Monday, 31 March 2008

Game theory from game developers?

I noticed that Keith Stuart on the Gamesblog over at the Guardian's tech pages recently wrote a short piece on game theory. I'm currently in the process of writing a lecture on approaches to studying digital games for MAC281 and was wondering how the students were going to take to what can be quite an abstract debate with seemingly little real world relevance.

It's not often that debates surrounding ludology and/or narratology make it in the mainstream media. They tend to be the obsession of academics within the emergent discipline of Game Studies, so it was reassuring to see Stuart's story. There has been polarised debate surrounding the two terms - narratology comes from wider studies within the arts which considers the significance of narrative, whilst ludology privileges the significance of gameplay and experience.

Academics like Frans Mäyrä seek a multi-disciplinary approach. However, Clint Hocking the developer for the forthcoming Far Cry 2 has recently took a pop at the game Bioshock for what he calls 'ludonarrative dissonance' on his blog. It is well worth reading as Hocking presents a valid argument. Bioshock has been lauded for the fact that it offers the player multiple trajectories throughout the game based upon key moral choices, yet the narrative drive of the game's programme offers some contradiction to the option of free choice.

Hocking's position seems much more than a rant directed at a competitor, although it does veer in that direction in a few places. Far Cry 2 is looking to address the problem that the intersection between narratology and ludic accounts offer by offering layers much more freedom of choice. (Far Cry 2 is due out on Xbox 360 and PS3 in Autumn 2008).

Saturday, 29 March 2008

3 strikes and your out ISP policy continues across Europe

TorrentFreak is hosting a couple of noteworthy stories regarding the attempts to police the sharing of copyright material across European internet connections. Following closely on the often misreported story in the UK that the Government is planning a "three strikes and your out" disconnection policy against repeat offenders, it would seem that Norway and Iceland have upset the interests of copyright holders

Japan has already agreed in principle to honour this type of system, on the back of a huge up swell in the use of file-sharing services. Pressure is mounting on ISPs in other countries: on March 10th 2008 the IFPI launched proceedings against Ireland's largest ISP, Eircom, in an attemtp to make the ISP accept responsibility for what its customers do on the network.

The decision in Iceland hinged on the claim that, the largest torrent tracker in the country, was accused of providing easy access to copyright material. However, the ability to search for files which contain meta-data that point to copyright material rather than the actual copyright material itself is not illegal. The case was dismissed (the link to the verdict is here in it's native Icelandic).

The Norwegian case has some similarities. MPAA lawyer Espen Tøndel is demanding that Norwegian ISPs disconnect file-sharers from the internet. However, ISPs are refusing to act as the investigators and judges in cases against their own customers - something which can be costly and labour intensive to pursue. Instead, IKT Norway ( a group acting on behalf of Norwegian service providers) is looking into the legality of private detection firms attempting to connect personal data to the said firms.

The Norwegian and Iceland examples may seem like good news for pirates but it would seem that pressure is still being applied to ISPs and their users, with a number of interested parties intent on lobbying for change. TorrentFreak points to a report by Nick Heath on Silicon which suggests that BPUI and the IFPI are looking to create robotic networks which will detect illegal file-sharing activity. Supposedly, file-sharing using BitTorrent clients has become too easy.

The details of how the detection between illegal and legal file-sharing will be made is still unclear. Even the BBC uses a variant of the BitTorrent protocol for distributing content as part of its dual pronged iPlayer service. Attempts in the US by ISP Comcast to interrupt the BitTorrent protocol with the Sandvine software has been deeply unpopular with customers, with an FCC hearing even claiming that the process was tantamount to the use of 'hacker techniques'. This has been a PR disaster for both Comcast and the company behind Sandvine (who saw their share value plummet by 42% in a single day).

Elsewhere, The Pirate Bay's intentions are loud and clear, especially in their taunting of Hollywood. Matt Mason's blog suggests that major labels and there related interest groups can learn from the pirates and need to adjust their own business practices to best compete. A video of a recent lecture he gave on the issue can be found below

The Register is carrying a story which seeks to impose a 'covenant not to sue' on US college students and alumni caught sharing copyright material. It would seem that the game of cat and mouse is not over yet, but national laws are looking harder to co-opt for the major labels.

Friday, 28 March 2008

The Byron Review

In case you missed it, back in September 2007 the UK government commissioned a review of the risks children faced from exposure to harmful or inappropriate material on the internet or in video games. As someone who has researched and taught in the area of 'media effects' myself I was expecting the typical tirade of simplification and behavourist assumptions that tend to dog these types of investigations.

I have to admit that I was a little bit dubious as to the outcome of Dr Tanya Byron's review. However, it seems I need not have been so concerned as the study seems to have been very well considered and quite constrained. I think Byron and her team deserve some praise and recognition for a balanced review.

I have not managed to read the full review document yet, so I may still change my mind, but I am impressed with what I have seen thus far. Of course, there are bound to be a few fall outs from the findings - in particular the advice for a hybrid rating system for games under and over the suggested 12 certificate may lead to more parental confusion than assist them in making informed decisions but one could argue that the present combination of BBFC and PEGI advise already does that.

The full report can be found here

Thursday, 27 March 2008

First post

Welcome to the blog where I will be posting a series of thoughts regarding media based issues. Any media based issues which stumble into my radar will be picked up on and explored. As yet, a complete and thorough outline for this blog has not been completely identified
although I do intend to consider a range of issues thrown up by debates in academia around digital media, journalism, public relations and cultural studies