New research, Games and Culture

Interesting new research papers coming out in Games and Culture, OnlineFirst:

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New issue: Fafnir, Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research

Spreading word, the new issue of Fafnir is out:

Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research 4/2014

Jyrki Korpua, Hanna-Riikka Roine & Päivi Väätänen:
Editorial 4/2014

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William Bowman:
Women and Women: Use of Women Types as Rhetorical Techniques in Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and Tepper’s Gate to Women’s Country.

Abstract: In this article, I argue both Margaret Atwood in Handmaid’s Tale and Sheri S. Tepper in Gate to Women’s Country use the same three ‘women type’ characters to explore ideal female gender roles and their relationship to society. Further, I argue that both authors use these characters as part of their bigger rhetorical engagement with the American gender essentialist political movements of 1980s. In particular, I argue that Atwood’s types, despite her empathy with the feminist movement, distance her from both radical second-wave separatist feminism and the American religio-political conservative movement of the 80s, and, against Dopp, that Offred does in fact offer an effective ideal female to be emulated in that, by the end of the novel, she defines and externalizes her self. On the other hand, for Tepper I argue, against Pierson, that Gate is not intrinsically anti-sexual but rather anti-romanticism, sexuality—homosexual and otherwise–only the unfortunate collateral damage, and, further, that Tepper’s women types align her much closer to the essentialism of second- and third-wave feminism than Atwood.

Keywords: Atwood, Tepper, Gender Roles, Women, Science Fiction, Handmaid’s Tale, Gate to Women’s Country

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Victor Grech, Clare Vassallo and Ivan Callus:
The coldest of all cold monsters: state infliction of infertility.

Abstract:The state may decide to limit its population due to a variety of reasons. This paper reviews the intersection of state-induced infertility in science-fiction, exploring eugenics, overpopulation, along with state-devised strategies to control both overpopulation and the quality of the remaining population.

Keywords:science fiction; infertilty, demodystopias, eugenics.

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Päivi Väätänen:
Sun Ra: Myth, Science, and Science Fiction.

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Jari Käkelä:
Maps for Further Exploring: Experiences from Helsinki Summer School Course “Science Fiction in Literature and Culture”

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Jyrki Korpua:
Kirja-arvio: Juri Nummelin & Vesa Sisättö – Tolkien – elämä ja teokset.

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Tieteen päivät: peliteollisuussessio

[Session about Finnish game industry in Tieteen päivät 2015 event] Tervetuloa ilmaiseen tiedetapahtumaan: Tieteen päivät 2015 -tapahtuma sisältää myös session “Demoskeneä vai Tekes-tukea – suomalaisen peliteollisuuden menestystekijät”, jonka puheenjohtajana toimin. Asiantuntijanäkökulmia tarjoaa kolme puhujaa: Olli Sotamaa, Sonja Ängeslevä ja Jani Niipola. Tarkemmat tiedot sessiosta löytyvät ohjelmasivulta:

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blog year 2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 35,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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From Smartphones to (Playful) Smart Devices?

Casio Databank

Casio Databank

If you were a techie nerd in the 80s, you might have used a Casio Databank wristwatch: a bulky device that had a small LCD screen, capable of acting as a calculator, address book, as well as a simple gaming device, while also providing advanced clock features. Those watches were (and still do) dividing user opinions, some enjoying their technically advanced, engineer-oriented pleasures, some staying as far as possible from such gadgets. With today’s focus on “smart watches” and “fitness bands”, such bulky appendices may be making a return to thousands of wrists this Christmas.

Another way of looking at these things is to consider them as the coming of the “wristwatch computer”, or manifestations of wearable, pervasive or ubiquitous computing, depending on the more general concept to adopt. As such small, “smart things” start to network and communicate with each other, they are also parts of “Internet of Things”, or “Web of Things” developments. The overall promise is of better services, which are more contextually aware, that provide information and interaction affordances in more convenient ways than the old, “PC-centric” computing paradigm has allowed. Such technologies are on the one hand inherently personal, as they connect with a trusted device (typically your mobile phone), which also may include your calendars, contact information, various social media accounts and other personalization information. On the other, they tap into new types of sensors, location-aware services and proximity beacons to provide novel services and experiences.

The futuristic promises are great, but the reality is still in the making. The current generation of smartwatches are limited in many ways, including unwieldy form factor, limited functionalities, occasional bugs, and typically rather short battery lives. The promise is nevertheless there, and many people appear to be drawn to experiment with such devices on the basis of two key functionalities: accessing smartphone alerts and information from a wristwatch, and for fitness or health information captured by the smartwatch sensors. The more advanced functionalities such as universal NFC payments, or location-based games are still waiting in the future.

My recent experiences on smartwatches are based on setting up the Samsung Galaxy Gear S (apparently a good exercise for your faculties also while lying down with a nasty flu in bed). There are multiple hoops that an early adopter seems to need to hop through: for example, you need to have a particular type of Samsung smartphone in order to use it. Having a custom rom in the phone was also a no-go, so in my case for example, I first had to uninstall the Cyanogenmod 11 I had been using in my Galaxy S4, wipe the phone, install the stock Samsung TouchWiz rom, and after that to proceed to reinstall all my applications, set up all the user accounts and re-authenticate e.g. all two-factor authentication-enabled services – a process that can easily take several hours, and is probably btw enough to turn away few interested testers.

Galaxy Gear S

Galaxy Gear S

After inserting a nano-SIM card (this device can also double as a stand-alone gsm phone), and charging the Gear S, it is time to install the necessary Galaxy Gear Manager application into Galaxy S4 from Galaxy Store (this is not available from the Google Play store, even if it is an Android app), which makes it possible to install applications and customize the Gear S. The limited selection of Gear apps is one indication of the somewhat problematic, fragmented character of current wearable ecosystems. Rather than supporting Android Wear, the Google ecosystem for wearables, Gear S is based on Tizen, a different Linux based mobile OS, developed by an association of companies, led by Samsung. Next year, the Apple Watch will arrive, opening up yet another key competing ecosystem. Getting support of e.g. your Google Maps favourites and navigation to Gear S soon does not seem likely in this competitive situation, and if you are having your calendar in Microsoft Exchange 365 server, or iCloud, for example, you first need to figure out how to get that information synchronized to the smartphone that acts as the “base station” for the particular smart device you got your eyes on. Everyone is obviously adopting a gold rush tactic, and try to grab as much land in the emerging user base as possible, trying to lock the users to their own, proprietary wearable ecosystem. From the user perspective, the situation is not optimal.

Thus, while it is nice to see e.g. movement information automatically recorded by Gear S in its S Health app, I am already a user of the leading Runkeeper service, and there is no Runkeeper app in Galaxy Gear S, nor is there a way to integrate S Health data with Runkeeper that I know of. Another handy feature would be to have the daily navigational guidance right at your wrist, when you need it. I have already long adopted the habit of including location information to all my important calendar events, so that when I am on the run, one click on the smartphone calendar will automatically open maps, with navigation, helping to choose whether to walk, pick up public transport or a taxi, which is particularly handy in a foreign country or city. Google Maps is particularly good with the public transportation schedule integration, but also Here Maps (ex-Nokia) is pretty decent in this area, at least here in Finland. Gear S does not support Google Maps/navigation, but Here Maps is supported (in “Beta”). It features turn-by-turn navigation, which appears to work and is a very good service. However, while Gear S has a bright and sharp two-inch AMOLED touch screen, which makes it into a very large wristwatch, it is still painful to use for typing in an address, with the tiny QWERTY keys. It is possible to use “Send to Gear” action from the smartphone version of Here Maps, but this seems to work only for beaming the walking instructions, and the entire operation also somewhat negates what is the key idea of wearables – of not needing to dig up the smartphone in a busy situation, with the smartwatch ready in the wrist. Another way around this would be to use “S Voice” input in Gear, but as the Finnish language is not supported, there is currently no way to just speak the local address to the Gear S. While you can get your meetings’ location information displayed in Gear S by including it into the default calendar in your supported Galaxy smartphone, it does no good trying to tap that address line in Gear S, as it is not currently linked to any navigation action.

It finally boils down to practical things such as battery life and form factor of the device, as well as language and application/service support, which of the emerging smartwatches will be a real success among the users. Based on very limited, first experiences, Galaxy Gear S is a good attempt, but finally a borderline case. The plastic-covered wrist computer is so large that at least my skin gets a bit sweaty and irritated after wearing it for several hours; stylistically, the size alone might be a complete turn-off for many potential users. Getting the notifications from text messages, emails (I opted out of those), Facebook or Twitter messages, or occasional Google Now update into the wrist display are sometimes truly useful alarms, but often distracting interferences. If you already have a tendency to lose your concentration easily, the current wearables might not be for you. On the other hand, if your work life relies on following and responding to the flow of various messages and communications and calendar events quickly and efficiently, you might consider one. I have not yet used actively Gear S for a full working day, but I suspect it should make it through a day even with the clock display turned on (the default behaviour is that it is turned off to save battery, and reacts to the movement of your rising hand by lighting up – which it often did, but also failed to do often enough to become really irritating to me at least).

Our research group has been doing studies into the future user cultures of emerging game and media technologies for years, and the ethics and rationale of design is something that we try to pay special attention with. Wearable smart technology holds promise e.g. in health, social and gamification applications of various kinds, potentially communicating the social presence of our important people literally to “our skin” in real time. It can also be used to remind us to balance our lives better, or to help us achieve our important goals by supportive messages or incentives. Gear S did bring up the S Health Pedometer display every now and then while I was writing this thing, reminding me about my physical inactivity and encouraging me to get up and moving. In my case, that was not probably the most efficient rhetoric Samsung could have adopted, but maybe there will be also other, more playful and less efficiency-oriented apps available in the future. And if not in Galaxy Gear platform, then those interesting experiments will be arriving in some other. (There was one, exploration oriented “POI Nearby” style Gear app I could find, but I could not get it to understand Finnish language or place names, either.) In any case, the door for real-world pervasive computing and play applications is now starting to open.

Gear S intro video:

More information e.g. in:

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MEC 2015: Midnight Sun conference on media education, ICT and games

Spread the word of this interesting conference – I am one of the keynotes and the call for papers is now open:

Welcome to the MEC 2015!

Media Education Conference – MEC 2015 (former NBE) is an informal and friendly conference which participants attend to exchange ideas and information dealing with media education, educational use of ICTs and learning environments. MEC is organized on 15-17 June 2015 in Sallatunturi with the theme In the Light of the Midnight Sun. The event organizer is the Centre for Media Pedagogy at the University of Lapland (CMP).

Keynote Speakers:
Professor Roger Säljö, Department of Education, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Associate Dean Sandi Feaster, School of Medicine, Standford University, USA
Professor Frans Mäyrä, School of Information Sciences, University of Tampere, Finland

Important Dates and Deadlines:
Deadline for abstract submissions: 2 February 2015
Notifications of acceptance sent to authors by 16 February 2015
Deadline for paper submission of accepted abstracts: 13 April 2015
Deadline for early-bird registration: 30 April 2015
Review results notified to authors by 11 May 2015
Deadline for camera-ready papers: 29 May 2015

Please check the conference website for full details of programme, keynotes, paper submission and registration:

Please forward this message to all the persons and organizations you think will be interested in the conference.

Looking forward to seeing you in Salla in June!

MEC 2015 Organizers

Professor Heli Ruokamo, Director, Chair
Ph.D. Päivi Rasi, University lecturer, Title of Docent
Ph.D. Mari Maasilta, University lecturer
Ph.D. Hanna Vuojärvi, University lecturer
MA (Education) Tuulikki Keskitalo, Researcher
Marja-Leena Porsanger, Conference Coordinator, Rovaniemi-Lapland Congresses, University of Lapland

Ystävällisin terveisin / With best regards,

Marja-Leena Porsanger
Konferenssisuunnittelija / Conference Coordinator

Postiosoite / Mailing address:
Lapin yliopisto / University of Lapland
Rovaniemi-Lapland Congresses
PL 122 / PO Box 122
96101 Rovaniemi, Finland

Käyntiosoite / Visiting address:
Hallituskatu 20 A, 96100 Rovaniemi

Tel. +358 (0)40 721 8260
Fax +358 (0)16 362 940 and

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Kutsu: Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja 2015, uusi päätoimittaja

[Finnish Yearbook of Game Studies, call for 2015] Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja jatkaa toimintaansa edelleen myös ensi vuonna. Päätoimittaja vaihtuu: vuosikirjan perustamisesta vuodesta 2009 suuren työn tehnyt professori Jaakko Suominen luovuttaa valtikan Jyväskylän yliopiston nykykulttuurin professorille Raine Koskimaalle, joka aloittaa vuoden alusta vuosikirjan uutena päätoimittajana. Vertaisarvioitu, suomenkielinen tiedejulkaisu on edelleen kiinnostunut julkaisemaan mielenkiintoisia uusia tutkimusartikkeleita, katsauksia ja kirja-arvioita; ks. kutsu:

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