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  Military Expert Weighs In on War Games  
Posted 2007-03-22 by Tony Walsh
Keith Stuart of the Guardian gamesblog has posted an interview with military expert Dr. Malcom Davis and explores how contemporary military-themed multiplayer video games compare and contrast with the real thing.

According to Davis, similarities include realistic environments, real-time communication between roles, and an emphasis on networked battlefield forces. Davis said "This is interesting because in the real military, there is a great deal of effort to bring such a capability about - its called 'Network Centric Warfare' or NCW. NCW is seen as the basis for future military transformation and delivers a significant advantage to the networked force over the non-networked force."

On the other end, the unrealistic aspects are fairly obvious: Nobody gets killed or injured in any meaningful way, resulting in a lack of fear. Davis said that the chaos of battle is also missing (there are no civilians in video wargames), and pointed to movies like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers as an example of a more realistic portrayal, adding that the Call of Duty games for the Xbox 360 are closest to real life war.

From personal experience, nothing makes a modern military shooter more chaotic than turning "Friendly Fire" on, but I don't think most wargamers are interested in that kind of challenge or punishment (based on my 3-year run playing the Battlefield series of games).
  ‘Virtual World Sustainability’ Still in Question  
Posted 2007-03-19 by Tony Walsh
Last December, I wondered aloud if Second Life was ecologically sustainable, given the large number of always-on servers powering the virtual world. At the time, user concurrency hovered around the 15,000 mark--these days it's more like 30,000, which makes my original question all the more relevant. With more and more computers (both server and client) being turned on to support the growth of places like Second Life, is the virtual world (and I mean any virtual world here) good for our environment?

Nick Carr got a lot more mileage out of the meme, finding that "an avatar consumes a bit less energy than a real person, though they're in the same ballpark." Carr's math picked up a lot of steam, even if its accuracy was debatable. Lots of blogs considered the question thanks to Carr's high-profile punditry--even William Gibson took notice.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear at a panel during this year's SXSW conference that the meme is still alive and kicking. Robin Hunicke carried it forward in a discussion about the 3D web, expressing concern at the consumption of resources related to virtual worlds, and adding that she travels more now because of games--not less. Speaking from personal experience, I've traveled by air more--not less--because of virtual worlds.

Continue reading: ‘Virtual World Sustainability’ Still in Question
  Notes: ‘The Imago Effect: Avatar Psychology’  
Posted 2007-03-13 by Tony Walsh
Following are my abbreviated notes from the SXSW lecture "The Imago Effect: Avatar Psychology" by Harvey Smith of Midway Games.

This might be the most impractical talk of the day, unless you're working on characters in a game, social media, etc. This talk is about player identity in a game. About the player/avatar relationship; why people make specific identity choices

- No one is in your head.
- The person next to you can't know you.
- you think of yourself in a certain way
- you have some vague sense of self

Continue reading: Notes: ‘The Imago Effect: Avatar Psychology’
  Notes: ‘Online Games: Beyond Play and Fantasy with Joi Ito and Justin Hall’  
Posted 2007-03-12 by Tony Walsh
Following are my abbreviated notes from the SXSW panel Online Games: Beyond Play and Fantasy with Joi Ito and Justin Hall.

Joi begins...

World of Warcraft vs Second Life: The comparison is stupid. It's apples and oranges. The same split as between MOOs (SL) and MUDs (WoW).

Wow -and- SL: I use SL to plan guild activities. It's geared more towards socialization and simulation, but I don't socialize in Second Life.

[pulls up slide Justin made of the WoW interface, shows how it's actually not so complex]

Continue reading: Notes: ‘Online Games: Beyond Play and Fantasy with Joi Ito and Justin Hall’
  Notes: ‘Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans’  
Posted 2007-03-11 by Tony Walsh
My abbreviated notes from the interesting (and packed) SXSW panel "Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans" follow...

Mark Stephen Meadows, HeadCase

Ben Cerveny, Playground Foundation
Justin Hall, Passively Multiplayer
Susan Wu, Charles River Ventures

Continue reading: Notes: ‘Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans’
  ‘Second Life Relay for Life’ Raises 2.2M Linden Dollars in 3 Weeks  
Posted 2007-03-03 by Tony Walsh
"Second Life Relay For Life" (SLRFL), an annual event supporting the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life campaign, has raised over $2.2M Linden Dollars in the virtual world Second Life over the past three weeks. That's roughly $7,700 USD in virtual currency which will be cashed out to fight cancer. Teams of charitable avatars are busy raising funds--even accused griefer group W-Hat. Nice to see that even the most notorious scallywags have joined this noble effort.

Several fund-raising events are scheduled today. One of the largest SLRFL teams, known as Spirit Chasers, is holding a date auction tonight at 7pm Pacific Time on Raziel Vesperia island [direct teleport]. Launched in 2005, Second Life Relay For Life raised over $40k USD last year, attracting over 1,000 participants in its 24-hour walkathon.
  Casting Doubt on Video Game Violence Studies  
Posted 2007-02-20 by Tony Walsh
 reports on a meta-research paper that casts doubt on links between violent game play and violent behaviour. The paper, entitled "Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: A meta-analytic review," may be downloaded from this page (temporarily, at least), and has been accepted for publication in an upcoming edition of the Aggression and Violent Behavior journal.

Author Christopher J. Ferguson told that his study found that overall, violent games do appear to increase aggressive thoughts, "but do not appear to increase aggressive behavior." The study also found that "better measures of aggression are associated with lower effects," and that studies which indicate a link between violent games and violent behaviour are more likely to get published than studies which do not indicate such a link.

Continue reading: Casting Doubt on Video Game Violence Studies
  What’s the Truth About the Sex Industry in ‘Second Life’?  
Posted 2007-02-08 by Tony Walsh
At last year's South by Southwest conference, Reuben Steiger (then of Linden Lab, and now of Millions of Us) spoke as part of a panel entitled "How to Be a Virtual World Entrepreneur," where he revealed that roughly 30% of what goes on in Second Life is comprised of "naughty economy" transactions.

Today, prominent Second Life blogger James Au posted a "Sexual Census of Second Life," where he first says "it's never been clear how that [30%] figure was arrived at," and then goes on to say the 30% figure is "just about the strangest claim in the world." Instead of 30%, he guesses wildly, it's "maybe much less" than 5%. Later, he goes after a critic, imagining that "30% of commerce in Second Life is sexual is totally far-fetched." Yeah. Except that it's totally not far fetched at all.

At. All.

Now, we do not have a reliable indication this year (that I am aware of) of the level of sexually-based transactions. Nor are we likely to, as Linden Lab is surely terrified of revealing just how much porn its residents are into. But if I had to make a wild guess, I'd say it's the same percentage as last year. Thirty. Not frikkin' five.
  ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game  
Posted 2007-02-08 by Tony Walsh
Today I present some scattered seeds of an idea that have been clanking around the back of my brain since I put together a presentation on "Productive Play" last year. In that presentation, I talked about how the important task of baggage screening might be improved by turning it into a massively-multiplayer game (a refined version of an earlier blog post). At the very least, the player-base for Airport Screening: The MMO would consist of actual airport screeners, but I also suggested the results might be improved by opening up the game to the public (I imagined that the number of well-intentioned participants would vastly exceed the number of griefers).

In the same presentation, I also imagined a variation of the prison-themed MMO PrisonServer, where players could adopt the role of guards: Part of a guard's responsibilities would involve watching surveillance cameras and reporting suspicious activity. In this imaginary variation, the camera footage would be actual prison footage, and reports would be submitted to actual prison authorities. False positives would seriously harm one's in-game reputation or right to play, hopefully mitigating griefing. Granted this all seems quite far-fetched in terms of actual implementation, but I submit that it's not such a stretch, based on real-life examples.

Continue reading: ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game
  Boston Guerrilla Marketing Scare’s Chilling Effects on ARG Design  
Posted 2007-02-03 by Tony Walsh
Boston Guerrilla Marketing Scare’s Chilling Effects on ARG Design
Angry Mooninite flips the bird at you.
A publicity stunt misinterpreted as a terrorist attack against the city of Boston could limit the ability of grassroots marketers, artists, and alternate-reality game developers to engage the public, if the city's Mayor gets his way. Boston was the target of a stealth marketing campaign last month that managed to spark fears of a terrorist attack this week. Illuminated mini-billboards featuring a pixellated cartoon character from the TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force were reportedly placed in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and other major U.S. cities. Boston's police force shut down parts of the city while the billboards (thought to be explosive devices) were sought out and destroyed. Authorities are describing the billboards as "hoax" devices (many bloggers have already pointed out the devices were never intended to masquerade as explosives), which apparently entitles law enforcers to press felony charges against the perpetrators.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, obviously steaming from having wasted vast city resources on a publicity stunt, has reportedly called for a ban on all guerrilla marketing campaigns due to concerns about public safety. I am reminded of how authorities overreacted to a zombie dance party last summer, or how the Revenna, Ohio police sent the bomb squad to investigate giant Super Mario Bros question blocks placed around town. Artist Space Invader affixes game-inspired ceramic pixel art to walls around the world, but he'd better stay away from Boston, lest authorities in that city imagine a real space invasion is taking place.

Continue reading: Boston Guerrilla Marketing Scare’s Chilling Effects on ARG Design
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