Laurier Brantford professor Scott Nicholson wants to help his students change the world — one game at a time.
Nicholson is leading the university’s innovative Game Design and Development program, unique to the province, which debuted this year at the campus.
Friday marked the official opening of new Brantford Games Network Lab, known as the BGNlab, located on the main floor of the university’s Grand River Hall on Colborne Street.
The former credit union building has been transformed into a gamers’ paradise.
Students wearing white lab coats welcomed dozens of guests into the lab outfitted with computers, white boards, screens, game tables and a huge collection of board games. It’s here that students will work on their gaming projects.
A lounge area, equipped with plug-and-play screens, will be used by students to test games. In an area called the Zone, students will mostly have fun with various gaming consoles and high-end PCs.
The goal of the lab, said Nicholson, is to spark engagement and collaboration between Laurier students, community organizations and local game enthusiasts to develop “made-in-Brantford” solutions to improve lives through games and play.
Read the whole article at the Expositor here.
As you can surmise, the past four months has been something of a blur with starting a new program, full-time work, raising a puppy (yes, he’s still here. More on that later!), house work and frivolous stuff like sleeping and eating. It also occurred to me at the Friday launch event that as a part-time student, I’ll be part of four or five different cohorts of students, which is a shame because I really like the ones I’m with now. I know I’m in the right place though, because half of my insomnia lately has been on account of having Too Many Ideas, which is a good problem for a creative type person to have. It was the same when I was starting Paucity, and we all know how well that’s been going. That’s not even sarcasm, it’s been going pretty well!
I also want to re-iterate again what a friendly program GDD is to mature students; because it’s not solely about programming, or AAA games, I genuinely feel anyone, of any age, with an interest in games and social change, would do very well here. Hint, hint, pretty much all of my twitter friends.
Unless you’ve been surfing the internet the past week from a cave on Mars, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, you’ve got at least a passing familiarity with Twitch Plays Pokemon. If not, a brief summary: someone decided to stream Pokemon Red/Blue via Twitch tv, and program it so that chat commands (up, down, left, right, a, b, select) correspond to the player character’s movements in game. Basically:
What’s exciting about this is, aside from the hours of entertainment watching Red navigate Giovanni’s tower maze, is that the program essentially allows us to watch and participate in a simplified version of the infinite monkey theorem. Not only that, since someone set up a competing stream called RNG Plays Pokemon, we can compare how the keyboard smashing gestalt of 80K humans hammering away compares to a computer controlling it all. (Sort of: Twitch is playing Red/Blue, while RNG is playing Silver). All the same, gestalt beats singularity by 1 badge currently.
Obviously, with only 6 key presses to complete a game compared to the infinite monkey theorem of 26 key presses to complete a play, we’re looking at probability many magnitudes larger in favour of Twitch. Plus, to be fair to the monkeys, they’re probably not as familiar with Hamlet as most of the under-40 set is with Pokemon. Even so, completing simple tasks in Pokemon has been taking anywhere from hours to days. The length of time required to watch until something significant happens is so prohibitive, it’s baffling in its popularity.
At some point, the creator added in a new form of play in addition to the chaos of the PC responding to every keypress, called democracy.
Players vote by either typing in “anarchy” or “democracy” into chat to move the bar in one direction or another. Democracy mode only moves the character after a key has received a certain number of votes within a 20 sec period – for example, if ten people type “down”, and five type “up”, the character will move down. It’s slower, but progress is surer. A lot of viewers (myself included) feel that anarchy mode is the purer method of play. Think of it as a Nuzlocke challenge for thousands of people at the same time. Released your Charmander? Tough nuts, only Pidgeot can save you now.
Here’s the really fascinating thing about TPP, though. Not only is the game progressing, but people are weaving in narratives and stories relating to the canonical journey of the player character. The aforementioned release of Charmander (nicknamed “Abby”), really did happen. An attempt was made to evolve an Eevee into a Vaporeon to enable Red to use surf, but due to a series of unfortunate spending events, he was unable to acquire a water stone, and they ended up with Flareon instead. When trying to deposit Flareon to withdraw another pokemon capable of using surf, Abby was released, and the myth passed into legend:
The Helix Fossil, due to its inability to be used or thrown away, gained a great deal of favour, as did the Moon stone.
The deep-seated philosophical urge to narrate the progression of Red in the game echoes the concept of existential angst, as Sartre saw it, where human recognition of the utter indifference of situations and objects. There’s no sense of consciousness in them, which can cause great distress to the soul. We might not think of it so much when looking at a stapler, but it’s certainly present when gazing out at the infinitely expanding universe – a panicky fluttering of uselessness.
Some of this is alleviated by the nature of the game – there is a defining end, a sense of accomplishment in beating the game. (Whether that’s beating the elite four, or catching every pokemon varies from player to player.) despite the fact that most of the situations in the game result in no proper “progression”, so to speak, there is still a heady sense of freedom in being that dick who types “down” instead of “up” to consult the Helix Fossil. Again.
But all of those individual situations of themselves are not linked in any meaningful way. They’re the immediate expressions of actions taken by others, and expressed through an object (in this case, a computer program.) In between watching Red circle loops through Team Rocket HQ, there’s still a powerful need to extract meaning through connecting these actions via narrative. Hence, False Prophet, Bird Jesus, and so on.
Twitch plays pokemon is fascinating because it’s an 8-bit representation of all that German philosophical bullshit about the nature of being that you strained to wrap your head around in undergrad. How do we tell our stories? What is the meaning of our lives in a cold, uncaring universe? When we’re on our deathbeds, we can look back at the journey, all the ledges we fell of off, the hours spent in a dark elevator alone, and say to ourselves, “At least we beat Blue.”
In Pidgeot’s name, amen.
By now you should be aware of the fact that I love women-run anything. But I especially love women-run things in male dominated fields. When I found out that the next local workshop of Ladies Learning Code was going to be an intro to Ruby, there was no way I wasn’t going to be there.
My forays into Twine have proven fruitful, and dangerous. Fruitful, because it was a good early example of how anyone, of any age, can begin to learn code. Dangerous, because when I got hung up on an element, I would sit there, staring and googling and testing things until I got it to work. (And when it did, that fruitful feeling came back in a giddy, euphoric kind of way!)
Programming is in my genes – my mom was an avid programmer back when your code was punched out on cards. She wrote a programming for teaching a class that was so popular, it was used by the whole Board of Education. Until some enterprising jerk decided to edit my mom’s name out of the code, and put their own – when the entire program unwrote itself as a protection method. Bad. Ass.
I think programming is erroneously thought of as a strictly sciencey, left-brain activity. It’s helpful, in a way – in order to talk a computer’s language, learning how to process logical steps is helpful. But I was surprised to find out how much creativity is required for even the simplest programming. The day was broken down into learning the basic vocabulary of Ruby – classes, methods, arrays, objects, etc. As we learned about them, we did practice puzzles to see them in action. Then we used what we’d learned to create a handful of small applications.
Going through the answers together with the class showed where creativity is really important because not only do you have to anticipate how the computer is going to interpret your code, but you need to anticipate how the user running your program is going to think. For example:
Our first project was to create a short looping program that asked the user what their favourite colour was, ending the loop when either they said no to all the options, or when they said yes to a colour. BUT the solution as presented meant the user had to type in ‘yes’ (or “Yes” or “yes.”, etc) exactly as the code specified. Most people don’t do that! So the code would theoretically work, but might not be very user-friendly.
Ruby appealed to me on two levels – one in that it’s very simple and user-friendly to learn, but also because of that simplicity, it meant that it would be easy for me to ask questions about the end user product and how to improve it. (The second one, a blackjack game, I completed successfully also but there would’ve been ways to make it better, like adding in a delay feature between deals). I leapt ahead to studying more about Ruby Gems and Rails, and what I could do with that – you can’t do much with Ruby as a layperson, the instructor told me. So why limit myself to being a layperson? If you have an idea for an app and what you want it to do, there’s a way to figure out how to get your program to do it.
Plus, the setting was a comfortable learning environment to test things out and ask questions. Men were welcome to attend the event, but registration was set up so they would never exceed women in attendance. Our instructor and half the mentors were women, as well. Overall, it was an excellent experience and I’m looking forward to attending another in the future. (I’ve heard there was an HTML/CSS one coming up, which sounds awesome.) From my personal experience, the aim of Ladies Learning Code isn’t so much to teach you programming on its own, but to break down the mystifying barriers of being a “Programmer”. Not that programming isn’t challenging, or a difficult job (particularly when the competitive field is so glutted!) But it’s good to know that even people who work as developers, or software engineers get stuck and say “Fuck it, I’m just gonna google.” The developers I know are excited to get more people working with Ruby, or Python or Java – they don’t want to be some super-secret club filled with rarefied, socially awkward nerds.
Have you dabbled in programming? What was it like? What did you make?
After a lengthy discussion with @stungravy last night on mumble, I’ve come around to the idea that it’s not as awful an idea as it sounds from the company’s point of view – which is, of course, why they do things. He pointed out that while consoles can have a pricey entrance point of 300-500 dollars, they don’t always remain that high and that, unlike gaming PCs, the console is all the investment you need to play the next however many years of games that generation puts out. With a PC, SG said, you are constantly upgrading pieces – or even your whole rig – to keep up with new graphics and game demands on your hardware.
It also reminded me that only yesterday I was reading a very similar argument in T.L Taylor’s Raising The Stakes which examines the socio-cultural boundaries shaped within the e-sport genre. I was most especially interested in the chapters dealing with e-sports players aping athletic masculinities, and how that effects female e-sport players (and women who game in general), but also tackles race and gaming. The findings she cites indicates that Hispanic-American and African American youth are more likely than Caucausian youth to play digital games, but also that their primary choice of gaming method was console over PC (Taylor 2012: 129) @stungravy’s observation that a gaming console is a much sounder investment over time plays into this, but also the talk I had with Gloria at Corgi Island over AIM – console games are more communal, especially now that LAN parties have more or less died out in favour of gaming over Vent or Mumble. All you need to do for a game of NHL 13 is some extra controllers. While we can all remember a few console e-sports tournaments, it’s hard to deny the bulk of them focus on PC only titles like Starcraft, Warcraft Arenas, League of Legends, etc.
It would be interesting to collect data on other games that have both PC and console ports – Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed come to mind – and see the demographics on those, compared to games that traditionally are only available in one format or the other, and if Taylor’s observations from earlier studies hold true in those cases.
I can’t deny the fact that Diablo 3 on consoles will probably draw more players into what was, despite its dubious staying power – an enjoyable game. Whether or not this will draw old players back remains to be seen: the promised death match system has yet to be released, if ever; there hasn’t been any word to date on whether the auction house systems will remain within their respective spheres or if it will be possible to trade and sell items from console to PC and vice versa. But I will begrudgingly admit Blizzard got one of the biggest rises out of the fanbase during an otherwise lackluster performance by Sony, and retract my initial knee jerk reaction.
(Though not my plea to bring Leah back. Never that.)
So there’s a makeup company making its name on the cache of nerdism, which, whatever, I partake of nerdy things and cosmetics, so I can’t really judge someone for the combination of the two. They have a lip gloss called “Tentacle Grape”, (edit Feb 18 2013: Now called Willful Wyvern, apparently!) which aside from being hideous as sin, is also a pretty tasteless joke, which let’s be real, is so transparent my nana would have seen it. And I love nana, but she’s getting on in years.
Which has upset a few people, myself included. It was mentioned at them on their twitter, and also talked about on tumblr, and while initial responses in private were professional, eventually it came to a public vote and snide as fuck blog post.
Hey, remember this? Remember how well it turned out? Yeah. And that was just for a character model in an advertisement
The public is full of terrible idiots with awful track records with pretty much any sensitive topic, but asking for opinions on a rape joke, among a group of nerds, is just so mindbogglingly stupid I could barely wrap my head around it except rape as a joke is still all too common because “it’s meaning has changed.” or “I’m not actually advocating rape.” (Even though you totally are.) This is not a new or particularly surprising opinion, nor is democratically putting it to a vote to prove that majority doesn’t think rape is a problem, hurray we solved rape!
I had a really great experience last night having a meal with about 12 people I really love and respect from all varieties of life and careers: old priest, young priest, teachers, doctors, dental hygienist, etc. And me, Angry Feminist the First (though hopefully not the last) of this circle. You know how you go home for the holidays and you cringe whenever any public issue is brought up around pie, because inevitably it’s going to end in shouting and tears? This didn’t happen there. We talked about everything – sexism and racism around rap music and rock music, male privilege, problems with the white saviour attitude towards other nations, issues of the church adopting social justice language but not practice, all sorts of sticky, uncomfortable topics.
We didn’t all agree. But I came out of that dinner feeling revitalized, not beat down. If we couldn’t see eye to eye on an issue to the same extremes I might take it, they still saw me as a person and valued my ideas and supported the way I want to go about perpetuating them in speech and actions, of myself and others. It gave me hope that not backing down, calling things out, drawing the eye of privileged people to their straight privilege or their male privilege, while painful and difficult, can have value still.
Okay. Let’s go back to the beginning. This is a makeup company. They sell lipgloss. And the hill they want to die on is making a giant, public mess over something that could have been easily avoided. I have enough BPAL to last me a lifetime, so I don’t frequent the company any more, but there’s been a number of issues with their oils: copyright infraction, lack of a component, too time-consuming to make. They simply posted a note under the news section. “Oil of the Damned is being retired because blah blah reason. If we can find a new component/easier formula it will come back (under a new name because copyright issues)” Some people were like “Aw, man my favourite perfume!” when something was retired due to component probs, but I never – never once, and let me tell you the BPAL forums are not for the faint of heart – saw someone go “shit a new name, WELL I NEVER”
People bring out “Well, if I give in to everything people says is offensive, I won’t be able to say anything ever!” They always say this! And yet, I haven’t seen it a) stop stupid people from saying offensive shit or b) stopped thoughtful people from going, “Actually, yeah, I found this word that works great in lieu of b*tch.” Someone will say, “but I’ll apologize and they’ll still keep hounding me!” Really? because my experience has always been that a genuine apology and effort to not repeat the mistake has ended a potential shitstorm, even if the person correcting me still doesn’t particularly like me.
So: companies. Celebrities. People on twitter who don’t seem to know shit about the public eye of social media and blogging. You can do things quietly. It’s okay. Have convinction in your own decisions. Retire Tentacle Grape and release it under a new name. Absorb the complaints and say, “Thanks but no thanks, we’re keeping it as is.” Don’t put it to a public vote and then complain it should’ve been kept to email, okay? Unless you want this to be posted on dozens of blogs, because congratulations, it was a massive success.