A Twitter account move

Twitter is a social media/networking … thing … that I’ve had a long love-hate relationship with. Great for quips – and at its best during Eurovision – and amplifying very simple messages; awful for discussions, readability, privacy and safety. My first account was within a few weeks of the service going live, but I gave up on it shortly afterwards due to a lack of networking with other people. But, come November 2008 and at a conference in Chicago, I found myself surrounded by people using it and so picked it up again. Over the many years now I’ve had various accounts – geoshore and I think joe_librarian were two of many – and not all of of them were completely serious. But I’m back down to three now, of which only one sees much action.

1) wordshore: my account of several years, but for various reasons I grew tired of it and the not-great way I’d built up connections on it. Rather than spend a colossal amount of time editing and deleting what I can, it’s pretty much abandoned as of last autumn.

2) UKOLN: an account which I share the ownership of with (currently) two other UKOLN alumni. For some inexplicable reason UKOLN – when still in operation before the 2013 staff cull and 2015 shut down – never picked up the domain name. So I took it. We occasionally put UKOLN-related tweets up, but as the organisation slowly fades from memory, so these are less frequent.

And then there’s my current active one – solstraler. This used to be the twitter account for the 2007-12 Virtual World Watch project, but I revamped it while largely keeping the existing small follower/following base. Hence it was created some time ago, but the content in there is relatively recent (unless you are reading this post several years from now).

The name? This is Norwegian for (roughly) sunbeam or ray of sunlight; the idea is that it is positive, and it’s something I try and get a lot of in real life by doing the “going outside and wandering around” thing. And, most importantly, it’s to do with shining a little light on certain things that are work-related, but more of that another time when other content elsewhere has been created. In the meantime, the solstraler account is heavily focused on games, games in learning, EdTech (education technology), various cultural things, and the odd meme and joke. Much less focused on heavy stuff, or politics, or grim things as you can get those (waves at the TV, the Internet, the shops, people talking outside) anywhere else.

So, if you were following me on wordshore or elsewhere, then you may want to consider following me there. Or, not. At the end of the day, it’s just short text messages.

Rejoining DiGRA

Today I rejoined DiGRA, the Digital Games Research Association. This feels appropriate.

Sweden

What does DiGRA do? It’s easiest just to look at the website, but basically it’s a standard organisation for – as it says on the tin – people who research games. There’s the usual executive board, mailing lists (most communications thankfully done online), and a major conference somewhere in the world, which used to be every two years but is now annual. An OA journal, plus a few special interest groups, covering player experience, game accessibility and role-playing studies, are also supported as is a bubbling community of younger researchers and students.

It’s an interesting organisation; though not a huge one, it’s been slowly growing over the years as the quantity of games research, and researchers, increases across not just academia but other sectors. There’s a slight Nordic/European tilt to DiGRA, but they have members, and conferences, in other places. In the UK there’s plenty (and last years conference was held in Dundee), and there’s more than a few in the US. DiGRA also has chapters in a gradually increasing list of countries, such as China, Israel, Italy and Japan.

I was a member for a while in the early days, and presented at the first DiGRA conference, in Utrecht in 2003. It was a small, but friendly and positive, conference. My paper and presentation were … not very good … and it’s very unlikely that an equivalent quality of paper would be accepted now. That is a good thing: the niche of games in learning has moved on a lot, my own personal research and writing have also hopefully improved, many more game researchers makes for (hopefully positive) competition and quality threshold increases, and the standard of content at DiGRA events is a lot higher.

I haven’t been back since, and dropped out of DiGRA after a while. Several major life changes, relocating and moving to various places and countries (an island with no proper broadband for five years didn’t help), and non-gaming work opportunities meant I drifted to only doing game-based research occasionally. Despite this, I’m still regularly startled to see – and have mixed feelings about – some of my publications of that time continuing to be heavily cited. But, despite being otherwise busy over the last nearly fifteen years or so, I’ve kept in touch with some DiGRA members and other game researchers (social media helps with this tremendously), as well as popping up to attend and speak at various events, predominantly in the Nordic countries and the USA.

Now, I have a sort-of plan for the medium term which is very much focused on games in learning research and work activities. Whether it works is dependent on a little luck, and a lot of hard work. Therefore, it seems sensible to plug into various relevant networks, and I’m pleased that DiGRA is not only still around but flourishing. So I joined earlier today, and I’m hoping to attend, possibly even present, at some future DiGRA annual conference – and therefore maybe set a record for the longest gap between presenting at two such events. It’s good to be back.

The lead picture? Today is Sveriges Nationaldag, so I thought I’d choose a picture I’ve taken there. This has nothing to do with games, but what the heck – going around the Stockholm archipelago on ferries was one of the most enjoyable days of travel I’ve ever had. Happy National Day of Sweden!

Violet

This is a text adventure where you have to force your character to overcome writer’s block and make progress on your dissertation while there is still time. Not just to complete the thesis, but also to save your disintegrating relationship. Though it’s a few years old, it has contemporary resonance for current-day students.

The game is played through an online gaming website (you’ll need Flash enabled) which unfortunately is one of those with distracting and garish ads and icons across much of the screen estate. If you can block those out of your vision, it’s a standard text in visual appearance and operation. Alternately, if more technically minded you can possibly download and install the game onto your own PC or Mac.

Sample of gameplay from Violet.

From the website:

The problem? You’re a graduate student working on your dissertation, but you haven’t gotten any writing done in months. Your girlfriend Violet has put her life on hold, waiting for you to finish, and she’s getting fed up. If you don’t get a thousand words written today, your relationship is over and she flies home to Australia. Unfortunately, your office is full of every kind of distraction, from the window overlooking campus hijinx to the computer on your desk, always ready to show you the latest blogs and web comics instead of your chapter-in-progress. So you have no choice but to shut out everything that’s causing you distraction so that you can turn in a few hours of solid work for once.

The game is the winner of the 2008 Interactive Fiction competition, has won several other awards, scored highly in reviews and gets regular (positive) mentions from the academic press and PhD students for both its accuracy, and as a suitable distraction from completing your thesis in real life.

Gameplay from the text adventure Violet

December 2017, Lisbon: Games and Learning Alliance

Website: conf.seriousgamessociety.org

5-7 December 2017, Lisbon, Portugal.

The past editions of the conference. The deadline for abstracts and submissions is usually sometime in the summer before.

From the conference website: “The Games and Learning Alliance conference (GALA 2017) is an international conference dedicated to the science and application of serious games.

The conference aims at bringing together researchers, developers, practitioners and stakeholders. The goal is to share the state of the art of research and market, analysing the most significant trends and discussing visions on the future of serious games. The conference also includes an exhibition, where developers can showcase their latest products…

…The GALA Conference 2017 Proceedings will be published on Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) and the best papers in a special issue of the International Journal of Serious Games, as the previous years.”

July 2017, Manassas: Serious Play

Website: seriousplayconf.com

18-20 July 2017, Virginia Serious Games Institute, George Mason University, Manassas, Virginia, USA.

This is an annual conference dedicated to the wider applications of games and play. Consequently, there is less of an academic focus on “serious play”, but more of a cross-sectoral range of discussions. The speakers, drawn from all manner of fields and sectors, demonstrate this.

This year’s conference program.

From the conference website: “Serious Play is a gathering where creators and learning professionals can have critical conversations about game design requirements and share their knowledge with peers. The focus of the conference is exploring opportunities, challenges and the potential of game-based learning.”

October 2017, Graz: Games Based Learning

Website: www.academic-conferences.org/conferences/ecgbl/

5-6 October 2017, The FH Joanneum University of Applied Science, Graz, Austria.

This is a traditional academic conference, with a predominantly European field of speakers. Papers submitted to this particular series of conferences are often reproduced in several publications, and there’s been some interesting works concerning the evidence and proof of effective game use in learning within these.

The abstract submission deadline is 16th March 2017.

The 2017 conference will also host the 5th International Educational Games Competition.

From the conference website: “ECGBL is generally attended by participants from more than 40 countries and attracts an interesting combination of academic scholars, practitioners, game designers and individuals who are engaged in various aspects of games-based learning and serious games. Among other journals, the Electronic Journal of e-Learning publishes a special edition of the best papers presented at this conference.”

Game designing, again. At last.

I haven’t designed, written or coded a digital games in … a long time. Years. Too many years. My first attempts, back in the early 1980s on a Sinclair ZX81, were unsurprisingly crude. A few programs did make it into computer magazines as boringly long code listings for people to type in; there’s a vague recollection of being excited by this, and not realising for several years that I wasn’t getting paid for my work.

I did, however, get paid for a basic (in every respect of the word) flight landing simulator which was published as an actual game that you bought on a cassette and spent an eternity loading. But not richly paid as it sold five copies on the shelf of Evesham Micros (when this was a tiny store in Evesham, the location of which ironically is now my solicitors), and I was left with a stock of C60 tapes from WHSmith in anticipation of doing multiple production runs to keep up with demand. Thankfully, I’d cornered the market at school in Panini football sticker trading (irony: never liked football) and so I was able to support failed enterprises such as ‘Independent 13 year old Game Designer and Publisher’.

Snippet from text adventure I’m designing

Rolling forward over a third of a century and I’m using an online service called inklewriter to, well, write Interactive Fiction. I’ve never, to be honest, got on well with traditional branch-oriented Interactive Fiction. You know, “To hit the goblin, turn to page 36; to run away from the goblin, turn to page 112”; that kind of book. Typically, I’d become quickly bored and try to reverse-engineer the entire story by reading it sequentially to figure out the path to the end. The better – or more frustrating – IF books were designed so you’d have to read the entire thing, and draw a complex graph, to figure this out.

Me: more of a location-oriented computer game player; the classic text adventures from Infocom, or The Hobbit from Melbourne House, and the like. “Exits are North, South, or West” – that kind of thing. Over the years since, I’ve tried various bits of software that help (or claim to help) the construction of such stories, but with limited success or interest held. Twine, for example, I’ve been playing around with of late but has some fussy shortcomings that bog me down to the point of giving up. I may return to it in the future as it has some interesting functionality, to be fair.

Pulling in a picture from my Flickr account
Pulling in a picture from my Flickr account

However, more recently – and this may yet come to nothing – inklewriter is proving intriguing and surprisingly easy and fast to work with. It has very limited options in terms of look and feel; just one style of display (see the screenshots in this post of things I’ve been writing with it), though you can incorporate some outside content and interesting randomness within. And the logic operations are also few and simplistic – but, I’ve noticed, just about functional enough to make something like a location-oriented games possible.

I’m a little reluctant to say more at the moment because, as said, this may still go wrong. Also, spoilers and meta-spoilers. Oh, and it’s a free and web browser-based bit of software that isn’t actively supported, so it may disappear at any point and is therefore somewhat risky to use.

Another text adventure snippet
Another text adventure snippet

But there’s some potential here so I’m tentatively building an Interactive Fiction adventure that, surprisingly to me, is starting to take a playable shape. There’s a major arc plot, an end-goal, a fair amount of content already, and several puzzle concepts at various stages of implementation which provide different degrees of difficulty. Construction and testing are a fun exercise and it’s forcing me to confront game design decisions in a logical and unavoidable manner. More on this as it hopefully progresses; I’m keeping a design log which is already useful and, if and when it’s all done (there is a rough plan for this), this log and other materials, as well as the game itself, will be publicly available.

July 2017, Melbourne: DiGRA 2017

Website: digra2017.com

3-6 July 2017, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.

(Text below from the conference website)

DiGRA 2017 will bring together a diverse international community of interdisciplinary researchers engaged in cutting edge research in the field of game studies. DiGRA 2017 is supported by Swinburne University of Technology, RMIT University, the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne.

The conference welcomes submissions on a wide range of topics associated with studies of games and play, including, but not limited to:

  • Game cultures
  • Games and other cultural forms
  • Communication in game worlds
  • Gender and games
  • Games as representation
  • Minority groups and games
  • Games and childhood
  • The games industry
  • Independent games
  • Games criticism
  • Gaming in non-leisure settings
  • Game studies in other domains
  • Hybrid and non-digital games
  • History of games
  • Game design
  • eSports and spectatorship
  • Platform studies
  • Game production studies

Further information – including registration information – will be available on an expanded conference website by mid-January.

Submission Types

We welcome a range of contributions to DiGRA 2017. These include full papers, extended abstracts, panel and workshop proposals, and doctoral consortium participation, as well as proposals for events and other activities that fall outside the academic tradition.

Full papers will be peer-reviewed, published on the conference website and published in the conference proceedings available via open-access through the DiGRA digital library.

All other submissions will be reviewed by a panel of track chairs and the conference organisers for suitability for DiGRA 2017. These submissions will be published on the conference website, but will not be included in the conference proceedings published through the DiGRA Library.