International Games Day @ your library Game on November 15, 2014!

What’s afoot, July edition: The last month in games

Posted on July 21, 2014

Hey folks! Another semi-random sampling of news from the games world, this time with extra bonus feature - profiles of games news sites!

News

  • Huge news from the world of eSports - the International DotA2 Championships are on now. As in, the finals are tonight, Pacific Time.
    (If you have no idea what DotA2 is, get started here. The TL;DR: it's a fast-paced team-based game that plays like a cross between team sports, superhero comic faceoffs, and mythic battle.)
    This is big because not only is it one of the largest videogame tournaments ever (with a prize pool reported at $10 million), it's actually being broadcast on ESPN - making the eSports folks' ambition of parity with physical sports (pSports?) one step closer. It's not the first time a geek game has been on ESPN; Magic: the Gathering did that back in 1997, and they've covered poker and even spelling bees as well. More and more, spectatorship of non-pSports competition is becoming part of the mainstream.
  • FPS space horror franchise Doom - the game that took the momentum built by Wolfenstein 3D and used it (rocket-jump style?) to propel the first-person shooter into its current status as probably the iconic videogame genre - has had a new entry announced. It seems a lot like a reboot - down to the door sound that triggers adrenalin flashbacks in just about any action-gamer active in the 90s - but it looks nothing like one.
  • In addition to the price drop (and removal of mandatory Kinect) from the XBox One we covered a couple of months back, Microsoft spokesperson Major Nelson has just announced an update that addresses a bunch of other criticisms, mostly UI-based.
  • The Zeldathon has just passed $100,000 raised for St Jude Children's Research Hospital. Gamers are so antisocial.
  • A couple of interesting game-related reads at The Atlantic: Are Multiplayer Games the Future of Education? and How Family Game Night Makes Kids Into Better Students.

 

Site profiles: YouTubers

YouTube can be a great way to keep up to date of gamer news, find out how to play games, and generally up your gaming knowledge. There are literally thousands of channels dedicated to gaming topics, so keep your eyes out for the channels that call to you. YouTube is a wonderful place tofind  Let's Play videos, which show people playing through games with commentary. Sometimes Let's Plays have a particular goal, such as speed runs, where you complete the level/game as fast as possible, but the majority are people just showing how they enjoy a game.

There has also been a good deal of coverage of this shift in games journalism - and accompanying ethical questions - at more-traditional game-developer-focused news site (think of all the newspaperfolks spinning in their graves at the idea of a "traditional" news "site"... and there are plenty still alive who'd feel similar!) Gamasutra.

Here are a few channels that IGD folks love:

 

General news

Geek & Sundryhttps://www.youtube.com/user/geekandsundry/featured

We're hoping to talk more about (and... with?) the good folks at G&S later in the year, but we couldn't pass them up in this roundup. G&S has a ton of gaming related content. You can see Felicia and Ryan Day experience vintage games (often of dubious quality and hilarious results) on their show Co-Optitude, learn more and see celebrities play Magic: the Gathering in Spellslingers, and let's not forget Wil Wheaton's amazing show Tabletop, which features Wil and 3 guests playing an amazing variety of board, card, and dice games.

 

Polarishttps://www.youtube.com/user/Polaris [Some content may be confronting or NSFW.]

Polaris is a consortium of various game-related YouTube channels that have come together to make one amazing station. The Daily Byte is your one stop shop for nerd culture news in 5 minutes or less. Polaris has a ton of different Let's Play and game Tournaments that they put online, so you can check out or experience different games. They also have a lot of long format (over 2 hours) vodcast shows that include game play and/or game discussion pretty heavily. Besides the channel itself, you can check out all of it's partner channels for more specialized and deeper content such as HuskyStarcraft's Starcraft 2 videos or Yogscast's Minecraft videos.
[Editor's note: as noted above, some Polaris content is very much not for kids and possibly NSFW - not for sexual content but for profanity and violence. The video that was featured when I checked the link was "Sniper Elite III Headshot Highlights", which as you might expect contained a selection of most spectacular (i.e. gory) kills, accompanied by some decidedly salty language. The bulk of the content isn't anything that extreme and there is more substantial fare than that - but it's made by, and pitched at, that sort of adult gamer demographic.]

 

Press Heart to Continuehttps://www.youtube.com/user/PressHeartToContinue

After checking out Polaris, Dodger, the creator of Press Heart, might look a bit familiar - from Daily Byte, from Friendzone, from the Podcasts... but her channel includes a great roundup of weekly gaming-centric news - from AAA to indie kickstarter. There are also great nerd crafts and casual Let's Play videos.

 

Analysis

Feminist Frequency: http://www.feministfrequency.com/ [Some content may be confronting or NSFW.]

[Ed's note: For the record, this one was added by me: a blokey Aussie bloke of the male bloke persuasion. I couldn't not mention a site of this prominence! The following comments are my responsibility entirely.]

If we're talking serious analysis of games, we can't go past Anita Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency, which has even had mainstream coverage over the last couple of years for reasons outlined below. (Given her Wikipedia page has been sabotaged in the past, I'm not going to link off to it now; excuse the potted summary.)

Sarkeesian's channel had previously hosted videos subjecting pop culture in general to feminist scrutiny, but when she decided to turn her attention specifically to videogames - and ran a Kickstarter asking for $6000 to fund the research and writing time needed for the series - a disturbingly large number of bigots from some of the toxic backwaters of the internet decided to prove that she was wrong, feminism had gone too far, and misogyny didn't really exist by bullying her into shutting up and getting them a sandwich through a voluminous and in parts highly co-ordinated campaign of sexualised (and racialised) hate speech, intimidation and harassment. (Clearly logic was not their strong point... but then, we already knew that.)

To her credit, it backfired: she responded by not only refusing to fold but allowing the abuse onto the record - or some of it, anyway - and letting it speak for itself. (Though she does talk about it in this TEDxWomen talk.) As a result, she became something of a lightning rod for the growing awareness of how poorly women are treated online and in the culture in general, and got far more attention - including from the mainstream media - and far more Kickstarter funding than she otherwise might have, as it became inescapably clear that this was a real issue and needed to be confronted. (Though mind you, you'd have to call it well-earned hazard pay.)

The only major caveat I'd give to Sarkeesian's excellent series on representations of women in videogames as an entree into the topic is that - as she herself has explored previously - this is symptomatic of wider social problems rather than being peculiar to this medium. (In other words, don't blame games.) And in fact I've been known to argue that, thanks to the work of numerous folks including but also predating Sarkeesian, the gamer community is much further advanced in the process of lancing this particular festering boil, getting the poison out into the open, refusing to let it out of the spotlight, and actually dealing with it than the general community. Regardless, she has stood her ground for the greater good in the face of pretty awful intimidation; she's already been honoured far more substantially, including an Ambassador Award at this year's Game Developer's Choice Awards, but I too salute and thank her for all she's done to improve videogames - and the culture at large.

And now, to end on an equally interesting and slightly less grim-tinged note:

 

Extra Credits: https://www.youtube.com/user/ExtraCreditz

Their tagline is "Because Games Matter", so it was inevitable that we would include them!

We mentioned James Portnow, one of the people behind this channel, in the news post a couple of months back as well, in connection with his Games for Good work. This channel was where it all started: they talk seriously (well, at an underlying level) about a range of aspects of games from... you know what, just go and check their back catalogue. (There are only 234 episodes... so just skim the titles and click on a few that sound interesting.)

Among the most visible of folks talking about videogames from a more reflective perspective, they have done wonders both to improve external perceptions of the medium's maturity and to help the more foot-dragging wilfully-immature elements within gamer culture come to terms with the fact that "fun" doesn't require you turning off your brain. (Quite the contrary, in fact!)

Games folks on libraries: Julia Bond Ellingboe

Posted on July 17, 2014

This third installment in the series is pretty exciting for me - I have been a fan of Ms Ellingboe's ever since I first came across her indie RPGs, and in fact they were one of the early examples that helped wake me up to the possibility that games could, like fiction, tackle serious issues in ways that seemed likely to help people learn and deal with them constructively, while still being - in fact, because of being - engaging... and even, given a non-trivialising definition of the word, entertaining. But enough of me gushing - on with the interview!

Thanks so much for joining us, Julia! Can you give our readers a brief bio?

I'm a part-time freelance editor, writer, and roleplaying game designer. When not telling stories or writing, I am the human resources manager at my local food co-op. Having missed my chance to become an itinerant storyteller, my work draws on various folkloric traditions, such as African American slave narratives, Japanese kaidan stories, and the Francis J. Child Ballads. My work includes Steal Away Jordan: Stories from American’s Peculiar Institution, Tales of the Fisherman’s Wife, and short fiction. I have a bachelor’s degree in Religion and Biblical Literature from Smith College (where I got almost all my library work experience). You can find my short stories in several anthologies from Stone Skin Press and Broken Eye Books.

[Quick editor's note: As you'd expect from the source material, both the games listed above potentially deal with mature themes. As is usually the case with story games, this will largely be the product of the group that plays them, and they are excellent, so don't hesitate to check them out - but if you still have a trace of that unconscious "games=kids" assumption, don't apply it here! These games were written by an adult for a mature audience.]

Thank you! What is your history with/past experience of libraries?

I started working in libraries when I was in college, and continued to work in academic libraries and a public library for about eight years after college. In my junior year, I was an art library assistant. After I graduated, I worked at our local public library for about a year and then got a job at my alma mater as a circulation assistant. I worked there for about five years. Then for two years I managed the college library's storage facility. When I worked at the college library, I was the chair of our library staff development group ("LSD"). My alma mater has a wonderful alumnae benefit that allows us to borrow from the college libraries and use online journal and ebook databases like JStor and Project Muse, which I've used fairly regularly in the 19 years since I finished college.

So it's fair to say you have a passing familiarity with the library world then! What is your current sense of where libraries are, both in general and in relation to games?

In my area of the country, libraries are one of the first town resources to be cut. We've seen the hours in my local city library reduced and nearby town libraries shut down completely. I think people assume that now that there's so much free stuff online, brick and mortar libraries are practically obsolete. What we forget is that libraries provide access to so much more than books. They provide free access to the internet to people who don't have computers, they offer educational programs to both adults and children, they are social hubs and safety zones.

I don't have a good sense of where libraries are with games. That said, a few years ago, a librarian friend of mine invited my neighbor (another game designer) and me to do a workshop for teens on creative writing and game design. This was part of her regular teen tabletop role-playing game group. I've seen my own game as well as others in public library collections. Game books and board games--heck, even video games--fit in just fine in libraries!

Where do you see this going, and where could it go?

I recently, finally came across a Little Free Library in my town. I'm going to put a copy of my game and a few others in it this weekend. [Ed: this was a week and a bit back, so some lucky person may already have found it!] Anything that offers access to books is awesome to me. Micro-libraries and Little Free Libraries have their limitations, though. You can bring the book home and never play it. On the other hand, library-sponsored game days and gaming clubs at brick and mortar libraries would be great ways to bring in new patrons and keep current patrons coming.

Thanks once again to Julia for her time!

Talking Points: Play, happiness and health

Posted on July 14, 2014

Hello folks! Welcome to the third in our series about the very real value that play brings to the lives of the playful. Click here to start the discussion from scratch, and here for a discussion of games in libraries!

You wouldn’t know it to look at our arts or health or archival policies – or even, to a lesser extent, education – but a tremendous amount of research has been undertaken on play and health in numerous dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, social. There are numerous practitioners in each of these disciplines battling away to get better recognition of play and games, but the policy framework – and particularly the funding framework – for the playful arts is still negligible. (There’s an interesting post on why this is to be had… another time!) Changing this and enabling the community to better tap into and explore the world of play is one of my key objectives in writing for and editing this blog, in volunteering on IGD, and indeed in the work that I do generally.

I could cite numerous papers on the health effects of play for body (strength, health, flexibility, dexterity, speed, senses, reflexes), mind (memory, perception, comprehension, analysis, intuition), soul (motivation, happiness/pleasure/joy, creativity, assumptions that problems can be solved, capacity for reflection-in-action, drive to learn, ability to centre oneself), and what you might call intersoul – the part of us that inhabits and thrives in our connection to others – and at some point I’ll do that. But this is just a Talking Point and I’m short of time, so I’m going to argue from first principles instead and leave you to seek out the evidence yourself.

It follows logically from the previous discussion about the nature of play as a concept (that it is fundamentally about acting according to one’s nature) that play promotes activity. Given that we know that all of our faculties grow in response to moderate, unforced exercise – and dwindle with neglect – it makes sense that play in and of itself tends to be (though as always, subject to the complex interaction of specific activities and circumstances) a force for health in whichever elements of ourselves we allow to play.

The obverse is also true. Where people – and indeed mammals – are actively restricted from play, there are immediate effects on their health in all the above dimensions. Indeed, and this is one of the studies I’d link to if I had time, some experimental animals completely deprived of play became terminally miserable and died.

(The parallels to the links between freedom and health should, of course, be obvious.)

These findings have been behind the efforts of numerous educators to see play reinstated as central to education, but just as I believe that learning needs to be lifelong, I think play needs to be as well. An adult life deprived of play – whether actively or through passive exclusion – leads to that adult being less happy and healthy, and therefore – counterintuitively, if you’re a beancounter who insists that only the readily quantifiable should inform decisionmaking – more of a burden both to themselves and to others. This has ramifications that go beyond the cultural and medical, and include the political, economic, and industrial.

Still think play is fundamentally trivial?

IGD Anecdotes: Program ideas!

Posted on July 10, 2014

Getting excited for International Games Day? Yay!

This year, IGD will be running Minecraft Hunger Games, an exciting new program which will be played district by district across the country, and hopefully the world. All your library needs in order to participate is one computer with Internet access. The Global Gossip Game will return this year.  If you are not familiar, it is a game of Telephone in which a phrase is passed from player to player within a library, and then from library to library all over the planet. As we draw closer to this exciting event, more details will be provided about these games.

Getting antsy about what you’d like to try this year? Let’s get the brain juices going with some program ideas libraries have run in past IGD events. For those in warmer climates, consider a few outdoor games by clicking here. These are also a good way to get the blood flowing after a long, stationary board game.

Many libraries have multiple branches which each may have their own space and time limitations. One library in Michigan didn’t let this stop the fun. In the month leading up to the IGD, each branch participated in a puzzle contest. This helped to promote and spread excitement for the day itself, and also allowed the branches which could not participate on the game day to be involved. If you’re in a library setting with multiple units or branches, this could be an engaging way to get others involved without too large a commitment for the day of IGD. A mini Gossip Game between branches could be another great way to connect all the libraries in a system and get more patrons involved.

[Ed: as the organizer of the Global Gossip Game, I fully support this idea. What's more, I'll say right now that if one of your library branches gets a spot in the official game, and you use that as the basis for your own local game, I will include it as its own branch in the final report. Even if you don't get a spot in the Global game, I'm still happy for you to use the materials from the GGG as the basis for your game, and would love to hear from you how it all went!]

Feel like controlling what games your patrons engage with on IGD? Want to keep some of your visitors from start to finish? Throw a competitive component into the mix. A library in Ohio set up a competition throughout the day where points were accumulated for playing the most games. At the end of the day, one Games Master was kindly awarded for his activities.

A local video game tournament is always fun. Using a fighting game such as Injustice, a bracket could be set up with the winner of each bout moving on. Having different levels of the competition with beginners in one bracket and experience players in another might be a good way to keep one person from dominating too much.

Tabletop wargaming which uses miniature figurines to fight battles, such as Warhammer 40K, is also a popular type of gaming. There are somewhat more pieces required for this type of gaming, such as terrain and the miniatures themselves, but it could be worth poking around to see if anyone in your area would be interested in organizing some wargames for IGD. Another fun activity could be a miniatures painting workshop where experienced wargamers could give tips and tricks to new gamers for painting the miniatures - there is some real art in this aspect of the hobby!

An exciting program some libraries have organized is to have a game designer visit the library in person or over Skype. This can be a great way to learn more about what goes into designing a game and to ask questions of the designers themselves. It is the same idea as an author visit, but with games instead of books. This could also be a great opportunity to have students or patrons try designing their own games. Check out the Tabletop Deathmatch show hosted by Cards Against Humanity to see some of the great things independent amateur designers are coming up with. This could include your patrons!

So have fun, try new things, and play games!

July update

Posted on July 7, 2014

Hey everyone! Another short one - this time owing to the aftermath of Annual, rather than preparations.

Nonetheless, it's been a month of steady growth, with another 150 registrations taking us just over 300, and with activities in 9 countries now - possibly 10, as we're looking into a registration we've just received from Bangladesh (our first time there - hello Dhaka!) that may be online-only.

Frustratingly, the export to the map isn't working properly yet (for instance, Rome, NY, USA is coming up as Rome, Italy), and our volunteers are wasting time they'd rather be spending producing updates on debugging that process. We'll update you as soon as it gets fixed.

In more positive news, it's early days yet, but we're seeing what looks like the start of a jump as well, as people get back from Annual and get approval to participate in IGD. If that trend turns out the way it's looking, it seems as though our efforts at Annual paid off! Don't forget that the donations are limited in number - if there's going to be a rush, you might want to beat it...

On our side of things, now that Annual's out of the way our volunteers will be stepping up our outreach through other channels. In particular, we'll be sending out invitations through various email lists both within the US and internationally. (Another reminder: if you have your own colleagues you'd like to invite, and who you think we might miss or would respond better to peers, there's pre-written text you can use here.)

Thanks folks!