John N A Brown

John N A BrownJohn NA Brown is a wandering polymath who has spent years trying to write the perfect autobiographical blurb. In this quest, he has become a research scientist, public speaker, author, designer, human factors specialist, cartoonist, bricklayer, encyclopedist, storyboard artist, and much more. He has written and taught university courses in Scientific Thinking, Research Methods, Computer Animation & Storytelling, and Applied Biomechanics, and has solved problems for Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Along the way he picked up a few PhDs and an embarrassing number of other academic degrees, as well as awards for animation, teaching, applied mathematics, and haiku. Currently at Evolv Technologies in San Francisco, Dr Dr Dr Brown has previously worked in a dozen countries, in the private and public sectors, in serious games, in recreational sports, and in his pyjamas.
He has yet to win an award for any of his autobiographical blurbs.


Save Gamer

Video games require the player to iterate; to repeat their behaviour over and over again, making slight progressive changes each time. This is how the player learns how to move through and interact with the gamespace, and it is also how humans learn and master new skills in the real world. In both cases, new skills are first performed slowly and deliberately, with conscious and
thoughtful reflection. Eventually, through iteration, these new skills are mastered and become  pre-attentive: either predictions and reactions based on high-speed pattern recognition, or bursts of incredibly fast previously-learned coordinated reflexes called muscle memory. After the right kind of reinforcement, the conditioned behaviours can be triggered unconsciously. When someone’s pre-attentive and reflexive skills are repeatedly triggered, forcing them to respond too quickly for conscious and thoughtful reflection, they enter into a state of performance called Flow. In gameplay and in real life, this is where distractions disappear, and mastery of multiple overlapping skills can be developed. As with real life skill mastery, time spent in “gameflow” changes the player’s mind and body at an unconscious level. Application-specific gamification has been used to condition and reinforce pre-attentive behaviours that allow people to be put to more efficient use as a resource for military, political, and commercial interests. Gamejams could become the testing ground for games that develop unconscious skills that will help players level up in the real world.

Mahshid Mayar

Mahshid MayarSince Oct. 2016, Mahshid Mayar has been an assistant professor of American Studies at Bielefeld University. In her current position, Mahshid follows two broad lines of research; while she engages with the ‘blank’ in postmodern American literature (‘erasure’ and ‘blackout’ literature) for her second-book project, she also conducts research on digital games, where she theorizes the study of digital games and examines game titles that open dialogues on history and culture. Since early 2019, Mahshid has been a member of the central committee of the Arbeitskreises Geschichtswissenschaft und Digitale Spiele.


Banal, Boring, Banned: Unplayability in Digital Games

Frowning frantically as you look for a replacement to the missing link to a controversial game; scratching your upper arm in boredom; hesitating to press the ‘next’ button; averting your gaze from the screen; going online to vent about the banality of the newest release by your favorite gaming company; breathing with difficulty in shame or shock…. You are working your way through an unplayable game. Labeled banal or boring, or banned by various gamer communities, unplayable games are titles that are received with mixed reviews and that either come with (1) varying degrees of ‘un-play-ability’ inherent in them, or (2) are received by gamer communities as such. Examining a number of digital games, ranging from Everything to September 12th and from Muslim Massacre to Super Columbine Massacre RPG, I wish to theorize a category of games that are at odds with the founding tenets of an industry so narratively and structurally conservative and so entirely profit-driven. To this end, I raise and try to answer a number of questions: What does unplayability in digital games connote? In what respects do playable and unplayable games stand apart? What motivates companies other than financial profitability to produce unplayable games in the first place? In other words, is playable the bare, expected minimum a game has to be in order for it to be marketable? And, finally, once dismissed as ‘unplayable,’ what do we do with unplayable games?