Ok, let’s talk about Pokémon Go

I mentioned in my post from Friday that Pokémon Go was motivating me to do more walking.  It can be thought of as a fitness tracker with a game built in, but of course, it was created as a game.  Pokémon was a big thing in our house for years.  We had the cards.  We watched the TV show.  We played the games on GameBoys.  I posted these pictures to Facebook recently:

Thad with Pikachu cake.
Thad with Pikachu cake.
Pokeball cake

Geeky Boy was five.  We had years of Pokémon ahead of us.  So I was excited when Pokémon Go came out, a potentially solid reboot and modernization of the original games and shows.  And to some extent, it is that.  If you’ve never played, I’d recommend the trailer.  It’s a pretty good depiction of the game’s vision with some actual screen representations thrown in.  So it’s cool to have a representation of yourself walking around what is clearly the streets around you but it looks like a video game, and then, when you find a Pokémon, it’s surrounded by what’s clearly “the real world.”  Fun augmented reality stuff. Here are some Pokémon photos I took:

Goldeen swimming in my computer.
A bird in the hand . . .
The elusive Meowth

Fun, right?  And yes, you do look a little weird catching Pokémon in public, but no weirder than the person texting or responding to email.

It is fun . . . when it works.  And this has been the big issue for the makers of Pokémon Go.  They were flooded by users in the early days of release.  It appealed across many age groups.  In my own neighborhood, I’ve seen 13 year olds and 50 years olds and everything in between playing the game, often in groups.  The flood caused server crashes, followed quickly by frustration.  The flood may have passed, but there are still many, many issues.  I struggle to log in except under certain conditions.  Near as I can tell, I have to be in my house on wifi.  Once logged in, I can leave the house and walk around, but if I log out while away, I rarely can get logged in again.  Which meant, for example, when I went downtown this weekend, no Pokémon for me.

The Pokémon subreddit (yes, I read it, why?) was filled with rage over all the issues with logging in, getting kicked off the server, etc.  For those of us experienced online gamers, it’s called new release day.  But there were other issues with gameplay, like not tracking km accurately and the nearby Pokémon feature not really working.  And then, then, they shut down some third party sites that added a cool layer to the game.  You could look at your neighborhood, or the next neighborhood over, and see what Pokémon were hanging around.  And then you could try to run out and catch them.  They claimed it was cheating.  And that was just it for some people.  I mean your game is your community and your community is going to make stuff around the game.  It’s what gamers do.

So there are problems.  And I’m not even talking about all the scare stories out there.  I have no time for those.  People do stupid things.  It’s not about the game itself.  I think it still has promise if they can get the kinks worked out.  Augmented reality hasn’t been my thing per se, but connecting the virtual with the real in ways that make sense, even if it’s just to have fun, really takes us somewhere interesting, I think.  Pokémon Go isn’t the first game or application to do this, but it’s the first that captured not just the 13 year olds, but a large chunk of people who would never call themselves gamers nor who knew what augmented reality even was.  It’s a step toward mainstreaming some of this stuff.  And once that happens, things start to take off.

Women, the Internet, and Gaming

For about 2 months now, the gaming industry has been up in arms over a female game developer who has received some horrific threats to the point that she felt she needed to leave her home.  Another women in the industry felt the need to leave her home this past weekend after she, too, received threats.

I’ve seen this kind of stuff happen for years, both in gaming-related circles, and on the Internet in general.  I have been extremely lucky that I have not received anything close to what one might call harassment.   People disagree with me, sure, but I’ve never received an email or comment that I considered problematic, and I’ve been blogging for ten years.  But I’ve had friends who have, and I’ve seen other, more prominent women bloggers shut down their comments or switch to heavy moderation because they receive terrible comments.

I don’t think most men realize the difference between the kind of comments women get online vs. the kind of comments men get.  Mr. Geeky once had an article that made it to SlashDot.  The most threatening comments he got suggested that he be fired (for trying to make CS more appealing to women).  Contrast that to what many women get when someone disagrees with them.  Commenters often suggest that women with whom they disagree should be raped or killed (often both).  Descriptions of exactly how that should happen are common.  When Kathy Sierra was targeted back in 2006, people photoshopped pictures of her to show what they were going to do to her.  She shut down her blog and left the speaking circuit for a few years because she no longer felt safe.  And she just wrote about web design, not about women’s issues.  Ditto for the two women involved in this latest gaming controversy.

Some people are talking about why this happens and what’s to be done.  Many say that anonymity is part of the problem, that people feel free to say what they might really be thinking when they know they can’t be found out.  In the gaming industry, there’s certainly a locker room culture that includes putting down women, sometimes to the point of harassment and physical threats.  That culture is not just inherent in online games but carries over to blogs, online journals, YouTube, etc.  Despite more women being involved in games, both as players and developers, the industry still caters to 15 year old boys (either in real or emotional age), making it a petri dish for the kind of disgusting behavior one sees in this particular situation and elsewhere.

But not all of the blame can be place on the industry itself.  They’re working on making it better . . . slowly.  It’s also up to us, to not ignore the offhand sexist comment that maybe hasn’t crossed the line yet, but could.  If you’re in a comment thread where the conversation is about harming women, you have an obligation to step in and/or report it.  We create the community online, and if we allow the crazies to take it over, then it becomes a crazy, unsafe community.  Ideally, laws would be strengthened, so that the veil of anonymity cannot be a protection from hateful conduct.  The Internet is still (more than 20 years in) a bit like the Wild West still, and I think it can be tamed without it losing its spirit.  But that’s in part up to us.

Gaming again

I confessed to Audrey at ISTE that I’d started playing WoW again. I have several reasons for doing so. One, Geeky Boy started playing again. He has a couple of local friends that play, and they’ve encouraged him. They do a lot of stuff face-to-face together, too, and if WoW can solidify their friendship, then I’m all for it. I might level a character on his server just for fun. Two, after I get my work done for the day, there’s not much else I want to do. I like the active nature of gaming–as opposed to watching tv or yes, even reading. When the family’s around, we go to the pool or into the city or some such, but if they’re not around, then I’m not going to do that stuff on my own. Playing WoW is social (when there are people on), which also appeals to me.

I’m 99% sure this won’t last through the school year as I’m too exhausted to do much of anything when I get home from school. All the guild stuff doesn’t start until 9:30, and that’s my bed time during the school year. I need to move to the west coast. 🙂 Also, the new content isn’t thrilling. There have been a couple of things that have impressed me, but in general, most of the stuff is the same with different costumes and colors. So I’m not drawn to the game for its content. We’ll see.


Gaming Together
Image by lorda via Flickr

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now.  Remember WoW Wednesdays?  I haven’t played WoW in over 6 months, which kind of makes me sad, but given how busy I am, it was the best thing.  I may come back to it.  I haven’t quit playing games at all.  Those of you that follow me on Facebook may have noticed status updates related to the games I play there.  They’re not as fun as WoW, but they are mindless and entertaining.  Well, semi-mindless.  I mostly play Cityville, which I like because it requires the least amount of bugging my friends to get to the next level.  I can mostly manage my city by myself, without bothering my friends for stuff.  I played Cafe World for a while, but it got to the point where doing anything required so much help, I gave up.  It’s a very different model from WoW, where you really can play by yourself if you want, but the game is much enhanced by playing with friends.  Being required to play with friends–and it’s not even with, it’s more like playing at or getting donations from friends or something–bothers me.

I like the open-endedness of Cityville–it’s not hugely different from SimCity, which I loved.  The other thing I don’t like is the requirement to buy the good stuff–with real money.  Cityville is the least onerous in this respect.  I’ve never actually spent any real money on these games.  My feeling is that they probably have enough data on me to sell that off for a good profit.  Which makes my skin crawl just a little, but I try to ignore it.

I’ve also returned to an old game I played about ten years ago, Heros of Might and Magic.  It was a Linux game, but it was eventually ported to Windows and Macs (in the fourth installment).  Geeky Boy downloaded it the other day and we’ve all been playing off and on for the last couple of weeks.  You can play together, but it’s turn based, so you wait for the other player to finish what they’re doing.  I like it because it’s very goal-oriented, but pretty simplistic and the graphics are pretty good for their day.  It’s a precursor to WoW and to games like Civilization.  The simpler mechanics make it easy to say, watch tv and play at the same time.

Speaking of games, I’ve been reading Reality is Broken.  I’m about halfway through, and while I agree with much of what McGonigal is saying, until I reach the end, I’m holding out judgement. It does confirm the human need for play, for collective play, even, something I know I get from the games I play. If you game at all–even just playing BeJeweled, it’s a must read.  Though if I see one more reference to “gamification,” I might lose it.

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Thoughts on being online

Over the last year, I’ve noticed several blogs pass into oblivion, either with or without an announcement.  This week, Bitch, Ph.D. said goodbye.  Several of the blogs of people I’ve been reading for 5 or 6 years are either gone or on a very sporadic schedule.  Twitter and Facebook seem more popular, though I have no desire to spend much time there.  My WoW guild is having an existential crisis of sorts.  Several members have left, citing both a boredom with the way the game works now and an increase in the need to spend time with work or family.  I, too, have spent less time online than I once did.  At first I did so out of a feeling that I was spending too much time online and not giving enough attention to other things in my life.  But now, it’s because I literally don’t have time.

I have a couple of thoughts about what appears to me to be not a “death of blogs” or “death of the online world” moment, but certainly a moment of transition.  Some of the disappearance, especially of blogs is a factor of commercialization.  As corporations set up blogs or media outlets like the Huffington Post arise, the small-time blogger has a harder time keeping up.  It’s impossible to keep up volume-wise and there’s the inevitable loss of audience as a result.  There are exceptions, but I do think a lot of us liked blogging because it felt like a community.  We got comments.  We had conversations in the comment threads, between blogs, etc.  I see that happening much less now.  I used to comment a lot.  It’s much more rare now.

I also wonder if some of us who’ve been online a while are getting bored.  Honestly, I’ve been participating in online communities for twenty years.  Every four or five years, the world would shift and a new type of community would emerge.  Nothing new along those lines has really emerged for a while.  Yes, there’s Facebook (been there since 2004).  And there’s Twitter (been there since 2007).  Neither of those offer the in-depth reading I want, nor the community I’d like.

I also think the online world is being used for other things.  Gaming thrives, but older games like WoW are losing their appeal, especially for those who’ve been playing for a while.  All of my guildmates agree that it wouldn’t be fun for us without the community aspects of the game, but increasing games are not meant to build community.  We’re still waiting to see if the expansion brings that concept back, but even I feel kind of blah about it.  Video has exploded, bringing our tv mentalities to the web.  So we pull up video on Hulu and watch for a 1/2 hour or hour and then we feel like we’re done.  And then there’s our phones and other devices, like the iPad and the Kindle, which offer other kinds of activities, most of which are disconnected.

I realize there are some people out there just now discovering all the wonders of the Internet, but for me, it’s starting to lose its luster.  And that’s left me with a bit of gap, entertainment wise.  My family asked me why I wasn’t raiding last night.  And I said, essentially, “Meh.”  I told Geeky Girl I needed a new hobby.  She asked me what I liked to do, and it was hard to come up with anything.  When I was kid, my hobby was writing, thus the appeal of blogging.  As I got older, I picked up needlepoint, but that takes more time than I have and I’m not that interested in the results.  I’ve never been much of a gardener.  Most plants that come into my house don’t leave alive.  I have no artistic talent for painting or pottery or even jewelry making.  I’m interested in politics, but not enough to go out and volunteer a lot.  And even though I have some time for myself, between work and managing kids and the house, I’m not looking to fill a huge amount of time.

Don’t worry, I’m not shutting down Geeky Mom any time soon, but I am doing some thinking about my life online.  I think it’s fair to say that the Internet will always be a part of my life, but what I choose to do on it (with it?) may be transitioning, as, I think it is for many people.

WoW Wednesday: Addiction

First, let me say I’m not entirely sure that video games are an addiction.  But I’m not ruling it out.  If gambling can be an addiction, then perhaps video games can be too.

Yesterday, my husband sent me this article about how video games are designed to get people addicted.  It’s a little reminiscent of the tobacco companies’ knowing that their products were addictive.  The article notes that game designers often exploit the brains natural motivation and reward receptors, so that gamers are compelled to keep playing to get to the next reward.  I wrote about reward and motivation myself without a single nod to the fact that the tweaking Blizzard does might, in fact, be intended to “get people addicted” to the game.  Instead, I applied the in-game reward system to my real life, noting that I like small rewards along the way, so that, in order to get myself through an arduous task, I should reward myself with a little something along the way.  Progress tracking was another important motivator that I could apply to real life.

My ability to step outside the game, to recognize what it is doing to my brain, probably separates me from the people who play games for days on end, even to the point of death, for a virtual reward.  These people have lost touch with reality.  And the question is, did the video games cause that or was there something in their psyches already that led to this disconnect.  Would those same people have been driven to another addiction or problematic behavior if video games had not been available?  In fact, this Time article notes that the problem of video game addiction among teens in South Korea may be due in part to long work hours and pressure put on kids to go to “cram schools” at night.  Video games provide a way to relieve stress.  It could have been drugs or alcohol.  Some people just take that stress relief too far.

MMO’s like World of Warcraft do encourage long hours of play.  Running a dungeon can take at least a couple of hours.  A raid, even longer.  I remember the first time I picked up a dungeon guide and the estimate it gave for one dungeon was 2 and a half hours.  Whoa, I thought, I don’t have that kind of time.  Well, things have changed a bit in the game and dungeons can now be run in a half-hour, though raids still take many hours, often spread out over multiple days to complete.  But at least you can play for an hour or so and then save your raid and try again another day instead of having to do it all at once.  Still, most people I know don’t hop on for an hour and leave.  Most log on at the end of the work day and are on until bedtime.  That can be a more than four or five hours.  If you do that every day, is that an addiction?

Look at it this way.  If someone has a couple of drinks every day, they aren’t necessarily alcoholics.  I’m no psychologist, but I know that alcoholics can’t stop at one drink, and they often can’t go a day without a drink (even if they tell themselves they won’t drink).  I once thought I was an alcoholic in college, so I vowed that I wouldn’t drink over winter break.  I was seriously worried that I’d want to drink.  As it turned out, I didn’t want to drink and I went around to holiday parties drinking Dr. Pepper, and felt fine about it.  So, if you can’t go for a day without playing or can’t stop playing after an hour because you need to go eat dinner, you might have a real problem.  And actually, better video games than alcohol or drugs.  At least you’re less likely to harm others or yourself (despite some scary news stories, it really is rare).

For the record, I haven’t played WoW in three days.  Real life has gotten in the way.  As it should.

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How technology, especially video games, is ruining us all

I have a Google search feed with the key words “video games education” in it because I have an interest in the use of video games for learning.  What I find interesting, however, is that a certain portion of articles that come through this feed are not about that, but are about how video games are terrible in multiple ways.  Among recent titles and pull-out quotes are these:

  • With technologies such as the Internet, video games, television and iPods, it’s difficult to get together and spend some time with your family.
  • Texting, video games, iPods, and Facebook have replaced playing, daydreaming, reading, and creating.
  • US: Women gain in science while video games hold back boys
  • I think alot [sic] of teacher really are doing there [sic] job but the parents got to get involve more instead of letting those kids watching tv,playing video games,etc
  • Besides, they have a BETTER WORK ETHIC than a lot of lazy, ENTITLED American children with their video games, ipods, cell phones, and tvs in their rooms.

That last is from a comment on a protest by NJ teachers, who are potentially going to be laid off as a result of some severe cuts to education that Gov. Christie is proposing.  I couldn’t find the comment he/she was responding to, but it’s pretty easy to guess what the substance of it was.

There’s a whole “kids these days” kind of tone to many of these articles, blaming them for their immersion in technology, sometimes blaming the parents.  I was kind of glad to see tv thrown in there a couple of times, because often people regard television watching as superior to spending time online.  I’d rather my kids play an online game for an hour than watch some of the stuff that’s on tv.  Even though these articles are not what I’m looking for, I find they provide an interesting perspective on the portrayal of video games in the media.

And yes, I know it’s WoW Wednesday and I’ve been remiss in posting.  I promise two more posts today, actually, a WoW one, and an exciting review.  Stay tuned!

Two Restaurants and a Farm, and a Gracie update

That’s what I’m virtually managing right now, thanks to Facebook.  One of my former students posted on my wall, “Please stop getting me addicted to these Facebook games!”  I have not been much of a Facebook person even though I’ve had an account for six years.  I actually started playing the games to give Geeky Girl something to do on a snow day.  And now I have two restaurants and a farm.  I’ve also discovered that people who post a lot in Facebook aren’t usually the ones playing the games and people that I never thought are playing Facebook games.  I know, because most of the games require you to share stuff with friends in order to move up the ladder.

One thing that’s kind of nice about the games is that you can spend ten minutes doing a few things and then come back in a few hours to see what’s going on.  There’s no need to “play” constantly; it’s more like maintenance.  But, I can see where these games will get old after a while.  They have been a better distraction than tv.

Meanwhile, on the Gracie front, we’ve decided she’s part prairie dog.  She looks like she’s always on the lookout, even to the point of occasionally standing on her hind legs.  When she’s not on the lookout, she’s asleep.  She is extremely mellow and will sleep in our laps, on a towel, or of course, in our bed.  We’re pretty much past any house training issues.  She had one incident a couple of nights ago, but has been fine ever since.  And I took her on her first ever walk with the Gentle Leader.  It worked pretty well.  She didn’t like it for the first five minutes, but after that, she quit pulling.  I’m sure it will take a couple of weeks to get her to maintain that regularly.  And I need to slow down her pace a bit.  She practically sprints.  It’s really more of a prance.  The biggest issue now is getting her and the cat acclimated to each other.  I’d welcome suggestions.

WoW Wednesday: Don’t Panic

And always carry a towel.  That’s my new mantra.  I’ve noticed that when I’m healing, even when things get a little scary, I don’t panic.  I just calmly try to rectify the situation.  Sometimes, I let the mage die.  As long as the tank and most of the dps lives, I’m good.  I find the whole process much more enjoyable when I’m not in panic mode.  Even if someone gets mad at me, I’m cool as a cucumber.  I’ve carried this over to tanking, which I’ve returned to doing since our guild is often short of tanks.  I’m still not as good as a lot of tanks I’ve seen, but being calm really helps.  Panicking when a mob gets loose doesn’t help as you’re not able to think clearly about what to do.  By remaining calm, I can usually fix problems before they get out of hand and I enjoy myself a lot more than if I’m thinking, “Crap, crap, crap! Where’s the runestrike button?”  I like the contrast of a situation where things around you are chaotic–mobs everywhere, the mage is taking damage, and the tank is on the verge of going down–and a calmness internally.  When the mobs finally go down, the tank survives, and even the mage doesn’t die, it feels really good.

I’ve tried to carry this feeling over into my physical life by remaining calm in the face of stressful situations.  I don’t have too many of these, thankfully, but when I feel overwhelmed, I try to draw on that feeling I have in WoW, where I’m calming taking down mobs or healing the tank.  I think that other players could learn a thing or two from this inner calm I’ve tried to maintain.  Those players who get really angry when they die or if someone makes a mistake should just relax.  They’ll have more fun themselves and they’ll make the game more fun for others.  I’ve found that when I exude my serenity through chat by telling people not to worry about mistakes or telling them it’s okay that they aggroed an extra mob that the whole group feels more relaxed.  I know, I sound a little hippy dippy, but you know what, I’m having fun and I think I’ve learned something important.

And the towel? Comes in handy when you spill water near the keyboard.  Just saying.

Teens, Gaming, Hobbies, and more

Jan asks about the New York Times article reporting on teen/tween media use.  I’ve had that article open all day and just got around to reading it (after listening to Bolero, which is another post).

The older my son gets and the more I spend time away from technology as part of my job, the more my views about technology have shifted.  Don’t get me wrong. I still love the Internet and all it has to offer.  My day would be horrible if I couldn’t check in with blogs, read the paper, and even catch up on tv shows, which I do via the web almost entirely.  That said, I’m starting to feel that all the ra ra about how the Internet/technology is so great and we should just let it roll on through is misguided.  I also think the opposing view, that the Internet is ruining our lives, is misguided.  But I don’t know where, exactly, the balance is.  When I was a teen, I spent a lot of time on the phone.  Just because teens today use cellphones or text, even, instead of talking, is that so different?  I wanted to stay in touch with my friends, feel connected to a community, so I made phone calls.  Once we could drive, we arranged to hang out at each other’s houses or the mall.

My son does the same thing, just virtually.  Yes, he plays a lot of Runescape, but partly he does so because his friends K. & M. are usually playing and he talks to them via the game.  It’s how he connects to them.  He sometimes uses Facebook to chat with them also.  He also has friends that live elsewhere, including a 20-something marine who served in Iraq.  Watching tv and movies and goofy videos on YouTube are also a way kids connect these days; it’s a way of having something to talk about with their friends.  Sometimes, they share those things via Facebook or texting, but they still share those things face-to-face, too.  We try to limit gameplay to an hour a day during the week and then have no limits on the weekends.  That said, I often do periodically kick Geeky Boy off the computer and when the weather’s nice, I make him and his sister go outside.  So far, they still maintain other interests.  Geeky Boy plays guitar.  He still likes to read.  And he plays a couple of sports.  During sports seasons, in fact, the weekend is the only time he really has to play video games.  Geeky Girl, too, plays sports, likes to draw, and work puzzles.  They’re both obsessed with Rubik’s cube right now.  We try to encourage them to balance all those things.

Though Mr. Geeky and I also spend a fair amount of time in front of the computer, we have other interests as well.  I’m just not sure they rise to the level of hobby.  I like cooking and gardening.  Mr. Geeky works on an open source family tree program and researches his own family history in his spare time.  We are all interested in politics.  Blogging is kind of a hobby and one I keep trying to get the kids involved in, but they aren’t as taken by it as I am. 🙂  I’m thinking of telling Geeky Boy he should get involved in a non-sport activity in the spring.  I do think having activities that one does outside of work and offline is a good thing.  Just like I think someone who read all the time should probably get outside once in a while.

Is gaming a hobby?  I think it is, but I also think there’s a lot of stigma around it right now.  If I spent two hours a day playing bridge, people wouldn’t look at me funny.  But, just as I don’t know any people in my neighborhood who play bridge, I don’t know anyone who games either (except for teenage boys and a couple of girls).  I’d never tell someone casually at a PTO meeting that I spent a couple of hours on Saturday morning playing WoW.  But if I spent two hours reading?  Even watching HGTV.  Those are not that different in terms of pastime activities, yet, they’re more acceptable.  As I pointed out in my post on leisure, there seems to be a real issue people have with what’s appropriate leisure time.  Or an appropriate amount of leisure time.  If I work 20 hours/wk, it’s expected, it seems, that I’ll fill that other 20 hours with housework or volunteering or some other “worthwhile” activity.

I think gaming, in part, has gained this stigma for a few reasons.  One, it’s been associated with teenage boys and younger men who are depicted as frittering away their time anyway.  It used to be filled with baseball, watching sports, just hanging out, or whatever, but it seems to me this demographic has always been expected to goof off a lot.  Shirkers.  Second, it’s had some content issues.  There’s sex and violence and things that seem unsavory.  And third, once it went online, those content issues were exacerbated and further, the online world also carries a stigma.  I used to get weird looks when I told people I did a lot of my reading online.  And once upon a time, I did an interview with the Wall Street Journal, whose main question was, how do you keep kids away from porn and child predators online.  That was 1998.  We still think the Internet is just for porn.

And maybe that’s where our worry over the amount of time our kids spend online begins.  We’re worried they might find bad things or that it might rot their brains.  But I also think we recognize that it might be a replacement for hanging out at the mall or in the neighborhood, but it’s also different and unfamiliar.  Even for me, someone who spends as much time online (or more) than her kids, there’s a mystery surrounding what’s going on there.  I don’t worry too much about child predators.  We’ve had many a frank conversation around here about that.  But I do worry about not “seeing” my kids friends.  Or about what scheming might be going on in a space where there’s no possibility for me to overhear.

For myself, I do sometimes feel that the online world gets stale, that it doesn’t feel tangible enough and that I need something else to occupy my time.  And sometimes, it’s too real.  There are the mean people who show up in comments or in an online game and you think, this is my free time, I don’t need to be exposed to that while I’m trying to relax.  Much better to curl up with a book.

And I think the bleh, the sense that what’s going on right now isn’t that exciting comes from the season.  I am not a fan of winter.  I can’t take the cold for too long and feel cooped up.   And I also have less time while I’m teaching than I used to have.  When I have long hours ahead, I do often come up with several things to do–read a book, write for a while, exercise, maybe bake something.  But when I have smaller chunks of time, I have more difficulty filling it with something other than what can happen on the computer.  Which should worry me perhaps.  I don’t know.