#Gamergate Building a DiGRA Alternative

158736-174429-doktor-sleeplessAs we all know, groups like DiGRA are a problem.

These are pseudo-academic platforms presenting opinion as fact with no rigour, no attempt at objectivity and seemingly much more about pushing particular agendas rather than determining what is true/correct, or what is useful to people who make games or want to make games.

We desperately need an alternative.

Building an alternative will not be an easy matter and so I think it is best to start relatively small and idealistic, and then to let things change over time as needed, allowing such an attempt to adapt and fulfil its role – provided that it doesn’t lose sight of its core principles.

As I say, this is a daunting task but one I think that can be accomplished. It just needs a little push and I intend to give it the good ol’ college try.

In essence we’re creating a new field here, as ‘ludology’ is dominated by extremely soft humanities and the aforementioned activist pseudo-academia. This would be something more akin to hard science or engineering, dedicated to providing practical information and experience and sharing it amongst game creators with the stated aim of improving games and game creation as a whole.

‘Ludics’ maybe? I don’t know… ludogineering? It’s something that needs to be distinct from ‘ludology’ or ‘game studies’ which are grounded in literary criticism and critical theory and, so, don’t provide anything of actual use.

So the goals of the group/discipline would be.

  1. Preserving and enumerating game-maker experience.
  2. Providing genuine, objective, scientific, academic and experiential insight into aspects of game design and experience.
  3. Providing a genuine academic alternative to DiGRA and their ilk, rooted in harder science and practical purpose.

Contributors must have:

  1. Relevant practical experience in the field of fames (a game maker with a commercial release, a board/card or RPG designer).
  2. A high level of educational attainment in a relevant field (a degree in hard science, statistics, anthropology, sociology, psychology)
  3. Their entries must at least strive for objectivity – creator anecdote being something of an exception, if clearly stated.

I would also suggest that all material produced as this enterprise gets under way be considered open source, perhaps under a creative commons license allowing people to reformat, freely distribute or even to sell independently or as part of larger treatise etc in order to help support projects and help to make the work worthwhile for people who contribute.

I would hope to get groups like League For Gamers on board and to get the support of independent gaming news sites to reproduce the entries in some form (another reason for going open source).

As a way of starting this off from humble beginnings I would suggest that it begin with an open call for ~1,000-1,500 word essays/notes on a topic, every couple of weeks or every month, just to see if there’s the interest or that the interest can be built up. This would, then, form a short ‘journal’ of sorts, on a particular topic or aspect of game design that would-be game designers or existing game designers could tap into or look at.

Now, obviously this is starting from #Gamergate, since the impetus to provide an alternative to DiGRA that is more genuinely game and design based comes from there, but it would not remain (or even really start out as) a #Gamergate thing. Much like Based Gamer, Deepfreeze and the various indie games sites that have sprung up, it would carve its own path to become something more long lived.

It should also seek to move into testing and confirming (or debunking) its own hypotheses, conducting surveys and eventually providing harder data.

  1. Would you be interested in reading such a ‘journal’?
  2. Would you be interested in contributing to such a ‘journal’?
  3. Would you like to see a more practical, pragmatic and useful field of game study?
  4. Do you have a better idea for a name than ‘Ludics’? (It mixes Greek and Latin, so is ‘bad’, perhaps ‘paichnidics’ instead? – from the Greek ‘paichnídi’, meaning toy, game or trick, and already used as part of the Greek for ‘video game console’)*.
  5. Would you be interested in contributing to a first attempt, perhaps on the topic ‘What is a game and what is the appeal of games?’

Let me know.

I can be contacted via the comments here, on Twitter (@grimachu) or via email – grim AT postmort DOT demon DOT co DOT uk.

*I can’t for the life of me work out how to spell this phonetically in English, or pronounce it from these letters. Peuch-a-nidyics is the closest I can get).

Peak Actor Looming

Production of British People

There is an environmental and entertainment crisis looming for the entire world in our near and immediate future. A crisis that has gone largely unnoticed in wider circles and is virtually unknown outside of the UK. A crisis against which climate change and ice-cap melting seems like nothing.

The world’s voracious demand for British character actors threatens to strip the globe of its entire supply by 2050.

While the discovery of rich fields of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have staved off the end for a while and lulled some into a false sense of security the fact remains that the production and discovery of British people has been declining at the same time that their use has been increasing in leaps and bounds.

We have become too used to there being a plentiful supply of British character actors for the world to use and as such their over-use has become the norm. If the entire world were to use British character actors at the rate that the United States does, we would need three whole Britains to sustain the supply.

Already we are starting to see the beginning of the problems that we will all soon face. British comedians are being pressed into service as dramatic actors to make up the shortfall and there have been many, disastrous attempts to create synthetic British using Australians, Canadians, South Africans and even, misguidedly, Americans.

Projected British actor usage to 2020

We all need to slow down, take a breath and start looking into sustainable, authentic and organic sources of British character actors and not to make such a foolish waste of this scarce and precious resources. We can all do our part to help:

1. Stop using British actors for non-British parts (especially villains).
2. Lobby American Entertainment companies to use cheap and plentiful alternatives, such as Irish, Germans or Scandinavians.
3. Sponsor a Brit-Breeding Program in your area.
4. Caution your friends and neighbours about the dangers of Synthetic British people. 

It is also of vital importance that we impress upon our politicians and media moguls that this is a real and impending crisis. There are many Peak Actor deniers in the Media-Industrial Complex who insist that Peak Actor is merely a scare put out by conspiracy theorists and scientists who want to force an agenda for change upon the world. Research companies have been bought up and interfered with by the Royal Shakespeare Company and HBO have lobbied hard to have this issue belittled and ignored by the United States Congress.

We all need to work together, to raise awareness and to ensure this nightmare scenario never comes to pass.

Thank you for your assistance.

Caution: Synthetic British people may be toxic.

Misapplying Science: Fantasy Races

I’m a fan of science, particularly evolutionary biology which has given us profound insights into our own biological history and that of all life on Earth. It has also allowed us to make speculations about how life might turn out in the future. Of particular joy to me growing up were Dougal Dixon’s tremendous works, After Man and Man After Man.

I know fantasy worlds are magic, but I frequently find myself unsatisfied with ‘magic’ as a handwavey explanation for things. I find it particularly hard to swallow, without comment, the profusion of different races in most fantasy games. Odds are they’d actually be closely related on the evolutionary tree if they actually evolved rather than being created by the gods. The human genome is actually pretty ‘stretchy’ with a great deal of diversity within it. That said, different intelligent hominid species have coexisted, and possibly even interbred, in humanity’s past so it’s not completely beyond the bounds of possibility.

Still, I’ve had a ponder and I’ve thought a little about how the various fantasy races might turn out if they were evolved, rather than created or simply dreamed up.

Elves

Forest peoples tend to be short in stature. There are several reasons why this might be from inadequete diet to problems with vitamin D and calcium but it does appear to have a genetic component. As such, elves are likely to be small in stature as well as being somewhat slender. A combination that makes moving through the forest a lot easier. Five feet six inches might well be the Evlish equivalent of a giant.

A more vegetarian diet could, over time, lead to a flattening of the teeth, a longer gut (pot-bellied elves?) and a more placid, contemplative nature. Especially if they also live a longer time than your average human being. Trees are excellent protection from many predators and monsters, meaning flight or passivity may well be considered virtues for elves, far beyond their value to other races and species.

Of particular interest is the possibility of elven symbiosis with trees. Particular species may benefit from elven habitation and over a very long period of time the elves and the host trees may genetically influence one another. The tree growing to create hollows and strong branches for supporting the elves. The elves eating the fruit, spreading the seeds and protecting the trees from pests and predators.

In the shade of the trees elves are likely to be quite pale, but possibly also dappled like many jungle and forest creatures, skin like wild ponies in patches of light and dark and this is also likely to extend to their hair.

(Illustration from Dark Visions: Illustrated Guide to the Amtrak Wars)

Dwarves

Dwarves are potentially even more fascinating than elves. As underground dwellers their shape is likely to be even more heavily changed than any other broadly humanoid species, thanks to their environment.

A short, stocky, broad and squat form is good for power, endurance and for making their way through small spaces. Big hands and feet give them leverage and digging power that other humanoids may lack. Living permanently in the deep dark they’re likely to either have massive eyes to try and compensate and teo grab as much light as possible or, in the deeper dark, they may even be eyeless. No point having eyes if there’s nothing to see. In the daylight world their vision may be far too sensitive for the light, needing dark goggles to avoid being blinded.

To compensate for lack of sight they’re likely to have enhanced other senses such as touch and hearing – smell as well in case of gases underground. The famed dwarven beard, of both sexes, could in fact be whiskers. Useful for feeling the motions of the air and judging the size and shape of spaces without seeing them directly.

Small underground spaces are likely to require them to move on all fours almost as much as on two legs, which may give them a more ape-like, knuckling gait than other humanoids. Bare feet with gripping toes are also going to be useful for climbing rocks and surfaces and not losing their footing.

Halflings/Gnomes

It’s hard to think what would make halflings and gnomes the way they are. Perhaps as a particular subset of elves they would be isolated and their small size become more prominent. That would give them the genetic proclivity to smallness and if they come from harsher, more northern climes that might explain their even smaller stature and their tendency to eat and burrow, storing fat for hibernation.

Halfling/Gnome culture and biology would be undergoing rapid change, following the sudden advent of agriculture and the death of their old hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Their biology has not caught up yet and so they still tend to eat their fill and to burrow, despite now being able to eat and stay awake all year around. Isolated and xenophobic for the most part the cultural rather than physical divide is what would split halflings from gnomes. Halflings being more traditionalistic and insular and gnomes being more forward thinking, experimental and exploratory.

Close-knit tribes and burrows could even form a near eusocial ‘hive’ bond and adventurers would be rare ‘sports’ able to part from the culture in order to adventure.

Orcs

Orcs would have to be descended from some sort of predatory ape. Perhaps closer to baboons or the hunting chimps. Nocturnal and dangerous they would be pack predators. Dark grey/black/blue/indigo skin with a protective layer of fat and muscle.

Their mouths would be full of sharp teeth and capable of opening wide in threat displays and for biting down onto prey. As predators they would be fleet, violent but also playful and alert.

The pack mentality and competition would likely mean packs would be organised on alpha-male leadership with a group of females around him and several beta-males as hangers on. All hoping to make a move for alpha status. Orc ‘silverbacks’ might have a mane or larger tusks to denote their status.

The females would be the hunters, the fighters. The males would be duellists, focussed more on fighting each other and leading the pack than the practical or every day.

As night hunters they would need predatory vision, like a wolf or cat, a good sense of smell. They might even have hardened, keratin ‘claws’ instead of fingernails. Ensuring that they’re never without a weapon.