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insistent and furry

maura @ 11:03 pm

The cats seem to have missed us while we were away. Dreadfully, achingly, pathetically missed us, if their behavior the past few days is any indication. The needy one can’t go an hour without sitting next to one of our chairs and mewing pitifully to be picked up, or flinging himself down on the floor in front of us as we try and walk through the apartment, to lure us into petting his soft underbelly. Even the stoic one is following us around and Will Not Stand for closed doors. And they’ve woken us up before dawn the past 2 days with meowing and sitting on us + purring (needy) and jumping onto the bedside table to sniff my head (stoic).

Gus, too, has not been a great sleeper since we returned. Sometimes he suddenly decides that something he used to find hilarious is actually quite scary, which seems to have happened on Sunday night with the awesome (and very cute, really!) game Plants vs Zombies, which Jonathan just got for the iphone. Honestly it’s not creepy at all, but for some reason it struck a nerve with the kid. He was up at every miniscule creaking floorboard and clanging radiator pipe on Sunday night, and we were up, too.

I’m tired. I think I need a sleep vacation.

les tags: , ,

the city’s warmer by a couple of degrees

maura @ 4:59 pm

It’s Sunday night, the last day of the holiday break, and once again I am sort of grumpy. Though once again I have no real reason for the grumpiness: the break was good, I’m looking forward to getting back to work this week, and tomorrow’s an RT day so I don’t even have to leave the house.

Our break was kind of busy but also kind of not. We all stayed up much later than we should have most nights, but we still caught up on sleep (though tomorrow morning will probably be tough). Family visited us + we visited family. Jonathan cooked a ton of delicious food, and we all ate many more sweet things than is entirely healthy. We got (and, I hope, gave) lovely gifts: not too few, not too many. It rained and all of the snow melted, then it was warm and we went to the High Line. Then it got cold again and we went to the movies. While The Princess and The Frog wasn’t as bad as it could have been, I still wish the kids were old enough that we could have left them in the theater alone and gone to see Sherlock Holmes in the theater next door.

Seems like I can’t ever leave a span of time without some small amount of regret that I didn’t DO enough, so that’s probably the cause of today’s grumps. But I did get a lot done in addition to all of the holiday stuff. I cleared out my feedreader and kept my work inbox below 20 (as a friend said, sometimes a 1 day work week is better than a no-day work week). I almost got through my New Yorker backlog (only 2 to go!). I’m 80% done with sewing my new iphone cozy. We caught up on TV and even watched a movie last night (District 9, which was good, if disturbing). I finished the videogame that I got for xmas, though there are still puzzles that I haven’t completed so it’s not totally useless yet. Good thing, too, because my very own DS will arrive sometime in the middle of this week.

The video gaming was the most surprising thing to me about this break, actually. It’s been a while since a game has grabbed onto my brain so tightly. In many ways Professor Layton is the perfect game for me: an interesting storyline/plot that’s moved forward by solving puzzles. Of course lots of other games are like that (the Zelda series, e.g.), but the puzzles are much more overt in this game. I love puzzles but a game of just puzzles is kind of boring, you know? This is actually the second Professor Layton game so I’ll probably try to pick up the first one used on ebay.

These days many newfangled videogames keep track of the amount of time you play, which is an interesting (if sometimes alarming) feature. So it was also surprising to me that I could spend as much time playing a videogame as I did: 20 hrs over the course of one week! Now, I was only at work for 1 day during that time, and with all of the family around my childcare responsibilities were pretty light. And we finished TV right before xmas (and didn’t get a new movie until after New Year’s) so televised entertainment was low. And see above about staying up too late. But it still shocks me a bit to fire up the game and see that 20 hr figure. I always tell myself that I don’t have enough time to play games these days but of course, as with any leisure activity, it’s a matter of choosing to do that over doing something else.

What I definitely did NOT do this break is write. 2 personal journal entries, 1 twitter blog entry, and that’s about it. Which should be obvious given the state of this post, sort of scattered and not very well composed. I kept thinking of stuff to write over the break, but it’s hard to find the time for sustained writing in the vacationspace. I don’t really have any official resolutions this year (trying not to make resolutions I can’t keep was one of last year’s resolutions and I was not entirely successful, unfortunately), but I do plan to get back on track with writing. Starting today, I guess, since I’ve managed to squeeze a post out of the grumpiness. Go me!


into a parallel world somewhere

maura @ 9:52 pm

The other night Gus had a nightmare that woke him up. He usually goes back to sleep pretty easily after nightmares, and (thankfully) he did that night. The next morning at breakfast we asked him whether he remembered the nightmare. He rarely does, but this time he spun this crazy yarn about a video game in which you’re on a boat being chased by zombies riding bicycles, and to try and escape you have to climb the mast of the boat but pigeons keep flying into you trying to knock you off. One of those things that sounds pretty silly in the light of day, though I could see that it might be scary in the middle of the night.

Anyway, I suggested to him that he write that video game. And then when he makes his millions and all the cool game bloggers want to interview him and ask him where he got the inspiration, he can say to them: “it came to me in a dream.”

les tags: , ,

just like falling off a log

maura @ 9:51 pm

This afternoon I went to a meeting of the CUNY Games Network. Let’s get this right out of the way: yes, it’s true, we do play games at these meetings. And sometimes I feel a little bit guilty about it, because it doesn’t seem as worky as some of the other parts of my job do. I also waver a bit before these meetings because I have so much else going on in my research life right now, including my main project (probably a multi-year commitment) and an article I’m coauthoring with a colleague.

But I always end up being glad that I’ve made time for the meeting (and not just because we play a game). It’s such an interesting group: faculty from all over the university who are interested in using games for teaching and learning. All kinds of games, too, from board to digital to roleplaying to simulations. It’s really right at the intersection of many of my personal and professional interests, which is why I haven’t successfully convinced myself that I’m too busy for it.

Today (among other things) we played Settlers of Catan. It’s a great game, though it was a little weird to play again after so many years. We had a pretty regular Settlers game night with friends maybe 10 (!) yrs ago, but haven’t played much since. After a couple of rounds of play the group stopped to discuss the aspects of the game that might be used in teaching (a regular feature of these meetings).

Catan is pretty complex, which I’d kind of forgotten, so it was great to have the chance to break it down and see whether the underlying mechanics can be adapted to a classroom setting. Often we discuss games on the micro level, seeing which parts of the game can be pulled out for teaching. But today I was struck by the macro level. Resource management games like Catan are (in part) about using your resources to accomplish small tasks in the pursuit of a bigger goal (winning the game). Which is kind of like scaffolding student work on a research paper/project/assignment. To use the term paper analogy, first students need to pick an appropriate (in subject + scope) topic, then find resources on the topic, then maybe create an annotated bibliography, then write the paper, and finally add their references.

It’s not a perfect fit: part of the gameplay in resource management games is that you don’t always have the resources you need to win, and you need to strategize to get as many resources as you can. In a way what I’ve described is really any game that it’s possible to win. And certainly in a class there shouldn’t be one student who will “win” above all others — everyone can be a winner (in theory, at least). But it was good to be able to map something gamey (har) onto a traditional library/research task. I mean, I always think of research as a kind of game — hunting + gathering for the best info hits many of the same notes for me that playing a good puzzley adventure game does. Transferring that enjoyment of the research process to students, that’s the challenge.

les tags: , ,

i stole your time, made it mine

maura @ 5:33 pm

Last weekend Gus couldn’t stop talking about My Sims, which he’d watched his friend play on the schoolbus. So Jonathan broke out our 9-yr-old copy of The Sims and installed it on his computer. Gus was extremely obsessed for about 72 hours, though it’s since faded. The interface is actually kind of difficult to manipulate, and I’d forgotten how clunky it is to move furniture around, build new rooms, etc. Ultimately I think the intensive mousing required got Gus down.

Short as it was, the obsession was intense, and brought me right back to my own obsession when we first got the game years ago. It’s true that Gus was much more amused by certain aspects of the Sims than I; of course it cracks him up that the sims forget to relieve themselves and have accidents. And he didn’t care as much about decorating as I did. He was always annoyed when his prissy sims complained about the blue formica table that Gus bought for them. (The simplistic consumerism of the game is kind of hilarious — they are happy when you buy them nice stuff! How realistic!)

But I was surprised by some of his inventive strategies. He bought his sims a computer before getting a TV, explaining: “they can use the computer to play games and look for jobs.” Ultimately, he had to buy them a TV because his woman sim didn’t want to play video games and needed something fun to do (blurgh, Will Wright, I lost a little respect for you on that one).

Somewhat alarming was the realization that in many ways Gus and I played the game very much the same. Just like in real life, Gus hoarded his money and bought his sims something expensive only when it really seemed necessary (e.g., when he realized that the fancy computer breaks less often than the basic model). And he spent lots of time really scripting every move for his sims. The sims will take care of some, but not all, of their “needs” automatically, and if you really want to do well in the game you need to control most of their actions. Gus realized this pretty quickly, as did I, and we both got kind of obsessive in trying to make them do the “right” things. So it was kind of weird watching him play.

This week we were both back to our regularly scheduled games: Gus and friends can’t get enough of Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii, and I’m still rocking Harbor Master on the iPhone.

les tags: , ,

i saw you running through my playground

maura @ 9:38 pm

Last week on my walk to work I listened to a podcast interview with Alison Pugh, a sociologist who just wrote the book Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture. She spent three years observing kids and interviewing parents of varying socioeconomic statuses in Oakland, CA. The results of her study suggest that kids want what their peers have much more than what consumer marketing tells them to want (though advertising does still influence their consumer desires).

She found that often the most desired toys are electronic and that most kids tended to have these toys, regardless of their family’s income level. One interesting finding is that affluent parents were much more likely to buy items viewed as basic or necessary toys (bikes, blocks, etc.) in addition to the coveted electronic toys. Poor parents tended to buy only the items that carried the most social weight so, for example, they wouldn’t have a bike but they would have a Wii. And, many affluent parents eschewed electronic toys altogether, though they bought plenty of other toys for their kids.

Two things that my brain’s been chewing on ever since:

1. This pattern totally fits with what I’ve observed in my (and Gus’s) lives and interactions with his peers and their parents. And I find it so interesting when compared to James Paul Gee’s thesis from What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. He concluded that video games can teach kids lots of good stuff (reading, problem-solving, critical thinking, etc.) in ways that make them eager and excited to learn. But he cautioned that poor kids aren’t getting the same opportunities to experience the benefits of video games as are more affluent kids. According to Pugh’s work, most kids do have video game systems, regardless of their family’s income level. So that’s good.

2. About halfway through listening to the podcast I thought to myself, “well, that’s totally obvious.” Which was the same reaction that Jonathan had when I told him about the interview later on. And then I realized OMG, we are the studied! I’m the target population, so of COURSE it seems obvious to me – I live it. I’ve been getting reading and thinking about anthropology lots lately (and, w/my new research project, even doing some), and it was a weird feeling to realize that I was on the other side of the table, ethnographically speaking.

Sounds like a cool book — I definitely plan to read it.

les tags: ,

i strap on my ear goggles and i’m ready to go

maura @ 9:04 pm

1. My son, the poet

Recently for homework Gus had to choose a fruit, eat it, and write a few descriptive sentences about it in his homework notebook. Here’s what he wrote:

Shiny as a ruby pond, this fruit holds the stars.
Once bitten, it clangs as a ruby, oozing a texture of sweet, ripe juice.

Can you guess what fruit he was eating?*

2. My son, the rapper

I have a new computer! If you want to be amazed by advances in computing technology I highly recommend waiting nearly 7 yrs between machines. This one is very, very fast.

One night last week Jonathan asked me to test out Mac MAME on the new machine. You know, the app that plays all of those old ROMs from video games of the ’80s. Scrolling through the list I picked Burger Time (somewhat at random: there was a whole mess of Atari sports games and this was the first thing my eye caught after them). I played for a few minutes, then Gus came in and was instantly enthralled. It’s kind of a classic dumb ’80s game, but also it’s quite amusing to walk the little chef guy over the patties while the hot dogs and eggs chase him.

Gus wanted to play next, so we set him up and away he went. He’s apparently internalized Jonathan’s constant, low-level, semi-silly rhyming,** because in the midst of playing he busted out with this rap:

Eggs and hot dogs, on my tail
I think I want some, ginger ale

There may have been more to it, but I was laughing too hard to remember.

* raspberries, of course!

** I should talk — the other day I came up with a rap about IRB. Maybe I will share it someday (after I get IRB approval for my research project, of course!).

les tags: ,

so sad to see you fade away

maura @ 10:02 pm

Gus wins the admiration of 3rd graders + kindergarteners alike w/his mad gameboy skillz (and his awesome brown hat):

les tags: ,