EAE’s 10 Year Anniversary

Okay, so I work at Entertainment Arts and Engineering at the University of Utah. The content of this post might be a tad biased, but I promise no one bribed me into writing it! I sincerely felt inspired after our 10 year anniversary talks and events and spent time thinking critically about what makes a good university games program- for both the people who work there and the students. Ultimately what I discovered was the core of EAE’s success is getting the right people together at a place that feels like home.

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Salt Lake is a beautiful place to make games.

EAE‘s 10 year anniversary celebration took place on Monday, 30 April. It was a day full of talks about the local games industry in Salt Lake, the role of university education in creating the next generation of game makers, and, most importantly, about how people are at the core of success.

Namely, these people.

People-as-drivers-of-success was the theme of the day. The idea that EAE functions and succeeds because of the people involved in it was echoed by faculty, staff, students and industry guests. And it was sincere. Too often in universities people diffuse their own achievements by acknowledging that success is a collective effort (well duh, of course it is!), but that wasn’t the spirit of yesterday. The spirit of yesterday was that we, the people that make up EAE’s faculty, staff, students, and industry friends, are family.

I think the family metaphor for workplaces is usually dangerous. In fact, when I was on the job market, it became a sort of red flag for unhealthy workplace practices (e.g. we are going to keep you here such long hours you will see your co-workers more often than your blood relatives). So I want to be clear that I’m not using the family metaphor in that sense here. I’m using it in the sense that I trust every one of my coworkers fully and completely as much as I’d trust my own blood. I know they have my back and I have theirs, but also I trust them to help me grow and become a better teacher… and a better human.

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So many students, alumni and industry friends in one place!

So how do you make a group of people from 15+ countries, 10+ racial backgrounds, different economic and social statuses who are members of different faith groups come together as one big, happy family? Well, you don’t really have to do anything. There’s another demographic variable at play: we are all nerds.

I use the term nerd in an affectionate way, but it has a particular connotation to it. Nerds are the outcrowd- a sub-subculture of self-selected or otherwise rejected people who band together over peculiar interests. Whilst the flavour of nerd varies (e.g. comic book nerds, computer science nerds, data nerds, videogame nerds…) what we all have in common is that we have all experienced what it is like to be an outsider, although in different ways and to varying degrees. We have all felt awkward, uncomfortable and left out. I imagine every single person in the world has felt those feelings, of course, but maybe us nerds are more sensitive to them. In any case, when we get together we tend to cling to each other as a result.

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Or we cling to dogs, you know, whatevs. And yes, Link the Doggo came to our party.

I say cling to be hyperbolic, but I think the general metaphor holds true. When you’ve never really connected to a group of people before, or if you have always felt a little odd or out of place and suddenly you find a place that feels comfortable, you cling to it. You call it home. You call the other people there family. And that’s what makes EAE so awesome. We are a home and family for a network of hundreds of students, alumni, faculty and staff from all over the world who have bonded together over their nerdy interests.

And so allow me to end this long-winded, glorified thank you note by cheering all the wonderful people I work with. Thank you for everything you’ve done to make EAE feel like home for so many. Myself included.

Here’s to another 10 years!

-A

5 Tips for a Good (Games) Conference Experience

Phew, I just got back from Finland and Germany and two amazing conferences. Whilst my body is thoroughly exhausted (thanks, sports!) my mind is more energised than ever. So, you have my apologies for the click-bait-y title, but this experience has truly been unique in that it is the first time I wasn’t physically ill from anxiety at a conference.

The entire process of conferencing is extraordinarily stressful. There’s the expense, travel, immigration, presentation-nerves, big social groups, fears of audience reaction, paper writing, possible rejection, misunderstanding, language barriers, unfamiliar cityscapes, tech failures, dead batteries, expensive mobile service, and more. Whilst there’s no way to lessen the natural anxieties which arise from travel and conferencing,¬†I’ve found some ways of refocusing or perhaps distracting myself to be effective.

(I’m very much inspired by Nicolle Lamerich’s style of blog post here- and hopefully she takes that as a compliment ūüôā . Although probably unique to games-y type conferences, there might be wider¬†relevance.¬†The tips here appear in no particular order and come only from my personal experience.)

1. Play!

You are a games scholar. Remember why you became one? Oh yeah, because playing games is totally rad!

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It seems funny that play is ingrained in our everyday lives to some degree, but when we go to conferences, we stop.

Conference schedules are jam-packed with events from morning to night and I’ve often felt an immense amount of pressure to attend every talk, read every paper, do all the things, and to do so I’ve had to sacrifice play-time. I realised that for me, play-time is me-time. A quick 5 minutes on the 3DS or a drop in play session in the arcade is like a stress-reset switch for me. It gives me a chance to switch focus from an otherwise highly stressful situation and just catch some bugs with a net in my AC:NL village. It is also a great conversation starter, I might add, and the StreetPasses are nice too.

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No, I have no idea why I am making that face. Yes, this was a selfie. Yes, I could have easily taken another.

 

For the last DiGRA, I never bothered to go to the Blank Arcade¬†because I was too wrapped up in attending every talk and tweeting every session. It took me until this year, sadly, to realise I had fallen into the particular type of productivity-driven thinking which I loathe. Especially since, in this case, it can be productive for game scholars to play games! (This actually clashes against my own reading of Huizinga, but hey ho, this is a blog post, deal with it.) Conferences are not a competition- they are a venue for exploring individual interests. If you’re interested in games, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not playing.

2. Talk to Everyone

This is something I really struggle with. I am not a social person by any means- I can spend blood points to boost social stats for a fixed duration, but then I’m torpor’d (VtM players will get this reference). I find social interactions tense, tedious and exhausting. Playing my 3DS between talks or interactions helps, but doesn’t fully alleviate the stress I feel during strained, worky, networking type conference conversations.

I suppose my point here is that if you’re going to be socially awkward and struggle, then do so with everyone. Don’t try to make a powerplay by brushing past a student to talk to a professor- or if you have to- then excuse yourself and try to be polite about it. Or just be generally awkward and horrible to everyone¬†equally. ūüôā

And as an aside, if someone is awkward and horrible to you (like I probably was), it usually isn’t personal. They, like me, might just feel stressed because of myriad other factors.

3. Embarrass Yourself

Embarrassment is a fun topic, right Sebastian? I suppose embarrassment is a sliding scale and different for each person, but I feel like the more you can intentionally embarrass yourself in socially allowed ways, the better.

Most conference days end with a chance to experience embarrassment first-hand. Whether it be karaoke, danceoke (see below), a football match in which you injure your knees so bad you can’t walk properly for three days (also see below), or a group night out, these events not only help blow off steam, but also help the social lubrication of the conference.

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Danceoke led by Jaakko Stenros at University of Tampere. I didn’t actually participate in this event for the health and safety of others. My dancing is a little bit… erm… dangerous.

 

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I maybe got a wee bit competitive during three-team football… Photo credit to Xavier Ho.

 

Compared to the stress of letting your team down, embarrassing yourself with an injury or by being over-competitive, conference presentations seem like a walk in the park. I think this is for two reasons. First, it¬†brings down risks to self-identity. A whole group of people are re-assuring you that it is okay to not be the rigid-professional at this given moment in time- it is in fact socially unacceptable to do so. Secondly, being silly or embarrassing or playful together is a bonding experience. Hard to be nervous in front of an audience that you’ve played with.

4. Eat Whatever

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Seriously. Just enjoy not having to cook for once.

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No rules apply. You want a breakfast beer? Do it. You want dinner at 15:00? Go for it. Most people will be so jetlagged that they won’t notice or care and will probably assume you are also jetlagged.

5. Humour

I recommend a humorous approach to life in general, but particularly at conferences. If you can get your audience to chuckle at least once during a conference presentation, you’re probably doing something right… or you have a funny topic. Obviously humour isn’t always appropriate, but I am sure you can figure that one out on your own.

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The Goatse of Grief Play by Jaakko Stenros.

 

A good sense of humour travels well. Take time to look around and notice your surroundings. Also take time to laugh at the little things. Like this toilet roll holder:

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Heh heh heh. Best bog-roll holder ever.

I’m unsure how many¬†DiGRA attendees bothered to take a look during their walk in to uni, but in someone’s front yard was a big red box (see below).

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Covered in graffiti, I assumed this was a disused cigarette dispenser, but a closer look told me no.

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For the discerning business traveler, this machine dispenses condoms, vibrators, cockrings, and, of course, the famous TravelPussy.

 

 

Yep. Just out in someone’s front garden. Although, it was close to the university and could have been a part of student halls, or maybe even a student prank as I believe these are normally found in toilets. I didn’t actually check to see if I could buy a TravelPussy, a mistake I gravely regret now. Anyway, I got a pretty good chuckle out of it.

5.1 Explore

Piggybacking onto humour is my advice to explore the local area. If you can, try to squeeze in a day before or after the conference to go walking around. If your schedule is too tight, take a midday break, grab a sandwich, and have a picnic.

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The conference police won’t arrest you for missing a panel… unless you’re a presenter.

 

I honestly don’t think brains (well, at least my brain) is equipped to deal with 8 straight days of (net)working from 7:30-23:00. Sometimes you just gotta chill in the woods for a bit… with something you bought from a vending machine in someone’s front garden… ;D

Until next time,

Ashley

 

 

Games and Nostalgia

Happy new year!

Hope everyone had a fun and creative Christmas break. Hopefully y’all got to play some games! Between writing the index for my latest book and a few journal articles I managed to play a few, but funnily enough, I didn’t play anything new.

Over break I revisited some classics and favourites from my gaming past. They got me thinking a lot about how nostalgia works to not only sell games (as I discussed in my last blog post) but also how a sizable chunk of my best memories in life are playing games. I guess that sounds kinda sad when I type it out, as I would assume other people have great memories of their family or pets or something, but mine are with pixels, polygons, cards and dice… and… wait a minute…family!¬†Most of my best memories are when we all played together, actually. I never realised that until now. Hmm…

Well, anyway, since the Game Love book is coming out soon (preview my chapter¬†here!) I thought I might make a couple posts celebrating my own love of games… and what better time to be self-indulgent than when you’ve got the January blues?

For the purposes of this post, I’ve tried to pick games which stand out the most in my memory, and I’ve tried to place them in chronological order. Other than that, there’s no real methodology to this list. I had originally tried to limit myself to 10 games, but in the style of Buzzfeed, the list seemed to grow willynilly. Well, why shouldn’t it? This is probably my least academic-y post, but that’s okay. Its nice to take a post to remember why I study games- because I love them!

Let’s get started.

12. Hi Ho Cherry-O– Board game- 1960

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I really liked this game when I was in preschool because I really liked cherries. Whilst I don’t actually remember playing it, I do remember trying to eat the red plastic tokens because I thought they would taste like maraschino¬†cherries. They didn’t. ūüė¶

11. Totally Rad- NES- 1991

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Although I had other gaming consoles, the NES was probably the first that I really remember playing. And this game? Yeah, it was as good as it sounds.

I never actually managed to clear the first screen because I think I lacked the requisite manual dexterity, but damn if I didn’t repeatedly try. I would get my mum in to help and watch her play for hours. I was completely fascinated by this Totally Rad world, which seemed to be an odd mix of magic and tech. Also, it really got down with the language of the youth, as evidenced in this gamefaq screenshot.

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10. Balloon Fight- NES- 1986

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Simple and fun. Good memories of PvP with family.

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Here’s an old photo of my uncle and I playing the game. If you look closely (and ignore the pink shag carpet and new romantic drapes) you can see I have my tongue stuck out in concentration. Kind of adorable if I do say so myself. I like this picture a lot, not only because I remember being really excited to play games with my visiting uncle, but also because most of the family bonded around the game. I mean, it was an important enough feature of Christmas ’91 for grandma to snap a photo. That’s pretty cool.

9. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening- Gameboy- 1993

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One of the best Christmas gifts ever. Good call, dad.

8. Bubsy- Sega Genesis/ Megadrive- 1993

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One entire summer vacation was spent playing this game with my grandmother. A simple platformer mostly relying on jump mechanics to collect balls of yarn and defeat aliens hell-bent on ridding the world of knits, this game was frustrating and fun. Suffering from a similar problem as the Lion King game (also for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis), certain jumps required absolute precision. If your controller’s B or C button was at all sticky, you might as well turn off the console.

The main thing I remember about the game was sharing the controller with my gran. When one of us would get stuck, or keep dying, or get blisters from sweaty button-mashing, we’d pass the controller. We completed the game together even though it had single player objectives. It was a nice feeling of accomplishment.

7. The Lion King- Sega Genesis/ Megadrive- 1994

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Nope. This game was hard. Impossible.

I spent a Christmas break with my dad trying to get past the water buffalo stampede and neither of us could do it.

A couple¬†summers ago I was in a secondhand gaming shop in Manchester when I found a copy. I bought it, convinced that my manual dexterity had improved since 1994. It hadn’t. In fact, according to The Lion King, it had gotten demonstrably worse.

I got so frustrated that I actually resorted to looking up cheat codes online. (Note: I didn’t actually use the cheat codes because in the end I decided that the only thing more embarrassing than failing at a game is cheating and still failing and I didn’t want to take that risk.) By looking the game up, what I found was quite a lot of commiseration. The game’s entry on Wikipedia¬†entry even states:

Gameplayers wrote in their November 1994 issue that “even on the easy setting, the game is hard for an experienced player”

There was some controversy over whether or not the difficulty was insanely hard to increase rental revenue. That’s right, this was back in the days of renting games. The classic Friday-Sunday rental meant you had a precious 48 hours, or so, to complete the game or risk your mum not letting you rent it again.

Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you play the game, I would recommend you check out some YouTube playthroughs. The ones where the narrator gets increasingly drunk as a coping mechanism to deal with Simba’s failures are particularly entertaining.

6. Crash Bandicoot- PlayStation- 1996

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In the run up to Christmas 1996, my auntie bought a PlayStation. This was a big deal. This was HUGE!

After ages of whining for a next gen console, my mum had begrudgingly bought me a N64 that autumn. Unfortunately, one of the games we got with it was the first Turok. The fiddly camera controls meant that I quickly lost interest in the game, and I didn’t find renewed interest in any of the other launch titles. Frustrated that I wasn’t playing with my expensive new toy, my mum made me return it. I was heartbroken, but calculated that if I moped around long enough mum might spring for a¬†PlayStation.

She didn’t. But auntie did! Well, she bought it for herself and my cousin, but we share in this family.

The day she bought it, my grandmother and I went to her house and were totally amazed at Crash Bandicoot’s polygonal graphics, use of lighting, and super fun gameplay, but what took us by surprise was that we couldn’t save. My auntie hadn’t bought a memory card because she didn’t think she would need it. Not only had previous gaming consoles featured internal save memory, but we just binge-played. When engrossed by a game, we would spend the weekend playing through on limited lives, pausing when we needed to sleep or shower, and never shut the console off. It was impossible to do that with Crash- at least with our skill set. On the second night of restarting from the beginning each time we ran out of lives, my aunt threw on a coat and went out to the shops to buy a memory card.

We completed the game the next week.

5. Tekken 2- PlayStation- 1996

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When I finally did get a PlayStation (thanks mum!), I became a tad bit obsessed with this game. I mean, I was into it. The cheesy background stories? They were totally legit to my mind. Compelling even. Also, I wanted to be Michelle Chang. She had the best upper cuts, cool hair, and a legit reason for entering the Iron Fist Tournament.

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I think, technically, my first cosplay was Michelle Chang. Well, it wasn’t so much cosplay as me dressing up like her around the house and trying desperately to get my fringe to do that spikey thing with water and hair gel. Because she was so awesome, of course.

Also, when I got my first pet, I named him Yoshimitsu after my second favourite character.

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Remember how in the intro his robot hand would do that spinny thing? How rad was that? If you don’t remember, go rewatch the intro video.¬†It will be the best 1:35 of your day.

4. Bust a Groove- PlayStation- 1998

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If you couldn’t tell by now, the PlayStation was a big one for me. See, mum? Told you I would play with it everyday!

Ahem, anyway, this is another one of those games which took over an entire summer. In between binge watching episodes of Dragon Ball Z on Toonami, my bestie and I would play hours of this dancing game. It was fun. Mechanically, it wasn’t dissimilar from any other dancing game on the market. What made it special was the music (original and actually good) and the aesthetics. Each dancing stage had a responsive environment. The better you danced, the more cool stuff would happen. Also, as an aside, the CD ROM could actually be put in your music CD player and you could listen to the soundtrack. What?! How cool is that, right?

It also had this… interesting… character and level. I never really understood why an adult baby was sexy and why the level featured¬†100 litres of milk. I mean, 100 litres isn’t that much though, is it? Like, not enough to fill a giant bottle, right?

I am pretty sure my second cosplay came from this game. I loooooved Frida’s style. And that might be why I have blue hair now…but we can get into Frida, and my hair, in the next blog post.

3. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven- PlayStation2- 2003

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By this point I was old enough to get a job, work, save, and buy my own damn consoles and games. Being a fan of Sony at this point, I went straight for the PS2 when the next gen came around. It was a wise investment. The PS2 could play DVDs! Actually, as soon as I got it home and hooked it up to my TV, I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before I played any games. What? I had just gotten home from work. I was tired.

Anyway, Tenchu is probably the best stealth game I have ever played. And that’s probably because I don’t play many stealth games. And I had an operation that summer so I was a captive audience and had many doctor-prescribed pain management medications which made the game extra challenging. And fun.

Also, Ayami had great hair, but again, I will save that ramble for next time.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time- N64- 1998

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I hear you saying, “Whoa, did you mix up the order here?” No, I didn’t. Yes, I am aware Ocarina of Time came out in ’98, but remember how my mum made me take back my N64 like 2 weeks after launch? Yeah, I missed out on most of the classic N64 titles as a result. Pity me.

Lucky I had awesome friends who dusted off and dragged over their N64 for me to play in the summer of ’03 when I was laid up in bed post-surgery. I fell in love with Hyrule all over again, and this time it was in colour!

I quickly got stuck on the Water Temple and gave up… Sigh.

1. Uno- Card Game- 1971

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You know how most families comment about Monopoly causing fights? This was my family’s Monopoly.

Ever since I could understand the rules, I’ve been playing this game. With my entire family as well. Arguments and all.

Awww memories.

Some thoughts…

Looking back at glimpses of my personal gaming history has made me realise just how involved my family has been. The majority of my memories involve at least one family member participating, and well, when I got older it usually involved friends. I don’t know if my family is unique in that every member has played/currently plays videogames on a regular basis, but something tells me they aren’t. I bet lots of families play together. And, obviously, friends too.

I guess this gets at the heart of why I study games. I believe they are a social activity. Obviously not all games are played socially, and not all games encourage sociability- nor should they, but I think that most do. And that’s pretty interesting to a sociologist.

Until next time,

Ashley