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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.



I was taking part in the latest beta test for Glitch this weekend, and found myself chatting in the UK glitcher's group. There were a couple of interesting things that came out of that that I wanted to note down. 

The first thing to note is that there are a large group of players in Glitch who formerly played a game called Faunasphere. This game closed (apparently without warning) last year. The group in Glitch call themselves Faunasphere (FS) refugees, and by and large are either using the same screen name or will identify themselves with the old screen name in group chats when they hear someone else is also a FS refugee. Having read 'Communities of Play' by Celia Pearce and Artemesia about the Uru diaspora, I am finding meeting the FS refugees quite fascinating. 

All three of the other people chatting in the UK glitchers group were FS refugees. I was initially chatting to two, and when they found out I wasn't, they immediately started sharing their memories of it shutting down, and how much pain there was. One seemed much less emotional about it, focussing more on the amount of money people had spent and the unfairness. The other seemed much sadder, like they still really missed it. Later they were chatting to someone else, really worrying about whether Glitch will make it and be sustainable. They kept coming back to that, along with which other games they had/were trying to fill the gap. 

The other interesting thing about this group was their reaction to me being a PhD researcher. The immediate reaction was basically "are we being studied?". As I said to them, I am not directly studying Glitch, but here I am blogging about the chats we had. This obviously raises some ethical issues for me. I have mentioned no names in this blog post, but there were only four of us in the chat. I am hoping to find examples of the kind of norm-forming activities I expect within Glitch, and I can't wait for the community side to the game to be implemented. Do I need consent forms in order to use my experiences in-game in my research as anonymised anecdotal evidence? 

Initially I am going to use my player profile as a warning - "I'm blogging this!" style. I'll follow up on the ethical questions too. It may be that I can note down these sorts of incidents, but only in an offline diary and only use them to inform the direction of my research. 


Profolio Course

I think one of the biggest surprises to me about this PhD lark has been just how differently the academic world seems to work compared to the commercial one. I picked up reasonably quickly that reputation plays a huge part in the academic world, but how do you go about getting a good academic reputation when you're just a lowly PhD student? 

So I went on a course. Sussex Uni run a whole load of courses for students. This one was the Profolio: for New Doctoral Researchers course. It was divided into two parts: one part keeping a personal record of the things you do and what skills you can demonstrate over the course of your PhD, and the other part about getting an online presence to demonstrate what you've done and what you are about to other researchers.

I'll be honest, I hate a lot of the personal record stuff. They have one of those lovely 'skills audit tools', full of such wonderful phrases as 'Engagement, influence and impact'. Instant loathing on my part. That's very unfair of me and it is good (I grudgingly admit) to keep track of these sorts of things on the way through. It makes updating the CV so much easier when the time comes! 

I found the outwards facing bit to be much more interesting. They had talks from a couple of other PhD candidates, one focussing much more on the getting out and meeting people through societies etc, the other on online presence and using tools such as blogging, twitter etc. to get your voice out there. We also got to grips with our profile pages on the University of Sussex directory. That's one of those tasks where I've been meaning to do it, but I really wasn't sure what to put in the various sections. I think I probably got more from looking at other people's but it was good to have done it before the session so I could get a second opinion on what I'd written. (My profile page - http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/196717)

I think one of the main things I'll be taking from the course is something I kind of already knew. I need to focus this part of my blogging down onto my research (my personal blog tends to veer all over the place!) and I need to blog more often. I think that will be a good habit to get into, to get used to writing something regularly.

The other thing I need to stop doing is actually being quite dismissive when someone asks me about my research. I think it's mostly because I'm not totally clear on my research question myself yet, but I must stop doing it! I think I possibly need to come up with a short and pithy way to explain the duality of the game production and the PhD research. I'll work on that. 



I've been playing Glitch as part of the alpha test, so there are quite long periods between games. Gives me a chance to peruse the forums etc. There are a couple of bits and pieces I've found that are relevant to my looking at rules, ownership, social norms etc. 

A big one is houses. We've been thinking about our African farmers and how they will need a shared home, but also that we need to make it possible for other people to pick up and use some of their stuff. This is really to allow the possibility of things that can happen in a board game, like someone sneaking some of your money off the table, or maybe 'donating' you some extra things. Also it would facilitate things like helping a neighbour with their planting, etc. Houses in Glitch are owned by a single person, and can be used to store extra bits and pieces. If someone else knocks on the door while the owner is online (anywhere in the world), the owner can give the other person permission to enter. Once they have entered, the player is free to pick up and abscond with any of the items that the owner has carefully stashed in their house. Nice mechanism!

(Also, interesting bit here about moving house and needing help from neighbours to carry everything...)

A new bit of functionality that is being tested today is 'community gardens'. These are basically streets in each area that have a whole load of ready-to-plant beds. You put seeds in them (available from the gardening vendor, or piggies poo them out too), water them, and they slowly grow. There's a forum discussion about them here, and there's a really interesting question at the bottom. "Can we walk off and leave the stuff we planted in Community Gardens without it being harvested by someone else?" (PittyPat) The response was no, they are communal gardens. 

The plants grow so slowly it just isn't really practical to stand next to your plant and wait. I was wondering around today, and a couple of times was running rather low on energy and harvested some of the community garden plants. I actually felt really guilty. Like I'd taken someone else's hard-earned stuff. I think this is a really interesting idea - communal gardens for anyone to plant in, but equally, anyone can harvest. I'll have to keep an eye on them and see if they are well used or become bones of contention!


Journal keeping

Long time between posts. As it happens, my colleague and I started a blog at http://grdphil.blogspot.com/ to note down a lot of our project issues and reading etc, so I've been posting there quite a lot. 

We've been making some pretty good progress I think. We've settled on a Flash front end with Java backend, using SmartFoxServer 2.0 to link the two and Hibernate to make it easy to get things in and out of the database. We've done some iterations of a possible front end, and we're currently waiting for feedback from our ebullient client on his latest forays into the world with them! 

I went on a course, all about my career development as a researcher. The Profolio course. Apart from making me fill out one of those dreadful "give evidence of when you have done xxx", they also pointed out the importance of keeping notes of what you've done and when. This (I think) is subtly different from the blog we're keeping over at GRDPhil, although there will be certain overlaps. So I thought I'd brush this section up a bit and update. 

Last term I did my first bit of teaching, helping out on the Multimedia Design for Applications course, that I actually did back during my masters. It was strange being on the other side of it! I was just helping out in the lab sessions. 10 sessions, Thursday morning 9-11. Getting there for 9 every week was good. There were supposed to be 90 people in the lab session, but I don't think we ever got more than about 50 turn up. There were always the same 10 people there at 9 - the AmEx students and about 6 others. There were questions that needed my knowledge of Flash, but mostly I think I was teaching how to debug. How to watch what variables were set to what values, and work out what was going wrong from that. I think it's an under-rated skill. 

Have to see what I end up teaching in the future! 


Initial DPhil questions

So, getting going on day 1 of DPhil! Lots and lots of things to look into and decide about. Looks like there are lots of things I haven't come across before that I'm going to become a lot more familiar with by the end of this. 

We're weighing up whether to code in Java or C++. A bit of hunting seems to imply it's really down to personal preference, there are pluses and minuses to both. I'm leaning towards Java. 

Looking then for Java games engines, I've come across jMonkeyEngine, which seems to be the one mentioned by anyone for ages, and the LWJGL (Light-weight Java Gaming Library) which both seem mature(ish). I guess I need to have a play, but we still have an awful lot to decide about what the game will be like before we get to that. 

Linked to that is OpenGL. This is mentioned all over the place, but I haven't come across it before. Need to investigate further. 

Less linked but important is code repository, document sharing and basic project management types of system. Again, choices between SVN and Git, hosted by the university, hosted on Google Code, or hosted elsewhere for minimal fee. The hosted by Google Code brings up the Open Source thing - how open do we want to be at this stage? Do we want to start privately and open source it later, or is our sponsor completely happy to keep it totally open from the start? Need to look into the various open source licenses to work out what to recommend.