Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Larps can change the world!

Because it's too beautiful an interview to pass on, for a game-researcher: Heikki Holmås, Norwegian minister of development, talks about his past as a larp fan and practitioner, about his roles and about how playing role-play games can lead to epiphanies of understanding within safe environments.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CFP: Play Experience workshop

This popped up in my mail, hope somebody out there still have time to plan a contribution.

***Invitation to Contribute***

March 27th, 2012 is the final Submission Deadline Extension for the FDG 2012 - Play Experience Workshop, to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA on May 29 2012

This workshop will bring together researchers interested in GUR (Games User Research), including game evaluation, player experience, game-user research, game telemetry, think aloud, observed behavior, heuristics, metrics, and psycho-physiological measurements. The main goals of the workshop and the expected outcomes are to bring the community together and discuss the methods and applications of the methods involved with Games User Research on the design process.

We invite participants to submit position, empirical and theory abstracts on the use of qualitative and quantitative methods for the evaluation of digital games, and the design of interfaces that can better account for the player experience while interacting with them.

In particular, we seek submissions focused on the following topics (but are certainly not limited to):
·       Lessons learned from working with play experience – in the broadest sense
·       Theory and models for measuring play experience
·       The correlation between various play experience measures
·       User models developed based on existing games user research methods
·       The possibility of fielding different measures in the practical context of academic research and industrial game development
·       The application of play experience models in game AI and game design
·       Data analysis techniques that are best suited to process GUR data for creating optimal player experience

Workshop Schedule:
- industry keynote speakers
- overview of game user research methods from Game User Research SIG at GDC 2012
- summary from workshop on Game User Research from CHI 2012
- participants presentations
- group formation and work
- results presentation

Submission Information
We ask interested participants to submit a one page abstract. Submissions must be in either PDF or DOC format, and comply with the official ACM proceedings format using one of the templates provided at In addition, we ask that each abstract is accompanied by a brief biography or alternatively a 30-60 second presentation video. Biographies and presentation videos will be displayed on the workshop website (
All submissions should be done through the easy chair website at:

Journalism and precision - again

Yesterday I was interviewed by DR ,Danmark Radio, about Bitterfissen Bethany, the blogger I wrote about yesterday. The article that showed up at DR's page was however not exactly what I thought I had responded in the interview. That teaches me to insist on seeing the material before it's published.


DR has picked only the things I said which fit with the journalist's opinions. According to him I consider her real identity to be a disappointment, while I really felt it would be a disappointment to some, to discover that they were being offended by your ordinary housewife. After all, not everybody are in a position to really offend, and an assistant in an office shouldn't really be in a position to take on well-known media personalities. Still, she did.

Further on, I apparently think it's a bad thing to write anonymously, until you're in danger of your life. That is something I distinctly remember to have modified, when the journalist tried that on, by saying that people criticising an otherwise open society may also need to be anonymised. Of course, modifications look less impressive, but keeping that is on your editing, dear journalist, not on me.

Also in the same interview, I pointed out that the main reason why this blogger got so much attention is because she attacked the media, and the media love to write about themselves. She used the media's self-absorption to hit them hard and play around with them, until she had written her book and could use them again, to get free PR for the publication. For some reason that, which I consider to be a vital part of this whole event, was not mentioned by the media. They only mention that through quoting her (in character and rather wicked) address to the media, where she jokes about how she has been playing them. The truth is: she has played the Danish media. By being focused on their own "front", the journalists chasing her have played into her game.

Yes, I think her not being somebody famous has disappointed a lot of people. It didn't disappoint me though. I am still giggling and saving links, for future study, while I take note that journalists still listen with their agendas more than their ears.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bitterness and anonymity

Last year I started to get phone calls from journalists about Bitterfissen Bethany, "the bitter cunt Bethany", a blogger who spoke where others would call the doctor and ask if they had some help for Tourettes syndrome.

Bethany was suddenly in the media spotlight after she had attacked the established media blogger Anne Sophia Hermansen. And her attacks didn't hold anything back, the language was about as delicate as the Danish delight of hyperbole and direct attacks could make it, as she spewed (when she didn't piss or shit, according to herself) abuse over the targets that would get her attention. Since she was anonymous (surprisingly, there is no Bethany, the bitter cunt in the phone book,) speculations ran high about who she was. I did my best to help that along, by telling the journalists they couldn't know who she was, she might be a man, or a grandmother, or a journalist with a grudge - we had nothing but speculations and guesswork. There were rewards offered for the person who could find her name, and a few potential lawsuits waiting, for when she would come clean.

That happened today, in MetroExpressen. It was immediately picked up by the Danish media, here an example from Danish Radio. So who was she, what happened, and why did she do this?

Bitterfissen Bethany is in the flesh Jeanett Veronica Hindberg, a single mother from Farum. Farum is somewhere north of Copenhagen, and I really don't know enough about it to tell you if this has any kind of significance for Danes. She is an office assistant, 39 years old. She doesn't have four children nor a farm, and she doesn't drink constantly. She also doesn't repent her actions, and she didn't come forwards until she had written a book. Now that the book is ready and can be bought, here she is.

Clever, isn't she?

I have very few opinions about this, exept that touch of glee I feel when an amateur takes the professional journalists for a ride. I suspect a few things are important here though. First, she wasnt seen until she attacked a media personality. Then she discovered, or rather uncovered, how the media really works. The most interesting thing in the world for the media is the media. So do something that puts a journalist on the defensive, and suddenly you have the whole Danish media world snapping at your heels. Jeanett (Bethany) did exactly that, and she enjoyed the trip! She was safe behind her pseudonym, while she also was (in)famous. It must have been a powerful feeling.

Now Jeanett has a shot at fame in her own name. I was never impressed by the blog, and I am not buying the book, but I suspect others will. I wish her all the best, although I suspect we're not looking at the new A. K. Rawlins here, single mother or not. Ironically, most of that fame probably comes from anonymity. As long as she was a mystery, there was a certain sense of danger and exploration, literally anybody could be behind this blog. Now it's just Jeanett.

 And to Jeanett: get used to being talked about within a feminist agenda. You may think you don't belong there, but you have done a very 70ies thing, by taking control over your inner bad girl to let her out, demanding room in the media and online. Any moment now you'll find yourself with a mirror in hand, admiring your own pussy and considering why society could ever think that such a nice little (I am guessing) shaved fold of skin should determine your right to be harsh and aggressive.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Copenhagen #8: Extreme traffic

Not everything is perfect in bicycle-land, and there have been a lot of complaints through 2011 and into 2012 about cyclists breaking traffic regulations. The police has had several campaigns in order to catch illegal cycling, and since 2012 the fines are doubled, something the police celebrated with giving out more fines.

I am still trying to learn the distinctions. In Norway a bicyclist either drives as if we're in a car, or on the sidewalk. Both are permitted, and driving on the sidewalk is recommended in heavily trafficked areas. You can imagine how well that works... But this means that I tend to take short-cuts when it gets me our of dangerous situations. There is, for instance, this one sidewalk on the way to work. There's no way I can cross the street right there, and it's perhaps 30 meters to the traffic light, where I can cross safely. So I roll slowly over a small bridge on the sidewalk, or get off the bike and walk if there are people there. In the heavy morning traffic I choose the safest, least trafficked route - which leads me to this little traffic transgression. And while I roll there, riddled by guilt, I see again and again examples of the Danish driver's interpretation of traffic-lights.

Traffic lights are supposedly very clear. It's green for go, yellow for wait, and red for stop. Yellow is for the transition between full speed and stop, for when you can't break without endangering traffic. Right? Yep, that's what I thought.

Now, if you are a bicyclist in Copenhagen, please realise that while you'll be fined by the police if you cross on yellow to red, Copenhagen yellow-light interpretations will kill you. Here's the Copenhagen car-drivers guide to stoplights.

While driving
Green: Go as hard and fast as you can.
Yellow: Keep going.
It's been yellow for a little while: Speed up, you can still make it across on the yellow light.
Red: It's only been red for 2 seconds, so it's still yellow.
Red for more than two seconds: Stop, preferably in the middle of the bike-path or the foot crossing.

While standing still
Red: It will be yellow any second, so I'd better keep prepared.
Red and yellow: Time to inch forwards.
Red and yellow if you are behind another car: Prepare to honk your horn.
Green: If you are behind a car pausing for some reason, honk.
Green: Full speed!

Now, if you combine this with the bicyclists reluctance to stop - if you stop you'll have to push off and get back on the bike, so you don't want that - what you get in Copenhagen are situations that makes me wonder why I haven't seen any serious accidents yet. On this one place on the path to work, the lights are synchronised. This means that if you keep a steady tempo, you'll reach the next light just as it turns green. However, if you're a little quicker than the mainstream biker, you reach the next light as it's still yellow and red! So, we have the Danish car-drivers' reluctance to stop until it's been red for a while, combined with the quickest bikers reluctance to stop or even pause on their way to work, sending cyclists at full speed in front of cars jumping lights.

I tell you,  I get all the adrenaline thrills I need regularly from riding my bike to work. Add the police's habit of driving like they are all in a second-rate cop-movie that relies on the car chases to make money, this city keeps the inhabitants' pulse up.

In defense of Copenhagen drivers: They take the most gentle and considerate right turns of all drivers I have seen. Normally turning  right is the easiest thing to do in right-side traffic. But when there's a lane of bikers just to the right of you, turning right becomes a hazard, and you need to make certain all bikers have passed before turning. I have to give it to the local drivers: They wait patiently. This is totally at odds with the regular stop-light behaviour, but a life-saviour. Of course, Danish television regularly sends a really scary reminder for both bikers and drivers about the danger of turning right without carefully checking the blind zone. I had nightmares about that infomercial the first months I lived here, and have now developed a healthy survivor habit of making certain the cars waiting to turn right see me before I cross.

In general, I have developed a habit of being a lot more alert as a biker than I used to. It's not just the cars, it's the other bikers and making sure I don't pass another biker just as somebody were about to pass me, guessing how the pedestrians will move, and seeing from the ripple of movement through the people waiting at a bus-stop whether the bus is approaching. Bicyclists are supposed to yield for people getting on or getting off the bus, so I need to know if I am about to be overtaken by one. Years ago, a friend compared driving on a six-lane highway with playing a computer game. Now I am playing that game, only it's a lot more complex. I have to understand and deal with so many more factors in traffic, different speeds, different rules for different participants, and the sudden moments when the behaviour changes - it's Extreme Traffic; Copenhagen Rules. The game is on.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Quiet time to do research

Denmark, like most countries, has an ongoing debate about how Universities are to get as much as possible out of the Universities. Due to very good economic support for students, many young people try to ride out the crisis by taking an education. That is not the worst way to go, and I am all for offering education as an alternative to unemployment.

However: the Universities expected to deliver this education get very little extra funding for it, no new positions and also a change of policy which rewards externally funded research, and takes teaching for granted (link in Danish, it's about the demand for more teaching in the Universities.) Now, professors are not stupid (if we were, that would indeed be a sad state of affairs), even if they sometimes are idealistic. And so, when the government says: get more research funding - well, we get more research funding, putting researchers on the case, while finding ways to keep the teaching rolling at the side.

This leads to teaching which is not research based, because all the professors are busy doing research for external funding, just like the government ordered! In order to fix this, the government insists that students need to have more classes, and these classes have to be with the professors who actually do research: research based teaching.

I am very much in favour of this, so I have no problems with the demand for more research based teaching. It's the one benefit Universities have over private research organisations: I get to meet students. Over the years, students have challenged me, pushed me and rewarded me in ways no other part of my job does. But they challenge me into doing research. Without research, which gives me something new and interesting to share and each, facing the students become a repetitive chore.

At the same time, research appears to be viewed as a time of "quiet", of "peace". "We need to give the staff quiet, calm times to do research," professor Sune Auken from the blog Forskningsfrihed says. The error in this is how it puts teaching, apparently a stressful, draining chore, up against research, a calm, peaceful, contemplative activity. In my experience, this is wrong. Of course, included in research is long hours of reading, days of checking for literature, months of analysing data, sometimes years of organising and writing up theories and findings. It may look peaceful. Still, if you're doing research worth the paper it's printed on, it's stressful, tense, fraught with doubt and built on meticulous, tedious fact-checking and proofing, in all possible ways.

Research isn't a time of calm or quiet, it's a time of immersion, introspection and tension, put up against a time of activity, communication and attention to others. In universities these two positions do not oppose each other, they play together and rejuvenate each other. The teacher needs long stretches of time protected from teaching in order to immerse herself into research. The researchers needs to come out of the immersion and communicate, be challenged and be pushed, in order to have something new to bring into her time of immersion.

Of these activities, teaching is the one that it is possible to hire others for though. Entry-level teaching can easily be done by somewhat more advanced teachers, that's not where researchers really have to engage. And so in order to meet the demands for research, universities look at the teaching hours, and move the researchers from the least demanding classes - which also happen to be the most populated. It's a matter of trying to work more efficient - as the government constantly insist the Universities should do. This way some students will get research-based teaching. Hiring non-teaching researchers to do the research while the professors teach means NO students will get research based teaching, as their professors will always be teaching, and never researching.

In order to create a good policy of teaching and research, the government needs to remember that it's the same people who have to do both. It's impossible to drain the university brains into externally funded research, and expect the same heads to have time to teach. And it's impossible to demand research based teaching, and not give the teachers time and opportunity to do research. There are only two answers to this: Fewer students, or more professors. Barring some groups in different organisations - there are always some groups that have more slack than they really ought to have, I have no idea where, but they exist, it's the law of organisations - that is the only way the government can have both more teaching for each student, and more research for each professor. I am sorry. There are no easy ways to split the professorial heads, and neither research based teaching, research itself happens without effort.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Wedding traditions in transition

What is a Norwegian wedding tradition? Currently, the idea of the "traditional wedding" is dominated by a mixture of American traditions gleaned from movies and "Bridezilla" programs, where we learn how they do things elsewhere. It's about white brides, bridal music of a certain kind, and church weddings where brides battle to the death to get the church they always wanted. But is this the traditional Norwegian wedding?

First: about half the weddings in Norway 2008-2010 were in a church, the other half was elsewhere. I am not counting the part abroad, as it's not registered whether those were church- weddings or not. So, if tradition is defined by what people do, church weddings are no longer the one, true way.

Next: white weddings. The white wedding dress was not common until between the first and second world war in the US, and was still not all that common until 1940-50 in Norway. Before that wedding dresses were all colours, with both red and black as much-used colours. If we are to look at the more recent traditions, as in four - five years old, like the weddings above, people get married in just about everything, and the strongly coloured national costumes are quite common, even in churches. Considering that only half the weddings happen in churches, where white seems to be the strongest tradition, and several of the church weddings see the bride in national costumes, I think there's a good chance that white isn't the most common (i. e. traditional) bride colour any more.

Third: Why did I write this at all? There is this beautiful article about two young women who are quite unhappy that they won't have their dream wedding, since they are early adaptors to a new law. The Norwegian church has not yet written a liturgy to include same-sex weddings, and so a church wedding will not be legally binding. They will have to marry twice if they want both a church wedding and a legally binding ceremony. While that is sad for two girls with conventional dreams, it is traditional for non-conventional weddings. Back when divorce was unheard of, only previously unmarried people or widows/widowers could marry in the church. Unless you were a king and changed the church in your country, of course. When divorce lost the taint of scandal, priests would still refuse to marry people who had been married before, and refuse them access to the church. In 1991, one of my relatives could not have a priest in her wedding in Norway, since she had been married before. This was quite common treatment of heterosexual divorcees.

What I am trying to say is, the traditional wedding for Norwegian couples that do not adhere to the norm of heterosexual, Christian, first-time marriage is an untraditional wedding. It's a wedding where the couples mix family traditions, local traditions, traditions from film and television, examples from royal weddings, made-up traditions and their own ideas about a good wedding.

So you go, girls, making your own interpretation of traditions. I suspect that is the most traditional tradition of all wedding traditions: To pick something here and something there, adjust, change and renew until you have a ceremony and party that fits with what you want. In that manner, you're traditional early adaptors. Thank you for sharing it with us. You are beautiful and brave.