BAWRT 2004

Week 9 – I Feel For You

Outside my window – and it’s a different window this time, because I’ve moved the laptop down to the back room because it’s smaller, warmer and has a window I can look out of without turning my head – I can see the wasps gambolling about, flying up to the ash tree branch their nest is attached to, zipping off to the rhododendron bush, generally getting a lot more enjoyment out of this cold, sunny day than I am.

Are they?  I don’t really know how they’re feeling.  I don’t have any empathy for, or with, the little devils.  Could I have?  Empathy can be achieved through the medium of empathy games.

See if you can see how I felt about these things when I first stumbled onto the term about a fortnight ago.  ‘Empathy games’, I said to the wasps, ‘sounds like one of those self-help titles Amazon keeps pushing at me, or maybe a mid-70’s attempt to cash in on Fear of Flying with a bit of soft porn wrapped around an undergraduate psychology essay.’

They buzzed around, completely ignoring how famous Lee Martin and I have made them over the years.  Gratitude may be the shortest-lived human emotions, but I doubt these bloody things waste a single chemoreceptive neuron on it.

Purpose Shifting

Games that are written for entertainment can be used for education.   (Gee), referred to in the article on classifying serious games, has numerous examples of teachers re-purposing ‘entertainment games’ for serious purposes, such as education.  From my own experience, the entertainment game Lord of the Rings Online had a small repurposing.  I wanted character names that would fit in with Tolkien’s nomenclature scheme, so it was necessary to learn a bit of Sindarin to make the names make sense.  I didn’t learn enough of it to fit the name seamlessly into Sindarin, but I was closer than if I’d known no Sindarin at all.  This wasn’t changing the use of the game so much as taking part of the game, naming your characters, wanting to do that ‘properly’ and having to do extraneous learning to do it.

The world in which the game is set is detailed enough that with a bit of tweaking the game itself could be used as a teaching tool.  For example, you have to make bronze items in the course of the game to improve your ability to craft your own weapons and gear, if you want to, and if you then had to find out, within game context, what bronze is made of, you’d be learning something.  This can be arbitrarily complex, and it would be fun to have to scour Middle Earth for deposits of chromium, molybdenum and whatever else in order to suit of stainless-steel armour.

Serious Games

Serious games are ‘any piece of software that merges a non-entertaining purpose (serious) with a video game structure (game) (Djaouti, Alvarez and Jessel 2). the type of game it is lies within the control of the game developer.

The games deal with serious topics.  But the serious topics are all those topics which modern pundits think are significant, the cause celebres of the 21st century: climate change, depression, anxiety, bullying, depression, suicide, gender politics, and so on.  At first, these games are depressing, and then boring as people playing them can get fatigued being asked to empathise with everything blatted at them during the game.

Nonetheless, these games taken in small doses might be therapeutic.  I resolved to put this to the to the test by playing a game called Get Bad News.  The title implied – well, no, I inferred that the game might help me overcome one of my little neuroses – I can’t handle bad news.  I never look at my grades in case they’re bad; I leave Powerball tickets around without checking them because I don’t want to find out I didn’t win.  The one time I opened my tax assessment notice the day it arrived I got a $3000 debit.  (It was a delight to write a letter back to the Commissioner, then my employer, absolving him personally of any blame for hiring a knuckle-dragging, strategically shaved primate to transfer numbers from my group certificate to the National Tax System.)

This game taught me how fake news was made and the ways to spot it, by introducing tow game elements, a graph to indicate my credibility, and a number count of how many Twitter followers I had.  At a point in the game it showed me some news headlines and asked me to pick the fake ones, and showed me the same headlines at the end of the game to see if I was any better at picking fake news.  I have no idea how I did at that, because the game didn’t tell me, but at least it was a fun thing.

Empathy Games

A game might be used to create empathy.  Some experiments have sown that people get desensitised to rape and murder if it’s shown in a dramatized context (like a movie or even a game) but then resensitised to it if it’s shown in a documentary format.  A game might be used to resensitise people if it could present rape and murder, or any of the serious mental states I used above, in a documentary format.  (Improved virtual reality technology leads to a scary proposition: making a rapist feel what it’s like to be raped.  But why bother after they’ve done it?  Teach them what rape feels like before they rape.  That’ll learn ‘em.)

Turning your sadness and pain into a game might be seen as cashing in on these bad things.  Such is the nature of drama – from the observation that nobody has a happy day in a soap opera, through the sensationalising of bad things to lend drama to news bulletins because real news is expensive to get, to poor Desdemona getting smothered due to well-placed embroidery.  Gert Bad News provides an understanding of how fake news works, and thus might make you more aware of it, but it doesn’t allow you to feel the way readers of fake news feel.  It’s not creating empathy.

At best, it’s creating cognitive empathy, where you can intellectually process what the other person, or the character in the game is feeling.  Ideally, you want emotional empathy, where your emotions are the same as the other person or character.  A game like DOOM can do that for fear, let’s say, as you creep about the game levels feeling the same fear as the character in the game presumably would with all these evil things about the place.

Posthuman Empathy

If empathy is the desired outcome, a posthuman future would allow for it by simply injecting the code for empathy into the computer process that ‘you’ are.  But even if we can’t get that far, direct interchange of emotion would be possible by sending a burst of code mimicking your emotional state to all and sundry.

Before we get there, which we might never do, games are one way of processing and expressing the emotional content of life experience (Meads).  They are, fortunately, not the only method.

These days, I express and process said emotional content through a simple Facebook post.  ‘Darren J Rout is feeling enraged’ covers my response to sob stories about the plight of whichever focus group has taken the fancy of a news editor strapped for news and the cash to get it.  Happy, wistful, drunk – they’re all valid chunks of emotional content in my life.  Cognitively, I can get why people are depressed and what makes them that way, but I’ve never had to struggle with depression so I can’t emotionally feel it.  This is probably why my TWINE game looks comparatively shallow and superficial.  Well, fortunately, I can respond emotionally to that observation – meh.

What, then, are the connections I make with other people (or even their avatars) like in real life?  The overriding behaviour is courtesy.  I try to be courteous.  I can empathise cognitively with much of what people are feeling, but the sheer weight of life experience that comes with nearly six decades on the planet might account for that.  I can emotionally empathise with people who are feeing what I’ve also felt in the past – or I think I can, but how would I know?

I may connect with entertaining, (and therefore superficial?) Facebook posts and pictures of what I’m drinking, or in these garbled blog posts, but there are some connections made more meaningful simply because of how long they’ve lasted, and the memories and shared experiences built up over that time.  Friends who’ve attempted suicide, friends ‘coming out’ to you of a wet Christmas Eve, arguments over apartheid and footy (remember when we had those?), these connections have run the gamut of emotion.  I held my niece’s second child in my hands after she died.  Jesus, why did I bring that up?

I can’t help feeling that the youner people in this course are feeling things more strongly than I am. Maybe I’m just jaded. Maybe I’ve been cooped up for too long. More maybes than a game could handle, I suspect.

The perceived wisdom is that I’ll never understand how a woman feels, or a black man, or someone in a refugee camp.  The perceived wisdom that I can’t empathise with anyone doesn’t match my demographic precisely.  I’d say evolution equipped me with the ability to empathise.  Understanding is not agreement, though.  I can empathise with a refugee, but I know how they became a refugee, and I don’t have to agree with their thoughts about being one.

I will sign off now, because I have forgotten the link I was going to try to draw between serious games and the MDS principle for classifying games that I talked about somewhere that I can’t find now.  I should start tagging these things.  Now I’m worried I haven’t addressed the questions asked in this week’s lecture.  Can you feel for me?


Djaouti, Damien, Julian Alvarez and Jean-Pierre Jessel. “Classifying Serious Games: the G/P/S model.” n.d. Ludoscience. PDF. 15 May 2020.

Gee, J P. What Video Games have to teach us about Learning and Literacy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Meads, Threasa. “Moodle.” 1 May 2020. Federatuon University. Powerpoint. 16 May 2020.

BAWRT 2004

Week 7 — My Life As Them

Okay, I’m not a paper wasp. I don’t even play one on TV or in a video game, but if I did, that wasp would be my avatar. An avatar represents myself in another medium. The idea of the self in various media is automediality.

Thus, I can present myself, my concept of myself, my ego if you like, in a variety of media if I do so in a story or one of my attempts at novels over the years, I do so by the creation of a character that will resemble me in some ways. The reader can, if they like, attempt to describe my personality with reference to these characters. They may get some things right. They may find aspects of my personality that I wasn’t aware of. It was pointed out to me that, in a story called ‘Brown Town’ I had used myself as the hero that comes out of nowhere and saves the day. These personae of the author are known in fanfiction as ‘Mary Sue’. This observation was so disturbing that I checked other stories for it, and Mary Sues were in there, too. It isn’t always true, though. Sometimes I intentionally put myself in these stories, and you can see one that is intentionally me, but renamed to make it fictional, in in this clod of quasi-autobiography which I’m surprised to find turned up at number 2 on a Bing search when I typed in the phrase ‘life and mates’!

In the written form, of course, the characters can do and say anything I can think up and spell, so the possibilities for a more talented or competent writer are much greater than they are in a medium with more constraints. In a video game, say, where the rules for character look and behaviour are controlled by what the game makers can paint and program. Aspects of my personality, which is to say, knowledge of me, can be inferred from my avatars.

To jazz up this post, and to offer some insights into how this might go, I present four avatars from the game Lord of the Rings Online


Forgthryth Filthryf, Man of Rohan

Forgthryth represents an idealised view of myself. A Man (as opposed to Elf, Dwarf or Hobbit) tall, blond, blue-eyed and of course he’s wearing a hat and standing near the bar of the Prancing Pony. In his fabricated backstory, his last name describes his occupation – ‘filth reeve’ – my attempt at a Rohan word for the occupation of cleaning up all the horse shit that would be in Rohan.


Lychee Iafvaer, Man of Dale

Lychee is a Captain, one of the ways of life you can take up in the game. His backstory is that his father was from Dale but travelled to the east, where he met a population of albino people who were, unlike many in the east, against Sauron. He married there, brought back his wife, who named her son after a beautiful fruit from her homeland. ‘Iafvaer’ is my crap Sindarin for ‘beautiful fruit’. Anyway, he’s there to emulate my nickname ‘Captain Lychee’ from where this website gets its name, but he’s based on Freddie Mercury, hence the moustache.


Russett Burrbank, Fallohide Hobbit

You could interpret this cute little hobbit as my feminine side, but she is based on a friend of mine who is short and red-headed. Her name is from the breed of potato, and the second ‘T’ is because someone had already secured the name ‘Russet’.


Gwaunmith, Elf of Lorien

She’s based on a kind of joke. ‘Gwaun’ is Sindarin for ‘goose’ and ‘might’ for ‘grey’. ‘Grey goose’ from the vodka of the same name. In actual Sindarin, it would be ‘Gwaunvith’ because of Sindarin’s lenition rules, but I didn’t know that then. She has no last name because I haven’t thought of one.

In the sense that these characters are created by me, within the choices provided by the folks at Standing Stones Games, these characters are me. Their actions are too limited to express the full range of my activities, though other people might argue that the few emotions they can display – burp, cheer, clap, beg, bother, for example – pretty much cover mine, and standing by a bar pretty much sums up my life. Oh, yeah? I write quasi-academic blog posts, you know!

Second Life is a virtual world with a much greater range of activities than LOTRO, and so can come closer to mirroring real life. There, you can create your avatar and do ordinary or extraordinary things. One of the people on the Larry Niven IRC group was working on a manned mission to Mars. Over at Full Sail University in Orlando, staff were ‘encouraged’ to get on to Second Life because all the fee-paying students were living great virtual lives there. I joined, too, as I have a ‘spousal’ connection to FSU, but I found the interface too complicated to design an avatar that resembled me in any way, shape or form. I did manage to get a pale, bespectacled person with a kind of corn-coloured topknot but then I couldn’t get him out of the lobby or wherever it is that you create the avatar.

This virtual world, and I use that term politely because they might object to it being called a game, was actually more dull than the life of a retired public servant eking out an existence in Ballarat with the nearest pub nearly a mile away.

In Bernhard Drax’s Our Digital Selves we see how Second Life has freed some disabled (or ‘ability diverse’ because every euphemism develops a euphemism of its own) people from the drudgery of their lives. They have altered the concept of ‘self’ by making equally valid characters in Second Life and, because that world allows actions much closer to real life than, say, LOTRO, these characters can do things the real people can’t. In one example, a very ‘diverse’ man who couldn’t talk well enough to be understood could get on to Second Life and interact with people by typing stuff to them. His life hadn’t changed, but his virtual life acted to improve communication in real life. Other people were using it to overcome various mental problems like PTSD and, like the Internet has in other ways, it has helped people to meet people they wouldn’t otherwise have even known of. (I met my current, er, Significant Other on LOTRO.)

While Second Life added to the closeness of disabled people, it also provided a social distancing from otherwise toxic people. In the movie there was an Englishwoman (if that’s not a racist term) with epilepsy who was one of the most unpleasant people I’ve run into in any medium in five real-life decades. Relentlessly hostile and complaining. With Second Life I could walk away from her, and she might even be nice and polite in the virtual world, or at least react differently to my avatar than she does to the poor harassed Herr Drax.

Second Life’s problem is that you need to connect from the real world to it, and thus limitations on the interface come into play. I pointed out in our class on it that none of the ‘differently abled’ (euphemism frenzy) people in it was blind. If they had been, interaction with Second Life would’ve been damn near impossible. As noted above, I had trouble making my avatar on the thing, and my sight back then was five times better than it is now. Later in that class, the Internet froze on me and I had to restart Adobe Connect and re-join. I mentioned that virtual worlds have a fragile ecology.

Assuming, though, that we overcome those limitations, we could spend our entire lives in a virtual world, overcoming the vicissitudes of real life and the vagaries of genes, gestation and happenstance that plague us. Our life in the real world, hampered by those things and our mortality, gets replaced by us existing completely in a virtual world. Such a thing is called posthumanism. If we live in a virtual world with perfect communication with other people in the world because the neural processes that make us ‘us’ are being executed by a computer, do we maintain a sense of ‘self’?

The promise of posthumanism is not that we would live in a virtual world freed of the physical problems we have and where this world is just a refined version of the real world, with nice trees, no traffic and free of any stinging insects chowing down on our fences – that’s a refined version of Second Life, and is a virtual world resembling the one we evolved in. Posthumanism means we become something other than human. If we’re part of a community of people in a computerised environment, where do we end, and the other people begin? And where does the environment begin, and we end? If we’re so enmeshed in the environment, do we even have consciousness of ourselves? If we have a soul, what happens to it, and do we get a new one from the computer?

The posthuman environment might be better thought of, like Second Life, as a medium. If the medium is the message, then whatever message my self is, it’s changed from what it is now. It’s an idea. It might be a goal for some people. I don’t think I’d care for it, or have I been programmed to think that?

Or am I writing this as part of a post-vespal environment where I’ve given up the humdrum of chewing wood and stinging the passers-by, and have retreated to a world much closer to the one I think I deserve?