The NY Times offers an infuriating and detailed article about the recklessly stupid Rhode Island politicians who gave $75 million to baseball player Curt Schilling so he could launch a video game company. Predictably, Schilling’s company, 38 Studios, not only failed to deliver the online role playing game it set out to make, it accrued $150 million in debt in just two years before the company collapsed last spring and left the state’s finances in ruin. With so much discussion about government subsidies and incentives for VFX and film production, there’s a valuable cautionary tale in here somewhere:
And yet, you don’t have to dig very hard into the record to find that there were plenty of serious-minded advisers who tried to warn state officials away from 38 Studios. Among them, apparently, was the corporation’s own financial portfolio manager, Sean Esten.
According to the state’s pending lawsuit, Mr. Esten was alarmed that 38 Studios’ worst-case projection for its business seemed to rely on releasing a successful game every two years — a track record that most gaming companies can only dream of.
“I don’t think I can support a $75 million guarantee to any single company in this industry due to the wide volatility in commercial success of game releases,” Mr. Esten told his bosses in an e-mail. “Perhaps we should develop a toolbox of incentives (including loan guarantees) to attract companies into a cluster and not rely on a single company to build the cluster around.” According to the state’s complaint, Mr. Esten’s bosses decided to bury his analysis.
Another skeptic was Gina Raimondo, a Democrat who was running for state treasurer at the time and now holds the office. Ms. Raimondo spent the previous decade working in venture capital, and after reading about the proposed investment in July 2010, sent an unsolicited and eerily prescient e-mail to Keith Stokes, who was then the corporation’s executive director and the deal’s main architect.
“In general, I would proceed very carefully on this,” Ms. Raimondo wrote. The company “is in the Boston area where there are 200 venture capital firms, and it is in a very hot area of gaming so if it were in fact a compelling investment I would have to think it would be well funded already by venture capitalists; the fact that many have looked at it and passed is a red flag.”
Video gameplay is about to get a lot more realistic. Game producer Activision unveiled this new demo yesterday at the Game Developers Conference. Uncanny or not, the progresss in computer animation has been remarkable. Real-time rendering techniques today look far more impressive than any rendering from a decade ago:
This animated character is being rendered in real-time on current video card hardware, using standard bone animation. The rendering techniques, as well as the animation pipeline are being presented at GDC 2013, “Next Generation Character Rendering” on March 27. The original high resolution data was acquired from Light Stage Facial Scanning and Performance Capture by USC Institute for Creative Technologies, then converted to a 70 bones rig, while preserving the high frequency detail in diffuse, normal and displacement composite maps. It is being rendered in a DirectX11 environment, using advanced techniques to faithfully represent the character’s skin and eyes.
More details on Jorge Jimenez’s blog.
How Videogames Blind Us with Science
“A few years ago, Constance Steinkuehler — a game academic at the University of Wisconsin — was spending 12 hours a day playing Lineage, the online world game. She was, as she puts it, a ’siege princess,’ running 150-person raids on hellishly difficult bosses. Most of her guild members were teenage boys.
But they were pretty good at figuring out how to defeat the bosses. One day she found out why. A group of them were building Excel spreadsheets into which they’d dump all the information they’d gathered about how each boss behaved: What potions affected it, what attacks it would use, with what damage, and when. Then they’d develop a mathematical model to explain how the boss worked — and to predict how to beat it.
Often, the first model wouldn’t work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they’d collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. ‘They’d be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive,’ Steinkuehler recalls.
That’s when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.
They were using the scientific method. They’d think of a hypothesis — This boss is really susceptible to fire spells — and then collect evidence to see if the hypothesis was correct. If it wasn’t, they’d improve it until it accounted for the observed data.
This led Steinkuehler to a fascinating and provocative conclusion: Videogames are becoming the new hotbed of scientific thinking for kids today….
This is what Steinkuehler reports in a research paper — ‘Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds‘ (.pdf) — that she will publish in this spring’s Journal of Science Education and Technology. She and her co-author, Sean Duncan, downloaded the content of 1,984 posts in 85 threads in a discussion board for players of World of Warcraft.” [Games without Frontiers]
Fascinating stuff. We had Constance speak at the first (non-ALA) Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium back in 2005 (sadly, MLS has taken down all of the materials that were online about that event, so I can’t point you to anything about it). You can read my notes from her session here, though..
, gaming in libraries
Publication date: 7 June 2011 by First Second
ISBN 10/13: 1596432357 | 9781596432352
Young Adult Fantasy/Graphic Novel
Video games, angels, Pac-Man, college life
Paperback Graphic Novel
Dennis Ouyang, a wandering teenage boy finds his one passion in life- to play video games. And he's pretty damn good! After his father's death, Dennis starts ONLY playing video games and finds himself kicked out of college in his junior year.
Suddenly, four small angels turn up to help him clean, study and focus on his destiny--to get into medical school and become a gastroenterologist. And then things get... weird. Of course we all think these angels are awesome, and they are! Aren't they? They do seem to get really mad when Dennis wants to study with his friends...
This is a wonderful story and a very quick read. The artwork is well done, the colors and timing laid out perfectly. The story unfolds slowly. What teenager doesn't live in their parents' expectations? And the references to gaming is well laid out, accenting the story nicely. There are a lot of false starts for Dennis, and Game Overs, but Dennis never seems very angry or bitter. He's merely trying to navigate his destiny, if that's what it really is, and he begins to question why.
His dad is gone, but not his intentions. We all experience the pressure of parents' expectations that are so engrained in us, they become our own and the lines blur as to who wanted it first. There are no easy choices in life and this goes for Dennis' world as well.
Yang's story is touching. I was rooting for Dennis the whole way. And Pham's artwork is minimalistic, and well done. I especially liked the facial expressions on all the characters in every scene, they said something about that moment. The ending is fantastic. It's surprising sometimes how things work out.
When I talk with skeptics of videogame services in libraries, I remind them that gaming isn’t a new concept for us. Most public (and even school) libraries have some sort of past association with chess, as well as other board games, and most public (and even academic) libraries today realize that some percentage of their users are playing games on the library’s internet terminals. So if chess is okay in the library, how are videogames different, especially the socially-oriented ones that libraries tend to offer?
This isn’t a new question, as I recently learned when Val alerted me to a very public discussion about videogames in libraries that took place back in 1982-83, even spilling over onto the May 9, 1983, “CBS Morning News” show.
It all started with a November 1982 column in School Library Journal by Carol Emmens about four public libraries that were - even back then - circulating videogames. Some quotes from that piece:
“PacMan has invaded restaurants, doctors’ offices, arcades, homes, and the world of television as the star of a Saturday morning cartoon show. And now he has even invaded libraries! He is at the forefront of a new library service–the circulation of video games. A survey turned up four libraries that circulate games.
‘As far as I’m concerned, the circulation of video games is too successful,’ says Harvey Barfield, audiovisual librarian at Arlington Heights Memorial Library (Ill.)….
The library (serving 65,000) owns 400 videocassettes and 50 Atari cartridges, purchased with AV department funds. The combined monthly circulation for videocassettes and games is approximately 2500….
With $1000 seed money provided by the Friends of the Library, [East Brunswick (N.J.) Public Library] bought 55 cartridge locally, and on the first day of service every cartridge was checked out. The Friends donated another $500, and now the cartridge collection totals 105.
[Assistant Director Sharon] Karmazin says, ‘All the cartridges are out all the time and the circulation is really incredible: 235 in July and 259 in August. People hang around the library for hours waiting for returns….
In February, the South River (N.J.) Public Library (serving 14,000) started to circulate 20 cartridges, which had been purchased with $200 donated by the Friends of the Library…. Circulation is very high, and [Director Irene] Cackowski, noting the many new users brought into the library, says, ‘What a service! I can’t say enough good about it.’…
The innovations at Cloquet [(M.N.) Public Library] reflect the philosophy of Head Librarian Mike Knievel, that libraries are not lobbyists for print. He says, ‘The role of the library is not to push books per se, but to acquire, organize, and redistribute information and recreational materials,’ regardless of format.”
Libraries experimenting with videogames and finding them to be a very popular service turned out to be too much for Will Manley, though. He wrote a blistering attack on the practice in the March 1983 edition of Wilson Library Bulletin. As early as 1983, he was sounding the alarm that videogames in the library would be the death of civilization as we know it.
“Nothing, repeat nothing, in eleven years of being a librarian has upset me more than a little, one-page article in the School Library Journal of November 1982, in which the directors of four public libraries boasted about the wonderful success they were having circulating video game cartridges.
Video games! In the public library! Chain saws, paint rollers, hamsters, drill bits–these items for circulation, when we’ve read about them over the past ten years in our professional literature, concerned a number of us as constituting nonsense. But there is something faintly tolerable about nonsense. It’s part of the human condition. We come up against nonsense all the time–at school, the post office, the dentist’s office, and yes, occasionally the public library. But nonsense, once it is accepted for what it is, can even to a degree be funny. The key to nonsense is that it just happens–there is very little rhyme or reason or philosophy to it.
But circulating video games at the public library is not nonsense. It is seriously wrong. It is an abandonment of the mission of the public library. It is surrendering to the commercial and the superficial. It is contrary to everything we stand for….
In effect, video games constitute the most serious threat to that important relationship between children and books since the advent of the television….
The ‘it brings new people into the library’ argument is issuing forth from the lips of more and more librarians, and that’s an indication that we’ve forgotten what a library is all about….
And when those popular services not only don’t complement our focus on the printed word but actually clash against it, then we begin to subvert that commitment [to the common good]….
If we stop standing for the importance of books and information, then we will lose everything.”
All of this must have become so controversial that Manley and Knievel were invited to debate the topic of “print vs. non-print” on “CBS Morning News” with Bill Kurtis. In the same over-the-top tone of his written editorial, Manley proclaimed on the show that, “Offering videogames in libraries is like serving martinis at AA meetings.”
This attitude was overly-simplistic and short-sighted 25 years ago, and it still is today. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that in this day and age, especially with usage statistics supporting the inclusion of non-text materials and programming, that he has since changed his opinion that public libraries should focus only on text on paper.
But the whole thing does illustrate how libraries aren’t just about books, how new content formats are always viewed suspiciously as not being part of the library’s mission, and how that view changes over time once the format becomes more mainstream. Twenty-five years later, it’s important for librarians to realize that videogames are just one more format in a long line of many, and that they are an extension of the same types of services we have provided for decades such as storytime, board games, programs for adults, craft programs for children, meeting space for knitting clubs, computer classes, and more. How could we possibly justify such basic current services as internet access and reference service if we cling to outdated definitions of the library as being focused solely on the written word?
Personally, I believe public libraries are the last safe spaces that serve (and welcome) everyone in the community, regardless of race, economic position, age, or any other factor. Many libraries have worked hard to become the center of their communities, and the concepts of the library as a space for civic engagement and as a “third place” are valid and important roles. The library as a 19th century vault of written knowledge with no other purpose but to raise the moral conscience of the masses through “good” literature is a long-gone proposition. Times change, and libraries need to change with them.
I’m not calling Manley out on his views from 25-years ago, so much as showing that we’re still having these same arguments today and to note that you could substitute “fiction,” “children,” “music,” “computers,” “internet,” or “videos” in any of the above quotes to see where we’ve already been on this. The key is to remember that gaming in libraries in any form is an “and” proposition, not an “or.” It can coexist peacefully with the books, magazines, newspapers, and other services. It’s not the end of the world as we know it.
gaming and libraries
, gaming in libraries
, will manley
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen, 2008).ISBN-13: 978-0765319852Hardcover: 382 p. List Price: $17.95***** (5 out of 5 stars: excellent; nearly flawless; a must-have for all libraries serving youth)“What’s the big deal? Would you r