My Game Biography

Greg Niemeyer guest-lectured in my Interactive Narrative class last Wednesday, giving us a fast but thorough grounding in Alternate Reality games and game research in general. It was one of those interdisciplinary moments that I really appreciate, wherein I encounter a scholar who is utterly fluent in his arena and am able to draw him out into discussion about archaeological theory and finds, gaining no small amount of enlightenment and a new perspective on my research.

He was very approachable and open, and I got the sense that was a true gift when it came to designing games. I also don’t think he was used to people pushing back a bit–he has an interesting perspective on the placement and utility of games within society that I don’t entirely agree with, but I don’t entirely disagree as well.While this is a simplified summary, he feels that games help us deal with larger societal issues and specifically referenced World of Warcraft as an arena where people can come together into teams to solve large problems, mirroring our growing need to solve international issues such as global warming. I kept thinking of some of the finds that I’ve come across over the years, specifically the large assemblage of “game pieces” that Michael House excavated at Catalhoyuk with sheep knuckle dice and black and white stones. Niemeyer asked me if I knew the rules to the game and I hadn’t actually considered the possible rules to go along with the assemblage and what these rules might tell us about the Neolithic. I also chatted with him about mancala and the prevalence of the game along trade routes, but I’ll save my thoughts about that for another post.

Anyway, my notes from the lecture are extremely useful and it was one of the more worthwhile discussions I’ve had at Berkeley. I had known about his work through Jane McGonigal and the larger Berkeley Center for New Media sphere, but hadn’t specifically checked out his papers or classes. Like a good grad student, I looked up his CV before he came to class and discovered his Game Biography, “based on the notion that we learn everything we know from playing games.” Seeing as how I’m always “game,” I thought I’d write one myself.

1984 – Hide and Seek in cornfields in Oklahoma; Soccer
1985 – Oregon Trail, still the best educational game ever
1986 – Super Mario Bros/Pitfall/Duck Hunt/Marble Madness!
1987 – Zork, Moonmist, Nord & Bert Couldn’t Make a Head or a Tail of It, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–Interactive Fiction was the best.
1988 – Scrabble – endless games with my folks
1991 – Super Mario Bros. 3 – my mom would sometimes rent a SNES from the video store
1994 – Stickmud, where I talked to people from Sweden and Finland
1996 – Ludune, the failed mud that me and my Seattle roomates tried to design
1997 – Final Fantasy 7
1998 – Final Fantasy Tactics
1999 – Civilization II
2000 – Final Fantasy 9
2001 – Dance Dance Revolution
2002 – Suikoden 3
2005 – Katamari Damacy
2006 – Neverwinter Nights
2007 – Cruel 2 B Kind
2008 – Dragon Age, Backgammon
2009 – Dragon Age – Awakening
2010 – Kingdom of Loathing

The dates aren’t necessarily all correct or all-inclusive, but these are the games that I most remember–primarily console/PC games, it turns out!  I often remark that I’m sad that I don’t have more time for games, as there are so many really incredible immersive worlds and narratives out there. I feel like I’ve missed a large cultural moment by never playing World of Warcraft, but my academic career would have surely suffered. Or at least that’s what I tell myself–maybe I would have been better suited for solving large, international problems if I would have played!

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