Friday, 28 November 2014

Like our Forefathers Played:
Traditional Play & Toy's Substance of Expression.

The talk I presented to the annual meeting of the Italian Association of Semiotic Studies is now available on-line!
Another step toward a semiotic theory of toys... ;)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Annual Conference of AISS.

The annual meeting of the Italian Association of Semiotic Studies has just been held in Teramo (near Rome).
We had three days of conferences about Nature and Authenticity with the participation of many important scholars among which Umberto Eco himself!

In the congress I had the chance to meet two of my favorite academic authors: Patrick John Coppock and Paolo Bertetti.
Coppock is a very prolific philosopher and semiotician, you can check this paper too see from yourself how interesting is the stuff he writes!
Bertetti wrote a book on the intertextual and transmedia character Conan the Barbarian. This work will be one of the pillar upon which I'm struggling to build my PhD thesis!

I myself have presented a paper on the materiality of toys (soon on #SemioNerd) as part of University of Turin's Atelier. As always working in close contact with them has been informative and engaging!

Here a picture of some of the members of the Atelier from Turin.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

My Article "Immagini Agentive: uno Sguardo Biosemiotico" on:
Lexia 17-18: Efficacious Images.

Although not so nerd my article will appear on the next issue of the International Journal of Semiotics of Turin university: Lexia.
Here you can find the abstract of my article and the issue's cover!

This paper exposes some considerations on images' agentivity and
its links with biology and evolution. Trying to find out which kind of images are able to make people do things without involving any
cognitive process, brings us to wonder about the role of natural
instinct in our way of communicate. A biosemiotic point of view
become thus very important to understand the way of working and the source of agentivity in images. If traditional tools fails to investigate properly a message without a content, biology give us an answer. An answer that we need to understand how and why some images cause a certain reaction in us.

Key words: images, agentivity, biosemiotics, evolution, semiotics.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Video of "Toward a Semiotic Analysis of Toys" now on Youtube.

Here the video of the presentation I gave in Sofia last Septmeber, official beginning of my work on semiotics of toys...

Next step: a semiotic analysis of the substance of expression of the toy-language that I'll present in Teramo at the annual congress of the Italian Association of Semiotic Studies (AISS).

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

"Toward a Semiotic Analysis of Toys" in Sofia.

I just uploaded the transcript of my presentation "Toward a Semiotic Analysis of Toys" held in Sofia at New Bulgarian Univeristy for the 12th World Congress of Semiotics.

The paper focuses on the definition of toys as a specific kind of signs and on the semiotic analysis of a toy-language (or many toy-idiolects). In the conlusions a link is drawn between the activity of playing with toys and Lotman's idea of autocommunication.

Read the full article on Academia!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

"Playing for Real" in Ankara.

I just uploaded the transcript of my presentation "Playing for Real: between the world of play and the real world" for the "Is it Real?" semiotic conference in Ankara, Turkey.
The paper is about concieving the world of play as an alternative reality and about how the semiotic literacy in the domain of play guides us in interpreting each other playfulness.
The movie "The Game" by Fincher, is used as case study.
Read it on Academia!

Monday, 22 September 2014

12th World Congress of  Semiotics in Sofia.

Just come back from the fair Sofia (Bulgaria) where it has been held the 12th world congress of semiotics.
Between the many presentations I'ld like to mention three of the most relevant for Game Studies:
Maria Katsaridou: Adaptation of videogames into films: the adventures of narrative, an interesting parallel analysis of Resident Evil games and films.
Hiroshi Yoshida: Early Decades of Video Game Culture in Japan, an original insight on Japaneese videogames focusing on digital games' and gadgets' affordances.
Simon Levesque: Semiotics of Play: the origin of 'flights of fancy' according to Henri Labori, a cognitive approach to playfulness linking abstraction and play in the work of the French physician.

As for me, I'll soon upload my presentation on Semiotics of Toys!

Meanwhile, here you can find our big smiotic family!

 click here to full-size.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The (Un)deniable link between Videogames and Violence.

A truth-speaking comic by MercWorks and Andrew Bridgman.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Brickfilms: Cinema, Space and Lego.
Since the beginning cinema has been fascinate by space: it is known that the first movie ever has been Le voyage dans la Lune by Geroge Méliès.

Less known is that also the first brickfilm (you know, Lego stop-motion videos) treats of the same topic. For an exceptional coincidence 1973's En rejse til månen has the very same title, just in Danish. Twelve years old Lars Hassing and his brother Henrik realized it for their grandparents golden wedding anniversary and were influenced by the Apollo program. Apparently they even went up to and showed it to Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, who, in sign of appreciation, rewarded the lucky kids with large Lego sets.

Coincidences, however, aren't over. The second ever birckfilm is Lego Wars by Fernando Escovar. It was inspired by a trendy movie of the time: Star Wars. The displayed minifigures hold medieval weapons and the spaceship is truly a Red Cross helicopter: Star Wars Lego sets weren't available at the time. 

That's the thing, though, Fernando would maybe have been surprised to know that nineteen years later Star Wars would become the first ever licensed theme featured in Lego.
Benny approves! 

... and so does Vader!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Hard times for game devs... after the whole (very sad) Zoe Quinn affair, only few days ago Polygon reported that “game dev harassment remains as bad as it was a year ago”, when it seemed to reach a fevered pitch. The International Game Developers Association is now creating a special interest group to investigate mental health, even if it decided against support groups. Kate Edwards, the executive director of IGDA said: “We are also exploring methods by which we can educate game players on how they can and should interact with developers”.
Yesterday, on twitter the hashtag #welovegamedevs become trending and thousands of gamers used it to underline their love and appreciation for the developers of their favorite games. The hashtag has been launched by Keith Stuart of The Guardian, who wrote “Maybe everyone should think of a game they really love then tweet the developer and tell them. Tag it #welovegamedevs (I know I'm a hippy)”. The initiative immediately found the support of many and echoed through the internet (see e.g. Gamasutra, Dual Shockers and Crave online). #welovegamedevs become trending, first in the UK and than in the US, showing the best side of the game community and, incidentally, making Keith Stuart cry : “Do you think we can get #welovegamedevs trending? If we do, we win today! (You will also see a grown man cry a bit)”.
If you didn't do it yet, look up at these tweets, both from gamers and grateful developers, it is a “faith in humanity restored” sort of thing!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Real Life Assassin's Creed.
The events of Assassin's Creed: Unity will take place in Paris, center of the French Revolution, but, today, also capital of Parkour. In the video below a team of traceurs show us how the game would look like in real life.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

When Mistakes make Bestsellers.
Two days ago a friend of mine wrote me: “check The Red Solstice on Steam, it seems interesting”. I did and it was: an early-access indie co-op game, created by Croatian developer Ironward. And the price is good: $19.99 with a 40% early access discount that makes it $14.99. For two copies. The price is really good. Maybe too good...
Apparently the price was intended for one copy, and a mistake on Steam made it the price for two! The news circulated quickly, also because the mistake was to be corrected the very next day. Many hungry gamers rushed to buy the underpriced game, and the developers had to give new extra keys to their supporters on Kickstarter to make up for the mistake.
Good day for gamers, bad day for developers? Not really: El Oschuro, one of the developers made an announcement on steam, saying that The Red Solstice had been on the Steam Top ten the all week and had 1,000 current players all the weekend. Not bad at all, even less for an indie!
Maybe it could seem that the mistake meant a big loss of money for the developers, but I'm convinced that all the buzz around the game will end up as a very big advertising campaign, and that having a huge lot of people playing a co-op game (that is actually pretty good) will result in a lot more potential buyers in the future.
If so, Ironward will have to thank Steam for the happy mistake...

Friday, 4 July 2014

1000 Days of Syria.
According to Huizinga's Homo Ludens, war shares many characteristics with play. Undoubtedly war games are one of the widest games genres, ranging from chess to Call of Duty, counting thousands of titles. In an age of relative peace it has become clear that enjoying war in a playful way has nothing to do with raising young soldiers, but covers, more likely, a metaphoric function representing everyday struggles against life, at work, at school and in family.
War in games is often fictional, and even when it's inspired by a real war it is represented in a very stereotypical way. That's why the Nazis are so widely exploited in games and fiction: they are perfect example of stereotypical villains in the real world.
Reality is more complicated and real contemporary wars are a very delicate subject that can't be handed lightly. War games set in conflicts still happening would be politically incorrect, disrespectful or even dangerous.
On the other hand games about ongoing conflicts can be very interesting and instructive. It's the case of 1000 days of Syria a text based historical fiction game. The author, journalist Mitch Swenson, has been in Syria in September 2013 and what he saw was so enormous confronted to the lack of interest for this conflict in the West, that he had to do something. That's how 1000 Days of Syria is born.
Says Swenson: “My intention is neither to entertain players with, nor benefit from, the deaths that have resulted from the instability in Syria. In fact my aim is just the opposite. Sometimes the word "game" can be misconstrued into something that seems removed and reductive in the context of real life danger and death. In that way some might say that 1000 Days of Syria should not be considered a game at all, but rather an interactive education. That is for you to decide.
I played this game, this “exercise in transmedia storytelling, part electric literature; part newscast; and part choose-your-own-adventure” and it literally broke my heart. It is not particularly pathetic, or tragic, if so it wouldn't work. It is simple and sincere and with its clean narrative can make you feel and live the Syrian war. When the game starts you cross the Syrian border. And with “you” I mean the player, not his or her character. What you see after the crossing will never leave you, it will follow you at the end of the game and accompany you in your everyday life, wherever you live. 1000 Days of Syria is an overwhelmingly immersive game or, at least, it has been to me.

Mitch Swenson is reluctant to call hi creature a “game”, word that too often is associated to something opposite to “serious”. In my opinion serious games like this are probably the better way to look and understand conflicts that, even if far away, can be also very close.

I would like to thank Gabriele Ferri for suggesting me 1000 Days of Syria.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How to Game Design part 3.

Some new tips form game designer Andrea Chiarvesio in the new Geek comic!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

ibb and obb

Few days ago I bought on Steam the quite new indie game. Created by Sparpweed Games, it is a puzzle platform game strongly oriented to co-op. The graphics are simple and cute and the game is quite relaxing even if sometimes quite hard. The most interesting feature of this game is that it presents a world with a bidirectional gravity: the two players walk on the two sides of the same platform but upside down.
It is more simple to show that to explain, so here the trailer of the game:

This twofold gravitational environment is the basis for pulling together the two players. Cooperation in games is not always so simple to achieve and many co-op games doesn't involve a lot of real cooperation between players. Ibb and obb is different for two reasons.
The first one is that you can play ibb and obb in two with the same keyboard. On-line gaming has the weird feature of making more simple to play with someone far away that with someone near. When you play ibb and obb you are literally sitting aside your friend, and this create a different kind of relationship with the other player.
The second one is that the whole game has been conceived in a way that forces the players to collaborate, to think and care about each other. Even the system of points has been added in a second stage as an additional spur to cooperation.

I've played ibb and obb with my wife and we both loved the way in which it is a awesome metaphor for marriage. I know for sure that this wasn't the idea of the creators (the initial title of the game should have been “brothers”), but nevertheless it's true. While you play at ibb and obb you should always try to see the world from both points of view (e.g. some portals are accessible only for one of the players and not for the other), you have to be ready to help your partner even when it could seem humiliating (e.g. make the other player climb on your head to reach an high step) and most of all you have to trust him of her completely.

Ibb and obb is not an edugame and is frankly fun, but it proves how video-games, so often criticised, can be a valuable human experience and an occasion for personal growth.

Be (more than) Yourself.
The advertising war between EA and the French Army.

Four years ago I used to live in Paris. Living in Paris – along with all the romance – involves a lot of time spent in the Metro the Parisian subway. It is natural, than, that when the Armée de Terre (the French Army) decided to launch a new recruitment campaign they chose the Metro as privileged location for their advertisements. The result was the “” (become yourself) campaign

Since when you didn't push your limits?” Ask the posters to any French teenager waiting for his or her train. With us you'll have the possibility to do it.
The image has strongly material features: it looks like drawn onto an uniform, with buttons and badges. The message is that this is a serious call, if you enlist you will become a real man, you will be challenged every day and you will reach the best that you can achieve trough sweat and effort. The campaign (still active today) its reported to have had a certain amount of success and the military were quite pleased.
Since it happened the unthinkable. I remember laughing ten minutes when I fist saw it, astonished by the bravery and smartness that brought to this:

Electronic Arts with two simple words “more than” had just destroyed the military rhetoric. Why do I have to suffer and work to reach my zenith, when I can be far beyond it comfortably sitting at my computer?
The image follow this antithetical discourse: it is an immaterial picture, without any background, but far more bad-ass than the previous one. It seems to say “Do you think that they will allow you to pilot an helicopter and a tank?”.

The military weren't pleased at all, far from it. They asked and obtained that the new announcements were retired within a week and they paused their campaign too. The général Philippe Pontiès explained that this double advertising was dangerous because it was confusing: “war is not a game” he said “In a video-game, even if rules exist, most of the time you can transgress them without harsh consequences. Our project is to explain that we have to avoid this video-games logic if we want to enter in the real life. In the Army we have codes and rules. If we ignore them we put the life of civilians and soldiers in peril, we can fail the mission”.

It is very interesting to see how the two discourses, the military and the playful, compete in today's society.

On the one hand we have the military that, with its materialistic image, says that the real life is not the digital life. That to accomplish ourselves we have to be trained, fit and strong. Our true self lives in the real world and it is not granted, it is an achievement. What would be better, then, that the soldier life to achieve your true self? You will learn that the world is out there, that you have responsibilities, and we would not pamper you. You will live among the others and according to them. This is reality.

The ludic discourse is exactly the opposite. It propose a model in which the digital world can be your reality, a much better reality, if you want it. Why should you be yourself if you can be better? If you can be an hundred of different selves, living adventures in every historic period and every nation or planet without risking anything? Your true self is in your mind, and if you believe it you can be everyone. What would be better, than, that video-games to be who you want to be? We can sell you perfect illusions, and you can be safely and comfortably home. You can live by yourself and still meet a lot of digital (and nice) people. This is better than reality.

Both discourses, as usual, don't let any space for a middle ground: you can be either a jar-head either a nerd, no other choices. But it is fascinating that games, that so often have been accused to raise violence in teenagers, are, in fact, in open opposition against the military. You can like both, but you can't live according to the two different realities that they propose you.

Professor Ortoleva has written a small but awesome book on gamification entitled “From sex to play: an obsession for the 21th century?”. In his book he reconstruct the history of the perception of sex in modern and post-modern culture, showing how it gained more and more relevance in Western culture. A sort of sexyfication of society that, after reaching is azimuth, is now fading leaving space to the incipient gamification.

If in the sex-centered '70s pacifist's motto was: “Make love, not war”, in the gamificated 21th century it has been replaced by a new motto: “don't make war, play games!”

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Geek Udates
Thanks to this busy May today we will have a three-comics-in-a-row post, because Odde, the author of the Geek is apparently more prolific than me!
So, here you have the links, enjoy the comics:

Why do we play Games?
Back to semionerdy stuff after a long pause... I would like to share with you a video form V-Sauce on Games. V-Sauce is a YouTube channel that answer to every kind of questions, serious and “not so serious” always using science. The video on games, alas, it's not the better, but it's still interesting and entertaining.

PS in the video it speaks also about the word “nerd” so it definitively fits with this blog!

PPS if you like this kind of stuff look also for Minutephysics! ;)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Factories of Nothing.
Yesterday night I was very tired working on my Russian test. I needed to rest a little, so I went in the kitchen, looking for a beer. I found the beer and my flatmate too. After a few chatter he showed me this:

Such beauty! Oh, marvelous factory of nothing made out of Lego, I would stare at you for all the night (instead that studying Russian)! I started to imagine an u/dis-topic future in which Lego will become the fundamental resource of humanity. Houses, cars, computers, all made of Lego. All integrable, upgradeable and mixable! Maybe the Lego shoes can be problematic (not to mention the Lego underwear), but who cares this would be an incredible technological breakthrough! There would be no garbage, because the package of your food can become the upgrade of your car or, if you eat a lot, a new floor for your house. Old Lego could be melted and forged into new Lego in an happy circle of wealth and economic growth! After the American dream we could live the Legoland dream. So let's sing it all together: <Everything is awesome!>...
N7: the Lord is my Shepard.

The Heildelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet has just released a special issue on videogames and religion. One article immediately draw my attention: Joshua and Ita Irizarry's The Lord is My Shepard; Confronting Religion in the Mass Effect Trilogy.
I have a strong emotional link with Mass Effect, that I should explain before going on. Five years ago (or maybe six?) I was at my best friend house and he proposed me to try the last video game he has bought: Mass Effect. I've played less than an hour, but I truly loved it and I decided that I needed it. However it was impossible: I had not the money to buy a computer good enough to play it (my old PC was coughing dust like a locomotive) and I was leaving my home and country for an year of Erasmus, an year that become much longer. Long story short this summer I at last had a new PC f(wedding present) and, as my friend had already bought me the whole trilogy an year before, I finally started to play my beloved Shepard. In all those years I kept in mind her face and history in order to restore her as she was mean to be (yes, my Shepard is a female). In two months I've finished the series and I was in total depression because of the ending.

Now, about this article on ME and religion, I've to say that it is quite enjoyable. It doesn't say anything definitive, but it is really good at tracing any reference to religion in the trilogy, implicit and explicit and it presents a good review of a lot of players' opinions on different issues of the game. I will not make a resume here: even if a bit long it is a really reader-friendly and I'm sure you will enjoy reading it. I have although to make a “Spoiler Alert!” if you did not play the game don't read the paper!

Spoiler Alert! Here the link:

You should probably also stop reading this post, because from now on we will speak about the ending of the trilogy... Do you copy? Ok, let's move on.

The last part of the article, my favorite, focuses on the conclusion of the trilogy and on the very negative response that most of the players had towards it. The paper analyze the “Indoctrination Theory” and wonder if, in fact, the end of the trilogy wasn't that bad, after all, but a sum of all the issues of the game. What if Shepard has finally been indoctrinated and can't complete her mission anymore? What if after years of fighting for free will she will chose to become a Reaper herself or simply to create a bionic galaxy of enslaved peace?
This theory is good enough to answer the criticism about the ending being flat, but I think that it's something else that deeply bothered the players.

Me too, like most of the players, felt quite bad at the end of the trilogy. And I played the better possible ending, I mean, I had the extended cut and Shepard eventually survived! So why was I so deceived? While depressed I was intrigued by my own emotional response and I started to wonder a lot about it.
To understand this deception we have to answer an other question: What's the most involving ans enjoyable feature of ME? In my opinion it is not the fighting, nor the story. They are both great, really great, but that's not it.
It is the social relationships. In Mass Effect NPCs becomes true friends. The player spends a lot of time to talk with them, to protect them, to help them or even to simply listen to them. After every single mission he spends half an hour walking up and down the Normandy, just to be sure that he didn't miss any line from none of them. And, then, when he finally opens the galactic map, he stops and wonder: “did I spoke with Joker?”. He curses, he closes the map and he starts again his tour.
When you play ME the hardest decisions to make are always involving your friends. All the geth will die? Who cares! But wait... you mean... Legion too? Not him, I like him! Not Legion! Let make peace with the geth than... Maybe we can wipe out those bloody quarians, I've never liked them. But... what will Tali think of me if I genocide her race? Oh, bloody hell, I'll have to save the quarians to...
That's how the game works. Those NPCs become really your friends. You know them, you love them. You know exactly what Garrus would say if he was here with you. You know how Liara would laugh at your joke or how bad Joker would dance at your party (almost worse than you, Shepard).
My friend told me that, even if he played the game a dozen times he was never able to kill Wrex. Every time he thought he should, just to see all the different possibilities, and every time he looked his friend in the eyes and couldn't shot.

In London, Shepard has the occasion to say goodbye to all of them, before her last mission. But when the game ends, you don't. You would like to be able to talk to them one last time, even if you have to die, to tell Liara that she will live long enough to find someone else to do blue daughters with, to tell Garrus and Tali that you wish them the brightest future together, to hug Joker and tell him that you are so sorry for Edi but that there was no other way. But you can't.
After the end I felt quite bad for a couple of days, missing my ME friends. Than I found a solution. I'm no programmer but, hey, I have a brain and a good imagination. I closed my eyes and saw a monitor with an electrocardiogram beepping constantly. Liara was near the bed and Dr. Chakwas arrived in an hurry:
<She's waking up> Liara said.
Shepard opened her big black eyes. She had some nasty scars, but you could still recognize her. She immediately looked at Liara and the asari started to cry.

My own ending took half an hour and happened all in my mind, but, well, after that I felt damn good.