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Friday, Jul 8, 2011
At nearly 30 floors, I want nothing more than to destroy my tower and Tiny Tower's dubious ethics along with it.

Tiny Tower, the latest iOS game from the brother duo that is NimbleBit, has earned its place amongst the pantheon of popular iPhone/iPad games with over thirty million downloads. I too have joined the throng of tower managers. For the past week, I have obsessively monitored my building progress, stretching my skyscraper upwards whenever time permitted. My investment is reflected in the ever-growing height of my citadel. Yet at nearly thirty floors, I want nothing more than to destroy my tower and the game’s dubious ethics along with it.


With its adorable, mouth-breathing, pixelated denizens, Tiny Tower could charm anyone into submission. Called “bitizens,” the residents and visitors to one’s personal tower each have their own unique names and attire. They also have their own dream jobs. For example, working at the photo studio in my building completely satisfies the life aspirations of my resident Ashley Meyer. A huge green smiley face accompanies her information, satisfying the benevolent landlord in me.


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Thursday, Jun 30, 2011
Looking back at games like Mirror's Edge or The Wind Waker it seems that when video games offer unexpected experiences, the results are not always pleasant.

After writing about how my lack of preconceived opinions impacted my response to Lugaru HD, I’ve spent some more time thinking about expectations and how they impact players’ experiences and games’ receptions.  All of it leads me to conclude that while the hype cycle keeps the medium’s business side running, it is usually bad for the artistic side.  Realistically, no one can be expected to keep themselves hermetically sealed off from a game, but hasty comparisons and preconceived notions can easily hurt both players and developers.


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Thursday, Jun 23, 2011
Commons is a crowd-sourced city improvement game that asks players to investigate, report, and rank problems facing particular areas of a city.

The basic idea behind the dilemmas represented by “the tragedy of the commons” is that a group of rational, self-interested individuals will eventually deplete a shared resource. This will occur because they attempt to maximize their personal gain—even when the depletion is detrimental to every one’s long-term interest. No matter how “rational” we are, the theory suggests, public commons will ultimately vanish because our own rationality drives us towards maximizing the extraction of non-renewable resources. But what if our own self-interest directly contributes to the preservation and improvement of public resources? By creating a game specifically about making a city better, Commons by Suzanne Kirkpatrick, Nien Lam, and Jamie Lin, is a game that aims to exploit self-interested gamers to foster public good.


Specifically, Commons is a crowd-sourced city improvement game that asks players to investigate, report, and rank problems facing particular areas of a city. Graffiti, cracked sidewalks, poor disabled access, etc., are all reportable offenses. The idea of having the public monitor their own neighborhood for persistent problems or improvement opportunities is not particularly new. New York and several other cities across the US offer mobile apps and services that allow residents to photograph and report public nuisances and hazards.  Commons, commissioned by Games for Change and part of the Come Out and Play festival and River to River Festival in New York City, evokes the same “public participation” mentality through play.


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Thursday, Jun 16, 2011
While it may not allow players to craft their own stories, God of War III's presentation allows players to experience and perform the game's message.

While games like Far Cry 2 or Minecraft create beautiful stories by leaving the vast majority of the plot and game dynamics up to the player, heavily-scripted games must convey their messages by carefully constructing narratives supported by their most basic components.  Every decision, even ones that seem obscure or incidental, are integral in communicating a linear game’s rules as thematic elements.  As an example, we can analyze God of War III’s camera and how it functions as both a tool to explain game systems and as a storytelling device.


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Thursday, Jun 9, 2011
With the announcement of Modern Warfare 3’s Elite, a new era of content delivery seems guaranteed.

Game announcements are spewing out of the Los Angeles convention center as E3 2011 is in full swing. Promises from developers and publishers reveal more than factoids about specific games. They indicate broader trends of the gaming future to come. Now, with more and more cards laid out on the table, a simple divination is clear: an information revolution is brewing and multiplayer gaming will never be the same.


Although Valve’s Gabe Newell has predicted (and notably advocated for) the delivery of games as a service, his vision has only slowly come to fruition. With the announcement of Modern Warfare 3’s Call of Duty: Elite, a new era of content delivery seems guaranteed. Meanwhile, coupled with the continued growth of alternative distributions models, a wave of player-tailored information is dramatically changing what we come to expect from our multiplayer experiences.


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