Life, Work and Gaming in Sydney

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.

If it is, you will hear from me. I promise!


Us and THem - How does my city integrate?

Here's my latest post for the Goethe Institute's Cityscape's blog: “Us and Them - How does my city integrate?" 40% of Sydney's residents were born overseas; the people I work with have Indian, German, Polish, British, and Lebanese backgrounds.

As I explained in last month's entry, one of my colleagues is of Anglo-Indian origin, he was born in India but later moved to the UK. It was in Sydney however, that he finally felt home as everyone here has an "uprooted" background.

Given Australia's history – for a long time the the White Australia Policy was essence of antipodean nationalism – Sydney integrates remarkably well.

Several migration schemes and the final denunciation of the White Australia policy under Whitlam meant that Australia faced the highest rate of incoming migration in the OECD.

Within a very short amount of time Australia and its small and homogeneous base became a diverse country in which 22 per cent of the population were born overseas and another 18.3 per cent have at least one overseas born parent.

This meant that for governments from the 1970s onwards presiding over a multicultural Australia, new representations of identity were required. Waves of migration multiplied the complexities of identity and consequently led to the acknowledgment that any future constructions of the Australian 'national character' had to be plural.

Australia's culture became perpetually emergent, as are all 'new world' nations formed in the cusp of poly-ethnic migration.

However, I would argue that there still is a distinct element of "Australianess", the one element that actually helps to accommodate all these people to their new home.

Australia has always been proud of its egalitarianism, it was the country of the "fair go". The Becoming an Australian Citizen booklet which serves as a preparation for the naturalisation test, explains that "Australia prides itself on being an egalitarian society where no one is regarded as better than anyone else"

It is questionable in how far this egalitarianism expresses itself in social terms. Then again, Australia's egalitarianism was not simply an empty ritual. Australia's democracy centred around an egalitarianism of manners, the only egalitarianism to still exist today.

The manners of public life were traditionally direct, open and non-deferential making Australia's democracy first of all a democracy of manners. It is the way Australians blot out social differences when people meet face to face. It is the feel of Australian society that is so markedly egalitarian, not its social structure.

In contrast to the past, where the fair dinkum Aussie was based on exclusion, this egalitarianism makes makes for a populism of Australia in the multicultural era. It is a non-antagonistic mobilisation of a sense of community.

The only qualification for membership was that you were ordinary and unpretentious. There are some people inhabiting the country that were not really Australian: the pretentious, personalities whose codes of dress, speech and conduct are held to be artificial and distant.

In contrast to the 'primordial' national traditions of the more 'established' European nations with their long history of highbrow culture, the strongest core of Australia's identity was easy to share: anybody could be unaffected and open.

Admittedly, it is an egalitarianism of manners, social division are still strongly translated into spatial divisions, ask the residents of Sydney's west – a part of the city that also sees people living side by side in parallel societies that do not always conform to ideas of democracy and freedom.

And yes, there is also opposition to further migration, some are afraid of a "big Australia" and proclaim that the country is full. Not only do they oversee the potential benefits of a growing population, there's also a certain irony in proclaiming that a continent with 22 million inhabitants is "full".

Overall Sydney came has come a remarkably long way, for the most part its "us and us" than "us and them"


Adventures in Sydney

As some of you might have noticed, I haven't contributed much to Blogcampaigning lately; not only was I busy sorting out paperwork in order to be able to stay in Australia, but I also started a new job (editor's note: Oh, I've noticed!) As of this month, I started work as a lecturer for game design at Qantm college. It sure feels good to turn a life-long passion into a job.

As you can imagine, talking in front of 80 students in a second language and helping to develop part of the curriculum is pretty exciting. Experience in public speaking certainly helps, but when you walk in your first lecture, all eyes on you, people in the back complaining about not being able to hear anything, other students explaining that there's a microphone you don't know how to use – that's when your heart skips a beat.

A couple of lame zombie jokes later and the ice is broken. Hopefully they're enough to motivate the students to do work. Getting them to actually do something for the course is not going to be too easy, given its rather dry content: project management… Not the most electrifying lecture, but certainly necessary. Somehow I'll get them there!

I also started blogging for the Goethe Institute, Germany's global cultural institute. Their Sydney office started the CityScapes blog. This blog:

aims to make visible what unites us and what may divide us, to create an awareness for the necessity to act locally in response to global issues. It endeavours to research the human condition of the young urban dweller in the 21st century.

Every month three bloggers in 12 cities all over the globe write about different aspects of these cities. There's a text blogger (me), a video blogger and a photo blogger.

Step by step, they will create a kaleidoscope of impressions, opinions, ideas and… plain fun.

In January we covered “My year in the city - Work, Play and get out of here!”; this month we looked into “Going Local - Neighbourhood, Kiez and Suburb in my city”; March will be about a theme you've all been waiting for: "Sex and the City."

You can find my first posts here and here.


Where It All Began (4 years of BlogCampaigning)

As a follow-up to my post of awesome pictures the other day, I thought I'd post this gem of a picture:

It is a picture of Jens and Espen, taken sometime in September, 2006. Espen had just launched BlogCampaigning as part of his thesis at Griffith University, and Jens and I were just starting to write posts for the site.

In the four years since then, we've gone on to do some different things but the three of us have mostly kept in touch via BlogCampaigning.

Thanks for reading - we hope BlogCampaigning is around for another four years for you. And for us.


Australia got a new Prime Minister - and why you should care

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was ousted by his own party this week; he increasingly lost support because of backflips on election promises, badly implemented policies and the suggestion to introduce a super tax on mining profits. The polls began to worsen and the power hungry, poll-driven Senior fraction of the Labor Party decided to waste him. His successor is Julia Gillard, Australia's first female Prime Minister.

"Why should I care?", you might wonder.

Under Rudd Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, tried to introduce his much criticized internet filter, an issue I covered on this blog before. I won't repeat what's wrong with it but just would like to point to this video as an example of Conroy's competence.

Conroy also called Google's Street view snafu "the single biggest breach of privacy in history"; however, this did not stop his department to craft an Orwellian scheme that may require Australian ISPs to log and retain details of all people's online communications and Web browsing activity.

At the same time no one really knows what's going on because the government imposed secrecy provisions on all the parties with which it is negotiating in this matter.

"[T]he process remains completely opaque and we are being asked to agree to the imposition of a generalised surveillance regime with nothing but the vaguest reassurances about its scope, intent and the potential hazards of abuse, misuse, maladministration and outright oppression. (Well, actually, we're not being asked at all. It's just happening."

It gets even scarier given the government's intention to link the information gathered from monitoring internet activities to identifiers such as pass port numbers.

This opens up...

...the real possibility of mashing together all of the personal information available in your data matching matrix to (your income, your tax history, you bank account details, your medical records for starters) to your online life - your tweets, your Facebook account, your email, your Chatroulette history, your 4square tracking data, your blog entries, the link you clicked not realising it was taking you to a snuff porn site, the link you clicked knowing it was taking you to a celebrity porn site, the comments you leave here today, all of it.

However, now that Rudd is gone there is a chance that things might change. 

Under Gillard the Labor Party is likely to look to move on from all the unpopular policies that have been driving down its popularity; accordingly, rumours are rife that Conroy will be replaced by Senator Kate Lundy.

As Thenextweb points out this is something also Internet users outside of Australia should appreciate:

You should care because of the precedent it creates, and the global flow on effect such a precedent would create.

After all, similar schemes were considered in other countries, one of the being my native Germany.

However, the question remains in how far Lundy is really able to achieve a change in policies and in how far the Labor Party is willing to distance itself from previous policies.

Explains Thenextweb

While the opportunity to replace Conroy may be too good to pass up, the reality for the electorate is that no woman is an island, particularly in Government, and without support for a radical departure from the existing strategy, Lundy will be as effective as the man who preceded her.

At the same time she does seem more competent than Conroy and has history of engaging with new technology and its role in Government. So there's hope of Australia getting over its traditional conservative censorship hangover – something we should all be grateful for.


Snobs of Old Europe (Jens Schroeder in Australia)

Behind the scenes of BlogCampaigning, I'm often giving Jens a hard time for not contributing more often. Some of it is good-natured ribbing about how he's lazy, some of it is a little more serious. The reality is that for the past few months he's been busy finishing up his PhD, and is now on a speaking tour of Australia, so I really shouldn't be so hard on him. (Espen, however, has no excuses.)

Part of Jens's hard work has paid off in the form of recognition by the Sydney Morning Herald, which published an excerpt from the abstract of one of his presentations:

"For Europeans, as the Swiss banker father of a friend of mine once said, Australians are the plebeians of the Western world.

"The clichés were presented by the editor-in-chief of the German broadsheet Die Welt, Thomas Schmid, last year in an editorial. He argued that Australia lacks civilisation, everyone is dressed informally, there is a lack of social differentiation and the only thing setting the upper class apart from the middle is its higher income.

"It is an empty place with nothing in the middle—in geography nor identity. These are prejudices Australians have had to deal with almost since the arrival of the First Fleet, a fate they shared with other New World societies such as the United States."

Read the full article here.


My Trip to Australia

As you may have noticed, I haven't contributed much to blogcampaigning lately. The main reason is that I was organizing a trip to Australia. Now that I have finished my Ph.D. thesis about the differences in perception of digital games and mass media in Germany and Australia, I'm going to introduce it at several Aussie universities. If there're any Australian readers out there, I'd love to meet you!

I'll be in Queensland from 1 April to 11 April. I'll be giving a presentation at QUT on 7 April (Z2 Block, Level 3, Room 306, Creative Industries Precinct, 2pm – 4pm). Later that day, I'll probably be at the Mana Bar.

From 11 April to 15 April I'll be in Sydney. On 13 April I'll give a talk at the Centre for Independent Studies. It's not game-related, but it'll deal with the question why Europeans often see Australians as the plebeians of the Western world.

On 15 April I'll arrive in Melbourne. I'll be at the University of Melbourne on the 16th, at Monash at on the 19th and at RMIT on the 20th. I don't know the exact times yet, but let's hope I'll be able to get to sleep in.

I'll continue to Adelaide on the 21st. No talks this time, but I'll meet Melanie Swalwell who has done a lot of research on the history of digital gaming in Australia. I'm looking forward to some exciting talks with her. Maybe I'll also get to meet the people behind the Gamers4Croydon party.

On 24 April I'll fly to Perth. My presentation at Murdoch University will be either on the 27th or 28th. Again, some details still have to get figured out.

In the first week of May I'll give a talk at my alma mater, the Gold Coast campus of Griffith University.

And that's pretty much it. For further details check my twitter account, as I'll be posting updates about the times and dates of the talks.


Australia's contrary Internet tendencies

Australia is a weird country. Given that the country's broadband is amongst the worst in the developed world, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a plan to build a national broadband network. The ambitious project will take up to eight years, cost $43 billion, create tens of thousands of jobs and will see fibre-optic cable laid out to individual houses.

The fibre-optic network, providing speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, will cover 90 percent of Australians, while the rest will have access to a mix of wireless and satellite connections.

And yet Rudd lost thousands of Twitter followers in the last weeks. What happened?

In a move that somehow contradicts everything the national broadband plan stands for, the federal government decided to push ahead with its internet censorship plan.

Under this scheme a mandatory filter will block sites found on the secret Australian Communications and Media Authority blacklist and blacklists held by other countries. Moreover, a wide scope of content could be prohibited under the proposed filtering regime. As the Australian Google blog explains:

Refused Classification (or RC) is a broad category of content that includes not just child sexual abuse material but also socially and politically controversial material—for example, educational content on safer drug use—as well as the grey realms of material instructing in any crime, including politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia.

As I've pointed out before, the scheme is expensive, ineffective and easy-to-circumvent. It potentially slows down an already slow internet and cripples Australia's competitiveness in the global marketplace. The scope of the planned scheme also sets a precedent for a Western democracy by uniquely combining a mandatory framework and a much wider scope of content.

Similar to the controversy surrounding the introduction of an R-18 rating for digital games, this move seems to be a case of a vocal minority of social conservatives trying to impose their worldview on the rest of society.

One of the first groups to be backgrounded on the results of the filter trial was the Australian Christian Lobby, and not the entire Australian public. It seems the government is concerned about defying those who act as (self-appointed) guardians of community standards.

On the other hand, the censorship scheme does not enjoy the overwhelming support of the Australian public. A poll that was commissioned by GetUP! found only four percent of Australians want the government to be responsible for protecting children online. 

The move alienates potential Labor voters, while the people who care about these issues are unlikely to vote for the party in the first place. It would also be interesting to see what would happen if the Liberals, now under leadership of conservative Tony Abbott, were to win the next election.

It seems that if fast broadband is introduced into Australia, its citizens will only be allowed to use it on the government's terms. If something violates the moral standards of the country's leaders it must be hidden or ruled out. Rudd already demonstrated this tendency towards social engineering in the discussions about the controversial pictures of Bill Henson.

Australia, it seems, still suffers from a conservative hangover that already led to unparalleled censorship campaigns in the Western World—90 years ago. 

However, times and media have changed. These days the concern is not what will and will not be blocked, but who will and will not be able to get around it.

As tech writer Kathryn Small puts it:

"Conroy will not be censoring the internet. He'll be censoring people who do not know much about the internet." [A]nyone with a vested interest who knows enough about software design will be able to circumvent the system. "The real problem is Conroy will create a two-tiered system [with] a massive disparity between the 'haves' and 'have nots' of computer literacy."