~ Archive for Games ~



I’m doing research on a bunch of interesting things; social science is so fascinating because you’re studying human subjects and their behavior, trying to determine causality and effects by quantitative and qualitative measures. I love how interdisciplinary the area of my study is right now– dipping into psychology, technology, law, economics– and thus constantly feeling that I can’t get enough knowledge into my head. I find the social and psychological aspects most fascinating because unlike many other disciplines, there is no right or wrong; it’s all about giving your best argument. I find it’s very much like investigative reporting in journalism where you sense a phenomenon and then go digging for evidence, only that the measurements that are used are very different.

Currently, I’m doing research on social network sites, social network games, and a super-secret project related to television. I can’t go into details, which is a shame because unlike other fields, in the academic world you can’t claim something is your idea until it’s published in an acclaimed journal, instead of a puny blog like this one.

In the meantime, my multi-author game blog Play As Life is slowly gaining more readers.  It’s a slow, painful project because everyone involved is busy with their jobs. The latest post was an interview with Henk Rogers, they guy who owns the license to Tetris. It’s not as good as the other interviews on the site, but I guess that’s what happens when you try to do an email interview with someone who is already in an established name in the industry.



In the past couple months, I’ve done interesting interviews with people who have some kind of relationship to games for Play As Life. The publication (which is web-based and will be in print twice a year) hasn’t really gotten off its feet yet because we haven’t been able to find the right writers. It is hard to find people who are interested in the culture of gaming although many write reviews. The great thing about this publication, however, is that it allows me to get to know really awesome, talented people whom I would probably never meet otherwise.

You should definitely check out these interviews with:

Eitan Glinert, founder of Fire Hose Games. At MIT, he developed Audi Odessey, a game for hearing-impaired.

Laura Shigihara, composer for the game Plants vs. Zombies.

Pam Taggart, virtual world moderator. She’s kind of like a cyber policewoman for VWs and mmorpgs.

Debbie Goard, designer of kick-ass cakes that have a gaming theme.

Lawyers discuss whether Machinima is Fair Use


(cross-posted on Playaslife.com)

I attended a panel at Play Machinima Law, a Stanford conference on machinima law, where the main discussion was trying to figure out if machinima was fair use, and if it was, to what extent would be considered “fair.” A lot of the discussions focused on the end-user license agreements and how game producers could set boundaries on how game users utilize the content within the game.

In case you don’t know what machinima is, it is an animated film that uses 3D virtual worlds that already exist– such as games or Second Life. For instance, World of WarCraft, The Sims, Halo, CounterStrike, etc. have been used to create machinima. (Machinima.com is one of the best sites for compiled machinima.) These virtual worlds are used for not only their background/scenery but also the characters.

When game makers created games, they had no idea that their games would be used as an engines to create 3D animated movies. However, now that people are using games as filmmaking tools, they are beginning to think whether 1) that violates copyrights of the gamemaker and 2) if so, how they should create rules. Game makers have the advantage of controlling user activity because gamers have to agree to end-user license agreements (although how many people actually read them in detail is disputed).

Game companies aren’t opposed to machinima. To some extent, they are flattered and excited that their products are being used for creative productions. However, at the end of the day, although the end user license agreements are different depending on the platform, most games inevitably create boundaries. On most games, machinima makers are not allowed to create work for commercial purposes. Of course, at this point, lawyers are also arguing what exactly a “commercial purpose” is.

This is a problem for people who want to make money from their machinima. Also, although submission for film festivals is currently viewed as a noncommercial purpose falling under fair use, one could always argue that the use of the machinima by a director as a promotional tool for future filmmaking deals could be viewed as commercial.

Naturally, the problem becomes more complicated when the machinima maker uses copyrighted music. A lot of amateur machinima (stuff that teenagers post on Youtube) are like music videos with pop songs mashed with video footage from the game. Although music was viewed as a separate legal issue from the perspective of the lawyers (because the copyright holder would be the record industry instead of the game industry), it is still an important legal factor for the machinima makers.

Of all the game representatives that were present, The Sims seemed to be the most open to machinima—especially because it is including an easy-to-use video capturing tool in its upcoming Sims 3. But even in Sims, if there are product placements or other trademark items, machinima becomes a problem. For instance, if your character is wearing a T-shirt that was actually a product placement, would it be okay to portray that T-shirt in the machinima? Those are the types of questions game company lawyers are trying to answer.

Second Life, unfortunately, was not represented at the panel (perhaps because it is not considered a game) but lawyers seemed to be terrified about how copyright would work in Second Life. “Second Life Is worse than real life. You can film in New York without worrying that fashion of someone walking by or the texture of pavement is owned by someone, but not in Second Life, since Linden Lab doesn’t even have authority over the rights of the content that users create,” said Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In the U.S., copyright was created to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” If games had such strong copyright laws in the first place, would machinima ever have been developed at all? And how will companies control users’ behavior with games that are global? Perhaps the best thing is to think of games as the real world, and let people express their creativity without having Big Brother watching over their shoulder.

Breeding in Games and Morality


(cross posted on playaslife.com)

When you think of it in real life, breeding is a complicated thing that requires time, money, and in many cases, emotional involvement. Any effort made by human beings to fiddle with “natural” reproduction has always been a matter of hot dispute. Think surrogates, invitro fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning….! And we’re not just talking about human beings. There are tons of discussion on animal breeding– for instance, is it right to in-breed certain species to save them from extinction? How about the breeding of dogs for pedigree? Yes, breeding is a complicated thing.

Yet, in games, we take breeding for granted. But do game developers think about moral consequences when they’re designing them? Does the decision for breeding differ when the game character is a human being versus an animal or alien? I would argue: yes.

Spawning and cross-breeding

To be fair, there are multiple levels of breeding. At the very basic level, there is the “spawning” or “cloning” you see mostly in strategic games. Click on a unit and a few second later, a unit will appear. The units are all the same, they are like mass-produced robots from a factory line. Whether it be Starcraft of Romopolis, I feel very little guilt in cranking out units because they are a part of mass production.  In these strategic games, I don’t even feel that the characters are characters- which is why I describe them as units– military-style.

I also feel very little guilt about breeding in games like Viva Pinata or Spore, even if the concept of cross-breeding is very appalling in real life. That is probably because the animals look very fictional and the purpose of the game is to evolve species… I don’t know how I’d feel if the characters looked like real animals.

Wild Tribe v. Virtual Villagers

Breeding, however, becomes a little more personal when I have to drag a character on top of another to make the two breed. Here is where I felt the morality kicking in. Let me compare two games-  Wild Tribe and Virtual Villagers. The two are extremely similar, except that one uses animals as characters and the other uses human beings. You start out on a small island with only a handful of characters, and you have to increase your population by force-mating the characters. The biggest difference between the two is that for the humans, the characters enter a hut, so you can’t see the actual mating. When the baby is born, an adult character has to take care of it full-time until it becomes a child. In Wild Tribe, however, the animals mate out in the open. Tiny cute creatures roll themselves into a cloud, and soon another tiny creature is born. There is no sense of parenthood- all tiny creatures are equals, until they develop into a giraffe, elephant, monkey, zebra, or lion. After they become an adult, they can no longer breed.

What’s interesting though, is that while I was playing both games, I didn’t think twice about breeding the animals, yet I did when breeding the humans, because of the responsibility of child-rearing that follows as well as the thought of forcing two humans to have sex. What’s funny, however, is that in Virtual Villagers, some characters are not compatible; there is no such thing in Wild Tribe.

Breeding in The Sims

By far, The Sims has the most advanced breeding mechanism that I’ve sen so far- in fact, as I play the game, I don’t even think of it as breeding early on in the game. It’s not until you realize you’re trying to make a clan that breeding becomes important. Why create a lineage? Well you discover very early on that in order to live in a very nice, big house, you have to either 1) marry someone rich or 2) inherit from your parents. Of course, you can also earn your fortune, but it’s never the same as having a house and cash to start off with. In my ideal Sim, the children don’t squander off their parents’ fortune so everyone in the neighborhood just gets richer and richer.

So in order to pass on wealth, I found myself putting characters into situations where they get pregnant or adopt children. Getting a Sim character pregnant requires a lot of effort– two characters have to work up a romantic relationship and even if they do have sex (which can only take place in the bed or the hot tub, so you have to put them in that setting) they may not produce a child. Also, like real life, acquiring a child takes time and effort, so as a game player, you know better than to get a poor single mother pregnant.

It’s fascinating that I think twice when breeding humans, but not with animals. I wonder if it is because the game makes me think of consequences in the case of human beings, or if it’s just me putting in my own thoughts into the gameplay? What if the game developers hadn’t made the differentiation between humans and animals and you could sort of drag a Sim on top of another to create a child that would not require care? Would I still think twice?

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