an action-packed, single-player game.

The TAG post mentions that a colleague disliked SWtOR game because there was “no gameplay/no challenge” and the response to this is that he is right …. but the post goes on to say:

But that’s the point… I felt that familiar tedious rhythm of questing in MMOs return.  That steady pace, ever incremental, always one more thing on the horizon… time slows, workdays are neglected, worries recede.

And what’s this?  Time to ponder, time to think, time to reflect.  Playing SWtOR, like all MMOs, brackets time and space — its a virtual world excuse to chat and socialize  for some and it’s time alone for others.  But what is the nature of this time alone?  You are occupied at the keyboard but barely occupied cognitively… this is why MMO players are great multi-taskers.  You can play the game while chatting on the phone, watching television, doing email and even playing other games, or…  you can ponder and muse about stuff.

Time to ponder and think indeed. For me, the gaps in the gameplay brings mmog play back to its social roots… it is what the waiting is for…… see, back in the day (for me, this starts with EverQuest in 1999), mmog’s were known for long pauses between action, everything took forever to do, even finding a group and getting to the agreed upon location. But they were also known for the close bonds and relationships among guild and group mates because you had nothing to do but hang out and chat while waiting for mana to regen. as mmo’s developed, but as early as Dark age of Camelot gameplay started to shift to exclude the social bits. The big thing was closing the gaps between battles, speeding up the regen time, eventually moving to insta-recast, etc. While this made gameplay more ‘fun’ and action packed for some, what got lost was the available moments for sociality. It didn’t take as long to level up, you didn’t need as many people to help for quests, and battle could rage on almost non-stop as long as you could stay alive.  But it came at a cost.

For me, this idea that mmog gameplay should be quicker and there should be less ‘waiting’ is actually what ruined my mmog experience. There was no more time to chat even about in-game stuff; little time to strategize during combat. Every moment had a purpose, unless you consciously chose to sit somewhere and be social, it didn’t happen. See, a lot of people aren’t social by choice (especially in video game play). They don’t want to say “hey, instead of killing mobs and leveling my avatar, I am going log into the game, and go sit in a city or safe place and have a chat with my guildmates, or heck, with random players”. This is not to say that people don’t do this, but having the space to socialize within structure of play is different.

But when the waiting is designed INTO the gameplay then eventually, people talk. They strategize, tell stories of past battles, get to know each other but not “on purpose” … they socialize. Not many people like silence (at least when in a group) – even digital silence – when in a group. It was always just a bit awkward to sit in a group of 6 in EQ back when (or in WoW when I did play) where everyone just sat there, waiting for the mob to spawn or someone to have enough mana to continue… So people chose to fill the silence – the waiting  – with social bits… Even people who couldn’t care less about being social, ones who, when you talked to them about it later (as I did for my MA research) didn’t see the value in it as an end within itself, would talk about how these moments, over time, became the social glue that bound a group or guild together. To me, judging solely on the TAG post, it sounds like SWtOR brings that old “waiting” mentality back to mmog’s, slowing the action down and returning to a sort of ‘social’ (or potentially social, some people will just sit in silence, or choose to play alone, etc…) gameplay.

I was always furious when people could not see the value in those downtimes. It is where trust and bonds are made that lead to better gameplay experiences (I say imo, but I know this at least from my experience of interviewing ppl during my MA and just being an MMO player over the course of 5 different mmo’s- of a certain era of course – I stopped playing when the first WoW expansion hit, but still – there are so many stories of bad PUGS, people you will never see again, not only because they were horrible players, but because you didn’t have to bother getting to know who you were playing with. There was hardly time to do so. When you can sign your name to an automatic list for a group, get picked up solely based on your class, get insta-ported into the location, and get into battle within a short period of time, there is no sense of obligation to the group or the individual players. If a group sucked, it was nothing for many players to feign getting booted out of the game to rid themselves of a bad group. But when it took you an hour to get something going, the process of getting your foot into a group through chatting up your skill set and accomplishments, taking the time it takes to travel to the camp spot, when you get there and a group sucks, you stick around if only for the time you’ve invested in getting into the group.

Don’t get me wrong, in EQ back in the day, there were bad pick up groups, there was always that person who could never quite play their class right, or what have, but because you got to know people over time (smaller servers helped of course), and you had already committed so much time in getting the group together, you stuck it out (maybe even just a bit more). And while there will always be crappy groups, in my experience, I’ve found that if you have time to talk about things, even if its just strategy, the group usually gets better. But when the game forces you to be in action 95% of the time, there is less time for the glue to gel. Of course, the addition of VoIP enabled players to have these discussions ‘while’ fighting, but in my experience, voice chat never quite enabled the same type of bonding (I have many theories on that, but I will reserve them for another day).

In the end, I think that all the epic feats talked about among elite players would never have happened (here I am referring to EQ specifically, but it is transferable) or not with the same amount of pride that many elite players have when recounting their stories. In my opinion, without these ‘waiting’ times designed into the game – people would not develop the same levels of attachment to the game, to their avatars and to their fellow guild/group mates, for these epic battles to be successful (and fun), there needs to be a level of trust and camaraderie in place. And trust has space to develop in these moments of waiting….I could go on about this, but I will restrain myself…

Title, Abstract & One Final Push (and some editing)

A (very) brief update today, but I’ve (finally) come up with a title and wrote the formal abstract for my dissertation. After hundreds of pages of writing, one would think that the abstract would not be as challenging as it was. If interested, you can find it here.

I feel a very strange mix of pride and fear as I put this out there. For so many years, I have only talked about my work, while publicly presenting my secondary research interests. In some ways, keeping my primary research close to my chest has kept it safe in my head, but there comes a time when I have to just put it out there, hold my head up and be proud of what I have been working on over the last few years.