Getting Game

The Oatmeal has me pegged and so I felt I needed to make amends.

Why did I wait for a free Internet cartoon strip series to guilt me in to buying the $1.99 version of a free game (ReMovEm) I’ve played over 12,000 times!?

As the strip posits, I had a rationalization problem. Anything that can hold my attention (or steal my attention a few minutes at a time over the past 2 years) deserves my financial support.

If you’re the Tetris-loving type, give the free version a shot and thank The Oatmeal for calling me on my own hypocrisy.

12,000 plays can't be wrong
12,000 plays can't be wrong
One Game, Two Icons
One Game, Two Icons

LARPing for fun and profit

I don’t really have much real-world experience with live action role playing games (or that phrase an oxymoron), but I do enjoy game mechanics and I hate doing my chores.

For the truly uninitiated who may have never even played a tabletop or MMO(RPG), here’s a brief video as a reference point to LARPs:

I’m fairly certain that clip inspired a good portion of the movie Role Models, but I can’t be totally sure.

Most of us probably don’t have the extemporaneous acting skills, free time or foam weaponry fabrication (smithing?) skills to participate in a LARP session but we love playing casual games on our phones and on Facebook.

A couple of posts this week by Jeff Hilimire and Thomas Strickland – mainly on the topics of location-awareness and technology’s place in place-based transactions got me thinking along a parallel path: gaming.

One of the hallmarks of most of the current crop of time-wasters (everything from check-in apps of various stripes, to FarmVille to even Twitter itself) are achievements. They take many forms: badges, buttons, mayorships, stars and even virtual goods and cash. But they share the feature of rewarding certain behaviors and actions with the acquisition of “flair” no matter how fleeting or ephemeral.

This idea of “the gameification of everything” has been rolling around in my head for months, since I first saw Kottke’s blog post, saw Jesse Schell’s DICE talk and heard about Jane McGonigal’s “SuperBetter” post-concussion ARG.

Here’s a recent video of a talk Jane gave in RE: SuperBetter:

These things may not seem related to why (or why not) technologies like Twitter or Foursquare or GetGlue ultimately survive, but they definitely have taught me that, as social animals, one need we have that exists right alongside this pure need to be social and share, is a desire to play, to have fun and to be rewarded in some way for our accomplishments. It starts with “tag” and moves to chess and now it’s XBOX Live and – some would argue – things like Gowalla and Miso.

But what I would argue (finally!) that “stand alone” experiences will never go away because, although most of the current crop of apps are about the “social”, you have to consider the personal, singular effects that these experiences have on the users/players who interact with them.

Do I think Foursquare will be around in 2 years? No.
Do I think Twitter will be around in 5 years? No.
Do I think Farmville will be around in 10 years? Yes.

Games are different and the introduction of game mechanics (and game-like risks & rewards) changes the math of what I’d think of as purely “social media” implementations.

What I’m most interested in (currently) are alternate reality games, social games and game-like constructs that help educate, inform and get things done. Two excellent examples, the upcoming Epic Win App and the Chore Wars RPG. The former is a GTD app/game for smartphones and the latter is an RPG framework for familial household duties. Fun AND good for you!

It’s these kinds of experiences – fun first – that I think point the way for future endeavors. You’ll always have loyalty-card-like systems (WeReward, Foursquare) but how about a “game” that gives me credit/points/something for calling my brother or working out regularly or giving an awesome presentation. One could argue that there are already portions of this functionality in other apps, but maybe I’ve just argued myself back around to this concept of pervasiveness that Jeff & Thomas put much more eloquently than I have thus far.

And while I think some if not most of the social technology and sites we have today will be gone in the near future, I think games/gaming are here to stay. The rub will be how does an activity I take in a game affect the real world? Donations to Haiti via Farmville is one way. Or how does an action I take upon entering a store or making a purchase or doing something here and now affect the game world on a server in China?

In the end, my post title is pretty meaningless given the current state of LARPs and ARGs. What I want is a better world (ha!) where I can snap a picture of the building I’m in or a QR code to update my game status for points that influence my fitness regimen or my diet and that tie back in to my game console, my TV and my running shoes. Like PerplexCity if had been played via phones. Or something like that. Maybe even like UGA’s Personal Media / Public Good projects.

It’s late and I’ve rambled on long enough. My ultimately-buried lede: while passivity is the logical outcome for all things social, active participation and outright gaming also have a long history and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon The fun begins when the games activate socially and the social activity you take without thinking about it affects your game.

Game on!

It’s The End Of The World of Warcraft As I Know It

And I feel fine.

I cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft just now. Here’s what I told them when they graciously inquired why I was leaving:

I can’t justify the cost of playing anymore. I always felt at a disadvantage in terms of gear, honor, reputation and guild because I was more casual in my approach. At this time the ROI – both monetary and time – doesn’t make sense for me to continue.

They were nice enough to let me know:

Keep in mind that your account and characters are retained indefinitely in case you decide to return. To re-subscribe to World of Warcraft, simply select the “Setup Subscription” button under the Billing Information section on the main Account Management page. You will then be able to enter new payment information and immediately continue your adventures.

So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

I’ll be spending my “free” (ha!) time playing some new games I plan on purchasing. Titles that are less massively-multiplayer and more personal and retro.

World of Goo and Aquaria, both winners at the Independent Games Festival in recent years.

I don’t think I’ll actually have more play time in either of these two games, but the monetary costs are finite and known. I pay for the game itself, I own it, I play as much or as little as I like and I’m done paying. No expansions or internet access required, just pure gameplay.

Now I don’t think that the experiences are comparable. The new two are basically console-type games (a puzzler and a platformer) for the PC whereas WoW is The. Biggest. Game. Ever.

But I’m no raider or PvPer or gold farmer. I found it harder and harder to play casually so I’m out, at least for the time being.

And Blizzard won’t be crying any tears. They got mad Wrath of the Lich King money rolling in. I’m just one suburban dad who would rather play something low-key for 30 minutes while iTunes syncs and Flickr pictures upload instead of jockeying for reputation, gear and a guild five nights a week.

But that’s just me. I’ll still be watching The Guild and reading about the world, I just won’t be playing.

Is Cooking for girls and Gaming for boys?

Last week Owen was pretty ill so I stayed home with him, nursing him back to health. The side effect of spending most of your day on the couch with a sleeping toddler on your chest is that you watch a ton of daytime TV.

And contrary to popular belief, the fact that I work in TV doesn’t mean I actually watch a lot of it, not during work hours anyway. Sure, I watch screeners and such and I have the TV on in my office for SportsCenter or re-airs of some of our originals, but I’m hardly ever really watching; it’s very passive.

So anyhow I took advantage of the time by watching some neglected HD channels on the HD tier namely Food Network, History, HDNet and Animal Planet.

And then a funny thing happened. An ad came on.

Not that funny in and of itself, but it was more than that. It was an “integration” – one of those ads where the host of Food Network show actually talks to you about the product. They call it “host selling” and in this case it was Aida Mollenkamp talking about a Nintendo DS game, Personal Trainer Cooking. Her show’s website is currently being sponsored by the game too.

Now I can’t find that particular ad on the internet but I did see another ad for the same game, this one starring Lisa Kudrow. Here’s that ad:

From the YouTube description:

Watch the DS Chef take Lisa Kudrow and her niece step-by-step through how to prepare Kung Pao Chicken with Personal Trainer: Cooking.

But why didn’t Kudrow appear with her son, Julian Murray?

I don’t know what I’m driving at here since, in general, I really love the fact that the Nintendo DS is marketing itself as the destination for female gamers of all ages. They’ve recently featured Liv Tyler and America Ferrara in their ads and I think they send a really important message about games and gamers to young girls and women: games can be about more than murder, fantasy or sports AND games are meant to be social.

I think games and game systems geared at males – boys AND men – do a good job of showing gore and graphical power and objectification (of both women and hardware/software) but they rarely show the social benefits of gaming. The camaraderie. The fun. We get one-ups-manship and the glorification of victory, but it’s winning in a very narrow field. We forget that the real reason to play any game is to have fun.

Wii ads are the notable exception, especially Wii Fit, which shows how everyone no matter their sex or age can get fit using the system. And the Rock Band/Guitar Hero juggernauts are especially adept at selling themselves as family fun and I dig that, mostly because Jenn and I are addicted to Guitar Hero.

But something about the cooking game sticks in my craw. Maybe it’s the choice of spokesperson, both Kudrow and Mollenkamp.

Maybe it’s the Food Network in general which only had male “Iron Chef”s until Cat Cora joined.

Maybe it’s because I have a daughter and I hate the idea of folks cramming a dated gender role down her throat like so much bad school lunch meatloaf.

I know in our family I do the most cooking. I just wish the ads featured families learning to cook together or a single person using the game to plan a dinner party for a big group of friends.

I guess I’m saying that for a company like Nintendo, the possibility of showing people how transcendent the idea of play can be should trump and “natural” assumptions we have about who plays what kinds of games. Especially in this area of casual gaming on Facebook, it seems like a mised opportunity to market a cooking game at girls and Food Network viewers. That’s the obvious path to go down.

But Wii Fit and their other titles on other platforms aren’t typical; they aren’t expected. They – and all the music games on the market across the various platforms – show us that people want to be entertained and they want to connect.

I have a son as well and I want him to enjoy more than just blowing stuff up or scoring touchdowns. I’d like him to play an instrument (even if it’s virtual) and learn to cook too.

I like the idea of Personal Trainer Cooking. If I had a DS I’d probably still be buying it despite my complaints.

But as someone who watches media and marketing closely because I work in media and marketing I’m a little put off. Sure the ad is nice and all but I kinda wish the spirit of the ads were more like this Entertainment Tonight piece with Jennie Garth, which itself would’ve been better if Peter Facinelli were in it (did I just type that?).

Anyhow, I’m just thinking about games because of Christmas and I find myself continually thinking about how we (the media, advertising, society) talk to girls and women since I’m raising a girl who I hope grows into a fine young women. A gamer who has fun, whether she’s cooking or rocking out or ganking some dude.

Am I way off base here? Do I need to lighten up? Should I go cook a meal? Shred some tunes? Play more WoW?

Let me know.

iPhoning it in

So now that I’m deep into month two of the iPhone I thought I’d give you an idea of what I really like and dislike about the device, especially as a gaming platform.

Here’s the clear winner in my hands: reMovem free:

Too much time in my hands

Let it be known that of all the software – especially games – that I’ve downloaded for the iPhone thus far, I’ve spent a grand total of nothing.

That’s right:

What do I have to show for it? By my count, 15 free games and a few, meaningless, goofy, game-like apps.

Obviously, having played (now) over 1,000 games of reMovem, it’s my clear favorite and a good candidate: brief, easy, straight-forward. It’s the ultimate casual game for iPhone: little ventured, less gained or lost (except time).

Here are the other games that are currently eating up my free (and not-so-free) time, all for free:

  • Fuzzle
  • Fantastic, colorful, easy-to-learn/play game. A real puzzler.

  • Tris
  • No longer available, but a great Tetris clone for the iPhone.

  • Brain Tuner
  • Not quite Brain Age, but the iPhone isn’t a DS. Plus, it’s FREE!

  • Puzzloop Free
  • Like Zuma or Bubble Bobble, complete with all the happy sound effects.

  • CannonGame
  • Based on the Discovery Channel show Future Weapons, an iPhone version of their flash website game.

    GREAT Marketing idea!

So there’s my “Top 6” list of the moment.

I may soon drop some cash – just a buck – to buy some nostalgia in the form of an LED Football game.

I’m also waiting on a super-secret game to be released, but I’m bound not to say anything about it. Yet.

Happy iPhone Gaming!