Category: general

Where’s my Valkyrie game?

So the film Valkyrie is out. In the film Tom Cruise uses Sientology to build a time machine to kill Hitler or something — I don’t know for sure, history wasn’t my strong suit. But what I do know is that it is a movie about killing Hitler. OMGWTFBBQ! If ever there was a storyline that gamers could get behind it would be killing Hitler. Where’s my Valkyrie game?!?!

Has a game ever made you cry?

This question is an old one and it is one that is often used by people from other mediums to question the ability of games to really impact the player and to have a kind of emotional maturity. Most recently it has been asked Over at International Hobo. I would bet that if someone were to ask if a game has ever made you cry you would say “no” — and you would probably be a liar.

Up until recently I would have said “no” as well because the question is usually asked in that context of telling a story that made you cry. That is a misleading way to think about it. People do cry over games all the time but they don’t cry over them because of the storylines.

So when do people cry over games? They cry when they lose them. I’m sure that nearly every kid has cried because they lost some board or card game. It is almost a cliche to show an athlete cry when they lose the big game whether it is the Super Bowl or a high school sectional.

So perhaps the problem isn’t that games don’t make us cry but rather that we just aren’t thinking about the reasons why they already do that.

Left 4 Dead Review and Reflections

Through Valve’s SourceU program that the class I’m teaching tells I’m lucky enough to have gotten Left 4 Dead for free and I’ve been playing the heck out of it. It is a really fun game. The AI Director (or is it Director AI? I’ve seen both) might be a sign of things to come if it can be adapted to other games. Basically it means that the era of enemies being in the same place every time you play the game is over. The AI Director decides when, where, and how many enemies appear in the game so that “It’s never the same game twice.” If they put this into Half-Life 2 Ep 3 then it could be really awesome.

That isn’t to say that the game is perfect, however. From a design point of view tey made some interesting choices. I’m tempted to say that it suffers from “console-itis” but I’m not entirely sure that is the case. The first and most noticeable thing is the matchmaking system. It is braindead. They don’t let you pick your own server unless you use a console command. Is it some attempt to make people friend each other so that the Steam friends system has tons of people using it? Is it some plot that Valve can build up their friends database as a selling feature to get other game developers to use Steam features?

There’s also the fact that even if you get together with your friends you still can’t pick your own server. There’s not even any way that I’ve seen to pick a local server only. They also don’t represent your ping as a number but rather as cell-phone reception-like bars.

Once you get into the game there are also some interesting design choices. They worked really hard to make people play cooperatively and engineered in ways to encourage that. When you reload your character shouts out “I’m reloading.” When you heal your characters yells out “Cover me. I’m healing.” Valve started this with TF2 where players would automatically thank the medic for healing them and this brought it to a new level by these kinds of things as well as having your character say things like they are hurting or that they hear a zombie near and goes so far as to having characters say things that are purely character-related such as having Francis the banker comment on how he hates things such as tunnels, vans, and airports. This is quite a difference from the silent Gordon Freeman.

I’ve talked about the meaning of “cinematic” before and this game is one of the first that I think really does make things explicitly cinematice. Each of the four chapters has a movie-style poster that appears on the screen as the level loads and even have witty tag lines. Then the actual beginning of the level has an overhead shot that zooms back that is not only cinematic but serves to give a short overview of what the player is in for. The final level at the airplane is especially film-life in that it shows a smoking plane going overhead and eventually crashing in the distance as a start of the level. This film metaphor is carried through to when you finish the mission by having the scrolling film credits serve as a way of showing player stats. If a player doesn’t make it to the end of the mission the credits begin with “In memory” of that player. The credits end with a nod to credits for films featuring animals by stating “X number of zombies were killed in the making of this film” which cleverly serves as a way of telling you how many zombies you killed in the game.

One final thing which Valve did in both this game as well as Team Fortress 2 was to nail down everything. On of the aspects of Half-Life 2 that got a lot of attention and hype was the physics and that you could pick things up and do things with them. Half-Life 2 DM was all about throwing toilets and cast iron radiators. In both Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 everything is nailed down. You can move very few objects. On some TF2 levels there are barrels you can break but they seem to have no impact on gameplay. In L4D there are very few things you can move. While I can understand why they did that – it opens up potentials for griefing and exploits – I wish they hadn’t done it. It places restrictions on gameplay and it disrupts the believability of the world when kitchen chairs are immovable objects.

There are more interesting game design choices in the game but these are some of the ones that I didn’t see mentioned elsewhere and that really jumped out at me. As time passes it will, as I alluded to earlier, be interesting to see how this game influences subsequent Valve games.

*Shock* Craig Anderson Publishes a Paper on Media Causing Agression!?! *Shock*

A study was published in the journal Pediatrics that got a lot of press this week. Among lots of places it appeared on with the title, “Violent Video Games Linked to Child Aggression“.

Even before I read the story I suspected that Craig Anderson was involved. Anderson has never done a study where he didn’t find that something caused aggression. He sees aggression everywhere. Now I’ve read an interview or two with him and he sounds reasonable. He certainly doesn’t seem as if he wants to go all Jack Thompson or anything.

The problem with this Anderson’s work? At least in the papers of his that I have read (and as seems to be common in certain academic fields his name gets attached as coauthor on a lot of papers so it is hard to read all of them) he never offers a clear definition of “aggression.” This article is no exception.

In one paragraph the authors write,”‘Aggression’ also is defined differently by behavioral scientists than by the general public. Social and developmental psychologists typically define ‘aggression’ as behavior that is intended to harm another person who is motivated to avoid that harm. In other words, aggression is an act conducted by 1 person with the intent of hurting another person; it is not an emotion, thought, or intention.” (page e1068)

However, in the next paragraph they contradict the statement that agression “is not an emotion, thought, or intention” when they state, “Existing experimental studies demonstrate that playing a violent video game causes an immediate increase in aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions.” (page e1068)

So does “aggression” include thoughts or emotions or not?

Regardless, both the Japanese and the USA groups involved self-reporting of “aggression” which puts the results in doubt and there’s no information on why the participants in each group were chosen (the Japanese group was actually data from another study) so there’s no way of knowing if games make kids more aggressive or if aggressive kids play more games.

Finally, the study was funded in part by the National Institute on Media and the Family (page e1070) which also calls the results into question since they are an outspoken group about the evils of videogames.

So what does this study show? I’m not a psychologist but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t show much of anything.

Are all MMORPGs the same?

I’ve only really spend any amount of time playing two MMORPGs: City of Heroes and now Lord of the Rings Online. I did play Anarchy Online for like 5 minutes when they first went free and everyone there was also playing for the first time and none of us could figure out where to go so I uninstalled it. I never paid for any MMORPG. City of Heroes had a free trial in a magazine and has given me free weekends 3-4 times a year ever since and I got a 7 day trial with Lord of the Rings Online. So I haven’t had all that much experience with MMORPGs.

However, I’ve come to a conclusion: Even though City of Heroes and Lord of the Rings Online are allegedly different backdrops (superheroes and magic and elves) they are the same game. I kind of realized this when I noticed that my technoblaster and my dwarf hunter were both basically the same. They both shoot the bad guys from a distance. I also tend to not play with other people and just play to get new powers and armor. They are both just about running around, killing stuff, trying to complete objectives and are all about stat and abilities.

So what makes one MMORPG better than others? What is the difference? Is it just setting? Is it all a matter of style?

One of these days I’ll get around to playing World of Warcraft and maybe I’ll figure out what makes it so great…

Videogame Ethnography class

I thought I would give an update on the videogame ethnography class I’m teaching:

The class I’m teaching on videogames is going quite well. The discussions are pretty good but could of course always be better. I’m a bit concerned that I’m not emphasizing the ethnography aspect enough though.

Gameplay-wise I have been moving them from single player Half-Life 2 to the eventual goal of Team Fortress 2 with various digressions along the way. Because not all students are videogame experts I’ve gone slow, trying to make sure that they can get used to the controls before I throw them to the wolves. Balancing playing time with enough time to discuss the readings is difficult. I can’t really ask them to play the games on their own time since some don’t have computers at home good enough to play the games. I’m thinking about holding a mini-LAN party to simulate the real thing.

Authenticity in games — coverville?

A few years ago I saw Molly Hatchet play at a county fair. It was only after I got home that I went online and found out that at the time there were no original members left in the band. So the band that I saw — which spent at least the first set playing songs from their new album — had little or nothing to do with the band that wrote Flirtin’ With Disaster. In essence, they were a cover band. So could I actually say that I saw the “real” Molly Hatchet?

I’m wondering how or in what way authenticity applies for videogames. Is there a notion for an “authentic” Mario game? Is there anyone working on Mario besides Miyamoto who worked on the first Super Mario Bros? Does that matter? Is there anyone who would say, “Well, Madden 2009 isn’t a ‘real’ Madden game because no one involved with the original game made this one?” Would that even make sense?

Similarly, is there a such thing as a “cover” of a game or is “remake” the same thing as a cover?

It does seem as if the one place where authenticity is taken into account by videogame fans is when it comes to emulation. If the game doesn’t have perfect emulation then it does feel as if it isn’t “really” the original game. I know that in some version of Tetris I’ve played if you can’t move the piece over one spot just when it lands then it doesn’t feel right.

Videogame Ethnography Class Syllabus

The semester here at IUK has started and, with the exception of food poisoning, things have been going pretty well. I thought I might as well post my syllabus for the gaming class I’m teaching in case any one care.

The class is actually in a computer lab which is nice so that we can play games. Because my diss is about FPS games we are going to be playing FPS games in class. Valve has a special educational program that seems to be designed for game design classes because it gives access to the editors but it also gives students access to all the Half-Life 2 games including CS and TF2.

Because it is ethnographic in focus each week the students have a journal due which is just a one to two page reflection on their playing. It is especially interesting to watch the students that have never played a computer FPS try to navigate through the game. Eventually I hope we will be able to play TF2 in class to get some comparison between single and multiplayer gaming.

So here’s the syllabus:

  topic Assignments due that day
Tues Aug 26 Class intro
Will introduce course concepts and assignments. Topic: What is a game‌
What is ethnography‌
Begins an introduction of the concept of ethnography and the notion of participant observation.
Thurs Aug 28 Description
In class exercise on thick description and observation. describing versus telling involving the senses in the writing self-reflection
Horace Miner "Body Ritual among the Nacirema"
Pat Hughes "The Sacred Rac"

Boellstorff, Tom. "A Ludicrous Discipline‌ Ethnography and Game Studies." Games and Culture 1.1 (2006): 29-35.

For a background on the games we will be playing, also read:

Play Zork. available at

Tues Sep 2 Thick Description Geertz, Thick Description
Gamespot history of video games, read up until 1992 and skim the rest
Pong story main page,

William Higinbotham article

Play Spacewar

Videogame Explosion intro and part 1 pages xiii-28

Thurs Sep 4 Videogame History
Starting with the notion of "first" videogame we will examine the notions of building a canon of videogame landmarks. Who gets to be "first" and why‌ We will also examine the notion of what is a game, and what is a videogame.
Videogame Explosion part 2 p. 29-66, 75-80, 91-98, 103-106

Williams, Dmitri. "Why Game Studies Now‌ Gamers Don’t Bowl Alone." Games and Culture 1.1 (2006): 13-16.

Tues Sep 9 Videogame history 2
Videogame advertising through the ages will be discussed as wil the notions of building of an audience. Comparisons between early games and current games will be made and the reasons behind the changes will be discussed.
Game Over chapters 1-5
Thur Sep 11 Tetris and Casual Games
Play Tetris and go to and play a couple puzzle games.
Videogame Explosion 107-126, 151-193, 203-228

Watch Tetris – From Russia With Love — available on course website or bring a blank dvd and I will copy it for you.

Tues Sep 16 Test 1
Test one will be designed not only to ensure that students have a basic grasp of the history of videogames, as well as an understanding of ethnography. Moreover, the test will be intended to see if students are able to interrogate the process of canon creation and why the technological developments are of significance. Test format will consist of ten short answer and three essay questions.
Thur Sep 18 Game Studies — preliminary concepts
Now that we have established a common ground, we will move into the theories that make up game studies. Starting with Poole’s Trigger Happy, we will begin to explore soem of the fundamental concepts of videogame studies and explore issues of medium specificity.
Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy : Videogames and the Entertainment
Revolution. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Arcade Pub., 2000. Chapters 1, 3,
and 4.

"Are Games Art‌" Sep 10, 2002
Read the main story and a few of the longer comments. Look for the commonalities among the responses.

Young, Bryan-Mitchell. "Why Does it Matter If They are Art‌"

Tues Sep 23 Continuing introductory concepts Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy : Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Arcade Pub., 2000. Chapters 5, 6, 8-10.
Thur Sep 25 Mods, Makers, and Movies
Discussing fandom and modding. Looking at videogames as a participatory medium. What is the role of the player and how does the community play a role in the popularity of videogames‌
Jenkins, Textual Poachers (selections).

Raessens, “Computer Games as Participatory Media Culture.” In: J. Raessens and J. Goldstein (eds). Handbook of Computer Game Studies. Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press

Olli Sotamaa, "Computer Game Modding, Intermediality and Participatory Culture."

Morris, S. (2003). WADs, Bots and Mods: Multiplayer FPS Games as Co-creative Media. Level Up Conference Proceedings. Utrecht, University of Utrecht.

Tues Sep 30 Defining Games, Defining Fun
Today we will discuss exactly what a game is and what fun is. We will attempt to gain an understanding of the concepts and develop a way of talking about these concepts in a scholarly fashion.
Pearce, C. (2004). Towards a game Theory of Game. First person: new media as story, performance, and game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 143-153.

Juul, J. (2003). The game, the player, the world: looking for a heart of gameness. Level Up Conference Proceedings, Utrecht, University of Utrecht.

Thur Oct 2 Defining Games, Defining Game Studies
Continuing the defining of games. Begins to think about the foundational issues of game studies such as ludology vs. narratology.
Understanding Videogames chapter 6, 7

Eskelinen, M. (2004). Towards Computer Game Studies. First person: new media as story, performance, and game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 36-44.

Tues Oct 7 Ludology vs. Narratology Frasca, G. (2003). Ludologists love stories, too: notes from a debate that never took place. Level Up Conference Proceedings. Utrecht, University of Utrecht.

King, G. and T. Krzywinska (2002). Computer Games / Cinema / Interfaces. Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings. Tampere, Tampere University Press.

Thur Oct 9 Ludology vs. Narratology 2 Moulthrop, S. (2004). From Work to Play: Molecular Culture in the Time of Deadly Games. First person: new media as story, performance, and game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 56-69.

Zimmerman, E. (2004). Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games: Four Naughty Concepts in Need of Discipline. First person: new media as story, performance, and game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 154-164.

Tues Oct 14 Gender
Today’s class will focus on depictions of men and women within videogames.
Schleiner, Anne-Marie. "Female-Bobs arrive at Dusk."

Henry Jenkins, "’Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces." Available here:
Orig. published as pp. 262-297 in From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, eds. Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1998).

Thur Oct 16 Lara Croft
Today we will discuss the phenomenon of Tomb Raider and the appeals of the Lara Croft character. Is she a feminist‌ Or is she just a doll for men to control‌ (Or can she be both‌)
Schleiner, Anne-Marie "Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons‌ Gender and Gender-Role Subversion in Computer Adventure Games." Leonardo – Volume 34, Number 3, June 2001, pp. 221-226 ( available at or

Kennedy, Helen W. " Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo‌: On the Limits of Textual Analysis." Game Studies. 2(2): 2002.

Thompson, Clive. "How Lara Croft Steals Hearts." Wired. April 24, 2006. May 18

Tues Oct 21 Women –"Girl Games"
Last class discussed gender within games. Today will will begin to discuss the gender of those who actually play the gamesdiscuss games that attempt to market themselves towards women and some possible explanations why few women play videogames..
Rebecca L. Eisenberg, "Girl Games: Adventures in Lip Gloss." Orig. published in Ms. Magazine (Jan. 1998). Available here:

Pinckard, Jane. "Genderplay: Successes and Failures in Character Designs for Videogames." GameGirlAdvance. April 16, 2003

Thur Oct 23 Women Gaming Girls Case, Stevie. "Women in Gaming." January
12, 2004. May 18, 2006 .

Jenson, J., & de Castell, S. (June, 2005).
Her Own Boss: Gender and the Pursuit of Incompetent Play. Paper
presented at DIGRA 2005, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada.
Available at‌id=186

Carr, D. (June, 2005). Contexts, pleasures and preferences: girls playing computer games. Paper presented at DIGRA 2005, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. Available at‌id=50

Tues Oct 28 Men
Moving on to the men who play videogames
Krotoski, Aleks. "Masculinity and online gaming." Guardian Games Blog.
March 29 2006. May 19, 2006 .
Pay special attention to the comments at
the end.

Christensen, Natasha Chen. " Geeks at Play: Doing Masculinity in an Online Gaming Site." Reconstruction 6.1 (Winter 2006).

My article about masculinity in FPS games.

Thur Oct 30 Race Leonard, David. “Live in your World, Play in Ours”: Race, Video Games, and Consuming the Other.” Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education 3.4 (2003).‌lp=simile/issue12/leonardX1.html

Dymek, M., & Lennerfors, T. (June, 2005). Among pasta-loving Mafiosos, drug-selling Columbians and noodle-eating Triads – Race, humour and interactive ethics in Grand Theft Auto III. Paper presented at DIGRA 2005, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. Available at‌id=85

Tues Nov 4 Nationhood
Is videogames a way of expressing nationhood‌ Is there a reason why certain games are more popular in the USA and others in Japan or Europe‌
Budra, Paul Vincent. "American Justice and the First-Person Shooter" Canadian Review of American Studies. 34.1 (2004): 1-12.

Jeffords, Susan. Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1994. Chapters 1 and 2.

Thur Nov 6 Test 2
This test will be designed to make sure that we have a handle on videogame theory as a field and the issues within it. The format will be the same as the first test
Tues Nov 11 Culture Wars Adorno and Horkheimer, “Culture Industry” excerpt

Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Bourdieu, Pierre. “Distinction and The Aristocracy of Culture.” Reprinted in John Stony, ed., Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 2nd edition, Pp. 431-441. University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Thur Nov 13 Media Effects
Are videogames TEH EVAL‌!‌
Underwood, Mick. "Mass Media Effects: Introduction." June 21, 2003. May 21, 2005 .
Read through all the different theories.

Media violence statistics.

Understanding Videogames ch. 10

Tues Nov 18 Violence
From Videogames: At Issue:

Violence in Video Games May Harm Children9
Elisa Hae-Jung Song and Jane E. Anderson

The Problem of Video Game Violence Is Exaggerated 18
Greg Costikyan

Video Games Rated Appropriate for Children May Contain Violence27
Kimberly M. Thompson and Kevin Haninger

The Video Game Industry Regulates Itself Effectively35
Douglas Lowenstein

Irvine, Ian. "A History of Videogame Violence." Gamers With Jobs.

Thur Nov 20 Moral Panics
Won’t someone think of the children‌!‌
Thompson, Kenneth. Moral Panics. New York: Routledge, 1998. Chapters 1 and 3.

Grossman, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill (Chapter 4).

Tues Nov 25 Addiction
Can you become addicted to videogames‌
Scheeres, Julia. "The Quest to End Game Addiction." Wired. Dec, 05, 2001.,1882,48479,00.html

Watch the documentary First-Person Shooter on the course website.

Tues Dec 2 Film Games and Game Films
What does it mean for a game to be "cinematic‌" Why do nearly all the films based on videogames fail‌ Why do so many videogames based on films also fail‌
Howells, Sacha A.. "Watching a Game, Playing a Movie: When Media Collide." Eds. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska. ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces. London and New York: Wallflower, 2002. 110-21.

King, Geoff. "Die Hard/Try Harder: Narrative, Spectacle and Beyond, from Hollywood to Videogame." Eds. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska. ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces. London and New York: Wallflower, 2002. 50-65.

Grieb, Margit. "Run Lola, Run." Eds. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska. ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces. London and New York: Wallflower, 2002. 157-171.

Thur Dec 4 Games to Teach‌
Can games teach us‌
Squire, K.D. (2005). Changing the game: What happens when videogames enter the classroom‌. Innovate 1(6).

Squire, K. (2003). Video games in education. International Journal of Intelligent Simulations and Gaming (2) 1.

Marc, Prensky. "Digital Game-Based Learning." Comput. Entertain. 1.1 (2003): 21-21.

Tues Dec 9 Videogame Advertising
What about those ads‌
Young, Bryan-Mitchell. “The Appearance, Disappearance, and Reapearance in Videogame Advertising.”
Thur Dec 11 Paper discussion and review PAPER DUE
  Final During Scheduled time  

Tetris From Russia and First-Person Shooter Documentary

As part of the class on videogames I’m teaching I am going to have my students watch a couple videogame documentaries. Instead of converting them myself I thought I would search for them online.

The first one, Tetris: From Russia With Love has been split into several parts and put on youtube. Because it is on youtube I’m not sure how long it will be before they take it down.

The other one is one called First Person Shooter that I don’t think ever aired anywhere besides Canada. I had a Canadian friend’s parents record it for me when it was on. Luckilly, it has been posted on Unlike fellow Google site youtube, this video seems to have been up there for a couple years (so I’m not breaking any new ground here) so it doesn’t seem to be in as much danger of going away.

Regardless, I thought I would go ahead and post the links for them here so that others (besides my students) can watch them