For the last few years, advertisers have known that those watching their ads are likely to have a second screen nearby, whether it's a laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
What's interesting to me is that game developers are starting to take notice of this. The Wii-U was the first instance a "second screen" experience for gamers, but more interesting to me are the companion apps that are closely tied to a few of the big games that have come out recently or are hotly anticipated. Check out my round-up of these below:
Tom Clancy's The Division - I'm pretty excited for this dystopian police game, but even more excited for what the companion app will do. According to IGN, your friends will be able to join you via their iPhone or iPad to control a drone in the game, pointing out snipers or laying down cover fire.
Destiny - As excited as I am for The Division, I'm probably more excited about Destiny. How can the former Halo developers go wrong? Unfortunately, their companion app (dubbed "Companion") doesn't sound nearly as interesting, and is nothing more than a tool for keeping track of your stats and maybe updating your loadout.
Titanfall - The Titanfall companion app sits in the middle of a few of these, and offers you an interactive mini-map of the current game. It's not groundbreaking, but an interesting add-on to what is supposed to be an amazing game.
Are there any other gaming companion apps I'm missing?
I'm not a coder, developer or even really a hard-core gamer, but if you've been reading this blog long enough you know I've got an interest in Video Games, and how they fit today's culture.
That's why I love Gamer Camp, a yearly and unique Toronto event curated by Jaime Woo. It's not about showcasing the blockbuster hits, it's about the spirit and creativity between creating games and playing them.
"The Interactive and Game Conference will feature 20 inspiring, useful talks from organizations and individuals bringing fresh looks to both fields in hopes of cross-pollinating and sparking cool, new ideas. (Gamercamp itself, for example, sprung out of drawing inspiration from tech, art, and culture events like TED, Come Up To My Room, and TIFF.)
Attendees can expect interesting takes on the interactive and games space including: An in-depth session on the game design lessons from DrinkBox Studios' critically acclaimed Guacamelee (pictured below) National Film Board producer Gerry Flahive sharing on the award-winning interactive documentary Highrise Mission Business, the team behind the spooky and successful interactive theatrical experience Visitations at the Drake Hotel, and A first-look at Stringer, an immersive journalism first person videogame that places you in the middle of an Afghanistan battlefield using the Oculus Rift and Hydra technologies—a collaboration between George Brown College and Cinema Suite Inspirations from the curator of TIFF's innovative and popular media experience DigiPlaySpace Demonstrations on using the creativity tools Lua and ZBrush"
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about how my friend Jay was really good at video games ("How To Ruin Your Life By Not Playing Video Games"). Since then (2007!), a lot has changed but a lot has stayed the same.
I think video games are equally as important in the formation of a young persons life today, if not more so. As they become increasingly social, they provide not just an opportunity to hone their fine motor skills, but to also develop social skills. I've been playing a lot of Halo 4 lately, and I can tell you that the team that learns how to cooperate and to use different weapons and vehicles together is the one that wins pretty much every match. Games like League of Legends require even more of this cooperation, and this is definitely becoming the norm. In fact, League of Legends currently boasts some incredibly high numbers for spectators of top-ranked matches.
As Joseph Bernstein wrote recently in Kill Screen: "[with games] we're training for things we don't fully comprehend" and that this goes beyond "creative and puzzle solving."
Technology is already a huge part of the way we interact with the world and each other, and the amount and complexity of this interaction is only going to increase. Those that are better able to understand this interplay between technology and humanity will be set up for success in both the near and far future.
Ever since I moved to Sydney I haven't really been active on Blogcampaigning. So what have I been up to? (Editors note: Easy question. The answer is "complaining about living near the beach and having a real job")
Last year I became the Academic Coordinator for a private multimedia college. It offers, amongst other things, a bachelors degree in game design, programming and animation.
Seeing what students come up with is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job – some projects include great ideas and have commercial potential.
For example, a group of graduates was able to recently acquire seed funding from Asia to work on a game that helps Asian students learn English. Another project revolves around the gamification of our curriculum by taking advantage of the data in our student management system. Another group is working on a game that helps to drive the agenda of one of Australia's most influential think tanks.
It's not only the students, however, who learn a lot. In the process of supervising these projects, I have learned a lot myself, the more so as they touch upon areas that only just opened up to the possibilities of games and game design.
One can tell that the interest in games is growing, they are more and more asserting themselves as a disruptive technology. I'm confident that in a couple of years the application of gamification principles – beyond their current superficial application – for any form of deeper and meaningful engagement will be the rule rather than the exception.
In this respect, the being able to design these systems will become a very valuable skill. On one hand it's easy to create a game; to create a good game, however, to achieve that delicate balance of a rule based system that fosters great experiences, is very hard. This applies to their traditional commercial application, but even more so to their "serious" application where they have to hit that sweet spot between instructional design and motivation.
I really hope that my students will see these opportunities and take advantage of them. While the Australian game development scene is certainly is flux, there are some amazing opportunities that present themselves, the more so in a country that was traditionally always very open toward the possibilities of new technologies.
Another perk of the job is being able to be in touch with the burgeoning Sydney game development scene. Traditionally the centres for game development in Australia were – and still are – Brisbane and Melbourne. Sydney, however, is catching up.
Not only are there professional studios starting up, attracted by new government funding models, but there is also a growing, very enthusiastic indie scene. Held together by regular meet-ups, a supportive atmosphere and the will to get something off the ground, it gives the impression that something exciting is going to happen rather sooner than later.
It's interesting to see how the dial-based controllers of the early days evolved into joysticks, and that these then fell from favor until the N64 had that little, but rarely-used joystick on the centre hull. It also seems like controllers from way back when called for more asymmetrical hand positioning.
I also feel that Sony has really nailed it with the PS3 controller. All the buttons are perfectly placed, and it just feels right in your hands.
To an extent Jens Schroeder, Campus Academic Coordinator at Qantm, sympathises with both.
“I think you’ll always get this contrast in any institution and admittedly I can sort of see where some of the students are coming from,” he says.
“During orientation I’m always trying to make clear to students that this is a pathway. Parents come in for open days and they ask, ‘will our children find a job?’ It’s a fair question. The spiel I give them is probably yes — if they work really hard, show the right attitude and entertain possibilities outside of the more hardcore side of things. You have to think outside the box — games for health, games that rehabilitate old people through dance mats! You know?
“A lot of the students still find it difficult to get used to the idea that they might not be working on the nextCall of Duty.”
You get the sense that Jens struggles with the naïveté of some students, the sense of entitlement.
“No one is waiting to recognise their inherent genius,” laughs Jens, “which is what I think a lot of students believe. One of the things I’m really trying to encourage is to get students to attend networking events — like the IGDA stuff. You ask them to attend, and you go there and it’s the same five people! I’m like really? Those are some of the basic skills you have to learn. That can be a little disheartening.
“Maybe it’s an age thing — some of them come directly out of high school. They just want to make games, they don’t realise the effort needed to succeed.”
1.) Kojima says his philosophy towards creating games is that he must do everything, from script development to the game play, and says that this is "true game design." I've always considered the man one of the only auteurs of the video game industry, and it is great to see him acknolowedging the same here.
2.) The fact that he uses Lego pieces to design the different levels in his games
3.) His comments on the differences between game design in the East and the West:
"...in Japan, players are often placed in a room with one door at the beginning of a game, which opens up into a room with two doors, and so on. The game has to open up gradually, piece by piece. But in the West, gamers can be placed in a jungle early on, and they often value, said Kojima, that freedom, enjoying the exploration offered to them."
The Entertainment Software Association of America posted their 2011 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry today, and while nothing in it seemed essential to me, there were a few interesting nuggets of information:
1.) The average game player is 37 years old
I'm sure that despite this, the stereotype of the sedentary, lonely-but-trash-talking teenager will prevail.
2.) Women age 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37%) than boys age 17 or younger (13%)
Seriously - this stat surprised me. I guess when I think about games, I'm guilty of not taking into consideration casual games.
3.) Starcraft Battle Chest is the 20th Best Selling Computer Game of 2010
This package was originally released in 1999! (Thanks, to my friend Richard for pointing this out). The fact that it is still one of the best selling pieces of entertainment says a lot about how good this game is. Quality gameplay goes a lot more than flashy graphics, I guess.
4.) Parents See Positive impact of Computer and Video Games
I've been an advocate for the positive benefits of video games for a long, long time (seriously - I wrote that post in 2007!). However, I never thought that parents would see things the same way. I'd like to see these stats compared to how parents see television in their household. Are video and computer games seen more positively? My guess is yes.
While the assessment of digital games in Germany was framed by a high-culture critique, which regarded them as an 'illegitimate' activity, in Australia they were enjoyed by a comparatively wide demographic as a 'legitimate' pastime.
In the thesis I analysed the social history of digital gaming in both countries and related it to their socio-cultural traditions and their effects on modes of distinction. Basically, you can tell why Germany has issues with this type of media by looking into why Australia does not.
Germany, as a European Kulturnation, had a different history and different 'foundational dynamics' than Australia, a New-World society built on premises which consciously distanced themselves from their Old-World heritage.
Foundational dynamics signify the socio-cultural and historical forces which shaped a distinct national conscience and dominant identity constructions during the countries' founding phase. These constructions did not stay without an impact on the perception of different kinds of aesthetics.
Closely related to the uptake of culture was the issue of distinction, the cultural demarcation between social groups: By a conspicuous refusal of other tastes, a class tries to depict its own lifestyle as something superior. A country like Germany, whose national self-conception was closely related to groups which perpetuated an idealistic notion of Kultur and later integrated it into a rigid class system, exhibited a different form of distinction than Australia.
To put it differently: A country which based its national archetype on the myth of the bushman developed a different national conscience than a country whose ruling class defines itself very much in terms of high-cultural achievements.
The thesis demonstrates how forms of distinction, shaped by different foundational dynamics, asserted themselves regarding the perception of mass culture to the point where digital games were the latest medium to be surrounded by established patterns of criticism and enthusiasm. To make this point clear it gives a detailed history of previous introductions of mass culture and with which reactions they were met on part of Germany and Australia and their modes of distinction.
Due to its history and cultural traditions, Germany strongly opposed mass media – as can be seen in the uptake of the cinema, radio and television – whereas Australians were always comparatively enthusiastic about the latest iteration of mass art, games included. It was something that confirmed Australian identity whereas it threatened Germany's.
The thesis is the first social history of gaming in both countries.
On the other hand it also offer unique insights into the national unconscious of the two countries by means of analysing the uptake of mass media.
So if you're interested in digital games, media history, the social history of Germany and Australia, demographics and target groups in these countries or their capacity to produce internationally appealing media content, this book is for you.
Last week one of the pioneers of the gaming industry passed away.
This man engineered the modern console. It was only in March that he was honoured by the International Game Developers Association.
And yet you probably never heard of Jerry Lawson, the creator of the first cartridge-based videogame console.
Something that set Jerry apart from most people working in the gaming industry is that he was black.
Jerry was born in 1940 and grew up in a federal housing project in Queens, New York. As a kid, he operated a ham radio; as a teenager he earned money by repairing his neighbors’ television sets.
In the 1970s, living and working in Silicon Valley, he was the only African-American to join the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of early hackers that included Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
He went on to design the Channel F console for Fairchild Semiconductors, the first gaming machine to use interchangeable cartridges. And he went on to become the industry's best kept secret.
The gaming industry certainly has liberal roots. Take Atari for example, Nolan Bushnell had a beer tap in his office and employed a bunch of hippies to assemble arcade machines. When Atari was sold to Warner and the technology of Battlezone was to be used for military purposes, some developers refused to contribute to the project.
In the early days Apple had countercultural sensibilities about it, just look at the 1984 commercial.
But despite this liberal outlook, the gaming/ computer industry dominantly favoured white male subjects. This was the origin of the industry – young educated "hackers" (think of Space War and its creators or Ralph Baer).
It took decades to overcome this hardcore technicity mindset, the Wii was the first console to successfully challenge this outlook. While gaming reaches new demographics, it'd be interesting to look into who is actually responsible for its contents.
If my students are anything to go by, games are still predominantly made by white men.
Video games might have a comparatively liberal background, but their (Western) history is almost exclusively Caucasian at the expense of other ethnics.
They represent a culture that makes it difficult for other influences to assert themselves and perpetuate the ideal gamer of the 21st century as likely being male – and white.
All this make Jerry's achievements even more impressive. Hopefully he will receive the recognition he deserves!
I'm a big fan of both The Streets and interactive YouTube videos so I was pretty excited to see the promo video for The Streets' new album today.
The video series is like a choose your own adventure, with the user deciding how The Streets' Mike Skinner goes about his day. The cool part is that some of the story lines lead you to song samples from the album. Finding the first one was neat, but having to go through parts of the story again to find all of them was a little bit annoying.
Playing emulated games can be a pain. There's the problem of legally acquiring ROMs, and often emulators need some tweaking to function properly. (Did you ever try to play Amiga games on a Mac?)
This is where Arcade Retro Gaming’s MCC-216 comes in. It utilises an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) core, which – as far as I can tell – means that it can accommodate several systems on a chip.
The devices can be hooked up to any screen or monitor and comes with the classic Competition Pro joystick. Pure "click, click" bliss! Most importantly it comes with a good amount of licensed C-64 games and demos. Ironically, some of these even have the hacked/trainer front-ends, a good reminder of how hard some of the classics were.
Best of all, the device comes with the possibility to install multiple cores. Currently C-64 and Atari 2600 cores are available, and an Amiga core is in beta.
Sure, if you want to you can get your hands on retro games: you can play them on your iOS device, download them from the Wii's virtual console or buy compilations. None of these solutions, however, offer the flexibility and versatility of the MCC-216. Or a Competition Pro joystick.
Beginners can happily play away, pros have something to tinker with. It's ultraportable, hooks up to pretty much anything, is not crippled by any DRM and even supports keyboard input.
Most importantly, it keeps the legacy of the classics alive. After all, what is a medium worth if it is not conscious of its own history?
Canada's industry is impressive, some of the world's biggest studios are located in development hotspots like Montreal or Toronto. Recent blockbusters like Assassin's Creed Brotherhood were made in Canada.
In my new home of Australia, on the other hand, the industry experienced a downturn in the last years. The latest victim is Krome, the country's largest developer, which went bust last month.
It's an interesting development because Australia has some decisive advantages in terms of games development, a lot of which also apply to Canada.
Encouraged by the small domestic market, Australian studious successfully positioned themselves as international players.
Given the media history of Austrlia, the entry into the political economy of the game industry was facilitated by pre-existent patterns of a close integration into a globalised audio-visual trade. Australia was always very active in importing and exporting media.
The post-Fordist nature of game development and the industry behind it was reflected by the country's long history of post-Fordist practices in other media fields. Post-Fordist in this case meaning a lean mode of organisation and contracting out work as well as creative freedom and the absence of any "localism".
In addition, a tradition of a pronounced commercial awareness encouraged a mindset that was conducive in terms competitiveness and creating outside markets.
Australia's socio-cultural traditions helped to facilitate the creation of content which by means of its accessibility had a wide appeal. Due to Australia's egalitarian traditions, not only in terms of consumption but also in regard to production the priority was given to games which were comparatively easy to pick up and play.
This constituted an advantage on the crucial US market which, for example, shunned German games as too complicated. The more accessible titles of Australian game studios, on the other hand, stood closer to American sensibilities.
An important aspect in this regard is that Australia is an English-language production centre. This, in combination with its cultural alliances, made it easier for developers to take advantage of predispositions which appealed to important markets. Similar to other media, Australian studios could easily 'play' at being American and British.
Together with a small national market and the accompanying necessity to open markets abroad, this caused developers to not really see themselves as specifically Australian developers. Their standards were set by international criteria. They marketed themselves like game developers in the UK or the US.
Similar to previous media, this meant that locally produced content was not so much valued with reference to itself as with reference to imported product. Australian studios had to conform to international models and standards in order to succeed locally. While this posed a challenge it also meant that it was easier for them to internalise international best practice.
One could argue that Australia is geographically removed from the centres of Western game production. But this also gives it an advantage in terms of production schedules. Due to the time difference, by the end of the day Australian developers can send their work to other studios whose working day just started.
So why is Canada's industry booming while Australia is facing problems?
One of the main reasons is that Australia's work for hire model doesn't work anymore.
In the current economic climate it is almost impossible to green light games, and the competition for 'work-for-hire' contracts is so fierce that studios are spending months on developing incredibly elaborate prototypes, yet are still not winning the tenders. Also, given many publishers are based in the US where the economic downtown has arguably hit hardest, their priority is to ensure their own internal studios have enough work.
This problem is further complicated by the strong Australian Dollar which makes outsourcing to Australia unattractive. Skill wise, Eastern European developers are catching up and are able to deliver their work at much cheaper rates.
While a lot of Australian developers were working on (often rushed) licensed titles they did not create original IP to base future operations on and improve their cash flow (which is also due to the absence of an Australian publisher who could support local development).
Compared to Australia, Canada also has the decisive advantage of offering generous tax breaks to game developers. So generous in fact that the UK government handed a complaint to the WTO as they believe it constitutes an unfair practice.
Australian developers have long called for similar tax breaks on a federal level; however, so far nothing happened. Australia, it seems, does not take the industry as seriously as Canada.
Tax incentives would certainly not be the white knight that rescues the industry. Yet they would help Australia to gain a competitive edge in the international political economy of game development (It is doubtful, though, that its industry will become as big as Canada's in the next years).
It also needs to be pointed out that there areas of game development in Australia that are alive and well. Especially the development on iOS platforms is thriving. As was often the case, Australians were early adopters of new technologies and quickly made a considerable impact on the industry (not the least due to the reasons mentioned above).
Games by Halfbrick (Fruit Ninja, Raskulls) and Firemint (Flight Control, Real Racing) show that Australia is ready for the future. It is in a very good position to create great content of worldwide appeal. It just needs some help to fully realise its full potential.
Back in 2005 I wrote a master's thesis on the history of digital gaming with a special focus on former East Germany.
Whenever I mentioned the thesis people were really interested: "There were games in the GDR? Really?" "What sort of platform did they play on?" etc. Which is why I decided, more than four years after I handed it in, to contact a small publisher to ask if they were interested to issue the thesis as a book. They liked what they saw, I rewrote some parts to account for the the more current history of games, and this month the book was finally released.
So what exactly is the book all about?
It juxtaposes the different development stages of digital games in East Germany and the Western world, giving special attention to the "subsumption" of information technology under the structure of East German social and economic policies. The socialist administration of the GDR prevented private initiative, and instead followed the principles of a planned economy and central control, pivotal developments within the field of information technology. Therefore digital games cannot be explained without a thorough examination of this frame of reference. This approach is supplemented by statements – gathered through interviews – of several contemporary witnesses involved in the production of digital games in the East and West.
For the purpose of a better overview and a coherent structure the thesis is divided into three parts, each of which a period of Western digital game history is contrasted with a period of East German history marked by historical turning points. Because one can identify several of these turning points both in game history and East German history which happened approximately at the same time (e.g. introduction of Pong coinciding with major changes in social politics under Chairman of the Council of State Erich Honecker) this makes for a structuring which does not separate the two groups of themes but moreover, by embedding East German game history into a bigger scope, allows to examine how Western innovations influenced the creation and production of digital games in the GDR.
Consequently the main focus of the thesis lies on the three gaming platforms ever to be produced in East Germany – the BSS01, the KC-computer series and the Polyplay – respectively their integration into the propaganda machine of the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany.
The BSS 01 (Bildschirmspiel 01), the GDR's first and only console was introduced in 1980 by the Halbleiterwerk Frankfurt (Oder). Its development however already began in 1977 – on behest of Karl Nendel, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Electronics, whose decision was influenced by the VIII party congress of the Socialist Unity Party in 1971 at which Erich Honecker announced the intention to improve the populationʻs supply of consumer goods in order to enhance the loyalty of the East Germans to their state (a move still influenced by the trauma of the 1953 uprising). Based on an American General Instrument's AY-3-8500 chip the BSS01 was basically a "Pong" clone whose prohibitive price of 500 East German Marks prevented it from appealing to a mass market: due to the fact that the GDR was placed under the COCOM embargo, which forbade the import of electronic devices into the Eastern Block, the main components had to be smuggled at enormous costs which were passed on to the consumers. These are the key points of the description.
True to Honecker's promise to amend the supply of the population with technical consumer goods the earliest models of the KC (Kleincomputer) series were introduced in 1984. Also based on Western technology – their core being the so-called “U880D“ circuit, the first microprocessor system of the GDR and a complete copy of the “Z80“ system by the Californian company Zilog – they quickly became the main platform for computer games. The thesis describes the different development stages of these computers, especially the circumstances of their initiation within the scope of the effort to establish a semiconductor industry and explains how they were utilised by citizen programmers (particularly in terms of content creation) as well as the state which, for example, even released official game collections (mainly consisting of variations of Western arcade games).
The pinnacle in terms of digital games in the GDR was introduced in 1986 with the Polyplay arcade machine which derived its name from its production facility, the VEB Polytechnik Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) as well as the fact that its memory was capable of storing up to eight games. The thesis analyzes the history of the Polyplay's origins; it moreover focuses on the content of the games on offer respectively deals with the question of what motivated the creation of this specific subject matter as well as the social component of the Polyplay, for example the fact that it could be played in the East German parliament.
The thesis closes with an overview of the integration of digital games into the East German administration in which three aspects are addressed: The GDR presenting itself to the world as a country which is capable of producing high technology and supplying it to its citizens; the attempt to have digital games contribute to the development of a socialist personality as well as the ostentation of an alleged moral superiority opposite to the West (in view of the mostly non-violent content of East German games as opposed to the violent "Star Wars" games of the capitalistic enemy); finally, and most importantly, the attempt to attract urgently need personnel for the vital microelectronic industry with the help of digital games in order secure the economic survival of the GDR.
Writing the whole thing was really fun, it was almost like modern archaeology. Not only the technology and the games themselves are interesting, but also what their use can tell us about East German society.
Unfortunately the whole book is written in German. However, if I find the time I might write up a more exhaustive summary or maybe even a journal article. If you're still interested – or can appreciate the charitable cause of supporting starving writers – the book can be bought here.
PS If you want to try some Poly Play games here's a German website where you can play Flash versions of them.
A few days ago, I started thinking about the music in my favourite video games. What started as a brief post on the subject grew to what I'm hoping will be a short series on the interconnection between video games and music.
Music has always been a part of video games, from the earliest bloops and beeps, right through to today's sweeping cinematic scores. As we've replayed level after level, so too have we listened to the same game sounds again and again. I'll bet that most of the readers of this blog still have the Mario or Tetris songs stuck in their head. These were simply, and partly so memorable because there was only so much music that could fit onto a game cartridge before it got in the way of memory needed to play the game.
-Pieces lacking lyrics, and designed to be played over game sounds
-Limited polyphony (though this last one probably more applicable to old-style video game music due to the limitations of the systems)
NPR has an excellent article and accompanying audio piece about the subject of video game soundtracks, and suggests that one of the goals of the first video game soundtracks, Space Invaders, was designed to get the users heart rate to increase as the game progressed. I think this line of thinking can certainly be seen in today's games, with their atmospheric soundtracks.
What do you think about the music in video games? Do you have a favorite video game song? Is there one that is particularly stuck in your head?
PS: If you're looking for that classic video game tune, you can probably find it at VGMusic.com
"1,378 (kilometers)" is a game designed by German media-art student Jens Strobe for the University of Design, Media and Arts in the city of Karlsruhe. Name after the length of the wall that used to divide East and West Germany during the Cold War, the game lets you play either as a refugee fleeing the East German state or a border guard charged with stopping them.
Being historically accurate, one of the means by which you have to stop people from leaving the country is shooting them, despite them being unarmed civilians. (The other choices are to arrest them or to join them.) This way more than 1,000 people were killed on the German-German border.
If the player decides to shoot an East German refugee, the regime will award him with a medal; however, the game will then fast forward to the year 2000 where the player has to face a trial for killing a civilian. The player is taken out of the game for about a minute which gives him the chance to reflect on what he did and the inhumane practices of the East German government. Moreover, killing too many refugees will result in a loss of points.
When I first read about the game a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was a great idea. (At a talk I once suggested the development of a game which aims to replicate the terror and paranoia caused by the East German secret police.)
Due to the simulational nature of digital games, players are able to experience the horrors of the inner German border first hand. It's like a documentary, except that it is playable. The difficulty and cruelty of the escape translate directly into the rules of the game, the player gets the chance to ask himself how he would have reacted and can vary his actions accordingly.
Games like "1,378 (kilometers)" are a great way to teach history to younger generations by means of their preferred medium. They are also a good example for how games can incorporate and convey national images and stories in order to keep their memory alive. With some enhancements it might work even better (e.g. the player is confronted with the biography of the person he just killed, or he has to face an East German military court if he fails to stop the refugee).
As such you'd expect a game like this of being able to contribute to the social acceptance of the medium. However, it mostly met harsh criticism.
Despite not being available yet, people like the director of the Berlin Wall Memorial, Axel Klausmeier, called the game “tasteless,” and an insult to the families of those killed along the border while trying to escape. He also said the game was “unsuitable” for teaching historical facts. “The seriousness of what once went on at the border can’t be portrayed in this way,” he said.
Another critic is Rainer Wagner, a man who spent two years in an East German prison following a botched escape attempt and who is now head of an organisation for victims of communist violence. He says the game “appealed to the basest human instincts”, and that “this game…is even worse than other shoot ‘em ups because normally in such games, one shoots at armed enemies – here, it is unarmed civilians.”
Others labelled the game "tasteless", "stupid" or explained how a university was not a suitable place for producing "killer games". Hubertus Knabe, chairman of a memorial place documenting the crimes of the East German secret police, even pressed charges against the maker of the game on the grounds of it glorifying violence.
If find these discussions remarkable for two reasons.
On one hand, it shows that digital games still haven't reached German society. Parts of the populace still don't regard them as a means for the communication of serious ideas – despite believing in their potential to incite violent acts, if the medium is supposedly that powerful why not use it for educational purposes?
There's a general unwillingness to engage with games, this "vulgar" medium; like cinema and television before it it has "the traits of a young street arab; [it is] an uneducated creature running wild among the lower strata of society" (Kracauer).
This cultural conflict – which is very distinct in Germany – is aided by a generational conflict. Despite being several decades old, to some people games are still a new form of technology which did not yet enter their cultural meaning horizon They are therefore destructively criticised as an unwholesome leisure pursuit and idle waste of time. Like every newly introduced technology, digital games cause suspicion and fear and are identified and stigmatised as deviants from the promoted social order by parts of the society lacking the knowledge and strategies to make sense of them.
On the other hand, if critics of the game explain that it should be banned because people can be shoot like rabbits, this is not so much a criticism of the game but of the system it aims to simulate.
The game's creator aims to replicate the horrors of the inner German border; the fact that people can be shoot is not his fault but is a direct result of the policies of the socialist East German regime. They are just reflected by the game's mechanics. In this respect the criticism is rather about getting even with the past, charges are pressed against the system of rules of Germany's second dictatorship.
Still, as a result of the public uproar the game did not get released. It was supposed to come out on 3 October, the 20th anniversary of Germany's reunification, however the release was postponed.
I'm really looking forward to this game, not only because it demonstrates games' potential but also because it has the courage to say something meaningful (in contrast to something like Medal of Honor).
As some of you may have noticed I didn't contribute much to BlogCampaigning lately (Editor's note: Yeah, I noticed). Not only was I busy working in my new job but I also prepared for my last Ph.D. exam: the oral disputation of my thesis.
Once my supervisors completed their written reports on my thesis, I was a given a date to orally defend it. I had 15 minutes to introduce my thesis to a panel made up of my supervisors, an observer for the protocol, lecturers and other students (it was a "public" event, i.e. any student of the school could attend the disputation). After the 15 minutes were over, my supervisors and the observer asked me questions regarding different aspects of – and issues with – my work.
Overall, the whole procedure lasted a bit longer than an hour. Once everything was over, I was awarded a "magna cum laude".
However, officially I can't call myself "Herr Dr. Schröder" yet, the reason being that I didn't yet publish my thesis. This is a usual procedure at German universities, you are only awarded the doctorate once you can proof that your work is available to the public. There are different ways to meet my university's requirement in this regard; however, the most common way is to publish the thesis as a traditional book. Dead trees it is!
The problem is not so much finding a publisher, but rather a publisher with a good reputation – and reasonable prices. The thing is, you have to pay them. There's a constant and huge supply of dissertations, and let's face it, most academic books won't sell like hotcakes. So you basically have to buy yourself into a (reputable) publisher.
So far I have been offered contracts ranging from 0 to 4,000 Euros. If you don't really care about your future renown in the academic world, you might as well go with the lowest offer. However, given that these publishers and their print-on-demand model will spam the market with pretty much everything – including course papers – don't expect much credit for you work. I heard of a uni that won't hire lecturers if they published their work with one of those vanity press companies.
As you can imagine, if the publisher is somewhat renowned, this is also reflected by their prices. These (ideally!) also reflect their services and the advertising measures they plan to undertake. Will they, for example, send out review copies? Which measures do they undertake to announce the publication of your work? Do they offer help in regard to proofreading or formatting your thesis? Can you reach your publisher by phone? (Apparently some publishers regard personal contact as obstructive to their work flow!) Which other marketing issues are planned and do they make sense?
I came across a publisher that was offering to advertise new academic releases on hip postcards. Somehow I doubt that this will help to increase sales. As much as I think that I wrote a good thesis that – for an academic work – is of comparatively broad appeal, I don't think that that this measure will encourage the public to spontaneously buy a 173,000 word book. Basically, it seemed like a good excuse to squeeze out some more money from their authors.
(Considering that my thesis was completely in English, publishers from the English speaking world also seem like an option. The problem is that some of them ask you to change parts of your work to give it more mass appeal [the ones I talked to anyway.] Unfortunately that is not an option as my uni's Ph.D. regulations state that you have to publish exactly the same text you handed in.)
The publisher I'm likely to go with seems fulfills most of the important criteria: Their author's support is good (personal phone calls!), they have several (sensible) marketing mechanisms in place, their prices – while high – are still comparatively reasonable, and they would also make my work available as an e-book; something I attach great importance too considering that my thesis is also of appeal to the Australian market.
There's also some light at the end of the financial tunnel. Some of the money you have to pay to get your work published is offset by the amount you get when you register with the VG Wort, a collecting society for authors. Since your work will get photocopied etc. you get reimbursed via a one-off payment – currently this would cover about two thirds of my costs. However, you only get this money the year after your book is released.
Of course I would also like to make my work available on the net but this is a bit of an issue – most academic institutions still highly value the cultural capital attached to traditionally published books and don't appreciate them being available for free. I will, however, try and find out if I can publish parts here on Blogcampaigning. After all, I want as many people as possible to read my work.
Earlier today, my friend Richard Yum posted a Tweet saying that Starcraft 2 sold 3 million copies last month and that he "bet like 90% of those were sold in Korea."
Its a smart bet for Richard if history is anything to go by. According to the infographic below, 50% of copies of the first Starcraft were sold to South Koreans, but that was ten-years ago. Since then, interest in the franchise has exploded: