Friday, April 28, 2006

Gender and frivolity

I am looking at a book from 1933, Idrott och lek (sports and play) by Johan Götlind. Reading is a fascinating reminder of how much time has passed. The games described are mainly men's games, unless they are what he calls "party games" - games designed to let men and women meet and even touch.

Although, thinking it would be obvious that this was oldfashioned and obsolete, I told about the book to a colleague. He looked at me very seriously and said: "I guess that's true, games are men's games. Women don't really play, do they?"

First I was stunned, and thinking about hitting him over the head with my Mug O'Hurt. But he continued. "Men can much easier disappear into what they are passionate about, ignore everything else for the sake of a passion, while women always hold back, are always the sensible, responsible. At least that's my experience."

I had to agree with him. Women are the sensible gender, the one who holds back - aren't we? It resonates with my own experience, and with the way people have always looked at me weirdly when I have gone off on my own playful tangents. Women are often both less understanding and less accepting of playful frivolity. So now I sit here with two big questions:

1) Do women generally play less than men? With this I mean play in the wide sense: engage in playful activities.

2) If the answer to 1 is yes - Why? Is it because of nature or nurture?

My immediate off the top of my head answer would be, yes, women play less, and it's because society does not accept women who head off to play around with their own things. But then I remember the 5 books on "how to drape curtains" which so surprised me when I first visited the bookstore in Volda, and later lead to a study of curtains all over the place... Do women play games and act frivolously in ways which appear to be serious and necessary?

Making cakes is great fun, for instance. I love doing it, and I particularly love making them surprising and stunning. Other women spend lots and lots of time endlessly redecorating their houses, a passionate reconstruction of the living space in order to achieve subtle effects - is that not playful? Shopping for the kids - Oh, I loved that when they were small. I still do when they consent to being my dress-up dolls and let me experiment with colours and materials on them. Only problem is that they want to have a say about what they wear now that they are both legal adults...

On the other hand, perhaps women need to make do with what we can have. So society will not reward women for ignoring their family to go surfing, but will reward them for having a wonderful, surprising and playful garden. And since play is about rewards and social acceptance as much about the acts themselves, women choose to do the socially acceptable things in a playful, frilly, silly and frivolous manner. Perhaps. Yes, this is going to bother me for a while.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

East, West...

It's so good to be home I can't believe it. With my chronically rambling feet I never thought just sleeping in my own bed would be so sweet. Misunderstand me correctly - I really love coming home, always. Just this time it is for some reason better than ever. Perhaps it's because I know it's for such a brief time before I am off again to Seattle and the MSR 2006 Social Computing Symposium.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fun, games and research

And checking on the work of Melissa Federoff, I found that she has written a thesis on Heuristics and usability guidelines for the creation and evaluation of fun in video games, and for those who like me wonder why bother with heuristics and what it is:
Why bother with heuristics?
Usability heuristics are identified usability principles that trained evaluators use to assess the goodness of software design. This particular usability evaluation method is rather quick and inexpensive, usually requiring three to five evaluators each spending one to two hours to do two passes through an interface while producing a list of heuristic violations (Nielsen, 1994). Heuristics also provide a clear understanding of the principles with which a design is built.

This tool, typically used to evaluate the usability of software interfaces, could also be helpful in evaluating the usability of games. In game development, game heuristics could be used to produce successful games more consistently; in other types of software development, a list of game heuristics could be used to find ways to incorporate fun into new products to possibly increase customer satisfaction. Game heuristics have not yet been identified and verified through research, though conceptually would work much like the existing heuristics. They would be guidelines for the creation and evaluation of a usable game. If a usable game is one that satisfies the user by providing entertainment, then game heuristics should encompass design elements that ensure the satisfaction of the user.

Literacy, the Net and Connecticut

I have been spending the night with in comfort and splendour at Don Leu's home, spoiled by him and his friendly and caring wife Debbie. Now I am with the Connecticut New Literacies research group, listening in on their conference call. The people I have been meeting face to face today are, apart from Don, who has been entertaining me with a stream of comments about boats, fishing and the amazing world of mobile computer technology, Julie Coiro, Athena Lentini and Kent Golden (who solved my embarassingly simple connection issue in two minutes).

Their discussion is mainly on methodology, and I am shutting up and listening, as this is not my project. But I love the work this group is doing, which is concerned with learning how students/pupils actually use the internet. Not just if they find what they are looking for, but how they search, how they read, how well they work on this. They are coming up with som controversial findings, like how low achievers on regular reading score much better on readng online.

This ties into some of the things I have seen hinted at, but never truly explored in gaming. A lot of the gamers do not think of themselves as high achievers in regular teaching situations, but they are, in fact, brilliant gamers.

So is this because they are interested in the game, because they have too high resistance to other types of learning, or does the net really offer alternative reading strategies which the low achievers can utilize better? I know I will watch the work of this group further. And if I somehow could couple this work with the work Melissa Federoff introduced at Women in Games in Dundee... I don't know at this moment where it might go, are there limits?

And on the meta level - while they are discussing how to set up and use weblogs in research, I am blogging the discussion. I just could not resist.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Not so efficient - or what?

I haven't done much on the book except agonize over it. Yesterday I met with Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel over drinks and snacks on Manhattan. (And it's weird that searching for Colin's name I am able to find a formal site with an University affiliation, while I can't do that while looking for Michele, only place presenting only her was her blogger profile connected to their common weblog.) They are the editors of a Handbook of New Media Literacies which will come out this year, I hope, and where I have an article on weblogs. They were ever so enthusiastic and interested in other stuff I could write. Enthusiasm is good for a frozen Norwegian.

Last week I was in Atlantic City and Stockton, and gave two lectures, invited by Scott Rettberg. It was nice to see the city, nice to see Scott, and fun to talk to his very well-behaved students.

Today I am preparing for more travelling, this time to Connecticut, to meet Don Leu and visit his research colleagues. Two hours 35 minutes on the train, but first a good hour on the subway. It's what I get from not being in Volda, where the airport is a lazy 10-minute ride. But then again, New London, which is where I will be picked up, would have been more than 2 h 35 min away. Particularly by train.

So, while I am not writing much things are happening. I am reading T. L. Taylor's Play between worlds, and feeling both totally inspired and intimidated at the same time. What more can I say or do about this? T. L. has done the work on games as social spaces for all of us! I am going through articles and looking up names, looking for sources. I am looking at games I should buy ahd play, to check out a wider range and get good examples. But with all the travel and all the trouble I have had on this trip, money is tight. If you happen to have some not-too-old games you're not playing... interested in donating them to research? Less painful than giving up your kidney!

So yes, busy busy as always. And it feels good to write it down and see what I have been doing, and why the easter weekend hasn't resulted in two book chapters and an article...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fickle Spring

Spring plays games with us, but it felt worse to see the snow fall on the magnolia trees in Brooklyn than when it falls on the daffodils at home.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Today I am in New Jersey, visiting Scott Rettberg and giving talks in his classes. I started the day with a sketch of how MUDs and the newer MMORPGs are related and use the same kind of functions and references. Next class I will be talking about the narratives players are creating. I'll start out talking about the story of my character in the MUD I played in and did the main research on, Dragon Realms, and go on to talk about how some of the players in The Onyx Ascendancy create their stories.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Do you believe in the game?

As an academic, I sometimes wonder if not scholarship has replaced religion. I believe in it. I think by asking questions and searching for new and new answers, I can actually at some point come close to the truth.

Huizinga thinks the truth is the game. In the beginning, there was the game.

I am struggling with a way into writing about games, to pass on to my reader some of the enthusiasm and intense engagement which games inspires, without tipping over into religious zeal. But it's hard, because I believe in both games and in scholarship, and I am being paid to proselytize.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hard Blog Café?

A loud Norwegian blogger has closed his blogspot blog, but opened a wordpress blog. In this process he has cooled his blogging down considerably, enough that I got concerned and wrote to ask what was going on. Not having engaged much in Norwegian weblog-sphere arguments, I had no idea about the previous debate which had flared up, complete with flames, unpleasant language and a mixing of spheres. His reply was quite educating, and he sent me a link to a blogpost which was packed with more links elsewhere.

As I don't follow the Norwegian blogosphere closely enough to know who is who and who should be at what table (if I had been a guest at his hard blog café I would have wandered to the wrong table and said all the wrong things immediately), I also don't know how well he has represented it all. What I do know is that it is entertaining, interesting and educating, all in one, like a kinder egg, and it is in the best tradition of blogsposts sufficiently open that you can follow the links yourself and check what's been going on. If you read Norwegian, of course.

For all the english readers out there: It's the Norwegian blogosphere described as a café where people hang out at certain tables depending on who comments how on their blogs. Writing it and fully understanding it demands fairly good knowledge of the different blogs and intensive study of the comment fields, but as Norway is a small country it's not too hard to track them and the café doesn't have to be too big.

And no, I am not mentioned. I guess that's because I am alway at some distant airport waiting for lost luggage while the others are partying.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Games and Culture

Just finished an article which hopefully will show up in the new journal on Games and Culture published by Sage. It looks like an interesting journal, lots of familiar names and all. And they are doing a special WoW issue, which is what I wrote for, of course. But I know I have to start subscribing to this thing, as it looks like a lot of the game articles will be coming out here now.

I will be watching it with interest, to see if Game Studies and Games and Culture end up competing or complementing each other.

Seal of Ascension

I have a quest waiting to be done, one that will give me the key to upper black rock spire. It's a long chain, and the next step is pretty complicated. I have to mindcontrol a dragon, and use its breath to forge the seal I am holding.

To help me with this, I am watching a training video! Cool video, I now think I will be able to finish the quest(with some help from my friends), and I also realise that I want team speak for raids and battlegrounds!!!