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As friend and colleague Adam Liszkiewicz has recently noted, FarmVille is a terrible game. It doesn’t even really qualify as a game, under Roger Caillois’s six criteria of games, and no matter what credence you give to classical ludology, you have to admit — there is an unprecedented number of people who continue to play, despite the absence of any of the rewards of play, or any of the rewards of labor. Zynga, the company that runs FarmVille, continues to make an absurd amount of money from hooking or scamming its players. Which is something that Jesse Schell neglects to mention in his DICE 2010 talk about design outside the box.

Now, before I begin, let me make perfectly clear that I am skeptical of the idea that Caillois’s criteria constitute a complete and definitive measure of a game. (i.e., I think that Caillois’s criteria are necessary but not sufficient.) Nor am I resistant to the idea that this definition can change. However, thinking about Martin Roberts’ talk at a conference this past fall and reading a bunch of Adorno has turned me a bit curmudgeonly. Ultimately, I think there are not a lot of people who are really enthusiastic about the things that games can do, while simultaneously being skeptical about certain deployments of gaming and the “fun” buzzword. And, as an industry and community, we desperately need more of that attitude.

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So, I sent the email today. No complaints so far. Josephine was kind enough to help me with it, others too. I hate having to commit to a thing like this, sometimes, because of the way it twists up my stomach just to click “send.” I shouldn’t be so anxious but I think it’s hard not to be, with the politics and the drama. I have a lot of anxiety-inducing emails to write and send this week. Here is a list: email the graduate students about Transgender Day of Remembrance; email the union about insurance coverage; email Eileen Myles about a.Version. Maybe I shouldn’t be so anxious because some of these things are wholly out of my control (i.e., insurance and my hopeless awkwardness). Anxiety is only useful when you have some level of control over the situation, so you can use it to temper your reactions.

One of the best things for anxiety is the bicycle. I put new pedals on it last night and this evening I took the long way home, no bus, just me and ten solid miles of riding. I feel stronger just going the distance. Negotiating the road here requires the a different kind of balance, confidence and aggression than Ann Arbor’s roads did. I got honked at a lot today. Maybe it is because I am still getting used to cleats. Often the bike is better than a therapist I think. I worry that in the winter I won’t be able to ride as much and I’ll get a little madder. A guy on the bus this morning said the bike was beautiful. It really is. Especially with the new pedals, tearing down neighborhood streets in North Buffalo. I took a long hot shower and boiled some pasta and ate it.

My class listened to my lecture today, I think. I saw a lot more leaning forward in chairs than I am used to. Some people asked some good questions. I think I told a good joke or two. I got lost in a riff about the nuances of my stance on equality. I wish I had recorded it, or maybe hastily jotted down some notes at least. I made a Powerpoint presentation for it, that was pretty odd. But it worked okay I think. Some people took notes. I was flattered. I don’t count myself as an expert on Edward Said or Orientalism or postcolonialism but I think they’re thinking about it more, thinking about the subtle things I had hoped they would start thinking about it. Today was a breakthrough day. I feel like a competent teacher.

The loneliness of Ann Arbor was child’s play compared to being lonely here. There I knew I could jump on my bike and less than five minutes away was a house full of people who were certainly home and I could sit on the porch and we would talk about things and have a beer. Here, it’s not so certain. I forgot what it means to be isolated, alien. I guess what’s scary about it is that if you put a flame in a vacuum it dies.


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