Published: What Were ‘Minecart Boosters’? Minecraft, Digital Distribution and Preservative Labor

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I’ve prattled on about Minecraft multiple times on the blog here—for instance, when I’ve named it one of the games of the decade, or talked about the relationship between its Life in the Woods mod pack and simulations of Walden-esque simple living. But did you know that I also prattle on about Minecraft in print?

Well, I do! My article “What Were ‘Minecart Boosters’? Minecraft, Digital Distribution and Preservative Labor,” published in a special issue of Journal of Fandom Studies Fan Endings, Transitions, and Revivals, edited by Rebecca Williams, is now online.

Abstract:

In recent years, online digital distribution has drawn attention to the myriad ways in which games exist as a dynamic and transitory object. Previously, genres such as the massively multiplayer online game had carved out a unique space in game studies in which version numbers, expansions and changes in player behaviour over time had to be methodologically accounted for. However, today even the relative stability of the single-player game has begun to dissolve as a logic of constant becoming overtakes staid notions of games as singular, fixed historical texts. This article examines this increasing temporal instability of games by turning to bug-exploiting tactics within the player community of the massively popular building game Minecraft (Mojang, official release 2011). In a focused case study, I will analyse the fate of ‘minecart boosters’, an emergent bit of folk exploit-engineering that allowed players to create perpetual motion machines in the game, with help from widely circulated knowledge about a specific bug in the game’s simulated physics during its alpha and beta stages. Given that the effectiveness of Minecart boosters was abruptly put to rest when the game’s beta version 1.6 finally patched this physics bug, it presents an excellent opportunity to discuss how fans of digitally distributed and updated games navigate the volatility of the objects they are devoted to, especially when this volatility can lead to the sudden and unexpected endings of cherished practices and modes of engagement. Here, bolstered by a close examination of fan discourses on message boards, the official Minecraft Wiki, and YouTube comment sections of tutorial and ‘let’s play’ videos, I argue that Minecraft encourages a fan logic of ‘upkeep’ as communities struggle to maintain stability of practices even when attached to a fluid, transitory object.

DOI link for those with institutional access here. I’ll be uploading a post-print version after a “cooling off” period.

And, with that, the “slew of announcements” I teased back in March is completed. It’s back to work for me …

Unlimited Animation: A Tribute to Hannah Frank – video recording now available

A quick heads-up: Awhile back, I announced the SCMS 2018 special event I co-coordinated devoted to the life and work of Hannah Frank. That event is now watchable for those who weren’t able to make it to the conference in March, thanks to the generous videographic assistance of Sean Batton. Please feel free to embed and distribute widely.

(I’d recommend playing this video on the actual YouTube page, rather than its embedded version here: if you look below the fold on the textual description over there, you’ll see that I’ve added bookmarks so that you can easily navigate to each speaker’s presentation, as well as links to a bunch of materials referred to in the presentations.)

It’s Finished: Let’s Study Half-Life 2

It’s been a long haul, but my series of video essays on Half-Life 2 is now complete.

I have embedded the entire finished series above. If you just want to watch the seventh and final part, it is here. In it, I look at how Valve’s “herding” techniques were adopted and expanded upon by subsequent developers, taking a peek at things like Insomniac Game’s Resistance 3, Monolith Production’s 2000s-era output, and DICE’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. I then investigate how the pleasures of the well-constructed linear first-person shooter have been transformed and absorbed into himitsu-bako/wander games (which I just give up and call “walking simulators” in the video, so that people will know what the hell I’m talking about).

Creating video content takes much longer than other types of blog content, but I also find it much more rewarding. (I was right when I predicted that, because my day job has me writing all day long, I would have less patience for it outside of work.) Expect more in the future.

Script below the jump.

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Published: “Game-based Health Education: The Case of Hexacago Health Academy”

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I don’t post much about my day job on this blog, but I thought I’d give this a bump: Ci3 just published an article on the Hexacago Health Academy summer program in Journal of STEM Outreach. It’s the first article coming out of Ci3’s work that I’m listed as a co-author on, and the Hexacago Health Academy is a program that I’ve been involved with before, even before I was in my current position (although this paper specifically deals with the summer 2015 session, and not the summer 2016 session that I acted as a game design facilitator for).

Abstract:

It is a well-documented fact that women and minorities are currently underrepresented in STEM higher education degree programs and careers. As an outreach measure to these populations, we established the Hexacago Health Academy (HHA), an ongoing summer program. Structured as an informal learning environment with a strong youth initiated mentoring component, HHA uses game-based learning as both a means of health education and stimulating interest in careers in medicine among adolescents from underrepresented minority populations. In this article, we describe the 2015 session of the Hexacago Health Academy, which focused on the topic of sexual and reproductive health (SRH). The overall structure of HHA, with its dual focus on game design and enabling youth interaction with science and health professionals, is discussed. Qualitative data from the 24 youths that participated in the 2015 summer session was collected. Results indicated that the initial session of HHA succeeded in its goals of developing critical thinking skills among participants, encouraging teamwork, broadening understanding of the health sciences, and encouraging risk-taking in education. The overall potential efficacy of informal learning environments that use game design as a core component to stimulate interest in STEM fields is discussed.

Link is here. It’s open access. (Hooray!)

Let’s Study Half-Life 2, Pt 5

Part 5 is up!

Parts 1 & 2 were adaptations of existing material—namely, the first chapter of my dissertation, and this lesson plan. Parts 3 & 4 consisted mostly of newly-generated material. Part 5 returns to being an adaptation of existing writing—this time around, this blog post.

I had to scale back my ambitions for this particular video. Originally, it was going to feature a tour through some .OBJ outputs of the coastline maps, following in the footsteps of Robert Yang’s visualizations. Everything was going smoothly for awhile: I successfully extracted all the necessary textures with GCFScape, successfully opened the maps in Crafty, and got myself an education license for Maya. But try as I might, I just couldn’t quite pull off the trick that Yang did, and get the textures to affix to the .OBJ files. (He kind of glosses over that crucial step the blog post.) All I could produce were textureless grey blobs of level geometry.

So I fell back on a tried-and-true method of compositing a bunch of noclip screenshots in Photoshop. In addition to not having that cool 3D model look, it was also an enormous time sink, though, and slowed me down a lot. C’est la vie, I suppose.

Script below the jump.

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Published: “Do(n’t) Hold Your Breath: Rules, Trust, and the Human at the Keyboard”

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My article “Do(n’t) Hold Your Breath: Rules, Trust, and the Human at the Keyboard” was just recently published in a special issue of New Review of Film and Television Studies entitled Breath: Image and Sound, edited by Jean-Thomas Tremblay. Readers of the blog may recognize it as being built on the bones of this previous blog post. Hooray! Academic blogging acting as a stimulant for future writing, just as it is supposed to.

Abstract:

The maintenance of rules within the ‘black box’ of code, away from human eyes, constitutes a major difference between digital games and the social history of their analog counterparts. Meanwhile, the incorporation of new types of human behavior into digital games’ rulesets has placed games on the cutting edge of machine surveillance technologies. This article examines several digital games that stand in opposition to these trends, by opting out of monitoring certain aspects of player behavior, and opening social dynamics of trust and cheating that digital games have historically avoided or shut down. Chief among these examples are Asphyx (Droqen, circa 2012) and With Those We Love Alive (Porpentine, 2014), two games that incorporate player breathing into their mechanics, while forgoing any technical means of monitoring players’ respiration. In place of the usual command/output logic of human–machine interaction, these games map a more intimate alternative, in which players’ relationship to their avatars and in-game actions is built from a foundation of trust, shared truth, and consent between human bodies and software operations.

DOI link for those with institutional access here. I’ll be uploading a post-print version, suitable for those who don’t have institutional access to New Review, soon. [UPDATE: It’s here.]