March 1, 2007

Notes, World Building: Space and Community, Day 1

by Nick Montfort · , 5:45 pm

I’m here at the University of Florida attending the gaming group’s third annual conference, World Building: Space and Community For my own purposes and to highlight what’s being discussed here, I’ve typed up some notes. Conference speakers are particularly welcome to comment, particularly if my notes didn’t accurately record what you said — I’ll fix my notes, in that case. These notes are meant to point you to the authors’ own abstracts; please go there to read up on the research and to cite. Updated to include evening keynote.

Session 1: Cognitive Fidelity in Virtual Worlds

(All panelists are from the University of Central Florida)

Rudy McDaniel and J. Michael Moschell

Narrative Fidelity and Kinesthetic Manipulation in Virtual Worlds: A Wii Example

Narrative as considered narratologically (distinct from the telling). Note: Sensor bar emits (not detects) light — the Wii remote detects it. Turkle described Pinball as a physical interaction (shaking the game, slapping the buttons to move flippers), unlike video games. Can the Wii bring back the kinesthetic dimension of play? Kinesthesia enhances gameplay, not story. Tony Hawk, Elebits… But, it enhances participation and belief in the fictional world. Twilight Princess. No emotional attachment to the Rayman character across the game & minigames, for instance.
Basically, the Wii may enable better connection to and identification with characters, which could contribute to better narrative aspects. Currently, plug-and-play mentality regarding story in the industry; use it like an 3D model. Read the abstract.

Dan Novatnak

Managing Fidelity when Worlds Collide

More of our time is spent not dealing with reality. Jobs like forum moderator involve managing people who don’t exist. Will only wait 4 seconds for a page to load, used to wait 30 … 60 … 90 Real world: Practical or actual experience. Non-real or Vitual Spaces: Would include a classroom? Internet, etc. Example from the SEMA after-market automotive showcase. The virtual analogue may remove something from the real process. Do people go to virtual spaces first, before the real? Web pages corresponding to different “real-life” institutions (retail store, pub, theater) but don’t resemble them visually and spatially (?). Besides real and virtual spaces, synthetic space in which we cognitively mediate things such as promises. Read the abstract.

Eric Vick

Semiotics: Mapping Design to Play

Background in AI for video games. Craft-based approach to character AI won’t last; a software engineering approach is needed. Adding a story to a game does not have a good reputation, is often done as an afterthought. Players expectations include “a consistent and understandable game world in which reasonable solutions work.” “Players want to do, they don’t want to watch.” (Regarding cut scenes.) Players want meaningful play: “player authorship.” Designers must communicate clear goals and motivations, hints, ability to play. Activity theory from psychology: Mutual transformations are accomplished, context of interaction and social nature of mind is essential. Semiotics for HCI: Join designer’s intention and user’s context. Interaction, engagement, and immersion are desired, but too vague; use defs from Salen & Zimmerman, Laurel, Murray. Read the abstract.

Sae Schatz and Clint Bowers

Can lessons learned from Environmental Psychology Translate to Virtual Environments?

“Media effects” concept: Strength of a realistic connection to a medium (e.g., TV) determines effect (behavioral, physiological) upon viewer. Some real-world social norms (averting gaze when close to someone else) transfer into virtual environment (Second Life). Do other behaviors transfer in this way? Environmental psychology studies how individual, cognitions, and situations related to environments. Consider, specifically, people and their sociophysical environment. Organizational structure of environment, characteristics of individuals, other aspects can be considered. Physical setup of room encourages you to face a particular way, listen. Consider walls, paths, physiological factors (climate), affordances. Can be applied in virtual worlds. What does place mean across different cultures? Is a sense of virtual place created? (Yes.) Perhaps, given the connections, virtual environments could be used for real-world psychological study. Read the abstract.

(I asked a question about gaze-aversion behavior in Second Life, and asked who here is on the system – interestingly, for all the hype about the MMO, only 1 of the 20 game scholars in the room confessed to playing Second Life.)

World-Building: Comics and Game Studies

(Dave Szulborski, Dylan Horrocks, Donald Ault, and Nick Montfort, moderated by Terry Harpold)

No notes from this one, but we had a good discussion about comics and games and talked some about the issue of “story” in games.

Bodies in Spaces (Virtual and Otherwise)

(Sandifer & Stenner, University of Florida; Sherlock, Michigan State University)

Lee Sherlock

One Ticket to Azeroth Please: Travel and Tourism in World of Warcraft

In-game maps help immerse players, inform them about geography. Signposts supplement maps – players don’t have to leave the main view to see them – and mark them as tourist sites. Travel modes vary: foot, public transpiration which invites players to view “forbidden” (too difficult) areas. Players visit areas to level up. Safe havens provide a “home” to which WoW tourists can return. T.L. Taylor’s sense of nostalgia, with memories of Everquest landscapes. Travel is complicated, dangerous, tied to the game economy. Post-tourists play games with technologies, or with the tourist experience. Travel in WoW as post-tourism. Synthravels offers virtual tours of WoW and other online games. Read the abstract.

Jack Stenner

Playas: Critical Reflection in an Immersive Space

Video game installation project started two years ago: “Playas.” Some images to give the context of digital media art. Exhibitions, institutional support, preservation efforts. Explore immersion and interactivity in a project. Use of technologies challenges traditional artistic practice. Critical reflection on video game environments. “Playa” looks at a former mining town and ghost town about to be repurposed as an anti-terrorist training base. Traces of visitor presence remain in the digital image in the installation. The Torque game engine was used. Teams of students recruited, team leaders appointed for each home to be modeled. Installation environment differs from traditional video game – exposure time is short. Experienced gamers are least likely to reflect on the game critically. A downloadable and playable version is online.
Read the abstract.

Philip Sandifer

The Hermeneutics of Shininess: Wii Bodies

Media are “extensions of man,” McLuhan, but the game turns our bodies against us to challenge us. Not much new about the Wii’s basic function – DDR, Guitar Hero, Dactyl Nightmare, Nintendo Power Glove, Zapper light gun, 1936 light gun for duck-hunting game. Hybrid mechanism (as in Zelda) is more new. Street Cop the only antecedent. Main difference is paradigmatic, not practical: Wii doesn’t add much, but presents itself as a new interface system. Modernist, like Pound’s “make it new.” Hence, I call this “shininess.” Launch titles promoted the platform as shiny, e.g., with the use of repetitive small motions in WarioWare: Smooth Moves (forms) and Wii Sports. Repetition defamiliarizes, as in Gertrude Stein. The Wii asks us to actively forget the Power Pad, to remember in order to forget. The Virtual Console, by pointing back to a selective history that favors Nintendo, makes the Wii the end point of video game history. Twilight Princess was designed to run on the Gamecube, looks back to a long history of Zelda games. Its accessibility (“pure” videogaming) is involved with its shininess. The Wii is about Nintendo, its history and brand, which claims fun as its invention. Read the abstract.

Keynote by Dave Szulborski, ARG Developer

Szulborski singed up for Majestic, which only ran 1/2 hour each day and eventually failed – those running the game stopped it 2/3 of the way through. The two next big games after Majestic were grassroots, Chasing the Wish (by Szulborski) and Lockjaw (done by other fans). Pink Floyd’s Publius Enigma was one antecedent to Majestic and The Beast, but it lacked a narrative. Interaction of games, immersiveness of media (including novels) also lead into ARGs.

An Alternate Reality Games doesn’t match its name. They are often set in the real world, with a fictional overlay. Creating what seems like a new nook of the real world. Also, ARGs aren’t really games according to a strict definition. It’s more of an interactive story – a narrative divided into segments and turned into a puzzle. “This is not a game” is the slogan; ARGs don’t remind players that they are not real. Hired actors to fill an Audi dealership; players (not knowing they were actors) had to slip past security guards and steal a memory card.

How to play? “Rabbit holes” offer ways into the alternate, fictional reality of the ARG. Find something to allow an interaction (via phone, IM, etc.) with actors impersonating characters. In an ARG, creating a world means assembling the pieces you want your audience to find and placing them where the audience can find them. Everyday communication methods make it easier for your content to be accepted, believable. Sometimes people keep writing to characters after the game is over, even though the writer isn’t working on the game anymore.

“ARG” term is being superseded by cross-media entertainment, immersive branding experiences – because companies are worried about gaming/gambling implications. Broadening to the military, other contexts.