Category: Study

Articles that relate to or build off my academic study. This is both things I wrote about my university life and things written about the things I learned there since.

Notes! Autoethnography: Understanding Qualitative Research, Part 2

In case you missed it, this is the tail end of my notes about this book, Autoethnography: Understanding floblblobo bnl it’s in the blog topic. This kind of book does a lot of the work of getting people who don’t ‘get’ Autoethnography as an academic practice up to speed, but it also does the job of making sure if you want to do it, you don’t just run in blindly.

I covered a bit of my notes a few days ago, so here’s the rest.


There’s a discussion in the book about the application of qualitative research versus quantitative researches (p54). The basic gist of it is that quantitative research has to try and gather as much data as it can, and data needs, as best it can be, to be separated from as many unrelated data points as possible. This can be great for measuring how many people walk through a doorway, but very difficult to cleanly divine why they did that. Quantitative research methods generalise data, while Qualitative research particularises it.

One criticism of the book is its form! It breaks regularly into other writing forms to explain them, but it also uses individualised voices throughout, while changing narrators. This means you’re treated to awkward moments of writing like “my writing (Carolyn’s) about-” when a different form feels it’d serve the same purpose. Perhaps a script structure. This would play into the writing advice later in the book, about using the form that suits your writing best (p91).

When discussing autoethnographic subjects, the question of a subject’s identity comes into play. This can present a challenge when you’re trying to preserve the subject’s anonymity out of respect and for ethical reasons. What this can lead to is the consideration of changing their identity to the text, but doing so without obscuring the meaning of the information gleaned from them (p73). This can play into the creation of narrative, with characters as templated from research subjects (p91), rather than directly expressing a person’s history. The challenge is to both keep someone’s privacy while also not creating fiction of their narrative.

Autoethnography is a form of self-care (p75). To self-examine, to be vulnerable, and to witness your own story is a process of healing and care that can take a great deal of emotional sincerity to reach. It’s also just plain work, which ties into our next point:

Doing autoethnography is not just writing. Experiencing is part of it. When you are listening and learning and talking and processing and thinking, you are doing autoethnography. The self-examind life of the autoethnographer is part of the process of doing autoethnography, because you cannot be prepared for when the witness, the experience, occurs to you or has changed you. It is more than just the writing (p80).

There’s more – some writing and technique advice – between pages 90-110 – but they are more referential to good process than necessarily specific to this task. I admit, I’m being brief, because this is getting very unmanageably long. It has to because we’re covering things that are bedrock to not just the methodology, but also the practice.

How Will It Be Used?

I intend to use the writing techniques (particularly the resistance to jargon, the eschewing adverbs, and the personal voice), most proactively. I now understand better the reasoning behind the use of a narrative rather than necessarily an account.

For my research, because I will be demonstrating myself as a game developer, I now recognise that some parts of my own personal worldview are going to have to come into play. I may have to talk about some of my own odd personal history and the ways it intersected with my ability to empathise with other people.

Notes! Autoethnography: Understanding Qualitative Research, Part 1

So one of the things you do for a PhD is read.

You read a lot.

And I mean alot.

Back in July, one of the books I’ve read is the book Autoethnography: Understanding Qualitative Research, by Adams, Jones and Ellis, which is basically a big how-to guide on what Autoethnography is (a research method), what it’s for (lots of things) and how to do it (lots of ways). I have to compile notes on this subject and well, since I spent today (the far past to this post time) writing up my notes on the thing from my sprawled out hand-scribbly notebook, and turning them into something readable, I figure it’s worth putting them in my blog as an example of the kind of writing I do for academia, split in to two parts so as to not be too weighty.

With that in mind, this is an an overview book about Doing Autoethnography, and its purpose. The book uses the experiences of doing Autoethnography by the three authors, incorporates their specific identities and experiences, and shows the areas of overlap in their process.

What Does It Cover?

The book is jam packed with Autoethnographc technique, though I’m not certain if it’s all methodology. The core of the book is an explanation of what Autoethnography does, and what Autoethnography is for, and that involves a large portion of time spent breaking away at the boundaries of what Autoethnography is and can be assumed to be. Particularly, it covers the rudimentary process of experience, examination, re-examination, and it magnifies the importance of the recognition of the self in the experience of Autoethnographic Academic writing.

Interesting Elements/Ideas/Issues?

Boy howdy!

Okay, so this book covers lots of things.

First, there’s a discussion of the conception of the importance of vulnerability (p51). The nature of Autoethnography is one where the very foundational expression has to come from a place of sincerity, because otherwise you could be making up any old bollocks. This means that we have to be willing to express and expose elements of ourselves and the lens we’re using that may make us uncomfortable, such as an adoptive mother expressing in less-than-perfected language the anguish of the process, or a person of colour grappling with ideas of internalised racism. This is not to say all autoethnography must be fundamentally raw and painful but that there must be a willingness to do so, that if it becomes part of the task, it needs to be included. Quantitative research does what it can to route around these points of human vulnerability, because they are fundamentally difficult to trust as data points, so this is a way the two differ.

This vulnerability is particularly of interest as it relates to the idea of the Politics Of Love (The Complicity Contract, Simplican). This positions vulnerability as an importance for a vision of other people – to perceive people not as agents of strength, of actors and doers, but rather as entities of needs. This has a side effect of working against perceiving your subjects as means to ends (Kant, I Guess), and pushes back against more exploitative positions that are anti-social justice.

Which gets us to another point that Autoethnography is fundamentally positioned to enable a more socially just cause in academia. Autoethnography has lower barriers to entry, recognises the importance of the identity of the individual, and rejects the supreme importance of a colonial view of correctness (p55) which makes it suitable for bringing forward stories that have been discarded throughout academic writing so far. This also favours using a familiar voice and avoiding the use of jargon.

This vision of justice also means that it has to avoid trying to be one-sided, which is part of this ideal of vulnerability. This means that subjects and autoethnographers often have to work through mutual causes of harm, have to recognise reciprocity. There is an idea described of Listening Out Loud. In Listening Out Loud (which I might have to abbreviate to lol, lol) you basically have to keep a steady flow of communication – both listening and talking – to your sources. This can be clarifying, and reaffirming, and also a regular flow of checking for consent – is this okay? Is this okay? How about now? – as you gather information. This also helps to build that mentioned reciprocity.

The limits of Listening Out Loud are that you’re dealing with a person’s memory, you’re listening to them communicate with language, and that language will sometimes involve imperfect metaphor. The virtues on the other hand are that they enable a degree of sincere emotionality and the person bringing their own proactive focus to the work. Listening out Loud nonetheless becomes part of collaborative witnessing – both the building of consensus between witnesses, but also seeing the autoethnographer as an entity with a skill to explore and refine the voices of those witnessing.

Now, with that break in my notes, we’ll talk more about what’s in the second half of the book the day after tomorrow.

PC Format And Pinball

Back before the internet, if your computer didn’t work, you didn’t have the same options we do today. If you wanted to work out why a game wasn’t loading or why it was slow, you’d often be left with no recourse but to ask someone, someone who was either a technician or, more often than you’d think, you’d mail into a magazine, like, mail in with an actual letter and hope they’d understand your question, try to answer it, and print it in their column.

These things existed, they were like agony aunt columns but the solution was almost always something to do with including -RAM or -NOEMS in your config.sys file.

In Doc Destructo’s Gamewrecks episode on Tattoo Assassin, he mentioned the differences between pinball machines and arcade cabinets, and it reminded me of the story from my youth from one of these tech support columns.

See, one bloke had written in about his attempts to install a new graphics card, he found that it didn’t fit the place he thought it should in his computer. No problem, he said, as he was experienced with computer hardware from his job managing pinball machines in an arcade. He said he’d found the part that connected to the main board, and, using some of his work tools, made sure the pins fit.

Anyone who has worked on the insides of a PC is, I hope, cringing as hard as I did.

The tech support column was surprisingly nice to the guy, explaining to him that maybe he didn’t quite understand how fragile a PC was compared to the more ‘sturdy’ arcade machines he was used to working with. I think it’s from there that the word ‘sturdy’ got emblazoned in my mind as the defining trait of a piece of hardware that was meant to survive being dropped downstairs once in its life.

They told him to buy a new one and maybe get a tech professional to install it for him.

Cis, Explained

I’m seeing this one needing some explanation, and I’m also seeing some goofy people talking nonsense about it so let’s give you a nice, easy place to check on this one without TERFs getting all up and angry about it.

The complaints about cis are that it’s a slur, that it’s a made-up word, and that it’s unnecessary.

First things first, slur. Cis is not and cannot be a slur. Slurs are words designed to direct structural power against individuals and other people with the same group characteristics. It’s a threat. Non-cis people do not have systemic power, and the closest they can get is being mean. You’re not going to lose a job or be refused housing because you’re cis. You’re not going to have crimes against you ignored because you’re cis – crimes, not ‘people were mean to me’.

Cis is not a new word. Cis a term from chemistry, where it’s the opposite term to Trans. It’s been used for a century like this, because back in the day, chemists all used Latin terms to refer to technical objects, because that way everyone could use the same language and grammar to talk about them. And since we use the word trans in discussions of gender, cis is a handy opposite.

And cis is totally a necessary word. When you’re talking about relationship to gender, transgender or cisgender if you say ‘transgender’ and ‘normal’ then you’re explicitly calling ‘transgender’ ‘not normal.’ Notice the people who are mad about being called ‘cisgender’ are often people who feel like it’s calling them ‘not normal,’ so imagine how it feels to the trans folk being told they’re not normal.

Cis is not a hard concept to explain. It’s like on and off. Something is cis or it’s not. Open or not-open.

If, at birth, you were assigned a gender, and you decided that gender works for you, you’re cis. If you’re not cis, you’re – linguistically – trans.

Now that’s not to say everyone who isn’t cis wants to be called trans. There are plenty of nonbinary or agender people who don’t call themselves trans, and in that case, saying THE TECHNICAL MEANING IS- isn’t helpful.

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What’s Autoethnography?

Hey, let’s start with an extremely difficult thing to define and unpack it a little.

Autoethnography is a method for qualitative research that focuses on academically exploring the personal experiences and autobiographical records of the researcher.


Okay, now to unpack that a little more. Qualitative research is research that focuses on examining things that cannot be easily or readily reduced into hard values  that’s quantitative research. So qualitative research is about, well, qualities. Qualitative research is very much about asking people questions, divining their experiences, taking them seriously and observing connections and patterns.

You might be familiar with surveys that ask you to rank things in order; that’s quantitative. Surveys that ask you your opinions or feelings, those are qualitative. Qualitative research is generally harder and slower and tends to need a human interpreter, rather than responding to mathematical tools.

Second academically exploring things is to look at things not as an expression but rather as a piece of text that can be related to with other academic tools. It’s bringing to bear analysis tools reserved for examining texts to bear on the the account of the experience.

Personal experience, I hope is pretty self explanatory. Autobiographical records are the things you, yourself, record about what you experience. This is normally seen as pretty shifty in academic research – after all, if you can get an objective measure of something, best to do that, rather than write down what happened to you.


With that breakdown in mind, what’s a way to explain autoethnography simply?

The first way is: There is no clear answer right now. It’s a complicated thing and it means a lot of things.

The second way, the pragmatic way, is that autoethnography is the process of experiencing something; writing about your experience; then interrogating what you wrote –not what you experienced – as an academic text.

Or shorter: You write, then you examine what you write.


Why do we use it? A couple of reasons. One it’s really hard to write about some things with quantitative research. Psychology, psychotherapy, art participation, sociological experiments, and on-the-spot historical accounts are all pretty hard to account. It’s useful for some situations where other forms of research would need larger examinations or complicated data gathering, and you don’t have a lot of time, like the immediate aftermath of an event. It’s also really useful for recognising processes that don’t standardise well, like following an artist or a composer’s work.

It’s not a perfect method at all – it’s got a lot of boundary problems, and if your autoethographic work moves near things that you can quantitatively research, and then don’t, you run the risk of leaving something untethered from more readily provable facts. It’s but one tool in the toolbox.

It’s also a handy practice to know of. If you’re prone to writing about your experience, you can go back and re-examine that writing as if it were academic text. I guess that always comes back to my personal position of take the things people do seriously.

Symmetrical Juuls

[rules and fiction] are complementary, but not symmetrical.

When you deal with academic writing you’re sometimes left stymied by word choices. It’s one of the reasons the whole affair can feel super arcane, because people spend a month writing a sentence and then another month justifying that sentence to the people overseeing the writing.

This is something I’m finding. Most days I look at a statement and rewrite it, figuring it might look good tomorrow. So far it hasn’t.

This eight word conception comes from Jesper Juul’s Half-real: Video games between real rules and fictional worlds, 2011, and I feel like I could spend a lot of time – like, say, a whole blog post – picking at those word choices. Why not symmetrical? Why not asymmetrical? Why not ‘they are not symmetrical.‘ It’s easy to conceive that the structure of this one little sentence is that simple.

This is from Chapter 4, which is about Fictions. This chapter is – to summarise roughly – about what we sometimes in games refer to as theme or abstraction, not its narrative. Narrative is a story, and it’s how our brains do things – I’ve long since said that a game is a machine for making stories, and we make stories because it’s a really useful way for our brains to store a linear sequence of cause and effect. Fictions is a good way to establish the idea of the world that the game wants that story to occupy – whether an abstracted world where nothing matters but the order and sequence of a play, or a heavily flavoured world of flavours and sounds and spaces and moistures.

The book itself, I learned about, sadly not from my readings – I mean, I’m working through them at my own rate – but from the Game Study Buddies podcast, which is available here. I’m honestly annoyed because it seems that the people involved are both smart and on similar pages to me, processing text and not necessarily agreeing with or disagreeing with it, playing in the spaces of consideration and being able to vocalise good and useful ideas about how academics can consider games, and they don’t fall down into treating all videogames as alien creatures to tabletop games. Heck, they mention that as something Juuls notices, the way tabletop games break a lot of the rules of what ‘is’ a game and therefore ‘game’ has to keep moving as a definition. I’m annoyed because I was pretty happy not following these people on Twitter and now I wonder if I’m going to have to.

But that word choice, that thing up top, it sits on my head, as a friend mentions she’s dealing with internet that is Very Not Good, which I distinctly and clearly understand as different to Not Very Good. That order of emphasis is a coherent conception, and yet if I tried to feather it out for you I might miss the meaning she’s getting at.

Anyway, these ideas, that fiction and rules are complementary is something I have stumped at hard: If your rules fly in the face of your fiction, you weaken them both. The fiction can encode actions in your mind and make game mechanics coherent where they might otherwise not be. I’ll not go into examples here, but maybe I will another time. This is just a given.

But that last point: They are not symmetrical.

To call them asymmetrical would be to say that they are never symmetrical. To call them non-symmetrical would make their symmetry a function of what they are. Much of game studies want to talk about rules without fiction, to break down Plants vs Zombies into specific, tight details that ignore that this is a game about zombies, and how they vs plants, and how that fiction encodes game rules into player’s minds. Juul forwards the idea in Half-Real that you can discuss rules without fiction, but not the fiction without rules.

And that’s what I’m worrying at right now. Because they aren’t symmetrical. Rules can interleave with one another in places that leave the fiction untouched. Shuffling and stacking a deck in a particular way may have an outcome to the fiction, but the rules of the method are there for the outcome, not for the cause. There are ways the fiction can leave the rules untouched, like decals over a chassis. But I’m not sure I agree with Juuls that fiction depends on rules while rules do not depend on fiction.

But we’ll see. This is the problem with readings.

You’re never sure until you’re done and you’re never done.


This blog post represents notes on my PhD reading of Half-real: Video games between real rules and fictional worlds, by Jesper Juul (2011), chapter 4.

How Unrepresentative Can The US Voting System Be?

What is the optimally “unfair” possible U.S. election? Assuming you can just set the vote ratios in each state to whatever unrealistic value you want. How much can you lose popular vote by and win the Presidency?

This isn’t a comprehensive view of this idea, but a rough summary. Still, it’s an interesting question and let’s explore it. Note that these results involve literally no breaking rules. These are just the ways the system functions based on changes in circumstances. Consider these urine samples from an extremely unwell system.

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Boundaries of Autoethnography

Hey, here’s some more study reading – specifically, reading a chapter of Doing Autoethnography. It’s a collection of Autoethnographic essays, critically examining works the creators have made that are, themselves, Autoethnography, which is to say it’s kind of an oroborous of moebius or something like that.

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The Whole Sort Of General Mish Mosh Of Confrontation

If you haven’t worked it out, since I read every day, and I don’t want this blog to just be a nonstop festival of Hey, Here’s Today’s Academic Boring Stuff, I’m doing some of these out of order.

More reading from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop. In this case, this is super useful because it gives me an academic source for just a very simple list, a starting place, for my thesis argument of the idea of confrontation.

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Structure, Hierarchy, Winning and Losing

I’m going to be trying something new here for a little bit. I have to read, every day, for my study. It’s just a rule. I also want to take notes on that reading, to connect what I’m doing and make a history of that work easier to track. As I work on my PhD, expect more of these posts to show up, as I put my work in a broader academic context, and hopefully, make game-writing academia a bit more approachable.

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Virtually Virtually

With this talk of Virtual Reality going on, ever sit to wonder what virtual means?

What do you mean when you say something is virtually done?

It’s a weird word, isn’t it? It has some connection to the word virtuous, perhaps, and we use it so freely to describe digital spaces that it has a sort of connotation of the internet, or videogames, or something like that, but that’s not really what it means. When we describe reality, we mean pretty much reality. What makes that really interesting is that for a lot of intangible things in our virtual spaces, they are already virtual reality.

Brendan Keogh wrote about this, in that thesis I’m grinding my way through.In that, he outlines the question of virtuality as it pertains to things that are secretly trying to obscure their connection to the real world, that they are virtually real, and we are prone to pretending they are not. There’s no reason in particular we do this. We don’t file Warcraft goals as more important than Solitaire goals and yet less important than local sports team goals, even though one of those three is much more complex and within our control to influence.

When we say a task is virtually done, we mean that it might as well be done. When we say a thing is virtually real, we mean the same thing. It is real, or might as well be.

This comes back to my idea, the idea I can’t stop circling. We need to take games seriously, because they matter to people.

The Semiotic Threesome

Is it weird to call a PhD thesis’ language erotically charged?

In A Play of Bodies: A Phenomenology Of Videogames, Brendan Keogh, author of Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line, Australian games academic and probably someone I’m going to have to call ‘sir’ at some point going forwards, writes about the challenges of videogame texts. In the thesis, he forwards that videogames are a unique medium where there’s a challenge in divining a text, and that we have to re-examine what a text means and –

Look.

There’s good stuff there.

But, during this writing, he says (quoting Aarsith, describing Ergodicity), the semiotic threesome. The model of semiotics we normally use is one of encoding and decoding; the creator makes the text (encoding), the consumer experiences it (decoding). But that term, that turn of phrase, the idea of the semiotic threesome, where we consider an encoder, and their experience, the decoder and their experience, and the text itself as a trio of entities.

It’s romantic, in a way. It’s something I quite like to imagine – the encoder glimpsing the edges of the decoder, through the text. The text, curling and sinuous between all, entwining them, a thread that transforms and mutates and becomes its own thing. And it in a strange way, means that there is a time, a moment, when the art, the artist, and the audience are all together, in the moment when the audience enjoys the work, and considers what it might mean to mean.

It’s quite sweet.

Procedurality

I don’t know if anyone else is using this term to talk about this, so here we go, my best effort to try and coin this term so I can talk about it easily.

The Procedurality of a game is the degree to which game pieces imply the existence of one another. That is, when you’re confronted with a game pieces, you can probably extrapolate what the other pieces mean. As a player this determines how you learn and study the strategy, while as a designer, procedurality shows you the extent of a design space.

Here are some examples:In this pretty ordinary poker hand, you can look at the cards and glean some information. First, there are cards that number up to ten, and cards that number down to four. There are numbers on most cards, and there are some different symbols – a heart, a diamond, a club and so on.

Based on just this information, if you’d never seen the deck before, you could probably extrapolate what forty of the cards are, maybe forty-four based on the Jack probably not being totally unique. The design of a deck of cards works with this – there are two jokers, but aside from that, the whole design is contained pretty tightly within the two variables of each card: Value and Suit.

These are cards from a packet of Dark Signs. One of them is very much unlike the others, the area pieces that you’ll play to win. But two of the cards kind of imply the values of other cards, while the third shows that there’s at least some cards in the deck that don’t fit that pattern. The basic runes in Dark Signs represent the lowest sort of procedurality – they show some value that the players will have to deal with, but they aren’t the whole of the game. The procedural cards in Dark Signs show a sort of design space, but they aren’t super obvious. Also, and it’s a small thing, in Dark Signs, the basic runes all have prime number values, which makes them just a little bit trickier to make score ties.

Finally we have the most procedural game I’ve ever made:

There are 26 cards in You Can’t Win and 24 of them are immediately obvious the second you look at any given card. The other two are Wild cards. Each card shows a value, and a rule that relates to cards with that value.

Procedural games are a good place to get started. It helps you get your mind in the space of working out how many cards you need, and if you do it right it can help you explore spaces, defining boundaries by how many different permutations you need of an effect.

The Model: Abstraction, Confrontation, and Materiality

Let’s call this a first draft.

I’m working, in my PhD, on the – oh you’ve fallen asleep.

Anyway, I’m working on constructing a model for looking at games (in general) that focuses on board games (in specific). Existing models of classifying games are kind of grassroots, disorganised, and unfortunately, structured primarily by nerds, some of the worst kind of humans for providing comprehensive, forgiving models of classification. There are people who will shout in your face that 4th Ed D&D is a tactical miniatures Wargame, you Chad, because it’s not about communicating relationships between types of games as much as it is about defending territory they’ve staked out, and somehow being able to transform their preferences into rules.

This is something nerds do everywhere, and we are bad, and the worst, and should be ashamed.

This model of game analysis is meant not to give hard defined boundaries for the games – don’t think this is about saying this game scores a 7.4 on thinginess. This is about instead presenting games as expressions of multiple axes, and lets you think about games in terms of how their designs are similar.

What we have is a model on three axes. It started out as a spectrum – a line in a row – then two lines in a row – then lines in opposition, but where we are now, the model considers each game has having a range of Abstraction, Confrontation and Materiality. Each of these values goes from ‘not very much at all’ to ‘lots and lots’ – we’re not talking hard numeric values. It’s possible a game to have very little abstraction, almost none, and it’s very possible for a game to have very little materiality, just as it’s possible for a game to have lots and lots of materiality or abstraction.

Abstraction, in layperson’s terms, is how much a game presents of a theme. All games are abstractions – they’re human-mind representations of importance, assigned to indicators. Soccer is an abstraction, even if the thing it’s abstracting is soccer mattering. Soccer is fake, actually. Some board games are very, very heavily abstracted for what they represent – look at games like Chess or Checkers – even those that are trying to represent something like a battle are still pretending battles work on extremely arbitary, careful rules with oddly specific dynamics. Some games are instead very low on abstraction and do whatever they can to present to you, the player, as much of their theme and game world every time you play them. Games like Magic: The Gathering are, again, still abstract representations of a war between wizards, but they’re still absolutely soaking with things that want to give you the feeling of existing in their world.

Low-abstraction games can look really different, though. Dungeons and Dragons runs low on abstraction because you’re trying to make absolutely sure that the world feels real, and players engaging with that world can interact with it in as many ways as they can conceive and explain to the player coordinating the game. Games like Gipf are really abstracted because they want to make the math puzzle of how you engage with them more present than caring about the theme or the motivations of actions.

Confrontation is the degree to which the game presents players with opposition. The easiest models of confrontation are players in competition with one another, trying to ‘beat’ one another in some way. Race games like Snakes and Ladders have a lot of very obvious confrontation. You want to get to the goal before your opponents do. When they win, you do not win, and the very simple binary of ‘win or lose’ is the only thing the game is about. Confrontation and how the game presents it is a fascinating axis with so many different options. Games can be opaque about it, like Tigris and Euphrates, or they can be direct, like Formula D. They can make engaging with your confrontation indirect, like Monopoly, or they can make it direct, like Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Sometimes the game itself confronts all players, and then those players compare how they handle that opposition, and that becomes another level of confrontation, like Imperial Settlers.

Then, our third axis is materiality. Board games get to do a lot with materiality, moreso than videogames – because board games are built around actual objects. Some tabletop games can have almost no materiality, word games and gambling puzzles. Some games play with huge materiality, like crowd-friendly games like Two Rooms And A Boom where just having a big space is part of the game. To bring up Dungeons and Dragons again, that’s a game that turns dungeons and palaces and dragons into (potentially) entirely conceptual entities, both as non-material entities, but also imbues those entities with the idea they should have mass and weight and force, and therefore, they have a virtual materiality.

One special note is that videogames don’t have no materiality. Instead, because games have a very limited way to express materiality, all videogame materiality has to be represented within a sort of limited range of how the game handles things that are meant to be material objects. Most videogame materiality is about how the game makes objects seem real. So platform games, which create a 2d slice world, have a different kind of materiality to games like Stair Fall. Games like Shift or Snipperclips play with the very conception of materiality in their game spaces, as do games like Framed. Basically, even within the spectrum of ‘almost no material object is a component of the game,’ videogames have a vast spread of materiality.

This is a first draft of this concept space. It’s going to get prettied up for my thesis. But I realised that being able to explain this idea to you is a good way to get started in being able to explain it to a hypothetical anyone, as the thesis will wind up doing.

Sharing

One of the weird things about growing up in fundamentalist church with a deliberately stifled education is that some concepts kinda just get thrown around and you never really learn what they are. This meant I had to teach myself a bunch of this stuff, and I realise, there are some people similarly uncertain as to where the heck the idea of Shares come from.

The basic idea of what a share is is that it’s a portion of something. The place it got its start – more or less, there are always earlier versions of things, but the place it sort of got its modern kick-off – was during the (absolutely god-awful) trading history of large fleets of vessels, things like the Dutch East India company.

The way these things worked was, buying a boat – like, a whole boat – and managing an expedition over to do trading was, as an up-front cost, totally ridiculous. Like, we talk about wealth disparity, but it’s kind of hard to translate wha that was like when you’re talking about a period of history when you might not even exchange money for food, because it simply wasn’t affordable. So there’s a striation of wealth between poor and wealthy people that’s like, mindboggling, and I tend to think about ships from the perspective of the poor people. Each one of them represented more than a lifetimes’ worth of wealth, so the idea of rich people owning multiples is kind of impossible.

Anyway, even so, the task of sending a boat to get goods for sale was still a gamble – every time it went out, you didn’t know if it was coming back, and if it didn’t come back, you were out a ton of money, enough to ruin someone. The solution, then, was for people to band together – wealthy people, mind you – and instead of buying one ship, buying one tenth of ten ships. When each ship came in, you got a tenth of its proceeds. If one sank, you were out a tenth of a price of a ship. Then they got really fiddly with the numbers, and bookkeeping got involved and you started to see people making more and more careful subdivisions of the shares, and things you could do to interact with the shares and eventually things got decoupled from ever needing to turn a profit at all, because everything about markets eventually sucks butts.

Still, the thing with this whole system that makes my ears twist is, no matter how I think about it, the more I think it’s kind of inevitable that people will come up with this idea if they have some way of representing it. And then the weirder thing is: We have this idea for buying and owning shares in objects and businesses, but it seems fundamentally inimical to the current mindset of the world to have shares in the government you’re part of. Like, taxes are seen a an imposition, rather than a percentage ownership of the country you’re investing in.

Stop Being An Asshole About Fidget Spinners

Last year was the year of the Fidget Spinner, which is to say, it was the year people noticed the existence of dedicated stim toys and started to make a thing about it. During this time, teachers began the eternal gripe about whether or not they’re entitled to the attention of students, something that philosophically, I’m sort of resistant to. It’s not so much a resistance to the idea as much as it is surrender to its impossibility. If you’re a teacher, and you’re dealing with students who aren’t paying attention to you, that’s on you. Your job is to communicate ideas to the student in a way that they can remember. If they’re not engaging – if they’re not even trying – and you can’t find a way to make them that works for you too, then the two of you aren’t compatible.

The thing that blows me out about it was that the whole regime was just assholery all the way down. It wasn’t some sort of brilliant incisive conversation, not even slightly. You’d see people ostensibly employed in the task of scientific research or pedagogy or parenting or anything, people who you’d think have some degree of appreciation for nuance and maybe a recognition of how kids behave, acting like fidget spinners were the ding-danging apocalypse.

I mean, consider that adults do a ton of annoying stuff that other people put up with but they never realise how much people are ignoring it, because it’s not normal to call out strangers for being weird. If I stand at the bus stop clicking a pen nobody at the bus stop is going to tell me off for it, not because it doesn’t bug them, but because you respect other people’s boundaries.

The main thing I took out of the whole lesson was that the people you saw complaining the most about trying to distract people from fidget spinners were that they were people obviously uncomfortable with being shown that they’re not good at holding an audience’s attention. If people are going to zone out during your class, the fidget spinner’s not going to help them do it faster.

Literally every reason to ban fidget spinners is a reason to ban pens and paper.

Term: Dice Pool

A dice pool refers to a resolution mechanic where rather than rolling a dice or a number of dice and summing the results, the number of dice themselves is some part of the mechanics. The simplest version of a dicepool is one where you roll a large group of dice, and then select which results apply to which part of the resolution.

A single dice (or number of dice plus a modifier) is a resolution mechanic that follows a very simple experience: You roll the dice, you do the math, and then you have your result. This makes a dice roll, singular, as a very simple ‘switch’ experience, comparable to pushing a button in a videogame. You press a button, the system responds to the math, you get a result. That’s a really good, robust mechanic I like using for any game where you want some variance in a reliable, regular action – like in D&D, for example.

A dicepool, by comparison, is more of a system for making resolution itself a game. This isn’t all it’s used for! But it’s a simple way to use dice that isn’t just adding or subtracting on top of them.

Utility

So one of the most basic things you can do with dicepool systems is you can make players make decisions. Let’s say you have a system where players are setting up a car for a race. You roll a fistful of dice at the start of the game, and select, of those dice, some to be the engine, some to be the tires, and some to be the seating. Then, as you play the game, you prioritise how you drive your car based on those earlier decisions.

One way that Exalted uses a dice pool is that you roll your d10s, and all dice that are 7s or higher are ‘successes,’ and you need a certain number of successes to win. This is a weird bit of terminology that maybe a designer who cared about language might fix but whatever, like in Blades in the Dark the point is that you can use a dicepool to handle a resolution in a system where you want players to succeed, on average, but don’t want the degrees of success to be as varied as the numbers on each dice face.

A dice pool doesn’t even need to be rolled: You can use a dicepool system to have a number of counters that are kept at a particular number, or incremented as appropriate, based on the players’ choices. And even then you can use that these counters are dice as part of the play: Make it so it’s calibrating a computer, and sometimes a virus rolls some of the dice randomly!

Limitations

Dice pool systems can get pretty weird when you make them success-or-fail. It’s also got a mechanical limit – rolling 1d20+30 is not the same physical question as asking someone to roll 30d6 and count the successes.

Another thing with dicepool systems is that when you add components per player, they get out of hand fast – so if you want a game where each player needs to roll 5 dice, then one player needs 5, and 2 needs 10 but if you wanted 4 players you need 20, and you need to store those dice.

One final thing with dice pool systems is that while rolling big fistfuls of dice is exciting, doing fiddly book-keeping or rules changing or changes to each dice in the pool multiplies irritation. So it doesn’t always work with every type of dice mechanic.

Examples

Exalted, Scion, and the other of White Wolf’s other various roleplaying games.

Blades in the Dark.

The Hyperlink Is The Message

Sodom Me, So Do You

The story of the city of Sodom is barely worth recapping, but in case you’ve never heard it, basically there was this place that God didn’t like that was basically named Doomedsville, and the only good people who lived there were shown in one incident how they were too good to live there, before God told them the town was hecked and they left. I’m glossing over some plot points, but it’s honestly not important, because what’s really remarkable about this story is what it’s about.

See, right now, if you ask people, it’s about the sexual immorality of the city, the way that the people of Sodom used to stick their hoo-hahs into butt-holes and that’s why it was a sign of what a problem things could be. That’s why God hates gay marriage.

Except those people, these days, are also opposed by people, equally certain of their familiarity with the religious texts of the now, who want to assert to you that, in fact, the sin of Sodom was their failure to show the messengers proper comfort: That the story of Sodom was a place that failed to respect people enough, and right, and therefore, God loves gay marriage.

This is not, in any way new.

Back during the 1930s, the city of Sodom was a story about a failure of the people to care for their travellers and interlopers, brought up as an example of people who weren’t in the proper spirit of Christian Charity. In the 1940s and 1920s, Sodom and Gomorrah were known to be about the vile practice of race-mixing. In the 1890s, Kelogg was certain that Sodom and Gomorrah were a story about the foulness of indulgent humanity who ate fancy food.

Now this is no secret to anyone familiar with Christian movements: Everything in the story is just a justification for today’s latest problem, and nobody wants to read any further than the destruction of the city for their metaphor.

Emoji Rebuses: FPS!

Hey, here’s a bunch of Emoji arranged to suggest the names of various classic First-Person shooter videogames. Can you guess what they are? I bet you can’t! Oh yeah? Says you! Well I never!

⤵️⤵️🏰🐺🍺

Return To Castle Wolfenstein

☝️🔺
Rise of the Triad

💉
Blood

🤴☢
Duke Nukem

💰
Legal Tender

((🌎))
Quake

👨‍🌾🐏📄
Redneck Rampage

🥇👁
Goldeneye

🇺🇳🎣
Unreal

🇺🇳🎣🏆
Unreal Tournament

🐈🅰️💇🇩🇩🇩
Catacomb 3D

👽🆚🦁
Alien Vs Predator

🖥⚡🖥⚡🖥
System Shock

🛤😭🛤😭🛤😭💉🐉
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
🔫
Tower of Guns

🥋🐉✊ 🌽
Ken’s Labyrinth

🍝

Dishonored

💏🔪🎪
KISS Psycho Circus

🕕6️⃣🎲
Hexen

🤘🤘
Turok


Mirror’s Edge

The Fear of the White Slave

The stories we tell, and how we tell them, shape our worldview. This isn’t ‘media programs you,’ not a satanic panic fear-of-the-demons-in-your-media, but something slower, more grinding, more insidious. There’s an acretion of the world around you as you pass over it, little bits of the everyday. Making everyone’s clothes show ads, we thought, would be about making sure you were always showing off the #brand. Turns out that it mostly just meant people saw ads on clothes as normal and not worth noticing any more.

It’s hard to turn that kind of ubiquity into money in a pragmatic one-on-one sense. It’s difficult to monetise a brand if the main job monetising it is to be everywhere all at once, you need a certain scale for that to have an impact. You need to be Pepsi, for example. What you can do with it, though, is reinforce an idea of what’s normal, and thousands of sources doing it all the time can do a lot to shape that idea of normal.

It’s Marketing Whiteness.

CW, gunna talk about slavery and fundamentalism and whiteness and dismiss the historicity of the Bible, which just gets some people up in a dander.

Continue reading

The Power Of Hate

I like pigs.

It’s a weird thing, considering. Maybe it’s a childhood story of Babe. Maybe it’s after being raised in a weirdo Christian cult, I thought the ‘unclean’ label they got was a bit rough. Maybe it’s Asterix comics that made it look like the poor boars were on the losing side of things.

But I like pigs.

CW ahead for descriptions of war and some unpleasant ways we refer to history.

Continue reading

Hyperirrigation

Originally this was just going to be a short note about this curious term I’ve become used to using and relating the anecdote of when I remembered hearing it, and therefore, where I learned it, because it’s a good word. I like it.

The notion of Hyperirrigation is the idea that it’s something that encourages something that doesn’t need it. It’s like watering kudzu, or fertilising bamboo in the hopes it’ll grow even faster, plants that themselves do not need that sort of encouragement (in the environments I’m familiar with them). It’s a word I thought I learned from Christopher Hitchens, describing his view on American Objectivism – that it was a hyperirrigation of the cultural attitude towards selfishness.

I went to find the quote so I could put it in a neat little sconce and share it and appreciate just the word and its contributary nature as an idea while I was sharing it. You know, removing from the totality of Christopher Hitchens, a man who was pro-Iraq invasion and thought Margaret Thatcher was hot, and instead just showing the interesting word he played with and the idea he used it to express. Because even jerks can use words well (and indeed, understanding the wholeness of the jerks who do is a useful tool for understanding people).

And then I went looking for the quote.

And I couldn’t find it.

I did find something similar, but it lacks the word.

“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement [Libertarians] in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”

Straight up, I don’t know where I learned this word. What’s worse, is that looking for it, it seems more of a medical term as it relates to nasal irrigation, which is interesting but you don’t want to do an unfiltered google image search for it, trust you me. This puts me in a strange quandrary – because if I didn’t learn this quote from Hitchens as I thought I did, did I invent it? Surely not.

And thus, I share this thought with you. I’m sure as soon as this goes up, someone will happily tell me where they heard it, and it’ll all be solved.

The Traits Of Objects

You may have heard about the idea of ‘objectification.’ When I wrote about Daredevil, I trotted out a list – Instrumentality, Agency, Ownership, Fungibility, Violability, and Subjectivity. Where’d that list come from? Is it a tool you can use for your own writing?

One of the things I like with critical tools is that you can turn them on work that exists, and illuminate traits of the work you wouldn’t otherwise notice, but also, like an inverted puzzle piece, you can turn the tool on a work you’re developing yourself, and in the process, see spaces you can use to fill things out to achieve what you want. In this case, the tool is useful for avoiding the objectification of a character, which is to say, you can use this checklist to imbue a character with character.

As for the list’s origin, it’s from the work of Martha Nussbaum, and her writing was about people, not about media. It was also expanded by Rae Langton – whose work primarily focuses on sex and pornography. I don’t have a strong grounding in either of these creators, and I have the nagging feeling that digging into the views of a pair of 50+ year old Feminist Philosophers will find something nasty and TERFy. So don’t take my appreciation of this tool as an endorsement of them.

The full list, including both Nussbaum and Langton’s categories, and the questions they ask, is as follows:

  • Instrumentality: Does this character exist to only enact the purpose of another? Are they a tool? Could you replace them with a vending machine?
  • Agency: Is the character ever demonstrated as having their own purpose, their own ability to make decisions for themselves?
  • Ownership: Is the character ever depicted as being literally the property of another? And if they are, is that depiction ever showing that as being reasonable? Parents, for example, are often depicted as owning their children. How do you think of that relationship?
  • Fungibility: Can the character be swapped for another character of a similar type? Is the character replaceable? How would the actions of the character differ if another character was called upon to do the same thing?
  • Violability: Can people act on the character without consequence? Can you punch them with no followup?
  • Subjectivity: Does the character’s individual experience and personal opinion ever matter? When they disagree with someone is it because of a personal interpretation of events? What fuels that thought?
  • Reduction To Body: Can the character be thought of as just a particular component of their body? Are they a fist to attack someone with, a foot to step on someone? This is very common in pornography – is a character, for lack of a less crude term ‘Tits The Girl?’
  • Reduction To Appearance: Does a character matter primarily in terms of how appealing they are to the senses? A good test of this again, is to check how these characters could be organised in terms of being ‘the hottest’ or ranked for appearance.
  • Silencing: Is the character voiceless? Are they treated as if they are voiceless? Does it ever matter if they say anything? Do other people react to what they have to say?

Sometimes there are some really weird things you can get by applying this toolset. For example, lots of the characters in Joss Whedon’s work are fungible – they almost all can say the same lines of dialogue. Zack Snyder’s Perry White in Batman V Superman hasn’t really got Subjectivity – he exists to oppose Lois Lane’s efforts, without a justifiable rationale for doing so. But you wouldn’t necessarily assume that Perry White is objectified as much, in this case, as he is just an object.

Not every character in a story needs to be a non-object. There will always be room for goons and audiences and randoms. Stories thrive on having objects in them. The thing to look out for in your own work is if all the objects you’re using have common traits – if all the black people in your story, for example, are fungible, you probably have a problem. If when you need a random character to dismiss as being meaningless, you reach to make it a woman, you’ve got to wonder why you keep doing that.

And also knock that off.

This list also makes a valuable way to examine your characters and see if there are new ways you can add dimensions to them. Make them more real. Just recognise that sometimes, a messenger can just be a messenger, they don’t need a backstory and a family and seven layers of motivation if they’re going to turn up and tell you that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are dead.

Term: Hidden Role

A hidden role game is one in which a player or players, selected out from the group, have some element of their play goals altered in a way that sets them apart from the group. Hidden role games are not always asymmetrical team games, but they often are.

Utility

Hidden role games are most obviously useful for making deducing who is on what team part of the game. This is the basic core question of games like Secret Hitler and The Resistance: Avalon – the gameplay is almost completely about working that out.

Nonetheless, Hidden Role is not a mechanic limited to this. You can use it as part of a larger game, where for example, players are largely competing to put together a set of resources, while one player is trying to prevent that without being noticed. You can even make hidden role games where the hidden role is itself a power – look to games like Maskerade and Coup.

Finally, Hidden Role games can be made co-operative as a way to ensure quarterbacking can’t or won’t happen. Players can’t actually determine an optimal path of what players should or shouldn’t do without literally knowing what they actually can do.

Limitations

Hidden role games can kinda bottle anxiety. It can be exciting and thrilling to play a hidden role game with your needs and wants a secret, trying to keep from being caught, but it’s stressful.

Hidden role games also tend to be comparable to one another.

Examples

Maskerade, The Resistance, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Battlestar Galactica.


btw, I have no idea where that header graphic is from but it looks like it’d make a great hidden identity game

Rhyparography

There’s this term in art, typically used describing still life, of rhyparography. It’s a discipline that mostly is seen in some medium-poor light, as the term derives from a literal insult, meaning literally, a painter of mean things, or more cruelly, painter of dirt. More commonly it’s used to refer to representative art of fundamentally conventional, unremarkable objects. Some elements of hyper-realism in painting relate to this. Hyper-realism is a real as heck thing, by the way, and you can get a place to start looking by checking out the work of Pedro Campos.

Artwork of three Coke cans, by Pedro Campos.

The typical conversation about hyper-realism in painting is that it’s not rhyparography, because the point of hyper-realism is an effort to elevate the mundane object into a transcendant state. Rather, rhyparography is connected to the mundanity, the unexceptionality of the object. There’s also often some griminess to it – replicating dirt and smudges is a tricky thing.

What interests me about rhyparography is its special presentation in games. Many games are about constructing worlds through visual media, which means that there are people who, in the making of games, construct incredibly mundane unimportant things, sometimes in huge variety. Anyone who’s done texture work or asset packs knows that you’re sometimes asked to represent a huge variety of just stuff. Much of it never gets noticed. Some of it never gets used. There are asset store packs full of unimportant crap.

And they are all crafted.

It is a thing to think about: How much of what we create in games is the normal, unimportant and unexciting. There’s a quiet beauty in that, knowing someone spent time and effort rendering a discarded coke bottle on a counter top, so you could walk into that space and feel like this is a real space.