My column for DMW: Don’t clone my indie game, bro

Soon after arriving at this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) I was struck by the complaints — both in conversations and in rant-style conference sessions — about a rampant and increasingly practice of large game companies ripping off the work of smaller, independent developers.

When I spotted a clever little badge ribbon, one that clearly was not authorized by conference management, I wrote this column for Digital Media Wire.

Panel at Harvard: Evolutionary Biology Looks at Videogames (Who Plays Games and Why)

[Update: Added more links based on our discussion. More will follow this weekend.]

For a few years now, I’ve wanted to get a game designer (or two) into a serious discussion with an evolutionary behavioral biologist (or two).  Obviously we find games — specifically videogames —  fun,compelling, and sometimes badly addictive. But just what is it about those activities that is so rewarding?

I’ve finally rounded up the venue, the right scientists (Harvard’s Richard Wrangham and his colleague Joyce Benenson of Emmanuel College), and a couple esteemed colleagues (Kent and Noah). We’re on!

The event is Wednesday night.  It’s at Harvard, and walk-ins are welcome.  Below are the details for the event, from the Harvard page, and links to some supplementary materials.  I fully expect to add more links, based on our discussion.

I can’t resist noting: as I type this, there are no google hits for “evolutionary ludology.”  Here’s the vitals for the event:

Who Plays Games and Why: Evolutionary Biology Looks at Videogames

A discussion with Harvard Human Evolutionary Biology Professor Richard Wrangham, Emmanuel College Psychology Professor Joyce Benenson, and game developers Noah Falstein and Kent Quirk.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010.   5:30 -7:30 p.m. (registration begins at 5:00 p.m.)

Location: Harvard Science Center, One Oxford Street, Cambridge

Electronic games are competing with television for that essential resource: consumer attention.  But exactly who is playing these games? And what is their appeal? Indeed, why do people find games “fun” at all, from simple board games to immersive 3D fantasy worlds? Is there a biological reason that males and females play dramatically different kinds of games?

The many genres and formats of games will be surveyed in a brief multimedia overview, with a look at the different populations that play these different games. Then, human-behavioral scientists will collaborate with game-design professionals to explore the biological roots of our attraction to these experiences.

Please join this discussion, with:

Alumni and friends of the Harvard community: $10.    Undergraduate Students: complimentary

Supplementary materials for this session:

Articles and other online resources, general background:

Items mentioned during the discussion: [more to follow]

Books mentioned during the session: [more to follow when I can review the session’s recording]

  • Bowling Alone, by Harvard’s Robert Putnam, shows the decline in America’s “Social Capital” — by many measures — over recent decades. (I think this decline motivates our hunger for social engagement via online games, social media, etc.)
  • What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2007) by James Paul Gee.  His short opinion piece in Wired speaks to educators and to game designers.
  • Rainbow’s End, a novel byVernor Vinge. (Recommended by Noah and Kent as a vision of augmented reality.)
  • Snow Crash, a novel by Neil Stephenson. (Mandatory reading for social-media industry participants. An early vision of virtual reality, with insight into our relationships with our avatars.)

Nerdly sub-cultures and their humor

One joy of the internet is that, no matter how narrow your niche, you can surely find blogs to support it, comics to self-parody it, and communities to squabble about it.  These examples crossed my desk (er, desktop) this morning:

(1)  For philosophy nerds: Advanced Dungeons & Discourse

Bayesian Empirimancy: prior spell-efficacy

The rewarding Mind Hacks blog highlights this philosophy-themed D&D role-playing quest.

And there’s the original Dungeons & Discourse, also by Dresden Codak.  (The 8th-level positivist is immune to metaphysics, but has low charisma.)

(2) For language nerds: worst pun ever, with analysis

My own favorite guilty nerdly pleasure, Language Log, reports this appalling pun (an 18-second video). The pun is ‘good’, but it’s the comments below that got my attention, rife with linguistic-style categorization-squabbles, with duly-offered comparables and counterexamples.  (That said, Karen is right: it’s not a mondegreen; it’s not like “Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames.” And I’m always happy to see a Hendrix reference in any thread.)

Of course, I can’t mention nerdly humor without this modern classic:

(3) For comp-sci/math nerds: XKCD

If you’re this kind of nerd, and you didn’t yet know about XKCD, well, then, you’re welcome. This recent favorite captures the full XKCD mandate of “romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”

The culture of the XKCD forums (excuse me: fora)  are worthy of their own examination.  Later.   The various emergent behaviors include a variety of forum games.