Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This is why I must play

One of the first video game genres that I started out with was Real-Time Strategy games like Command & Conquer and Alpha Centauri before moving on to a genre which are now called Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. One of the curious aspects about playing these games is that I almost always went for world dominion (e.g., take over the world). In the CnC era, this made sense, since really, you fought against the artificial intelligence (AI) or other players. So failure is not an option. Neither is negotiation or holding hands across the vast internet and singing Kumbaya. And actually, even as a girl scout, we have never sung Kumbaya, we always sung the Mosquito song or one that was called 'New Friend Found'.

Anyway, I digress. So. World dominion. This is  in part due to the game design, and even as game design evolved, newer games in the genre like Civilization featured AIs which proved to be a REAL pain to maintain diplomatic ties with. Way worse than people. And I've always thought people were bad. Wait until you meet obtusely designed AIs, who will get mad at you if you even breathed near your borders. So. I'd have to shake many pointed sticks at them until the point gets across.

Which brings me to my point. And I do have a point somewhat. I actually despise the notion of conquest - you know, the kind that brings suffering to other human beings (like say, drones). This may have something to do with the fact that my people were always someone else's subject. But really, I'd like to think that it has something to do with being human. At a fundamental level, even when I'm playing games that feature specific themes such as conquest and establishing control by peacefully bringing light to the darkness (that's my favorite colonialist rhetoric), I know that this is not reality. And in some way, it's a way to direct my aggression and anger so that all the ugliness that is a part of me comes to the fore in another medium other than real life, where it will do actual harm. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of harmful interactions in games, but that's a topic for another discussion.

Perhaps it's somewhat poetic that I met my husband online - where he has seen me at my worst. I always joke that gaming brings out the worst in me - but there's an element of truth in it. It's almost cathartic. And this is why I must play.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On privileging play

I have been thinking about the issue of privileging play and how it unfolds in different cultures, if at all. I recall stories of my father as a young child going heading out to the beach with his brothers, searching and foraging for snails or any molluscs that they can find. Dad seemed to enjoy himself immensely, and one might think that this event might be considered play from his perspective. However, the reality of the situation was that while it was fun, the reason why Dad was by the beach was to look for food.

In contrast, when talking to my late grandfather, I do not ever recall of him thinking of such activity as fun (he would scoff I think). This is largely because to Grandpa, actions that had no bearing on the future or others are nothing but indulgence. Don't get me wrong, he was a loving man who had a wry sense of humor. But his life experiences shaped his outlook on life. Life as a fisherman taking care of 8 children by himself (Grandma died when Dad was 6) was challenging, then life under/working with the British, then occupation under the Japanese... suffice to say, life was definitely eventful. No play is death some say ... but I do not believe that. Grandpa's life was fulfilling and he was happy and contented. Play may not be central to his life, but when one is focused on surviving, this is not unsurprising. I guess my point is to simply be careful of claims that we make about the necessity of play, less it tramples on the lives of others. It is an activity that may be definitive in some life courses, but not all. And to say that we all need play to survive sometimes does not feel right.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Hari ini, saya dan teman saya, Kate Shively pergi ke kolam air di SRSC. Ini adalah pertama kali semenjak saya pergi berenang, terutama sekali di negara Amerika Syarikat.

That was fun. I absolutely enjoyed being able to write in my native language, even if it was just two sentences, and something that I have not done in a while. I had asked my husband about inspirations on what to write for the blog and he said "Write something in Malay".

I laughed of course, thinking him silly, but then I thought about it. "Actually, I'll do it! Since I'm playing around with words and it's a completely valid way of writing! I'll write my first few sentences in Malay and then translate it! Or maybe create a game and ask my audience if they can figure out what I mean!"

So there you have it. I'm still pondering if I will provide a translation of the statements above, but for now, I'll have fun with it. If anyone's really curious and know Kate Shively, you could always ask her what we did tonight!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meeting Iqra

"Hey Lina."
Viggo inspecting the equipment


"So when am I meeting the kittens?"

"You gotta materialize for that to happen, and I am NOT calculating the wave function so you can be here."

"Blaaaaaah. Well what if I did the calculations ... would you do it then?" Iqra' looked at me imploringly as I pondered.

"Fine," I groused and laid out my equipment as Iqra' performed her mathematical derivations.

When Iqra' was finally done with her calculations, I proceeded to follow her scribbles.

"The kittens seem excited at the prospect of meeting me."

I grunted nonchalantly.

"You know, you need to be a little bit more careful with the materials. And remove that dastardly shiny thing. You are creating perfection."

I ignored her.

"Ugh, that color combination is terrible, Lina. How about ..."

I sighed in exasperation.

"Oookay. Somebody's grouchy... I guess I'll just wait Q-U-I-E-T-L-Y," whispers Iqra'.

The silence lasted all of two seconds and she began to speak

"I'm done," I interrupted her.

"Ooooh!! HI KITTIES!!!"

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spontaneous play

In our chat earlier this week, my respondent made the distinction between spontaneous play as being social and intentional play as being directed and planned. Intentional play can be social in that friends decide to play together, but the nature of spontaneous play is more likely to arise from social interactions. This set me thinking about the nature of social play - is spontaneity more likely to occur or emerge as a result of the social interactions? Later, when I chatted with my respondent off the record, he noted that spontaneous play can most definitely emerge from planned play.

This reminds of me of Juul (2002), who identifies two basic game structures - emergence and progression. Games of emergence are based on simple rules and result in multiple variations that players can work with. Juul (2002) characterizes emergence in games as a result of rule interactions (i.e. A happens as a result of rule B), combination of rules and strategies that arise which are not immediately predictable from the game rules. Games of progression on the other hand, offer more control to designers in that players must proceed within a predefined framework in order to complete the game. Even as players proceed within a predefined framework or choose actions derived from simple rules, it is highly unlikely that designers can completely control players’ actions. This is especially pertinent given that players are able to modify both non-digital (i.e. board games) and digital games in many ways. In the former, players can change the rules of the game whereas in the latter, players create modifications to the software or hardware to execute functions that were not conceived by the original designers. While modifications are made by individuals, the changes to the rules impact normative structures and other social interactions, underscoring the social and communicative nature of games. While the description of play in my interview centered around types of play (e.g. spontaneous versus planned), it provided really useful insights into the changing nature of play - a theme that we have been encountering time and again.

This is of great interest to me given my design tendencies - what kinds of play would emerge from designed play? How would it align itself to the designed objective and how would players make sense of the discrepancies (if any) that may arise? Can we as designers create environments that might predict these sorts of emergent play?