I've tried really hard to avoid Minecraft, lots of people at Barcamp were going on about and I knew if I picked it up then my exams would suffer. Besides, I never really liked Lego and I don't really like "sandbox" games either. When given the opportunity to do anything it's easier to do nothing. Anyway, a friend nagged me to death to get it and I've been playing it for a couple of weeks.
If I had written this blogpost about 4 days ago I would have said that while I kinda saw the appeal, I really didn't get it. I can be a bit reckless when I play games which is probably why I'm not great at them. I died a lot falling off stuff, drowning in stuff and thinking I could defeat creepers with a block of dirt and a cheeky smile. Mining is horribly boring. Exploring caves is all well and good when/if you can find them, but just picking a spot and going mining loses its appeal really quickly. I had all these ideas about what I wanted to build and looking up the vast horde of materials I'd need was just depressing. Multiplayer is better but I felt really dependent on my friend to do everything for me and I'd just about had enough.
What changed was the idea of a more sensible project. So yeah, my water rapids rollercoaster was nigh-on impossible, but what about a tower? Ooh yeah it could be multi-story, and have a balcony and we'd need some stairs and windows and skylights. And now I get it. My tower is mostly dirt and stone, and it's not that attractive or well designed. But I built that. It has jack-o-lanterns outside. And now it has a moat and a minifarm and a forest out back and it's mine. We found a massive cave and spent an afternoon exploring that and it was epic. Digging is for chumps.
It's all about chance. It's all about making these discoveries, which as awesome when they happen but crushing when hours of digging and mining just get you a bag of rocks. You need a project. An achievable project that will slowly grow and spawn into that awe inspiring idea you had all along. I still have issues, you don't regain health by sleeping or over time and it would be cool if you could paint stuff, rather than sticking dyed wool everywhere. Minecraft's real genius is stealing your time and giving it back to you in that one moment of sheer joy and pride when you step back and look at what you've done.
My interest in gaming has always gone beyond just playing; there are several unique things about games that you don't get in any other media. Interactivity is an obvious one but there are others. From a political point of view, gaming is often a testbed for censorship or filtering issues(See Australia's "banning" of 18-rated games) because of it's perceived lack of value compared to film.
This post is based on the presentation I was going to give at Gist Play which is further based on the book I've just finished reading. It's called Reality is Broken written by Jane McGonigal, a game designer who works at a think-tank called the Institute of the Future. The basic idea of the book is that something must be wrong with reality if so many of us spend so much time in game worlds, what do games offer that reality can't and how can we use that to make reality better. In game-friendly countries, the average 21 year old has spent 10,000 hours of their life gaming. It is said that to be an expert in something you need 10,000 hours of time. So we have all these expert gamers(roughly 500 million worldwide), how do we use their skills and abilities to improve the world? (My favourite crazy statistic, if you add up all the hours spent playing World of Warcraft, it comes to 5.93 million years. My mind is blown)
First of all, what is a game? The book states that a game must have 4 central characteristics. There must be a goal, not only in a "save-the-princess" sense but smaller goals such as "get from one side of the room to the other". There must be rules, restrictions on how we can achieve the goal. These are things such as health, ammo, gravity. Participation must be voluntary, nobody liked being forced to play otherwise that feels like work. Finally there must be a feedback system so players know how they are working towards the goal and track their progress. Levelling up, power ups or high scores.
So we know what a game is. Pretty simple, but what's the draw? Sticking with this theme of fours, McGonigal says that games fill 4 intrinsic desires. Humans crave satisfying work; the reason so many of us hate work is not because it is hard or strenuous, but because it is boring. Games with their constant goals and feedback mean that we feel that we are always working towards something. We also crave social connections. 70% of the time someone plays World of Warcraft is solo, despite being a massively multiplayer game. It's a lovely idea called "playing alone together", even though you may be playing alone you are comforted by seeing other people sharing the world with you. There have been many times I've logged into WoW and spent hours just chatting away to my guild rather than actually playing. Multiplayer is where modern gaming is really going.
We want to experience success, but at the same time we are happy when we fail. We are happy when we fail if it gives us a chance to try again, making the success so much sweeter when it comes. Games are not made to be impossible and the best games craft the difficulty in such a way that players crave just "one more go". Linked to this a little is the fourth desire, being part of something greater. The example used in the book is Halo 3 players going for 10 billion kills. The number of players involved was greater than the top 25 armies combined. Yep, Halo players are the biggest army on Earth. WoWWiki is the second largest wiki in existence. We all want to contribute to something and share in the successes.
So reality then. McGonigal proposes several "fixes" for reality, way too many to go into detail to here. My favourite example is a game called World Without Oil. Players were given a website that showed a reality where peak oil was in severe demand and there were massive shortages, the website had news stories and videos based on the hypothetical senario and gamers were basically asked to make videoblogs about how their lives would change in this world. Years later, most of the players had carried forward the skills from this game to how they use oil products in their lives. If you tell someone to do something, that's work. Make it into a game and it changes the world.
I've only been a serious Formula One fan for the last few years or so, really since I've moved out. However I've been watching the sport since I was a kid because my dad would always have it on Sunday mornings. I remember watching the Senna crash, I remember watching the helicopter fly over and everything become so subdued. I don't remember enough of that era to really consider myself a long term fan, but as I've gotten more into the sport lately I've gained a good respect for his racecraft and intensity.
Katie and I went to watch the Senna film last night at the Showroom. She's more of a Senna fan than I am. It's a documentary containing only archive footage; mostly family videos and 'backstage' F1 like driver's briefings and the like. There are voiceover from relatives and commentators. You watch him from karting, which he considered "real racing" up to just after his death in '94. You see a man so dedicated to a sport he travels to the other side of the world to be part of it, and how he loses his innocence a little after the politics starts getting in the way. For me, the most emotional part was looking at Brazil and how he gave a whole country something to be happy about and aspire to.
It is emotional all the way through, and the audience participation was some of the best I've seen. We all laughed at cocky interview answers, we all took in sharp breaths at crashes and we became silently reverent as the '94 Brazilian GP loomed ever closer. It was the first time I've seen footage of Barrichello's crash and Ratzenberger's fatal accident. That one was truly awful and hit me kinda hard, you can see he's dead in the car. There were more than a few sniffles and tears throughout the theatre at the end, myself and Katie included. There's no blaming, and little analysis. It's just the personal story and that's what makes it a film anyone could watch, you don't need to know Formula One particularly. I do wish it had been a bit more in-depth, it doesn't really cover things about Senna I particularly admire, like how he would risk himself to help stricken drivers.
Prost fans say it makes Prost come across as a bit of a dick, and it does a little but all F1 drivers are dicks to be honest, you can't get to that level of competition without being a little ruthless. And the film does tell you at the end that Prost is a trustee of Senna's charity. In a great rivalry as that, the other one is always going to come across worst, and I'm sure a Prost film wouldn't show Senna in the best light at all. Ron Dennis becomes almost likeable and you can see that him and Senna had a pretty good relationship.
It's worth a see if you're an F1 fan or just a sports fan in general, no matter how casual. If you know a lot of the Senna story there's nothing really new but it's still really good to be able to see it, rather than read about it. Apparently an awful lot of footage was released to help make this, and I hope a DVD/Blu-ray release shows a bit more of that.
All in all a good weekend. Didn't get time to prep any of the talks I wanted to do because of university but still managed to contribute by chucking my weight into two talks about gaming by @losvaive(more on those later). It felt like a very long weekend thanks to the F1 being on so early.
This is not my first barcamp but thanks to the refreshing lack of free beer it's the first one I've attended for the whole weekend rather than wasting half of it hungover. Also as I'm coming to the end of university it's the first one where I've gone because of a desire to learn things for myself rather than being my girlfriend's other half. The space we used in the Workstation was really nice, and again no easy access to a bar really helped to keep things focused. This barcamp felt much more like a community than the others I've been too. I still struggle though with the community aspect, I very much feel like I still don't fit in despite getting on pretty well with a fair few people. This is partially down to my lack of tech experience and partially down to my general lack of confidence in social settings. I didn't do a talk because I don't feel as I am in a position of someone with knowledge able to give to those without. I am sure confidence will come with experience and preparation.
The first session I attended was a conversation about documentation and technical writing. Being a technical writer is something I have considered doing in the future and it was interesting to hear about how being a good writer requires you to be a good social person as you have to write to many different audiences and talk to many different people in order to gather information. The user testing aspect was something I hadn't expected and that really piqued my interest.
The second session was a talk on contracting. I went to this mainly for Katie's benefit but I found it very useful myself. Not so much how to be a contractor but how to create a business; something that I would like to have in my future. Next was Liam's talk on gaming bucket list, lots of interesting stuff in here and it led very nicely into the session we conducted later in the afternoon. Katie's space shuttle presentation went down really well, her obvious love of the subject helped to make the more technical material go down pleasantly.
Our session was about "Are video games good for you?", an informal talk/discussion. I think originally we were going to present a lot of examples supporting the notion whereas on the day we went more for a good cop/bad cop approach, me in favour and him against. The resulting conversation went from exercise to social skills via a discussion on rating systems, Hot Coffee and WoW Anonymous. Lots of people were there and contributing and it was a really fun discussion, so fun in fact we ended up using two timeslots but the feedback was good.
Sunday was predictably quieter, we missed the first two sessions due to fast cars and Nick Heidfeld fail. A continuation of Saturday's gaming talk was held concerning games as learning tools. This went less well than I had hoped due to lack of preparation and veering off topic in many places but again we discussed whether games should be used in schools and the state of IT education in general, something I may follow up on at a later talk as I've been reading stuff about that for my project. Played a card game called Flux in the afternoon as a demonstration of software development problems. Was much better fun than I was expecting and very informative. After the first general game I watched others play again, this time assuming roles of developer, user, sponsor and project manager. This I also found very interesting, the people play and the assumptions about the various roles were humorous but obviously based on experience.
So much fun. I would really like to build upon the themes discussed in the gaming talks in a formal presentation. By the end of the weekend I felt much more part of something and I think I need to get over my nervousness and just jump in to a gistmag(probably June) with a talk and see how that goes. Looking forward to next years! And thanks to the organisers of course.
Also: gingerbread house.
"As a feminist I want to let go of gender" - A quote from the somewhat infamous Julie Bindel; a feminist newspaper columnist who often clashes with the transgender community in particular over her views on sex, gender and "no amount of mutilation can make someone a woman". To start with I'm not even going into that, I just want to talk about this quote.
"I want to let go of gender". Ok, first of all, what is gender? To some people sex and gender are interchangable but to people who study/talk about/are interested in gender the two words have separate meanings which I will also use here. "Sex" is a biological term; it concerns the physical characteristics such as genetics and physical sexual characteristics. Interestingly, there is no test for sex that works in 100% of cases. Genetically the vast majority of men are XY and women are XX but this is no means definite. In recent years a woman with XY genes gave birth to a daughter also with XY genes. Androgen insensitivity syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Androgen_insensitivity_syndrome) is where genetic XY males exhibit female sexual characteristics of varying degrees, Klinefelter's syndrome concerns XXY males (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klinefelter_syndrome). Around 1% of live births indicate some form of intersex or other ambiguity.
"Gender" is a term that refers to the social and mental perception and presentation of sex. Again in the vast majority of people sex and gender will match each other. For transsexual people, transgender people and other who deviate from the sexual binary, their gender does not match their physical bodies and some of these people will alter the physical sex to match the psychological gender. If you present as female and identify as female you are female despite any genetic or physical markers. The "gender binary" is the idea that there are two separate genders, male and female.
If gender is psychological and social in nature, the idea of letting go of gender is the idea that society should not impose a gender upon someone and that gender distinctions are irrelevant. To a degree I agree with this notion. Why do documents like my passport or driving licence have my gender on them? To identify me? They already have my name, photograph and address. I support the idea that legally, gender is become less relevant. However I also recognise that gender still holds an important social purpose. Gender is often the first characteristic we notice about someone, it is the first question asked about new babies etc. Letting go of gender would mean a shift in society away from this, that gender would become irrelevant in all places.
I disagree with this. I believe there are differences between the genders and I believe these should be celebrated. I believe in equal opportunity, and if this means that gender disparity in some areas still exists then so be it. My dissertation speaks about females and software engineering, and it's main finding is that the way girls are brought up around technology means they don't have the same social opportunity to follow software as a career path. The doors need to be opened, but I don't believe we should push people through for the sake of diversity. I believe that gender presentation is a deeply personal and important part of someone's mental map of themselves. I present as female and I am comfortable in that presentation. My gender helps define my personality. In the past I have not been as comfortable in that presentation and the male part of me has defined that personality.
I believe in choice. I believe in the rights of transgendered people to change their gender presentation. I believe in the rights of women to be stay-at-home mothers if they choose to, or be career-driven engineers if they choose to. I believe in the rights of men to do the same. Feminism is about granting *both* genders the choice to be and do whatever they want to be and do. In this way I am a feminist. However, feminism as a term is something I'd like to change as I believe in equality for both genders. There are areas where men's rights are lacking and these also need to be addressed. I believe that abortion debates should involve men but women have full rights to their bodies in the end. Do you have to be a feminist to believe in equality? No.
As a feminist, I want to support the rights of all to present their gender in any way they see fit. I want all people to feel comfortable and happy in themselves, and if they don't I want them to have the opportunity to be able to seek out that comfort. I support the camp gay men and the "straight-acting" gay men, I support the butches and the femmes and the lesbians who decide to ignore both distinctions. I support the bisexuals right to be attracted to both genders without being rejected from the straight or gay communities. I support myself in my femininity and my masculinity and I will celebrate those with you.
It's Sheffield Barcamp this weekend, and I've been wondering about doing a talk / leading a discussion for a while. I would really love to talk more at geek events in general, now uni is nearly over I feel it's time I contribute more rather than just absorb. I want to do this not only because I want to give more back to the community, but also to help me find my focus and USP for the future.
So I'm been thinking about a lot of ideas for talks I'd like to try over the next year. The obvious candidate is my dissertation. I'm highly likely to want to discuss this at Barcamp as it's my last chance to do so before the hand-in, and I think some feedback from the tech community would be really interesting to write about when I evaluate it. It started out as a generic "Why are there so few female software engineers?" and has turned more into something about education, interest and confidence. In general I've found doing the research really interesting and I'd love to share some of the quirkier ideas I've found.
Linked to the end of uni idea, and following from some interesting and frustrating conversations over Twitter, I'd really like to talk about my time and experience at university, what is taught well and what isn't and where student, lecturer and employers wants meet and clash.
Another idea I toyed with for a while before deciding time and interest were probably against me is something to do with internet sexuality. How has the sudden influx of sexual information and easier access to niche sexual communities changed perceptions of sex and 'healthy' sexual habits and behaviours. For a while I was interested in taking a psychology masters and sexuality and queer theory are my main interests in this field. I would love a way to be able to link this to my software development skillset in some way but I have no idea how. An obvious problem is that people do take offence or are uncomfortable discussing this topic in a public space and I'd need to do more research in order to have a solid point to make and present.
If worst comes to worst, I'll just bring cookies. Maybe pie.
Saturday was surreal but amazing. Me and Katie got into Manchester early afternoon, checked into our hotel and wandered around town until 5pm. We'd arranged to meet some of the guys from the forum and so we went to drink with them before the gig. Tickets said doors open at 7:30 and at about half 6 we debated going down early to see if we could catch the band before the gig. Get there at 6:45 and they were letting people in already, which was weird, until standing in the bar we heard the unmistakable sound of SID in the air and much swearing and running across the venue ensued.
So lucky we caught the last two songs. We knew their set would be short as it's a 4-band tour in the UK (3 bands in the rest of europe) but if we'd gone by the time on the ticket we'd have missed them, and half of Ensiferum as well. £12.50 a song? Well worth it and I'd do it over again. For an opening band they got a really good reception, the band were getting us to clap along and sing along. For the first song we saw, Rocket Dragon, I think my enthusiastic singing was getting annoying for the dude in front of me who had suddenly found himself surrounded by manic fans of a band he's never heard of before; but by halfway through Through the Looking Glass he was smiling and clapping along with the rest of us.
I know there's a debate about whether you should wear a band's shirt to their shows but with 4 bands on it was really useful to be able to pick out the Machinae fans. The band came to meet us in the bar and pretty soon our group of seven turned into a mini-army swapping hugs, handshakes and thanks with the band.
By this time half 7 had been and gone and a large percentage of our group was made up of those who had totally missed them. A lot of plans were made to catch them in Birmingham or Nottingham instead and I heard at least one guy get promised he'd get in for free. If I didn't have the project this week I'd have gone to Nottingham as well.
I didn't talk to them as much as I liked, shyness and sleepiness combined into epic fail but I shook everyone's hand and thanked them and said how much I enjoyed it. Got an old tshirt signed which Dezo really liked and I'm so so proud of. Gonna get it framed and up on my wall. I'm sure someone in the band still has my marker, seeing as I was the only one with enough foresight to bring one. I'd always wanted to wear this shirt to the gig but it's old and a bit battered now, but it has served a much more awesome purpose.
I met so many awesome people, the other fans were amazing and it's great to have met all these people who love this band as much as I do. I also tried my first Jagerbomb and really liked it which does not bode well for my future. I feel kinda sad today and yesterday though, I really wish I'd said more to the guys but I am totally stoked for next time. They said their management was really surprised and happy with the great reception they'd been getting and they were as annoyed as us about the whole time fuckup.
I love this band. They are my greatest pick-me-up and my greatest inspiration. They are the only band I've heard that really balance the electronic and metal in a way that doesn't detract from either and unlike other chip-metal the SID chip is a warmer, more intricate sound than NES or Gameboy chiptunes. The lyrics are about personal revolution and rebellion with the odd gaming reference thrown in for good measure. They started out doing game covers and then giving original music away for free online, a fairly novel thing in 2002/3. You can still get that free stuff here under Site Releases, and the Jets'n'Guns soundtrack is also free from that link. The last two albums are also on itunes and amazon mp3, and a collection album is available too. Check them out!
I have been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of years. I've been gaming since I was little, my dad had a ZX81 and we played Horace and the Spiders together and I got my C64 when I was 5/6 and played games on that; Bubble Bobble, Creatures 2, Mayhem in Monsterland etc. Then we got a megadrive with Sonic 2 when we got older, and an N64 after that. I've always been interested in gaming, it's something I really love.
My problem is that, basically, I'm shit at them. I have mostly played RPGs, and then mostly turn-based Japanese ones(Final Fantasy, Grandia, Shadow Hearts etc) or hack-n-slash. Lately I'm a sucker for falling block puzzles but I'm not fantastic at those either. All single player. Mulitplayer is something that has generally passed me by, and as gaming becomes more multiplayer focused I feel like I'm falling further and further behind. Random xbox live matches are too impersonal, and playing against people I know just makes me feel embarrassed and annoyed when I lose.
It's not just that though. Most of my game money goes on the PSN/XBLA titles, or retro remakes. It's very rarely I buy a new boxed game on or near release. I feel like I've hit some kind of peak age and only the past is any good. I know this isn't true, that there is as much creativity in the industry as there has always been if you seek it out. This is why I have stayed as interested as I have. Maybe I should just sit down with an FPS, get a 12-pack of Red Bull and play it until I'm good.
I was linked to the above article by a friend on Twitter and as I seem to have fallen into feminism somewhat I thought it would be worth a read. The basic question is; why is the Last Guardian's main character male?
Bit of backstory. Team ICO made ICO and Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2. ICO is about ten years old now, and before its rerelease with SofC went for a metric fuckton on ebay. Both games are in the highly rated but not blockbuster selling category that all the best games seem to fall into(see Beyond Good and Evil, Gitaroo Man etc). They are difficult games to sum up, but in a nutshell ICO is a really long escort quest whose escort doesn't speak your language, and SotC is a chain of boss fights against huge monsters.
If it was just that though, why are they so rated? And when you think about it, one game has a female character who basically can't do anything without you and the other's female character spends 99% of the game sleeping. So, the article's criticism has a basis. And both these questions have similar answers. It's all about emotion.
To start with, Yorda will wander off, not listen to you and stand there impatient if you ask her to do the slightest thing. But you need her as much as she needs you, there are doors you can't open without her. However, as the game progresses she learns to trust you. She'll jump larger gaps, come quicker when called and point things out when you spend half an hour stuck in the same puzzle. As you run through darkened corridors you can feel the tug of her hand as she does her best to keep up with you, the pulling of the controller in time with your heartbeat. If the monsters get her and drag her under, the screen darkens like the sun has gone out and you swear to do all you can to never let that happen again, even if it means jumping up and resetting the console mid-death. In the end, she saves you and fighting the last boss is the most emotionally intense gaming moment I've ever experienced.
In SotC, Wander brings an unconscious girl to a forbidden land and is told by a hidden voice to go kill all these giant monsters to save her. Each one he kills saps at his spirit. But even though you never play her, or really interact with her, she is always there as Wander's and your inspiration. He does what he does for her, and only for her. She drives you to the brink of death over and over and you go gladly if it will save her. You mourn for the beautiful epic creatures that bleed black over your sword but there's nothing you can do.
The point of the article is that both reasons for not having a female main character are superficial and in the writer's opinion a symptom of the deeply traditional Japanese culture. I disagree. These games are fairy tales; quick nimble boys, sprawling ruins and a princess to be saved because the boy wants to save her, and she wants to save him in return. The girls in these games are quiet, feminine and passive in action but without Mono you wouldn't even be here and without Yorda you'd die alone in the shadows. If you haven't. you need to play these games.
>Anyone who has spoken to me about gaming for more than 2 minutes will know that I have a deep, and slightly weird, love for Dragon Age:Origins. I'll probably write up some epic post about that at some point, but this one is about Dragon Age 2, whose demo made it out onto PSN/XBL/PC earlier in the week.
I am not ashamed to admit I am a massive roleplay nerd. I roleplay in WoW, which is not the best RP environment by a longshot. I would really like to play more pen and paper because the taster of it I had I really enjoyed. I love that feeling of living and breathing a character, shaping their hope and desires, weaknesses and flaws. From this point of view, I have some reservations about DA2. The debate about voiced vs unvoiced main character has good points on both sides, but for me I really didn't mind that in DA:O the main character was silent. When you are your character, they have your voice, and being text-based means I knew exactly what my character was saying. There was the occasional breakdown in communication where I thought a sentence had a nice calming tone, but the response from the NPC suggested I said it like a twat. So I do like the little "tone" icon DA2 has. I know this is funny, this is nice, this is threatening to make you eat your own balls etc. But to get that, we've lost the ability to know exactly what our character is about to say. Also, having a voiced character ultimately has the problem that the VA may or may not be any good.
It feels like it's going backwards. Instead of shaping a character and helping them learn and evolve, we are given the Hawke character and we basically choose if they are nice or not. They come prebuilt, and yeah we can fiddle with them a bit, but the demo didn't really show any of that evolution. Because she's voiced, it's not longer me speaking through a character, but a character being poked by the player. Plus you can't have a dwarf or elf character, and as anyone knows the two dwarven origins in DA:O are the best ones.
The combat is pretty much the same. No auto-attack so some button-mashing is in order. Tactics are still there and the level-up trees from what little you see look good. The whole "fight like a Spartan" thing does make me want to fly to the US and punch whatever Bioware PR dickwad came up with it. My main gripe with the combat is the noise. Apparently gamers these days need constant sonic reminders that they are in combat, and my fuck-off 2-handed sword sounds awfully like a lightsaber in places. Bioware have said that they want it to be more "Press a button and stuff happens RIGHT NOW". I'm sorry, but if gamers have reached the point where waiting more than half a second to use an ability or spell will somehow cause them to fall asleep at their screens, then I don't know if gaming is worth it anymore.
They want to widen the audience for this game. It's understandable and somewhat commendable. However, DA:O felt like the kind of game RPG players had been waiting for for so long, and on console it's almost in a genre of one. We already have RPGs like DA2 is trying to be, bloody Mass Effect for a start, get your "10 MILLION SALES" bullshit that way, but don't go pissing on us players who loved, and will continue to love, your much better first DA game. Try the DA2 demo, it's not terrible but it's also not deep enough to help you get a real feel for the game, especially for roleplay fags like me.
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