The Best Sentence of the Day

This blog is a cut-up of a dissertation in progress. Each day, I will post my favorite sentence that I have newly scribed. Everything out of context, but suggestive. I hope.

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I'm a game designer, a games researcher, and a future forecaster. I make games that give a damn. I study how games change lives. I spend a lot of my time figuring out how the games we play today shape our real-world future. And so I'm trying to make sure that a game developer wins a Nobel Prize by the year 2032. Learn more here in my bio or get my contact information on my contact page.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Best Sentence #41

Oh, happy day. I realized while in the shower this morning that a very good way to explain the things I find most interesting about alternate reality games and urban superhero games is to harken back to my earliest game influences. To know that I get to formally cite Tass Times in Tonetown in my dissertation makes it all. worth. while!

Here is some stuff to chew on, best sentence-y.

Here, it helps to take a historical detour to consider two early genres of personal computer games: text adventures and graphic adventure games. These genres taught gamers a pair of strategies for investigating virtual worlds: affordance hunting and promiscuous activation. I want to suggest that ubiquitous gaming seeks to teach gamers these same strategies for investigating the real world.


Blogger Ken said...

Two questions. One: you are going to make the text of your completed manuscript publicly available, right? And two: will there be a glossary?

(promiscuous activation??)

11:35 AM  
Blogger Jane said...

Ha. :) Well, technically the dissertation will be made publically available through the UC Berkeley library... but yes, I probably will post chapters on my website.

Here's some extra explanation for you on those two terms. Also, fyi, performance studies researchers must use the term "promiscuous", it's like a rite of passage. :)

The technique of affordance hunting can be defined as the highly experimental recombination of game objects in different game locations, and applied to different game characters. Affordance hunting was the primary lesson of the text adventures, a genre of text-based puzzle-solving and world exploring made famous by Infocom in more than thirty bestselling games such as The Zork Trilogy (1980), Planetfall (1983), and The Lurking Horror (1987). It emerged as a response to a hallmark of the genre, what gamers refer to as “inventory puzzles”, which required you to carry multiple found items until you figured out where, how, and when to deploy them in a meaningful way. As digital media theorist Espen Aaresth observes in “The Adventure Game”, this results in an “inappropriate attachment to objects”, for the player “must collect and examine as many objects as possible, because you never know what you might need later” (116). The result of this style of puzzle was the tendency to treat everything and everyone in the environment as potentially useful. And that usefulness had to be actively discovered.


Promiscuous activation, on the other hand, can be defined as the exhaustive search for every single interactive platform in a given environment. The technique of promiscuous activation was the primary lesson of the graphic adventure game, a successor to text adventures that incorporated a point-and-click graphic interface, replacing some or all of the typing input. Major graphic adventure games include Tass Times in Tone Town (Activision, 1986), King’s Quest VI (Sierra Entertainment, 1992), Myst (Cyan, 1993), The Pandora Directive (Microsoft, 1996), and Grim Fandango (Lucas Arts, 1998). While the graphical landscapes of these games grew increasingly detailed as technology improved, only certain details in the gaming environment had interactive potential. It was up to the player to find them by, essentially, pointing and clicking at every discernable object on the screen. In a Computer Times review of a Myst sequel, Andrew Lim summarizes this essential strategy: “Leave no stone unturned, touch everything, click on everything in sight” ([3]) If a given game object were indeed programmed with some level of interactivity, it would activate upon clicking. The player could then choose to examine it, read it, eat it, throw it, keep it, or whatever else seemed a viable action to take (and here, of course, is where affordance hunting comes back into play). In early graphic adventure games, this search for interactive opportunities was made easier by what players dubbed the “hotspots” on the screen. When a player was pointing at a meaningful detail, the cursor would change from a pointer to some other icon to signify the latent interactive opportunity. In the case of Tass Times in Tone Town, for example, these icons included an eye to “look at the object”; a hand to “take the object”; a dollar bill to “buy the object”; and a mouth to “talk to the object”—usually most helpful when the ‘object’ was another character, although at one point in the game, it actually helps to talk to a gated wall. (See image 2.1) As this genre developed, however, hotspots were phased out. In a Game Zone review of the graphic adventure game Conspiracies (Got Game Entertainment, 2003), Robert Gerbino writes: “Dragging the pointer across the screen to find objects of interest is especially frustrating because there are no hotspots. That is, if you do manage to run over something important, the mouse cursor does not change. So you must click on everything” ([5]). The first experience of encountering a new space in these games, then, consisted of checking each and every detail for interactive opportunities.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Fascinating. And an excellent explanation for why I don't play video games (except Tetris and Freecell).

I think I'd rather spend all that "click time" talking with friends.

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just BOUGHT Tass Times in Tonetown, for my Commodore 64! Excellent choice of a title and makes me interested in your blog, so will stay tuned! :)

John, London, UK

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should put advertisment!

11:09 PM  

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