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Thinking In Play Symposium: Visual Design & Modding Passage

As you may have seen through various press reporting, the inimitable Jason Rohrer’s work has been the focus of a solo exhibition at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College for the past couple of months, culminating in a reception and a symposium around his work, entitled “Thinking in Play”. I was invited, along with the wonderful Leigh Alexander (who joined remotely) to be on a panel specifically about the visual design of Jason Rohrer’s work. The day then followed with subsequent panels featuring the also-wonderful Robin Hunicke and others reflecting on the game mechanics of his work.

It was an unusual format, certainly, but if you’re interested, here is the presentation I gave.
The Visual Design of Jason Rohrer's Games

PPTX (with notes) | PDF

The key part is that in the context of 9-years-ago games history, Passage and Gravitation were, along with things like Rod Humble’s Marriage, heralded as games whose minimalist visual aesthetics were discussed in certain circles as being a marker of the idea that they contained some ‘universality’ and ‘truth’. Certainly, they reflected parts of real, human experiences for real people, but at the same time, the games heralded as being part of this movement told the ‘truths’ of a narrow demographic; namely the interpersonal struggles of cisgender white men and their heteronormative relationships.

And yet, at the time, Passage did mean something to a younger version of myself; the idea of conflict and mortality is certainly a universal one, though perhaps not with the particular ‘skin’ that the game comes with by default. Not everyone has the privilege of having one of their central struggles as being around balancing relationships with creative goals, for instance (though this was, at one point my own experience, to an extent).

So, as a tiny experiment for the above talk, I did a quick (and I mean very quick) mod of Passage. It took me less than 10 minutes.



You can download it here:

Passage_ThinkingInPlay_Win || Passage_ThinkingInPlay_Mac

I did this for (at least**) three reasons:

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My GDC 2014 Microtalk

I’ve uploaded a version of the microtalk I delivered at Game Developer’s Conference 2014, during the session GDC Microtalks 2014: One Hour, Ten Speakers, a Panoply of Game Thinking! I’ve embedded the video below.

The full text is also below, for those of you interested. Thanks again to the ever-brilliant Richard Lemarchand for inviting me to speak!

Edit: Ah, happily, only a few hours after I blogged this, the official recording of the GDC microtalks went up live on the GDC Vault, for free, so you could also watch it here. The bonus being, you can see the other nine (far more worthy) talks too!

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On Magical Empathy Machines, and How to Solve Systemic Oppression With This One Weird Old Trick

Since the publication of Ben Kuchera’s article on Polygon yesterday, there’s been much attention on this supposed “Gender Swap” VR experiment.

There’s much to say on the topic of technological panaceas for supposed ’empathy’, and much of that has already been said, very eloquently, by the brilliant Sophie Houlden, who not only outlined the specific problems with Kuchera’s Polygon piece, but in an earlier post, also excellently summed up why the entire concept of VR for empathy is so problematic:

“…it’s important nobody thinks “Oh, so this is what it’s like to be X” because your life is more than what you see – it’s also years of other people seeing you, speaking to you, touching you AND how they do all that. It’s what you see happen to people who are like you and people who are not. It’s your own head thinking for years on end trying to come to terms with all of this. You can’t be someone else without going through this.”

The Polygon article also mentioned the recent similar ‘race-swap’ VR experiments, which apparently showed participants apparently display reduced implicit racial bias after ‘inhabiting’ the body of someone with darker skin than their own. (Incidentally, I’d be interested to see participants tested again for implicit racial bias a few weeks, months, or years after exposure.)

I recently briefly commented on this for the latest edition of the Eastern Eye British Asian newspaper. Though my full comments didn’t make the piece, I did expand on those comments for the TEDxEastEnd talk I originally wrote and rehearsed, though I ended up panicking and leaving out that entire section. Nevertheless, in case it’s of any interest, I’ve embedded the entire video of my talk here, One Weird Old Trick to Solve Sexism and Racism, followed by the notes for the extra bit I managed to omit:

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New Website!

Welcome to the new and improved The Tiniest Shark website, which has also merged both my personal blog and development blogs, so that I am no longer seized by indecision on where to post, and end up posting to neither…

Thank you to the brilliant Fully Illustrated for helping us add all these new fancy new pixels everywhere, and especially for the new TTS logo, who has now increased in resolution significantly.



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Redshirt Customisation #1: How to Name the NPCs Who’ll Join You Aboard Megalodon-9

Redshirt is a game that lends itself to some customisation if you’re willing to dig, and I thought I’d begin writing a series of blog posts which detail how you may begin to do this.

As you may know, when you begin a game in Redshirt, the station is filled with non-player characters, who are all completely randomly generated in terms of their names, profile pictures, and personalities. The simplest customisation is the ability to ‘seed’ Megalodon-9 with names of your own, so the NPCs can have names of people you know, or of characters from your favourite television show or movie, of course!

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A Note About Playing as ‘Asrion’ in Redshirt

It’s been almost a week since Redshirt was released, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported the game so far. Thank you so much!

I just wanted to post a quick notice however, as this entry on tumblr was brought to my attention: “Trigger warning for anyone interested in playing the indie game Redshirt”, which relays one woman’s experience of playing as, seemingly, an Asrion character, and therefore receiving repeated unwanted attention from men, despite stating on her profile that her character is interested in only women.

The author writes that she was triggered by the experience of playing, and I am deeply sorry that there was no clearly-stated warning that this would happen when playing as an Asrion.

As the awesome Border House Blog covered Redshirt in their Bunk Bed series last week, this particular dynamic of the game was also touched upon, and I left a comment further expanding upon the way this works in Redshirt. I’ll reiterate that here, too…

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