Our next guest for this series is author, poet, dramatist and critic Alison Croggon. If you enjoy fantasy fiction, but haven't read her Books of Pellinor series or the Gothic-romantic saga Black Spring, I urge you to get hold of one or both! As is often the case, their genre trappings see them more readily recognised by Children's and YA awards, but there are rewards aplenty in the story and in the writing itself for the adult reader. And if you enjoy poetry, you should also seek her out: she brings that same gift for wordcraft to her work there too. You can find her at http://alisoncroggon.com.
Alison Croggon’s work includes poetry, criticism, novels and theatre. From 2004-2012 she ran the theatre review blog Theatre Notes, and was formerly Melbourne theatre critic for The Australian and The Bulletin. She is currently performance critic at large for ABC Art Online and poetry critic and columnist for Overland Journal. In 2009 she was awarded the Geraldine Pascall Prize for Critic of the Year. She wrote the best-selling fantasy quartet The Books of Pellinor, which was shortlisted for two Aurealis Awards and named one of the Notable Books of 2003 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Her novel Black Spring is a 2013 Children's Book Council Notable Book and was shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Writing in the 2014 NSW Premier's Literary Awards and the Spellbinding Award in the UK. She has published several collections of poetry, which won the Anne Elder and Dame Mary Gilmore Prizes and were shortlisted for the Victorian and NSW Premier's Literary Awards. This year sees the premiere of two operas for which she wrote the libretti: The Riders with Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne; and Mayakovsky, with the Sydney Chamber Opera.
Alison, thanks for joining us! Let's start by asking: what's your history with games and play?
Like all kids, I liked games. In my day it was mainly board games. And as a family - my kids are now grown up - we still like playing board games like Articulate and even the odd nostalgic round of Happy Families or Harry Potter Uno. It's fun, and it's a fun way of getting together.
I play a lot of video games as downtime from writing. I think it just gives me time out from myself, and they occupy my mind in a way I find relaxing. I mainly play RPGs - though most recently I finished Tomb Raider. Other favourite series are the Metroid trilogy, Assassin's Creed, Zelda, Pikmin... I played Skyrim for literally years. It all began when we bought my oldest son Josh a Nintendo and Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, and I found myself fascinated. I am quite famously bad at video games, but my virtue is persistence - I will play a game continuously until I am good at it.
What is your sense of where games and play are now in the wider cultural picture?
There's a bigger and bigger emphasis now on games as a mode of story telling and meaning, which is where they get interesting: now we have things like Depression Quest and so on, which deal front on with questions and issues in much the same ways that other video arts do. Journey is probably the most famously beautiful example of that, and it really was very moving to play - it surprised and enchanted me. It's a medium that can be taken anywhere.
Where do you see that going, and where could it go?
I guess that depends on the one hand on the imagination of people who make them, which means the possibilities are pretty well infinite. But it's such a huge industry now that there are the kinds of inhibitions that come with any corporate enterprise. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the gaming world at present is how to deal with questions about diversity and representation, and, as the vicious backlash against some pretty straightforward gender criticism from Anita Sarkeesian demonstrates, there are parts of the culture that don't deal with that very well at all.
The prolific Hannah Tracy is back again! She brings us another profile of a game that works well for audiences of all ages, such as those likely to attend your International Games Day event...
Qwirkle is a board game created by MindWare which has won numerous awards. It is designed for two to four players and play time is usually about a half hour to forty-five minutes. I like to describe it as sudoku meets dominoes meets Scrabble.
The game is made up of 108 wooden blocks with a color and a shape on each. Each tile is one of six different shapes in one of six color options (so 36 different possibilities, and 3 copies of each).
To play, each player builds in a Scrabble-style grid off what is already on the board, to make lines of either matching shape or color. So it might be six squares, all of different colors; or one of each shape, all in the color blue. Each block that is added to a line scores points, and if they can make a complete line it is called a qwirkle and scores an extra 6 points. The player at the end of the game with the most points wins. For a fuller description of the rules, and to see some actual game play, check out the TableTop episode.
This game has become a favorite at my library. It is easy to pick up, and is pretty quick to play, so it is easy to squeeze in a game at the end of the day before I have to kick all the teens out. The actual play is pretty basic, but the strategy can become quite involved. There are any number of choices you can make each turn and you need to decide which will benefit you the most. But you are not playing in a vacuum - other players’ decisions will affect what you will be able to do. You can even specifically make moves that will block or stop another player from being able to make a good move. This leads to much yelling in both triumph and frustration. The game is simple enough for children and offers enough complex options for the strategy-minded player. One of my favorite parts is simply getting to shout “Qwirkle!” really loudly every time I complete a line.
I have also become a big fan of the travel edition, which plays exactly the same and comes in a nifty little pouch which is just the right size for Qwirkle plus a deck of cards or Fluxx.
Hi everyone! Time for another sponsor profile - this time of Looney Labs - from our volunteer Hannah Tracy, in which she discusses their donations: exception-based card game Fluxx, and deceptively simple strategy game Pink Hijinks. She also flaunts her unusual Brain (in the form of the rare card pictured immediately below, of which I am terribly jealous), and tells us what happened when she took her brainy self into a game of Zombie Fluxx. (Dun dun DUN!)
Fluxx is a card game for 2-5 players (I have played with more but 5 is optimal). The game can last anywhere from a few minutes to about a half hour. Why such a varied length of time? Well, because the game of Fluxx is always changing.
At the beginning of the game, everyone is dealt 3 cards and the only rule is to draw one card and play one card on your turn. That is all there is to do until someone plays a new rule card which could allow you to play two cards a turn or limit the amount of card in your hand to one or a variety of other options. If a new rule contradicts a current rule, the new rule replaces the old one. If a new rule does not contradict a current rule, it is added on to the list of rules in play. OK, that may sound complicated, but the changing rules are the fun of the game.
Now how do you win? Well, that depends on which goal card is in play at the moment. So not only the rules but the goal of the game also changes. This is the basic concept of the game, there are a few other types of cards which can affect play and each has a description on the card itself of what you can do with it. For a fuller explanation HERE is the creator of Fluxx explaining the Family Fluxx edition, but really the best way to learn Fluxx is to just dive in.
Fluxx is one of my favorite games, it has tons of replayability, and so many fun versions, including Monty Python Fluxx and Oz Fluxx (which Looney Labs is donating for IGD!). I met my boyfriend over a game of Zombie Fluxx (he won, grr). It is not for everyone, the constant change can be difficult for people who like hard and fast rules. The teens in my library have had a tally sheet going for who has won the most games of Fluxx over the year. This could be a fun tournament style way to play Fluxx for IGD.
Fluxx the Board Game
Looney Labs has been generous enough to donate not one but two games to IGD! The second game is Pink Hijinks, which uses Looney Labs' special Looney Pyramids.
Looney Pyramids at Pax East 2014
The game is for two players and takes from 2-10 minutes, and showcases how incredibly simple rules - infused with a dash of randomness and filtered through an opponent's brain - can still produce a surprising level of emergent strategy.
The goal is either to get a line of pyramids all the same size on your side of the board, with no extras; or to get all the pyramids onto the other player's side of the board. You roll the die to see what size pyramid you will be able to move. The full ruleset can be seen here.
About Looney Labs
Andrew Looney is the primary game developer for the company. Both he and Kristen Looney, who runs the business side, have previously worked at NASA as well as other technology companies.
Looney Labs was founded in 1996 for the purpose of publishing Fluxx. The founders, Andrew and Kristen, had been working together on games since the late 1980s. They were also able to create easy-to-make versions of their pyramids, which can be used for hundreds of games - many of which are still being created. Looney Labs has since created a variety of fun and creative card, board, and pyramid games. Fluxx continues to be one of the most popular - there are now 9 different versions of Fluxx available, as well as expansions.
Hi folks! Today we're holding off on our monthly Game News post a little. This last weekend was Gen Con, the biggest tabletop gaming convention in the US, so we're aiming to provide some coverage from folks who attended - once they've had a chance to get settled back in! (If you made it, we'd love to throw your perspective into the mix - be in touch!) Meanwhile, here's a guest post from a very energetic young chap from the UK talking about how - in true gamer fashion - he overcame obstacles and solved problems to hold a highly successful International Games Day in the UK before the day even was officially International. Take it away, Scott!
My name’s Scott Mason and I’ll be your guest writer today, talking about how I’ve been spending the last few years helping to bring IGD@yl to the UK ^_^. I’m 25, live in South Staffordshire, England and I work for Staffordshire Libraries, currently as the Supervisor for Perton Library (but I’ve been here in one job or another going on 7 years now!).
Gaming has always been a big part of my childhood and something that has grown with me to become a real passion of mine. A lot of people always give me strange looks when I describe ‘games’ that way, but to me, it’s just another medium the same as books, film, music or art and when it’s perfectly acceptable to love each of those as much as people do, I hold no shame in my love for games.
This month we're joined by not one but two luminaries of the games world: Susan Gold and James Portnow. Their individual bios will speak more about them, but I want to highlight the thing they have in common: the Global Game Gift. Recently launched, this initiative aims to bring the audience and creativity of world-leading game studios to the work of global non-profits through week-long game jams aimed at producing short, PSA-style games that help communicate something about the non-profits' work and then draw their audience to the organizations' websites.
I'm highlighting the Global Game Gift because (a) it's awesome; (b) it's new; (c) it was the point of contact that got us these interviews (I provided some volunteer assistance along the way); and (d) it highlights opportunities for us in libraries. While the Global Game Gift is aimed at NGOs whose mission is worldwide, it could perhaps provide inspiration - and maybe even a working model - for collaboration with creators at a more local level. I'll be following it with interest - and would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the two of them, both for the Global Game Gift and for their time!
Susan Gold is Professor of the Practice of Game Design at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Susan was one of the founders of the Global Game Jam, the world’s largest game jam and one of the world's largest grassroots creativity exercises, which has generated thousands of games in over 70 participating countries since 2009. Along with James Portnow, she recently launched the Global Game Gift to partner AAA developers with non-profit organizations to raise awareness through the development of new games.
Thanks for your time, Susan! Tell us about your general experience of libraries to date.
I have so many library stories, growing up I didn’t have the internet, so I had to go to the library all the time. I remember having to learn the Dewey Decimal system and using card catalogs. But one of my favorite memories is when I was a freshman at the University of Iowa and found that they had original manuscripts from Kurt Vonnegut. He had been to the famed Writer’s Workshop and his work from his time was a part of the archive. I found the room they were located in and just sat in the stacks looking through everything they had. It was a total fangirl afternoon seeing his hand written notes, I was awash in his genius. Libraries are so many things, but for me they are an oasis of knowledge, plethora of resources and opportunities for learning.
How you see libraries at this moment?
The modern library is in flux. For so many of us, the internet age means answers at our fingertips with no good reason to go to the library. You can find info by just accessing databases that were once only home to the library. I can browse catalogs of holdings in faraway locales, so I don’t even have to do a book request. I think modern libraries are trying to find where they can best service their communities, with each trying to find a niche that works for their patrons.
Where do you see libraries and games overlapping in future?
I’m really lucky, at Northeastern University I have the Digital Medium Commons located in the Snell Library. It is a whole floor of our library, and is comprehensive facility with PC/Mac workstations and set-ups for audio and video (green screen too) as well as tools for all sorts of multimedia projects. They have software for animation, 3D-modeling, GIS, CAD, and all the game-design software that we use in our classes. This allows faculty & students outside of our program and any visitors to create in the library. I like that it is not just allocated for students in special classes, but allows everyone to experiment with the tools and make games and other multimedia projects. It is a place where we can have collaboration across the university and where we hold the yearly Global Game Jam here in Boston. The space is open and allows people to “work across disciplinary boundaries to build complex simulation models and explore innovative solutions to real-world problems.” That’s what it says on the website at least. What is also cool is that it has 3D printing and recording studios and it is the type of thing that I think will increase entrepreneurship & indie development in our community. I can only see this as a positive way where libraries can create new ways of facilitating the needs of a modern patron.
James Portnow is the CEO of Rainmaker Games consulting agency and the Writer/Creator of the hit web series Extra Credits with over 300,000 subscribers on Youtube. James also channels his experience as a game designer and consultant in the educational field into the Games for Good initiative, which highlights the ways games do good for our society through a range of projects, from compiling bibliographies (ludographies?) of games that promote social good, to the Global Game Gift, which he launched in partnership with Susan Gold.
James, thank you too! What has been your history with libraries?
It may seem like a silly story, but when I was a young man, when I was in that awkward phase of trying to discover who I was and what I was passionate about in this life, I fell into a life long love of classics due to a card game and my local library. I actually remember it perfectly to this day: I was maybe 13, my friends and I were playing Magic: the Gathering; someone flipped over a Frozen Shade, I leaned across the table to read it and on the bottom were written these words:
There are some qualities — some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
- Edgar Allen Poe, Silence
There was a music, a life, to this language I hadn't experienced before. It was something more magical, more essential, than anything I'd gotten in my pulp fantasy and sci-fi novels. So that day, I ran to my local library and found this book; I read it cover to cover... then I did the same with every book quoted in the game I loved so much. I ended up getting my bachelor's in Classics and to this day, more than my masters in Entertainment Technology, more than anything I've learned on the job, I use that love of classics, the love that libraries made possible for me, in my work and in my life to guide me on my way.
How do you see libraries at this moment?
I think libraries are in a period of adjustment, they're re-finding their footing now that the internet has taken over much of their place as a repository of knowledge. I have seen them start to undergo a metamorphosis into communal centers and places of learning where a love of reading and education can be shared. To me this is excellent direction and an essential role for the 21st century.
Where do you see libraries and games overlapping in future?
Games can be used as an entry point, a way to get people engaged in literature or philosophy. Many games use the great works as touchstones - as points of reference or central themes - this can be used as a entry point into those works themselves. Much as I was engaged by Magic to pick up books I would have otherwise never read, libraries can open up whole new worlds of understanding and expose people to the works that have shaped our world by relating them to something that the library-goers already love.
As much as I would like to see games in libraries, as much as I would love to see libraries be a place for critical analysis of the medium and discussion groups, even more would I like them to be a place where games can open up people's passion for literature and ideas, and I think they can do so with no real cost, no major shift in stock or policy, so if I had one place I'd like to see games and libraries overlap, it's there.