A (very brief) commentary on videogames and violence….again

Burning Beatles

I was asked by a writer for ASU’s State Press to provide some thoughts on a recent story about a town in Connecticut that plans to collect and trash violent videogames. Yes, this is happening once again. It’s not isolated, of course: Joe Biden is “discussing” the situation with industry groups as part of the larger weapons imitative coming from the White House.

So, with that as a backdrop, here’s a very quick and not-overly-nuanced reaction. TL;DR version: it’s mostly a lot of crap.

Thoughts on violence and videogames

To me, what’s interesting about this story is that the organizers seem to recognize the complex factors that lead to our culture of violence—and even seem to understand the solution—yet the end result is still to simply blame some token scapegoat. This is the part that gets the headline, of course: let’s burn videogames and it will make it better. It’s also pretty silly.
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Pimping ASU Humanities Interview with a certain videogame hack

I hate to use this stupid site only to pimp the stuff I do, but….well, I guess I don’t hate it that much.

Alright, with that cleared up, check out an interview I did as part of ASU’s Project Humanities. The guiding question is “Are we losing our humanity?” I was asked to talk about videogames and digital media specifically. Also starring my good friend and cool interweb scholar Alice Daer. Woot.

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EdGamer Podcast with Yours Truly

I recorded a podcast for EdGamer yesterday. Hosts Zack Gilbert and Gerry James were fantastic – accommodating and entertaining. Thanks for inviting me guys!

Here’s a link to the show: http://edreach.us/2012/06/23/edgamer-57-jeff-holmes-asu/

We talk about some news, a bit about the visual analysis talk I gave at GLS, a lot about education and gaming, and some about the Center for Games and Impact. An action-packed hour and some change.

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The Cruel Realities of NPCs

So, I’ve been playing Star Trek: Online a lot lately. It’s excellent, and I highly recommend it—not least because it’s F2P. I’m nothing if not a cheap bastard.

One of the aspects of the game that I’ve enjoyed the most is the Duty Officer system, kind of hybrid between Pokemon-type card games and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance‘s mission system. In short, players get a set of minor officers (Duty Officers, or Doffs for short) with various specialties that can be assigned to a rotating list of available side missions. After a certain period (between 30 minutes and 24+ hours), the assignment will conclude and either reward the player with some loot or end in failure (and possibly the “death” of the Doff). Importantly—at least for this post—these assignments are carried out autonomously; the player assigns the officers (and tries to maximize the profits and minimize the risk of failure by choosing appropriate skills and traits) but the gods of RNG mostly control the outcome. These Doffs are bots “managed” by the player.

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The Tyranny of the Battery

So, not to sound all fuddy-duddy, but batteries are a terrible thing.

Let me be clear: batteries allow us to do some amazing things. Portability is, of course, right at the top of that list. We can cut the cords and soar free with all of our electronic goodness.

That’s the promise of batteries, anyway. And that’s what makes them so frustrating – I *should* be able to roam the world, free to check out all the wonder and amazement that is this electronic universe.

Instead, I find myself constantly in search of the next outlet to plug in and charge my stinking batteries. My life is controlled by the need to constantly power up. This situation is not helped at all by the divide between what charge my various batteries are capable of holding and what they actually hold. My monster laptop? 2 hours, tops, on the 8-hour battery pack. My phone? I’m charging it at least twice a day, and that’s with very little use. Ditto most of my other electronic paraphernalia.

I don’t make this charge (get it???) without a bit of perspective. I realize the tremendous social, economic, and historical position I am in that allows me to carry around multiple, always-connected devices in order to watch re-runs of Arrested Development or quickly check in on the latest witty Twitterisms. This is a complaint of privilage, to be sure.

Nevertheless, this always-on life is dictated more and more by the need to remain always-on, and that requires juice, which requires access to that juice, which requires me to hunker down every couple of hours wherever I can find a free outlet. I’m re-corded. I’m not soaring. And I don’t like it.

/end rant.

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Battlefield 3 and “realistic” war

So, unless you never watch TV (and people like that actually exist, right?), you’ve probably been bombarded by ads for Battlefield 3. Yes, I sort-of want to play it (even though am not a huge shooter fan). Yes, it looks very good. Indeed, the ads claim that it’s “the most realistic shooter” ever. Which made me wonder: what does it mean to play a “hyper-realistic” shooter set in a current and on-going conflict? Is it morally problematic to “play” at things that everyday Americans are living “for real”–and even dying “for real”? I can see at least 2 and 1/2 ways of breaking this down:  
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Seeing Action: A Visual Analysis of World of Warcraft

High-level character view

The view of a high-level character in combat as part of a group of other players

Amid the flashes and the thrills of a videogame, something profound happens: a player comes to the game and together, they collaboratively create an experience (Holmes 2004). While this is true of any media to varying degrees (indeed, all phenomena are ultimately “experienced” and therefore interpreted, a co-creation of event and experience), a videogame is a unique text, for in a videogame the player is a necessary actor through which the game “happens.” Most analyses of a videogame must confront this fundamental circumstance: that the player and the game interact. Certainly, the notion of interactivity is unsettled and contested (see Gee, 2010; Turkle, 1995; Aarseth, 1997; Juul, 2005, and Wilson, 2004 for an example of the variety of interpretations). For the purpose of this analysis, I define interactivity as the condition through which the player controls certain events within the game world, and that this world informs the choices made by the gamer. So, a player uses an interface (actually, several—physical as well as conceptual) to influence the outcome of the afforded design of the game; and, depending on how previous actions affect the game world, the player then uses this interface to make additional choices, and the cycle repeats.

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Hunting for Identity: Community, Performance, and the Curious Case of the Huntard in World of Warcraft

The hunter marked her prey and crept closer, careful not to alert her enemy to her presence. She had followed the same tactics for hundreds of battles and honed her skills: send in her faithful hunting pet first to attack, let loose her array of arrows and traps, run away if the enemy came too close and—above all—try not to die. Now, it was her first chance to fight alongside friends and allies, who had invited her to battle alongside them, and she was eager to show off her skills. No one had made a move yet, so she decided she would try to kill the enemy first, to be the hero, to show how powerful she was, and how valuable to the group. She sent her pet in, waited a few seconds, and fired her own shots. She expected a quick kill—they had almost always been that way so far, after all—but it did not come. Instead, other nearby enemies noticed the commotion and joined the fray, swarming the allies and sending them scattering and shouting. In the chaos and confusion, she watched her companions die before being overwhelmed herself. As the dust settled, the recriminations began, chastising her, mocking her, calling her names: “huntard” they shouted, then kicked her from their group and far away into a another place in the world, with wounded pride and little confidence, left wondering: what had happened? Why had her companions abandoned her? What had she done wrong?

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Lookin’ for an ‘in’

So I’m going to do a bit of the “writing-as-thinking” and see if I can somehow crap something out…er, develop a possible research question.

*These are in no particular order or meaningfully positioned relation. I’m just a’ sayin’ as I’m a’ thinkin’.

• Guilds — Yes, the cliques of WoW. There’s a lot going on with these, so let’s dive in.

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FAQs – the death of socializing?

FAQ Hell

Resnick has me wondering: if I turn to an FAQ or a guide, am I destroying the social nature of WoW?

Resnick claims that if “a system allows a worker to find information on her own without consulting colleagues, there is a positive time efficiency gain. There is also a negative effect from losing opportunities to build and maintain ties with colleagues, which might be useful for other reasons beyond the immediate task.” I can go to a wiki and get answers quickly and concisely, but I lose out on directly interacting with the community.

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