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Archive for September, 2014

When sadness grips you…

September 25, 2014 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

I don’t usually write about personal things on this blog. It originated as a supportive outlet for my doctoral research into online gaming and group play and in recent years–since completing that PhD–it’s morphed a bit to be more about gaming and gaming culture in general. I know it’s not read by many, but I keep it alive because it’s a kind of ‘living contribution’ to the great repository of ideas and opinions that makes up so much of our Internet. It’s a kind of permanent exhibit which supports and enhances my professional credentials and CV, I suppose. But something very personal happened to me this week which has an indelible link back to the world of gaming and my own situated experience within it. So I feel compelled to write about it here. Also, in some way this is my own meagre attempt to offer a tribute when I don’t know what else to do.

 

You see, a friend (and former colleague) of mine passed away last weekend. His death has come as a profound shock to all of us who knew him as he was only 28 and did not appear to have any health issues. He had been running a half-marathon and collapsed after he’d completed it. The response to his passing–as often happens in these cases–has been dramatic. There is already a memorial 5k run in the works, money has been raised in his name, and his family has begun plans for a long term memorial in the form of a vineyard and honey farm, so that his impact and contribution will long be felt. Losing anyone close to you is devastating, but in these cases it always seems particularly painful and ‘unfair’. Nothing to prepare you.. nothing to do but reflect on what should have been a long and fruitful life with the rest of us and to acutely feel the absence left behind.

 

Now in this case, there’s another detail that I should explain. You see, if not for online gaming, we’d have never even known each other. And while we knew each other for years, we had never even met each other in person. Before my foray into MMOs like WoW, I was a GM (and before that a player) of a fantastic MUD (multi-user dungeon) called DragonRealms. This is a US-based text-based roleplaying game which has been around for almost two decades now. I love that game. It’s not just an example of roleplaying at its best, but it’s one of the most creative outlets in gameplay you will find online. I worked on it as a GM in a number of capacities, but most of my time was spent as the member of staff responsible for hiring and training other new staff. That’s when I met this friend. He was still a university student at the time and really enthusiastic about coding for the game. I hired him up with a few other new GMs. He did a stellar job in training (despite falling asleep in class occasionally!) and became a productive GM himself, eventually being one of the top-ranked GMs in the game.

And even though I myself had to move on from working on DragonRealms (living back in the UK and doing my PhD did not mesh with the work obligations of a game which was largely situated on American time and needing a sufficient time commitment), we remained in a sporadic kind of contact. I even remember one conversation a couple years back where we had thought his company (the gaming subsidiary of a very large computing firm) might send him over to the UK for some meetings at one of their UK based studios and we had talked about him coming up to visit me. Sadly that fell through. Oddly enough, however, I found myself at this same game studio two weeks ago giving a daylong series of lectures around my own research into sociality in gaming… I even brought up DragonRealms as a case study of excellent sociality and gameplay narrative during those seminars. I thought to tell him but my own hectic schedule made me forget. After all, I never thought I’d run out of time to talk to him. He was 28 after all.

And this is where I come to my point here.. I have been on a rollercoaster of feelings this week. I’ve been sad at this loss, angry at myself for being so crappy at keeping in contact with people, worried for his family.. all the emotions I’ve gone through when I’ve lost other friends or relatives. and what struck me here is that this person wasn’t even someone I’d even met face to face before. But his life and his loss have hit me just as strongly. It really does not matter where you form your friendships–what matters is the quality and impact of those friendships.

The game we both worked on is doing something quite special this week for all of us ex- and current-staffers of DragonRealms. The producers are giving us all ‘in-game’ access to meet up and be with each other this weekend in the game’s space. Most of us live all over the place (both in the US and elsewhere in the world), so going to the actual memorial or funeral is not likely for most, but we will gather and memorialise this friend and colleague in the only way we know how–and it will likely feel as comforting and as painful as any memorial taking place in the corporeal world. But as the sadness of something like this grips you, the only thing you can do is gravitate toward those who share that feeling. And for all of us, it’s been this virtual, online space wherein we formed these friendships and I suppose on some level it’s the only place we all feel we can adequately remember him and what he meant to us.

 

Citizen science and livestreaming articles

September 07, 2014 By: Ladan Category: citizen science games, livestream, media, new media

I just started writing a few short pieces for the academic ‘zine’, The Conversation. It’s a nice online magazine and a good way to see what academics (primarily in Australia and Europe right now) are thinking about and working on.  I was surprised to see so little around gaming there (or maybe I shouldn’t have been), so was glad they accepted my pitches on:

 

 

I’ve got some other longer articles (for mainstream academic journals) underway right now and will post those as they move forward.

 

 

Ethics, sexism and incivility in gaming: Could 2014 be the year we implode?

September 05, 2014 By: Ladan Category: ethics, gender issues, media

I was reading a BBC article today where they mention Nicholas Boyle, a historian, who predicted that 2014 would be a year wherein a significant event could predict the outcome of the rest of the century. Apparently we’ve got a history with years ending in -14 or -15.

It’s hard not to feel like things are really wonky this year. Or maybe it’s always the year you’re in that you feel the most acutely.. either way, things like Ebola, Gaza, ISIS, 200 kidnappings of schoolgirls in Nigeria, the Ukraine, three terrible plane crashes, train crashes, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, cyberattacks, riots, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanos, the list goes on… the world’s suffering can be overwhelming sometimes.

And when looking at the online world, it’s hard not to worry about what feels like a growing and flagrant expression of misogyny and general nastiness. Sexism in gaming or online communities is not a new problem, however. It’s just been amplified in recent months by a few high profile situations. While my cynical side finds it sad that it takes photos of celebrities to get us to suddenly take notice of this heinous crime of the theft of personal digital photographs or a troll attacking a celebrity via Twitter for it to get the police’s attention, at least it draws attention and perhaps gets a debate going. Then we had the latest series of debates around ethics (or the lack thereof) in online journalism, particularly in relation to gaming Web sites/communities. This all exploded a few weeks ago when news burst on the scene about allegations of game designers being in bed (literally) with gaming journalists and the blurry lines between nepotism and big money driving what gets coverage and what does not.

I won’t say much more than that (you can read the whole ‘GamerGate’ story and its related links above [good article, btw]) about the topic, but the issues of sexism, ethics in reporting, and this upswing in nastiness online seems to be the order of the day. I don’t worry about the impact on people like myself who’ve been around the Internet long enough to know how to compartmentalise nastiness and only focus on those things I can trust and respect, but I do worry about the upcoming generations of Internet-savvy kids (12 and up) who live on social media, games, and the various other outlets that mean more to them than anything else: YouTube channels, gamer community sites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.. if they aren’t seeing good practice on these sites, are we putting them at risk of growing up without good examples of how fair debate, journalism and reporting and analysis is supposed to be done? Will they even know what ethics are like in practice? I’m not saying that the mainstream media sites are much better, not by a long shot, but at least there’s a pretence of responsibility embedded in these other industries. And at least there’s a framework we can turn to to police and monitor these behaviours.

Maybe this is because a lot of us have come to gaming from a place of personal interest. Most of the guys who livestream, cast or have huge YouTube channels are gamers themselves who happened to be in the right place at the right time (and have a Webcam) and happen to possess a good sense of humour. Most of the guys who started the big gaming sites did it as enthusiasts or bloggers who never expected such success. And the game industry is dotted with people who loved games so much that they did everything they could to get a job working on them.

I remember when I started my PhD. I thought I had little to learn as I was coming to my work from a place of knowledge–being a gamer. But while I understood the community I was going to study, the actual professional qualification of doing doctoral research required training and supervision from those far more experienced than myself: my professors and lecturers who could guide me on how to be an academic. Sure I was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about games, but I had to accept that I had a lot to learn about knowing how to conduct and write up research.

Things being borne out of enthusiasm do not mean that they are bereft of expertise or ability, of course. It’s this very passion and creativity that has made gaming the exquisite cultural artefact that it is today; but being enthusiastic, knowing your field and having an opinion will only get you so far. Perhaps this current debate around ethics, sexism and incivility is just telling us that we need to make sure that our house doesn’t just have a wickedly awesome design, but that it’s clean and well kept as well.

Right now, the mainstream world doesn’t seem to notice or care much about how infantile or disruptively we are behaving toward each other right now. If anything, they’ll just use it as confirmation of our backwardness and the negative impact that games and social media are having on the world. But I’m feeling a bit embarrassed about what’s happening as I know this is not the face of gaming I want to see or promote…

I wholeheartedly agree with Adam Thomas (his article linked above) when he writes, ‘if this issue never gets looked into, then someone isn’t doing their job. Further silence basically goes to prove the point … of the lack of skill shown by gaming journalists, if nothing else.’ This issue should be looked into and it should be looked into by competent researchers. I don’t think leaving this up to the media, games industry or gamers to resolve will be sufficient in this instance.  It’s almost like we need one of those good ol’ white papers that we love to write here in the UK. An official ‘Report’ into the state of Sexism, Ethics and Abuse in the Gaming Community (community including all of those who work in/around and play in/around the games industry).

Either which way, whatever the outcome is from this summer of general nastiness in 2014, I’m hopeful that this only indicates that the gaming industry is just in its unpleasant teenager phase and will outgrow these outbursts of selfishness, moodiness and confusion so it can finally settle down into its true golden age where any and all gamer is welcome, people act like decent human beings toward each other while online, and the way the industry and media conducts itself is ethical and reasonable. Hey, anything is possible.. we’re talking about games, after all.