2-Year Anniversary of the Blog

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One year ago today, noting the 1-year anniversary of the blog portion of this site, I announced that I had posted 117 times over the course of that year, and said that I doubt I’d be able to keep up that rate over the course of this year.

This prediction was correct.

In the past 365 days, I posted 39 times on this blog. These posts break down as follows:

Basically, my predictions about what would happen to this blog after I started my job at Ci3 have held. Since I’m writing for the organization during my 9-5, then writing my own peer-reviewed academic stuff on the weekends, I no longer find writing blog posts on top of that as fun as I once did.

Over the next year, I think it’s likely that things will continue to shift, as my own personal and professional needs change. Writing up lesson plans provided a great excuse to grab movie clips and capture game footage, building up an archive of teaching materials. I extended that same basic process into the writing of blog posts, which I used as an excuse to return to games, capture some footage, and work through themes I’d eventually like to see fully expanded in my book.

But looking back at my old material, I’m finding myself very dissatisfied with the text-with-embedded-YouTube-video format. I find making video content to be much more gratifying. For one, it’s a much better substitute for standing in front of a classroom—something I’ve missed immensely over the past year—than the blog post format. I also like the way in which it forces me to think through arguments visually. It’s a useful exercise to really have to think through which arguments are better suited for prose, and which are better served through video. Keeping the formats separate actually allows them to complement each other properly, allowing me to think through the same material in different ways.

I suppose my plan for year three is to “pivot to video,” as they say. I want to get more serious about writing my book project, and so I think the best casual work for me to be doing is video content that complements, rather than distracts me from, my writing. Expect more videos in the future, clustered around a coherent set of themes.

Interesting Games of 2018: The Year So Far

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Yes, I’m still alive.

When the end of June rolled around, I thought to myself, “hey, I should do one of those collections of capsule reviews of games from the first half of the year, just like I did last year.”

But then I prioritized peer-reviewed projects I’ve been working on, instead. I’ve had a productive summer, although I do regret not hanging a little “on summer vacation” sign on the blog, so it didn’t feel quite so abandoned.

Anyway, better late than never. Below the fold, you’ll find thoughts on games that have piqued my interest so far in 2018.

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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!)