Thoughts on the First Round of In-Class Games

I want to start off by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the games the three groups presented. I was impressed on all levels, especially considering how difficult it can be to come up with an original idea, let alone actually having that idea take-shape enough to be fun enough to play. Kudos to all involved.

Having said that, I really think we need to have more time to play the games in class. The 15 minutes or so simply isn’t enough for a group to present, sample play and take questions. I’d prefer taking a whole class period to explore the games. Even if the games are a little clunky (which wasn’t the case) we can still have a fruitful discussion at the end of the class about the games at more substantive level. What does the rest of the class think?

Here are some thoughts and reactions to the specific games:

2 Degrees:
Luckily, I was one of play testers (in class) for this game. At first, I was skeptical of the “mental leap” concept because it just seemed too big of a category and too hard to verify on the fly. I asked myself, How are they going to make sure a mental leap is valid? However, by sequencing the leaps with the letters of the alphabet, I think the game really came together. When I played, I was definitely flustered quickly. I spent more time thinking of a connection from Hippo to Iguana (my answer) that I forgot to think about the leap made before me, which also happened to be zoo. This is a good sign because it means there’s a lot of thinking to do in a short amount of time—this is fun! With a little practice, I think this game could be really fun. Nice work you guys. I’d be interested how broader categories such as “Science” or “Transportation” might affect game play. Would it be too constricting or would it provide just enough limitation to keep the game interesting?

I could tell when the game-makers demonstrated their game, that there was more than meets the eye. The pace they were playing indicated that they clearly knew what they were doing. Also, the looks on their faces indicated that the players were calculating and scheming, trying to make the best decisions possible with the cards they had been given. In fact, a few times the players actually looked torn between several different moves. These are all good things! These are signs of that the game has depth and variability. From my perspective, even though I didn’t fully understand all the rules and subtleties of the game, there was a lot going on in this “simple” card game. I wanted to play, in order to appreciate all that was going on, especially the silent communication between players. Very intriguing.

Color, Sound, & Gesture:
What a fun game. You definitely have to get your creative juices flowing to win in this game. I did think that the game was a little too cut-throat. By not being able to guess multiple times, the players are likely to try to “wait-out” the other teams so they automatically win. I think this is a weakness in a great game. I think the teams should get multiple guesses. This will help compensate for the limited communication allowed. As more teams guess incorrectly, the more focused the answer becomes and the more tension will build. Who will get it first? With this change, I think game play will improve. Also, is there any consistency to the length of the answers? For example, it might be nice is all the answers were single-words as opposed to random phrases. That way it will be immediately clear when a team guesses the answer, rather than dealing with the “is that close enough” problem. Nice work!


Out of the Garden

Darwinia is a unique game. So far, I've been more intrigued by the feel, look and attitude of the game, than the game play itself. The retro-feel of the game draws me in.

For example, every time you load up the game, it presents a different loading screen. They are always engaging and I actually found myself exiting the game and reloading it just to see how many different load-up screens there actually are. Sometimes the load-up sequence is peaceful and memzermizing, other times it is flashy and jolting. After watching these load-up screens, I think the game makers are intentionally varying the sequences to hide/reveal relevant game information. For example, in one load-up screen you learn about the background of the Darwinias, and watch a video of the Darwinia colony dwindle over time as they are attacked by viruses. You don't actually see this during real game play, but it is part of the plot before you arrive on the seen. This is a neat way to make the history of the game richer.

In most FPS games I've played, you usually want to skip through the story sequences becasue they are always the same. But in Darwinia, you don't really want to do that on the off chance you will learn something new. I find myself wanting to know more about this Matrix-like place.

I've conquered the Garden, the first location you arrive in Darwinia. It wasn't particularly difficult. I seen the Garden as more of a training map becasue it's the first location within the world of Darwinia that you are allowed to play. In the Garden, I successfully ran "Engineer" and "Squad" programs to eliminate the viruses and reactivate some mechanical equipment. I was congratulated for this action and then asked to enter another location.

This new location, is similar to the Garden in landscape, but is a bit larger and has some rather intimidating looking monsters. So far the gameplay has been the same. You inititae a program and then oversee the action of that program. I actually got a little tired of this, because you have to dictate every move. They are in no way independent (especially the Squads) and need constant supervision or they become useless or even will die. Overall, gameplay seems rather limited although I get the sense that my gameplay options will expand soon. I can tell just by looking at the controls of the game.


Entering Darwinia

This is how Darwinia is described:

"The world of Darwinia is a virtual themepark, running inside a computer network built by a computer genius named Dr Sepulveda. Darwinia is populated by a sentient evolving life form called the Darwinians. They are the product of a decades worth of research into genetic algorithms..."

The game has a real retro feel to it. I like it. It takes both hands to opertae the game, one on the keyboard and one on the mouse. This isn't all that unusual, however, the key strokes are different than any other game I've played. Interestingly the keystrokes are quite intuitive.

There is a training part, but it is seemlessly integrated into the plot. When you enter the first area, labeled the "Garden" you rudely greated by a talking head in the lower left-hand corner of your screen. He asks what you are doing in the ocmputer and eventually asks you to get to work. He then guides you through a couple of basic moves to get you going. There are really only two things you can do, create a Squad and create a Engineer.

The game has a mangerial feel to it. It's not about action although you have to be quick. You have to manage your "programs" to complete the objectives. I'm anxious to see how the gameplay will expand now that I've completed the first (introctory) level.


Final Thoughts

What is 'social' about social software?
return to blogger,
type and click the night away
an address unknown

How is the notion of community being redefined by social software?
from the blogosphere
a digital neighbor stops
to smell the bandwidth

What aspects of our humanity stand to gain or suffer as a result of our use of and reliance on social software?
I sit, warm and hunched over
monitor glowing

How is social agency shared between humans and (computer) code in social software?
either ones or twos
we loop and do while, our minds
calculate the cost

What are the social repercussions of unequal access to social software?
access isn’t enough,
'cause the curve is steep and linked
Mister Long-Tail

What are the pedagogical implications of social software for education?
sent through some CAT-5,
your pixilated dream reaches
a student’s in-box

Can social software be an effective tool for individual and social change?
a mouse click away,
lifeless and still until you

turn the power on


Individual Analysis v3.0

I don’t know why, but I’ve been surprised by the number of people toting portable gadgets on the subway these days. Recently, on a Manhattan bound J train, I noticed four people playing Play Station Portables. There were only about 20 people on the train so it was hard to ignore the coincidence of four individuals all playing PSPs. I know they are popular, but 4 on one subway car!?

On another train, after noticing 5 iPods all in a row, I decided to do an impromptu study. How many people were using portable devices? My entirely unscientific study found, in addition to the 5 iPod people, 6 head-phoned individuals (non-iPod users), 1 Game Boy Advanced player, 2 T-Mobile Sidekick users, and 1 cell-phone checker. In other words, nearly everyone, from a 5-year-old boy to a man over 40, was using some sort of portable device on my half of the train.

When these devices gain access to the internet (some already have that feature) the future, in my opinion, will be here; unfettered access to information and content will be available regardless of where you are. This will be a transformative time and it is quite near.

It is this vision that made Prof. Moretti’s observations about technology ring so true the other night. I couldn’t argue with his claim that technology cries for our attention: watch me, play me, listen to me, check me, and answer me. Innovation is fueling an industry of attention sucking gadgetry. As of now, this trend shows no sign of slowing, so what does the future mean for our finite levels of attention?

In chapter 7, Paul Dourish attempts to offer some fresh perspective on this question and others concerning the future of personal computing. He points out that “the question is not whether this or that technological facility will be available to us; the question is how will we be able to understand it, control it, interact with it, and incorporate it, into our lives.”

I’m particularly interested in the word “control.” There seems to be two levels to control. One of the major selling points of many modern devices is the “control” the customer gets. They get to choose the color, the ringtone, the music, the screenname etc. The user can customize the look and the content and make their purchase personal. But underlying this sense of control is the assumption that more connectivity is better. However, there is no control over connectivity. You are either connected or not. Power on, power off. There are no degrees of connectivity. Think of the slogans we’re bombarded with: “more bars in more places” (Cingular), “be there without going there” (HP), and “there’s more to see” (Sharp). Free Wi-fi that’s coming to many major metropolitan areas promises that the net will be available to use whenever, wherever.

Where is the threshold? Can you be too connected? Will we some day crave internet-free zones much like the smoke-free zones of today?


Issue Entrepreneurship Proposal

For my project, I’ve decided to support the spread of open-air internet access to major metropolitan areas. I believe the move to ubiquitous Wi-Fi in large population centers is inevitable and it will partially define the next chapter of the information age. Ideally, citywide Wi-Fi will bring a host of benefits to cities and the people living in them. These benefits include economic growth, social development as well as alleviating the digital divide. For these reasons, I stand in favor of cities proposing a public wireless initiative.

However, none of these benefits will actually materialize unless the Wi-Fi service is planned, implemented and maintained carefully. Unfortunately, the excitement over the possibility of the service has generated an uncritical atmosphere. This just-build-it-so-we-can-use-it attitude does nothing for the public interest. Not all networks are created equal. And wireless proposals are by no means immune to political and economic trickery. The details and decisions involved in brining Wi-Fi to a city are complex. If the public wants the purported benefits of citywide wireless, then they must keep a watchful eye on the plans that are being proposed.

The goal of this project is to educate the public about the myriad issues surrounding a wireless initiative. By exploring these issues and gathering perspectives on them, this project will create a resource for individuals and organizations interested in bringing Wi-Fi to their own communities. This will ensure that the interests of the common city dweller are not overlooked.

Some of the questions that will be explored include:

  • Who will really benefit from these initiatives?
  • How will these initiatives be funded?
  • How will the networks be maintained?
  • What are the benefits for the end-user?
  • What are the costs for the end-user?
  • What is the speed of the connection?
  • Why are companies interested in “helping” cities to implement these networks?
  • Why should cities consider open-air internet access?
  • How is the US comparing to other nations in providing wireless internet access?
  • How will Telecom companies react to public Wi-Fi?
  • What are the major criticisms of these proposals/
Fortunately, the cities that are beginning to implement Wi-Fi on a large scale (Philadelphia and San Francisco) will give this project a main focus. The project will explore the relevant issues in each city and critique the effectiveness of their partnerships (Philly/ Earthlink, San Fran/Google). By contrasting the issues, methods and results of these two cities, a knowledge base of the strengths and weaknesses of both initiatives can be developed.

Some organizations I hope to link with include:

Wireless Philadelphia Executive Committee
Wireless Weblog
NYC Wireless


Textbook Economics

The Brain Lehrer Show (WNYC, public radio) is covering "Textbook Economics" today. If the dicussion is any good I'll update with some transcripts. Usually the show's podcast can be downloaded for gratis at iTunes (that is NOT an endorsement).

Here's how the show is billed:

"Students complain about the price of college textbooks, but now there’s a growing movement to make and distribute them for free. Find out how the people behind Wikipedia are applying an open source model to education publishing with Wikibooks."