flickering colours


Close the Gate

I write this because I see people who I’d have thought too strong to be overcome falter in the past few hours. People too valuable to be let go without a fight. I write this in order to stand in support of those women, in particular, but also anyone who has borne the brunt of this grotesque circus of furious intolerance brought on by “The Gamers.”

Before I make my position on this issue clear, allow me to first explicitly outline the place from which I write. I hold a PhD in Media & Communications, in Game Studies. This means I have dedicated my entire adult life to understanding videogames as media, in the context of other media, and therefore in their social context in contemporary society. I am a humanities scholar, so I am interested and educated in the relationships that people have with their media, and with each other via or because of, their use of media. I am defined by virtue of holding a doctorate, and having pursued both a research and teaching career, as something of an expert on the nature of videogames and media. No one can take that from me, now.


On “White Knights”

Yeah, this is the bad guy we all have to watch out for. Apparently.

Yeah, this is the bad guy we all have to watch out for. Apparently.

White Knight has come to be my most personally loathed term on the internet, probably because it its most likely to be the one aimed at me (yeah I can be selfish, sorry). But adding to that, mind-blowing levels of ignorant hypocrisy infest the term. So let's get straight to the point: the act of calling someone a white knight is in itself one of the more horrifying acts of sexism I've run across. Essentially, white knights are men who enter into debates, conversations or arguments about any gender issues, who support the same, or largely the same, arguments that a female participant supports. The term is used pejoratively, to accuse that "ally" of being somehow sexist themselves. 


ArmA 2 Wasteland: Development vs. Design

Let's talk a little about game design. As a researcher and teacher, I sometimes find it difficult to express in words exactly what it is that game design is, or what I hope to teach to outsiders--even to gamers themselves sometimes. Capturing exactly what the difference is between design decisions and development process is difficult, since "good" design often fades into the background because it just works. As a player, one rarely notices all the individual rules and decisions that have been made, the experience occupies the conscious mind.

Discussing game design is difficult because it is a second-order task. A designer constructs the rules, environment, etc. but always in hopes that the player will experience something that is greater than the sum of those parts. When set in motion, the player(s), rules, environment and fiction all combine and create something that is not obviously discernible from a list of the game's rules. Further, since it is the player whom we as designers are trying to affect somehow, their perception and personal interpretation of what is happening is more important than what the game design document says should be the result. (Not that players can't be wrong or ignorant, but we still have to deal with their perception of our work.)

Finally, discussing the design of the kinds of games I like is very difficult, because there is very little opportunity for experimentation to verify any hypotheses about the way the game works. That is, I'm not often able to change one rule and see how it plays out. The games are sealed and finished, I can't tamper with them myself very often. Even in franchise games such as Assassin's Creed or Mass Effect, which are largely similar, many changes have been made between iterations, so it becomes difficult to nail down exactly what cause has led to which effect.


Videogames and the Gillette Model

Gillette Fusion Power Gamer Razor

Apparently gamers have a particular kind of facial hair needs. Also we're all men.

Lately I’ve noticed a slew of products I can buy, which will subsequently force me to buy ‘refills’ of some description, in order to keep using them. On top of this, I have noticed an increase in the number of household products which determine how and when the consumable is used, to better schedule the re-purchases. Here are a couple examples:

  • Dettol hand wash – dumps a precise amount of soap into your hand through the magic of infra-red sensors. Of course you can’t fill it up with any old soap…
  • Auto-bug and freshener sprays – two different ways to fill your house with a fine mist of chemical sprays, set to a timer to empty the can right on schedule.
  • Lots of cleaning supplies and body cleansers have transformed from bottles into wipes, which you run out of at a pretty steady rate. You can’t really use just ‘a little bit’ of a wet, soapy wipe the way you can use just a little bit of soap. Those cages you hang in the toilet to freshen it up operate on a similarly automatic principle, as do air or water filters.

The ‘Gillette model’ is a method of selling consumer products where the initial buy-in is very low-cost, but relies on the purchase of a complementary product which is relatively more expensive, and certainly a higher profit for the manufacturer. The most famous example is the source of its name, Gillette razor blades: you can buy the handle for your razor (with one or two blades) very cheaply. But the new blades are extremely expensive by comparison. But you must buy them, or the handle is useless, right? This isn’t all smoke and mirrors—obviously many products like disposable razors, ink-jet printer cartridges, and air fresheners need to be replaced, they are consumable. It’s the pricing model that’s important to note.

What it achieves is a more predictable, steady flow of revenue for the particular manufacturer. Since you have to buy new razor blades occasionally, if you already own a Gillette razor handle, you’re more likely to buy Gillette refills. The schedule mentioned above simply regulates this a bit. Dettol want you to buy their soap regularly, so they make sure you use a certain amount of it every time you wash your hands. The automatic freshener sprays promise to fill the air with a pleasant scent to mask odours before you even notice they are there—also they use up a can of spray like clockwork.

What the hell does potpourri spray, soap and shaving have to do with videogames??