Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October BoRT: A playtesting mask

This month's BoRT is about masks in games. I usually play choice-driven games very sincerely, so I don't feel like I'm wearing a mask when I play them. Obviously, I'm not a Japanese high school student or whoever the player-character is, but I usually choose options that make sense to me.

In his Designing Virtual Worlds, Richard Bartle discusses why players play in virtual worlds. He says things like "virtual worlds enable you to find out who you are by letting you be who you want to be." But he's clearly against the mask metaphor--if you become the character you're playing (your "mask"), then you're not really role-playing anymore, are you? For Bartle, role-playing is a kind of psychologically helpful exercise in acting. He's passionate that playing a character completely different from yourself is freeing. It inspired me to create a guardian character in Guild Wars 2 (since I usually play magic-users). But I found that simply playing a different character class didn't make me feel any different about how I played. For me, it took role-playing as a different kind of player (a playtester) to change how I played my characters.

My sister and I have been working on a marriage-relationship-sim game called Personal Space, and lately I have been doing a little playtesting. As a playtester, I want to try different play styles. Instead of choosing what I know will "win," I start role-playing different kinds of players.
no, I don't want to help you right now
My last playthrough, I maxed out my spiritual stat, but I chose somewhat impulsive or selfish replies when interacting husband character. I was studying spiritual writings every week, but there was nothing forcing me to actually change my character's personality. It's a simulation, so there's some limitations to what your character can do, but I felt like maybe I was more like this "impulsive" character than I'd like to be. I study my religion's teachings and I have aspirations at being a more "spiritual" or loving person, but on the other hand, sometimes I'm kind of an impulsive jerk. I'm sure it's possible to role-play a hypocrite in other games, but I hadn't really tried it until I felt like I had to explore different options as a playtester.

I don't think that catharsis or "venting" is helpful for controlling my emotions. But I do think that exploring my options in a videogame is a safe way to see that my habitual way of interacting with others isn't the only way (kind of an odd thing to discover while playing a game I helped write, but there you have it).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Love and Dating Visual Novels

And now, just in time for Halloween, it’s…

Love and Dating games!  What could be more frightening than admitting a possibly unrequited love, or taking that first leap to a deeper relationship, or staying with just one person for the rest of your life?!  Time to face your fears with these visual novels about love and dating!

All of these below are available for free for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Save the Date

Have you ever felt like dating was a game that it was impossible to win? Like all the cards were stacked against you?  Things quickly devolve into the improbable and surreal as you try to overcome impossible odds and save your date in this love sim parody.  

That Cheap and Sacred Thing

If an android could love - true love - how would it manifest?  What kind of a relationship can an android and a human really have, when both are so limited?  Explore these questions in this kinetic novel.

Wedding Vows

Not only does this kinetic novel follow a couple over the course of decades, but it does so in a sweet and non-linear fashion, showing both the influence of the past and its impermanence.  


With a beautiful, ancient Egypt-inspired setting and gorgeous character art and backgrounds, this visual novel examines slavery, romantic and non-romantic love, and our perceptions of our own culture and other people. Make sure you get all the endings and then the true ending!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Results from the videogame preferences and morals survey

Back in March I asked for volunteers for a survey about videogame preferences and morals. Then I had a baby and I kind of forgot about the results for a while. The blog link to the initial call for responses also has information on what questionnaires we used.


We solicited responses from Twitter and Facebook and a forum I frequent and received 75 responses. About 70% (53) of respondents were between the ages of 25-34. 29% (22) were women.

 Some people complained about how I switched the likert scale halfway through (i.e., 1 became "strongly agree" rather than "strongly disagree"), so after about 50 responses I added a heads-up about that. The reason for this switch was to preserve the wording of the original questionnaires. You can see everyone's responses here (yay for open source social science). There are a few different sheets on the results spreadsheet. We used the most conservative method of converting the videogame preferences to subscales (detailed in this master's thesis).

My friend Michael Davison helped with the data analysis (I have done similar analyses in SPSS, but it's been a long time I don't have access to that software anymore). He used the R project software to compute correlations between the videogame preference subscales and the morals subscales and within the subscales themselves. This was an exploratory study so we didn't try to predict the results, although I kind of thought a preference for shooting games would correlate negatively with harm/care, or possibly positively correlate with in-group loyalty.

Probably the most interesting correlation was that preferences for adventure and puzzle games were correlated with the fairness/reciprocity moral subscale. A preference for adventure games had a .33 correlation (p < .01) and a preference for puzzle games had a .31 correlation (p < .01).


I was wondering why there weren't any other interesting correlations between the moral subscales and the videogame preferences. One possible reason is that we had a better range of preferences for adventure and puzzle games (14-100 and 31-93 respectively), whereas the range for Action: shooting was 22-74. It's possible I didn't have enough participants who really liked shooting games, or that there is simply no correlation between liking shooting games and wanting other people to suffer.

As for why a preference for adventure and puzzle games correlates with wanting justice and things to be fair, I'm not sure. Perhaps a desire for fairness and a penchant for puzzle-solving stems from a desire for things to be logical or predictable?


I was hoping to be able to learn the R software and figure out how to compute Bayesian t-tests (this article inspired me) or a factor analysis and try it out with these data, but I'm not sure if I'll get around to it. If you would like to, go ahead!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Video Games Live: hyperreal!

I went to Video Games Live yesterday! I didn't make it to SLC comic con, because I have a baby, but sitting down for some entertainment without waiting in any lines was definitely more my speed. It was pretty fun to hear some familiar game music in a concert hall. Here are some observations I had:

-It was weird to go to a concert a experience music in a way the composer specifically didn't intend. Usually when I go see a symphony I feel like I'm finally setting aside some time to TRULY enjoy this music like I'm SUPPOSED to. But with videogame music, it's more "true to the original" to listen to the music while you play the game. They played two songs from the Journey soundtrack and it actually kind of bothered me that the video clips of the game didn't match where the song occurs in the game originally: "no, you're supposed to be going through the apotheosis level now! And now the credits should roll!" (yes, I can feel your eyes rolling from here. It was just a weird feeling and I wanted to tell you about it.)

-The symphony participated in an OCRemix version of Celeste's theme, and I was weirding out about how it was an orchestra trying to sound like a remix of a digital symphony. So hyperreal!

-At first I wasn't sure why they didn't have a classical conductor, but then I realized that conducting for this concert was a completely different job. Each piece had a video that went with it, and yes, it was synced to the music, so there was some soundtrack-timing-level-preciseness with the tempo that went on (either that or their A/V guys were just really good at adapting to tempo). There was also one part where they took a volunteer from the audience to play space invaders with motion controls and they played the music live. It reminded me of how before movie theaters had speakers, they had organists who made up music to go with the silent films (I went to a recreation at BYU once and it was pretty cool). Most soundtracks these days do have some procedural elements, so it's like the improvisational aspects of performative soundtracks are built-in.

-Another way that game soundtrack music is exciting in ways that classical music used to be exciting is that most of the composer are alive and many of them know each other. So you get things like the composer conducting their own music (when/why did this tradition stop?). The soundtrack world is where our classical music is still living, in my opinion (in that it's both popular and still classical).

-There were some moments where the "founder of Video Games Live!" felt a little cheesy, but in some ways I identified with the "gamer" crowd in that I was pretty excited to hear music from games I've loved. As much as I wish I could help reclaim the "gamer" label though, I feel like it's a stupidly polarizing term, and maybe I'll just be "someone who enjoys videogames, as well as other entertainment media."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BoRT: Videogames as a comfort during breastfeeding

I mentioned in my last post that I feel like the "how videogames changed my life"-type personal essays help legitimize my time spent playing videogames. Now I'll write my own personal story about it as part of the latest Blogs of the Round Table. "Did you ever find yourself in a better place or positive position as a result of play?"

About two months ago I had a baby whom I'll call Piper. I did use Lumines to cope with some of the pain of childbirth, but at some point I couldn't really concentrate on anything besides the experience of pushing an infant out of my uterus. The birth went fine, and after a week in the NICU with some apnea, we were able to come home with our baby. I had tons of support learning to breastfeed in the hospital, but after I got home, feeding all the time was starting to drain (ha) me. I found ways to watch TV while I fed Piper, but I also wanted to play videogames. 

My desire to multitask while breastfeeding was actually a really good thing. It helped me to improve my breastfeeding posture so that I was slouching back instead of leaning over to feed Piper. It made me learn how to cradle Piper in the crook of my arm instead of clinging her to my breast with two hands. And it also helped me relax during breastfeeding instead of worrying about if she was eating enough or if she was latched on correctly. I was able to play the third Ace Attorney game, which is playable one-handed and easily interrupted. Playing games also helped me to feel like I was more than a milk machine--I was a milk machine AND someone who could connect small logical leaps in a videogame! 

As lovely as videogames are, I feel like I could have made similar progress in my life with other media. What if reading a book two-handed while breastfeeding had been my goal? Or talking on the phone? Maybe I'm giving videogames too much credit here?

Friday, August 15, 2014

On videogame personal essays

I've been reading some of the Games Journalism 2013 shortlist ebook on my e-reader while exercising. First off, it is such a different experience to read games journalism in book-like form. If I feel a little bored, I can't immediately close the tab and start reading something else. So I'm a captive audience. I enjoy most of the articles too, especially the ones that focus on the psychology of videogames, like the one about freemium whales (users who spend lots of money on premium content in free games). There are some close readings of games, and also a fair amount of what I'd call personal essays centered around videogames.

Recently Jonas Kyratzes and Dan Cox (see the comments) mentioned how they're tired of these videogame personal essays. I know in other places people have said that such essays aren't journalism, or that the experience of reading them is unsatisfying. I agree that a personal essay is more like creative writing than journalism. I like reading personal essays about videogames though! I feel like reflecting on the experiences we have in games legitimizes them. It makes me feel better about playing games in my free time. 

I also think that the videogame personal essay is much more accessible than close analysis. Someone who has never played the game you're talking about can still enjoy a personal essay about playing it. It's a little more difficult to engage a naive reader in a technical discussion of a game's design points. For example, I skipped the piece in the games journalism e-book about silent hill savepoints, because it had spoilers for the series, and also because I wasn't sure if I'd really understand the analysis, since I've never played a Silent Hill game (even though I'm pretty sure I've read an article about how awful those save points are). I think this is why the most successful "close readings" of games are often focused on games that are already popular. 

On the other hand, a skillful writer can make game design analysis interesting, usually through the use of diagrams and screenshots. But man, those things are a lot of work! Especially since there isn't a way to take screenshots on the PS3/Wii in the console's software (but even if there were, it would still be a pain to move the files somewhere I could use them). Some day I will do a great game analysis complete with screenshots. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to make Checkers boring

Yesterday on Pinterest I came across a blog post about how to use traditional board games in "untraditional ways" to "make learning fun." I am all for educational games, but the ideas in the post made me cringe.

The first idea was to write subtraction problems on a checkers board, and then have students say the answer to the problem to move to that square. This sounds like a glorified worksheet to me! Checkers teaches good skills already, like strategy and sportsmanship. The other repurposes were similar--have students say the answer to a math fact before going to a dot in Twister or putting down a piece in Connect Four. I saw another, similar post on a different blog that had kids reading sight words in order to play Break the Ice. This kind of modification makes games less fun, because it introduces tasks that are irrelevant to game mechanics. How about using games that involve math facts or words directly, instead of inserting them into otherwise perfectly good games? We go to educational games to get away from the worksheets and flashcards. When a game uses math or reading relevantly, it helps motivate children to learn those skills (I anticipate that this academic article discusses that, but I can't access the PDF. This one looks really good too. U_U). It's not going to hurt a child to drill them on math facts as part of a game, but I think it isn't as enjoyable as it could be.

I had some ideas of games that would use educational material more relevantly:

Math fact games

  • Subtraction War: Like regular War (the card game), except each turn players turn over two cards each. They must subtract the lesser from the greater card (or the second from the first if you're using negative numbers too), and whoever has the greatest difference gets all the cards. Maybe that's too difficult? You can take out the face cards or just assign them all a value, like 10.
  • Prime Climb / Primo: This is an upcoming board game that is kind of like Sorry in that you can oust your opponents' pieces from the board, but instead of rolling two D6s, you roll two D10s. Also, the board is numbered from 1-100. You add, subtract (and multiply/divide if you like) the numbers you rolled from the numbers your pawns are on to move them. This one might be too difficult for lower graders... but maybe not?
  • Dice games like Farkle can be modified to practice addition and subtraction. Here's a great PDF with different card and dice games to practice math facts. 
Language and reading games
  • For sight words, a game like Spot It! only with words seems like it would be pretty fun and effective. They sell a basic English version. Admittedly, this one isn't something you could replicate exactly at home--the algorithm for making a set of cards with multiple images and having one thing always matching between two is actually rather complex. 
  • A matching/memory game using sight words. I wonder if some kind of speed matching would work too, or if that would just stress kids out. 
  • A maze game with images/objects in the floor and written instructions which refer to those objects. 
  • More games for language development on Sublime Speech
It seems like almost any game is going to be getting kids to think about things in a different way (unless it's too easy), but some games address school curriculum needs better than others.