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  Going Downunder May 14 - 26  
Posted 2007-05-14 by Tony Walsh
I'll be in various parts of Australia between May 14 - 26, lending my mentoring skills to the LAMP residential entitled "Story of the Future." Eight projects have been selected for expansion and development--I'm tentatively assigned to "Thursday's Fictions," a story-centric experience (based on a book and film by the same name) which asks participants to decide what they'd take with them if they had five minutes left to live.

Assuming the jet-lag doesn't strike me dead, I'll be speaking about "The Real, The Virtual and The Mixed" on Thursday, May 17 as part of "Mixed Reality, Branded Entertainment," a day of seminars hosted at the Museum of Sydney between 1 and 4pm.

Between May 20 and 25, I'll be working at the LAMP residential in beautiful Freycinet. I should have internet access during this time, but don't expect to be posting much (if at all) to Clickable Culture.
  Eat in a World Without Hunger, Drink in a World Without Thirst  
Posted 2007-05-07 by Tony Walsh
In the virtual world of Second Life, avatars aren't required to consume digital food or liquids. It's possible to force an avatar to "eat" or "drink," but the digital denizens lack a simulated nervous and digestive system--consumption is akin to playing "tea party."

As it happens, a few outside businesses have joined Second Life's "tea party" recently, bringing along artificial food, drink, and scent. Earlier this year, Calvin Klein made a stink with its ck IN2U perfume, reportedly showering avatars with "fizzing fragrance bubbles." Last month, Coke kicked off a "virtual thirst" campaign (but failed to complete the simulation with a virtual tooth-decay campaign).

Today, Kraft Foods and American TV personality Phil Lempert bring "Phil's Supermarket" to the virtual world, reports the Business Communicators of Second Life blog. According to Lempert's web site, users will be able to browse for over 100,000 products by the end of the summer, and "pre-shop" (but not "actually shop") for real-world items. This seems like a great way to collect data on the activity and preferences of potential customers, if anyone will bother to "pre-shop."

The greatest failure of "Phil's Supermarket" is that it requires users to go shopping twice. Who has time for that? I'd rather order groceries online using a web site--a superior tool for finding and buying real food I can actually eat. Throw in automatically-delivered Second Life equivalents to the web-ordered food, and you've now got a service that saves time and bridges both worlds.
  ‘Cerise’ Magazine: By and For Women Gamers  
Posted 2007-05-03 by Tony Walsh
Cerise has launched its inaugural issue under a confusing agenda. The online magazine's tagline reads "gaming magazine for women." Its mission statement says that Cerise is by and for women gamers "at its core," but is also "dedicated to creating an inclusive space for individuals of all identities traditionally underrepresented in the mainstream, and for our allies who support our movement to increase our presence and representation in the game industry." At least one of the articles in the debut issue is of direct interest to men who make video games.

I happen to be a man working in certain areas of gaming. Is Cerise for me? "No," according to the tagline. "Yes," if I'm a supporter of the movement, according to the mission statement. But if Cerise is only for women or supporters of underrepresented identities, then why does the first article in the magazine address game designers who don't adequately support "girl gamers?" The content seems at odds with the mission.

Certainly there's a need for women and other underrepresented identities to be included more in the game industry and in game content. I think Cerise is a decent push in that direction, but the magazine's agenda needs some improvement. If it doesn't address men--unless those men are already "allies"--then it's preaching to the converted. Hell, I'm converted, and the magazine's tagline is a total turnoff for me. I don't read magazines "for men," why would I read a magazine "for women?"
  Integrated Media Festival Panel to Discuss ‘Digital Intimacy’  
Posted 2007-05-01 by Tony Walsh
I'll be a panelist on the topic of "digital intimacy" in Toronto next week as part of the 2007 Integrated Media Festival, a 1-day event produced by The Centre for Creative Communications. The panel, which discusses inhibition, relationships, and sexuality in the digital realm, also involves Amber MacArthur of CityNews/CP24 and Cynthia Loyst of Sextv. I'll be presenting for about 10 minutes on some of the ways intimacy is expressed in virtual worlds, and how pliable boundaries between public and private space in worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft touch the human beings behind the avatars.

The 90-minute panel begins at 1:30pm on May 7, 2007, at Revival Bar, 783 College Street West, Toronto. The event is free, and open to the public. A schedule of the entire day can be found here.
  ‘World Without Oil’: Alternate Reality Game With a Conscience  
Posted 2007-05-01 by Tony Walsh
World Without Oil asks what would happen if we ran out of oil on April 30, 2007. The month-long alternate reality game, aimed at raising awareness of and promoting discussion about oil dependency, solicits the input of "all web users" in creating content. According to the official press release, the game was funded by PBS, and was produced by Writerguy. The project's "participation architect" was ARG rockstar Jane McGonigal, who says in the press release "Alternate reality gaming is emerging as the way for the world to imagine and engineer a best-case-scenario future... If you want to change the future, play with it first."

It's great to see this tangible example of productive play in motion. There's even an educational hook for teachers, providing suggestions for class activities and assignments--even for those educational environments with limited access to technology. I can see the game being a good way for schools to get involved, but I wonder how many participants outside of a formal education session will have the time and skill to create enough compelling content. As of April 30, about 400 people had signed up to play, so even if a fraction of that player base are good storytellers the game could be a raging success. Good luck to all involved, and congratulations to the teams behind the curtain for contributing to positive social change.
  ‘Second Life’ Environmental Impact Gives Simran Sethi Pause for Thought  
Posted 2007-04-17 by Tony Walsh
Simran Sethi, contributor and host of The Green on the Sundance Channel, appeared in Second Life today for a public discussion about environmental issues and solutions.

I attended because I wanted to know if Sethi was aware of the environmental impact of Second Life, an expanding virtual world that is served from thousands of computers to hundreds of thousands of computers. I've been wondering since last December about how much energy that degree of usage requires, because I might change my personal usage habits if it turned out I was wasting power.

Sethi hadn't considered Second Life's consumption, but told the audience she'd "really need to think about it." In response to a separate question, Sethi said that we need to be thoughtful about how we consume, and what the larger implications of our consumption might be. I agree. We have a good idea how much riding a bike, or watching TV, or leaving our phone-charger plugged into the wall costs the environment--why not look at virtual worlds, too? Particularly if they're going to be used as platforms for discussing ecological footprint reduction.

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Environmental Impact Gives Simran Sethi Pause for Thought
  Identity Confirmation Features Coming to ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2007-04-06 by Tony Walsh
Users of Second Life will be able to confirm aspects of each other's identities, such as age and legal jurisdiction, if plans announced by the virtual world's maker are implemented. "Hopefully, these features will help Residents as they conform to their own local laws," a Linden Lab rep wrote on the company blog.

No further details on the planned identity-confirmation features were revealed, such as when the plan might be enacted, or the full range of identity "aspects" made available for confirmation. Currently, Second Life users are able to hide from others aspects of their identity such as their real names, ages, or location, but are unable to hide whether or not they have supplied Linden Lab with billing information. Those users unwilling or unable to provide billing information to the company are known as "Unverified" users, and are subject to stigmatization by groups of Second Life residents. All members of Second Life "Main Grid" are ostensibly at least 18 years of age or older, although it's trivial for underage users to slip in. I suppose stricter entry requirements are pending.
  I’ve Gone American  
Posted 2007-03-30 by Tony Walsh
Ok, ok, I give up. I'm tired of fighting with spell-checkers, such as the one embedded into the Firefox browser I type each day's blog posts into. I have been mixing American and Canadian spelling (in my defense I am a citizen of both countries) since I started blogging back in 1999, and now it's over. USA number one, henceforth. Goodbye "rumour," hello "rumor." Now give me your oil.
  The Avatar: An Ego Ideal?  
Posted 2007-03-27 by Tony Walsh
I'm getting a little tired of virtual-world avatars being looked at as exclusively as masks we create to project our ideal selves. Although it's likely most people use avatars as perfect self-representations, I think there's a broader usage for avatars than I've recently read and heard about. Must avatars necessarily be idealized selves?

Earlier this month I attended a presentation by Harvey Smith entitled "The Imago Effect: Avatar Psychology," and today paged through a presentation given by Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins entitled "Creating Engaging, Collaborative Learning Spaces in Second Life." In both cases, I felt the presenters were looking at avatars too narrowly: Smith finds that avatars are masks that represent one's ideal self, a form of anonymity, and freedom from social constraint; Robbins finds that "To learn authentically, we must be allowed to be our real selves. To be engaged, we must work towards a virtual, ideal, identity."

Continue reading: The Avatar: An Ego Ideal?
  Chinese Gamers Offer Blood Sacrifice For ‘Cabal’ Access  
Posted 2007-03-22 by Tony Walsh
According to Weird Asia News (and corroborated by, Chinese game operator Moliyo demanded blood from 120,000 Cabal players it recently banned for hacking. A blood drive was reportedly held in Nanjing on March 18, where banned hackers and new players alike could gain access to Cabal by opening their veins. Over 100 "distraught" gamers were ready to give up 500ml of their precious fluid.

Weird Asia News reports that "Chinese hospitals have had increasing difficulty attracting blood donors in recent years after scandals in which thousands of donors and blood recipients contracted HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. Blood donors in China are usually paid about 12 dollars per donation." Sounds like Moliyo set up a win/win situation locally. I'm not sure something like that would fly in North America.
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