Category: Theory

The Answer to the Ultimate Question

No, it’s not 42. And besides, the ultimate question isn’t “What is the meaning of life?” It’s “Why are people so damn addicted to Angry Birds!?!?”

Charles Mauro, a human factors engineer, looked into this big question himself. What compelled him to explore the Angry Birds phenomenon is in the numbers: Worldwide, people spend 200 million minutes a DAY flinging bad-tempered fowl at green helmeted swine. That translates to 1.2 billion hours per year. To put that in perspective, a total of 100 million hours has been put into creating and editing content on Wikipedia, since its inception. Mind. Blown. (And all hope humanity lost)

So, what did Mr. Mauro conclude? Why do we spend our time like this? It has to do with the game’s simple interaction model. But it is not simply that the UI is simple; it is both simple and engaging. Why? Because of “the carefully scripted expansion of the user’s mental model of the strategy component and incremental increases in problem/solution methodology.”

He also goes into many little details that make Angry Birds unbelievably addicting: (continued after break) Continue reading


“Exchanging Hats”

Ok. So, I know I am jumping the gun a bit by talking about gender issues in gaming, but I just cannot resist anymore. Leigh Alexander wrote in her blog about how she is tired about being a woman in games. Is it so wrong to want to be seen as a person? Being a female in any profession leads to the potentiality of becoming a hypocrite or a role model, which Alexander speaks about very passionately. I’ve often wondered how I should feel about these things, but found myself pondering the “Feminist Whore” skill issue in Dead Island. As in, I was genuinely curious how that would play out in gender wars more than I felt affronted.

Elizabeth Bishop–one of my favorite poets, as evidenced by the title of this post–only ever wanted to be known for her work. How is she remembered? As a woman poet or as a lesbian poet. She felt as though her identity was in her art itself, but still considered herself a feminist. Leigh Alexander grapples with similar issues. Though she has infiltrated the boys club of the gaming world and feels as though she should “represent,” she comments about how she feels pressured into assuming that role. Rather than identify herself as a female gamer, she identifies herself as a designer, speaker, journalist, and editor…who just happens to be a woman. This, I can say I agree with wholeheartedly.

As Gee states, there are multiple layers to our identities. Children are only beginning this journey and are highly impressionable. On the one hand, I feel grateful that there is this conversation about gender equality in the gaming industry but, on the other, I wonder where the line is between forward-thinking conversation, commoditization of genders, and reinforcing age-old stereotypes or over emphasizing gender through the former. I’m still trying to figure out where I stand. Essentially, I think too much and have been trying to analyze this issue from every side. My mind has been spinning over the readings all week and I cannot wait to hear others’ opinions on gender roles, universal game deign, etc.

Behaviorism and Existential Crisis

[x-posted at HistoricLee Relevant]

Skinner’s behaviorism has generated intense debate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the role of free will.

In videogames, the game world has been constructed by game designers with a set of game rules, a world within which you (meaning your character) operate.  Some games provide a greater amount of latitude with regard to possible actions within the game, others more.  For example, there are a very limited number of actions to be performed, levels to be explored, and coins to gather in Super Mario Brothers.  By contrast, World of Warcraft offers many more options with regard to the same; more actions, more levels, more coins.  Nevertheless, your actions are constrained.  Your choices are limited.  This is what might be called behavioralism light.  Hardcore behavioralists would argue that the game world, scaffolded by game rules, actually compels a certain set of reactions.  There are no choices, no other options; there is only the game.  There are only stimuli and response.  The real world operates this way as well.  The world, scaffolded by rules of biology, physics, chemistry, etc., compels a certain set of reactions from us.  These actions are not the result of free will or choice but, instead, they spring from reactions to stimuli.

Behaviorists fail to appropriately explain the real world’s “game designers.”  In point of fact, though, they have very little interest in such matters.  For them, it doesn’t matter if the Big Bang created these conditions or if Vishnu sat on top of giant turtle while Jesus prattled on about talents and wine and such and then the universe coalesced into being as a result of their divine conversation (which, I imagine, would be something like the best Seinfeld episode ever).

“[Free will] is a fiction…By discovering the causes of behavior, we can dispose of the imagined internal cause…Once you have found those causes there is less need to attribute to an internal act of will and, eventually, I think, the need to attribute nothing to it.”

So, for Skinner, there is no free will, and our participation in videogames seems to confirm this suspcion.  But, this may be the point at which the utility of videogames as an analogy for life stops because, in the end, I can put down the controller.