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June 2018

Beyond Choice in Game Narrative

Over on ihobo today, an open letter to Caroline Marchal and John Yorke responding to their talk at Develop: Brighton. Here’s the most inflammatory paragraph to whet your appetite:

There are, I think, two main problems with game writing today. The first is that too many of the people working on stories in games have a great appreciation for the toolkit of game design but too little an appreciation for the vast toolkit for narrative… To have experimented with short stories, or plays, or novels, is not a wasted effort for a game writer, but an opportunity to learn vital skills in story construction. The second problem is that there are rather too many ‘carpetbaggers’ (if you’ll forgive the allusion), which is to say, screenwriters who think that the problem with game stories is something that can only be solved by writers with experience in film and TV. Of the two, the latter might be more dangerous to games as an artistic medium, since someone who is game-literate can learn conventional narrative relatively easily (by attending your talk, for instance) but a screenwriter who believes that games must adapt to the conventions of screenplays is undertaking a certain kind of violence against the radical potential of game narrative.

You can read the entirety of Beyond Choice in Game Narrative over at ihobo.com.


100Cyborgs: 1-10

The Virtuous Cyborg - Cut-outWhat are the behavioural effects of technological networks? What happens if we stop thinking about technology as shiny machines and start looking at other, subtler tools? Can we design technology to have better effects upon humans? These and other questions are what this blog project, A Hundred Cyborgs, are all about. Here are the first ten posts:

  1. Voice Assistants
  2. MallBots
  3. Calendars
  4. Blogs
  5. Self-braking Cars
  6. Gender
  7. Chlorophyll
  8. Amazon
  9. Firearms
  10. Bitcoin

#6 and #7 are ‘line blurring’ pieces – they take ‘technology’ in a wider sense than most people are comfortable with. But these are also the two pieces that I found most engaging in this first block of cyborgs.

I am always interested in discussion, so feel free to raise comments either here (ideal for longer debates) or on Twitter (perfect for quick questions). And if you’ve enjoyed any of these pieces, please buy a copy of The Virtuous Cyborg and support my research into cybervirtue!

More cyborgs next week.


What Players Want: Understanding Player Diversity (Develop 2018)

 At Develop: Brighton this year? Don't miss this essential talk by International Hobo's Founder Chris Bateman!


10PlayerMotivesWhat Players Want: Understanding Player Diversity

Tuesday 10th July: 17.00 - 17.45 : Room 4

Everyone who makes games is in the business of designing for an audience, but understanding what players want has become increasingly difficult the broader and more diverse the audience for videogames has become. Combining cutting edge psychological research with practical game design techniques, this How To talk puts player enjoyment into a more concrete perspective by answering three questions. 

What do players want? The ten psychological motives players have for enjoying games, from the victory motive to the narrative motive, provide every possible reason for players liking the emotional experiences of games. The most common mistake game designers make is assuming they are a typical player: they’re not, and neither is anyone else.

Does my game have what players want? The most reliable way of tracking audience preferences is to look at what players are already playing. Here, marketing and game design have to learn to work together to find the all-important balance between the familiar and the original.

Could my game appeal to a wider audience? You can make changes to a game to help it appeal to a wider audience – but you have to be certain you aren’t destroying the core experience just to go fishing for the mass market. Commercial videogames today have to court and keep an audience, and to do that you need to know which player motives your game can deliver, and which other motives are compatible with it.

Don’t guess at your audience: understand them, and yourself, and learn to make better games.

Takeaway

  • Understand the Ten Player Motives, and how to design games that satisfy these needs.
  • Estimate your game’s potential sales by recognising how to relate your design to games already in the marketplace
  • Maximise your audience appeal without destroying your core experience through careful design tweaking

 Cross-posted from ihobo.com.


Traffic Lights

Traffic LightsThinking about the kind of cyborgs we become with traffic lights is certainly odd… we think about traffic lights as part of the road, not as part of us. But whether as driver or as pedestrians, traffic lights are cybernetic systems that control or influence how we behave. The car-human-traffic light system is a cyborg system, one that intersects with the human-traffic light system we encounter on foot in ways that are not always helpful.

While a great many car-human cyborgs respect the signals given by traffic lights (which are effectively traffic control robots), there is a nasty tendency for cyber-impetuousness. As the light turns amber (yellow in the US), there’s a sudden urge to speed through the lights, rather than stop. Even though our journey will only be interrupted by a minute and our final time at destination will be barely affected at all, there is a desire not to be impeded – and then the opposite reaction happens: a potentially dangerous dash across the line.

As pedestrians, the same cyber-impetuousness happens when we face a long walk to reach a designated crossing but could easily (sometimes not so easily…) dash across the road in a break in the traffic. Again, we don’t want our journey to be impeded and we are willing to shoulder a risk in safety, to ourselves and others, in order to satisfy our impatience. In the case of the pedestrian’s situation (although we rarely think about it consciously) the problem is exacerbated since city planners have almost universally favoured the car-human cyborg over the human on foot. In the United Kingdom, pedestrian crossings are not always or often in the places where ‘foot traffic’ flows naturally; in much of the US, travelling on foot in the majority of places is impossible. On foot, there are a great many places where you are simply less important than when you are a car-human cyborg.

The problem of vehicular cyber-impetuousness might perhaps be addressed in various different ways, not all of them practical. I sometimes idly dream of automatic paintball guns shooting those cars which run red lights, but few would approve of this vigilantism. Adding some cost, small or otherwise, to not stopping could make a difference: all car-human cyborgs respect severe damage tire spikes, not all respect pedestrians. Automatic number plate recognition could be used to leverage fines. Given that roads are always smoky, you could even produce a ‘wall of lasers’ when the lights change, creating the impression of a barrier. Sometimes, simple psychological tricks are enough to make the difference.

I find it fascinating that we treat traffic lights as necessary: it shows that we think cars are necessary. And that in turn suggests that we can’t imagine a world without cars. Even as the urban infrastructure problems become insurmountable, we’re not willing to consider giving up or changing this most problematic of cyborgs.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #15


Autodialling Ambulance Chasers

autodiallerOf all the multitudes of robots sharing our world with us today, few are as wretched as the Autodialling Ambulance Chaser. With the advent of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), automated phone calls do not even require a standalone unit like the one pictured here – all you need is a computer and access to the internet and you too can harass strangers over whatever petty matter you choose to pursue. But despite the possibility of anyone firing off scattershot phone messages to everyone else, autodiallers are primarily used as a means of directed marketing, and one particular usage outstrips all others: ambulance chasing.

You may recall the inimitable Phil Hartman’s shyster lawyer on The Simpsons, Lionel Hutz, saying “You can ching, ching, ching, cash in on this tragedy!” Well, there is plenty of money in personal injury cases and the only difficult part of the process is finding clients. It used to be that you’d have to personally locate those with personal injury claims by, for instance, hawking hospital wards – a practice that gives us the term ‘ambulance chaser’ in the first place, since the lawyer or their minion could follow an ambulance back to a hospital and then check to see if there was a law suit. But VOIP disposes of this time consuming process by foisting the legwork onto a robot that repetitively dials numbers until it finds someone with a personal injury claim.

The call begins something like this: “I hear you’ve been in an accident recently, and we want to talk to you about a claim for personal injury.” At this point, the person on the other end of the line either hangs up indignantly (in which case the robot simply dials the next number…), listens to the entire message because they are bored but does nothing (triggering the next call), or jumps through the hoops to contact the human at the attorney’s office and take the process forward. You can liken the process to fishing, and as with most angler’s experiences, there’s a lot more casting the line than there is reeling in. This means that the overwhelming majority of humans who encounter the Autodialling Ambulance Chaser have nothing close to a personal injury claim and are simply being mildly harassed by a robot.

This is another example of what in The Virtuous Cyborg I call cyber-disdain. There is no respect for the people being called by this robot, the vast majority of which are simply instrumentalist dross discarded in the search for that rare situation where somebody did recently have an accident. I suppose it could be claimed in defence of this irritating little robot that it sometimes finds people with claims and ultimately gets them money. But even then, is a society that obsessively turns to the courts to turn tragedy into cash really one that we ought to be encouraging?

A Hundred Cyborgs, #14


WKN: First Review

WKN Twitter ImageIt gives me great pleasure to announce that Wikipedia Knows Nothing has finally received a review (from someone who actually read it!) Rowan Fortune posted a capsule review on Medium last week. Here’s an extract:

…Wikipedia is merely the fascinating point of departure for an erudite and sophisticated examination of knowledge, how to debate, facts and many contemporary predicaments related to the crisis of expertise, political partisanship, scientism and philosophy. In the course of all of this Bateman draws extensively from Mary Midgley, Jacques Rancière, Immanuel Kant and to a lesser extent (but still interestingly) from other philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Alasdair MacIntyre. There are engaging, clever and clear tangential theses about the need to abolish anonymity in peer review, the equality of intelligence, a multiverse view of reality with implications for metaphysics and epistemology and so on.

You can check out his complete review over at Rowan’s page on Medium.


Thirteen Today

Birthday-cake

Back in 2005, thirteen years ago today, I began blogging. I have often written about what a transformative experience this was for me, and also about the tremendous value I place upon blogging as a practice – indeed, as recently as the end of May this year, I was talking about why blogging is more cybervirtuous than other forms of social media. When I started, I could write every day, but at the moment the demands of my jobs and family make this difficult. Still, I try to offer something every week at least, except when I’m taking my Spring or Autumn social media breaks. I blog because I want to express myself, hone my thoughts, and share my ideas. And I blog because I want to change the world and I want to achieve that by changing myself first of all. To everyone who has participated in ‘the Game’ over the last thirteen years, my infinite and unlimited gratitude.

If you are a stalwart of Only the Game, please support it by buying The Virtuous Cyborg and leaving a review on your blog or an online bookstore. Thank you!