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Matthew Ford
Game developer, teacher, crackpot philosopher, erstwhile hedonist
Game developer, teacher, crackpot philosopher, erstwhile hedonist

Matthew's posts

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Who has seen this posted anywhere else? I'm interested in studying how these things spread. So little I actually know.

A best friend +David Vronay and Weiru Cai visited us in Oz with their youngish kids. While they were here I diverted them with Castle Ravenloft as a gateway drug. When they took off in their RV/caravan, I gave Dave my copy of the D&D Red Box... those 10 hour drives can get grueling, and there are only so many videos a kid can watch. He just reported that they are now both level 2. I am ridiculously pleased. #dnd4e   #tabletoprpg  

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#locused  I have a feeling this is the start of something really amazing. I have seen other uses of projected light (which is adapted to the space, making it look perfect from a particular viewpoint) which are dazzling. #videogames  

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#locused  Some local Brisbane devs did this. I think it's a great example of using games to make a point, or as my friend Gaute highlighted in his recent paper, "procedural rhetoric". If that term has not scared you off, check this out. #videogames  

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My colleague +Jeff Brand conducted one of his game classes in Minecraft, due to the recent Queensland floods. It's a happy tale so check it out:

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How I love Australia...
Torquay, Australia

This photo is best viewed large with shares and comments welcomed!

Australia's coastline is a fantastic environment for landscape photographers.  I find that the early morning light is wonderful for showing off the range of colours .  This image is of the Torquay surf beach looking towards the Surf Club.   (501)

View the rest of my portfolio at

#Canon #Australia #Geelong #hdr

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#locused  After a lengthy writing drought but once again on the faithful 118 bus headed to QUT, I think it's best for me to get stuck right in with the first interesting topic I can think of. It seems fitting that I talk about starting my PhD. For some reason I still don't really understand, many people seem interested in this journey. Perhaps I don't understand because I'm not sure I know what a PhD really is. I'm only being a little bit flip. I do know more than when I started a month ago. But it seems that the whole idea is not to really know what you're doing for a while. I was an oddball (as usual) in that I applied for the PhD and scholarship with quite a strong idea of what I want to research, while still having no earthly clue as to what "research" really means. My certainty of topic might mean I am set up for a particularly spectacular flameout in the next few months as I read and read to make sure nobody else has already explored the territory I am about to cover, and find that someone has written brilliantly about the very thing I have decided to research. It's a bit like exploring in the Age of Sail, and like those intrepid explorers, 99% of which, I assume, failed to find anything remarkable before someone else found it first, I am simply picking a direction and setting out on faith. There is a parallel here to playing the game Civilization, but this PhD game is tuned badly in that about half of those who play it never establish their empire, much less defend it from attack.

I have made it a rule, when people ask (again with an enthusiasm and interest I don't quite understand) what my PhD is about, that I look at them piercingly (or its online equivalent, the emoticon for which I'd like to establish, perhaps in my PhD) and ask, "Are you sure you want to know?" So I think I will wait for inquiring comments on this post before I gas on about that.

Instead I want to sing the praises of the scientific method in the establishment of knowledge, and how excited I am to be a participant. I constantly discover new ways to be shockingly geeky, that is, to be intensely obsessed with the minutiae of an topic beloved by a relative few, and driven to find others of a like mind. Last year, for example, I discovered I have been a latent history geek all this time. It was just waiting to be uncovered. Now I think I am discovering that I am a research geek. That would be great news if it turned out to be true, as it would make the next three years a hell of a lot easier, having a motive to get out of bed.

It's great. First, you read absolutely everything that has been published in an area. That essentially makes you a master of that area of research, and perhaps why they call it a Master's Degree. Now, like exploring the shoreline in a game of Civ, you know the edges of all the established knowledge. Then, it's time to build a boat and head out into the next blue tile, and hope there is a landfall in your near future. Being the first to chart that land, that bit of truth that exists but has not been discovered yet, is the core of research, and the point of a PhD. My job is to use the scientific method to establish entirely new knowledge. I have to use other established bits of research to give me the jumping-off point, the port from which I sail. So now, off I go. It's immensely exciting. (Ask me again how exciting it is if I undergo the research equivalent of a sailor's discovery that there is already a teeming city built on the "new" island I set out to colonise.)

That's it for now. Best to start small. Thanks to all those who have read, liked, plus-1'ed, and shared my ramblings. My immense appetite for constant personal validation thanks you as well. Speaking of which, I think it's time to hammer on my new Pandora station and see if I can get more followers. It is called, "To Generation X with Love, or Whatever". We had something to say. Now it's being drowned, or something...

--Matthew Ford * for links

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What the hell was that? I type these narrative essays while on the bus ride between my home in Forest Lake, Queensland, Australia and my workplace at Queensland University of Technology, where I teach how to make games while getting my PhD in the same. I get motion sick if I look at my laptop screen, so thanks to touchj typing I can write this while looking out the window on the ride, then later correct its many tupos. Then I post it to my Google Plus stream ( and my Facebook Locused page ( Reading it has the all the benefits of buying me a drink, without the expense and eventual mortification. If you are interested in the ramblings of a longtime game designer, producer, teacher, and philosopher, stay tuned. Also, to satisfy my craving for attention, please like, plus, and share these posts.

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Get paid to make your game fulltime in Brisbane! See this event in our indie dev group to learn more. This is big news, and time is short, so brissy indies, let's get cracking.

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This article in TIME by a respected expert on the subject has links to actual studies (which I encourage everyone to read and decide for themselves) that show there is no significant causal link between consumption of violent media and real-world aggressive or antisocial behaviour, nor desensitisation toward real-world violence. It's a natural reaction for us all to try to find something easy to fix to address a horrible problem, and respond to a tragedy with everything our gut tells us "might work and couldn't hurt". But if you believe in science and rational policy making, you need to accept even those facts which don't agree with your gut. I'm sad and angry too. I want to channel that in a productive way.

(Notably it also challenges assertions that video games have certain positive effects that have been publicised recently.)

In one of the links is a table that points to factors that are significantly predictive, and it is a sad list of problems that are hard to fix, but we can try: Depressive symptoms. Delinquent peers. Physical abuse.

I strongly encourage parents to monitor and control what their kids consume, and use a child's interest in violence as a way to start exploring a child's mind. A parent has every right to forbid a child from doing anything which appears to have a negative effect on their behaviour. I post this in a wish to avoid grandstanding by politicians and pundits who engage in distracting policy conversations that suck up oxygen from what should be a debate about what is proven will work to actually reduce violence in our society. I don't mind more studies being done, if they use sound methodology, on games or any other reasonably hypothesised cause. But good studies need to be respected, or else we are just wandering in a wilderness with no map.

#locused  I find a shining example of the locus of games and philosophy in the recent Diablo 3 patch, which makes me think in new ways about the meaning of life. My wife Kat and I are happily playing co-op in the game and I am also playing solo in hardcore mode. Kat and I are just starting Inferno mode and are now occasionally hitting the wall where we need to improve our loot. So far we have gotten out of this jam by buying new loot from the auction house, spending gold we earn from selling there. That is a whole other subject: how much is this wonderful use of market forces and full-throated embrace of Adam Smith distorting our play experience? But let's take it as granted that soon we will run out of gold, and the hard yards will begin. We will need to farm the same areas over and over in order to get the gold and loot we need to be ready for the next area. Though it may seem perverse, I am eager to enter this phase. I am no fan of farming per se but I am eager to play right at the limit of my ability, to pick an area which is just barely survivable, because I know that I enjoy Diablo the most when I am in the sweet flow zone between boredom and frustration.  (Whether Kat is equally excited about this approaching phase remains to be seen.)

So for the many (in my opinion far too many) hours that we have been playing in order to reach this point of challenge, I have been looking forward to it. And I know that when we kill Diablo in Inferno, that's an end point. We will have climbed the whole ladder of loot to beat the final boss, and that will make further play meaningless, or at least take on a very different meaning. And here is where I muse on the very meaning of life.

What is the point of a long and arduous struggle against evil, with the aim to vanquish it? Most philosophies, in my amateur enthusiast view, have fairly obvious answers. Philosophies that espouse the virtues would say that the virtuous must strive to right wrongs; it is the very nature of virtue to embrace this action, and the end result hardly matters. Those who are guided by the moral prescriptions of a higher power would consider it a holy duty and ticket to a good afterlife to fight evil. Those who are utilitarians and hedonists might find the struggle itself a source of personal pleasure, but even if not, the termination of a force that is causing much suffering and death would increase the total amount of pleasure the human race will experience, so it is worthwhile. And those with a more Buddhist or Taoist bent might see the end goal itself as meaningless, the evil being part of the veil of tears or the natural way of things, but find merit in doing what one is best suited to do, that is, battle. 

So that's pretty well taken care of. And once the great evil is finally vanquished, all of these philosophies can justify putting down the sword and staff to pursue other aims. To support this conclusion, let's take the idealised case that you have played Diablo all the way through without ever restarting the game or changing your quest line, so even if you held off from killing Diablo and went back to previous areas in Act 4, you would see your acts of heroism still have impact: the monsters there would still be slain, angels rescued, hell portals closed. (If you restart the game or an act, these areas would repopulate with monsters and make your efforts seem futile, but arguably you have gone backward on a narrative timeline. More on that idea later.)

Those that see pleasure and virtue in the mere process of slaying evil creatures might find justification for restarting the game or the quest and once again purging the world of all the revived horrors, but from the narrative viewpoint, it would have an air of futility. You have definitive proof that Diablo will never stay dead—in fact, you are the one who keeps reviving him. If you crank up the difficulty, you are unlikely to have even more fun than you have previously. More likely, as the game gets old and the dynamics become well-worn, you are on a declining slope of enjoyment unless better loot is a particularly great source of your pleasure—a kind of materialist worldview which some religions might ascribe to gluttony. 

So far I have been using the idea of the narrative to frame these thoughts and that itself can be challenged. This uses so-called "narratology" view of games, which in short proposes that digital games and a kind of story, once in which you as the player are an active participant. In this frame, when you kill Diablo in Inferno (and even arguably when you kill him in Normal mode), the story is over and continuing the play the game has little point, aside from sopping up little bits of story that you may have missed the first time, which in a linear game like Diablo would be slim pickings. Arguably by playing as another character, you are making a slightly different story, and the new narration from that character's point of view has some value. But again it is pretty scanty fare.

But there is another way to see games, called "ludology". This term comes from the Latin ludos, meaning "play", and which incidentally is the name of the places that gladiators trained, as those watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand well know. Seen through the filter of ludology, a game is not a kind of story but a form of play. It might have a story the same way that a game of cowboys and Indians in the backyard has a story, but the point is to enjoy and benefit from the act of playing, not from the consumption of the story, which may be entirely absent in a good game.  In this frame, it does not matter if you slay Diablo: if there is a way to keep playing in a way that continues to challenge you to the level you find enjoyable (and for most people this is a balance point, as I described at the outset of this bus ride's musings, between the boredom of overly easy fights and the frustration of overly hard ones), then you are fully justified in playing more. It is like a sport in that the struggle can go on endlessly.

A side note: as a player I enjoy immersion, which to me means seeing the world through the eyes and mind of the character I am playing. What does this mean if I take the ludological view of Diablo and choose to keep playing after Diablo is dead, especially dead in Inferno mode? For one thing I have to pretend to be a character immersed in a strange world in which time and the lines of fate have a very different meaning from ordinary personal experience; I play a character in a world in which I stay continuous, slowly growing in power, while the rest of the world resets and jumps forward and backward on a timeline of events, making me experience supposedly unique events over and over again. It seems a bit like Valhalla, a place of endless battle, or a nightmare from which one cannot wake up. It kind of messes with my sense of immersion, as my character expresses surprise and discovery at events that I, as the player, do not find the least bit surprising. Let's set that aside.

Let's take the happier former view and imagine that you are immersed into a character who simply loves the fight, and examine this from the ludological point of view. Again there are possible philosophical underpinnings here, as I already described. You might be a hedonist who simply likes the personal pleasure of conquering foes and getting loot. You might be a virtuous type who sees it as a way to illustrate and burnish your virtues. You might be following orders from a higher power who commands you to slay evil, eternally if needed, for a purpose you might not understand. You might be a utilitarian with a conundrum: by resetting the world, you recreate all the demons, and all the suffering they cause to the soldiers and townsfolk. This arguably increases suffering, though it's hard to square such a pragmatic philosophy with such a fanciful world in which this reset is possible.

Overall I don't like to take sides in the narratology vs. ludology debate. I see the merits of each view and I play some games primarily through one filter, and other games through the other. In Diablo I only find the story mildly impressive—it's rather clichéd and wooden in my opinion, though wonderfully cinematic at times. What I really enjoy about Diablo is the flow of playing at the right challenge. So I primarily evaluate in a ludological way, enjoying the act of playing. 

So now to the core question: when Kat and I slay Diablo in Inferno mode, will I keep playing? It seems I should, for the same reason I restarted it when I slayed him in each other difficulty mode. But I wonder if it will start to feel too empty. I may feel like I have passed up the offramp on this highway, a perfect time to set the game aside and move onto new experiences. By convincing myself that the ultimate destination of slaying Diablo in Inferno is just another milestone to be driven past, I may rob myself of a feeling of closure that the end of a good narrative can bring. Even though I am not fully viewing Diablo as a narrative, I could use the narrative as an excuse to set aside this endless cycle of death and rebirth. But will I? Or will I stay lost in this world, addicted to its pleasures? I think I know what a good Buddhist would point out at this point. And I see why my hedonistic worldview can be a trap. In this way, Diablo 3 has made me think about the meaning of existence. Now who can say that games have no artistic merit?


What the hell was that? I type these narrative essays while on the bus ride between my home in Forest Lake, Queensland, Australia and my workplace at Queensland University of Technology, where I teach how to make games. I get motion sick if I look at my laptop screen, so thanks to touchj typing I can write this while looking out the window on the ride, then later correct its many tupos. Then I post it to my Google Plus stream ( and my Facebook Locused page ( Reading it has the all the benefits of buying me a drink, without the expense and eventual mortification. If you are interested in the ramblings of a longtime game designer, producer, teacher, and philosopher, stay tuned. Also, to satisfy my craving for attention, please like, plus, and share these posts.
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