Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Next Month: Reel 2 Real

The Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth is coming up next month (February 23 - March 2, 2007), with some pretty intriguing films on the schedule. The unofficial theme this year seems to be boys' culture which, considering the amount of press and moral panic around boys and violence these days, is not a bad thing at all.

Here's my short list of feature-length "i must-see's":
We Shall Overcome: A Danish film set in 1969 about a 13-year old who, inspired by the televised speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., takes it upon himself to challenge a headmaster and school system who are failing to uphold the newly established ban on corporal punishment.

Treasure of the White Falcons: Think The Outsiders meets The Goonies in Germany. This coming of age movie seems to have everything - children's gangs, lost treasure, a secret cave...I'm there.

The Horror Bus: A Dutch film (based on a popular book series) about Onnoval, an 11-year old who writes fantasy revenge-themed horror stories as a way of coping with his outsider status at school, until one day a mystical (??) being steals his stories and starts bringing them to life. Our would-be villain thus finds himself pushed into the role of reluctant hero, as he sets out to retrieve the stories before anything bad really happens. I like the idea here and the distinction the film seems to be drawing between fantasy and reality, particularly within the context of violent and darker themes, which are such a normal-yet-demonized part of childhood.

Others to catch include many of the short films (several of which were made by teens and young adults), and two more films exploring unique perspectives into boys' culture, The Boy Inside and Boy Called Twist.

Nicktropolis has arrived

More developments in the Kids' TV Goes MMOG front. Nickelodeon is finally ready to launch its kid-MMOG project, which it has *cleverly* named "Nicktropolis" (hmmm - sounds vaguely familiar doesn't it?). We can now add MTV to the growing list of kidnet giants hoping to cash in on the Second Life/MMOG euphoria that seems to have spread throughout the commercial media and children's industries. The site, just like all the others, will blend social networking, gaming and user-generated content with existing (TV) character-brands and programming content. According to Reuters:
Children will be able to create their own personalized 3D rooms on the site, which launches on Tuesday, and move through Nicktropolis by taking on a self-designed 3D avatar similar to those on popular virtual world Second Life.
The site will feature gaming, online video, popular Nickelodeon brands and other elements to help children interact with each other or Nickelodeon characters in real time.

You can read more (but not much more) about it in today's Reuters, or here at PaidContent.org, or you can check it out for yourself here.

You will note that -- similar to the Disney.com revamp and CBBC's planned venture -- Nickelodeon's MMOG has incorporated an array of so-called safety measures (in collaboration with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children). This aspect of the sites should not go unexamined...with DOPA-esque legislation back on the block via the recently proposed 'Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act' it will be interesting to see how children's rights and/or agency are limited in the hopes of quelling parental anxieties about online predators and bullying.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Child Tangible Interaction

Yesterday, I went to SFU Surrey to hear Alissa Antle (my new supervisory committee member, yay!!!) give a grad colloquium presentation on Child Tangible Interaction, the focus of a 3-5 year research project she is conducting under NSERC. Her work involves the development of "tangibles"--mixed reality interfaces, which combine physical and digital/virtual components--aimed at supporting certain processes of children's cognitive development. As she explains it, children often enjoy playing and creating on the computer, but they'd rather be actively (physically) playing with their friends than sitting alone at a computer console. What Alissa is trying to do is bring the vast potential of the computer into the existing reality of the playroom, through the introduction of physical objects and environments (and toys!) that combine tactile play with computing technologies (+ information processing). I'm just beginning to understand it myself, which makes it a bit hard to explain it all right now, so here's the abstract for yesterday's talk:

Alissa Antle’s current research program builds on her recent work adapting methods from human computer interaction to children and investigating how cognitive and embodied processes can be used to design highly interactive environments. By embedding sensors in everyday objects, tracking the movement of these objects, and using them as controls for the display of images and sounds that help to explain real world phenomena, she creates situations where children can successfully make the transition through the stages of cognitive development. This type of early stage research, which grounds the development of new technologies in understandings of perceptual, cognitive and embodied processes, is a critical precursor to the intelligent and human centred development of sensor-based tangibles and other mixed reality environments. Alissa will conclude her talk with some playful demonstrations of her previous industry work.

By far the coolest application she looked at was an amazing new technology developed by the MIT Media Lab called the I/O Brush. This thing is absolutely the coolest digital/electronic toy I've seen to date. As the project description explains:
There are many paint/drawing programs on the market today that are designed especially for kids. These let kids do neat things, but kids usually end up playing only with the "preprogrammed" digital palette the software provides. The idea of I/O Brush is to let the kids build their own ink. They can take any colors, textures, and movements they want to experiment with from their own environment and paint with their personal and unique ink. Kids are not only exploring through construction of their personal art project, but they are also exploring through construction of their own tools (i.e., the palette/ink) to build their art project with. [...] I/O Brush looks like a regular physical paintbrush but has a small video camera with lights and touch sensors embedded inside. Outside of the drawing canvas, the brush can pick up color, texture, and movement of a brushed surface. On the canvas, artists can draw with the special "ink" they just picked up from their immediate environment.

Check out the demo and prepare to be amazed!

Needless to say, I am SO happy to have found Alissa and so grateful that she has agreed to join my committee. Her work is intriguing and awesome, and she provides both the child-centred design expertise and hands-on industry experience that I believe will be crucial to the completion of my project. I look forward to learning more about her research and especially to future collaborations on children's technology and design.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

TV Goes MMOG - Part II

The quest to get kids 'playing television' within the digital realm continues, as BBC announces its plan to build an MMOG for kids based around its CBBC television line-up. You can read coverage of the announcement courtesy of Joystiq, The Guardian, and Marketing Vox. I'm getting itchy to start research on this phenomena, which will definitely be included in my study of advergames as a form of "immersive branding" (to expand upon a term first coined by Neopets Inc.). From Cartoon Network/Nickelodeon to Canadian YTV/Corus Entertainment, it seems that all the big players in children's television are moving into the wonderful world of MMOGs. Bringing television and film to life in MMOG-form is a strategy experiencing growing success now that the MMOG-hype is fully underway (with MTV's Laguna Beach coming immediately to mind as an example of a TV-based MMO-environment that actually became more popular than the show itself!). And if the massive success of many kids' TV websites are any indication, transplanting existing characters and narratives into their own "virtual worlds" could lead to the establishment of a significant kids' market for MMOGs (to date that market has been pretty much dominated by Disney's Toontown, and social-networking gamesites such as Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin).

I can't help but see this as something of an extension of previous forms of branded or narrativised play, terms used to describe what happens when children play with action figures and playsets based on popular television or film series -- media-based toys that come with fairly pre-defined scripts about the characters and possible plot developments. In this way, branded toys provide a set of more-or-less general parameters on how to play with the toys (i.e. in accordance with the companion media programming). What is also interesting is how many of these initiatives are promoting the idea that their TV-based MMOG will be "ad-free," whereas in many ways the games themselves can be seen as a promotional vehicle for tie-in media and consumer products. This type of media synergy or cross-media promotion has already successfully cut across (or integrated, depending on your perspective) traditional media and most other forms of digital gaming. I suspect, however, that some new issues will arise with these new adver-MMOGs, which present an opportunity to reach new, possibly unforeseen levels of media intertextuality and branded play.

Could we be seeing the development of a persistant, digital incarnation of the "30-minute commercial" (advertising disguised as programming - see Saturday Morning Cartoons for a myriad of examples), or will the MMOGs instead (as well?) present new opportunities for subversive and creative child-appropriations of once-static (and adult-controlled) media narratives?

Jesus Camp gets an Oscar Nom

I've been dying to see the newest documentary film by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (makers of The Boys of Baraka) called Jesus Camp, which exposes the strange and frightening world of evangelical "summer camps" for kids. Here's the description from the film's website:
"A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement. Jesus Camp follows a group of young children to Pastor Becky Fischer's "Kids on Fire Summer Camp", where kids are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in God's army and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ. The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future."

The filmmakers were interviewed last night on The Hour, which you can watch here. The film and the phenomena it studies sound absolutely fascinating. Watching the trailer and seeing those tiny kids driven into religious hysteria would make anyone's skin crawl, but the growth of the movement and concerted expansion into younger and younger age groups demands the attention of anyone with an interest in children's culture. While the Evangelists remain a minority, especially within Canada (and despite reported figures of its spread, I refuse to believe that this type of extremism could ever attract a majority of Americans), their impact is felt throughout North American culture and society. The film will be out on video Jan.31st, and I will definitely be checking it out.

In other news, the Animated Film category is once again dominated by high-budget but unimaginative computer-animated productions from the contemporary "Big Three" in American animation: Cars (Disney), Monster House (Sony), and Happy Feet (Warner Bros.). My money's on Happy Feet to win.

Monday, January 22, 2007

More Press for Club Penguin

Canadian-grown Club Penguin, a social-networking/gaming site for the under 12-set, has been getting a lot of press lately, perhaps in response to growing concerns about the ill-effects of "advergaming", or perhaps in the wake of the now-defunct Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which sought to ban kids from chat and social-networking online. NPR did a recent story outlining the site's safety features, while it's success is also attracting the interest of advertisers seeking to capitalize on the social-networking craze. While Club Penguin mirrors many of the same features found in Neopets, possibly establishing something of a "genre" for kid-oriented MMOGs, it's most distinguishing feature is that it is ad-free! (for now at least). The site received the Editor's Choice Award for 2006 from the Children's Technology Review, and has held onto the number 1 spot over at Miniclip since April 2006 (one month after it's launch). While I haven't started researching the site in any meaningful way as yet, my initial impression is that this will make a promising case study for my thesis (for the privacy and IP issues alone, if not for the commodification aspects). Here are some links to media coverage of the site (as provided by the site itself, so criticisms are few and far between in this batch...more to come, I promise):

Globe and Mail
Post Gazette
Wall Street Journal (reproduction)
Business Week
And here's a link to the Club Penguin Q&A

Some additional resources on advergames:
Children Now report
Shaping Youth coverage
Kaiser Family Foundation report

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fairy Fad Watch

A couple of months ago I posted about a concerted plan amongst the children's industries to turn "fairies" into the next big fad among young girls (see my September post, Fairies - the next big thing). Since then, winged sprites have popped up pretty much everywhere, prompting me to start compiling a list of those implicated in this "fairy conspiracy" :) :

Disney Fairies
Winx Club
Barbie Fairytopia
KOL Scary Fairies
Bratz Fashion Pixiez

Friday, January 19, 2007

Chick-sent-me-high-ee: Playing flOw theory

In doing my background research a couple of weeks ago on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "Chick-sent-me-high-ee") (see Comps Part I for details) and his increasingly famous "flow" theory (of play and everyday life), I came across an MFA project that had seemingly quite successfully articulated the theory in game-form, resulting in a widely acclaimed online game entitled flOw. It was among the nominees who pulled out of the Slamdance Geurilla Gamemaker Competition in solidarity with Super Columbine Massacre (who were dropped from the running due to controversy). The game (flOw that is) has since been picked up for expansion and distribution on the PS3, which is pretty awesome for an MFA project AND still quite rare for an online game. Congrats to Jenova Chen (the game's creator) for rocking my worldview of grad school and making my comps preparations that much more enjoyable. For what better way to explore theories of play than to see them applied in the creation of a gameplay experience!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kids' Advertisers Prepare to Rumble

The US Association of National Advertisers' Advertising Law & Business Affairs Conference began today with a warning: "2007 will be a year of focus on kids' advertising." Concerned legal council and related experts (including legal council for the tobacco industry) are meeting this week to discuss the anticipated impact of the growing controversy around junk food marketing and childhood obesity, as well as how this development could resurface in other areas of the children's industries. As John Feldman, partner at law firm Reed Smith, described at a panel this morning called "Overweight and Overwrought: Children's Advertising in the Crosshairs":
Right now...the scrutiny is on food marketers' advertising to children, but a number of other self-regulated categories could be next on the docket. "Politically," he said, "what gets traction better than kids?"

Feldman also announced the launch of a new, industry-focused website KidAdLaw.com, which will provide news and updates on regulatory developments relevant to marketing to children. So far, the site is pretty US-specific, but I did see a couple of news items on the UK, where advertising junk food and unhealthy food on television to children and youth under the age of 16 years was recently all but banned.

Check in with AdAge for ongoing coverage of the conference. Otherwise, this KidAdLaw.com site looks like an excellent (although industry-biased) resource for following new and ongoing developments in this area...although not quite as awesome as GamePolitics.com, which maintains this handy-dandy, interactive legislation tracking map for US legislation pertaining to digital games.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Journal of Children and Media

The Taylor & Francis Group is in the process of launching a new journal (published by Routledge) dedicated entirely to my field of study (yay!), the Journal of Children and Media. Here's the description of the journal's aims and scope, from the publisher's website:
Journal of Children and Media is an interdisciplinary and multi-method peer-reviewed publication that provides a space for discussion by scholars and professionals from around the world and across theoretical and empirical traditions who are engaged in the study of media in the lives of children. It is a unique intellectual forum for the exchange of information about all forms and contents of media in regards to all aspects of children's lives, and especially in three complementary realms: Children as consumers of media, representations of children in the media, and media organizations and productions for children as well as by them. It is committed to the facilitation of international dialogue among researchers and professionals, through discussion of interaction between children and media in local, national, and global contexts; concern for diversity issues; a critical and empirical inquiry informed by a variety of theoretical and empirical approaches; and dedication to ensuring the social relevance of the academic knowledge it produces to the cultural, political, and personal welfare of children around the world.

The journal will be launched this year (2007), and they are currently accepting submissions on any relevant topic. The editorial board includes numerous heavy-hitters in the field, including Dafna Lemish (Editor), Charlotte Cole (Review & Commentary Editor), David Buckingham, Stephanie Donald, Kirsten Drotner, Shalom Fisch, Maya Götz, Dale Kunkel, Sonia Livingstone, Norma Pecora, Ellen Seiter, Patti Valkenburg, Elizabeth Vandewater,and Ellen Wartella. Very exciting news to say the least.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Sims Goes Casual

Cool announcement from EA today that they will be releasing a series of new games called The Sims Stories, designed to bring The Sims to a larger number of "laptop-yielding youth." With less sophisticated graphics and a clearer segmentation of levels or 'chapters,' the franchise hopes to expand into the casual games market, as well as the "multitasking teen" market (by allowing gameplay to coincide with other applications). The Sims remains EA's most lucrative franchise, having sold over 70 million units since 2000 (and attracting a 50% female userbase). Check out coverage of the story here on USAToday, or stop by the mini-site.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Playing Bully...Firsthand

After following the controversy from the sidelines last semester (primarily as a result of a hectic course schedule and backlog of games that I first needed to catch up on), I have finally procured a copy of Bully and started in on one of the most talked about games of 2006. Comps readings have limited how much time I've been able to spend in Bullsworth Academy at this point, which is too bad because this game is both "addictive" (for lack of a better term) and endlessly fascinating. So far my in-game-days have been focused on keeping up with classes (which are much too easy to skip), trying not to get pounded too often (which is really tough, since everyone is out to get me), and slowly building up my "cred" amongst the various, violent boys' cliques around school. While you can minimize the violence you choose to engage in, it's impossible to get by without getting scrappy. In my first run through of the very first mission it took me about 0.2 seconds to resort to violence after a growing gang of older boys jumped me on my way in. The characters themselves provide (both explicitly and implicitly) interesting commentary on some pretty heavy social issues and the stresses associated with being a teenaged boy. This is a game about trying to fit in amongst a population of frustrated and alienated--yet highly affluent--youth, where social status reigns supreme and random acts of bullying and aggression all too easily lead to more serious forms of violence. More to come as I progress beyond "5% completed" (this game is enormous!).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Kidscreen's Top Toys of 2006

The most recent issue of Kidscreen magazine features a story on the 2006 nominations for TIA's "Toy of the Year" awards, which includes their own "top picks" based on a survey of children's media and marketing professionals. Here's a list of the toys that really excited the pros this past year:

Best Infant/Preschool Toy: Aquadoodle Sing 'N Doodle (Spin Master)

Best Girls Toy: FurReal Friends Butterscotch Pony (Hasbro)

Best Boys Toy: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Ultimate Black Pearl Pirate Ship Playset (Zizzle)

Most Innovative Toy: FurReal Friends Butterscotch Pony (Hasbro)

I highly recommend checking out Kidscreen's two-time nominee, the FurReal Friends Butterscotch Pony. Not only does it seem to be a serious contender for Toy of the Year, but its integration of traditional "girl culture" (girls love horses, right!?!) and advanced robot-esque technology makes it one heck of an interesting artifact of study (gendered technology, virtual/robot pets, etc.).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Neopets Pops Up in House of Commons

This past November (29, 2006), as part of the PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) hearings, Valerie Steeves (Assistant Professor in Criminology at the University of Ottawa) gave testimony before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on the unethical market research practices going on in popular children's websites, including Neopets.com. She highlighted the covert nature of the site's research activities, focusing mainly on the polls and surveys that feature prominently within the site, as well as the site's failure to adequately inform kids or parents about the nature and extent of their data collection and its subsequent usage. She has recommended a number of revisions be made to the PIPEDA, to better account for emerging business practices and to provide more extensive and specific protection for online privacy rights. Tara Berish, a law student articling with the CIPPIC, summarizes Steeves' recommendations as follows:
1) Principle 4.3.2 – Make it clear to companies that they must explain what they will do with personal information on or before a person consents to its collection;
2) Clarify guidelines with respect to types of consent (express, implied, opt-out etc.);
3) Privacy policies need to be fixed – require that they be written in plain language;
4) Require specific definitions of the purposes of collection;
5) s. 5(3) should state that the purposes should be reasonable to the consumer;
6) Principle 4.3.3. – Make it clear that a business can only refuse to deal when the information in question is necessary to the completion of the transaction at hand;
7) Amend s. 3 to state that privacy is a human right, and a social and democratic value. It should outweigh the business practices when they are in conflict.

It's great to see someone else using Neopets to highlight the current inadequacies of PIPEDA and the existing regulatory framework, though I'm a bit disturbed that I haven't come across Steeves' work before now. Better late than never, I suppose. Anyway, here's a link to a publication Steeves co-authored with Ian Kerr (CRC in Ethics, Law and Technology at UofO) that appeared in the Canadian Journal of Law and Technology, as well as some additional coverage of the hearings.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Disney to Launch Social Networking Site for Kids

Tomorrow (Jan. 8, 2007), Disney will unveil it's new Disney.com redesign, which is purported to feature a variety of social networking tools modified for children's use and represent a sort of "MySpace for kids." As Mediapost journalist Gavin O'Malley writes,
Catering to kids' penchant to multitask online, users of the new Disney site will be able to carry on Web chats while watching video clips, listening to music, and playing video games simultaneously. The company also will offer a broadband tool, dubbed Disney Xtreme Digital, which will allow users to create customized profile pages and share them with others.

However, the tools will also come with an array of parental controls, which analysts think could result in the site's failure...despite Disney's growing web reach with the rising success of its video-streaming site Disneychannel.com, where kids streamed over 53 million webisodes of Hanna Montana and High School Musical over a six month period alone in 2006. Analysts seem to be of two minds - on the one hand, they argue that past attempts to merge social networking and parental control (such as Walmart's The Hub) have failed, while on the other hand they recognize Disney's consistently good track record in creating highly popular kids' online destinations. I would also point to Disney's Toontown Online as a great example of a very successful past attempt (by the same company) to merge the social expression and play of MMOGs with a fairly extensive array of parental control features.
Check out the full story here, or read the Red Herring coverage here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

An Advergame By Any Other Name...

Ian Bogost has published a new feature on the Burger King advergames, or "promogames" as he has termed this particular incarnation, over at Serious Games Source. He argues that we need to understand the emergence of these types of games as more promotional than ad-based, arguing:
We use the name advergames to describe video games whose primary purpose is to promote a company’s brand, products, or services through gameplay. [...] I suggest a new way to understand this intersection of advertising and videogames. I give the name promogames to video games whose primary purpose is to promote the purchase of a product or service secondary or incidental to the game itself. [...] While advergames promote the company, promogames offer an incentive to consume the company’s goods independent of the game’s representational properties.

Many of the distinctions he raises to argue his point are certainly worthy of consideration--including the observation that advergames are usually casual web-based games aimed at selling a particular product, whereas these new forms of promotional games are console-based and aimed at drawing an audience in for some immersive brand exposure. However, I'm not sure I agree that more immersive forms of branding and advertising (such as those found in the Burger King games) deserve this level of differentiation. Advertising in most media formats has been focusing on brand exposure (loyalty, goodwill, etc.) and meta-level promotional strategies for years now, and yet these ads still qualify as ads. Promotion, marketing, and advertising strategies are increasingly integrated and cross-referential--their sophistication in some contexts seem to exceed traditional definitions, and yet their basic function and surrounding political economic processes remain consistent...as do the growing implications for audiences.

I also question the uniqueness of the Burger King strategy, particularly when considered in contrast with longstanding branding/promotional traditions of cross-media synergy found within the children's "supersystem". For example, Bogost points out that while "In-game placements and advertisements have certainly graced the Xbox 360 [...], but the Burger King games are the first titles developed from the ground up for that platform as advertisement." While this may indeed be the case (although I'd argue that Viva Pinata may in fact hold this title), other consoles and formats have definitely featured a variety of promo/advergames, making the XBox 360 distinction somewhat unimpressive. The Lego Star Wars games come to mind immediately.

Bogost likens the Burger King game strategy to that applied by McDonald's Happy Meals. He explains, "Burger King used these games as a lure to draw Xbox owners into their stores to buy a Value Meal. This and this alone was the primary goal of the games. [...]In the world of marketing, this strategy is called promotion. Promotions offer an incentive to patronize a vendor, which may have little or nothing to do with the business’s products and services." Perhaps--although the branded aspects of the games themselves should not be underestimated. The fact remains that the games feature the restaurant chain's mascot (the creepy King from the television ads), but also integrate food products into the very fabric of gameplay. His later example of giving away a copy of Halo with purchase of a particular (though unrelated) product is perhaps more in tune with the "games as promotion" distinction he is trying to argue. I remain unconvinced that the game's contents are not of primary significance to Burger King's overall strategy here.

The fact that Burger King claims to have sold 2 million copies as of December 20, 2006, at first glance seems to support Bogost's claim that the primary goal of the campaign is to sell accommpanying yet somewhat unrelated products. Or does it? Considering that an average of 1 in 4 Americans visits a fast food restaurant every day, and that obesity rates in the US are now a staggering 60% , reaching the 2 million mark among a possible pool of 75 million potential customers does not seem all that extraordinary. What strikes me the most about all the hoopla around the Burger King games is the lack of supporting evidence that people really are going out of their way to buy the games--that the games really are drawing in new customers, a la Happy Meal--or that anyone is actually playing them.

The commercialization of game content, while certainly not new, is slowly but consistently reaching extreme new levels of pervasiveness and sophistication, a process that has thus far escaped governmental regulation or any coherent public awareness (the one exception being the campaign to ban junk food and fast food advergames, which I'm sure Susan Linn and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood will now turn toward the Burger King games). A more useful exercise for understanding how advergames or "promogames" operate within the larger media matrix is, I think, is to expand our definitions of advertising and other commercial practices, and to situate their new manifestations within larger socio-historical contexts. From a political economic perspective, I think it is more useful to see the Burger King games as the next evolution in "immersive advertising" rather than isolate them from their obvious origins in web-based advergames and cross-media branding initiatives. In this respect, I think that Bogost's last point is particularly apt and timely:
Games like these show us that a single perspective on advertising games is not only an inadequate way to understand the intersection of these two worlds today, but that it wasn’t even adequate twenty-five years ago. No matter one’s opinion about the relative merits or dangers of advertisers’ continued invasion of video games, we must try to understand approaches to game-based advertising in complex ways—not just as serious games developers or advertisers interested in creating new games, but also as game players interested in understanding how and why brand companies seek to persuade us to consume their products.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Play Comp - Part I

I've officially registered for comp exams this semester and so it's time for some "nose to the grindstone" serious reading and prep work so that I have time to write the comps in two installments before the end of the semester. I'm going to hit up the play comp first, which is the only one finalized at the moment and which I'm supposed to schedule asap. Luckily, most of this is review work, since I did the bulk of my readings for this comp in the summer in the form of a directed reading with Rick Gruneau. Part 1 of my play comp consists of readings that explore the developmental aspects of play, and we've decided to include the following:
1. Bettelheim, Bruno (1987) "The Importance of Play" Atlantic Monthly, March: 35-43.
2. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1991) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
3. Paley, Vivian Gussin (2004). A child's work: the importance of fantasy play. Chicago: University of Chicago.
4. Pepler, Debra J. and Rubins, Kenneth H. (eds.) (1982). “Historical, Conceptual, and Definitional Issues” (pp. 4- 29) in The Play of children: current theory and research. Basel/New York : Karger. Includes: a. Rubin, Kenneth H. “Early Play Theories Revisited: Contributions to contemporary research and theory” (pp. 4- 14; b. Vandenberg, Brian “Play: A concept in need of a definition?” (pp. 15-20); c. Schempp Matthews, Wendy and Matthews, Robert J. “Eliminating Operational Definitions: A paradigm case approach to the study of fantasy play” (pp. 21-29)
5. Piaget, Jean (1965). The moral judgment of the child. The Free Press: New York.
6. Vygotsky, L. (1933). “Play and its role in the mental development of the child” in Bruner, Jerome S., Jolly, Alison and Kathy Sylva (eds.) (1976). Play: its role in development and evolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

I'm currently working through Csikszentmihalyi (which was recalled - boo!) and flow theory, which explores concepts of happiness through optimal experience, including play, of course, but also work, sports, everyday activities and interpersonal relationships. More than just an important theory for understanding play and digital game theories, however, this reading may actually serve the double purpose of providing tips to getting through comps successfully. For example:
The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy--or attention--is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else. These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives. A person who has achieved control over psychic energy and has invested it in consciously chosen goals cannot help but grow into a more complex being. By stretching skills, by reaching toward higher challenges, such a person becomes an increasingly extraordinary individual.