Summer is perfect time to do whatever you want. At least in principle: I can just about still remember times when I spent long Northern summer nights reading or playing. Nowadays, other priorities take hold. Summer is perfect time to work; that is true for an academic. Winters are filled with dozens of projects, past, present, future: planning, reporting and administration work. And there is of course teaching and other things like DiGRA and other association work I am involved with. When summer comes, I am just desperate to do research: the work I actually want to do most of all. So, I just sit inside, read and write. Wonderful!
There has not been so much time for games of books. I did read some more from the Culture series by Banks. There was also some straightforward action, Top Spin (a tennis game) and PainKiller. Looking at the recent releases, I have not found so much originality, but then again – for a summer night of entertainment, even yet another tennis game, or first-person-shooter can do.
After some days of driving around Finland during my summer holidays, we ended up into Finncon, the national science fiction and fantasy convention in Jyvaskyla. The event was its usual pleasant mixture of talks, presentations and good company (this time the invasion of teenage Anime fans in their cosplay outfits brought more colour to the geeky mix).
The foreign special quests were Robin Hobb, John Clute and Gwyneth Jones, whose readings I especially enjoyed. It is really pity that her work is so hard to find, at least in our country. We had interesting discussions both at the science fiction researchers’ meeting in Friday, as well as in the SF Research panel in Sunday. My personal highlight, however was the Games as Fiction and Fantasy session we had organised with Jussi Holopainen (Nokia/NRC), Mikael Kasurinen (Remedy) and Mike Pohjola (the author of Myrskyn aika RPG). The topic was impossibly complex, and time was ridiculously short, which made it all great fun. Audience was active in making questions, and I hope we created some conceptual clarity, even if much was of course left unanswered.
(The cat with a question.)
Last couple of weeks have meant transfer into the summer mode: mostly focusing on writing the game studies stuff that I cannot get done during the academic year. I have also started to read (both work and pleasure) as much as I can find time for. Summer nights in Finland are great for this. Look Windward, the latest of Ian M. Banks Culture novels, I think, my latest treasure. Not much energy for games, just occasional glimpse of Halo, then some gameplay videos of future releases (curious form of media art, in its own right). Last week I was spending my evenings working on the gameplay experience laboratory specs for our Lab. Looks promising.
There are many sorts of ironies. E.g., it is sometimes hard to make people understand that one can simultaneously be a pacifist, and love games — or fantasy, horror and science fiction, for that. I even intensely dislike all forms of competition, and like to lose, just to make the point. How can I then like games? Well, I do not like all sorts of games, nor do I play the games that I do in particularly competitive ways (some fellow role-players of course might want to abandon the concept of “game” altogether). Nick Yee says that he has not find proof for Richard Bartle‘s “Explorer” type to be validated in his RPG study. Well, we might be a small minority, but we do exist. I am waiting for the Middle-Earth Online just for the opportunity to explore the land, see the places, to get another way of imagining “being there”. That is fun. That is life.
Btw, what is reality? Do you know it? Just remembered one neuroscientist explaining his thesis how our basic brain state is dreaming: our brain is actively generating reality, constructing it. We are not just receiving information from outside, we are actively projecting our own conceptions and gestalts of its character “from inside”. And that is why fantasy is our fundamental condition.
(Another piece of irony: MEO is advertised as the “first Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game based on The Lord of the Rings”. Now that is a slight miscalculation, if I ever saw one.)
While writing this, I found the tunes at RadioDarvish.com. Now this site rocks.
Playing Halo, I suddenly remember some evenings of play, when I was a child. Running, evading, laughing and screaming aloud. Other parts in the game remind me from books, movies. Larry Niven and the Ringworld, of course, but so much more also. At certain point all that battle becomes purely mechanic, and then everything is just about reaching out. Getting to the next hilltop, over the brook. Playing for being, being for playing?
E3 came and went, with its various games tech news. New devices, like info on the Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, and an updated Nokia N-Gage were announced. All very interesting and nice, I however find myself also looking for some breaking news on the actual game design areas. Games that received most attention seemed to be safe-and-secure sequels to old success concepts: Doom 3, Halo 2, Half-Life 2. It is hard to build future just on imitation. Nor just on new tech, even if all areas of innovation are important.
Tried out the D&D Heroes tonight — and in game technology terms, it appears superior to BGDA2, but — again! — something is missing. This time, the immense repositories of creative content built for D&D during the years have translated into a shallow and impersonal game setting that does not help you to get immersed in the fantasy. There is a careful line between entertaining stereotypes and near-mythic structures acting as mirrors for imaginative production, and plain old banality.
After BGDA2 (hm.. the Black Isle website seems to be down at the moment), I was encouraged to continue testing other RPG-style games. However, it seems to be that it is hard to say what are the right holding power factors, or the right combination of them, in my case at least. Neverwinter Nights is an old acquaintance, but I do not seem to find time to actually play the Shadows of the Undrentide expansion that I recently installed. And there is the Hordes of the Underdark pack also available, oh yes. Last night we then playtested Final Fantasy: Chrystal Chronicles with Laura (CameCube and two GBAs with cables involved), and even if the collaborative gameplay has its obvious strengths, there seemed to be something missing. Don’t know. Perhaps it is just the lack of history and familiarity with FF series that was holding us down? Might be that trying again would change the feeling, kupo.