For the love of SFZero

2 10 2009

I recently received a message on SFZero from a PhD student doing research on pervasive games. He was conducting a kind of questionnaire on the tasks in the game, which I completely failed to answer, but waffled on about how in love I am with SFZero instead.

I should write more on SF0 at some point as it’s a really interesting game. I should also play it some more as I’ve slipped waaaaay down the leader board due to my crappy lack of effort!

Neil Dansey’s message:

Hello,

I am currently studying at the University of Portsmouth (UK) for a PhD in Pervasive Games Design and I am investigating the player-experience of tasks in SF0. I am doing this through the methodology of Grounded Theory as proposed by Barney Glaser, which involves getting as many opinions as possible in order to identify recurring themes. The results from this study will form part of my PhD thesis and are therefore likely to contribute to game design knowledge.

I would therefore be incredibly grateful if you could help me with this, by answering any or all of the following questions for me:

Can you tell me about your experiences of the tasks in SF0?
How do you feel about the tasks?
What is it like to do the tasks?

I know the questions are quite vague, but I want to avoid leading you towards any particular answers. Just say what you feel, include whatever you think is relevant, in as much or as little detail as you are comfortable with. There are no right or wrong answers.

My responses: DO NOT READ if you’re also going to be answering his questions, – it would taint the research!

Can you tell me about your experiences of the tasks in SF0?

My experiences are documented on my task page, not really sure what to add other than to reinterpret the question to be about SFZero in general. I’ve found playing SFZero to be a life changing experience. The creative stimulus of having new challenges and a strong community within which to display and receive affirmation, bolstered my confidence in general – outside of the website.
To give the example of my task Spectrum is a (public) space, I had had the idea for this art piece in my head for a while, but would probably never gotten round to executing it, if not for the motivation garnered from playing SFZero.
I describe SFZero to people as the ultimate pervasive game, because it gives you points for going out and doing cool things in real life with real people. Being a level 80 Troll in WoW impresses far fewer people than going out and making something exciting happen in the real world. Likewise, being a humdrum 9 to 5er who does nothing in the world beyond commuting through it is less impressive being a level 80 Troll in WoW. We all have the potential to find stimulation and reward in the world we live in, but sometimes it takes a game structure to give the framework necessary to focus motivation enough to go get at it.

How do you feel about the tasks?

The tasks in SFZero are UGC. Whilst ratified by the games masters ‘SSI’ the tasks themselves will be a product of the imagination and interest of the player pool at the time. What I like about the tasks is that there’s scope to interpret them how you will and still get rewarded for the completion, some members of the community don’t like this and demand slavish adherence to the most obvious interpretation of the task description. This is understandable as it makes comparison between two completions of the same task easier. This is one way of competing, I however prefer the competitive ‘one-up-manship’ of trying to solve a task in an as elegant and unique way as possible – both are valid.

What is it like to do the tasks?

It differs from person to person I suspect, but for me it is more fun to plan out and really think over a task before completing it. I think the community (at the time I played anyway) would reward cerebral completions more than lots of small perfunctory completions. Knowing that I’d get more praise and reward for going bigger and more audacious I’d go out into the world and do things I wouldn’t do otherwise, as if being on a task excused me from having to be shy or reticent as normally I would. It’s not an adrenaline rush or a high from showing off in public, more that knowing the praise I’d get when I handed in the task completion would be worth much more than the shame of the weird looks and disapproval I imagined I’d be getting from the people on the tube I was singing next to.
And the main thing is that the disapproval was imagined, nobody was actually annoyed by me singing – but there’s no way I’d do it without being on a task! (even now)

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