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  Living In Adamsvil  
Posted 2006-02-28 by Tony Walsh
Living In Adamsvil
Joe Fourhman's Animal Crossing town Adamsvil. Image credit: Joe Fourhman.
Joe Fourhman is an Animal Crossing documentarian with a shady past. His early exploits in the original Nintendo GameCube game cast a darkly humourous shadow upon its typically-bright world.

"I'm on the run," his first journal entry, posted in September, 2002, begins. "New name, new town, new life. They call me JoeForever (spelled J-o-e-infinity symbol) and I have just moved into Adamsvil, a town in Animal Crossing… I left the big city and began to melt into the countryside. On the train to Adamsvil, I met a simple cat named Rover. Already I am suspicious... a cat with a dog's name?"

Fourhman recalls that he was the first blogger to portray the kiddie game in a decidedly adult style. "It's funny," he says, "because back then, nobody was doing that with Animal Crossing. The game was still such an unknown property. Since then, I've seen a lot of Animal Crossing weblogs that put a dark twist on it. Which is, I think, a pretty natural thing when you stick 20-30something gamers in front of a game that contains absolutely nothing dark in it. It's an easy thing to poke fun at."

Continue reading: Living In Adamsvil
  The Play’s the Thing: Games, Gamers and Gaming Cultures  
Posted 2006-02-27 by Tony Walsh
The winter edition of Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture is now available online, bringing a range of viewpoints together in discussion of Games, Gamers and Gaming Cultures. Co-edited by Matthew Wolf-Meyer and Davin Heckman, the publication presents nineteen articles bundled into sections "Evolutions/Migrations," "Social Bodies," "Regimes of Spectatorship" and "Ethics, Ideology and Morality." There are some very, very promising-sounding articles in the table of contents that relate directly to subjects I'm covering in the Game Culture and Design course I'm teaching. I look forward to making use of article excerpts as course material. That being said, off I go to do some reading!
  The Lessons of ‘World of Warcraft’  
Posted 2006-02-22 by Tony Walsh
Game producer and designer David Sirlin takes a hard look at ragingly popular multiplayer game World of Warcraft, finding that it is teaching us the wrong things through its game play design and its maker's attitude towards players.

In summary, Sirlin says that World of Warcraft (WoW) sucks because it teaches us that:
  • Investing time in a task deserves a reward proportionate to the time invested. Sirlin points out that in the real world, someone with lots of talent can accomplish a task faster than someone with less talent, but is deserving of no less reward.
  • Working with a group is better than working solo. Sirlin rightly notes that one's progress in WoW ultimately depends on their ability to find and group with other players. This is one of the main reasons I've left the game. I work well with others, but I don't want to be forced to. Sirlin says that solo efforts are often more effective than group efforts in real life, and I agree.
  • Ingenuity is wrong. Sirlin goes in-depth to describe his aggrivation with Warcraft maker Blizzard's terms of service. These meta-rules don't just limit player innovation--they create an anti-innovation mindset.

Continue reading: The Lessons of ‘World of Warcraft’
  Nearly 1Upped on Videogame Sex  
Posted 2006-02-12 by Tony Walsh
In December, 2005, I announced that I'd be moderating a panel at South by Southwest on "The Secret Sex Lives of Video Games." In February, 2006, Ziff Davis' Official Playstation Magazine and published an article entitled "The Secret History of Videogame Sex." I'm chalking this one up to unfortunate coincidence, rather than any sinister Ziff Davis plot. The idea of "secret" or "hidden" game sex has been brewing in my noggin since I first discovered unintentional video game porn years ago, and then recently with the whole "hot coffee" scandal. Doubtless others have been thinking along the same lines--it ain't rocket science.

I'm confident the SXSW panel will be more mature and informed than the article. The article's writer, Robert Ashley, glaringly neglects to call Custer's Revenge a rape game (instead, he refers to "forced sex") and then suggests Rockstar should do a remake. Ashley says that the first game character "openly thought sexy" was Lara Croft. I thought he was writing an article about sex, not "sexy." Most of his examples show how game sex has crested the mainstream rather than emerged from the shadows--Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude and Playboy: The Mansion weren't exactly hiding much. If anything, Ashley's article shows how to approach the subject half-cocked.
  The Forbidden ‘Second Life’ Hack  
Posted 2006-01-31 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab, maker of virtual world Second Life, announced in January that it would be collaborating with tech publisher O'Reilly Media to produce a virtual book entitled Second Life Hacks, describing the book as an "in-world manifestation of the best Second Life tips and tools we can assemble." A real book by the same name is also in the works under the O'Reilly banner. Both Linden Lab and O'Reilly are accepting "Hack" submissions from the public, a process that has uncovered a controversial software program potentially harmful to the interests of Second Life's virtual-world residents.

A submission to O'Reilly's official Hacks site entitled "Snagging Textures with GLIntercept" describes in detail how to siphon graphics from Second Life using a program called GLIntercept. In the wrong hands, the program could result in the piracy of any of the innumerable user-created texture-graphics in the gated community of Second Life, causing harm to any of the innumerable user-operated business that rely on the sale of graphic-based items. The entry was written by Andrew Burton, known in Second Life as Jarod Godel. I interviewed Godel about his experiments with GLIntercept (GLI) and its potential impact.

Continue reading: The Forbidden ‘Second Life’ Hack
  Videoludica Interviews Tony Walsh  
Posted 2006-01-23 by Tony Walsh
I've been interviewed by Pierluigi Casolari of Italian game culture site Videoludica (also a book series). Casolari asks primarily about my attempts to incite an anti-sponsorship revolution in The Sims Online, but also solicits my opinions on the state of in-game advertising and my more recent adventures in Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom. The interview is the first I've given in-depth regarding my article "Big Mac Attacked" about anti-McDonald's action in The Sims Online, and I think it explains my rationale pretty well. If I regret anything from that 2002 article, it's not having actually protested in-game, but then that would have involved buying the game and its integrated product-placement in the first place.
  ‘The Machinima Reader’: Call for Papers  
Posted 2005-12-16 by Tony Walsh
If you've got a flair for writing and an understanding of the art, science or culture of Machinima, you may consider pitching an essay to Henry Lowood (Stanford U) and Michael Nitsche (Georgia Tech), editors of the forthcoming tome "The Machinima Reader." The Reader will focus on Machinima through a variety of lenses intended to appeal to academics, artists and critics alike.

"In a repetition of early cinema's history," write the editors, "many of Machinima's milestones are formulated as mixtures of artistic expression and technical achievements...Consequently, we are looking for essays that address a range of topics." The editors currently seek 500-word abstracts exploring such topics as culture, technology, communities, and art--you've got until April 3, 2006 to submit. Full details and contact information available here at the Stanford Humanities Lab.
  Eating My Own Dogfood  
Posted 2005-12-15 by Tony Walsh
Culture Clash columnist Matthew Sakey's latest article "Made to be Played" laments the languor that affects game developers--either by fate or will, those who make games often don't play games. Sakey says, in a nutshell, "how do you create a game that speaks to players when you don't know what games say?" I concur. However, I'm also guilty of exhibiting the behaviour Sakey criticizes. When I created a best-selling comic book miniseries in the 1990s, I didn't read many comics (to the obvious detriment of my work, some would say). I was all comic-booked out, being involved in intense production for a 2-year period. I began my so-called New Media career during this time, and followed the same sort of pattern: Make something, shun it. But while I rejected other comic-books while making them, I consumed (and still do) interactive media (such as games) constantly. Just not media I have created. So I suppose I'm only half-guilty. One half seems to be a result of burnout, but what about the other half?

Further musings on Sakey's column can be found at Broken Toys and
  A Rapist in Gamespace  
Posted 2005-12-13 by Tony Walsh
Game-sex web site covers a sinister angle on massively-multiplayer porn game Sociolotron in an interview with virtual rapist Dominic Black. Most of us would probably find Black a vile and chilling character:

"The women love me or hate me, I think in equal measure. It seems true that the more violently you tear at life, the more vigorously you throw yourself at all you do, you drag passion of scale from others. As for whether or not the woman is agreeable to what she experiences in the quiet of a room, I care very little."

Black is apparently only "one of" Sociolotron's rapists, although it's arguable that nobody in the game can truly be raped (thereby rendering Black merely a roleplayer). In signing up for Socio, players agree that they are not offended by "exually explicit situation, roleplay of crimes, vampirism, demonism and any other adult fantasy." In entering the virtual world, players are (as I see it) willingly placing themselves in a world of crime and horror. This contrasts most cyberspaces, where rape is not only unexpected, but "illegal." The title of the entry you are now reading is a play on the famous 1993 article "A Rape in Cyberspace" by Julian Dibbell, where residents of the text-based world LambdaMOO were terrorized by a rapist.
  Invasion of the Gold Farmers  
Posted 2005-12-09 by Tony Walsh
The online gaming community is buzzing about the latest (and possibly most detailed to date) article on Chinese "gold farmers." These are people who work in sweatshop-like conditions harvesting virtual resources in online games for a living, and are becoming increasingly visible in game environments. Reporter David Barbosa visited Chinese gold-farming facilities for his New York Times article "Boring game? Hire a player," reprinted at the International Herald Tribune's site. Here's the digest:
  • Global online gaming enjoys an audience of 100M players each month.
  • The Chinese government estimates there are 24M online gamers in the country.
  • 100k youths work in China as full-time gamers.
  • Gold farmers one facility work in 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week, and make about $250 USD per month. At another facility, workers made $75 USD per month.
  • Most players make under $0.25 USD per hour
  • The gold-farming industry generates $3.6B USD per year.
  • Sweatshop owner: " some of these popular games, 40 or 50 percent of the players are actually Chinese farmers."
When playing a game is your job, is it still a game?
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