Recently in Book Category

I'm reading the forward to the very academic book The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, edited by Katie Salen as part of The John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. I've nothing to report on the book itself yet, but a synopsis from the Introduction brought two ideas together and set me thinking.

(Continued beyond the jump)

I just started reading Raph Koster's A Theory Of Fun, and I am having a very heartening deja vu experience. Raph Koster's grandfather asked him, in the wake of the Columbine attacks, whether he was proud of his work making (digital) games. Though I have rarely been put on the spot so directly, I frequently have two similar experiences. First, when I tell certain classes of people that I make digital games, often those who might be politically or demographically grouped with Koster's grandfather, they get a look that raises the question. It's the "oh, that's nice" that you might give an IRS auditor or a hit man if you met them at a party. The other situation is when I am selling or explaining the game that I work on to people. I am lucky enough to be working on a project which I believe is pursuing the best work that I believe the field has to offer, and is doing so consciously. I am lucky enough to get to do the Right Thing with some of the Right People, and I think my work can make a difference in the world.

That second situation makes me sound very confident, but because of the first situation, and my psychological inclinations, I rarely have that confidence. When I am faced with skepticism, I find it easy to be defensive: "oh, not the shooter games," when I enjoy playing shooter games and see merit in their immersion. Or, "... Educational games. For kids. Wholesome non-time-wasting ones," when I think that every game is educational, and that while kids may need guidance toward the richest outlets for their energy and enthusiasm, I think they rarely tolerate real wastes of their time if given an option. It's about context, framing, but that is beside the point when someone thinks that I am asking them to become a dealer of temporal heroin.

Thus it is heartwarming, and familiar, to read about the significance of fun from someone who has spent some time doing, considering, and then articulating the idea. How part of our brains' way of deali with the world is to filter things out, clump concepts and perceptions, iconify them. And how art in general, and games and play specifically, encourage us to (re)consider the ways that we iconify our experience. What paintings are to visual stimulus, and symphonies to auditory stimulus, games can be to our understanding of how the world works and how we categorize or process our experience. Put more simply, games are close to the way we work, and as we learn more about the art (in the craft sense) of games, we learn more about how we work and how to make art (in the lofty sense). And we learn about how to use the art to effect positive change in the world, especially for and by people who don't have a lot of other opportunities to learn that lesson.

I am proud to be a part of that effort.

Most of Everything Bad is Good For You is about the culture surrounding hypertext rather than hypertext itself. Htext is not in the mission statement. That's a shame, because the book is about the challenges that we face in evaluating, adopting, and adapting to new media, and that's very much a hypertext issue.

The basic idea is really worth some thought: We think that popular media (esp. television and movies) are on a 'race to the bottom' culturally. On the contrary, a look at popular culture over time shows increasing sophistication, increased demands on the consumer, and a meritocratic system that rewards sophistication. Content is not the issue, but we're used to looking at that from old media. The cognitive demands of the media are the issue, and they're getting more and more 'educational'.

Beyond the cut: adoption curves and elitism

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