Game on

I recently read Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, which I highly recommend. I think she definitely presents some points and examples through a lens that suits her ends, but in her defence, many games and gaming environments do lend themselves well to the examples she brings up.

That said, she provides fantastic insights into how not only gamers tick, but all of us, and how games can be used for ends far greater (and often more noble), than just sheer entertainment. I think a lot of us fail to recognize game elements when they pop up in foreign environments because we have strong pre-conceived Monopoly and Pong notions of what a game is or game mechanics are. (Replace those italicized examples with whatever fits your generation.) ๐Ÿ™‚

A common theme throughout the book was collaboration. Gamers collaborating to achieve goals in-game. Gamers collaborating online to document and discuss their games. Gamers working together to solve big problems or achieve big rewards both online and in the “real world”. It’s one of the biggest positives that gaming culture has and will impart to young people now, who will be inheriting a lot of those aforementioned big problems.

Given what I do for a living, these concepts of community building and collaboration are fascinating to me. Even outside of my professional ponderings, how people tick has always gotten my cerebral juices flowing, and how to engage people is a never-ending creative quest both in the gaming world and the corporate one.

But… funny thing… It was really hard to see myself in this world she was describing.

I’m not much of a gamer. Perhaps a game or two of Bejeweled to kill time if I’m waiting somewhere. I can get mildly obsessed with something new for a few days at most. While so many people I know are still feverishly launching birds into pigs, I think I managed to stay interested in Angry Birds for almost a week, and that was some time last summer or fall. Haven’t touched it since.

As illustrated by the two games I just mentioned, I also tend to play single-person games. I have played Rock Band on a few rare occasions, but admittedly, there was only one other person there, so the ideal recipe for fun was not achieved. I think I have battled someone in Mario Kart once. I have never played anything like World of Warcraft, and freely admit to a degree of prejudice against games like that as a result of some past experiences. Even offline games like Euchre I’ve played so few times that I have to have it re-explained to me every time I do play.

Simply a result of the type of social sphere I have? Sure, to a point, but if I really wanted to play games, I’d be doing so. And if I wanted to play games with others, I’d find folks who’re up for it.

So perhaps the disconnect for me is that Iโ€™m not much of a gamer, but my โ€œreal worldโ€ position, particularly career-wise, places me as more of the designer or dungeonmaster, the person who would conceive of, develop, and orchestrate games. Because I do not immerse in the former, it hamstrings me to wrap my brain around the latter. To that end, I did look upon this book as something of a potential textbook, rather than just leisure reading.

I think the issue goes further, though, too. Remember doing group work projects in school? Did you like it? I hated it. I didnโ€™t like the responsibility for people who might slack off without the authority to make them pull their weight. I like control over what work I produce, so I did not react well to the idea that, for example, 75% of the work I was going to get graded on was work whose production I wasn’t even going to be present for. Sure, on a few occasions I was paired with control freak over-achievers like myself, and their efforts were awesome, but that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Even sometimes when I was in enrichment classes.

So while I understand the concept of a raid, and the considerable logistical effort required to successfully complete one, it kinda strikes me as really big, online group work. Sure, in a game environment these are gamers, so they’re bringing their best efforts you’d hope, but still.

Even in the types of problem-solving groups McGonigal covers, I get thinking about all the different ideas generated, and the fact that you can’t, as a group, explore or develop all of them. So which one gets chosen? Do the people whose ideas aren’t chosen really throw themselves heart and soul into developing someone else’s idea? Even if they want to, can they do their best work if they don’t necessarily fundamentally understand it the same, or “right” way because they didn’t conceive of it, and in their heads it lives as a single idea, not within the mental ecosystem that bore it?

And what about the ideas that fall by the wayside? What if one of them would truly save the world, and group consensus picked the wrong one? Stuff like that bugs me, so, unsurprisingly, it feels “safer”, more efficient, to work on your own thing. Then you know where it comes from, how it gets developed, what it’s going to effect.

And, if you get stuck and want a fresh perspective, that can come from anyone else. Whereas in a group, even if you have different roles, you’re all working on the same project, so you’re all going to be “tainted” by the common understanding, direction, and activities of the project.

Of course, I am also a grownup and have worked in the corporate world for some time, so I know very well that most projects don’t โ€“ and can’t โ€“ work that way. Of course, how many work projects have you been as passionate about and as invested in as you have been in your gaming endeavors…? That, too, is one of McGonigal’s points. There is something incredible there, if only it can be sparked and harnessed.

There is, too, the distinction between those who prefer to work alone and maintain control, but who do have leadership abilities and interests, and can move into that role in a group settings, and those who don’t and just truly prefer to work alone. I think the desire for control and the importance of maintaining the overall project could compel such people into leadership roles, but how good is a leader going to be who doesn’t necessarily want to be there?

Now, all that said, I donโ€™t think having a non-collaborative bent is a bad thing when youโ€™re in a community-based role. In fact, I think itโ€™s actually an important trait. Wait โ€“ what? How can you have a job where itโ€™s your responsibility to build, moderate, encourage and educate the community if you donโ€™t like being part of it?

Well, thatโ€™s not quite how it shakes out. But thatโ€™s a discussion for another time.

Unphotographable

This is a picture I did not take of two elderly ladies, dressed in jaunty spring floral outfits, presumably heading to the library, arms full of books, with the outward-facing cover of the book held by the lady closest to me reading: Voodoo History.

Werewolves on ice!

Sherry and I went to see Chris Moore this evening, and holy crap, was that ever fun. The man is hysterical. (Jan and Rob joined us as well.)

I has a happy, cuz Waterloo’s only one of four stops he’s making in Canadia on the tour for Bite Me, and it looks like we were the last stop.

I personally found the Q&A a tad vexing, because of the audience, though, not the author. Upwards of half the questions asked were stuff from his website’s FAQ. OH HAI fans. Granted, I’m sure he’s been asked the same questions a gazillion times.

Whether inquiring about the “guy in a boat with a funny hat and a bunch of monkeys” on our $20 bill, or telling a multi-part story about Neuticles, it was all gloriously irreverent and entertaining. And blasphemous, of course, cuz… look who the star of the show is.

Which brings me to the venue, which was, in its own way, perfect. A United church, with an enormous stained glass window of long, tall zombie (green!) Jesus and his effeminate yet menacing sword-wielding companions. And the posterboard for Bite Me standing on the communion table. Splendid. ๐Ÿ™‚

Zombie Jesus and Chris Moore

If you believe in transubstantiation, this is fitting...

The crack about the altar cloth being there to tie yourself down to prevent you from getting raptured mid-sentence was gold. Of course, while he feigned religious ignorance, given that he wrote Lamb, I’m pretty sure he could have out-scriptured us all any day of the week.

And really, it’s not like any of us could argue when he compared werewolves on a full moon to Canadians on ice playing hockey… (And I told him if he didn’t write that book, I would.)

A gloating photo

If you get a chance to see him do a reading (though he didn’t actually read from the book, which we’d all read already, anyway), definitely go.

(No idea why I didn’t bring my real camera, since I typically take it everywhere, but the iPhone photos will suffice.)

Right, so… where was I?

I am moved.

After mostly retaining my sanity after “one more load” (which, of course, refused to ever be the last load), finally, one Saturday, it was. That pitiful, awkward, completely unrelated items that don’t actually really fit into tote bins load. (Thank you to Andrew and my brother for their muscles, de- and re-construction skills, and relatively large vehicles for the big stuffs.)

Then I cleaned. Then Sherry came over and we cleaned. Then I finished off the cleaning. (Seriously, I’m not a filthy person. How were there ~15 woman-hours of cleaning to do in that place?) For my own mental state/closure I needed the place to be as clean and in as close to the same state as when I moved in as possible. (And bless Sherry for being the right kind of people and just saying, “Ok, what’s next?”, then doing that, regardless.)

I fixed what I could, and was ok with what I couldn’t. And after a week when I stopped in, there were only fliers in the mailbox, which felt good, since it meant I covered my address change phone calls and such pretty thoroughly.

I held onto the keys for one more week, just in case I forgot something, but I didn’t. Then I stopped by a final time and left them in an envelope on the kitchen counter. And with that, ended a chapter. Movin’ on up and all that.

New place has felt good since I moved in, which is a relief. Anatole has sorted out some cat spaces, which is a relief (though the fact that one of them is the tub continues to confuse and amuse). The place is warm enough that I’m almost always in bare feet, the sounds when the windows are open are pleasant, and the park has turned out to be a vast treasure chest of stories of which I am LOVING being an observer.

Honestly, how can you not come home late and see two people sitting close together, heads down, on a bench beside the lake, or entwined in the gazebo in the Victorian Gardens, and smile and be inspired with potential tales?

The super, Gary, continues to be awesome (what a relief!), and the neighbours are heterogeneous (yes, such a $5 word IS appropriate) and quirky. I continue to slowly gather intel on PI and its people… ๐Ÿ™‚

Not going on a massive shopping spree to complete my decor is hard (not buying much until after the Scotland trip), and I’m still curious as to how an apartment of similar size to my old one seems to have so much more floor space. And no, I’m not done unpacking yet. Getting a little closer each day, though. And I have a new drill. Pray for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

Let’s see… what else is going on? I really enjoyed listening to this:

And this:

Which also catalyzed me to read this: The Wisdom of Whores.

Reading this: Bite Me, too, as Sherry, Jan, and I will be seeing Mr. Moore for a reading next week.

Books

I rarely get around to cataloging or chronicling the books I read — one of those things I always mean to do, but I wanted to make note of a couple of recent ones.

Juliet, Naked is Nick Hornby’s latest, and while I’ve appreciated his wit and nuanced understanding of human relationships a number of times before, I’d have to say this has been my favourite. Most likely because it was just the right book at the right time.

I mean, really, a couple who complement each other well but have never been a great romance getting jolted from their comfortable existence by assorted circumstances, etc. Sound familiar? ๐Ÿ™‚ And it closes with hope, though not a saccharine, all-loose-ends-tied-up ending, which I do appreciate.

The other is Three Cups of Tea, which is fascinating and inspiring and probably the first and only book to make me think, “Hmm…” about climbing some of the world’s most perilous mountains. And that’s not even the point or most inspiring part of the story! ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s the story of Greg Mortenson (co-written with David Oliver Relin) and his accidental life path change to begin building schools in the poorest and most remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I’m not even done this one yet, and am loving it. It’s incredibly evocative of the regions, the people, the poverty, the mountains.

One of the biggest benefits of his and his team’s work is that education and that sort of self-sufficiency and sovereignty for those people is one of the best ways to fight extremism. In the very areas that produced the Taliban. And not only are they turning the boys away from that life, they’re educating girls, too, which I support with every fibre of my being, unsurprisingly. Definitely something I’m happy to contribute to.

A marvelously literary, techtastic, thinkalicious day

Thanks to the lovely Sherry and Melissa and their ticket procurement, this morning our book babes posse (Sherry, Melissa, Dana, Ashley, and myself) headed to the Kitchener Public Library for a reading and whatnot by Margaret Atwood.

Her appearance had a two-fold purpose: a stop on her Year of the Flood book tour, and as the kick-off to KW’s The Word on the Street festivities.

Good times were had by all. The Year of the Flood is a tale that occurs simultaneously with Oryx and Crake, which is my favourite Atwood book. Ms. Atwood is as smart, funny, and knowledgeable as expected. And there was even singing! (There are hymns in the book and she demo’d one.)

The interview part of the presentation was unfortunate, as the interviewer seemed unprepared and out of his league on a number of levels. She went easy on him, I think, but not 100%, which I think was fair, and, I admit, left us cackling a bit evilly.

Sherry has a more detailed account of the festivities.

After the presentation there was a signing, so Sherry and Ashley got books signed and we had fun making fun of the romance and sci. fi and romantic sci. fi books in the carousels while we waited.

Margaret Atwood, signing Sherry's copy of Year of the Flood

After heading back to Andrew’s to switch up my laundry, I headed home briefly to grab a bite to eat, check out a map of UW to determine where to park, and then was off to grab a tea and Smile Cookie at Timmy’s (yay, Smile Cookies!) before arriving at the university for Cory Doctorow’s lecture as part of his Independent Studies Scholar in Virtual Residence gig. The crowd was an interesting mix of students, alumni, older folks, and Cory Doctorow’s parents. ๐Ÿ™‚

Delightfully, he’s an awesome speaker, too, combining great storytelling with stupendous intellect and the occasional well-placed geek joke. The time absolutely flew. And the Q&A was, blessedly, much smarter than at Atwood’s talk. (The fault did not lie with Ms. Atwood in that case…)

As for what he talked about, mainly his primary schtick. The history of copyright and its evolution (or failure to evolve…) Public vs. Private. Who owns what and when. The internets as the biggest copying machine ever, and The Powers That Be’s attempts to suppress that (laughably unsuccessfully). Some talk about his own experiences with his work and those he’s met and their various attitudes and stories. The aforementioned geek jokes… The talk will be online, so I’ll link it up when that happens.

Got me thinking a fair bit, too, about the fringes — those who are spearheading, intentionally or inadvertently, the (r)evolution of the dissemination and transformation of information and creativity. I considered the theatre people I’ve known (and that environment when I was in it), and the discussion about online marketing with people in the fringe porn business (at the Buck Angel presentation).

Many of them would love “mainstream success”, but aren’t allowed to have it. Either they don’t have the money to buy into the right machine, or what they do isn’t deemed acceptable or marketable by the aforementioned Powers That Be, or they don’t have the expertise to connect to, manage and manipulate the right channels — the list goes on.

So they’re forced to try and make their living outside the commercial box, however they can, and lo — a new world of business was born. One that didn’t need the folks who said “you can’t play in our sandbox”. Hell, they didn’t even need the sandbox. There’s the joke that tech innovation online is driven by porn, and it’s well-known that many revolutions have been driven by people in the arts, people who already live on the fringes.

But what I started wondering was how many (r)evolutions have happened due to intentional, passionate, angry instigators and participants, and how many happened almost accidentally. Simply because those who turned everything on its head weren’t allowed to play the game they had been told was the only game in town. And they couldn’t pick a new, more acceptable game (in theatre school they repeatedly said not to do it unless it was the only thing you wanted, and you really wanted it) and refused to starve (either physically or creatively), so they found alternative routes and means.

Cory Doctorow, UW Independent Studies lecture

Might I note that the only person I’ve met with a bigger watch than Mr. Doctorow wears is Steve Wozniak, but damned if I could get a clear picture of it. Also, Mr. Doctorow has apparently dropped out of four universities. Two more than I have! Gotta catch up! ๐Ÿ™‚

A handful more photos from the day’s literary events are here.

As I tweeted as well, definitely want to thank both of them for their presentations. We frequently bemoan the state of culture here in KW, so a day as stimulating as this is both very welcome, and shows that there is passion for the arts out there, across a wide range of demographics.

born not belonging

Yesterday I read The Daily Coyote book, which I highly recommend, both for the amazing photography and the equally fantastic story.

Early in the book, Shreve, the author, mentions a quote from a Salman Rushdie book that grabbed me, though I’ve read little of Rushdie’s work, so I looked it up. The longer excerpt I found is even more fascinating, telling, and poignant. When I was younger, this is the type of quote that would have me dropping the book and jumping up to go grab my notebook or a scrap of paper and pen to record it.

I’ve posted the quote below, without comment, since it seems that whenever I express my thoughts and feelings on this particular topic, I get told I’m wrong and am subjected to expressions of my value to others, etc., which, while sweet, misses the point. ๐Ÿ™‚

“For a long while I have believed…that in every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply born not belonging, who come into the world semi-detached, if you like, without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race; that there may even be millions, billions of such souls, as many non-belongers as belongers, perhaps; that, in sum, the phenomenon may be as “natural” a manifestation of human nature as its opposite, but one that has been mostly frustrated, throughout human history, by lack of opportunity. And not only by that: for those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainty, change, have erected powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval. But the truth leaks out in our dreams…: alone in our beds (because we are alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves), we soar, we fly, we flee. And in the waking dreams our societies permit, in our myths, our arts, our songs, we celebrate the non-belongers, the different ones, the outlaws, the freaks. What we forbid ourselves, we pay good money to watch, in a playhouse or movie theatre, or to read about between the secret covers of a book. Our libraries, our palaces of entertainment tell the truth. The tramp, the assassin, the rebel, the thief, the mutant, the outcast, the delinquent, the devil, the sinner, the traveller, the gangster, the runner, the mask: if we did not recognize in them our least-fulfilled needs, we would not invent them over and over again, in every place, in every language, in every time.” — Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Alphabet fun

My niece has many books. I heartily approve of this, of course. Even more so since she is a big fan of her books.

I am not, however, a fan of this book, written, as it apparently was, by illiterates, Toronto hockey fans, or both…

leafs book

This is a student building. The sign is new. Odds on how long it’ll take before someone helpfully adds an “H” to Erb? ๐Ÿ™‚

Erb Hall sign

Books

Have recently found myself once again in the position of having a stack of library books with rapidly advancing due dates, and nary a cover cracked. Alas!

However, I’ve managed to plow through a few recently, and these two were definite gems that stood out.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex – I <3 Mary Roach. Stiff was an excellent read (plus it had forensic content, and I loves me some forensics). Spook I didn’t love so much, but anything written with her style tends to be a good time. And now… Bonk! The physiology, psychology, and study of sex through the ages. Good times. Plenty of openings for dirty jokes from the mildly off-colour to the delightfully obscene. And, it goes without saying, absolutely no shortage of strange tales and eyebrow-raising moments. Plus, more out-loud snorts than I can count.

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto – I’m a fan of Michael Pollan, too. The Omnivore’s Dilemma was a great read, and has resulted in lots of interesting discussions with my Dad about agriculture and food. This continues in a similar vein, basically covering the question: what should we eat? He makes science accessible, the guidelines simple, and draws back the curtain on the shenanigans that have taken place (and continue to) to bring us to a place where most of what you find in your local supermarket really doesn’t qualify as food at all. Guaranteed to make you think before you put something in your cart or your mouth.

Books

Illness means lots of delicious reading when you can’t sleep. Things have been a bit eclectic ’round here.

The library pile:

I think what we can glean from this list is that the most important thing a book should have — much like university theses — is a colon-ized title. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, I’ve read the first three, all of which I recommend. They’re quick reads. Notes: TNAR is a bit repetitive, but talks good sense. The second is technically Young Adult, but reads well. The third is a bit longer, but still a fast read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My favourite quote in American Shaolin was about the Great Wall, and how it’s the only introverted Wonder of the Ancient World. It’s in this one short section that painted a totally new picture of the Chinese, their culture, and their cultural personality, I guess you could say, for me.

Just started the biography of Lady Churchill. So far it’s percolating along relatively well, as my Dad would say, and providing a nice balance of family history and historical and cultural context. Let’s hope it keeps up. The last two, being both an English and Marketing nerd, I’m quite looking forward to. Stay tuned…