December 2, 2005

DAC 2005 Session 5

by Nick Montfort · , 5:31 am

Friday opened with a great session, dealing with non-commerical games. Who’d have thought?

LudicaLoshCamper

Ludica: Janine Fron, Tracy Fullerton, Jacki Morie, Celia Pearce

Sustainable Play: Toward a New Games Movement for the Digital Age

Janine presented Ludcia’s work towards a contemporary analogue of the “new games movement,” founded in the Vietnam War era by Stewart Brand. His activity was game modding – taking military parachutes and using them for play. At USC, various games were played, and a tournament with CMU was organized. A relationship between Earthball (and environmental gaming) and the environmental works of Robert Smithson and Christo & Jean-Claude. Analog games were played outside on New Games Day last year; mods of hopscotch and other street games. They also set up mini-golf and a bowling game, fashioned out of conference schwag, providing play with recycled and reused materials.

Janine encouraged us to seek better ways to be in the world as well as better ways to play.

The Q & A wobbled around questions of why it’s worthwhile to seek “safe” games to play, and why games need to reenact the political critiques of art.

Elizabeth Losh

In Country with Tactical Iraqi: Trust, Identity, and Language Learning in a Military Video Game

Some other and very different gaming developments at USC – Elizabeth told us about the military training game developed on a different part of campus, at CARTE, where Arabic language instruction has been targeted. An HTML page with links relevant to her presentation is online. The recent Tactical Iraqi is not the only “Just-in-Time” training game: Ambush! trains players to find IEDs, simulates boredom. The use off-the-shelf components (including Unreal Tournament Engine), are mobile and networked.

You are Sergeant John Smith, who is tasked with rebuilding a girl’s school. Simulated rituals and ceremonies, entering private spaces; “Identity tourism” os sorts. A “skill builder” drill-and-practice component is included. Meant to put a bit of culture and language behind steering wheels and triggers, according to one researcher. A “rhetorical retardation” of native agents is seen. It also shows the rise of the “military-entertainment complex.”

As a hybrid, Tactical Iraqi borrows from, but doesn’t exactly follow, military combat games (America’s Army), virtual tourism games (Tony Hawk’s Underground 2), and language learning games. Trust is a factor: There are even trust meters, originally managed to be based on Brown and Levinson’s work on face, although that proved too complex. It was difficult in initial testing to get player to leave the skill builder for the “world.” Transgressive play is (surprisingly) not encouraged. John Smith was imagined to be a reservist from an affluent family, and (obviously) male and white. The language scenario is unusually clean and simplified – no writing, no use of English at all by others.

Brett Camper

Reveling in Restrictions: Technical Mastery and Game Boy Advance Homebrew Software Development

Brett began by noting the almost exclusive focus of game studies on commercial games, despite the origins of video gaming in hobbyist traditions. (This panel is an exception, he noted.) Is there an aesthetic of amateur gaming? The focus is on Game Boy Advance (GBA), a closed, propriatery system which nevertheless sports a community of thousands of “homebrew” developers who have released hundreds of games. Unofficial developers have to figure out the technical workings of the system on their own, and value techincal mastery, at the level of C and assembly, working with CPU registers instead of high-level APIs.

Some categories of work by homebrewers:

Tech demos. Including algorithms, demo-scene-style pieces, and gameplay fragments. About half the programs are these. Brett showed a water effect done with scaling and transparency. Producers and consumers of these greatly overlap; deciphering the algorithm is part of appreciating the program. They serve an educational function. At E3, there are tech demos shown to wow the press, but they stay in the showroom and aren’t highly visible.

Classic game remakes. Old games for the C64 etc. that are painstakingly recreated, sometimes pixel-perfect and done with extracted graphics and careful reverse-engineering. Not emulation, though; it is just recreation of one particular game. Provides motivation for programmers to complete a game, a well-scoped project – and they harvest existing art. Brett showed Thrust.

Platform remediation. This involves adopting more primitive platform conventions – Game & Watch being the classic example. They have cachet (get Slashdotted), but limit graphics to something simpler and tractable. Brett showed Fred Firefighter.

Brett concluded by discussing GBA homebrewing as a taste community, similar to interactive fiction and modding communities as well as others, but with its differences. He notes that these communities should be considered by people looking at the space of games and creativity – as I certainly agree!