A history of mobile games, 1998-2008

I’m crowdfunding a book

Goal: £3,400

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Personal devices before the app store: a decade of tiny games that followed us everywhere.

What do you think of when you remember your first mobile phone? Mine was a Nokia 5110, and my most vivid memories of using it have nothing to do with making phone calls. I spent far more time playing Snake. For much of my teen life, my mind was in two places at once: part of me was stood in the rain waiting for a bus home from school, and part of me was in a confined space with a restless serpent. It kept on growing, and kept on moving, all the while threatening to consume itself if it didn’t find some free space to roam.

This book is about the historical meaning of those moments. It is a history of games as personal unfolding labyrinths, co-created in the relationship between humans and technology.

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More information: Why part-time distance-learning?

Mini-book about energy mechanics

Delay cover

Since late November of last year I’ve been on-and-off working on a mini book project. Yesterday I finally got it past the finish line! You can get it from rupazero.com.

Delay is about energy mechanics, a recent design conceit popular in casual and mobile games, whereby playing drains a resource that can only be refilled by not playing it for a while. I argue that they’re about impulse control, our own fear and shame when it comes to over-indulgence, and ideas about what it means to be a grown-up.

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You were made for loneliness

I made part of a game that came out this week. It’s an interactive fiction piece in which you are a robot sold into domestic service. You are silenced and treated as an object, but your consciousness is alive. As you work for your mistress, you can awaken memories that complete a picture of who you are and how you relate to others. My bit is the interlude of translated Japanese poetry linked together by symbols. The text below is directly copied from the official launch announcement.
YWMFL

It’s the future. The remnants of humanity, in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event known only as The Fall, have fled a dying homeworld to seek refuge among the colonies of the solar system.

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Conversations between languages

medium

Some time last year I stopped blogging here and started using Medium instead. More recently, I’ve started writing more ‘interlingual’ pieces. That means trying to write in response to pieces written in languages other than English, to try and break out of the usual circle of English-language critically-minded games writers. These pieces have been getting a lot of traffic, and it’s been exciting to see people get enthusiastic about them.

Oscar Strik wrote a great post on this topic, calling for more effort to bring the linguistic periphery closer to the center of critical discourse about games. I agree with him, and I want to see more blogging that interprets ideas that were initially expressed in a language other than English. Interlingual writing does take a lot of extra effort, as Oscar points out, so whenever this work happens I want to help celebrate it.

I’ve set up a collection for writing of this sort on Medium, so that when other people publish interlingual criticism they can send it through and I can help to signal boost. If you’re doing interlingual critical writing about games or any other media, drop me a line. I’ll invite you to write for the collection if you’re comfortable publishing on Medium. Even if you don’t write on Medium, I still want to read it and share it with people, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Meet me at GDC

Hey. I’m going to GDC this year on a press pass, and the emails from PR companies are starting to come through. It’s always great to meet new people and learn about new things, but I tend to be limited to only getting to spend time one-on-one with people who are spending lots of money trying to get their name out there. I don’t think this is right, and it feels like a missed opportunity for me.

So, if you’re going to be in San Francisco during GDC, and you have a project that you think I might find interesting, please go to this page and set up an appointment so that we can hang out. This is the kind of thing I particularly like to hear about:

  • Experimental indie games
  • Free-to-play social games
  • Creative funding for creative work
  • Alternative games writing projects
  • Archive, preservation, and historical writing about games
  • Community initiatives that involve games or other aspects of geek culture
  • Challenging hegemony in games (gender and sexual minorities, race, cultural imperialism etc.)

Again, the page for requesting an appointment is right here. Be careful if you’re currently in a time zone other than PST, it makes things go weird and you’ll have to do some maths.

13 things I wrote in 2013

It’s been a good year. Here are thirteen of the things that were in it:

1. Silliness

I shifted most of my ad-hoc blogging to Medium.com. One of the most popular posts there has been What do you think of when you think of Batman? It was a very silly write-up of a totally unreliable survey, refuting something foolish that a games publisher said in an interview.

2. Schadenfreude

What has EA done now? was a blog that I was updating regularly for a couple of months when EA seemed to be perpetually upsetting people.

3. Heroism

On Gamesbrief this year, I started writing some feature-like articles based on interviews with developers. One of my favourites was a write-up of how 5th Planet Games kicks ass at community management.

4. Worldiness

I can’t do this list without mentioning Dreamcast Worlds, the book I crowdfunded in 2012 and published in September.

5. History

I also started Memory Insufficient, an ezine exploring games history from perspectives that are normally ignored. I think I did some of my best writing here, covering digital games, board games and folk games from personal and documentary perspectives.

6. Heritage

I also got to write historically-informed articles in traditional magazines. I’ve written a few pieces for Comics and Gaming Magazine, an outlet that focuses on writing about geek culture for a grown-up audience. One of my more art-historical articles there was about three games that use “retro pixel graphics” in a way that goes beyond nostalgia to something complex about craft and culture (preview link dead but maybe it will work again one day?)

7. Legacy

Then at Australia’s leading gaming magazine Hyper I wrote about games that address an anxiety over leaving a legacy for future generations. If you’re keen, you can get issue #242 through the Android and iOS newsstand apps.

8. Solitude

On a more personal note, I was feeling lonely for much of this year. Sometimes I had this strange sense of being with people but not really being with them, both online and in real life. One piece explored how that could be better represented in games.

9. Ambivalence

During re/Action’s pre-crowdfunding phase, I contributed two articles. One of them was a complicated response to the state of queer games discourse at the time, called “Why invisibility isn’t a superpower“: which is not to say that invisibility is not a privilege, but that it is an ambivalent state that lends itself to a sense of isolation and hopelessness.

10. Community

Those feelings did start to change. In a Borderhouse post about Gaymer X,  I mentioned feeling less isolated, and discussed safe spaces and different approaches to queer games community building.

11. Attraction

Samantha Allen and I started writing queer readings of romance games together in a Borderhouse series called Bunk Bed, where we share our different experiences playing the same games.

12. Complexity

Then I had the amazing honour of speaking at Queerness and Games Conference about queering histories, by disabusing them not just of great men, but also of grand theories. I wrote up the talk here.

13. Transformation

More recently, I wrote about Twine game Pure Again, discussing why it feels like such a good representation of much of my experience of transition.