Category: general

Too Much Videogame History

I thought it would be good to try to provide a brief history of LAN parties and LAN games in the intro to my dissertation. This has turned out to be a surprisingly tough thing to do.

Although there seem to be no shortage of great books about videogame history, there still seems to be some big gaps. As useful as books like The Ultimate History of Video Games, Replay, and Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames are, I still had a lot of trouble finding the “first” game to allowed people to link together two or more personal computers together and play with one another. I’m not blaming these books at all because in all the history of videogames that is a pretty specific thing to try to find.

Moreover, finding the “first” of anything is pretty tough to do anyway if only in part because of the difficulty in defining what a “videogame” is. For example, Wikipedia has decided that “video” in “video game” traditionally refers to a raster display device if only because people who seems to be most interested in the article have chosen that definition.

I guess what I’m saying is that it would be nice if we could get some “new” history. Something that didn’t rehash the Atari-ET-Nintendo-Tetris highlights. Something that finds out something about the proto-videogames, home computing, and those other things.

Internet Researchers 2011 presentation

As is my habit, here is the powerpoint slides from my presentation for the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Seattle next week:

As is always the case with conference papers this is severely cut down from the actual dissertation chapter. However, I hope that it makes the point that we need to reevaluate and redefine our assumptions regarding the concept of “third places.”

Edge vs. PC Gamer: Two Covers Enter… And then Leave…

Last week I got both my newest issue of Edge magazine (I’m in the USA so there is probably a newer issue out in the UK already) and PC Gamer in the mail on the same day. PC Gamer just eliminated their cover disk which means it wasn’t in plastic so I flipped through it first and then opened the bag Edge came in and noticed this:

They aren’t exactly the same image but they are quite similar. I think Edge is better since it is more sedate but the neon colors are a bit odd to my eye.

This isn’t the first time that two magazines have had similar cover images. In fact, once Edge and Gamepro had nearly the exact same image on their covers.

Poor, Poor, Pitfall, Me…

Warning, rant ahead.


You may not have heard this but the economy sucks.

You know what else? Being a grad student sucks, too.

I’m trying to finish my dissertation (got all the chapters written and a couple revised) and I’m sick of being poor. This is especially true now that it doesn’t look like I’ll be teaching in the fall and no teaching = no money.

This stinks but to make things worse, I’m going to a conference in a couple months and the student rate is over $200. The student rate??? WTF? Let’s just put that in perspective: In my department when I did have funding I made less than $13,000 a year. Then you add in airfare to the conference. Right now the cheapest flight I can find is $339. Then you add in a hotel. Of course the conference isn’t held in a Day’s Inn or some cheap hotel. The conference hotel’s “conference rate” with $447. Split 3 ways (I’m going with two other people) that’s $149 a person. Now we’re up to $688 and that’s if I don’t eat anything the whole time I’m there and somehow get to the airport and back for free. At the very least then this conference would take up over 5% of my year’s salary — assuming I had a salary.

Now obviously the conference can’t be held responsible for the cost of airfare but over $200 for students and being at an expensive hotel? Of course you can stay at another hotel and save some money but then have to walk all around a strange city. I did that at one conference and when I arrived in the city and got a taxi the driver said, “are you sure you really want to go there?” and I ended up making sure I was back in the hotel before dark every day. And of course there are travel grants and things that some conferences give but how many of those do they give? I’ve never seen a conference give out more than can be counted on one hand.

Then there is also the price of books. Recently a book came out that sounds like something I really need to read for my dissertation. The price? $99. For a book. Textbooks are often more expensive but often they can be resold. The good news is that this particular book is also available as an electronic version (only password protected pdf as far as I can tell and not on the kindle or nook). The bad news? The ebook is also $99. (ok, to be fair I found one site selling it for the rock bottom price of $89…). I know authors don’t really have any say in the price (which is why I’m not naming the book. I’m not here to shame a fellow academic by any means.) but $99 for an ebook seems a bit of a markup to me. I’ll try to get it through interlibrary loan but since the book just came out the library may say that it is too new to get that way (something I’ve been told before).

I can’t wait until I get tenure. Not only will I never wear pants again but I’ll go out to eat without checking my wallet first…


ok, rant over….

Supreme Court Causes Curious Comments.

In the days after the Supreme Court declared that videogames are entitled to First Amendment protection I spent a lot of time reading comments on major news websites. I know I shouldn’t have been but I was really shocked at how many comments were ignorant or the result of really poor literacy skills.

In addition to the usual comments implying that film ratings are legally enforced and people seeming to think they are First Amendment experts by claiming that this wasn’t a First Amendment issue, there were some that were so crazy or so hyperbolic that I really wanted to believe they were super sarcastic trolling but sadly I don’t think most of them were.

It is easy to judge people without giving them a chance to respond so as much as I want to I won’t make snarky comments about these. These come from major mainstream news sites, not some fringe extremist site. So here are some of the more “interesting” comments:

by adrenalin666 June 27, 2011 9:50 PM EDT
does anyone believe that the republican party is not just about money?

daddy bush and bush jr. made this supreme court and this is the crapola that comes out of these schmucks?????

what parent does not want control over what goes into their child’s head?
as a parent how do i influence my child to become the kind of person that i think they should become… to be a good person, be a good citizen, to see people as human beings and not as objects….



kiss my arse christian right wing taliban, teaparty…. a hols.

by nleeklee June 27, 2011 7:22 PM EDT
This is obviously wrong. We have no standards as a nation. It’s the evil business that can hire the “best” lawyers and cause its side to win. These store owners have no morals. It would be better if they believed in hell, because it is real, and they are going there. Sadly, though, if they relented and switched professions or jobs or careers, someone else would fill the gap. This shows that Christ’s words about few being saved are true. No matter how much evil is in this world, salvation is still real; those who choose to follow Satan will pay their dues in eternity, while those who follow Christ enjoy all the blessings of heaven forever. Nothing can cancel out the salvation believers have, are experiencing, and will receive when Christ returns. Praise the Lord!

by Canuck42 June 27, 2011 5:27 PM EDT are obviously one of the individuals who believes that it is all right to corrupt young minds and create criminals for the sake of extreme freedom of expression. There has to be limits to freedom of expression. When freedom of expression begins to corrupt society, it is not freedom of expression. It becomes propoganda. You are obviously one of those who love violent games. Do you allow your children to play them, too? By the way I live in the best country in the world and it’s not the USA.

by freeamerica31 June 27, 2011 5:55 PM EDT
Your right. How about the next time a pedophile sits down next to your kid and ask them “you wanna play house” and your kid says yes. We don’t want to violate their freedom of choice! If we don’t have limits on choices to protect our kids when parents or under adult supervision isn’t around, where does the freedom begin and stop? You have to have laws to safeguard children from those adults who would take advantage or keep them from content not suitable for their age.

by slatep June 27, 2011 2:43 PM EDT
Parents do not have much choice, because these are almost the only video games on the market.

Hoover dam got built because of the lack of opinions. Nothing is possible noadays; freedom this, freedom that…. where is common sense. what good does encouraging bad behavior do? stealing, killing ….. to the kids, taking a real gun and blowing people up is pretty numb after a while even if it’s for real.

A few video games are art. Most aren’t. Then again, most modern art isn’t art. Now that the average person is allowed a ‘valued’ opinion that must now be respected, society is dying in every way. Idiocracy all the way!

video gamers need to wake up to the fact that the violence in games is a tragic error from the 90ies:
Graphics card needed to be sold with visceral impact, while there was not money to develop actual content.
What’s easier than to populate the hi-res 3D world with targets you need to kill because they threaten you?
Why did the games never make as much progress as the graphics?
And why does it appear is if the only way to demo new graphics was to make another version of the +- same killing game?

Brooklyn, NY
June 27th, 2011
1:00 pm
My sense is that there are “Manchurian Candidates” placed on the Supreme Court by rogue regimes seeking to destroy the US from within. No other explanation to these latest rulings make sense.

Jersey City
June 27th, 2011
2:25 pm
Since the rise of violent gaming, too many children in all age groups under 18 have died by the hand of another young person known to them, using, most often, a gun, followed by knives and swords.

Westchester NY
June 27th, 2011
6:50 pm
Scalia has got rocks in his head. He is Pharisaic in his interpretation of the law straight by the book, no common sense. The right thing to do for society’s sake would be to limit children’s access to violent material. This is a no brainer. And of course the material that children see, and hear has an incluence on them! Another no brainer. Just look at how fashions, habits, and behavior has changed over the last few decades based on the kind of music and popular entertainment that was “in” at the time.
If you take Confucius, Plato, Aristotle and Buddha they all would agree on this that what people hear, and see will influence their minds and behavior. Scalia is on the other side of boat.

Long Beach
June 27th, 2011
10:12 pm
This is absurd. Those kinds of games should simply be banned altogether.

Oprah’s OWN? More Like PWN, Amirite???

Last week’s episode of On The Media had a segment on a documentary about Second Life called Life 2.0. Now, I’m no fan of Second Life. I’ve long been on the record that I don’t get Second Life. I still don’t get it. I know my fellow academics love to write about it but I don’t know why. I mean, I liked Snow Crash as much as the next guy but I still think Second Life is boring.

Regardless, at the end of the On The Media segment they mentioned something I did think was interesting: the Life 2.0 documentary is going to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s Network in August. Now, the low ratings OWN is getting aside, I think it is interesting that this documentary would air on a channel aimed at women rather than one aimed at gamers or one that regularly airs documentaries. They seem to think that this is something that would appeal to their audience.

Watching the trailer, I guess I can see why. It looks like the film focuses on the more extreme aspects of Second Life by featuring stories about two people who met online and left their spouses, some guy who has an avatar of an underage girl, and, of course, someone selling things.

I don’t know if this will appeal to OWN’s target audience or not but I do know I will be tuning in to watch.

The Final Hours of the Final Hours of Portal 2…

So I’ve played through the single player portion of Portal 2 twice now — once normally and once with the commentary (although I did miss one of the comments at the very end because I pressed a button before I got to click on the commentary and then didn’t have an opportunity to listen to it). I haven’t played the co-op part though because I don’t have any close friends with Portal 2 and I don’t want to play it with strangers.

Anyway, I enjoyed Portal 2 but I wouldn’t say it was perfect. I wished there was more of the Rattmann stuff and while I’m a big comic book fan the Lab Rat comic wasn’t enough. I also felt the gel stuff, while fun, felt kind of unnecessary and like padding.

I think my biggest issue is with the writing. Without going into spoilers, I’ll just say that Wheatley’s storyline was extremely predictable and the revelations of GLaDOS was immediately obvious. Most irritatingly, for me, was Cave Johnson. He just seemed way too similar in style and humor to Team Fortress 2’s Saxton Hale.

A couple days ago I also had the opportunity to read through Geoff Keighley’s The Final Hours of Portal 2 ipad app. And by “had the opportunity” I mean I downloaded a copy of it not that I got a special showing or anything. And by “downloaded a copy” I mean I pirated it and then unzipped the ipa file and looked through the jpeg files that the text is embedded on because I don’t have an ipad. Apparently, the text is available on the Kindle even though the official website doesn’t mention it. I downloaded the free sample and the images were in black and white so I passed on it. However, now it is available as an Adobe AIR app on Steam and I did pay for that so I’m all totally legal now officer.

I found The Final Hours to be a quite fascinating read. I was left with wanting more though. I really liked books like Masters of Doom and the criminally out of print Game Over even though they are both flawed. While it is unfair to expect a $2 app to be the size of a full book, I would like to see The Final Hours of Portal 2 to be expanded to full length.

I’m a sucker for Valve games and I’m a sucker for “making of” books (about games I care about, mainly) so it is little surprise that I liked Portal 2 and The Final Hours of Portal 2. Like everyone else, though, I’m really waiting for more Half-Life.

Digital/Media, Race, Affect, and Labor Conference Presentation

This week at the Digital/Media, Race, Affect, and Labor Conference at my alma mater Bowling Green State University, I presented the aforementioned second half of my dissertation chapter on whiteness at LAN parties. As promised, here’s the slides from my presentation:

It starts out the same as the previous presentation so don’t think it is the same slideshow or anything. Now to try to get the dissertation finished!

First LAN party and first LAN game?

I’m working on the intro to my dissertation on LAN parties and I realized that it might be good to talk a bit about the origins of LAN parties. So I’m wondering when the term “LAN party” first came into use. Can anyone remember hearing or using the actual term “lan party” pre-Doom?

I’m also interested in tracking down early PC lan games. I’ve tracked it back as far as games like 1990-91’s Spectre which sold a special “lan pack” but I’m wondering about games before that. I’m looking for games that functioned like traditional lan parties do where people use their own computer in the same room. I’m interested in games on personal computers and not earlier games that ran on mainframes so I don’t think things like Spacewar or even early MUDs are really what I’m looking for. I’m also not interested in games where two people would play side-by-side on the same computer.

If anyone can help me find the origin of the term “lan party” or early pc lan games I would greatly appreciate it!

The Third Fallout of the Witcher

Thanks to the Steam holiday sale I’ve just finished playing Fallout 3 and The Witcher. I’ve been thinking about them and I find the depictions of sexuality in them to be interesting.

As anyone who has played The Witcher knows, The Witcher is overtly sexual and features Sex Cards that are given out when the player has sex with someone. Of course the player, who plays as the male Geralt, can only have sex with a woman. Moreover, the sex cards have no real impact on game play. They are just trophies or notches on the belt of the player.

On the other hand, Fallout 3 takes the opposite approach and allows you to pick your sex but doesn’t really have any sexuality at all (at least that I encountered as I played it). You can’t have sex with anyone. One could argue that sexuality wouldn’t really fit in with the kitschy 50s-influenced theme of the Fallout series but there is also the fact that the SPECIAL system and the gameplay includes other realistic elements such as having to sleep and drinking alcohol so why not include sex?

As a thought exercise it is interesting to think how each game might change with the addition of a more open and non-heteronormative sexuality in the games. In Fallout 3 you can use your charisma to try to influence people but what if you could also try to bed them?

In The Witcher, there are several female characters that you not only have sex with but also have quest-based interactions. So when you encounter a woman you can try to bed her and you can also interact with her to further the game. With men you can only interact with them to further quests. Imagine how different your interactions with the men would be if you were trying to have sex with them as well? It would be a very different game.

Another aspect of these sex cards is that they are drawings of naked women. I’ve written before about how I don’t really get the point of looking at drawings of naked women and I still don’t. (I mean besides Betty Rubble, of course…) They censored these in the initial North American release but the “enhanced edition” is uncensored. I wonder if they would have made these things with naked male characters?

Apparently there won’t be any sex cards in The Witcher 2 Maybe the eventual Fallout 4 can take a little of The Witcher‘s sex and The Witcher can take some of Fallout’s flexibility.