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Games for Good 4.0 Games for Survival – CoronaSalon

Intro from Chair Eva Pascoe

The event took place on Zoom, which we streamed to Twitch.Tv/Cybersalon, recorded and put on YouTube with other Games For Good videos. 

As Corona hit London hard, the original confinement time of 3 weeks have been extended to further 3 weeks or more. COVID19 is still winning, the worst still ahead of us. Where to find hope, endurance and inner strengths to cope with this extended lockdown? A few of us have experiences from the previous lockdowns in other European countries and consider games to be a potential savour both to keep learning, playing and for mental escape. CoronaSalon is focused on finding games that may save us.

Corona Salon was organised online by Cybersalon.org crew with the support of Middlesex University (Link)  and Hydro66 (link). We are a think-tank on network futures and research on games, digital rights and Internet Privacy, actively campaigning for pro-user Internet since 1997. You can find a lot of resources on those topics on our pages, including blogs and videos from previous Games For Good meetups at Newspeak House.

How long are we likely to be in confinement and how many games we should look to stock up our arsenal?  The government  is hoping “there is an app for that’ and is working with Google and Apple to get a Track-and-Trace app for Corona to finish the lockdown earlier. 

Unfortunately, having worked on many footfall tracking projects for the High Street, using similar tech that is being suggested by Google/Apple, we noted that hardware and software gaps are simply too big, and app acceptance too low (Singapore only 13%) for that cunning plan to be successful.

We need to prep for long run, marathon not a sprint, to survive out 4 walls confinement challenge. In previous Games for Good sessions we looked at Games for Social good and improving communities, Games against Hate and Games that help Collaboration.

At Games for Survival, we asked our Cybersalon reviewers to recommend games which help you to survive Corona lockdown, which games helps you to stay sane, productive and motivated.

Our hard working reviewers tackled the questions in 3 very different way.

Second Life

Stefan Lutschinger  is an early Internaut and a Remote Program Lead at Middlesex Univercity for students of Digital Media. He picked Second Life, a virtual simulator of real environment, his campus in order to help students to have a sense of social life at real University.

Do we miss our physical environments, is it helpful to meet in virtual copies of our real work places or Universities? Stefan explores the hybrid/blended learning, framework developed by Paul Milgram and the cognitive ability to transport ourselves from home into virtual copies of our previous, physical environments. He argues it can be reassuring, with enough free flair and imagination scope to enrich those virtual copies with individual touch like personalised avatars. For digital media students, it looks that hybrid virtual environments should be a good challenge to put their own slant on it.

Second Life (see video at 4m)

It is possible that the students will not be allowed to return to the campus in Autumn 2020. 

Stefan is researching the tools like Second Life as there is an existing Second Life version of the original Middlesex University campus in North London. Together with Denisa, Student’s Ambassador, Stefan has explored 3d world created a few years ago before the campus moved to the current location at Cat Hill (Hendon). Since the students may have to interact with academics virtually, Stefan has prepared a tool box of solutions to facilitate remote social, including avatar building and the option to turn up as Madame Dracula or a Rumanian Elf (Denisa has chosen the latter, although she may re-think her virtual presence).

We also heard from the chat participant Caron Jane Lyon that there is a Derby Museum version of Second Life, that could be a model for other museums which can’t be visit in person, but can be explored remotely 

VRChat

Jon Banes (What And Why) , a pioneer of interactive fun online took us on a colourful tour of for VRChat, where you can let your imagination run wild and create your own virtual spaces, hang out with friends in mad avatar fashion, the reverse of anything in real life.

He introduced the environment and made a point that this is not quite student-ready, as it is an unmoderated environment. There may be more ‘cleaned up’  branches of VR Chat in the future. 

At the moment, it can be pretty uncomfortable, where you can boss others or be bossed, you can surprise, made people jump or laugh. To create your own corners, you need to learn Unity, a good investment in the times of Corona as it is a programming environment de jour for games.  

Jon shows various worlds like Aurora Borealis sparkling Nordic corner, sparkling stars (rare in those places so well done), beautiful butterflies and Xmas Lights.

You can also design games in VRCHat, so they can be played by participants of the virtual world.

just bring your own imagination -Jon Bains review in (video at 16. 30m)

Jon noted that VRChat is not really a game but a space, environment when one can just wonder like a tourist, or settle and start building spaces (in Unity).  Jon and Ben as well as a couple of others play Star Trek Bridge Crew and often sit there an chat, go back to play and back to chat without  the need to rush around. VRChat is more relaxed and can be interacted with in different ways. 

Full body avatar is possible, providing an individual scope for creative display. It is quite different from Second Life and HabboHotel, but you can use it without headset. 

It is also available in Quest although not all options function. The main community is still builders and gamers who can do magic in Unity, but increasingly the ‘tourists’ are coming too. Jon posts the question how long this unmoderated and wild environment will survive, as tourists may push the owners to take a more ‘cleaned up’ corporate stand (Facebook-like). Early Internet was a very much grown-ups playground, before Facebook and Apple have muscled in and brought the corporate blandness to the cyberspace. It is time to reclaim the lost lands and cyberspace freedoms?

Take a look for yourself

The Flame in The Flood game – video at 35.15 mins

Simon Sarginson, veteran of games design like Batman: Arkham, has shown us something more outdoorsy and escapism like game. 

It is a story of  a young girl Scout and her clever, danger sending Dog Aosop  (no you can’t pet him). In this post-apocalyptic set, in a  beautiful but brutal travel survival game you can see the word which suffered a natural catastrophy  (flood that covered most of the world, just leaving a few islands to hop on and from). 

Scout and Aeosop have to survive finding her way in suddenly very dangerous world with extremely limited resource. She has only a small backpack, so has to be very careful what she picks and takes with her.

The challenges of survival skills here are similar to our current predicament, where the world has changed overnight, shopping is a risk to life and there is danger lurking behind every pizza delivery cardboard box full of Covid10 on the surface.

I really liked this game as my niece Lizzie used to run a comedy pub in Islington, but since Corona the pub is closed. Lizzie cooks and delivers food to elderly in her area, running a gauntlet every day, trying to be useful but avoid catching the virus. 

The game is driven by the river, you have to go forward and there isn’t really a big strategy, just picking small skills that help to deal with what is in front of you. 

Simon notes it is perma-death game, so points/what you gained during one round it sadly will be lost if you die. However, you get to keep your knowledge and that is more valuable than gold. The game makes a point that is is all about learning, not gathering lots of gear.

Good point for our times when no shopping is allowed.

Scout has to jump on the islands during the game, making rafts, and using her dog to sense animals. You can make bears work for you but you can’t eat what the bear kills, which seems a bit of an oversight by the game designers.

The mouse option may be a fraction easier as the menu is tricky, but you learn as you jump from one to another island. The game is beautiful, with the sounds of river and bluegrass melodic soundtrack accompanying you on the route. It is a long game, no sprints but an endurance and inner strength to be practiced. In the landscape of rural, post -societal America, Scout is a girl but she is not in need of help from others, she has resources like odd fire making materials and it the experience is about try-and-test, improvise and learn what works. 

The game has a sense of inevitability and pushes you to think in the here-and-now. The river moves forward, if you miss a mooring or cosy looking cabin, there is no way of getting back. You can’t dwell on the past, what is in front of you is what the game is about. You learn early not to pick up too many items as the backpack can’t fit much. Sparse resource and focus is needed. Scout needs to listen to her own body, making sure she is fed, well rested and fit for the travel. It reminds me about our times, when personal fitness, no smoking habits, healthy diet may make a difference between getting Corona or not, ending up in a hospital or not. Listening to your body to stay alive is the key.

There is AI component, so when temperature, hunger, sleep are low, Scout may get overwhelmed easier by the obstacles. Keep those high and you will live.

The game has a hopeful tone, as all problems can be solved (well not at the first life tho so you need patience).it is all about just survival, no riches to be had at the end of the river, but hope, skill and confidence are more useful in disasters than gold. I like the emphasis on hope. That is what we need in Corona times.

Post Review Discussions on Chat point that VRChat has a massive Twitch support, but it is in a danger of being ‘cleaned up’ by corporate. Sanitisation of cyberspace always happens when the early adopters make it too attractive. Just like in the real gentrification games in East London. Jon also noted that VR Chat is available on Quest but about 80% will work on Quest. Stefan noted that Lindon Dollar that was available in Second Life is still available. Caron noted that you can still buy things in it, where there are humans there is commerce. Many people are looking for ways to start transmitting social practices into digital formats, so having exchange unit may be helpful. Rob Mayers questioned if Unity is the right tools for VRChat, is the transferability of skills a problem or a bonus? Thank to @Waela and @LukeRoberMason for helpful suggestions for the future events and keep your eye on Events @Cybrsalon on Twitter and Facebook (link social media)

We had the chat opened during the games plays, with many more  useful suggestions coming our way from the chat participants. Thanks to our Moderator, Karolina Janicka for keeping the chat flowing.

Extra Bonus:

Ben Greenawy is a game reviewer Cybersalon veteran who could not made the event but sent us a couple of suggestions, He refused to play escapism games. Instead, Ben has selected something a lot more intimate, single player games for learning new skills. The first was a game for Machine Learning skills

 If True then Learn (),  and a game improving your online cybersecurity chops called Hacknet. Video from his review to follow

Other Games: Frost Punk (but none of us fancied cannibalism in the time of Corona and food shortages)

The Last Of Us – not PC 

Worldcraft. – rebuild option for Minecraft but it needs a  lot of more time and we all have day jobs  ;-)

About @EvaPascoe

Chair of Cybersalon.org and co-founder of Cyberia Cafe

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