Author Archive

Around the Watering Hole

As any gamer knows, discussing our passion around people who have no idea of the themes or games we play, can be a funny or potentially offending experience. For me, at work, it can often be rather hilarious. I work in the US Federal Government circles, where it’s easy to assume a lack of odd. In actuality, things like the following happen.

I’ve been roleplaying a MUSH that is of the Amber genre, with its multi-worlds concept. It is mainly, in Amber, a medieval theme with some constraints on the laws of physics and magic. My character is in the midst of plotting the assassination of another character who is mystical and potentially dangerous. I’d just had another character pretty much tip off my plans in a public in-character setting, and was in a bit of a bind about how to proceed with the killing.

Naturally, I turned to my usual lunchtime work crowd. Names have been changed to protect the strange.

My friend, Julia, is into World of Warcraft, and is no stranger to the games I play. She is rather avid in hearing about how I manage to even survive in-character, so I began running the problem past her at lunch. Joe, who works in counter-narcotics, Freida, another computer support person, and Adella, an FBI agent, all began listening in in wonder as I described possibly needing to “use the troops I have to take out their Embassy.”

I know, right?

Some people need a lot of explaining to put such comments and enthusiastic planning to kill someone in the proper perspective. Gamers, I think, tend to talk to other gamers in the same language, assuming the other has the proper basis of knowledge and they just run with it. Mundanes listening in have no context. I run into the same problem with the IT world; two techs talking about computers sound about as comprehensible to non-computer people as dolphins clicking away nearby. It also isn’t as if gamers add qualifiers a lot as we talk. We don’t say “so on the game I…”, we roll on with “So I drew my sword and sliced his head off.” When one comments to a guild mate in the crowded elevator “thanks for helping me gack that demon last night”, it should not draw undue staring. Surely it’s obvious we don’t mean really real. Right?

Surprisingly, the onlookers copped onto what was going on and got pretty enthusiastic, once I’d outlined the problem to them. They’re a very sharp group, with a lot of experience and interests to draw from, just the sort of people you’d feel safe steering your country’s foreign policy.

Joe: Can’t you just catapult a cow into their well?
Me: I don’t have time to start a plague.
Joe: How about rats?
Freida: On fire. Wait, how was the plague started?
Adella and Joe: Fleas on rats.
Joe: Napalm rats, on fire. Very classy and effective.
Freida: Can’t you send in a woman and lure him out of the castle and then kill him?
Me: He knows I’m coming, so I don’t know that he’d trot out after a chick, knowing I’m out there to cut his head off.
Freida: Maybe if she had really big boobies?
Joe: I think we’re definitely onto something with the rats.
A Marine who sits down about then: What are you people talking about?
Joe: Ann needs to kill a magic guy in a hurry.
Adella: It’s for a game.
Marine: This is out of my depth.

The rats solution was popular, even if it wouldn’t work on the game. Eventually, it was agreed that if rats, on fire, were going to be flung through the air, then the soundtrack should definitely be Wagner. I did actually get a decent plan to proceed with the plot from the discussion, but mostly from Julia, the other gamer.

I really do think the mundanes exceeded the weirdness of anything I could have done just talking about gaming in front of them. The whole discussion makes me wonder about running a game with them. Anyone else ever sprung gaming on the unsuspecting, especially at work?


The Netbook and the Gaming Table

The addition of small, very portable computers has really changed a lot of the way people view computing. I own a couple, and tend to carry the Sony Vaio P around like a security blanket. This means, then, I have access to a lot of data, even when not connected to the internet. This has held true for the other class of portable computing devices, the crop of e-book readers. I’ve found it useful to keep my gaming notes, especially for RPG games, on computers and have caught chatter from other roleplaying and GMing friends about the coolness of having whole RPG sourcebooks and manuals on their Kindles.

So what has the lightening of the gaming bookbag done for you, if you’ve switched to using electronic tools?

I’m not a huge tabletop gaming person, but the games I play all seem to have some new enhancement. With the ability to carry quite a bit of data around, having all my notes for games is easy, when it all fits in my purse.

For myself, my main tool has been Microsoft OneNote, which is a data collection and organization product that is often included in the more complete versions of Office. It’s a good buy on it’s own, if you’re a Windows user. I make use of a lot of personal notes when playing a RP MUSH, keeping track of my evil plans, notes on stats and specific game files I use often but need to view offline, etc. This picture is a snippet of the gaming section.

Each little portion of my character’s activities has a section, and pages within it. The main screen shows a rumor posting that relates to a plot I was working on. As a player, it helps to copy certain useful information into a form I can carry around, search, and add to. How many of us in online gaming have remembered reading something before, something a character said, but not the specifics? Handy now to slap into a searchable database.

Obviously, from a GM’s point of view, finding a software package for their platform and creating a database like this could mean not having to repeatedly create things each campaign. OneNote, as well as Evernote and other data organizing packages, allow you to create a page and then save it as a template to use over again. With OneNote, you can print a PDF right into it, and then overlay more typing. It’s a great way to create character sheets, if you lack a PDF writing app. It does take time to build up a treasure trove of your own information in any database, and that can be daunting to some, I think. Not everyone is confident with computers enough to take up a database application and turn it into something that is readily useful. I find OneNote to be very easy to use, and am interested to hear what others use to store their campaign notes.

While even Microsoft OneNote runs on a netbook quite well, if you’re into lightweight, there’s the Tiddlywiki option. A Tiddlywiki is a single file you open up in a web browser and manipulate right there. It’s all saved in one file, but due to the magic of Javascript, you can create chunks, called tiddlers, and hide and show them as needed. The blank file without modifications can be found at M Thomas at his RPG Dumping Ground blog, has written an excellent introduction to the plain TwiddlyWiki file, and his blog looks interesting for RPGers as well: However, with the flexibility of Tiddlywiki, there is already at least one ready-modified file devoted to tracking RPG campaign information.

As with any of the Tiddlywikis, just go to the blank one and Save As the file to your local disk, and there you can modify it. Narrator’s Helper, by the Flying Turtle bloggers, is located here:

I won’t go into detail about the file, only to say that the author has added a number of new features to the TiddlyWiki, including the ability to roll up NPCs and track their hitpoints and damage, as well as rolls based on their stats, right in the wiki file itself. Most of the improvements involve handling random number things in games that use dice, in addition to all the tagging goodness of the TiddlyWiki. If you’re the light programming type, I encourage you to download the file and try your hand at a customization. Share what you create with us, too!

Lastly, I wanted to mention the iPod Touch/iPhone devices. There are quite a few handhelds out there with their own app stores and such, but this is just a sampling off my own iPod Touch.

  • Armory: If you’re into World of Warcraft, you may have known about the Armory app for iPhone. This is a slick little app that shows your character stats and equipment, just as it is in the Armoury website. Nice graphics with page turning sounds. However, I have found it not to work if you have an Authenticator on your account.
  • Authenticator Mobile: Speaking of.. if you do have one, or wish to secure your WoW account, the Authenticator for Mobile is a free download out of the App Store. This is a program that generates a unique timed number that must be typed in when logging in. It’s an excellent idea to help keep your account from being hijacked (as mine was last week), and you don’t even have to dish out the $6 to buy the fob one off the store.
  • Pocket MV: For those who are sucked into the virtual world of Second Life, there is Pocket Metaverse for accessing that graphical world right from your iPhone. Unlike some lightweight apps, this one allows map viewing, limited movement, chatting, inventory manipulation… the next best thing to actually logging in. For those on netbooks or older laptops that can’t handle the client, it’s a good option, even if it eats battery power like Oreos.
  • Dice Rollers: There seem to be a number of them, such as Crit, Dice Bag and Motion-X Dice. Your mileage may vary, as I haven’t tried any of them, but those are free for the download.

I’m sure the new iPad will open up things even more, and the touch capability with the large screen should tempt programmers to create new tools for us gamers. Be nice to your programmers, convert them to gaming, then maybe they will gift us with cool.

I’ve kept to what I know here, but if anyone has cool tools they’ve found useful on portable devices, please share with us in the comments!

The Target Audience

I visit Tokyo about once a year for vacation, and, being the tech nerd I am, make a point of strolling the electronics district of Akihabara. This is Electric Town, where shops are crammed with tech, games, video, even bins of transistors. People hawk SD cards like concert tickets on the streets. It is also a great place to watch the interesting gaming community. In light of my participation with Femme Gamer, I took a few days this week to study the area with an eye to girl and women playing the games.

The first thing I noticed was that there was more open pornography than last year.

The variety of “games” in arcades and such in Japan is pretty broad. Within such places, one can find an entire floor of pink photobooths, claw games with prizes, electronic horse racing, pachinco (a loud game I haven’t worked out that involves pins and a lot of metal balls), and the usual video game types of consoles. Akihabara is several city blocks of multi-floor arcades like this. However, the photo above is a good example of an odd pairing: porn and gaming. Right there, BAM. Even within stores that cater to mecha and game character figures, you’ll find Akira standing next to a collectable set of figurines featuring artistic bondage techniques (called shibari, it’s an art form).

I’m not offended by this, honest, just curious. I approach it with my Western empowered woman mind and it doesn’t click to me much. I am used to great concern being paid to game ratings and what can and can’t be shown in public. Heck, that goes for anything, not just games. A couple of instances of porn plus games, I can chalk up to the “sex sells” mantra. However, when it’s as prolific as vending machines and in full view of the public street, I have to wonder who their target audience is. Is the gaming market and environment in Tokyo so exclusively male that this is just how things work, or do the girl gamers just ignore the whole thing?

I wandered several floors of arcades, looking at the mix of people. Most of the girls were focused on the games that grabbed plush toys out of machines, and those that I saw on the “video game” floors were tagging along with a boyfriend. Most of the big arcades had entire floors of booths for girls taking pictures with each other, and some of these had signs banning boys who were not with a girl. These floors were lacking in porn. It wasn’t until I was browsing an arcade in Shibuya, an area of Tokyo on the other side of the city and one that is popular with the teen crowd, did I see a girl actually playing a strategy game. But Shibuya is much, much less overt than Akihabara about the skin. But yes, there are girl gamers around here, just mostly focused in the pink areas or in low ratio in the “serious” console gaming areas.

The picture above was a mild example, but one that included some of the odd themes with an official gaming product, the Sony PSP. Here, the girl is holding the gaming device. She looks young, and is dressed as a school girl. The wind is artfully flaring the front of her shirt. She has breasts the size of her head. Targeted advertising? If they’re trying to capture the girl gaming crowd, is it the desire to be like a large-chested schoolgirl with a trim tummy that makes a woman want to buy a PSP? Your guess is as good as mine. It does draw the eye, either in lust, wonder or confusion, so I imagine it achieved its purpose.

I really wish I knew Japanese well enough to talk to the girls wandering these places, but unfortunately, I must fail this blog in that respect. If anyone has run into this and knows more about the culture, please share and help educate us gaming culture anthropologists.

MU* and Open Source MMO

Some of the first MMORPGs were the ASCII games, and there were many variations catering to combat achievement, social kicking back, various roleplay settings based on popular books or movies, and the like. There was even a game that rewarded simply doing nothing with style called LambdaMOO. These MU*’s (either MUD, MOO, MUSH, MUX, etc) were low bandwidth, light on hardware, and unlimited on imagination, as long as you were a decent typist.

Fast forward twenty years, and the PC gaming industry literally drives hardware advancements. We’ve all drooled over a brand new game and found it needed an upgrade of some computer component to play well or at all. The shiny gameplay demanded another kind of shiny; cash.

Most gamers who only started gaming on the internet in the past five or ten years may not have ever even stepped foot on a MU*. Who wanted to play something that was all typing, no graphics at all, even if it was free?

I started playing them in 1992 and have been playing and programming on them since. I’ve also gone into WoW, Second Life, and other networked graphical games online. I still, oddly, prefer the old text games hands down, and it isn’t because of the costs. I’ll focus on the MUSH variant, because that’s what I’ve played the most.

When you compile the MUSH server on an internet-connected machine and first login, you’re a room called Limbo and your character name, #1, is often “God”. There are some basic commands common to all games running that flavor of server, but no other rooms, no RPG system, no helpful files. Nothing. There’s an underlying programming language that can make all things possible (except graphics) if you know how to use it, but no books teaching it, just some arcanely written help files. There is nothing in Limbo but potential.

It’s a unique environment in today’s massive gaming world, where we pay for downloadable content and the ability to connect to someone else’s server to play in a world they create and control. While anyone who has played a MU* knows that players have limited choice in the world once it’s built by the staff, the real beauty is that just about anyone with a world-scale idea and the energy can create their own game, run the way they want, and have people connect to it and have fun. There is no server farm, team of game developers, financial costs, nothing. Just the right machine with a permanent connection and a free download of the MUSH server code. It’s like Open Source MMORPG.

I’ve seen quite a few of these player-created games. There’s games based on books and movies, games using commercial RPG rules and concepts, and some that are entirely original. A lot of them use existing theme but try to spin it a little with an original RPG system. The result is undeniably run by the love of fans and makers. It’s no small effort to do this either; most games are hundreds of hours of unpaid work. However, the result is something that the creators can watch work in front of them, and enjoy and improve themselves without working for Blizzard Inc.

If you’ve played a MU* or he graphic MMORPGs and have some thoughts on why both are still being played in this day and age, please share in the comments!

Just When You Thought They Were Complete…

Yes, it’s another introduction of the visible members of the Femme Gamer Legion. Instead of letting it fill you with fear, consider us a fine variety mix.

My name’s Ann and I’ve been gaming, mostly online sorts, for about twenty years now. I tend toward the roleplay crowd, though like the non-MMORPGs just as well. I remember my first foray into Internet gaming. I’d been dragged to a MUD by a friend on IRC, and was told to grind sheep kills for XP. That sheep killed me, or, in the words of the game, “tickled me into the stomach.” Everyone has to start somewhere.

These days, I’m firmly established in the massive multi-player graphical IRC experience called Second Life, where one may find me as Pym Sartre. I still do the text-based MUSHes and have taken out my revenge on any number of sheep by now. I pound around WoW as a Tauren Shammie, and am eyeing several games for the new machine. I fiddle with mechanics of RPGs a bit, though my life situation doesn’t seem to allow much tabletop. That may… change, as I try to convert co-workers.

I’m also an IT professional and fiddle a lot with hardware and networks and security at home. My gaming machine is a monster that glows red from the fires of hell that energize it, but I’m in the process of building a new gaming monster with a unique open case design. There may be more on that later.

It’s exciting to be a part of Femme Gamer,and I look forward to seeing what worlds the Legion conquers. And if it happens to be yours… we’ll be nice. Promise.