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31 Jul 01:34

TV and Movie Scenes Re-Created In Minimalist Legos

by Brooke Jaffe

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Lego artist Nick Desimone has taken minimalist movie posters to the next level: minimalist Lego scenes. He renders classic characters in dioramas using the least amount of bricks possible, creating iconic moments without the benefit of faces, intricate detail, or non-geometric shapes– just with brightly-colored blocks.

Can you guess all of the movies and shows which are Lego-fied here?

(via GeeksAreSexy)

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30 Jul 16:30

Burka Avenger: Pakistan’s First Animated Female Superhero Is A Teacher By Day, Crime Fighter By Night

by Isabella Kapur

Pakistan’s newest TV superhero, Burka Avenger, is not only the first animated female superhero for the country, but a woman with a mission. That mission is to promote girl’s education in the country, on and off screen. The new show, from Pakistani pop star Haroon, features Jiya, a teacher at an all girl’s school who protects the school from various villains, including a corrupt politician and an evil, anti-women’s education magician. Jiya dons a burka at night and quite literally uses her teaching tools, including pencils and books, to foil her enemies’ schemes and keep the school open for her students.

The new kid’s show aims to promote value in education, especially for females, as well as religious tolerance, in an area where the Taliban continues to try to suppress women’s education and attack female students and schools in the country. Through action and humor, Burka Avenger allows a female schoolteacher with considerable ninja skills to defeat misogynistic enemies who express sentiments like “what business do women have with education? They should stay at home, washing, scrubbing and cleaning, toiling in the kitchen.”

Children have characters to relate to in the form of twins Ashu and Immu, and their friend Mooli, who populate the fictional town of Halwapur and even have their own moments to shine as young voices for education. Early on, Ashu stands up for her school, speaking against corrupt, gold medallion wearing politician Vadero Pajero and evil magician Baba Bandook as they attempt to shut down her school.

Pop star Haroon used a good amount of his own money, as well as some from an anonymous donor, to create the Urdu-language show, which teaches various lessons, entertains, and features music by him and other popular Pakistani musicians. The show includes the bright colors and slapstick comedy of any animated children’s show, but has one crucial goal that kids are already picking up on. Yahoo collected the sentiments of orphaned children living outside of Islamabad, who were provided with an early look at the show, and the kids responded positively to the action and humor, and a protagonist who both

saved kids’ lives.. [and] motivated them for education and school.

The show’s creator has been asked about the decision to make Jiya’s disguise a burka, with some ninja flair of course, as the Taliban has forced women in Pakistan to wear burkas in the past, turning the religious garment into a sign of oppression for some. Haroon explained to Yahoo! that,

It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes. Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn’t have worked in Pakistan.

Head over to Comics Beat if you want to see the english language trailer, coming to Geo TV in august.

(via Yahoo!, Comics Beat)

Previously in Girls’ Education

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29 Jul 15:13

Raise your hand if you want your 5-year-old to fill in bubbles

by (Scott McLeod)

Kindergarten. German for ‘children’s garden.’ Friedrich Fröbel’s goal was to create an environment of play and activity, singing and social interaction, all rooted in the belief that children should be taken care of and nourished like plants in a garden.

That’s been a successful approach since 1837. Or we can give them worksheets:

Kindergarten worksheets

27 Jul 22:38

Classic Christian book: If God Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My...

by cranberryzero

Classic Christian book: If God Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My Locker Open?

26 Jul 23:15

A single game as a lifelong hobby

by Daniel Cook

Do you finish one game and then move onto the next? This is the dominant pattern of play for gamers. What happens when players stop consuming and starts investing in a single evergreen computer game for years on end?

Players of traditional games specialize

Across the 5500+ year history of gaming and sports, players typically focus on a single game and turn it into their predominant hobby. A chess player may dabble in other games, but chess is their touchstone. They join chess clubs, they play with fellow chess fans and they spend 90% of their gaming time playing chess. Overall, players specialize.

Such players do play other games, but to a far lesser degree.

There are also communities that embrace the identity of being good at multiple games or sports. These are a minority.

And some are inclined to claim all hobbyists are 'athletes' or 'players' and thus unified in some common tribe. Such verbal gymnastics rarely provide much insight into a dedicated hobbyist's specific passions or the nature of their community.

Specializing in a hobby occurs for many reasons. Traditional sports or games often have the following attributes:
  • Evergreen activities: You don't beat them. You stop when you get bored. Usually they consist of nested loops that operate on time scales of up to a generation. Consider the nesting of Match : Event : Season : Career : Training the next generation.
  • High mastery ceiling: Most are nearly impossible to master completely. You can always get a little better. You can always get better at Go, Soccer or Poker.
  • Strong communities: There exist strong social groups of like-minded players that have their own group norms, hierarchies and support structures. To be a dedicated basketball player is to be part of an extensive basketball playing network.
  • Life long identities: Someone who excels in the game starts to identify as a member of that group. The game becomes source of purpose bigger than themselves. They can look back on their life and say "There were some ups and downs, but I'm secure in my accomplishments as a player of game X"
  • Grass roots or service-based business models: Any cultural structure can be fruitfully analyzed by understanding the flow of money. Many traditional games have extremely low barriers to entry. It costs little to access the initial equipment. Often items like decks of cards or chessboards are either communally owned or purchased by a family and one set of equipment serves multiple participants.

    At higher levels of play, cash flows into the ecosystem through purchases of more advanced or higher status equipment or various service, membership or event fees. In all cases, the businesses involved have strong financial and culture incentives to get you playing and keep you playing.

Players of digital games consume

The hobby of computer or console gaming follows a different usage pattern; gamers play a wide variety of games. NPD claims core gamers buy an average of 5.4 games in a 3-month period. In a recent discussion of Steam purchases on Kotaku, commentators chimed in that they had purchased 100 to 800 games. These are played for a period of time and then set aside so that a new game might get some play.

These players specialize far less. They may prefer a genre of games such as RPGs or shooters, but they'll still consume many games within that genre.

Why the difference in playing patterns? Commercial digital games have some distinct attributes that encourage serial play instead of evergreen play. Not all digital games fit this mold, but the trends are worth noting.
  • Complete-able games: Most computer and console games can be completed in 5 to 40 hours. It is rare that you find digital games that retain users longer than 6 months. Actual playtime is shorter than the official length since most players do not complete their games and even fewer play through a title more than once. Compare this to the generational nested loops of traditional evergreen games.
  • Narrative and Puzzle-focused gameplay: The majority of the gameplay is focused on high burnout single use puzzles or evocative narrative stimuli. Designers spend their budget handcrafting specific scenarios for maximum emotional impact the first time through.
  • Low mastery ceilings: Since the design goal is to move players through the content of a game as smoothly as possible, the game mechanics are generally balanced towards the average skills of first time players. It is rare and surprising when a single player narrative computer game offers examples of masterful play. All this leads to early burnout where players rapidly become 'bored' and put the title aside.
  • Weak player identities: It is difficult for a player to establish their identity around their excellence in any one game. To be a good Braid player just isn't that special. Lots of other people have walked the same path; there is little player creativity and outside the occasional Let's Play video, few people care.
  • Content-focused business model: Digital games businesses have a strong financial incentive to get you to pay upfront and then move onto their next title. Games are treated as a content or boxed product business. An optimal strategy is to put high quality boxes on shelf (either physical or virtual) and get people to buy as many boxes as possible. Since exciting content remains a large cost center, there is ever increasing pressure to make games flashier and more marketable on the front-end and shorter on the back-end.
Shortness of play is perhaps the key reason why players end up consuming multiple games. With gamers spending 16-18 hours a week gaming, it doesn't take long to burn through a single title. When a single game fails to entirely fill a person's leisure time, players buy additional games. Only a set of multiple consumable titles provides enough engagement for someone to make a full-fledged hobby out of content-based games.

This fits the general profile of a media hobbyist. As we shifted from evergreen hobbies to digital retail-focused games, we trained users to behave in a fashion similar to that of a reader who reads many books or a movie goer who watches many movies.

A media culture

To be a 'Gamer' is to buy into numerous requirements that only exist to enable the creation of easily consumable media products.
  • Reviewers exist to help players select their next media purchase
  • Critics exist to demonstrate how media conveys a message to society. They are trained (if they are trained) in other media-centric fields such as movies or literature. There is little systemic thinking since media is first and foremost not a functional system but an evocative stimuli.
  • The form of popular games is determined by whether or not it fits in a media box. Form is the standardized structure of a piece of media. The 2-hour narrative movie is a form of video. The 300 page novel is a form of writing. So too is the 14-hour adventure game or the level-based narrative FPS.
  • Stores and storefronts exist to sell the hobbyist a steady trickle of new media. Since media creation is expensive and the share of a player's time is small for any single piece of media, aggregators of content are typically 3rd parties that don't produce all the media themselves.
  • Communities are built around mass media that act as a shared experience for large populations of consumers. Big brands like Mario, Mass Effect or Final Fantasy form cultural anchors much like Star Trek or Star Wars. Comparisons, reminiscences and fan fantasies about future sequels or expansions are common.

Digital evergreen hobbies

Into this media-centric ecosystem we've seen the reemergence of major games that hew more closely to the traditional games of old. MMOs like World of Warcraft or MOBAs like League of Legends are services. A digital game like Minecraft ties into numerous communities and is often played for years. Some like Halo or Call of Duty cleverly camouflage themselves as traditional consumable boxed products all while deriving long term engagement and retention from their extensive multiplayer services. These games share many of the attributes of older hobbies:
  1. They attempt to be evergreen.
  2. They have high mastery ceilings and robust communities.
  3. Many, especially eSports, replicate the nested yearly loops of a traditional sport.
    Each of these games is a hobby onto itself. People predominantly play a single game for years. In one poll of 5400 WoW players, 49% claimed to never actively play another MMO.

    The rise of services

    This shift to services is accelerating, driven by business factors and steady player acceptance. Developers are slowly coming around to the realization that an evergreen service yields more money, greater stability and a more engaged player base. Experiments of the past few years with social, mobile and Steam games suggest that microtransactions will likely become a majority of the gaming market. They already represent 70% of mobile revenue and continue to grow rapidly on other platforms.

    This new revenue stream places new constraints on game designs.  Types of laboriously handcrafted content that was once feasible when your game was played 10 hours is no longer profitable if revenue trickles in over hundreds or thousands of hours of play.  Deep mechanics once again matter.  Communities you want to spend time in become a competitive advantage.

    There are indeed manipulative companies scamming settlers in this newish frontier. Don't act so surprised. This is the case for any frontier and this is not the first time games have attracted disreputable developers.  Look beyond the flashy, inevitable crooks, just as you looked beyond the licensed games, the porn games and the gambling games that infest your typical game markets.  Look at the big picture and observe where the new opportunities for greatness blossom.

    No, they won't cross over

    These new evergreen players become hobbyists, but not media-centric gamers. This is most evident in the audiences that play 'casual' social and mobile titles. Many of these players never bought into the current gamer culture. It is common to see someone deep into Candy Crush and when you ask them if they are a gamer, they will deny it. They do not 'game', they never have 'gamed'. They don't share a common heritage of Mario, Zelda, COD, Halo or any of the mass media touchstones that unite current gamers. What they have is a wonderful hobby that in their mind has nothing to do with existing computer games.

    There exists a fantasy that somehow new players will get hooked on one game and then transfer over to consuming other games. Since this assumes a play pattern of high volume serial consumption, I doubt that this will occur. Great evergreen games leave little room in a hobbyist's schedule for grand feasts of consumable content. You don't finish a great hobby and then look for your next dalliance. You keep playing the game for years or even generations.

     The perfect service-based game is one worthy of your entire lifetime of leisure.

    If this seems an exaggeration and current titles feel unworthy of this high bar, wait a while. Developers are very talented. And the financial incentives to build the perfect service-based game are strong.

    Not one gaming hobby but many

    So where does that leave our understanding of 'gaming?'
    • Some people avidly knit in their leisure hours.
    • Others play a creative game like Farmville, Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft or the Sims.
    • Others participate in a social online game like World of Warcraft, Eve or Facebook.
    • And then there is a small but active community of proudly old-school Gamers that like consuming puzzles and story media.
    What we currently think of as 'gaming' becomes just another hobby amidst a vast jungle of digitally augmented hobbies.

    There are those who might see this as a threat, but that is mere fear talking. Existing hobbies tend to last for at least a generation. Those who've tied their identity to consuming media-style games as their hobby will stop participating in the hobby when they die. I expect to see 80-year olds still buying adventure games because that is what they were raised on and that is what they love. Niche producers can make good money serving these avid fans.  The rise of new hobbies thus do not invalidate a current hobby.  In fact, you'll have media-centric games for at least the rest of your life.

     Though each hobby likely will need to compete for new members.

    Impact on the cultural ecosystem

    With this shift comes change. The following may challenge your existing expectations.
    • Specialized interests, not shared experiences: The drop rates on defense potions matters little to your typical gamer. Yet it is of earth shattering importance to the community of Realm of the Mad God players, impacting hundreds of hours of their life. At a certain level of mastery, the language used to describe in-game concepts becomes indecipherable to casual audiences. This inhibits communication with external groups, but facilitates bonding within the group.
    • Deep systemic analysis, not broad media criticism and reviews. Hobbies are predominantly comprised of human systems and communities, not texts to analyze or boxes to sell. Political, anthropological or economic forms of discourse are more appropriate yet there are few game critics trained in these fields. Successful commentators are typically past players with a master-level understanding of the hobby. They are rarely dilettantes flitting from media event to media event.
    • Unique cultures, not mass cultures: A hobby can develop a set of inward facing social norms. This can be a negative if extreme viewpoints are allowed to fester. It can also be a huge positive and promote inclusivity, equality and long term positive relationships. Each hobby is a cultural petri dish that need not adopt dominant tropes or values.
    • Participation, not marketing campaigns: New players of a hobby hear about it from a friend or stumble upon a free trial. They participate first and see if they enjoy the lifestyle that the hobby promotes. Big bang media events can flood the early stages of the acquisition funnel, but they do not directly result in revenue or a sustainable community. 
    One aspect that surprises me the most is the stealthiness of inwardly sufficient hobbies. A smoothly running process is barely newsworthy for those unfamliar with the hobby. Over 5 million people partake in Geocaching, one of the greatest modern games ever invented.  Yet other than the occasional human interest story, it rarely breaks into the public consciousness. What would a media-focused rag say?  "People are having healthy fun...still.  Just like they were last year." That's not news. There is no new box to hype or content to whinge about.  There's no advertising to sell. So silence is the default until you look inside the vibrant magic circle. Geocachers return the favor by labeling outsiders Muggles.

    Let a thousand flowers blossom

    The concept of one true gamer community will be less feasible as evergreen hobbies grow in popularity. Instead, we have a crazy mixing bowl of diverse, separate, long-term communities. Few will share the same values or goals. Few players will consider themselves having anything in common with players of a different game.

    Social organizations such as PAX will still promote common ground, much like the Olympics promotes common ground between athletes. But day-to-day cross-pollination will be rare.

    I personally value a wild explosion of diversity. We need less mass culture and more emphasis on vibrant, generative communities instead of passive industrialized consumption.

    The existing society of players may be tempted to deal with those not like themselves negatively through shaming ("I can't believe you play Farmville, stupid person!") Here's how we might instead react positively.
    • Freedom of Play: Like freedom of religion, any player has a right to devote their life to any game even if it isn't something enjoyed by another player.
    • Mutual respect: Any player deserves your respect for their hobby even if you do not personally understand it. Avoid stereotypes and engage with the person.
    • Willingness to explain: Any insider should be willing to explain to an outsider how their hobby works. Proselytize by inviting them to play with you. An open-minded outsider should be willing to listen.
    The fact that individual hobbies exist is not new. The shift comes from realizing that individual digital hobbies will soon to be the default play pattern. Adapt accordingly.

    take care,

    References and Additional Links

    Note: Gamers often wonder why Farm Equipment simulators sell.  Judged as mass media, they are horrible.  Judged however as an independent hobby, they have many of the attributes of an engaging lifelong interest.  If you laugh at them, it is because you are outside their tribe and ignorant. 
    26 Jul 23:12

    We need more mainstream social science, not less.

    by Rex

    Nicholas Cristakis’s recent op-ed in the New York Times “Let’s Shake Up The Social Sciences” has a lot of things going for it. I appreciate his call for more hands-on teaching of research methods, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the application of social scientific knowledge. To make this point, unfortunately, he mischaracterizes the social sciences as “stagnated”, “boring”, “counterproductive”, and “insecure”. He calls on us to “change[] the basic DNA of the social sciences” in order to “evolv[e] with the times” as the natural sciences have. What’s more, his piece mischaracterizes the natural sciences in important ways. Christakis’s piece is remarkably data-free and lacks any concrete reference to the social-scientific work it stigmatizes and merely asserts our dysfunction. Of course, he didn’t have much space and was writing for a popular audience, which probably explains this fact. An account of how the social and natural sciences actually work, however, makes clear that the difficulties of the social sciences stem from quite different sources then those that Christakis points to.

    The first and most obvious difficulty that the social sciences face is funding, pure and simple. Compared to the natural sciences, we receive peanuts. In Fiscal Year 2013, the NSF got roughly 5.5 billion dollars from Congress to spend on research. Before you press the ‘Read More…’ link in this article, ask yourself “what percent of that was spent on social sciences?”

    The answer is 4% — the only area of research that the NSF funded less was the Arctic Research Commission, whose US$1.39 million dollar appropriation is the invisible sliver labeled ‘0%’ on the pie chart.


    4% of the NSF research budget comes out to just over US$242 million dollars. Of that 242 million, only 38% — just around 92 million — goes to social sciences.


    Stop for a second — especially those of you in the natural sciences reading this — and try to imagine what all natural scientific research country in this country would look like if you had a budget of US$92 million. I am very proud to say that my mother is a research scientist (and became one, by the way, when women didn’t have it as easy in science as they do now (which is still not very easy)). I’m hardly her accountant, but the last time we talked about her work, her lab was working through about US$3 million in funding for five years. This means that if the natural sciences were funded the way the social sciences are, there would roughly thirty natural scientists working in the United States today.

    Of course, this comparison is incredibly simplistic — there are multiple sources of funding beyond the NSF (although there are more for natural sciences than social sciences), multi-year grants make this sort of estimation difficult, the cost of science varies widely by field, and so on. But the point should be clear: to a first approximation, the reason that the natural sciences are doing 96% better than the social sciences is that they receive 96% more funding.

    In fact, there is a congressional war against social science. An entire discipline is being targeted. These are not recent moves made in response to ‘inertia’ or ‘failure’ in the social sciences. Rather, the social sciences have always been secondary to sciences which more directly serve federal goals (which are, to make a long story short, global military supremacy, especially as regards nuclear weapons, aeronautics, and space research).

    According to Christakis, “the social sciences have stagnated” because “They offer essentially the same set of academic departments and disciplines that they have for nearly 100 years.” To be sure, there are important links between the institutionalization of academic disciplines and their intellectual content. But to judge progress and development merely by these institutional measures is patently ridiculous. Prior to moving to Yale, Christakis had an appointment at Harvard Medical School, an institution that was founded in 1782. Yet no one would accuse Christakis of using leaches to cure headaches. Equally, many have argued that my own discipline, anthropology, has fallen into a hopeless miasma of postmodernism from which it will never recover. This supposedly drastic decline has happened without our discipline changing names. Disciplines change. The names stay the same. Using superficial analysis of administrative arrangements to diagnose scientific progress is reckless practice.

    Additionally, it is patently ridiculous to argue that the social sciences have been stagnating for a century. Most of them are just barely a century old, if that. The American Sociological Association was formed in 1908. The American Political Science Association was formed in 1903. The American Anthropological Association was founded in 1902. Most historians of anthropology argued that modern scientific anthropology did not solidify until 1920. The same is true in Britain. A hundred years ago, anthropology did not exist. Papua New Guinea, the country I study, was not mapped. And yet today we have a wealth of data on the country and developed sophisticated understandings of social organization there. To argue otherwise is simply to ignore (or be ignorant of) extremely basic facts about the history of the social sciences.

    Unfortunately, with the contraction of research at the end of the cold war, there is a real danger that progress will stop in the areas we study simply because there is no money to fund graduate students and no faculty positions in the academy to support basic research. My generation, generation x, came of age with a large cohort of baby boomers who revolutionized anthropology of the Pacific. Today I doubt that I will produce enough students to reproduce this expertise. To this extent, Christakis is correct: the social sciences are stagnating and contracting because they are being starved to death.

    Christakis claims that “One reason citizens…lack confidence in the social sciences is that social scientists too often miss the chance to declare victory and move on to new frontiers.” This is completely true. My discipline of anthropology has declared victory and moved on to new frontiers several times in the course of my career. However, we rarely have a chance to explain our findings to the public because the public finds them so unintuitive. As a result popular anthropology is left explaining again and again and again the most preliminary findings of our discipline — the low-hanging fruits regarding cultural relativism and the underdetermination of conduct by biology that we figured out in the 1920s. Anthropologists could do more, of course, to move public opinion by writing frequently for the public.

    It has certainly done so in the past (think: Margaret Mead). But given the decreasing personnel and funding of our discipline, few of us have the time to do this. If only 1% of scientist are able and willing to write for the public, and that means there will be 2 anthropologists writing for the public and 200 in the natural sciences.

    To be sure, the social sciences are not the only disciplines in this situation. Christakis writes that “the social sciences don’t enjoy the same prestige as the natural sciences,” because of our “inertia”, “insecurity”, and “conservatism”. The assumption seems to be that natural sciences are prestigious because they are making “progress”. This is not true. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that the natural sciences are not prestigious. Many Americans are committed to cosmological views in which angels and other supernatural powers exist and are an active force in the world. They rightly see the natural sciences as enemies of their beliefs rather than prestigious sources of practically useful. Many Americans take the claims of a former Playboy model more seriously than those of medical science when it comes to the seemingly straightforward issue of vaccinating children.

    In fact, the natural sciences have the cachet that they do because of a massive effort to make people believe in the veracity and utility of natural science. This includes socialization into the scientific world view at a very young age, including mandatory natural science classes in school. As the father of a three year old, I am acutely aware of incredible intensity of messaging my children receive about how desirable space exploration is, and how important it is to continue discovering More Dinosaurs. Of course, both my wife and I are ridiculously over-educated and consider the claims of science credible, so maybe this just reflects our own viewing choices. But basic common-sense should confirm that most American children are introduced to the natural sciences, while they are not exposed (if they are ever exposed) to the social sciences until they are in college.

    In addition to socializing Americans into finding science credibly and prestigious, natural scientists work closely with journalists to create a massive PR machine which casts science as prestigious and scientists as authoritative speakers of truth. Science magazine now regularly publishes not only scientific articles, but journalistic reportage. In his book Dawn of the Deed John Long described in detail the incredibly media spectacle that was whipped up to make people interested in the fact that he had discovered how extinct fish had sex. Examples could be multiplied. The point is that all of this takes money, which the social sciences don’t have. Much of it also, by the way, helps cultivate an awe of the lab coat which is the exact opposite of the critical and questioning mindset which is the true hallmark of science.

    The amazing thing about science is not its prestige, but how little people believe in it, despite the tremendous amount of time and money spent trying to get them to believe in it. To the extent that STEM gets traction in the broader public, it is because people believe (for reasons that may not be good) that somehow getting a degree in chemistry will lead to job security. As the credential arms race grows more intense, the natural sciences have become the new plumbing.

    There is a lot more to be said about Christakis’s short article. He radically underestimates the difficulties of including human subjects research in undergraduate teaching and seems not to understand that may human problems admit of more than one technical solution, which makes their solution a matter for democratic deliberation, not technocratic engineering. That said, he also gets a lot right: despite the difficulties, we should do more methods teaching. Social scientists do need to do a better job explaining to the public what we do. And yes, while the underlying context of his article: “I am the next Stephen Pinker, buy my book” is a little clunky, he does do interesting work. But like many people, Christakis seems to need to make other people small to make himself look big. That’s not the sort of generosity we should show to our colleagues and, more to the point, it requires an understanding of the state of mainstream social science which is simply incorrect.

    26 Jul 23:08

    Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville Files!

    by Jon

    Cainsville Files cover

    It’s been nothing but announcements here at inkle in the last couple of weeks, and here’s the latest bit of news: surprise! inkle‘s latest interactive story, published by Dutton and written by best-selling author Kelley Armstrong, will be hitting the US App Store this Thursday!

    Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville Files is our latest collaboration with Penguin US (after Poems By Heart, as recently featured in an Apple marketing campaign for education).

    Written by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, Cainsville Files introduces readers to the mysterious town of Cainsville, the setting of Kelley’s upcoming book Omens. In this unique interactive adventure, the reader guides a down-on-her-heels private eye through her investigation into the disappearance of her high-school sweetheart.

    An interactive graphic novel…

    Graphic Novel style interfaceThe app is a new style of story for us, that uses a unique “interactive graphic novel” design. Somewhere between a comic-book, a visual novel, and an inklebook, Cainsville Files is probably the most visually rich app we’ve done yet, thanks to awesome background and character art by digital artist Julie Dillon.

    …created with inklewriter!

    And excitingly for us, the story itself was written entirely by Kelley using the online version of inklewriter. Our goal for inklewriter was always to let authors just “get on and write” interactive fiction.

    And although we’ve published several interactive works to Kindle using our ebook service, this is the first time time we’ve taken content all the way from the web front end through to a final released app. The story is novella-length, and feature several branches, alternate paths, and clues to discover (and horrible ways to die): so it really put the software to the test, using all the logic and tracking features inklewriter provides.

    Option design

    Coming soon to Canada and the UK

    So if you want to take a trip to Cainsville, the app will be out for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch in the US on Thursday, and is coming soon to Canada, courtesy of Random House Canada. A UK release is also expected from Sphere and Little, Brown. (Both of these might well be sadly delayed by the Apple hack.)

    Now; back to Kharé for us!

    21 Jul 21:50

    Redshirt, or 'If The Starship Enterprise had Facebook'

    by Staff

    redshirt small.jpgI've personally wondered for a while now how social media could be better integrated into video game experiences. Inviting friends and tracking online high scores is all well and good, but it seems like there's a whole world of social opportunities that haven't yet been fully explored.

    As it turns out, one of the potential answers is to simply make your entire game based around social media, and explore just how silly it actually is when you take a step back.

    Redshirt is a sci-fi (as you might have guessed) take on social networking. How would Star Trek have played out if everyone on the Starship Enterprise had access to a Facebook-like social media system?

    Hilariously, as it turns out.

    Players start as an unknown on a spacestation, but slowly work their way up the ranks by befriending people on 'Spacebook', "liking" statuses from their boss, and attending Spacebook events, all in a turn-based setting. Although your real-world skills matter here and there, your online presence is the really important factor, and inevitably determines whether you end up dead or not.

    Mitu Khandaker, the sole developer behind the upcoming game, says that focusing on social media as a concept for a video game has been something she's wanted to do for ages.

    "I've always thought that social simulations are such an under-explored area in games," she tells me. "I've always had a massive soft spot for The Sims, so it was this existing, long-standing interest I'd had anyway."

    redshirt 1 (2).jpgShe continues, "I suppose the idea of simulating a social network must have come to me at some point during all those many, many hours I've probably spent on Facebook over the last seven years, and all the usual reflection that comes with it about how those things have affected how we relate to one another."

    Khandaker notes that social media has not only proved the catalyst for a number of her own personal dramas over the years, but actually ended up causing some of them. She even met her fiance via social media, so it's very much embedded firmly in her life.

    "What really solidified the idea, I suppose, was that prior to working on Redshirt, I worked for almost a year on a startup which was originally a location-based game," she says, "which then eventually morphed into a purely-social media thing, akin to stuff like Foursquare. But possibly worse in terms of really gross, extrinsic motivation-type stuff."

    This led to Khandaker floating through the world of gamification and tech start-ups before finally getting out, and realising that games were what she really wanted to work on. But her previous experiences led her to consider what would happen if she created a social networking sim.


    "It wasn't until I started talking to Cliff Harris [Gratuitous Space Battles dev who is publishing Redshirt] that the idea of the sci-fi theme really came into being," she says of the game's other big selling point.

    "I've always been kind of a sci-fi and space nerd, and, coincidentally, around the same time, I was lucky enough to be invited to a NASA 'Tweetup' to watch the final ever space shuttle launch (again, thanks to social media!)"

    redshirt 2.jpgThis life-defining moment, and reflections on the future of space travel, led Khandaker to think: "Even if we do get ourselves together and humans have become this amazing, spacefaring civilization in 300 years, people are still going to be people; there'll always be people who are ever-so-slightly self-obsessed, share pictures of their food, and want to talk about every mundane detail of their life. But you know, that's most people, and that's okay!"

    What's really interesting about Redshirt is how it starts off as an obvious parody of social networking... and yet an hour into play, I suddenly found myself treating the gameplay in the very same, very serious manner that I treat my daily social media trawling.

    The joke was all of a sudden well and truly on me.

    "That's certainly by design!" laughs Khandaker. "I think social media, and the way that people engage with it, can become a parody of itself, so I'm not sure that I needed to do much beyond model the kind of mechanics by which people use social media -- adding friends, updating statuses, liking other things, etc."

    She continues, "I suppose the main goal with representing social media in the game was to represent its inherent two-fold nature. Sure, you can be earnest in your use of it, and I really like to think that most people are. But for some, it can also be this very cynical thing where you're almost treating people as commodities; and, to be fair, looking at the way Facebook is designed around showing friend numbers, number of likes on statuses, and stuff, that's kind of inherent to its design."

    You only have to look at all the marketing guides online that teach you how to "increase your follower count" and "build a personal brand" to see this in action, she notes.

    redshirt 3.jpg"So yes, you can enact this very cynical climb up the career and social ladders. Or maybe you just enjoy interacting with other characters in the game in and of itself. Either is totally fine."

    AI AI O

    Most notably, while playing Redshirt it became very apparent that this was a game unlike a good portion of others that I usually play, in that the world most definitely was not revolving around me.

    "I'm so glad you got that feeling!" says Khandaker. "After all, that's what being on social media feels like; there's a lot going on. I think creating a game about social media which revolved around the player would kind of be missing the point. And, especially when that's a game about specifically being a red shirt, an expendable, insignificant person."

    Each of the NPCs that you find on Spacebook, at work, at events and on space missions, have their own little worlds that they're wrapped up in. They pursue friendships, romantic relationships and more, and their paths throughout the game are chosen regardless of how you act.

    "You're just trying to carve out your own part of that world," notes Khandaker. "I have to credit the AI consultant on the game, Luke Dicken, with helping set up the systems to get the AI working in a believable kind of way, and writer Lucy Hounsham, who helped write many, many of the possible status updates for the NPCs."

    Khandaker has been working on that game for over two years now, which led me to question whether or not social media has evolved during that time, to such an extent that she's had to alter the layout of her game to match real-life.

    "It's definitely something I've worried about before," she answers, adding that the time frame has "occasionally made me worry a bit about relevance -- especially since products like Facebook are so infamous for suddenly changing its interface."

    However, she notes that "ultimately, the game represents a very stripped down/abstracted version of a Facebook-inspired interface, which really, has the same kind of mechanics as a stripped-down Twitter-ish sort of thing, too."

    redshirt 4.jpgEven with the most recent social media focuses on photo and video sharing, for example, the main principles of social networking have remained the same -- sharing, seeking approval from peers, etc. If anything, she reasons, social networks have all simply tried to copy each other. Just look at how Facebook recently added Twitter-like hashtags, while Instagram launched its own Vine.

    Going all the way back to my original musing -- that social media is only really used in superficial ways in video games to date -- Khandaker agrees, but isn't sure exactly how networking elements could be implemented in a more exciting way in games.

    "I'm not sure what a great alternative solution would be," she says. "Maybe the very idea of integrating games with real social media is kind of at odds with each other? I mean, my favourite example was the Twitter integration in Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, because it was these intriguing bits of text from the game, rather than high scores etc."

    "But it's still not perfect," she adds. "A few people have suggested integrating Redshirt with real social media to see what would happen - I think that might be a step too meta for me! Of course, a small number of people have suggested that the 'action points' in the game, which parody limited-energy in Facebook games, should be bought using real microtransactions -- which is even more horrifying an idea!"

    "But no, I'm not sure what the answer would be. Maybe make a great game so people naturally want to talk about it to their friends on social media, like actual humans?"

    Redshirt is due to launch "soon" for PC, Mac and Linux, with an iPad version following shortly after. Pre-orders will be available in the coming weeks, which will also grant beta access.

    [Mike Rose wrote this article on sister site Gamasutra]

    21 Jul 15:07

    15-year-old child sustained life-threatening injuries in hit & run collision

    by Detective Renee Witt

    Detectives seeking public’s assistance. On Friday, July 19, 2013, just shortly after 8:00 p.m. a 15 year-old male pedestrian and his brother were crossing MLK Jr Wy S east to west on the south side of the intersection.

    At the same time, a vehicle was travelling south on MLK Jr Wy S approaching S Walden St. The vehicle struck the pedestrian and continued south on MLK Jr Wy S without stopping to provide information or render aid.

    Seattle Fire Department responded and treated the 15- year-old male pedestrian; he was transported to HMC via Medics with a life threatening head injury.

    The suspect vehicle is described as a dark grey (charcoal) Honda, possibly newer.

    It should have a missing drivers door mirror and broken front headlight assembly at the minimum.

    Anyone with information about this vehicle and or it’s driver is asked to call 9-1-1. Anonymous tips are welcome.

    The investigation continues.

    17 Jul 02:49

    Paarthurnax: Further Considerations

    by Todd Rooney
    The conflict at the core of the Dovahkiin's rise to power is analogous to that faced by Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.   Raskolnikov considers himself to be an extraordinary man -- the creator of a "New Word" -- and therefore above the laws of ordinary men.  He finds himself torn between two models of this "extraordinary man": the Nietschzean Übermensch, who subjugates those beneath him by virtue of his greater power, and the Hegelian superman, who transcends the law in order to perform great and noble deeds.  Raskolnikov considers his murder of the evil pawnbroker as evidence of his superior nature; he breaks the law in order to rid the world of a great evil.  Once he does so, however, he finds himself becoming more Nietschzean, seeking power over others for its own sake.

    While Raskolnikov only thinks of himself as extraordinary, the Dovahkiin is emperically superior to those around him, capable of supernatural feats beyond those of the most powerful NPCs and creatures in the game.  During the course of the game, the Dovahkiin can defeat Alduin the World-Eater, challenge the Daedra, decide the outcome of the Civil War, and simultaneously become the leader of the Companions, the Thieves' Guild, the Dark Brotherhood, and the College of Winterhold.  Furthermore, the Dovahkiin literally possesses a "new word" -- or, more accurately, several ancient words -- that denotes a unique role in Tamriel's history. The question is not whether the Dovahkiin is extraordinary; the question is whether he or she will take the Nietschzean or the Hegelian route.  Obviously, the player as moral agent ultimately decides which kind of superman the Dovahkiin will become, but the game provides several prominent models of the Nietschzean Übermensch against which the player can be defined.

    The central Nietschzean character in the game is, as I mentioned in the previous post, Alduin.  The World-Eater seeks power over mortals and dragons alike, not for the benefit of his kind or the glory of some divine being, but for his own sake.  He conquers because it is his nature to do so.  He does not bother to justify his actions to anyone, because to do so would suggest that someone else has authority over him.  He enslaves or destroys the weak and commands the strong.  He is the lust for power personified.

    Paarthurnax provides a useful Hegelian counterpoint to Alduin.  Here we have a being who, like his erstwhile ally, instinctively seeks to conquer, yet consciously chooses otherwise.  In helping the Tongues and the Greybeards, he betrays his own kind and violates his own innate nature to serve a noble cause: the Way of the Voice.  He creates a new law to supplant the Nietschzean rule of Alduin.

    Paarthurnax, however, is not alone.  Brynjolf, Kodlak, Argenir, and even Ulfric Stormcloak demonstrate the power of "honorable transgression."  Each of these characters violates some law or taboo or tradition in order to serve, at least in their estimation, a greater good.  While one could argue against the particular motivation in each case (Jarl Ulfric's cause being the most obvious example), these characters are all motivated by something greater than and outside of their own individual selves.

    What is noteworthy here is that each of the more Hegelian characters is presented as decidedly more heroic (or at least respectable) than their Nietschzean counterparts.  Paarthurnax's dialogue is eloquent and thought-provoking, while Alduin's is full of self-aggrandizement and menace.  Consider the conflict between Mercer and Brynjolf; the former amasses power and wealth for himself alone, while Brynjolf and Karliah seek to revitalize the Guild and to serve Nocturnal.  Dawnguard presents another example in the persons of Isran and Lord Harkon.  Despite the freedom of choice available to the PC, the game presents the Nietschzean Will to Power as something the Dovahkiin must overcome at every turn.

    Perhaps the most prominent example of this bias occurs in the Dragonborn DLC.  During the Main Quest, the Greybeards warn the Dovahkiin not to abuse his power, but in Dragonborn, we are presented with an antagonist who did precisely that.  What separates Miraak from the other two "final bosses" is that he is a dark reflection of the PC: a Dovahkiin who uses his power for himself rather than for some higher purpose.  In other words, Miraak plays Svidrigaïlov to the PC's Raskolnikov.

    While one may choose to play a Nietschzean Dovahkiin, the game clearly favors the Hegelian model.  The vast majority of the minor and side quests ask the player to do something for someone else's benefit.  The Nietschzean role-player has to work around that through cynicism: I am doing this favor for the sole purpose of getting a reward.  Of course, a player can wreak mayhem in the streets, but really, almost every scripted quest invites the player to help someone else.  Even the Dark Brotherhood quests are presented in the context of helping the "family."  Furthermore, each main quest (Skyrim, Dawnguard, Dragonborn) pits the PC against a Nietschzean adversary in order to save the world.  At no point can the player choose to join a Nietschzean NPC in his quest to destroy or enslave Tamriel.  Yes, one can join the Volkihar, but Lord Harkon is still the enemy because his insane plan puts all vampires at risk.  One could argue that joining a Nietschzean faction would be nearly impossible to script because a faction centered around an Übermensch would be a cult, an cults negate the agency of the member, which would run counter to the necessary agency of the PC in an RPG.  This objection merely pushes the question down the road: are all RPGs anti-Nietschzean?

    In short, Paarthurnax underscores the Hegelian tilt of Skyrim.  How else to understand a game in which one of most beloved characters is essentially a Hegelian version of the Nietschzean villian?
    12 Jul 17:18

    Nerdy Love Song + Adorable Kitten + Ukelele = Watch This Video

    by Brooke Jaffe

    Kittens are cute. Ukeleles are cute. Nerdy love songs are cute. What sort of ungodly cuteness monster do you get when you put them all together? This video!

    Comedian DeAnne Smith wrote and recorded this song for her friend’s show, but got kittenbombed. I think it makes the whole thing even better! Also her cat is ridiculously adorable. If you’re allergic to cuteness then have an epi pen at the ready, because you’re going to want to watch this.

    (via Kotaku)

    Previously in Kittens

    Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?

    12 Jul 06:18

    Fund the First Six Months of re/Action

    by Alex

    re/Action zine–helmed by editors Mattie Brice, Andrea Shubert, and Stephen Winson–launched back in May, and since then, the site has published a lot of high-quality games writing from the margins. Maddy Myers wrote about being Samus, Mattie examined tabletop game Microscope, and Zoya Street wrote about his experiences in the queer games scene as a trans man.

    The young site has already spurred change around the gaming internet with Samantha Allen’s Open Letter to Games Media, which provoked responses from Kotaku and other EICs addressed in the letter.

    re/Action isn’t just about games writing, either; it has already published a comic and the editors have expressed interest in publishing poetry and games as well.

    If re/Action continues in this way, it will be an invaluable source for marginalized voices in games. It will help to move the entire video game community forward to a more inclusive place. But it will only be able to continue with our help. The editors are holding a campaign to fund the first six months of the zine, with which the team will be able to pay their contributors. The details are broken down in detail on the Indiegogo page. Please consider subscribing so that this important work can continue.

    re/Action 2013 Fundraiser — Indiegogo

    11 Jul 14:44

    I’ll Be You and You Be Me: A Vintage Ode to Friendship and Imagination, Illustrated by Sendak

    by Maria Popova

    “Indescribably lovely and absolutely perfect and — well, pure in the best sense.”

    In 1952, more than a decade before Where the Wild Things Are catapulted him into creative celebrity, the inexhaustibly brilliant Maurice Sendak began collaborating with beloved children’s book author Ruth Krauss, of whom Sendak is cited to have said, “Prior to the commercialization of children’s books, there was Ruth Krauss.” He illustrated eight of her books during her lifetime, as well as a posthumous edition of one of her earliest books in 2005, twelve years after Krauss died. Perhaps the most delightful of their collaborations is I’ll Be You and You Be Me (public library) — a heart-warming and witty ode to the empathic bonds of friendship and a celebration of children’s wild and whimsical imagination, originally published in 1954.

    Though this gem was reprinted in 1982, it is sadly long out of print — why is this so often the case with yesteryear’s treasures? — but used copies can still be found with some looking. I’ve managed to get a hold of an original first edition. Please enjoy.

    Among Krauss’s delightful verses is also this wonderful addition to history’s finest definitions of love, reminiscent of the Peanuts classic Love Is Walking Hand in Hand:

    shoes shoes
    little black shoes
    little black shoes
    with little black bows —
    someday someday
    little black shoes
    with little black bows
    on the toes –

    A year after I’ll Be You and You Be Me was published, the great Ursula Nordstrom, who had been not only Sendak’s editor but also his confidante, therapist, loving friend, and greatest champion, wrote in a letter to 27-year-old Maurice about his illustrations for another Krauss book, which could just as easily apply to this one:

    There are a few peaks in an editor’s life, and seeing those pictures of yours has been a peak of mine. They are indescribably lovely and absolutely perfect and — well, pure in the best sense.

    How perfectly and purely put, and how sorely Nordstrom’s passionate spirit is missed.

    Complement this with Sendak’s little-known and lovely illustrations of Tolstoy and his posthumous love letter to the world.

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    11 Jul 14:41

    Store: Bought – Second Life Dev Acquires Desura

    by Nathan Grayson

    Even this random Second Life citizen is surprised. Well, at least insofar as that character model can express anything humans would designate 'an emotion'.

    Second Life is still a thing! Trust me: I checked. Now I must go wash my eyes with acid and bees, for it’s the only way to be sure. More importantly, however, creator Linden Labs is actually up to a bunch more stuff these days – including interesting (and sadly mobile-only) interactive narrative experiments and a buildy, kinda Minecraft-ish thing. So naturally, it’s gone and purchased PC indie game and mod purveyor Desura because… I don’t really know. But I mean, why not? Desura’s a solid, largely open platform with thriving communities like Mod DB and Indie DB under its weirdly shaped umbrella logo thing. There are certainly worse starting points if you want to dive headfirst into the world of online game storefront management.


    11 Jul 03:01

    The quick decline of North Carolina, or how an almost blue state became a Koch brother pet project

    Among the southern states, North Carolina had, for a while, been a beacon of social progress and forward thinking. But after the state seemed to be on its way to becoming solidly blue, hundreds of millions of dollars began pouring in to turn that tide. Now, North Carolina has a Republican governor and a Republican controlled legislature and every day, the state government turns back the tide… cutting off retirement and unemployment benefits, pushing anti-abortion and anti-gay agendas, slashing social programs, trying to limit voting for the poor and minorities and on and on and on…

    Read more here at the New York Times

    11 Jul 02:32

    Crisis Intervention Team Sends Man For Hospital Evaluation Following Ballard Park Incident

    by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee

    On Monday, police received a report of a suspicious man in Ballard’s Salmon Bay Park. The man’s presence in the park alarmed several families, who contacted police.  While officers were quickly dispatched to Salmon Bay Park, a chain of events created a delay in SPD’s response to the park. The incident—and concerns over SPD’s response—understandably generated a lot of questions from neighbors and news outlets and, after researching the incident, we thought it was important to walk through how the department handled this call.

    • 911 dispatchers received the call at 6:21 pm. The information officers had at the time from the initial call is that this was a suspicious person.
    • Following the initial dispatch, officers did not have information that the suspicious man had made any physical contact with or threatened anyone in the park.
    • The incident, which was happening during the North Precinct’s shift change, was logged as a “urgent” Priority 2 call, which required a two officers to respond. All 911 calls are flagged as Priority 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, with Priority 1 calls being the most life-threatening emergencies—like active shootings, violent assaults and calls involving weapons. Officers are then dispatched to the highest priority calls.
    • As officers were responding to the Salmon Bay Park, the 911 communications center received an unrelated report of a possible abduction in progress—a man carrying a screaming child into a vehicle at Golden Gardens park—which required an immediate priority 1 “critical” response. Officers investigated the report, which took some time. The incident at Golden Gardens turned out to be unfounded.
    • As officers were investigating the Priority 1 call at Golden Gardens, police received a second call about the man in Salmon Bay park, indicating the man had attempted to make contact with a child in the park.
    • While officers were still investigating the Golden Gardens call, a second group of officers just coming on-shift responded to Salmon Bay Park, but the 911 callers and the suspicious man had left the scene.
    • Officers contacted the first caller on the Salmon Bay Park incident at home and took a report. Officers also checked the neighborhood for the suspicious man but weren’t able to find him.

    Police continued to investigate the Salmon Bay case Tuesday, as news of the incident began to circulate amongst concerned neighborhood groups in Ballard.

    • Tuesday afternoon, SPD received a report that a man matching the description of the suspicious man from the Salmon Bay incident was hanging out in Ballard Commons Park.
    • Officers contacted the man, took his information and ran his name, which came back clear. Officers were also not able to immediately verify whether he was the same subject from the Salmon Bay incident.

    Wednesday morning, police received a delayed out-of-state data response, indicating the man contacted in Ballard Commons Park was a missing man from Montana, who may have some mental health issues.

    • Officers continued searching for the man and, once again, found him in Ballard Commons Park.
    • Officers and the Crisis Intervention Team brought the man to a local hospital for treatment and a mental health evaluation.
    • Officers believe the man contacted Ballard Commons is the same man from the Salmon Bay incident. Police are still investigating the incident.

    After reviewing the incident, the 911 call center has determined this call should have merited a faster response from police. The call center will continue to review incidents like this one to ensure our dispatchers are doing everything possible to ensure they are providing the best information to officers on the street. SPD is still investigating the case and anyone else who witnessed the incident at Salmon Bay is encouraged to call 911. 

    10 Jul 04:23

    The Unsung Heroes of the Crash Landing in San Francisco

    by Lisa Wade, PhD

    We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

    Like many people, I’ve been following news about the crash landing in San Francisco. It’s a frightening reminder of the risks that come with air travel, but an uplifting one thanks to the small number of casualties.  The Mayor of San Francisco was quoted saying: “We’re lucky we have this many survivors.”  And the Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department said that it was “nothing short of a miracle…”  At CNN, after mentioning the two confirmed fatalities, the reporter writes, “Somehow, 305 others survived.” Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote that it was a “serious moment to give thanks.”  But to whom?


    There’s a kind of person who is trained to maximize survival in the case of a plane crash: the flight attendant.  Airlines don’t advertise the intense training their flight attendants receive because it reminds potential passengers that air travel is risky.  As a result, most people seriously underestimate the skills flight attendants bring on board and the dedication they have to the safety of their passengers.

    Flight attendants have to learn hundreds of regulations and know the safety features of all of the aircraft in their airline’s fleet. They must know how to evacuate the plane on land or sea within 90 seconds; fight fires 35,000 feet in the air; keep a heart attack or stroke victim alive; calm an anxious, aggressive, or mentally ill passenger; respond to hijackings and terrorist attacks; and ensure group survival in the jungle, sea, desert, or arctic.

    It isn’t just book learning; they train in “live fire pits” and “ditching pools.”As one flight attendant once said:

    I don’t think of myself as a sex symbol or a servant. I think of myself as somebody who knows how to open the door of a 747 in the dark, upside down and in the water (source).

    This is why I’m surprised to see almost no discussion of the flight attendants’ role in this “miracle.” Consider the top five news stories on Google at the time I’m writing: CNNFoxCBS, the Chicago Tribune, and USA Today.  These articles use passive language to describe the evacuation: ”slides had deployed”; all passengers “managed to get off.”  When the cabin crew are mentioned, they appear alongside and equivalent to the passengers: the crash forced “dozens of frightened passengers and crew to scamper from the heavily damaged aircraft”; ”passengers and crew were being treated” at local hospitals.

    Only one of these five stories, at Fox, acknowledges that the 16 cabin crew members worked through the crash and its aftermath.  The story mentions that, while passengers who could were fleeing the plane, crew remained behind to help people who were trapped, slashing seat belts with knives supplied by police officers on the ground.  The plane was going up in flames; they risked their lives to save others.

    I don’t know what the flight attendants on this plane did or didn’t do to minimize injuries or save lives, but I would like to know.  Instead, they are invisible in these news stories as workers, allowing readers and future passengers to remain ignorant of the skills and dedication they bring to their work.

    Cross-posted at JezebelPolicyMic, Huffington Post, and BlogHer.

    Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

    (View original at

    08 Jul 22:53

    Get seven games for pledging to Zak Ayles's rotoscoped Lioness on Kickstarter

    by Anthony Swinnich

    Lioness is the latest game from the mind of Zak Ayles, the developer who recently brought us PUNKSNOTDEAD. This project is an attempt to expand storytelling in adventure games by exploring the concept of self, and what would happen if we changed decisions we made in the past.

    Your character's interactions with the people around him is a focal point in the gameplay. As a journalist, you're investigating the mysterious disappearances of seven people. Your progression through the game's urban landscape will present problems to solve and introduce you to many interesting characters. The plot somehow involves time travel, though there are no clear details yet on what that entails.

    If all goes according to plan, Lioness will be released in seven episodes, or "sessions" that will further explain the elements that make up the game's world. Those who pledge at least $7 to the Lioness Kickstarter will receive seven additional and exclusive games from the Braingale Collective. The estimated delivery on Kickstarter is August 2013, though there's no official release date for the first episode as of yet.

    [via Brandon Boyer's Twitter]

    08 Jul 21:28

    Dragon*Con Officially Separates From Founder, Accused Molester, Ed Kramer

    by Jill Pantozzi

    After a drawn out, public debacle, Dragon*Con has announced they have finally managed to divorce themselves from accused molester Edward Kramer

    We previously reported on the story of Kramer, a Dragon*Con co-founder accused of child-molestation who has been using health issues to avoid going to court since his initial arrest in 2000. Although he was no longer involved with the convention, he was getting compensation for his holdings ($154,000 in 2011).

    But The Mary Sue received a press release today from McGraw Euston Associates on behalf of Dragon*Con which states, “The Board of Directors and Shareholders of Dragon Con / ACE, Inc., producer of Dragon*Con, Atlanta’s internationally known pop culture, fantasy and sci-fi convention, have agreed to merge the company into Dragon Con, Inc. (Dragon Con) in a cash-out merger.”

    Although the general public, creators, and fans have been calling for Dragon*Con to do something just like this for years, they expressed their agreement but said it was a difficult process. One it looks like they’ve finally managed.

    Led by Pat Henry, David Cody and Robert Dennis, ownership of Dragon Con includes five of the six founding owners of Dragon Con / ACE (the old Dragon Con). The effective date of the merger is July 8,

    Edward Kramer, who has not had any role in managing or organizing the convention since 2000, was offered cash for his shares in the old company. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

    “This decision only affects the ownership of the old Dragon Con,” said Henry, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dragon Con. “Our members and others who attend Dragon*Con 2013 will experience the same fantastic convention they have come to expect from us.”

    The release went on to say all current agreements with hotels in the area, guests, and performers will go unchanged or with amendments added to recognize the new ownership.

    As soon as news broke, creators often vocal about the Kramer situation (some even boycotting the convention), took to Twitter to comment.

    “REALLY happy @DragonCon’s ‘sorry, we can’t do anything about it’ has finally turned into ‘we got rid of Ed Kramer,’” said Ron Marz. “Obviously @DragonCon kicking Kramer to the curb was long overdue, but the most important thing is that it’s finally done.”

    Steve Niles said, Great news about @DragonCon. They did the right thing. Great way to start the week,” while cosplayer DJ Spider wrote, “Best @DragonCon news of the day – finally! Bye bye, Ed Kramer!” Facebook users also expressed their appreciation for the news on the Dragon*Con facebook page.

    Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?

    06 Jul 14:45

    This Looks Awesome Alert: New NPR Series on Kids' Culture

    by Sara M. Grimes
    ©2013 NPR Monkey See: currently running a very cool series of stories on  kids & media, literature, culture, toys and play Via Emma Mustich over at the Huffington Post, news about a recent, month-long series by NPR examining various aspects of kids' media culture and consumption practices, from questions of representation (gender, race), to contemporary (and enduring) toy trends. Here's an
    05 Jul 15:16

    Happy 2013th Birthday America!

    by Chris

    People on twitter sometimes get a little mixed up.

    05 Jul 01:02

    The essential checklist for making an awesome video game, according to Futurlab

    by Staff
    velocity art.jpg[written by James Marsden]

    One of the most common questions we're asked is:

    "How surprised were you at Velocity's success?"

    And the answer is:

    "Not surprised at all, but relieved."

    That is to say that we knew Velocity was an awesome game, and we worked hard to get it noticed. Subsequently we were relieved when it received the attention we knew it deserved. You might ask how could we be so confident? It's because we focused on all the aspects of game design that are essential to success, putting time in to make them as good as possible whilst spending little time on the aspects that don't matter so much. In short, we stuck to an essential checklist.


    Essential Checklist

    This checklist is our special sauce. We use it to design all of our games, and each has benefited greatly. Our checklist has developed out of necessity because we're a small studio with very limited resources. Every action counts.

    So why share our secrets with the world?

    We believe in sharing knowledge to make the world a better place. We want to see more independent developers make stunning games to help shift the mainstream public perception of 'indie' as being somehow inferior, less engaging, less polished. The tide is turning, and we'd like to help accelerate it. Yes there has been a democratisation of game development with free tools and new platforms with lower barriers to entry, but what is the use of having all the gear and no idea?

    Egg Suck Alert

    No doubt there are people reading this who are either already making games as a career, or have studied games and want to learn everything they can about the medium. It’s therefore pretty likely that some of the things contained in this article will already be known and understood. So apologies if that is the case, hopefully we can share some nods of agreement, rather than you folks falling asleep. Having said that, there are some original ideas here, which is why we're publishing it :)

    Essence Not Nuance

    Games are more diverse now than they have ever been, so to claim that we can summarise all the nuances of what makes an awesome game in a single article would be a gross mistake. However, if there’s one thing we're truly good at, it’s understanding the essence of what makes things great, and being able to apply that understanding. So, this is an article about the essential things that comprise an awesome game. First of all though, we have to establish what makes a good game.


    Good Game Essential Checklist

    This list is in order of importance. Each aspect is listed here briefly, and discussed in detail afterward.

    1. Responsive Controls Controls have to be close to perfect, if not perfect.
    2. Watertight Concept The game has to make sense throughout.
    3. Appropriate Learning Curve The game has to challenge players in a way that’s fun throughout.
    4. Positive Feedback & Reward Good games are full of positive feedback for the player.
    5. Frictionless User Interface The UI has to be streamlined to keep the player engaged.
    6. Consistent Audio & Visual Style The audiovisual style of the game should be consistent throughout.

    1, 2 and 3 loosely comprise the gameplay.

    4, 5 and 6 loosely comprise the presentation.

    Good Game
    All aspects of a production rely on each other to create the whole, and for that production to hold water, all aspects need to be at the same level of quality or polish.

    Not So Good Game
    If one aspect isn’t as polished as the others, it lets the entire experience down. The overall perception of the production is brought down to the level of the weakest part, which means if your graphics and concept are great, but your controls suck, your game sucks.

    We're assuming that readers know this at least on a subconscious level, but how do you ensure all of these aspects are strong? Well, here goes:

    1. Responsive Controls


    1.1. No Brainer?

    Such an obvious one this, but so many games get the controls wrong. Either too fiddly, or not fiddly enough. Great controls can take a lot of time and effort to get right, and most of the time tuning the controls is a matter of personal taste - so it requires empathy to get right.

    1.2. Controls Are Half The Fun (Rules Are The Other Half)
    And it's essential that you do get them right, because controls are half the fun. If the controls aren’t fun, then you risk frustrating your players, or worse still, boring them. So how do you guarantee your controls are fun to use?

    1.3. Find The Toy
    Finding The Toy is a phrase that refers to setting up an action and reaction that makes the player feel powerful, regardless of any rules or challenge being imposed. Cutting the rope in CutTheRope is a toy. It’s fun to swipe and cut, and watch something fall. Flinging a bird with a catapult has proven to be quite a good toy too. Games with toys at their core are fun to play around on regardless of any challenge the player is being tasked with.

    When I first read about the concept of the toy, I thought to myself: games have been around for a long time now, so if we’re going to find a hit new gameplay toy, we’re going to have to look at new input systems. I imagined having to play around with Tilt, Touch and Swipe, or Motion Control. Which is wrong, fortunately.

    You can make the simplest of actions into a great new toy if you have a strong concept. Taking Velocity as an example - you can’t get much simpler than pressing a button and moving left and right, but giving the player the ability to teleport is a really cool toy. It’s satisfying to do regardless of anything else going on in the game.

    1.4. Design Around The Toy
    Once you have a cool toy, it’s worth building some levels that explore every possible limit of the toy to work out what is fun. Quite often you will be limited in your scope for level design by the mechanics of the toy. In the case of Velocity, it took a long time to tune the feel of the teleport, and what felt right in the toy - nice and quick - meant that we couldn’t have any spaces in the game less than a certain width or height, or the teleport cursor would be too fiddly for the player to try and place, reducing the level of fun. So, every level in Velocity was designed with this in mind.

    1.5. Player Is King
    The player should always feel in control of the game. They are allowed to feel like they’re crap at it, that’s fine, but the moment the game feels like it’s too hard to play as a result of the controls being too difficult, it stops being fun. Just getting this bit right takes a lot of effort, and is probably the main reason why games are cloned so often. It’s far easier to take an existing control system and change the graphics and call it your game. But if you spend the time coming up with a new toy, you’re setting a trajectory for a game to stand out.

    1.6. Acknowledge Conventions
    If possible, your game should also follow the conventions established within a genre. Changing things that players expect to be able to do is not creative or innovative, it’s annoying.

    2. Watertight Concept


    2.1. Concept Is Actually Context
    What is the player doing, where are they doing it, how and why are they doing it? This is why game concepts are quite often inspired by the controls, so if you want to create a really original concept, spend time experimenting with control systems that are under used, or not used at all.

    2.2. Strong Concept == Coat Hanger
    A strong concept makes it easy to flesh out the game with little effort. Gameplay, level design, art style, music, story, characters - all will hang pretty easily if the concept is strong. So what makes a strong concept?

    2.3. Simplicity Is Good
    It’s tricky to achieve simplicity, but it’s essential for communicating your game idea to potential team members, publishers, games press and ultimately gamers. If you or your game trailer can’t get across the concept quickly, you risk losing people’s interest.

    2.4. Elegance Is Better
    You’re doing well if you can achieve simplicity, because people will understand the hook of your game immediately. But it needs to have depth as well, otherwise people will get bored as they start playing. You have to try and add layers of depth that a player can slowly discover as they interact with the game.

    The problem with adding layers of depth is that it’s easy to introduce inconsistencies in the concept, which spoils everything. When you’re adding layers of depth to a concept, you have to look at the ideas from every angle you can imagine, because an elegant concept is one that has no significant holes. I can really recommend a book for this called The Art Of Game Design: A Book Of Lenses, and its accompanying Deck Of Lenses. It’s an amazingly useful resource for looking at your game concept in literally a hundred different ways.

    2.5. Clever Is Best
    If you’ve managed elegance and simplicity with your game, you’ve done better than most game designers out there. But there’s one more level you can get your game concept to, and that’s clever. There’s a goal that I try and achieve with everything we do at FuturLab, which is to get the following response from people that see our work:

    1. “Cool!!"
    2. "Ah, I see!"
    3. "Damn, That’s Really Clever Actually...”

    It’s something I strive to achieve on everything I do, and it requires that all three of these conceptual levels are hit properly. You can’t get the ‘Cool!’ reaction from someone if your concept isn’t simple. They need to be able to see your game and immediately feel rewarded, just for seeing it.

    That ‘Cool!’ reaction is also the hook that pulls people in, getting them to start playing, or want to play. Then the layers of depth are discovered as someone digs a little deeper, and if the concept is elegant, everything fits together nicely, and you get that: ‘Ah, I see!’ reaction. If your whole concept is clever, then people can’t help but sit back in awe and think: “Damn, That’s Really Clever Actually - I Wish I’d Made It”, or “I have to show this to my friends.” 

    If you can get these three levels of experience into your design, the game's trajectory is set up for greatness. If you start with a weak concept, your game runs the risk of being weak, no matter how cunning the gameplay is. If you can’t hook someone in, they won’t be interested. We found this with Coconut Dodge. The gameplay is superb, but few people bothered with it because the concept is weak.

    Also, if you have a great concept, you’ll find it really easy to get other people involved in your project. There’s absolutely no way Joris de Man would have signed up to produce music for our game if it was a regular shoot ‘em-up that’s been done a thousand times. The teleportation concept hits all three of these targets, so when he sat down and played our prototype, that’s the experience he had - and he was sold on it and wanted to be involved.

    2.7. Excited Yet? (If Not, Try Again)
    At this point, if you’ve got a strong concept and you’ve worked out how to make the controls fun, you should be incredibly excited about your game. If you’re not excited by it, then you don’t have a game destined for greatness yet. You need to go back and redo those first two steps. Once you have got those two key aspects sorted, you have to bottle your excitement and get serious, because that was the easy part. In fact, you just experienced what Thomas Edison called the 1% inspiration of genius. The following months will be 99% perspiration trying to get the damn thing made. And the first thing to look at with your sensible hat on, is...

    3. Appropriate Learning Curve


    Your amazing idea isn't worth anything if other people can’t enjoy it, so balancing the learning curve requires just as much attention as the initial concept. So how do you get it right?

    3.1. Identify Target Audience
    It’s essential to tailor the learning curve for your target audience. In the case of Velocity, we wanted everyone from casual players right up to the most skilful gamers to enjoy it. So it was a lot of work for us, the game had to be very accessible for newcomers, whilst also supporting and rewarding an incredible amount of skill for those that want the challenge straight away.

    3.2. Integrate Instructions
    Modern games don’t have instructions, or even tutorials. The levels should be designed to teach, and actually that philosophy shouldn’t just cover the first few levels either.

    3.3. Balance Learning & Challenge
    A game is only fun when a player is learning. If they stop learning at any point, the game starts to get repetitive, so the learning curve should ideally just be a straight line. In other words, you are always giving the player an opportunity to learn something new - whether it’s introducing a new mechanic, or providing scope for the player to combine mechanics in new ways. However, if the difficulty curve is the same as the learning curve, the game can feel too laborious and tedious.

    The trick is to have a stepped challenge curve that tracks closely to the learning curve, so the player is always learning, but there are short plateaus where a player can flex their knowledge of the game and feel powerful for a while before being challenged again. In the case of Velocity we introduce the mechanics slowly. It’s not until level 16 that you get to use the Long Form Teleport, which is the main USP of the game. From then on we use level design to teach players how to use the mechanics in different ways, combining them together to solve puzzles. The player doesn't actually get to use one of the coolest ideas in the game until the penultimate level.

    3.4. Provide Clear Success Markers
    Scoring a player provides them with incentive, so it’s really important that a player knows how to win, and therefore knows how and why they failed. Trophies & Achievements have had a huge impact on gaming communities since they were introduced. The younger generation of gamers won’t even bother playing some games unless they have trophies to add to their collection. That’s how powerful the human ego is, so use that in innovative ways to the advantage of your game. In the case of Velocity we have three different scoring criteria that are combined together to create a perfect reward. This means a player can feel rewarded even when they’re failing to reach the higher goals. This leaves scope for the ultra hardcore to get their completionist fix.

    3.5. Make The Player Feel Clever
    Designing a game is an incredibly rewarding experience. We are the masters of the worlds we create, and that power can very easily appeal to one’s ego. So it takes a lot of self restraint and empathy to be able to design levels for someone else to play; levels that can challenge without being difficult. I once worked with a chap who had a new game idea every day, and nearly all of his ideas were based on tricking the player in some way, which is never going to fly. Designing a game is a very altruistic exercise, and if you can make a player feel good, and look good at the same time, they will love your game. It’s as simple as that.

    4. Positive Feedback & Reward

    4.1. Feedback Heightens The Experience
    Feedback is any event or action that is a direct result of a player’s performance or interaction, and it’s essential for heightening the experience. It’s amazing how much of a difference positive feedback makes to a game. You can have great gameplay mechanics, but if there’s little to no feedback, the game doesn’t feel great. Likewise you can have a mediocre mechanic and make it feel great by dousing it in nicely polished animation and sound effects.

    4.2. Negative Feedback Can Help Too
    One of the things that helped to make Coconut Dodge so addictive was the horribly abrasive sound that a player is subjected to when they die. It’s also accompanied by the music cutting off abruptly. The game isn’t insulting them, but it is punishing them in a subtle way, and it serves to make them want to jump back in and correct their mistake.

    5. Frictionless User Interface


    5.1. Fast Animation
    My basic rule for UI animation is that it should be over well before a player knows what’s happening. If your UI is any longer than that, it had better be bloody fantastic. Games that provide animated UI break the player’s sense of control, and that’s not good. Split/Second, one of my favourite games of recent times also has some of the worst UI.

    5.2. Short Loading Times
    Loading times are important, but it is pretty low on the list. Even if a game does have poor loading times, people will still play it and love it. WipEout 2048 being a good recent example.

    5.3. Instant Restart
    This is so much more important. If your game is good, your player is going to be in a flow state, fully engaged with your game. If they make a mistake or die, they are going to want to restart as soon as possible, to get back into the flow. Not being able to instantly restart is one of the most frustrating things you can do in a game UI.

    5.4. Skippable Cut Scenes
    I shouldn't even have to include this, but it still happens. Even worse is when levels that start with a cut scene play the cut scene every time you restart that level. It’s punishing.

    6. Distinct Audio & Visual Style


    The audio and visual style is the least important of all these essentials, and that’s because graphics just aren't as important as they used to be. If your game looks like every other game in the genre, but has very innovative gameplay, then it will rise above the noise. That said, you've still got to do a great job, or your game will suffer, so...

    6.1. Identify Target Audience
    As mentioned above, if you have a great concept, your art style should come pretty easily. Concept, gameplay and art style all have to be pointing in the same direction in order to find an audience easily. We made a big mistake with Coconut Dodge, as the game looks and sounds like a casual game, but it’s got hardcore gameplay mechanics. We should have chosen something more fiendish looking to suit the gameplay better.

    6.2. Find An Economical Style
    A good game requires a ton of polish. It’s almost guaranteed that no matter how much budget you have for a game, you’ll never be happy with the amount of polish your game has - so decide on an art style that you can produce to a high standard very quickly. This is why so many of the recent great indie games are 2D. It’s so much easier to polish a 2D game. 3D is expensive and time consuming in comparison.

    6.3. Support Core Mechanics First
    Make the core aspects of your gameplay look and sound great, and then radiate your resources outward from that core focus. If you’re spending time making button rollovers look and feel great you’re wasting time unless your core mechanics are supported by absolutely beautiful effects.

    6.4. Demand Great Music
    Music can’t save a poor game, but it can certainly elevate a good game into great territory. Coconut Dodge is an example of this. If your game music is repetitive or irritating, the awesome mechanics you’ve spent ages refining will suffer.

    6.5. Sound Deserves 50%, Gets 5%
    Sound is so important for player feedback. But because every aspect of a game can come together without sound, it usually gets left until the last minute. This is another area we could have improved upon for Velocity. Fortunately we got the key sound effects to work well, but we ran out of time to extend that level of quality throughout the game.

    Elevating Your Design From Good To Awesome

    If you've managed to achieve all of the points above, then it's likely that your game will be considered good or high quality. But how do you reach a level where people are celebrating your game as being awesome? It all comes down to innovation and flair.

    Look at what your game is doing across the game play aspects (1, 2 and 3 above), and make sure you're doing something that's innovative; whether it's in the controls, the concept or the journey you're taking the player on.

    Then look at what your game is doing across the presentation aspects (4, 5 and 6 above), and ensure they're being done with some artistic flair.

    In essence then, an awesome game is a good game with innovation and flair. Quite simple really.

    Velocity Ultra is out now on PlayStation Vita. 

    [James Marsden wrote this using sister site Gamasutra's free blogs]
    04 Jul 14:26

    Game Over: Parting thoughts from the Game Developer team

    the GD staff offer some parting thoughts on the future of the industry. ...

    04 Jul 02:14

    Can Blind People Draw? Lol no

    by blindfilmcritic

    Can Blind People Draw?

    Lol no

    04 Jul 00:06

    On Memory, Or the Importance of Fieldnotes

    by Krista-Lee (馬琳)

    This post is a personal account of how memory, as discussed in the above video, effected my recollections of fieldwork once I came home.

    The importance of taking detailed notes while in the field and doing interviews was stressed in every methods and research class I took throughout my college tenure. I never doubted my teachers were right, but as with many lessons, knowing something intellectually and understanding it experientially are two very different levels of knowledge. On an intellectual level I knew what these professors were saying was correct, but it wasn't until recently that I experienced the reality of it.

    When I returned from Taiwan I did not immediately start pouring through my fieldnotes because, quite frankly, I had more immediate concerns. I did remember being in Taiwan, of course, and so I spoke about it frequently with friends, family, and colleagues. (Well, frequently in those first few weeks, but more than that and people start to get real bored hearing about it - this is a common occurrence travelers run into upon returning home.) During this time I mostly recounted how great the food, public transit, people, and nationalized health care were, among other awesome details. I loved Taiwan so much I couldn't wait to get back and in fact, planned on returning at the end of this past semester.

    At the end of the semester I was offered an extension on my job in Milwaukee and denied a grant to go back to Taiwan. I was happy with how this turned out. By this time, I was adjusting back to life in the USA and I had started going through my fieldnotes in an attempt to finally start writing my dissertation. (I do kinda want to graduate eventually.) This contentment with fate was not just about adjusting to life back home, however, it was also about what I was discovering in my fieldnotes. In short, my notes, in large part, did not reflect the stories I told in those first few weeks. 

    In my memory Taiwan was an exciting 2+ year adventure and I could easily see myself settling there permanently. I do recall both ups and downs, but my overall impression was very positive. I felt healthier from the food, weather, and lack of a personal car. I felt respected as a teacher. I felt like a lady when out with the boys. I felt my horizons expanding. Now all of this is true, but it does not reflect the day to day reality of my life in Taiwan. When looking back through my notes there were endless days of tedium in the office, uncomprehending managers, frequent loneliness, heat sickness, near weekly bouts of diarrhea (it is no wonder to me now why so many people said I looked near anorexic when I first came home) and frustration with communication problems and cultural differences. 

    I find this gloss in my memory especially interesting seeing as I distinctly remember what I used to do to cheer myself up when I was feeling down. See, ever since I was a small child I had always dreamed of living on an island with palm trees. (I don't remember why I wanted this, but knowing my childhood self it probably had to do with some book I had read.) When I was feeling lonely or sad in Taiwan I would simply go for a walk or a drive in a cab and look at the palm trees and remember that I was literally fulfilling one of my childhood dreams. How many people can say they have done that? Even now, the memory of this accomplishment makes me smile :)

    I am not saying life in Taiwan was bad. It was actually great. It was not, however, the magically perfect existence I sometimes remember it as. In reality life in Taiwan was about as good as my life in Milwaukee. It was very different, but it really wasn't better. There are a lot of things about Taiwan that I think America could learn and vise verse, but I think the pros and cons of each balance out. If the right circumstances came about I could still see myself living in Taiwan, but then again, I can honestly say that about anywhere. There are really only two important factors I want in my life and location simply doesn't register on this list. 
    02 Jul 14:49

    Social aspects play an important role in gamification

    by Juho Hamari

    Although gamification is most commonly connected with experiences such as mastery, competence, flow and goal commitment (Huotari & Hamari 2012Hamari 2013), it is quite evident that also social factors have an important role to play. Therefore, we wanted to empirically investigate how social factors such as social influence, getting recognized and reciprocal benefits contribute to attitudes and use intentions towards gamification services.

    In order to investigate this phenomenon, we ran a survey in Fitocracy which is one of the largest services that gamify exercise. The results show that social influence, getting recognized and reciprocal benefits are strong predictors for attitude formation and use intentions as well as for intentions to recommend such services. However, our results hint that merely getting recognized does not necessarily lead into improved attitude and use intentions unless at the same time getting recognized leads into reciprocal benefits in the community.

    The results also hint that alignment of service design (gamification) and the norms of the community can be essential for successful gamification. The role of the gamification, in form of points and levels, is thus to facilitates this social process within the community. Therefore, perhaps also mere “pointsification” can become “meaningful” when shared within a like-minded community geared towards same goals.

    The study was published in the Proceedings of the 21st European Conference on Information Systems. Download here.

    Citation: Hamari, J., & Koivisto, J. (2013). Social motivations to use gamification: an empirical study of gamifying exercise. In Proceedings of the 21st European Conference on Information Systems, Utrecht, Netherlands, June 5–8, 2013.

    Abstract: This paper investigates how social factors predict attitude towards gamification and intention to continue using gamified services, as well as intention to recommend gamified services to others. The paper employs structural equation modelling for analyses of data (n=107) gathered through a survey that was conducted among users of one of the world’s largest gamification applications for physical exercise called Fitocracy. The results indicate that social factors are strong predictors for attitudes and use intentions towards gamified services.

    Juho Hamari
    Researcher @ Game Research Lab – University of Tampere

    Jonna Koivisto
    Researcher @ Game Research Lab – University of Tampere


    02 Jul 14:48

    On The Border: An Interview with Christine Love

    by Lauren E. Scott

    Welcome to the first installment of The Border House’s “On the Border,” a new bi-weekly column that aims to bring to the forefront the accomplishments of the many talented and accomplished designers, developers, writers, producers, and artists that come from diverse backgrounds in games via compelling and in-depth interviews detailing their work, their history, and their thoughts about relevant subjects. “On the Border” will take particular effort to seek out members of typically marginalized, minority, or otherwise overlooked groups that have done and are doing great work in games. Finished, each column will be a positive and thoughtful treatment of their past and present, as it relates to games and playable media.

    There has been controversy and negativity in the press lately around sex, race, and other minority topics. Through “On the Border,” The Border House would like to promote a purely positive lens through which to view these topics, and to remind the world that, though it has its share of stumbling blocks, diversity is ultimately the catalyst for creativity, change, and amazing progress in all respects!

    Interactive fiction author Christine Love.

    Interactive fiction author Christine Love, striking a standard portrait pose in a cranberry sweater complementing her multi-hued pink hair.

    On the Border’s inaugural column profiles Christine Love, an interactive fiction writer and game developer whose works, including Digital: A Love Story, don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, Even Cowgirls Bleed, and Analogue: A Hate Story, are prolific in the IF community. Writing about such personal topics as relationships, queerness, and life on the fringes, her work reads very honest and transparent, making for a great connection between writer and reader.

    Love, a Toronto native on a path studying English literature at Trent University with aspirations of becoming a novelist, fell into games after her first widely-viewed release, Digital, garnered much praise and attention. As a newly-minted developer, receiving offers left and right for funding, Love dropped out of university and began work on her first commercial piece, her “weird feminist visual novel” Analogue: A Hate Story, which was also received very well by critics and community.

    Since her recent successes, Love has been active in the community, attending conferences such as the Game Developers’ Conference (GDC) and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, all while promoting her released games and working on her upcoming title, Hate Plus. On the Border sat down with Love to discuss her work, her design process, and her experience as a breakout interactive fiction artist.

    The Border House: It’s nice to meet you, Christine!
    Christine Love: Yeah, nice to meet you!


    Love in a cute pink dress posing pensively next to a large picture window.

    TBH: So what is the creative process like for you in crafting a piece of interactive fiction?
    CL: First, I have an idea for something that might make sense as a story that requires interaction. Then I start doing research: for Digital, it was a lot of reading through 1980s text files, like primary materials from there; for Analogue it was reading through a lot of historical documents- a lot of letters that were written in the Choson dynasty. And while I’m doing that, I’ll get started on the UI. The UI comes first, I feel like it’s the important thing. Once that’s done, I pretty much try to finalize it as much as possible. So when I start putting the words in I know instantly what it’ll look like to the player. And at that point it’s just a matter of sitting down for a long time and just writing many words. And once that’s done there’s a bit of testing, and it goes out. Mostly, just lots of writing. For something like Analogue, lots of drinking and lots of writing. [laughs]

    TBH: What’s the lengthiest part of your writing? Is it the writing, or the research, the testing, the drinking?
    CL: It’s the writing. The vast majority of it is spent writing. I spent maybe 2-3 weeks working on the codebase for Analogue, then months of writing.

    TBH: So you created some of the code for Analogue yourself?
    CL: Yeah. It’s built on top of Ren’Py, which handles the visual novel aspects of it, but all the going through the log files parts, and the terminal–that’s all stuff I had to develop myself, and it’s pretty extensive.

    TBH: How do you like coding?
    CL: Honestly, it’s the fun part for me! I actually enjoy programming a lot; I don’t enjoy writing at all, so it’s sort of a little frustrating-

    TBH: What??
    CL: Writing isn’t fun to me, it’s work! I like telling stories. I like having a finished story, I like showing that. But, the process, like the getting there… I do not enjoy that very much at all.

    A screen in Love's Analogue: A Hate Story.

    A screen in Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story, featuring the game’s main character, *Hyun-ae.

    TBH: Wow, I’d never guess that. Because your stories seem so emotional, and definitely there is a connection between the reader and the writer, and usually in writing like that you’d think the writer would be putting a lot of emotion, I mean maybe you do-
    CL: I do, for sure! I don’t enjoy the process, but I do definitely get into it, which is why Analogue and Hate Plus have been so hard to write. Getting into the heads of people who have really deeply-internalized misogyny and other problems, it just feels so bad having to empathize with this awfulness for extended periods of time, and it’s not a pleasant headspace to be in. But getting into that is a huge part of writing that sort of story.

    TBH: Have you ever created or attempted any other types/genres of games?
    CL: I’ve done this jam called Comics vs. Games, where I worked together with a comic artist who did this amazing art for what was a turn-based Victorian-era fighting game, and it looked great. It sort of didn’t handle very well; I didn’t do a great job on the coding parts, which is kind of unfortunate. But it was fun to do, and I would definitely love to especially like with my larger-scale stuff I’d love to move out of visual novels. I think after Hate Plus and maybe- there’s one more project that I’d like to do that’s a visual novel, but- like- past that I feel like it’s not a medium that I’m bound to, it’s just the medium that it’s easy for me to do with my skill set. Like for action games it requires a lot of art. That’s really just the thing, it’s not the- it’s not that I don’t have ambition for that, it’s not that I don’t have desire for that, it’s just- it’ll be a matter of learning how to do it, and how to work with with someone else doing a lot of artwork.

    TBH: Yeah that’s exactly my problem too: I’m a computer science student so I know how to code and I have the tools available, it’s just the art. I’m working on one that has very abstract, really geometric art but that’s all that I can really manage.
    CL: Well- hey- Thomas Was Alone. Clearly geometric art works very well!

    A shot from Love's Digital: A Love Story.

    A shot from Love’s Digital: A Love Story, depicting the typical desktop view of the game.

    TBH: Yeah. If you have art like that the design just really has to be spot on.
    CL: I mean, there’s a lot you can do to work around that weakness. Like for me personally, Digital was done all on my own, so as a result it was styled after a computer, and that was my excuse for not having a lot of art in there. For don’t take it personally babe I used a lot of art that was freely available, and it sort of worked out okay. My Twine stuff- there’s pretty much no visuals other than the geometric forms and some nice fonts.

    TBH: How was your experience with the Ren’py engine in particular?
    CL: It’s really great to work with. I have a programming background, so I don’t really have much trouble, but it’s also really easy to work with if you don’t have any sort of programming background at all. Basically, you just write things in a script format, like a written script, and it handles the graphics and such for you, which is really good to work with. I’ve been sort of pushing the boundaries of what it can do, and sometimes it works okay, and sometimes it just makes things really difficult for me I think I’m gonna move away with it once I’m done with visual novels. But, it is really good, and I’d really recommend it for anyone who wants to do a game but doesn’t really know anything about programming.

    TBH: How has it been adjusting to the accolades and admirations that you and your games have garnered?
    CL: It’s- um- really weird. I still don’t know how to deal with it at all. [laughs] I’ve had more than one person just approach me on the subway, recognizing me, and they were fans, and- I don’t know how you deal with that at all! It’s very confusing to me. And, likewise, I don’t understand going to GDC and the people who are my idols, know and like my work, and are inspired by it. I don’t know how to parse that at all. It’s very weird to me.

    TBH: Well congratulations, it’s quite an accomplishment!
    CL: Yes, I’m immensely grateful. I feel like I’ve gotten very lucky to be in this situation. It’s still weird!


    Love posing happily in front of a laptop.

    TBH: Can you describe your decision to and process of including topics like the LGBT and queer experience and sexuality in your games?
    CL: Well, I’m queer and I’m sexual, and I like playing games that I can relate to. That doesn’t really happen very often, so it’s really… Yeah, I write about queer women because that’s what I am, and I don’t think there’s enough of that.

    TBH: On that note, what has your experience been like being queer in the industry?
    CL: Well, I can’t speak for the industry, because I’m not really involved in that aspect at all. That’s a whole other set of concerns.

    TBH: I guess I should just say in games, in general. Being a developer, an individual developer, and having your games out in the world, and having people play them. So, I guess I should just say, in games.
    CL: I feel like it’s been… It’s been very difficult, like, getting people to acknowledge that. Despite the fact that I feel like queerness really informs the things that I do, it’s been a real challenge. It almost never comes up in interviews, which is the really frustrating thing. I don’t really understand why. Other than, y’know, games is dominated by a lot of white men who are not tremendously comfortable with women’s sexuality, and as a result they don’t know how to deal with that. But the bottom line is, it doesn’t really come up as much as I’d like it to, and I’ve been trying to be very overtly queer, and very overtly trying to talk about these things, because otherwise it’ll just get ignored.

    TBH: What are your thoughts on the sea changes going on in the industry right now related to sex and gender in games, like the #1ReasonToBe panel that happened this last GDC, and the upcoming Queerness in Games Convention (QGCon) in October?
    CL: Definitely seeing that panel at GDC was absolutely inspiring. Everyone involved was… it made me feel like maybe there is hope. That maybe people are going to start to understand just how incredibly fucked up and toxic games culture is, and really understand why we need to get so much better at this. So, I feel like we have so far to go. but I do think there is cause to be optimistic. And the fact that the conversation is actually happening and that it’s getting prominent attention I feel is a really good thing. Like, at GDC, after the #1ReasonToBe panel, that was what everyone was talking about. It was clearly resonating with people, and that makes me excited.

    The Border House would once again like to thank Christine Love for this interview! Be sure to watch for the companion article to this one, The Part of Threes, next week, containing more intriguing thoughts and advice from Christine Love. And stay tuned for the next installment of On the Border, which will feature prolific interactive fiction author Emily Short!

    02 Jul 14:44

    History Repeating Itself: Discriminatory Voting Laws

    by Lisa Wade, PhD

    Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

    Last week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with a documenting history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws.  When the law was passed in 1965, one of its main targets were “literacy tests.”

    Ostensibly designed to ensure that everyone who voted could read and write, they were actually tools with which to disenfranchise African Americans and sometimes Latinos and American Indians.  Minority voters were disproportionately required to take these tests and, when they did, the election official at the polling place had 100% jurisdiction to decide which answers were correct and score the test as he liked.  The point was to intimidate and turn them away from the polls.  If this sounds bad, you should see the range of disturbing and terrifying things the White elite tried to keep minorities from voting.

    The tactics to manipulate election outcomes by controlling who votes is still part and parcel of our electoral politics.  In fact, since most voters are not “swing” voters, some would argue that “turnout” is a primary ground on which elections are fought.  This is not just about mobilizing or suppressing Democrats or Republicans, it’s about mobilizing or suppressing the turnout of groups likely to vote Democrat or Republican.  Since most minority groups lean Democrat, Republicans have a perverse incentive to suppress their turn out. In other words, this isn’t a partisan issue; I’d be watching Democrats closely if the tables were turned.

    Indeed, states have already moved to implement changes to voting laws that had been previously identified as discriminatory and ruled unconstitutional under the Voting Act.  According to the Associated Press:

    After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.

    So, yeah, it appears that Chief Justice John Roberts’ justification that “our country has changed” was pretty much proven wrong within a matter of hours or days.  This is bad.  It will be much more difficult to undo discriminatory laws than it was to prevent them from being implemented and, even if they are challenged and overturned, they will do damage in the meantime.

    In any case, here are two examples of literacy tests given to (mostly) minority voters in Louisiana circa 1964.  Pages from history (from Civil Right Movement Veterans):

    Louisiana circa 1964a Louisiana circa 1964bThanks to @drcompton for the tip!

    Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

    (View original at

    02 Jul 14:37

    MONTHLY HEADER #90: Sergey Glushakov

    by Igor Tkac
    I've bumped our friend Sergey Glushakov to Monthly Header. Thanks Sergey!

    Keywords: concept ships monthly header #90 number ninety concept space ship art calendar environments concept art by freelance concept artist sergey glushakov
    29 Jun 01:35

    Social Media, Citizen Media, Online Tools Are Shaping Brazil’s Protests and Politics

    by jbrazil
    Social Media, Citizen Media, Online Tools

    What started earlier this month as a protest against the cost of public transportation has spread like wildfire across Brazil. One estimate said protests have taken place in 430 cities. The range of issues has grown too, including education reform, high taxes, healthcare and public corruption. I’m not sure there has ever been so much discussion about the country by so many people using social media – and it has created some instability for the government.

    To begin to understand the story that is unfolding, two colleagues, Fabio Malini from the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo and Marco Bastos from London School of Economics and Political Science, and I started to monitor and collect online data about the protests and begin to conduct an analysis. It’s raw and events are still unfolding but I want to share some of the data in this post.

    On June 17 and 18, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Brazil, especially in cities where games of the Confederation Cup were being held.

    While the vast majority were peaceful protesters, there were clashes with police, and several people were beaten and arrested without a clear cause. Stories of people being attacked by police spread via social media and traditional media. The stories about police violence inflamed people all the more. Several hashtags emerged. Memes about the prohibition of "vinegar" (vinegar inhibits the effects of tear gas and the police started arresting anyone who was carrying vinegar) began trending. Fabio Malini explained part of this "battle of vinegar" in this post.

    From the beginning, social media has played a key role. People have used Twitter to narrate the protests and to share how best to take precautions for personal safety. I plotted two graphs with the hashtag #protestoRJ used by Rio de Janeiro protesters during the June 18 event. The first graph (below) is from the beginning of the demonstration and the second one, more dense, shows activity at the height of the protest. They show how much people were Tweeting about the protest, taking pictures, creating videos, and spreading them online.

    As the number of protesters expanded and the volume of online activity grew, the focus of people’s demands shifted from anger about public transportation to more general complaints – for example "more health,” "more education," and "stop corruption.” At the same time, several competing groups started countering the protests with their own issues. Mainstream media started criticizing the loss of focus.

    In response to the many competing demands, several groups used social media to organize (and focus) the citizens’ demands. “Anonymous Brazil” created a video that quickly went viral, proposing five points for the protests to focus on. Facebook groups popped up, articulating proposals and priorities. New words and calls to action started to appear in social media, such as "impeachment” and "get Dilma out (the president).” For some, the president became the focal point and many people started criticizing her government and her party's politics.

    As the protests escalated, so did the violence. On June 20, while more than one million people were in the streets in several cities in Brazil, protesters in Brasilia (the country’s capital) broke into the Itamaraty Palace and set fire to the building (The Itamaraty is the headquarters of the Ministry of External Relations in Brazil). Other cities also saw a night of violence and rioting. Even though most of the violence was carried out by small groups, it had a strong impact on media coverage.

    On June 21, president Dilma Rousseff made her first official remarks on TV and radio to talk about the people’s demands. She was short on details and mostly emphasized how open she was to meeting with the leaders of the protests. The president also condemned the violence and riots. While the president addressed the nation, several people started using the hashtag "#tamojuntoDilma" (we are with you, Dilma) and it started trending quickly on Twitter. On Facebook, several posts had the result of changing the focus of people’s anger from the president to Brazil’s congress. Quickly, online criticism of the president lost intensity. (Below is a graph I plotted from 18,000 tweets that used the tag #tamojuntodilma during her address. You can see, in the middle, the efforts of a small group of Tweeters who published and retweet messages supporting the president).

    Here is another graph of some 5,000 tweets collected at the same time, with the tag #CalaABocaDilma – “shut up, Dilma” – which shows a less connected group and a more diluted focus and effectiveness:

    Ever since, the intensity of the protests has eroded. Marco Toledo Bastos, a Brazilian researcher from London University who also has been working with me and Fabio Malini monitoring the protests, has data on his blog about some of the most used hashtags on Twitter and how the volume of traffic dropped sharply after the pro-Dilma messaging efforts.

    With protests still taking place in the streets, both violent and peaceful, Dilma again addressed the nation on June 24. During this pronouncement, she proposed five "pacts" to address a portion of the protesters’ demands with the Congress, the state governors and major cities’ mayors: 1) a pledge to spend $50 million to improve public transportation; 2) a pact for a better education system; she endorsed the idea that 100% of the country’s oil royalties could go towards education; 3) a proposal to improve health care by contracting with Cuban doctors (itself a point of controversy); 4) More fiscal responsibility and inflation control; and 5) a proposal for a referendum on political reform (a change in the Brazilian Constitution). Details of how these pacts were to be implemented were not given.

    Despite many skeptics, her announcement seems to have had an impact on protesters. Public assemblies started forming to make practical proposals to the government. Many of these assemblies have taken place in the same places where protests are also still happening.
    There are indications Brazil’s Congress has been influenced by the events of the week. In recent days, votes on two significant issues indicate that the protesters seem to have been heard. The first vote was about a constitutional amendment that would have resulted in limiting the ability to investigate prosecutors and police for wrongdoing. Its rejection was one of the calls to action in the Anonymous Brazil video, and it was one of the consistent themes in social media and at protests. While this was previously an issue that closely divided the Congress, this time it was strongly rejected by 430 votes against, only nine in favor, and 2 abstentions. The second vote involved the use of oil royalties. While the government had previously not allocated the funds to things like education and health, that’s what the Congress voted to do this time – designating 75 percent of the royalties for education and 25 percent for health services. During the proceedings, many politicians acknowledged "the voice of the streets.”

    Banner image credit: Afonso Henrique Menezes Fernandes