Friday, April 30, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010

©Ted Naifeh, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things FCBD edition, May 2003

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day - wherein, on the first Saturday of May, comic book stores across North America do their part to spread love and appreciation of comic books/graphic novels by giving away selected free issues to anyone who comes into their stores. The annual event is geared toward expanding readership by introducing people to comics (generally) and by introducing comic readers to new titles. This is a wonderful event - one that I have benefitted from enormously in previous years, through free issues introducing me to indie comics/titles (including my beloved Courtney Crumrin, as depicted above), different distributors, titles I had heard of but never taken a chance on, etc., etc. Check out the official website for the locations of participating stores near you.

And if you're into it, I definitely recommend:
a) making a day of it, by doing a comic book store "crawl" (different stores will be giving away different titles, so visit as many as you can)

b) GETTING THERE EARLY!!!! (seriously, even less popular locations can sell out fast)

c) while you're there, don't be afraid to ask the clerks for recommendations about other (non-free) titles that may be of interest - these people generally know A LOT about comics and graphic novels and Free Comic Book Day presents the perfect opportunity to get in there, break the ice, and get some advice.

d) a good way to try out additional (non-free) new titles while you're there, without spending too much money, is to buy some back issues - although a small few titles gain in value over time, many many DO NOT - if you're willing to delve into an older (not 1st, but older) issue, they're often available at a fraction of the cost of a most recent issue

I'm sure there's a lot more I could list here, but these are some good basic starting points.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Speaking Engagement: 2010 Consumer Privacy Consultations

As I discussed previously, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is holding a series of public consultations this spring, exploring emerging issues around online tracking, profiling and targeting of consumers. The consultations arrive in Toronto this Thursday (April 29), for a full day of discussion about issues relating to advertising, location-based/geospatial tracking and children's online privacy. What I may have neglected to mention is that I will be part of the afternoon panel on Children's Online Privacy, along with the very awesome Matthew Johnson, Media Education Specialist at the Media Awareness Network, kids' privacy researcher Dr. Jacquelyn Burkell (Associate Professor with the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, at the University of Western Ontario), and Catherine Connors, "mommy blogger" and author of I believe there will also be an industry rep, though I'm not completely sure who as of yet.

The event is open to the public, but has reached capacity (!). Fortunately, the entire thing will be webcast through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner website. Should be a very interesting day, and I encourage you all to check out the webcast and subsequent coverage, as well as the advertising industry's preliminary response to the idea of broadening privacy protection in Canada (for e.g.) (btw - if you've guessed that they're largely against it, you're right!). Particular issues that I hope to raise/address include the conflation of marketing research and consumer data collection, and the growing importance/depth of corporate use of non-personally identifiable information -- particularly in examples such as Habbo Hotel's Habble and Echometrix's PULSE services.

Monday, April 26, 2010

CFP Alert: Upcoming Conferences on Gaming & Tech (in Canada!!!)

With my PhD defense a mere one week away, I haven't had much time to keep up with the news these days. But my "to do" list for this week includes submitting abstracts to two upcoming conferences that will likely be of interest to some of you. One has an imminent deadline, but has a great line up of confirmed speakers and a very compelling focus, and looks to be well worth dedicating part of an afternoon to crafting an abstract for. The other is being held at my new home in Toronto, and sounds absolutely amazing. Anyway, you can see for yourself below. Here's the basic info, with links to the full details:


Bilingual colloquium (French/English)
October 28 , 29 and 30, 2010
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

To play is a vital function for the development of individuals. Play is an activity of socialization which enables learning of the rudiments of social interaction. Since the middle of the twentieth century, our societies have placed more value on the playful practice at all ages. As such, playing is more and more present in numerous spheres of society. Huizinga (1938) and Caillois (1958) assert moreover that any playful activity is social, by definition, and gets its real meaning when it is practised in groups. For Gadamer (1960), the charm of playing lies primarily in the fact that it exercises a fascination in the player. Online videogames gather more and more followers worldwide as this phenomenon becomes more important from day to day. It is no longer necessary to question play as a way to spend time. Through the intervention of videogames, play has also become a way to develop social networks, learn new communication skills and tools, a way to learn a foreign language, a place to keep or develop friendships, an opportunity to participate in an online community, or even a way to be exposed to new cultures. Online videogames have become a media of socialization, that is to say, devices of mediation and mediatization which allow people to share large-scale information thanks to its network of exchanges and meetings. Such spaces of socialization arouse interactions convenient to the construction of the “self” and to the renewal of the representations of others and the world. Online videogames can facilitate socialization and be a carrier of values which are not necessarily different than those found in society. Online videogames can also be a place that facilitate values that are not necessarily present in society in general.

Indeed, the experience as much as the manners and representations in videogames contribute to the moulding of cognitive modes, to the development of both technical and social skills and, in a more general way, to the reconfiguration of one’s relationship to the world. From this perspective, it is imperative to explore the modes of socialization shaped by online videogames and to question the various forms of instrumentalization, of domination, of exclusion, as well as forms of dependence and addiction which this kind of community can facilitate. The criteria from which the players give a value and organize their relations into a hierarchy with other players is potentially defined by the customs and contexts of online videogames. The observations, the descriptions, and the analysis of the manners and representations that are connected to the experience of online videogames become essential as a generation is subject to building their social referents partially through playful cyber universes. This type of study is justified all the more as players become imbedded in innovative modes of socialization, rehabilitation, social reintegration, and learning, not only in school and at home, but also in their workplace. This colloquium aims to make inventory of the researches within game studies, while online videogames are becoming more and more popular. Topics include (but are not limited to) the following themes:

• Forms of socialization in online videogames
• Communicational stakes in online videogames
• Questions of ethics and aesthetics in online videogames
• Innovations and types of appropriation in online videogames
• Questions of law, economy, and politics in online videogames
• Design of games and the communications tools in online videogames
• Therapeutic and educational customs in online videogames

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: The persons interested to participate in this colloquium have to submit an abstract treating of the higher presented theme (max. 3000 characters, included spaces), as well as a short biographic note. Abstracts should be sent to:

Abstract deadline: April 28, 2010
Notification of Acceptance: May 17, 2010
Full Paper deadline: August 27, 2010
Colloquium dates: October 28, 29 and 30, 2010

INVITED SPEAKERS: Mia Consalvo, PhD; Nicolas Ducheneaut, PhD; Sébastien Genvo, PhD; Miguel Sicart, PhD; Bart Simon, PhD; T.L. Taylor, PhD.

ORGANIZING COMMITTEE : The colloquium is organized by the research group Homo Ludens (Université du Québec à Montréal), with the collaboration of Technoculture, Art and Games (Concordia University)

Charles Perraton, professor at the Department of social and public communication (Université du Québec à Montréal) Magda Fusaro, professor at the Department of management and technology (Université du Québec à Montréal)

Coordination : Maude Bonenfant, postdoctoral researcher, Technoculture, Art and Gaming (Concordia University)

And here's the second one, with a little more breathing room on the submission deadline:


Download the Call for Papers (PDF)

A renewed emphasis on participatory forms of digitally-mediated production is transforming our social landscape. ‘Making’ has become the dominant metaphor for a variety of digital and digitally-mediated practices. The web is exploding with independently produced digital ‘content’ such as video diaries, conversations, stories, software, music, video games—all of which are further transformed and morphed by “modders,” “hackers,” artists and activists who redeploy and repurpose corporately-produced content. Equally, communities of self-organized crafters, hackers, and enthusiasts are increasingly to be found online exchanging sewing and knitting patterns, technical guides, circuit layouts, detailed electronics tutorials and other forms of instruction and support. Many of these individuals and collaborators understand their work to be socially interventionist. Through practices of design, development, and exchange they challenge traditional divides between production and consumption and to redress the power differentials built into technologically-mediated societies.

“DIY Citizenship” invokes the participatory nature of these diverse “do-it-yourself” modes of engagement, community, networks, and tools—all of which arguably replace traditional with remediated notions of citizenship. The term “critical making” refers to the increasing role ‘making’ plays in critical forms of social reflection and engagement.

This interactive conference seeks to extend conversations about new modes of engaged DIY citizenship and politics evidenced by the exponential increase of DIY media, “user-generators”, “prosumers,” “hacktivists,” tactical media interventionists, and other ‘maker’ identities. We invite scholars, activists, artists, designers, programmers and others interested in the social and participatory dimensions of digitally-mediated practices, to engage in dialogue across disciplinary and professional divides. All methodological and theoretical approaches are welcomed. Submissions may include paper proposals, works of art and/or design, short video or audio segments, performances, video games, digital media, or other genres and forms. Potential topics include: the relation between social media and the ‘making’ of new forms of citizenship engagement—thus, for example, making movements; making community; making news; making play; making bodies; making health; making public; making education; making networks.

Plenary speakers include:

Anne Balsamo, Professor of Interactive Media in the School of Cinematic Arts, and of Communications in the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California, co-founder of Onomy Labs, Inc. a Silicon Valley technology design and fabrication company that builds cultural technologies.

Suzanne de Castell, Professor (media, educational technologies) Faculty of Education Simon Fraser University, Vancouver: educational media theory, research, design and development, Founded Canadian Game Studies Association, co-editor of Loading…

Ron Deibert, Professor (Political Science), University of Toronto, Director of the Citizen Lab; a co-founder and a principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative and Information Warfare Monitor projects; co-founder and VP of global policy and outreach for Psiphon Inc.

Paul Dourish, Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, co-conspirator in the Laboratory for Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction, and author of Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction, MIT Press.

Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communications, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California. Blogger, Author of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Currently doing research for MacArthur Foundation on youth, new media, and the public sphere.

Jennifer Jenson, Professor of Pedagogy and Technology, York University, Toronto: video game designer, co-editor of Loading…: The Journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association

Natalie Jeremijenko, artist whose background includes studies in biochemistry, physics, neuroscience and precision engineering. Jeremijenko’s projects which explore socio-technical change have been exhibited by several museums and galleries, including the MASSMoCA, the Whitney, Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt. Jeremijenko is the director of the environmental health clinic at NYU, assistant professor in Art, and affiliated with the Computer Science Dept.

Steve Mann, professor of Applied Engineering, and Arts and Sciences, University of Toronto, proliferate inventor including wearable computing, hydraulophone, and concept of 'sousveillance': "the effects a surveillance device has on others"

Trebor Scholz, Professor of Culture and Media Study, The New School, New York: media activist, writer, and artist, founder of the Institute for Distributed Creativity. In the fall of 2009, Dr. Scholz convened The Internet as Playground and Factory conference

Conference organizers: Prof. Megan Boler, University of Toronto; Prof. Matt Ratto, University of Toronto.

Please submit a 250-word proposal or description of work/presentation and a one-page artist or scholarly CV to by May 20, 2010. Please include up to five images of work to be shown/discussed or a web URL if appropriate. Notifications will take place by June 15, 2010. For more information, contact or visit our website at

Presenters will be invited to submit completed papers for an edited collection with a university press and/or a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pink Shirt Day!!!

Today is Pink Shirt Day in Canada, part of rapidly growing movement to support kids who take a stand against bullying. The idea links back to two teen boys from Nova Scotia, who came up with the idea a couple of years ago as a way to show solidarity with a fellow student who was being bullied for wearing pink. Here's an excerpt from the CBC News coverage of the event when it happened in 2007:
Two Nova Scotia students are being praised across North America for the way they turned the tide against the bullies who picked on a fellow student for wearing pink. The victim — a Grade 9 boy at Central Kings Rural High School in the small community of Cambridge — wore a pink polo shirt on his first day of school. Bullies harassed the boy, called him a homosexual for wearing pink and threatened to beat him up, students said.

Two Grade 12 students — David Shepherd and Travis Price — heard the news and decided to take action.

"I just figured enough was enough," said Shepherd.

They went to a nearby discount store and bought 50 pink shirts, including tank tops, to wear to school the next day. Then the two went online to e-mail classmates to get them on board with their anti-bullying cause that they dubbed a "sea of pink." But a tsunami of support poured in the next day.

Not only were dozens of students outfitted with the discount tees, but hundreds of students showed up wearing their own pink clothes, some head-to-toe. When the bullied student, who has never been identified, walked into school to see his fellow students decked out in pink, some of his classmates said it was a powerful moment.


The students' "sea of pink" campaign did not go unnoticed outside the province. U.S. talk show host Ellen DeGeneres expressed interest in their story, and other schools are talking about holding their own "pink day."

Read more:
The cause has since been taken up by a number of schools, organizations and celebrities, including Christy Clark of CKNW's The Christy Clark Show, who also manages the official website. Show your support today by wearing pink and be sure to spread the word!!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jackie Marsh on Digital literacy and play in MMOs/vws for children

Live Blogging alert - I'm writing this post from Jackie Marsh's keynote address on "Digital literacy and play in MMOs/virtual worlds for children," at the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub workshop on kids' virtual worlds. Jackie' is presenting some of her findings from a larger ongoing project on Children's playground games and songs in the new media age project, in collaboration with Rebekah  Willett and Andrew Burn.

Key points:
  • Young children in Sheffield, UK, average 2 hours/day of media use
  • Family scaffold kids' emergent digital literacy
  • Growing independence among even younger children - 64% of 3-5 year-olds can use a mouse, 37% can turn on a computer by themselves and 56% have used a computer by themselves.
  • Place of the child in the family (older siblings) very important to children's use - how they are introduced, when, etc.
  • Key features identified in commercial vw's for children: customizable avatars, avatar homes, games which earn in-world currency, free chat and safe-chat servers, moderators, links to out-world toys and texts and tie-in products. 
  • On this latter point - highlights the importance of online/offline linkages as the products themselves move to mobile technologies. Highlights the importance of market-based hierarchies.
  • Her own data derived from a very specific case - "primary school serving a primarily white, working class community in an area of socio-economic deprivation" - 175 kids aged 5 to 11 surveyed, three 11 year olds selected for a series of interviews and online sessions (taped and observed). Much of the more detailed data about Club Penguin and Barbie Girls came from these 3 respondents. 
  • 52% of the kids surveyed used virtual worlds on a regular basis. Average of 2 visits per week.
  • Most popular CP and BC
  • Gender patterns in terms of preferences and choices of virtual worlds - none of the boys surveyed reported going to Barbie Girls
Jackie's most recent work focuses in on Club Penguin - a vw that was particularly popular among their subject group at the time of the study. Jackie did a great job of summarizing the contents of the site, identifying the carry-over that occurs between traditional playground behaviours and in-world activities, opportunities for literacy (of various kinds), the importance and emphasis that is placed on commercial relations (disparities between paying and non-paying members. 

She also looked at Barbie Girls (oh no! just like my thesis!!), and the lack of diversity in terms of gender (female only) and ethnicity (depictions of which are limited to skin-tone, and only a few options are possible) of the avatars, and the enormous linkages made between commercial content/branding of Barbie texts and the game - emphasis on shopping, emphasis on V.I.P. memberships and emphasis on Barbie products.

Key Points about these case studies:
  • Marsh identifies evidence of the subjectivities of consumption that are constructed in these sites - many examples of children describing themselves in consumer terms & enjoying consumption play (shopping, browsing catalogues, trying on items). But also frustration about purchases of pre-fabricated goods that offer little flexibility or affordances. Key complaint that wigs and hats couldn't be combined on Club Penguin, frustration that the Puffles run away if not taken care of. 
  • Online/offline networks - children played with siblings, relatives and classmates, often in pre-arranged sessions. Also played with unknown others. 
  • The children interviewed expressed using a range of criteria for accepting in-world friends (if the avatar name was "weird" or "normal" - if the player's igloo was "posh" or "plain"). This latter point shows the integration of social and economic capital in children's negotiation of social relations in-world.
  • Classmates who played together online and offline tended to have larger friend networks (around 9 vs. 7). 
  • Genres of play: fantasy play, games with rules, "rough and tumble" play (snowball fights, other play that uses avatar movement for contact), socio-dramatic play. In this last category, Marsh noticed a lot of adult-themes, going to the disco, having parties, pretending they're getting "drunk". Ritualized play - playing at flirting, trying to tip the iceberg in CP. 
  • Various instances and types of digital literacy - reading the CP Times every day, reading postcards from other players, keeping up with the game lore (reading the books in the reading room, reading the instructions), using CP as an instant messaging service (definitely a chat room). Reading, comprehension, following instructions, etc. 
  • She went over 6 different types of literacy identified in CP - she has a paper coming out shortly that describes and explores these, so I won't bother reproducing them here (but I will link to the article once it's available). Suffice to say that many of the forms of literacy identified revolved around social relations and identity construction/expression.
  • Among the kids surveyed, Marsh found that many used/viewed Club Penguin-based machinima on Youtube 
  • For example, David Cook's  "Time of My Life" - created by a young girl Ineuit2, a self-described 13 year old girl who runs a Club Penguin fan site). Kids use other forums to discuss and coordinate these - for instance, a player advertised for extras for his upcoming CP machinima on a Shaun The Sheep discussion forum, much to the dismay of Shaunthesheep purists.
  • Frames that these vw's introduce - the implications for education (as well as some implications that certainly carry over to policy and ethical decisions), including the need for recognition of online activities outside of school, firewall considerations, critical digital literacy - esp. as children are now co-authoring new forms of multi-modal texts (which I'm very interested in myself).
Jackie's talk was followed by a response by Heather Horst, who is a member of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, and has done work on kids' digital culture - including Neopets. Among other things, Heather highlighted 3 themes she wanted to raise for further discussion:
  • The first, a series of questions involving time and temporal dimensions of virtual worlds - the transience that many kids' express in terms of the worlds, new media use, and their lives/life changes, schedules, age, etc.
  • The second, space and geographies of play - particularly as this is influenced by the various affordances of the devices/worlds, etc., involved. What guides children's movement between the various genres, sites, technologies, platforms and usages they engage in. For example, getting around design limitations or parental restrictions by moving on to a different device.
  • The third, the issue of agency and change - as children age, develop forms of literacy, etc. What's the relationship/role of the low barriers to entry that are usually contained within sites like CP, or within popular culture/commercial culture more generally. How do these worlds contribute to children's agency and dignity - opportunities/challenges, barriers, etc. Are the worlds subject to workarounds, resistance, remixing, do kids actively attempt to change the worlds?
A great talk all around - very enjoyable and comprehensive. I'm very much looking forward to the discussion that will ensue, as well as tomorrow's workshop.

Sources of interest: Virtual Worlds Universe Reports, which lists user populations for a large number of virtual worlds for kids, plotted by age. Very cool data and data visualizations. 

Monday, April 05, 2010

UGC Games Go Portable

Image ©Nintendo, Inc. Via

As regular readers of this blog already know, my next research project (which I'll finally be launching this summer) is on UGC (user-generated content) games designed for kids. My main case studies so far are LittleBigPlanet, Kodu and Spore, but I've been keeping an eye out for other titles to add to the list. I'm still in the process of figuring out the "what" and "how," but I know that my first priority is in finding games that allow players to both create a substantial part of the gameplay - entire levels, entire story lines, etc. - and share that content with other players.

Walking through the games section at HMV over the weekend, I saw that the genre has spread to portable game devices much more quickly than I had previously realized. Some of the titles I was already well aware of (LittleBigPlanet for the PSP, the Spore spin-offs), but others were totally new (e.g. WarioWare DIY). This could potentially open up a whole new angle for my project (especially if there are cross-system linkages). Here's a very brief "list-in-progress" of the portable UGC games I've seen so far (keep in mind, I haven't even started looking into iPhone games). If you know of others, please post in the comments section and let me know!

WarioWare D.I.Y. (Rated E, Nintendo DS)
Released just last week, this offshoot of the Mario Bros/Wario franchise allows players to create their own mini-games, design graphics and music, and produce comics using a variety of customizable options and UGC tools. The games and other content can then be uploaded and shared with other players - the games can be either played or viewed (not quite sure) on the Wii. Here's the official website.

Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter (Rated E, Nintendo DS)
Released last October (2009), this sequel to the original "draw your own hero" game (released in 2007), allows players to insert their own hero, items, obstacles, solutions and other content into the game world by using the stylus to "draw" in elements. The big difference with this one (and I'm not sure about this, just from what I've observed from the PR materials), is that you can now impact the gameplay mechanics AND share the content with other players (who own the game). Here's the official website.

Scribblenauts (Rated E10+, Nintendo DS)
By the creators of Drawn to Life, this game got a heck of a lot of attention when it came out last year. The idea is similar to Drawn to Life, but with more emphasis on puzzle solving, and instead of drawing your solution you type in a word, which makes an object appear in the game. The list of possible words is extensive (well over 20K). The game also includes a level editor, through which players can design/customize levels which they can then share with others through the DS WiFi system. Here's the official website.

LittleBigPlanet PSP (Rated E, Sony PSP)
Just like the original PS3 game, but without the multiplayer mode. Players can complete up to 30 existing levels to find tools, sticker switches and costumes which can then be used to create custom Sackboy/girl avatars and custom levels. Levels can be designed from scratch or from a template - and player designs can be uploaded to an online server where they can be shared with the rest of the player community. Here's the official site.

Spore Creatures & Spore Hero Arena (Nintendo DS)
These spin-offs of EA's Spore, are portable, mini versions that allow you to create creatures and explore the world, encounter others, make friends and/or do battle. There looks to be some significant avatar customization involved, but this is one I'll have to play before I can determine if the game itself really qualifies for the project. Here's the official Creatures webpage and the official Hero Arena page.

Will the Spore spin-off games count? I'm not sure how much players control the gameplay/level design, or if customization/UGC is limited to avatar design. The customization and UGC that goes into avatar design and "virtual doll play" is certainly important, but not quite what I'm hoping to investigate in this project. The idea is really to examine games that give players tools to design the game space, environment, story line, gameplay. And, of course, to share the products with other players, particularly within commercially constructed (and controlled) distribution systems.

I'm already seeing some of the early issues I'm going to have operationalizing this, but for now, delineating a sample and figuring out what my criteria is are probably key.

Any suggestions about games I should look into adding to the list? I know I'm already forgetting some of the games I saw over the weekend, and would like to work out a more comprehensive list over the next couple of weeks as I head into the project launch. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!