Monday, December 30, 2002

Educational games
By way of Gonzalo, so that Kym notices, a link to the draft of an article on Serious Play by Jennifer Jenson and Suzanne de Castell.

Friday, December 27, 2002

Sober Santa
From Francis Strand, an entertaining little game for those of us who don't really believe in Santa any more. Francis sent this well before Christmas, but it's not until today that I have had a chance to sit down at the computer and play it. Thank you Francis!

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Wish me luck!
My husband has a high fever, the account was empty long before Christmas and I don't have anybody to look after the cat while we are in a house with 15 people who at other times of the year live as far apart as we can get (there's a reason for that). This mans that for the next couple of days all my energy will be directed towards survival, and blogging isn't a survival strategy in this context. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, mine will certainly be two things: eventful and spent with the family - good things I suppose - we tend to remember each Christmas distinctly.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Keiko revisited
Remember the killer whale who was set free - only to cross the North Sea from Island to Norway and show up in the Halsa fjord? He's still in Norway, waiting, like so many others, for the hering migrations.
"Real gløgg"
One of the things I have not had the time to enjoy so far this year: Gløgg
This recipe can't be Norwegian or even really Scandinavian. They are burning the brandy!
In this recipe they boil the wine. What is this, a conspiracy for a sober Christmas?
A Professor's gløgg; this version isn't too bad, but what a waste of good aquavite.
Here they claim that it's a Danish drink.
Whoever wrote this recipe know a few things about Norwegians...

It's quite interesting to see all the different versions of "real gløgg". But if you want to make gløgg in Norway, you need to remember a few things.

1) Norwegians never waste alchohol. Cooking wine, burning brandy or anything else which may lead to a loss of alchohol from the brew is banned. Good gløgg is strong gløgg, and the quicker people get drunk the better the party is. Give Norwegians free drinks, and they turn into happy barbarians.

2) Norwegians don't care about complex tastes - be heavy on the spice, pour the syrups liberally, after all with sharp spices less of the taste of the home-made spirits - so delicately termed "moonshine" in American - will be discernible.

3) Norwegians like novel ways of getting drunk, so soak those raisins well before they are dropped in the pot. Nothing like snacking your way into the holiday mood.

4) As long as it is red, sweet, alchoholic and can be drunk, it can be poured into a pot of gløgg - don't worry about "appropriate".

Gløgg is not a complicated drink for elegant parties, it's a simple, warming winter drink for people who live in climates where you need to be warm inside and out before you dare loosen up enough to smile, to laugh, to flirt - or even to unbutton your jacket. It's as if the layers of clothing are wrapped around your mind as well as your body, and the cold of the winter nights has frozen your smile off with your fingertips and toes. The purpose of the drink isn't to placate spoiled palates, but to warm frozen souls and hearts quickly and efficiently, lower barricades built into the culture and bring out the warmth and generousity of a reserved, shy and socially insecure people. For that purpose you need three things: a potent brew, enough of it, and enough people gathered around the pot that they come close to each other by necessity.

Monday, December 16, 2002

oral exams
No, I have not started a second career as a dentist, but Monday evening, Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent assessing students. I will not blog the proceedings, even if the process sometimes can be quite entertaining and in many ways enlightening.
I am not the only one, it seems, who occasionally thinks fondly of Dragon Realms. The game is closed now, but Megistias' Dragon Realms page exists.
Special interests
I don't create software and I don't own a mac (which seems to be a must if you want to get the full benefit of what Eastgate produces), but I know Anja Rau and love her sense of humour as much as I admire her keen intelligence. So when she's the editor of a new magazine, it's worth notice: TEKKA, sponsored by Eastgate.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Since we're talking about it
Start teaching them safe sex while they are little....
It's all about...
sex, she said, over dinner. I hadn't even noticed, and I normally do. After all, she's this lovely slender successfull doll of a woman with a love-affair that defies space, the child of intellectuals and sister to artists, while I am the dark mean bitch, crawling, slithering, kicking and clawing. I am she who wears normality as a warm sweater and protection against reality, while my mind roams the dark corners and my students can't use a ketchup-bottle after graduating because of the images invading their hot-dog meals. The pretty danish waiter flirted skillfully, secure in his handsome maleness, knowing that if he made us feel good about ourselves, intelligent, witty, wanted and attractive, tips would fall out of our purses, and yes, it did. A touch of a hangover from italian wine at inappropriate hours was repaired with more of the same while I told her another outrageous true story. And she laughed, her dark eyes alight with wicked amusement as she shared a taste of my sadism.

But it kept returning to sex, to words licking the g-spots of our brains, to ideas fertilising receptive minds, to images penetrating texts violently rather than emerging in tranquility. And I remembered her fingers caressing the lid of her computer, the flush of her cheeks as she listened to a brilliant statement, and I nodded, unable to do anything but agree; the lust - yes the lust - fed at this moment by the red meat and the creamy sauce on our plates. It's a love-affair, not a lifestyle, and I mourn at the knowledge that I have to break up. This passion burns out. This thesis has to be concluded. And I need to end it in a civilized manner, as I strive to appear to conduct all my affairs, in the hope that there will be enough warmth left that in the near future it will settle into being a sweet part of my past.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

I had an odd, but nice, little letter in my mailbox today. jirayu, who speaks both thai and english, wrote that she (or he - I really don't know the gender of that person, and others keep doing this mistake about my name - I'll go on assuming female, since I think I understand this person) felt the title of this blog described her feelings. She feels that she expresses herself more clearly when she uses a computer than spoken or even in hand-writing. After the first moment of flattery at being known to a masters student who's most likely situated in Thailand, I re-thought the title of my blog.

The title of this blog comes from the way I have always been thinking. I am not one of those people who can sit down and give a thought shape in my head, polish and present it to the world as a child of my brain. I need to give it shape somehow, through writing or drawing. At high-school I used to draw in the books in order to remember what the pages said: my memory recall is basically through understanding, if I can't understand, I need some kind of visual aid: an image. When I write, I am often surprised at what comes out, as if my fingers know things my conscious mind does not. No, this isn't automatic writing, when I see the words I understand where they come from and where they are taking me, but I don't always know which rational decision-making process took me to this point.

This way of thinking has however not developed with my use of computers. I have always needed to write in order to know what I think. I am old enough that my habits and skills of writing were developed before computers vere common in households or even at universities in Norway. I am even old enough that I have read - and boicotted - newspapers set in lead, and been banned from the journalists' union because I used computers. To me, the computer is a different tool for writing and thus thinking, but it's not the only tool. When I feel that I really need to give my thoughts shape I sit down and shape them by hand, letter by letter, ink flowing onto paper and spreading over the page until order emerges from chaos, leaving a trail of ink like a slug's trail along the forest floor.

(By way of the intervention of Mark Bernstein, I learned that my first assumption was correct, and it's a female name. Good to know!)

Friday, December 13, 2002

Back from Bergen, still alive, but exhausted from the weight of carrying my thesis around. Do you hear those rustling pine-needles? It's the trees that will be saved from the way I'll cut parts of my thesis rather than trees to print it on.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Tomorrow, in Bergen
But I don't think I'll have a chance to get to a computer. I am off to talk to Espen Aarseth about the thesis, to see how much I must do before I submit it - hopefully in January. Wish me luck, I just might need it.
Where are the ethical wizards?
I just want to point to this comment by Mark Bernstein and say "yes, I agree."
Swedish exotic
Inspired by Francis, I baked "Lussekatter" last night, in a sudden craving for the scent and taste of saffron. Not being a Swede, I didn't wait for the day of Santa Lucia, which is Friday, and I didn't get the designs right, but I have so far had no complaints about the taste!

Monday, December 09, 2002

December delights
Once upon a time December was a magical month, filled with the anticipation of christmas, little secret presents and an endless stream of freshly-baked cookies. A self-respecting housewife has at least 7 types of cakes, preferably 13. All of this would culminate in a wonderful orgy of lights and tastes, games and gifts.

At some point things changed. I think it was around the time when my older sisters had left home, and just came home for christmas - and by the time they should come home, the house would have to be cleaned and prepared, and everything ready for just the final touches. I had to fill the space of three older sisters in the cleaning of a huge house in the period when I had the most important tests of the semester at school. My mother had started working, so I also had regular chores added, and my father was disabled after a stroke. At that point, the shine started to go out of Christmas and it became a big, dark pit of guilt and failed expectations.

It has taken me almost 25 years and two very sweet, happy and Christmas-loving children to start to see some of the pleasures of preparing for Christmas. By now I love the smell of spices, and the way my daughter settles down to happily chat and help out when I start baking. I love the good-natured banter of my son as he helps me with the advent star, and the private little conversations about presents and wishlists, carefully conducted out of ear-shot of the other family members. I have developed an addiction to christmas-tree decorations, and I have to smuggle them into the house because of the restrictions my husband wants to put on the use of such: he insists that the tree has t obe able to stand upright after it has been decorated, and not collapse under the weight of the decorations. I even manage to take time to study japanese origami to learn of new and elegant ways to wrap presents.
Game Studies: New Issue with Guest Editor Jonathan Dovey

Game Studies, the online international journal of game research, has published volume 2 issue 2. This is a special guest edited issue, with Jonathan Dovey, University of the West of England as editor. Dovey describes this issue:

This edition of Game Studies is devoted to a small selection of papers originally presented at the Game Cultures conference at Bristol in July 2001. Curated by myself and Helen Kennedy for the School of Cultural Studies at the University of the West of England Game Cultures was the first academic conference in the UK dedicated to computer games. As such it brought some of the best work being done internationally to a UK academic audience for the first time. Apart from excellent contributions from some of the leading scholars in the field the event created the chance for academics from all over the world to come out as gamers.

This issue contains four papers from the Game Cultures Conference, and one conversation between Celia Pearce and Louis Castle. Louis Castle is cofounder and General Manager of Electronic Arts' Westwood Studios.
The articles are;
Dialogue Conventions in Final Fantasy VII
Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo
Creative Player Actions in FPS
Latin America's New Cultural Industries still Play Old Games


This is the official line from the PR department of Game Studies, which is me. The new issue is interesting, so far my favourite is on Creative Player Actions, probably because it gives me hints on how to cheat. I love that, even in a game I don't play.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Issue 2, year 2
Game Studies is out with a new issue - I'll be back to you all with good reasons to read it once I have had the time to look at it myself!

Friday, December 06, 2002

Gender Disorientation
I am looking for an other blog to add to the list, so I had a peek at and started clicking the names of the posters. What did I find? Guys! I guess for those who have been reading that weblog attentively, this doesn't come as a surprise, but while there is a Liz and an Esther on the list of posters to the blog, there's also Bowler, Shawn, Jake, and Justin. I know, I know, it's their blog and they can call it what ever they like - and if they wanted to pretend to be all women, they could have done that as well. I just had a little moment of gender disorientation, is all.
Nicholas Yee?
Whoever he is, if you're interested in MMORPGs his website looks very interesting.
Christmas approaches
And this year I am even more broke than usual, same year as I am about to celebrate Christmas with all of my large family. I guess I need a really good Christmas present idea.
IF on a winter's night a professor...
writes me and argues well for his view of interactive fiction, far be it from me to refuse his view a link from my blog. Dennis G. Jerz concerns himself with digital media and literacy, and disagrees with me when I claim that it's not logical to demand from games that they should tell stories. I have no idea what the english term for "skinnuenighet" is, but I suspect one of those are out prowling the internet somewhere between Volda and Wisconsin.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Direct a choir
Do you have a dream of directing your own choir?
Readability online
One of the important things for me online is that I can read the text easily, so when a friend tells me the grey-on-white isn't enough of a contrast for him, the design has to change. Thanks Kym, for notifying me that it was a problem, and I hope the not-quite-black of the text is a tolerable compromise between looks and readability.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Other Daughters of Bhaal
Yorleen Sheydar
Anomen contemplates tying his fate to that of the daughter of Bhaal (Fan Fiction on Baldur's Gate)
An other daughter of Bhaal has a good teenage fit of selfpity. (From the story of Zaerini, based on Shadows of Amn)

There's a culture of fan fiction and fan modifications (MODs) to the more popular games, and Baldur's Gate has its share.
Daughter of Bhaal
Once in a while I stop working and start playing, and what I play at those occasions is Baldur's Gate II, Shadows of Amn. I have been playing this game in my spare time since May, and I am not bored yet.

Shadows of Amn is the sequel to Baldur's Gate I, where if I had played the game I could have conquered my evil brother Sarevok and prevented my father, Bhaal, God of Murder, from returning to the Forgotten Realm. In this game I have to choose between good and evil: will I take up my evil heritage or will I turn away from it? Neither one of the Baldur's Gate games gives the player a chance to write the background of his or her own character, it's already set. For more freedom of expression, import the character into Neverwinter Nights. Instead Shadows of Amn offer tricky choices and high pressure on several levels.

The main character soon gathers a party of adventurers, and although these are NPC's, non playing characters, they are quite sophisticatedly programmed and ensure varied feedback to the player. Depending on the choices the player makes for the group, the different NPCs will agree to stay or go. The game offers a multitude of little choices, each little quest one that can change the outcome: do you turn to the light or the darkness? Little distracting quests turn up in every place the company goes, and the player's character is constantly hazzled both with the needs of the people of the Forgotten Realms, as well as the needs of the people in the group. Minsc and Jaheira, two characters who obviously have been with you since the battle with Sarevok, are the only ones who have not insisted on having any special favours yet (I am on chapter three after seven months of playing - I am slow but this game is complex). Their job seems to be to give the PC a solid guilt-complex.

On the other side of the coin is the evil wizard Irenicus. He is an important opponent, but also the devil's advocate in this game. He keeps whispering about grandeour and power. In series of dreams he comes to tempt the PC to turn to the dark side. His is the classic role of the devil, who shows the PC the powers to be had... if only the player lets it turn to the dark side. At the same time the game manages to create NPCs who really suffer. They suffer small things and larger: Tiny little experiences whch might or might not be quests colour the game, and the Forgotten Realm is not empty of life and humanity. The NPCs might be pawns just like the footsoldiers in chess, but this is chess as we see the wizards play it in Harry Potter: Each pawn speaks, each pawn pleads, suffers and dies.

Baldur's Gate is a classic tale of sibling rivalry, of rebellion against the parents, social unrest, corruption and temptation. Religious sects mislead the unwary, corrupt leaders of society take advantage of the people, and children are sold, used and abused. The parents in this game are either evil as in Bhaal, pathetic as in the case of Anomen's father, or absent until he's found to be dead as in the case of Nalia's father. There are no mother-figures at all so far, unless I count Nalia's annoying and narrow-minded parasite of an aunt. This is more in line with the general motif of parental betrayal than any slur against women, since we find women wielding many different types of power in Shadows of Amn.

All of this is however just the framework, the fictional background against which the game itself is played. The game is based on AD&D, with the same system of rolling dice in order to determine the outcome of battles as well as quests (the computer rolls for you, of course). The main enjoyment comes from using the full range of abilities available to the group in order to beat the opponents, and to choose skills and abilities which will advance the progress of the group through the game. While the fiction is pleasing as a backdrop that allows for spectacular graphics, mysterious dungeons and wicked traps, the many little puzzles which influence the progress of the characters in different manners is what makes the game worth playing. Shadows of Amn has been adjusted somewhat from Baldur's Gate I, and such adjusting is the trademark of a game with ambitions to be good, at present there are no single spells or weapons that always saves the day. This forces the player to experiment, explore and test in order to determine tactics, a strategy that makes the gameplay varied, entertaining and challenging. Shadows of Amn is a game where agôn dominates over alea and mimicry: a game of skill rather than one of luck or pretense. It does however use the fictional frame efficiently, and the quests and puzzles are firmly embedded in the fictional reality of the Forgotten Realm.