Monday, October 29, 2007


Note to self: Find the books where I have written down the different passwords and log in names in the totally fail-safe secret way of never ever having the book(s) anywhere relevant to logging in.

I am trying to work out of the Umeå Library, and while the library is lovely (not a single bad thing to say about the library) I am suffering from total account overload. Moving to Umeå has given birth to at least 5 different codes just connected to new cards (money, locks, copying), a printer code, two new mail accounts, a new log-in for a blog and one library account, as well as a long list of different ip-adresses I need for access in different spots, and several new physical keys. I have tried to keep track of all this in writing, as my brain is NOT made for remembering that kind of stuff (I blame the meningitis at age 22. It actually did blow a chunk of my memory, and for quite a while after regaining consciousness I did not notice that what I pronounced was not what I thought. This is a kind of Aphasia, and while the doctors brushed it off and claimed I was functioning far too well, and forgetting names, words and concepts is perfectly normal, I felt there was a marked difference in my ability to function at this level.). However, I have not been particularly successful, for what am I to do when I don't remember where I wrote it down? Like right now, what user name did I use for logging into my library bookshelf? What is the version of my personal number as it is written in Sweden? (Only thing I remember is: Not the same as in Norway.)

At least I know how I need to spend the morning. Tracking down all these different scraps of paper and very important note books and collect all that information, data security be damned. Anyway, if somebody really want to spy on my library bookshelf, by all means, have a look.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Happy geek in gadget-love

Warning: Long story with happy geek-ending.

Sure, travelling on business class at the occasional random upgrade is nice, if you're picky about your food, British Airways isn't the one you want to be on, or if you're picky about the way you are addressed by the staff and don't want to be called "love" and "hun", then by all means stay clear of Continental. For handsome men watching, go Air France, Air Canada or Quantas, and if you have a thing for truly beautiful women, Singapore Airlines is your best bet. But if you, like me, travel with whatever gives you the best price and the best connections, then these things are pretty much outside of your control.

Yesterday I discovered something which was not.

But let's start at the beginning, and the beginning is almost 27 years back in time. That's when I met this young man who was sweet, smart, funny, sporty and sexy, and on top of that had a great taste in books and music. After a year or so of making him realise what a good thing it would be to hang out with me, we moved in together in Bergen. That's when something I had never realised I missed was introduced in my life: music which was not played by a live orchestra or did not randomly happen off the radio.

Since then I have been surrounded with it, and mostly stuff I really like. When the kids joined in, the music played in the home changed and expanded, and there was always something, so much in fact that NOT having music on all the time became a relief, a signal to me that I was alone, I could focus on my own things, I was at peace.

It only took a month of living alone to realise it was a bit too peaceful. I felt a very unfamiliar, powerful urge to listen to music, and I started thinking about the kind of music I wanted and liked, and how nice it is to have the option of making it happen.

This lead to an excursion into Akihabara in Tokyo, where I came out with a bag full of iPod Nano's. I can't buy something like that only for myself, you know - I have been a mom for 21 years, it's a hard habit to shake, if I even wanted to.

Finally home in Volda, I could start uploading the stuff I wanted. For a while I revelled in picking only my music, and found that listening to an iPod is perfect for long boring bus rides for instance to Molde. The disappointment was huge when I got on the plane to Trondheim. The little apple earbuds couldn't do anything about the ambient noise generated by air engines, and I really couldn't hear much. Having to turn the sound all the way up to hear anything made me realise how much the background noise exhausts me on airplanes. I tend to wear headphones when ever I can, just to hear something other than the drone of the engine, and I get really tired on the long flights.

I didn't know what to do about it, but I started checking other headphones at least. The iPod was still a success, and when the loving sweet men at home discovered that I liked using it, they immediately colonized it. Bye bye dreams of controlling my own music choices... I like that though. After all, both father and son are sufficiently sensitive to know what kind of music I will probably like. Actually, I think they know it better than I do.

Anyway. We were talking about headphones.

I found some really garish looking headphones at the airport, but didn't pick them up, as I was thinking of just getting a pair of Koss portable headphones. Simple, elegant and a good deal at the price, what could go wrong? However, the son, who had already managed to convince me to get a pair for him (see how this mother thing works?), told me to reconsider, as they did nothing to reduce noise from the outside. That's when we stumbled over noise cancelling headphones.

OK, you have indulged my rambling about my wonderful family for long enough now. The keyword is: skullcandy. Those garish headphones I had noticed are produced for extreme sports fans, and built to last while snowboarding or sliding down rails in the mall - no matter what, skullcandy wants you to do it. That includes beating your boyfriend mercilessly. Hmmm. Luckily the headphones I found at the airport in Oslo, called Proletariat, look like an undercover skullcandy set. They are noise cancelling headphones at less than half the price of for instance a Bose headset. Are they as good? I don't know, but they worked well enough to make a difference for me. After the young lady at the store had broken the heavy plastic wrapping open, and we had extracted the headphones and their little travelling bag, the airplane connection plug AND the two AAA batteries that came with the headphones, I assembled, plugged, turned on - and felt my shoulders drop.

It is a difference. I got on the plane to Stockholm and hated having to turn the headphones off when the "fasten seatbelt" sign came on. I hated it even worse on the propel plane from Stockholm to Umeå. I am going to have to sacrifice some of my habitual hand-luggage to bring them with me, but these are coming on the planes with me, in all foreseeable future. I used to sniff with a touch of disdain at the people who felt such a need of high fidelity that they brought their own headphones on the plane. No more - I suddenly know what they are bringing; a chance to escape that endless, exhausting drone, a chance to let the shoulders drop and some other sounds to penetrate. Travelling as much as I do, this is one of the things that makes a difference no matter what company I travel with, where I go, how the seats or the service are. I can use them with the iPod, the computer, the games, the airplane television and radio, the only problem is that they are a little too bulky for comfortable sleeping, but I am sure I am going to manage that too. After all, I am in love with those headphones, and love makes the strangest things comfortable.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Today I am in Trondheim, at the first meeting of "JoinGame", which is the Norwegian Noveau name of a group organised to work for research and innovation on games in Norway. A lot of different people here, from academia I immediately recognize Gunnar Liestøl, Hilde Corneliussen and Sara Brinch. I am sure I will find more!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The sun still comfortably high above the horizon, the google daylight map shows the progress of the sunlight as autumn turns to winter.

Not the Tetris Tower 3D

Which is the Tetris game's physical manifestation outside of the computer, and which I discovered thanks to Gonzalo, and which I think is right up there on my wishlist, just for the geek-value.

No, the game I am looking for now is a game I used to play with the kids (while they were still that, and not young adults who only want to triumph horribly in Risk or some other game they have spent time mastering without me). It has a similar kind of set-up as the tetris tower game, but instead of dropping tetris blocks it drops little squares with patterns of hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs. In order to score you had to have a certain number of one kind in a row, up, down or diagonally. It is a cross between tic-tac-toe and a card game. I can't remember the name of the game, but it reminds me of the Tetris Tower design, and I'd love to be able to reference it while I write about Tetris going 3D.

Have any of my quick, competent and eager readers a lead on which game this is? I'll go look in my secret hiding places, and cross fingers that we havent' thrown it away... or that it is here, and not in my mother's cabinet.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tikken, kogg, sisten

I am looking for the English word for a very common game. It's the game where one person is "it" and has to touch another, to pass "it" on. It mostly involves a lot of running around and touching quickly, a competition of speed, endurance and tactics. It's played pretty universally I think, in one form or another, and in Norwegian there are endless words for this depending on local dialects. This means that it's hard for me to get a decent translation. "Sisten", the east-Norwegian word, shows up as "lastly, latest", while the others just don't register.

So, if anybody know what I am talking about, then please, you are IT, and you have to tag me with the right word to give it back and run free.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Right to Play

In Tokyo, Gonzalo Frasca gave me a button stating that "Play can change the world!" He is not the only one who has thought so, but one of the people who has taken it further than most is the Norwegian speed skating athlete Johann Olav Koss. Today he is President and CEO of Right to Play, an organisation which was started as part of the preparations to the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994, originally named "Olympic Aid." Johann Olav Koss won three gold medals in the Lillehammer Olympics, and donated large amounts of his winning to Olympic Aid. Since then he has dedicated his life to giving children living under extreme hardship a chance to play.

I am not sure if Johann Olav Koss thinks of computer games as important in this context. The children he tries to help are not troubled with obesity and low school performance, nor are they bored and abandoned in the middle of material abundance. They are starving in deserts, fleeing warzones, struggling in slums. He might though. I would like to be able to ask him.

I think perhaps, if we are to take games seriously as political and educational tools, we should look to the experiences of Right to Play. Until then: Part of the donations October 21st here in Norway - when the national broad casting opens up the television screen to a good cause, and people knock on doors all over the country, asking for contributions - go to Right to Play. If you're in Norway, this is one of the best causes I can think of. Play can change the world.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Conference reviews

Piled Higher and Deeper has the answer to a very hot issue both at DAC 2007 and DiGRA 2007. Enjoy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

There's jargon, and there's what I understand

Prompted by Espen, and because his name had been mentioned in different contexts, I sat down to read some of John Hopson's writings at Gamasutra. The most recent work was his "We are not listening", a featured article adressing game researchers from the position of the game industry.

After the keynote at DiGRA 2007, where Mark Prensky talked about: Keynote: "Escape from Planet Jargon: Making Research More Useful to Practitioners", this was kind of a in-the-moment-topic. The Prensky talk had been fairly unimpressive, and I knowing Hopson to be both intelligent and thoughtful, I hoped he would have a better take on the issue than Prensky. I am afraid to say, my hopes were sadly dashed. Hopson did however make it clear that he didn't mean to address ALL game resarchers, only the one targetting the game industry, which I guess is a mitigating circumstance. Still - well, here's my thoughts while reading "We're not listening".

Page 1: caveat
I’m not saying that academics have to care about what the industry thinks of them, but for those who do this is the best advice I can give on how to make sure the industry takes your work seriously. Secondly, I’m going to assume that you’ve already done your research and have the findings ready to go. This article is about the final mile, going from finished research to real implementation in a shipped game.

Hopson here assumes that it's the job of the researcher to present the material, to "sell" it. Others have professionals to do that, it's called marketing departments. So what he says here is basically: if the business is to care about your work, good doesn't matter, marketing does.

Page 1, rule 1
The researcher must lay out the entire impact of the idea, from the cost of implementing the proposal to the resulting changes in player experience and the metrics for measuring that impact. Getting players to identify with the main character is great, but researchers have to finish the rest of the sentence: “This will help players identify more strongly with the main character which will result in an improvement in measures of overall player satisfaction and an increase in total playing time.”

Hopson makes the assumption that the researcher is doing research in order to identify exactly the kind of questions which are important for game developers, namely, how to make a player play more. That is probably true for his research, at the Microsoft lab, but it's certainly not true for other types of research. Knowing that a player has a very strong identification with the main character can be a way to discuss time management in education and development, dramatic structures in critical studies, the impact of games on society in sociology. The researcher does not have the same agenda as the industry, unless he or she is paid by the industry. It also assumes that an academic who knows a lot about how gamers react to the game, is also an insider on the questions game developers ask, and are able to identify the important findings in their own material, which would be important to the game companies. This demands an inside knowledge which researchers who already work in the game industry, for the industry, has. The rest, as he himself points out, although in a roundabour fashion, don't have access.

Page 2, rule 2: here we go with the jargon thingy.
Academic writing is abnormal. I know that by the time you escape grad school the rolling cadences and ritualized forms of the journal article are graven on your very soul. But really, you might as well present your research in the form of an interpretive dance as hand a producer an article written for academic publication. Reading an academic article is an obscure and highly specialized job skill, one which most of your potential audience doesn’t have the time or desire to learn. It’s up to the researchers to make their work accessible to the audiences they want.

This is as uninformed coming from Hopson as it was coming from Prensky. Every specialised field is packed with specialised concepts. Have anybody ever tried to read a user manual? Yes, there are bad academic articles out there, where content is questionable and form is taken to the extreme. But Hopson also knows very well that a lot of important terms and structures are there for precision and clarification, not to ritualize the communication. Academic writing directed at other academics is not directed at specialists in some other field, or laymen, and to exclude the precise language developed to deal with complex terms would be irresponsible. So the game developers can't read it? It's why they hire academics in their research departments, people who know the language, have the connections, understand the field. In a game developing company it's Hopson's job to keep updated on the language, the structures and the references, and bring that knowledge back into his organisation.

Use examples from bestsellers. A good example from a popular game is more effective than a great example from something they’ve never heard of. Industry people often suffer from an “if-they’re-so-smart-, why-ain’t-they-rich” attitude towards smaller titles. Even if the small title is a perfect example of how the theory works, they’re going to be less likely to listen if they haven’t heard of the game ahead of time.

This basically says: It's all about making more money, not about making better games, so if a game is better but isn't a huge bestseller, the developers aren't interested. "Good = huge selling game, screw all other analysis." And with that I think game researchers can just pack up and go back to our departments, as nothing innovative will ever reach the ears of developers. I'll not even start bashing the other advice on that page. It's all about turning your thesis into a 5 line ad. Sure, if that's what you want to do, please listen to Hopson. If you had hoped to communicating a complex understanding or a new idea, well, your odds look very short.

Page 3, rule 3
Working in the games industry can be brutal, involving fast-paced schedules and eighty-hour work-weeks at times. The people listening to your talk already have a full workload. They’ve already been cutting features to make their production milestones, often features that represent some of their best ideas and strongest held beliefs about games. And then there’s this academic who’s never shipped a game standing up there telling them to rip out weeks of work in order to implement some pet theory. Give us a break!

Yes, I'll give you a break. After rule 2, I think we already agree that innovation, complexity and precision is a waste of time when talking to developers. They are all lab rats anyway, going by programmed responses, so trying to communicate new knowledge is a waste of time. It is a pretty bleak presentation of game developers though, but I guess we already knew it was a cut-throat business where the thoughtful die fast.

Page 3 rule 4:
However, to make that research useful to developers, it’s important to take the next step and give concrete examples of how classifying one’s players helps to make a better game. Ok, so we now know that 10% of our players are “Type 3a explorer-monkeys.” Now what? Does that mean 10% of our content should be exploration-focused?

This is about normative research vs other types of research. What Hopson says here is: Game developers want cookbooks, and they want to be told how to do things right. The problem is again that no researcher can know that something they have observed will make things better if implemented in a different setting. This is something only game researchers already involved in game development can have a chance to test out. John Hopson can say: "Before we finish this, let's try this approach instead, because I have read this analysis which says that..." and then Microsoft can run a test on that, and see if his theory actually works. Game researchers outside of companies don't have that kind of access or that kind of tools.

Second, he says: Do only one kind of research. Don't do explorative or descriptive research, do normative research, create rules for how things should be done. Basically: Do the kind of research we like, and we'll listen.

Page 4, rule 5 and 6:
The question of access also makes rule 5 and 6 useless to a game developer. There's no way a scholar can prove that a theory will work unless somebody builds the game where it's been implemented. To do that we'd have to do all the things that Hopson specifically says not to do, such as citing other research, referencing, quoting lesser-known games and looking at what has been done before. It's the only way an academic not working inside a company can do these things, and accordign to Hopson, it's not valid.

The same goes with asking a developer what they need. Let me point to rule 3: The developers don't have enough resources to tell a researcher what time of the day it is. Why should they answer more complex questions, which might force them to listen to a complex theory?

I know John Hopson means well with his advice, but it's advice from a scholar who since his Ph D has worked inside of a game development firm. It basically says two things:

1) To be able to talk to game developers, you need the kind of access you have when you are already working with game developers.

2) Game developers are narrowminded, only motivated by profit, and don't want to learn new things.

The first is useless advice to any academic who wants to get into the field. The second is very close to being insulting to his colleagues, the game developers. But most of all I wonder at the job of game researchers in the development firms. Aren't they the ones who are supposed to bridge this gap? Isn't that why they are hired, with all their education and their connections to the research field? Sure, I have enough skills and knowledge about marketing to dumb down - eh, I mean, clarify my writing for a target group when I need to. I don't, however, have the dual skills that somebody like John Hopson has a chance to develop. He and those of his ilk are the ones who can bring new and interesting research to the eye of the game developers community. They are the ones who may really make a difference.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Voice, luggage, bed

It was in a karaokebar in Tokyo I last had a voice. The luggage I last saw in Narita Airport, but reports have it that it's been spotted in London. When I arrived in Umeå I was afraid the fog was too thick for me to find the bed, but it was where I had left it.

I feel spread all over. My head has barely gotten out of Australia, as the impressions from DAC 2007 in Perth are still zooming about. I think what made the strongest impression on me was the bioart exhibited in The Bakery by SymbioticA: Still, Living. While not everybody's favourite, the art touched me, made me curious, disgusted and impressed, all in one, strangely moving - or perhaps I was just impressed with the name dropping, as the curator was talking about his meeting and discussions with Gombrich, who I was sure must have been dead a long time ago.

The memories of the exhibitions in Australia are oddly overlapping the exhibitions on the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT) in Tokyo, and the complex images of artificial organisms and biologically coloured membranes from australia overlap the intricate beauty of Japanese weaving and painting. My dreams are vivid and wild, and I dream in patterns: Flowers on silk, water over stones, light through leaves, algae on membranes, preserved skin, growing and spreading mikroorganisms. It is going to take a while to start remembering and thinking about this trip in sentences, categories, logical terms rather than a caleidoscope of faces, voices, colours, tastes. I'll get there though - that's the good thing about being alone, I have time now.

And for those who didn't already catch my error: Ragnhild Tronstad pointed out that it was not Gombrich (who died in 2001, and while not having been dead as long as I thought still was not the man in question) the curator refered to, but Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht. No less impressive reference, and now if you excuse me, I'll go check out some of his books.