Category Archives: games

super to see the supermes!

When I left Channel 4 Education in December, there were 5 projects which I had commissioned and were due to launch, and/or took the reins over from Alice Taylor after she originally green lit them. One of those was The Supermes, an emergent drama using The Sims 3 engine about a group of mates trying to get on with each other and what life throws at them in a houseshare.

The first episode is finally out.

It was designed to be part of Superme, the resilience system of content for teens to help them understand that it’s ok just to be ok.

The Supermes was part labour of love for Robin Burkinshaw, the genius crafter behind Alice and Kev, and part Massive Headache. In the best possible way.

The reason why it was a headache was simple: apart from stuff I can’t really talk about, there was the very fact that the characters were uncontrollable in a sense. These were not actors you could direct. Nor was this machinima. This was something entirely different and tricky because they were essentially robots. To cut what they did while Robin played them was no easy task, and the crafting of the story was a massive challenge, but it has worked.

Even the voice over was hard to get right. We originally wanted a Carl Pilkington-esque tone, but quickly realised it would not work. We did however want to make sure the narration nodded to some of the odd things our characters would do, because they were Sims. We wanted the narrator to balance those humorous observations with the more serious messages coming through, dealing with loss for example.

I am really proud of it, and some of the episodes made me cry.*

This post explains the whole process rather well, and you can also check out the blog on Facebook which involved the audience throughout the production process.

There were a lot of people who came and went over the course of this project, and they did a stunning job imho.

*Although still disappointed there was no cat in any of the episodes. The Sims 3 doesn’t have pets.

my baby sweatshop.

This is something I am Very Proud Of. It is my first games commission at C4 which I have seen from commission to live. It’s by the wonderful-to-work-with Littleloud and was part of our call for ideas around fashion and ethics last year. This turned out to be a way into global economics and is a classic example of cleverly taking a familiar game mechanic (Tower Defence) and use it to make learning happen through the game play.

I love the darkness of the Boss, the comedy of the references and scripting, the Gary Lucken art, and the 8 bit soundtrack. But most of all, I love the guilt of players and that many of the blog review comments have been about the politics of sweatshops, not whether people love or hate the music. And this is the point: *this* is why we do what we do,with the people we do it with.*

It is also our first game out of the door from the 2011 stable. More to come, including The End, a game about death, by the fantastic Preloaded and commissioned by Alice. Watch this space.

* And they squeezed in a cat for me (scroll to the end of this piece!)

ponycorns rock.

I LOVE this (via @Mrdarrengarrett). Welcome to Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. This is why I will probably never have children (or cats). I would spend a looonnnng time exploiting their creative innocence for my own personal gain obvs. Adorable. I want a ponycorn. Now.

Yay Sissy and her education fund.

I *will* possibly get a chance to do this kind of thing, come to think if it, without actually having to go through the agony of childbirth, as I have just had my induction to be a Ministry of Stories Minister in Training. I might even get to work in the Monster Shop. Check out the history and inspiration here.

They do writing mentor workshops with primary school age and will be working  with older excluded kids soon too. Can’t wait. Bring on the Mortal Terror.

studio ghilbli meets minecraft.

This is quite possibly the most awesome thing I have seen in a very long time. Beats my efforts. I am still stuck down a dark hole in Minecraft, unable to find my way out as I have yet to make a torch. doh. (via Kotaku)

oh and btw… one more thing.

Just reading the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Scientific Research in Learning and Education (phew) transcript which Dr Vaughan Bell pointed me to.

It was a debate which took place between Dr Bell and Baroness Greenfield on the “potential impact of technology, such as computer gaming, on the brain”. It really expands on the shorter Fight Club piece I referenced earlier (see previous post).

Baroness Greenfield asks again refers to the example of rescuing the princess:

So when you play a computer game to rescue the princess as say here, you may be becoming very agile at your mental processes, but do you really care about princess Yukihime? Do you care about what she is thinking or feeling? Do you care about what is going to happen to her after she has been rescued? Do you care what career she is going to take up? Is she going to marry a prince? Do you care about the princess compared to when you have been told a story for example, and you have princess Marya?

Maybe the game doesn’t always let you carry on that narrative, but gosh fans do! Just take a look at the volume of fan fiction around games. Yes, people seem to care.

games, metaphor, empathy…

Reading some of Greenfield’s musings on the effect of games and digital media (“screen culture”, as she calls it) on young minds, I felt compelled to pick out three arguments she makes and find examples of where games in particular contradict her assumptions.

I am picking out only three of her claims because the others are well trodden areas of debate.

She argues in The Times Fight Club piece from earlier this year that in games and other digital media activities,

[…] there is “living for the moment”, where the emphasis is on sensory-laden thrill — the buzz of, say, rescuing the princess in a game. This is a literal world where everything is not related to previous experiences or any wider context. No care is given for the princess herself, for the significance of her situation. Because there is none.

She argues this kind of screen culture means:

[…] a decline in the capacity for empathy. Interacting in person with others, listening to stories and reading novels are all good ways of learning about how others feel and think. The prolonged exposure to screen activities will, for the first time, stymie this familiar developmental process.

and that screen culture leads to…

[…] the diminished use of metaphor and abstract concepts. It would be difficult to expect current software to help the user to gain a sense of concepts such as honour, or of measuring one’s life in coffee spoons (as mentioned by T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock). Small children have problems interpreting metaphor. Might constant exposure to a literal world mean that the brain remains infant-like?

So I asked these two questions of Twitter:

  1. what are the best eg of games which encourage players to have empathy or think about the social context of a game character?
  2. which games do you think make the best use of metaphor in the narrative or gameplay?

You can have a look for yourself at just some of the many responses I have had. Some of the examples which stand out for me are Heavy Rain, Everyday the Same Dream (thanks Jo!), and Limbo.

There is no doubt that games can and do employ abstract concepts and metaphors to let players think about social contexts, actions and decisions. There is no doubt that players care about what happens to the protagonists and those they love. The consequences in games may not (most of the time) be meat space based ones, but in a sense they are. I felt thoroughly sad after playing through Everyday the Same Dream.

A noir game like Limbo:

… poses questions about life death versus life and reality versus dream, but it doesn’t answer them. It’s the questions that are important here, and you’re left to contemplate the meaning of this world for yourself. (Tom McShea Limbo Review)

The trick is how we equip ourselves as players, and open up spaces to have the conversations around these questions with which players are left contemplating. If we want to. And the more game developers, as artists and as storytellers, are able to write themselves and their experiences into their work, the more we will get to experience a kind of screen culture, as part of our everyday lives, that helps us question more and decipher our lives.

What say you?

“It’s all Ze Frank’s fault”

Indeed, yes, as Rachel C commented on my post below, the Colour Wars of Twitter* are indeed All Ze Frank’s** fault. See his explanation which he just Tweeted.

Seems it is a leftover from Summer Camp, an American phenomenon of which I have been eternally jealous. Let the wars begin. GO OFFWHITE!

*I refuse to spell it the wrong way.

**I interviewed him once at TED Global. Always regret not having published it. He was lurvely.

Twitter team games?

No idea what it is about yet, but I think there are some team games brewing on Twitter. No one would actually tell me anything, but people on Seesmic have started talking about it too, recruiting for team members for @yellowteam etc.

I decided to join the offwhiteteam. It sounds petulant enough for me and I am liking the updates. Ze Frank is brewing some challenges, so I suspect this has something to do with him, although I have not bothered to check that bit out yet. Too busy eating parsnip crisps and houmous.

But I will, and I will report back.

I like the idea of making Twitter even more playful than it is and I think it will work in quite interesting ways given the integration of Twitter with other services, apps and feeds.

Jane McGonigal saves SXSW for me

Just when I was starting to wonder what interesting thing I had really seen at sxsw (apart from a couple of sessions friends participated in), along came Jane McGonigal’s keynote. I knew it was The One I Must Not Miss while I was here. It did not fail to please. She has been the only one I have seen who has actually introduced some fresh(ish) academic theory into her talk – that of Happiness. She talked about 10 skills that games can give you which ultimately give you a better quality of “life”. Hence, why there is a mass exodus to virtual worlds.

  1. mobability: ability to coordinate at large scales
  2. cooperation radar: ability to attach who would be perfect collaborator for any given mission
  3. ping quotient: how good you are at reaching out and are good at responding to others’ engagement
  4. influencey: ability to adapt persusive ability: motivating people
  5. multi capitalism: monetary and social captial: recognising diff capital systems: getting people to trade those
  6. protovation: rapid, fearless innovation: failing is fun. fail quickly and a lot means you learn the most: gamers do this a lot
  7. open authorship: giving content away and acknowledging it will be changed: how to design content to make sure people can modify in positive ways
  8. signal/noise management: knowing what is signal and what is noise
  9. longbroading: zoomed out view of higher level systems
  10. emergent sight: you can spot patterns – things you weren’t expecting: being comfy with messy complexity (eg lost ring – multiple languages): seeing opportunities in messiness.

The thing about games and virtual story worlds – no matter how graphically sophisticated (or not) they are – is at least they give you feedback and points for doing things. That way we know instantly what our strengths and weaknesses are, and how we are doing. We don’t really get that in everyday life.

Then of course, she ended the session with a spontaneous Soulja Boy dance. As you do.