Thursday, May 28, 2009


Regarding this:

I worry a little bit that enough research has been done about this:

Storm could irrigate the crops of all the suffering farmers in the midwest and California when the droughts of summer are destroying their crops.

I don't follow X-Men religiously anymore, and they sneak things like Spidey's organic webbing past me, so this may have changed, but historically (i.e., in the 80's-90's) it was explicitly established that Storm moves humidity around, but doesn't create it. If she irrigates the midwest, she does it by exacerbating the drought in California. In fact, she was essentially doing this as a local rain goddess when Prof. X recruited her.

My geeky trivium aside, I think it's weird when people complain about an amusing theoretical like this as being tired, overdone, or silly. Superheroes are cartoons -- superhero economics is a cartoon of economics. Most of us aren't economists, and thinking through simplified illustrations (including their shortcomings) makes key concepts clearer. Also, it's fun.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The title link is a recurring theme on the D&D blog.

There are distinct phases of gameplay. Some are obvious: combat, for example. Slightly less obvious are planning phases ("So, X casts Invisibility on Y, who sneaks around the enemy camp. After Y's in position, Z will summon..." "No, wait, how big is the camp again? Is the ogre still...?") and conversation phases.

Perhaps the most awkward moments of the game are at transitions between phases, but I think that might be a necessary tension in the game. Players always want more time to prepare before the fight starts, and DMs always have to keep the game moving to the next phase.

But the blog format impacts the conversation phase a lot, I think. (By conversation here, I mean specifically back-and-forth between PCs and NPCs.) The blog format necessarily encourages serial expositions, both from the players and from the DM (who has to do lots of expositions anyway.) I find my characters talking in soliloquys -- even when I want them to be taciturn. (Which admittedly, is playing hard against type.)

This post is driven by me not knowing what to have Mouth say, of course. But I think it's a recurrent theme. Well, yes, it's _also_ a recurrent theme that I don't know what to have my character say. But I MEANT the theme of an extensive description by an NPC, followed by a "Talk, talky people!" moment. It just _feels_ so much like the DM said everything they meant to say...what are we supposed to add?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Blog interface for D&D

So we've got a campaign rollin' over at dndblog, and it's all good. But I had a suggestion when I realized that for the third time in one encounter, I scrolled down the blog to find the initiative order. Wouldn't it be nice to have the initiative order sitting in a nice block on the sidebar, easy to find?

One advantage of the web interface is that this data is accessible anyway -- it would be more convenient to be in the sidebar, but it's not like it's a terrible burden to scroll down to find it. This is better than the DM having a list to consult and all the players continually asking who goes when. Although over at Paizo they've got a clever device to help you track what's happening.

But once the sidebar seed gets planted, I couldn't help but wonder if the snazzy stuff that GameMastery Combat Pad I linked to couldn't be included in a D&D web interface. Currently, that would be a lot of upkeep for the DM (who just happens to be superuser for the blog). He'd have to update the sidebar every time he posted a round's results -- potentially posting hit points, status, whatever. A blog generally doesn't have the character data integrated with the website (or at least, ours doesn't), but what if it did?

What if the character stats were stored in a database (separate from the database of blog posts, of course, but that just points out there's ALREADY a database the blog's pulling from, so this isn't a giant leap). The DM has some handy interface website where he/she can modify that data. As he does, the sidebar magically updates, and everyone can see not just the initiative order, but what just happened to them. The DM can also post a description of the round and its results, but I'm no longer required to sift through each of those descriptions for how many hp I've gained or lost, whether my opponent's dead or not, whether we've jointly remembered to update the various bonuses/spell effects/ammunition...

Couldn't this go still further -- couldn't each player have (possibly password protected) access to their own character sheet, visible on the same webpage as they were posting their actions? And instead of making two steps for the DM, what if he or she could post a round's results, interspersed with clever wiki-like codes to direct the character/initiative data to update, like "Craig guts the hapless vulture from stem to stern [Vulture1 hp-23] while Georg casts Bless [Party AB+1], bathing the group in a beneficent golden glow."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fist bump history -- Wonder Twins?

I'm not really a student of popular culture, but (like everyone) I thought the news coverage of the Obamas' fist bump was sadly unhip. The gesture's been around for years, and I thought was well-known to, well, everyone.

But, it wasn't around when I was a kid, to my knowledge. So where'd it come from? When did it beat out high fives? I was thinking it was a football thing (for a while, some teams were hitting ulnas, kinda like a high five that makes an "X" shape).

But there's an obvious precedent for the fist bump -- "Wonder Twin Powers: Activate!" Other than geeky nostalgia, anyone know of either (a) fist bump gestures preceding the Superfriends cartoon or (b) more justified sources of the fist bump?

As a postscript, a fist bump of sorts was used in the short-lived Thing cartoon ("Thing rings, do your thing!"), but that came after Superfriends and the Thing was fist bumping himself.

Ask, and I receive! I see now (on Boomerang) that "Shazzan" apparently had rings that were put together, fist-bump style, to call the genie. I wonder if some Hanna-Barbera writer liked the imagery, and reiterated with the Wonder Twins?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Avengers/Invaders #2

"Every kid in America, if his country is threatened."



Thursday, May 15, 2008

The words I wish I got to define

So, a little while ago I posted a query on Curmudgeon Gamer, namely What is Ludology? This was an honest question, but asked with ulterior motives (more on that later). And the answers I got were perfectly reasonable.

But then I had to get all fancy-pants and search the Web. As always, big mistake. Not accidental porn big, but big.

At this point, I will digress by explaining those ulterior motives.

When I was young and naive, I came across a brilliantly excitingly named branch of mathematics called "Game Theory". Naturally I said to myself, "holy crap! Pretty darn smart of me to become a mathematician -- now I'll get to play games for a living!"

In case you aren't aware, "Game Theory" is a bait-and-switch ruse right up there with "Greenland". Somehow they managed to take the field of strategic game-playing and restrict it only to games no one would ever want to play. (Apparently there was some analysis of actual games in there at the beginning, but that was swiftly excised, lest anyone actually enjoy themselves.) Even worse, it turns out Game Theory is actually useful in economics, so there are hundreds of books on super-boring "Game Theory" that are actually not about games at all, just taunting me.

Now, as time went on, my interest in games has actually increased, and I desperately want to make a living from analyzing and studying (and playing) games. Real games, that are fun. But I had learned that "Game Theory" was not that.

So while explicitly I was asking "What is ludology?", implicitly I was pleading "Ludology is the immensely fun and cool analysis and study (and play) of games, right? And someone will pay me to be a ludologist?" I mean, how could it not be? "Ludo" is from the Latin for game (ludus), and "-ology" means "study of", so ludology must mean study of games, which is what I desperately want an official legitimate-type word for, right? (Put your hands down, eager beavers -- we'll get to it!)

Now let's return to that horrible "search the Web" idea.

It turns out "ludology" is in fact a pretty widely used term in the field of "game studies", which is a catchall term which presumably includes analysis of the play of games, but also refers to things like game sociology, game criticism & history, game computer science, and pretty much anything that some academic wants to publish that refers to a game. (How game studies should relate to the design of actual games is a topic of some debate.)

But of course ludology doesn't mean what I want it to mean. Oh no. Ludology is both a field and an ideological position, in opposition to the field/ideological position of narratology. Narratology is meant to encompass the study of essentially anything with a story, abstracted from its medium (so movies and books and soap operas and arguably videogames all use narratives, and can all be understood under the narratology umbrella). Ludology pushes back, saying that games are fundamentally _not_ just narratives. Just like narratives occur in different media, so do games (board games, card games, tv game shows, videogames, etc.) and instead of just lumping them in with the narratives, the ludologists say, the play and rule elements of games set them apart and they should have their own umbrella field that discusses the nature of games (abstracted from the medium) the same way narratology treats narratives. And that field is ludology. (The perspectives with horrible -ology names doesn't necessarily stop there: here's an article promoting a "paradigmological" approach.)

While the five word definition of "ludology" is still "analysis and study of games", the meaning behind that is very different from what _I_ was talking about. It asserts a political standpoint (games aren't narratives), and because of that standpoint it is necessarily chiefly concerned with the ontology of games, which is a fancy way to say trying to answer the question "what is a game?" Furthermore, the conflict between ludology and narratology as disciplines pulls them both further away from usefully relating to actual games, which of course require both gameplay and story.)

I understand that any "-ology" needs to make some effort addressing what they're all about, but that's Chapter One of the Intro to -ology book. (Remember reading the "What is Life?" section of your biology book?) The rest is the interesting stuff. You don't take archaeology and spend the whole time learning about "what is old stuff? what makes this the old stuff we study and that the old stuff we don't study?"

Oh, and am I the only one who's annoyed by taking a random word and putting "-ology" at the end of it? "Narratology" is obviously made up, and the natural counterpart "gameology" is equally stupid (no offense intended). But who thought digging up a Latin word to put before the (Greek) -ology would make it more acceptable?

Thankfully, their failing is my last shot. Someone stole Game Theory, Ludology seemed like a good idea but someone stole that too. However, "pediology" would be more consistently Greek -- although people might think it has to do with studying children and/or feet ("paidia", I am told, means "a childish game or amusement"). Equally confusing would be "scholeology", but perhaps even more appropriate: according to footnote 7 on page 5 of this paper (PDF link), the Latin ludus might have been used as a conscious parallel to the Greek schole, which referred both to leisure time and to school.

So, I coined it, I get to define it: I'm a scholeologist, which means that I analyze and study forms of games and game rule systems, both in terms of objective strategies and results and in terms of entertainment value and human-game interaction. I don't study the role of games in society or the society of gamers (what I would call game anthropology), although we might have useful things to say to each other; and I don't study games solely as vehicles for learning and cognition, although that's exactly what I'll tell the funding bodies when I apply for grants, if they'll buy it.

There might be ludologists who would say what I do is ludology (certainly it's not narratology -- I plan to never use the word "Aristotelian" again, and they seem to like it), and maybe I'll come around, but for the moment it sounds too political and "the nature of game-ness" for me. If the hypothesis "the positive effects of rubber-banding such as in Mario Kart for casual players can be achieved with less negative impressions from competitive players if more information is hidden from the players" isn't ludology, then I'm happy to make it scholeology. (I don't know if it's a true hypothesis or not -- possible future paper? :) )

Just in case there aren't enough links in this post, and/or you got here because of a conjunction of search terms, you might want a summary bibliography of books from various sides of game studies. For that, check out this excerpt from yet another book.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Videogames -- still not evil

Just a little link to direct your panicked parent friends to: in what must be a surprise to everyone, a big 'spensive study found no evidence that violent video games make kids violent. Who'da thunk it?