Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When you stare into the security guard, the security guard stares back into you

Congress is in full swing. And rather than put the finishing polish on the paper I'm giving tomorrow, I decided to do a blog post about what I've done so far. Mostly... I've manned the project booth. My supervisor decided that Congress would be a good place to showcase some of the projects our department's done, as it's a combination of digital and critical stuff that goes above and beyond the norm for an English program. So he rented a truck, and populated it with a few projects. It's a great idea, really. The pennyfarthing bicycle and the life-sized plastic cow are at the front, and they really draw a crowd. I volunteered for a few shifts on the truck--basically, to show people around, talk about the exhibits, and make sure no academic gets sticky fingers with our expensive monitors. It was fine. Some friends stopped by to break up the monotony at different times, and there was a steady stream of people to talk to about exactly the projects that make our English department unique.

There are three main drawbacks, though.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Quotations: For A Limited Time Only

"Task 1: Write a haiku that justifies your area of study. Multiple entries are permitted. Points will be awarded based on immeasurable elegance of the juxtaposed syllables and the use of alliteration." --http://questing.at/crossroads/anywhere-tasks/. Remember that project I was talking about a few days ago? Well, that's been cancelled. If you're in the neighborhood, buy me a drink, and I'll tell you about it. Or I'll buy you a drink, as payment for being my captive audience. Or we'll both buy drinks, and I'll shriek loudly. The drink part is the important thing here. For the moment, my portion of the project is still up and running. If anyone's interested, check out http://questing.at/crossroads/. I can't take any credit for the design, but I am responsible for most of the text content. One of the few amusing things about the situation is that since I wrote my two papers for this week well in advance, because of how busy I thought I'd be, I actually have more time for proofreading and editing than I virtually ever have had for papers. So I went from complaining about how busy I was to being ahead of the game. And all it took was the cancellation of the project I've been devoting the past 5 months to. There is a lesson there; it probably shouldn't be "never try anything," but I'm having trouble finding anything else. Later Days.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It was always you that I despised. Heart warming music!

Here's something from the Silent Hill 4 soundtrack, called Room of Angel.

I like this song.  I think it's the way the singer sounds very bitter, but unable to devote the emotional energy necessary to raise the bitterness to anger.  A lot of the songs focusing on emotional bitterness tend to be an explosive, violent edge to them (Pink's You Make Me Sick, Offspring's She's Got Issues).  And that energy can be intoxicating.  But I think it's almost creepier when that anger fades away, and all that's left is this husk of resentment that you can't get rid of.  You don't hate the other person, because hate is too much effort, but the way you think about them is now entrenched in who you are, and you can't let it go without altering your own identity.

Okay, what's really creepy is the way the second person snuck into my description there.

Later Days.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Friggin' Busy: The Life of a Person of Consequence

I was really looking forward to the month of May; with my teaching course wrapped up, I assumed I would finally, finally, be free to pursue my dissertation, with a minimal amount of distraction.  But the gods laugh at the plans of men.   This month featured not just one, but two conferences, and a slew of videogame theory book recalls, which have been necessitating their own time demands.  After the break, I'll talk about how all of that turned out.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: The Ethics of Computer Games by Miguel Sicart

“At the center of the whole discussion on the ethics of computer games, beyond developers and publishers and academes, we should find the players—not as inane inout providers, target groups, or research subjects, but as complex moral beings who will think, reason, and argue about the ethical implications and values of their actions within the game world. It is our moral duty to encourage players to behave ethically and to develop their moral strengths while better ethical games are produced, and we should encourage ourselves to dare to play ethically. Because nothing is ‘just a game’ anymore.” --Miguel Sicart, The Ethics of Computer Games. 

 As promised, here's the review of Sicart's book.  We're going to be talking about moral philosophy, player subjects, and ethical design, after the break.

Friday Quotations: Witching Hour

"Three nasty gnomes, rival warlocks in squat disguise, who'd invented a cottage not a mile away, invading my territory and taunting me with their wild tricks.  So my daughter took it upon herself to have a go at them.  I tried to stop her, but with her temper up there was no controlling her, and off she went.  She was still just a little thing, able to do little more than make her dolls walk or a goat sing like a magpie with a sore throat, she was no match for those hoary freaks, so, though she was able to get her piece said and pull their beards and throw some cake in their glum faces, she became uglier than ever with a fatal curse on her head and belching toads whenever she spoke.  I tried everything I knew to undo their devilry, but the toads kept coming.  So, the first thing she did was to go back to the gnomes' cottage and unleash such a screaming plague of toads that they had to move to another part of the forest.  How could you not love her?" --Stepmother, by Robert Coover

Later Days.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Women Will Like What I Tell Them To Like

I've seen some Simpsons episodes so many times at this point that I start laughing before the joke.  It makes watching them in mixed company an odd experience.

Later Days.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Karmic Conniption

 Back four or five years ago, there was a little TV show called My Name is Earl.  It was a sitcom starring Jason Lee, and it had a simple premise: the lead character, Earl Hickey, was a pretty bad person, and one bad thing after another kept happening to him.  After one particular devastation, he vows to do good, specifically by making a list of everything he's ever done bad to someone, and making it up to the person, one by one.  The faith behind his actions is karma--for every good deed he does, he claims, something good will happen to him.  It was a good (or at least decent) show, but the pseudo-mysticism aspect of it never really worked for me.  A morally edifying show is fine at all, and as far as ethical systems or religious institutions go, "do good" is a fairly innocuous manifesto,  but the idea that you should do good because you'll be rewarded for it very soon--that bugged me.  It seemed to be a sort of sitcom logic, where everything needs to wrap up in 30 minutes, one way or the other, and "they all lived happily ever after because they're nice people" is a good a wrap up as any.

But there's another side to the temptation of such karma.  It's not just being rewarded for doing good--it means you've got certainty.  Life's full of choices, and it's not always clear if you've made the right one.  A system that rewards and punishes quickly is a nice source of feedback.  Case in point: I'm in line at the self-checkout.  It's a peak time and there's a bit of a wait, and so I spend every minute of it castigating the people in front of me for being so clearly poor with the self-checkout system.  I get up there, and, in my desire to show them how it's done, immediately screw up, keying in the wrong number and charging myself an extra 3 dollars.  Now, normally, I'd call a cashier over to cancel the item, but I've got a long line behind me yet, and there's only one cashier to manage the four tills, and she's already busy.  So, making a split decision, I take the hit.  I pay for my groceries, and I amscray.  And at the moment, I remember thinking, "This is karma.  You deserved to have this happen."  Well, yes and no.  I felt impatient, I keyed in items in a hurry, I screwed up, and I felt too embarrassed to fix my mistake.  That's only karma if karma is another word for cause and effect.  If I hadn't felt socially conditioned to refuse to hold up the people behind me any longer, I would have gotten my money back (or rather, never spent it at all).  Is that karma? And if the self-checkout system allowed cancellation, I could have avoided the whole thing.  Is that karma?

Karma.  An attempt to understand the way the world works when forces are beyond our control.  A justification for condemning someone for their misdeeds and bad consequences.  And a neat mcguffin for a Jason Lee vehicle.

Later Days.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

When I play catch, I don't wait for the ball to tell me a story. I tell my own damn story about how I caught a ball.

I've been wanting to post more, but I'm swamped with work this weekend, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone, and do a Work in Progress. Longtime readers may remember the feature as "Watch Me Work,"  but I've decided I like this title better.  The idea is simple--I do a lot of note taking when I read, and when I'm finished a chapter, I tend to do one paragraph summarizing the chapter, and one summarizing my response to it.  So I those results, and post them here.  In particular, I thought it would be interesting (for me more than you, I'm afraid) if I did one on a book I was planning to do a full review of later.  The Work in Progress is sort of a micro-version of the book review, as it features the same summary/commentary pattern, but it tends to be a lot rougher, as it was written in a stream of consciousness flow for me, rather than something more for posterity.  In other words, if you thought the book reviews were rambling, then you're really going to have a fun time now.  This is Chapter 4, "The Ethics of Computer Games" from Miguel Sicart's book of the same title.

In this chapter, Sicart draws on the historically-established virtues ethics of Aristotle and the computer-based information ethics of Floridi and Sanders to form his own vesion of computer game ethics. He begins the discussion with a focus on the moral encounter with Sorrow in Metal Gear Solid 3, and outlines the chapter. First, virtue ethics can be used the situation between player-subjects and game object.  More generally, it means looking at how the world allows ethical aspirations; in games, it would mean how the games enable ethical player decisions and reflections. It occurs when the player-subject determines the best choice, and when the person realizes a disconnect between player-subject and their own decisions.  Virtue ethics also acknowledges the role of the moral object, the computer, in framing these moral decisions, though it’s the player who makes the choice.  The hermeneutic circle consists of the player, the game, and player community—it describes what happens when subject becomes player. And finally, it exists when subject interacts with the world outside of gaming. Virtue ethics acknowledges the presence of the player as more than just someone whom the game is inflicted on.  Its limitation is that if your focus is on community of game players, then you can’t tell if you’re looking at the community, or just its most vocal contributors, and virtue ethics is a little general. Information ethics comes from Floridi and Sanders. It’s digitally based, and argues that people and agents are information-based, and operate within infospheres. Everything is information, but not everything has agency. It considers not just individuals, but their relation to broader networks. Sicart believes it translates to games very easily.  It means that responsibility for an ethical game engagement is distributed, between designer, player, and play community. It’s limited in that it’s rather theoretically based, and still needs to be field tested. That brings us to Sicart’s framework, which is a combination of the two. He starts by downplaying the fictional element of games. But they must be studied in terms of the moral object, moral experience, and moral agent at work. Games are considered in terms of design, experience, and cultural object, with a distributed responsibility that overlays into a larger network.

It’s a good framework, although one that needs to be tested in a larger field, as Sicart notes. As I mentioned, the need to downplay the role of fiction in game seems counterproductive. I can understand not wanting to study games as if they were literature or film. But the story of a game isn’t something a cinema scholar imagines being there, or the much-mocked story Murray finds in Tetris. Some games have stories. To say that the Final Fantasy series should be considered entirely apart from its story is ridiculous. To say that Halo’s military setting isn’t relevant is to miss a large part of the game's appeal. Where is a GTA (or any Rockstar game) without its diegetic elements?  It's not an either/or proposition; game story and the rest of the game are intertwined  Juul’s book Half Real, which is where, I think, Sicart gets his argument that the story in a game is secondary to the rules, seems like a throwback to the ludologist approach.and it’s one that limits how a game can be perceived. I'll agree that the storyline usually shouldn't be considered the most important thing in a game, but I wouldn't lambast a narratologist who tried to argue it. More viewpoints in scholarship is a good thing; a discipline with a lot of voices is a discipline that's vibrant and changing. As a final point on the matter, yes, it is relevant that Mario is a plumber. It’s not something that comes up often in the games, but the character design is a part of his story, and thus relevant. If it was lizards fighting people, then people wouldn’t think they’re children’s games quite so easily. And to argue that Frasca's September 12th lacks a story is ridiculous—its story is 9/11 and the resulting wars, which is one of the most relevant diegetic contexts that I can think of./end rant. Sicart’s framework is basically a fusion of these two forms and applied to videogames (which is exactly what the ludologists were supposedly originally against, but never mind). He gets a historical legacy from values ethics, and a specificity from computer ethics, which isn’t a bad way of doing things at all. I’m not entirely convinced that either is necessary for the framework, but it’s never a bad idea to lay one’s roots on the table. Anyway, information theory seems a little iffy in its totalizing definition of information. There were some things I liked about this chapter; Sicart doesn’t even give the magic circle a nod, which feels appropriate. And he points out that game research has failed to connect interpretation to the player’s ethical nature, which I’ll extend to playing in general, and vice versa. Players are exceptionally adamant that there’s no analytical thinking being performed when they play, that games shouldn’t be art and don’t cause responses, they cause experiences. And game research is quick to dismiss the notion that playing isn’t mindless. (Okay, not core game research, but there’s definitely some of that on the fringe.) I also like his idea that phronesis is about the deliberate break between player-subject and person, because it goes counter to the immersion side of theory.

That was fun.  Any thoughts?  Any thoughts you want to immortalize in post form?

Later days.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Quotations: The whole book is like this.

"The decisive increase in importance and consequent proliferation of the logistical flowchart in the postwar period is the central element in the overlfowing of the military sphere into all other spheres of human activity.  The transformation of a nation into logistical potential leads to the transformation of the reality of the world of nations into a virtual reality.  That is to say, the traditional elements and relationships of sociopolitical and cultural reality become increasingly virtualized.  All walks of life and all institutions, while maintaining there conventional appearance, tend to be determined more and more by the dictates of the logistics of perception, communication, politics, strategy, economics and so on.  Accepted modes of reasoning, interpretation, and decision making in these fields are subordinated to logistical considerations--the anticipation of threat, coordination of resources toward the minimization of contingency, security (rather than defense)--and survive only to legitimate processes they no longer govern."  ---Patrick Crogan, Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Technoculture.

I really let the blog go to fallow this week, didn't I?  Ah well.  There's been a recall on four of my videogame related books, so the days ahead will be full of rushed reviews, which I'm sure will be a delight to all comers.  Crogan's book is in this number; it is simultaneously the best book I've ever read on the connections between videogames and military endeavors, and exactly six words too long in every sentence.

Later Days.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bibliophile: A Very Short Introduction to Hitler and YouTube

A library implies an act of faith.

Reading through a gigantic digital library catalog implies an act of too much time on one's hands.

This is Bibliophile.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book Review: The Meaning of Video Games by Steven E. Jones

"McGann and a number of other textual-studies scholars have been experimenting with using gamelike environments to study the interpretive universe surrounding texts; the implication is that the social text is like a game.  I simply want to suggest that the converse is also true: games are examples of the social text, and they can and should be studied in the same way Ivanhoe can be.  Games are already complex digital models of engagements with their own possibilities" (96).

Steven E. Jones' main argument for his book The Meaning of Videogames: Gaming and textual strategies is pretty much exactly what states it to be in the quotation above.  A Professor of English specializing in textual-studies, he wants to use the basic tenants of contemporary textual-studies and apply them to videogames.  Since textual studies (I've made an executive design to drop the damn hyphen) as a discipline may not be familiar to anyone reading this, I think a discussion of it might be a good place to start.

When I was doing my Masters, a class on the subject was mandatory.  It was very much the black sheep of the department course offerings.  Professors hated teaching it, and students hated taking it.  I certainly hated taking it, for example, although in this case, it's a good thing I did, since it grants me at least a basic familiarity with what Jones is talking about.  Textual-studies, or bibliographic studies, is a little off the beaten path from many forms of literary studies, even though almost everyone in the field practices it, to some extent or another.  Essentially, it's the study of everything about a book that isn't the book itself.  To illustrate, the book for the course I took was G.C. Greeetham's Textual Scholarship, and it included chapters on the history of written records, the composition of paper, the development of script, the varieties of typography, and what it means to produce a variorum edition.  And until you've read 50 pages on the difference between uncial and Caroline minuscule scripts, you do not know what boredom is.  Of course, boring doesn't mean not useful, and the histories of the technologies in play in a work allow a much better understanding of that work, and what's at stake in its connection to a historical context.

 Anyway, to get back to Jones, he's using a very specific, recent movement in textual studies.  Historically, textual studies' focus was reconstruction and preservation.  Through compilations of all the variations of a medieval manuscript, for example, a textual scholar would move backwards, weeding out all the corruptions and errors in subsequent texts until he or she reconstructed an ur-text that more closely resembles the author's original intention.  This aim run afoul in the second half of the twentieth century, however, when scholars such as Foucault and Barthes were very loudly declaring that the original version doesn't exist (or at least doesn't matter) and the final word on an issue is rarely the one the author intended to be there.  Textual scholars took up the call to arms, and Jones cites two scholars in particular as influential on the subject as it currently stands: Jerome McGann and D. F. McKenzie.  In one form or another, the two both argued  that a wider definition of text was needed, one that took into account the variations and considered them not as corruptions or replications, but as texts that also stem from a unique and important social text.  What that means when applied to videogames is that they can't be considered purely in terms of the game mechanics, the player interaction, or the designers' intentions.  Rather, all three of these need to be considered, in juxtaposition with the game's larger social history.

After presenting this premise, Jones spends the rest of the book pursuing it, with each chapter of the book furthering it in the context of some specific game or game-like thing.  Chapter 1 is on Lost, the TV show.  Not only is it game-like (the characters go on quests, the puzzle of something like the hatch is a game-like mystery) and it calls (well, called) for its fans to treat it as if it was a game, a sort of ARG they discuss and theorize.  The theoretical approach he applies here is Gerard Genette's notion of paratext, which can be loosely considered anything that shapes the reader's interpretation of a main text. (Mia Consalvo also uses the notion of paratext extensively in regards to videogames, in her book Cheating.)   A movie trailer is a paratext for a movie (both the movie it advertises and the movie it appears before), and so is the fan forum discussing the film--as well as the composition of the audience viewing the film.  In terms of Lost's paratext, Jones considers the novel by fictional Lost character Gary Troup, the ARG Lost Experience, and the fan interaction.    Chapter 2 is on Katamari Damacy, a game that has a little boy gathering up balls of junk so that his father, King of All Cosmos, can turn them into stars.  Jones' argument for this game is that is that it parodies and glorifies the gamer acts of fan participation and collecting.  The theory in this case is Walter Benjamin's discussion on collecting, that those who once collected artifacts for those unique auras are now forced to fetishize collection, since objects are now interchangeable and mechanically reproduced.  Katamari Damacy is a parody of that fetishized collecting, but one that presents it not as something to be considered seriously, but a form of play.

Chapter 3 is on the Halo universe, and once again, it's a discussion of paratext.  Only a small fraction of Halo players bothered with the ARG for Halo 2, I Love Bees.  But Jones argues that it's things like I Love Bees that demonstrate best how Halo is more than just a videogame; it's a cultural artifact without discrete boundaries that exists in multiplayer matches, game interviews, scholarly discourse, ARGs, novelizations, comic books, and other videogames, from Space Invaders to its current contemporaries.  Jones' "theory" for this chapter is a mash of various game scholars, including Jane McGonigal (who deserves no small amount of credit here, considering she led the team that designed I Love Bees), popular culture scholar Henry Jenkins, and others ranging from Jesper Juul to Ian Bogost to McKenzie Wark.  Chapter 4 is on a lesser known game (in gamer circles, not game studies circles), Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern's Facade, a game where the definition of game is questionable, as it's just you, interacting with a NPC couple that have invited you over drinks.  The big theoretical text here is Janet Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck, and, following her dramaturgical argument, Jones argues that games should be considered more like the performances of a play, in that every performance is a little different, and no script captures the complete nuance of the experience. 

Chapter 5 is not on a game, but a platform, as Jones considers the newly launched (well, new when the book came out) Wii.  Somewhat briefer than the other chapters, Jones here argues that the Wii needs to be studied not just in context with the hardware it possesses in comparison to its contemporaries, but also the culture Nintendo created for the Wii, positioning it as a system that was for everyone, of all ages and genders, not just the "hardcore" gamers that most systems at the time seemed to cater towards.  The theoretical comparison here is a little odd (even for this book), as Jones compares the development of the Wii to the Jerome McGann's study of 19th century gift-book annuals for young British women in the first half of the 19th century.  The final chapter is on Spore, a game which hadn't even been released when Jones had written the chapter.  As such, Jones focuses on its projected intentions and the incredible amount of fan fervor generated by these intentions (and as someone who wasn't/never was that interested in Spore, I can confirm, I can still remember the enormous hype machine the game prompted).  He closes the book with the argument that what Spore does is create a space for exploring interesting possibilities, and in this sense, perhaps it's time for textual studies to take a page from videogames.

As a bit of a digression, one of the questions that is perennially asked in game studies classes I've taken is "how much of a game do have to play before you're qualified to write scholarly papers on it?".  It's not an easy question.  With a book, you'd probably want to finish it.  But a game such as Mass Effect can take 40+ hours to reach the ending, if you do all the sidequests.  And that's not counting the multiple choices and paths the game can take.  Other games, such as SimCity, have no ending at all, but a player's perspective after playing it for an hour is very different from the one who's played it 10 hours--which is different again from the one who played it 100 hours.  An MMO changes radically based on when you play it--it's a very different thing to have played Everquest when it was first launched as compared to a week before its servers were stopped.  Personally, my answer to question is "you've played enough when you've decided you've played enough for what you want to talk about," but I appreciate other circumstances might require other approaches.  Considering the book at hand, though,  Jones answered the question with the smallest amount of time possible, dedicating a chapter to a game he never played at all.  Such an approach plays up his own argument, which is on the relevance of the culture and hype surrounding a game, and how it starts long before the release of the game itself.  I felt, however, that when discussing what the game could potentially be, he was going a step too far, trying to comment on the hype surrounding Spore, while at the same time, perpetuating that hype through his own predictions.  One of the worst indulgences of game studies--and new media studies in general--is a tendency to be so focused on the artifacts we want to exist that we ignore what does, and Jones comes close to that here.

  That seems like a good segue to start into my negative feelings regarding the book.  Coming from an English background, I'm not much of a ludologist.  But if I was, I'd hate this book.  It's the quintessential example of subjecting game studies to outside perspectives, in this case, saying game studies amounts to little more than a form of textual studies, only not done as well.  In his defense, Jones' scholarship demonstrated in the book clearly shows he's more than a lit scholar "slumming" in videogames, and even if he is more textual studies than game studies, it shouldn't detract from his argument.  But at the same time, if you're going to argue that paratext is important, then the paratext for this book is textual scholarship and encroaching disciplines, and I think that game studies can be more open to paratext without necessarily becoming involved with textual studies (again, see Mia Consalvo).  This connects tangentially to my other complaint of the book, its organization, or lack thereof, which doesn't help with the feeling that Jones is a scholar dabbling in game studies.  I recently finished Alexander Galloway's Essays on Algorithmic Culture, and one of my criticisms was that the book wasn't really a unified discussion, but four rather separate ones (which, to be fair, is an intention signalled rather plainly in the book's title).  Jones' book doesn't have that problem; the basic argument is consistent throughout.  It's hard to argue that there's much progression of that argument, though, as it's all pretty much encapsulated in that quotation above, and that comes about midpoint through the book.  And the individual chapters themselves are rather scattered.  Take the one on Katamari Damacy--it's about the game, and collecting, and Benjamin, but it's also about otaku culture, eBay, D. B. Weiss' Lucky Wander Boy, and the flaneur.  Jones does very well to keep everything together, but the connections do feel a little arbitrary at times (chapter on Wii and 19th century gift books, I'm looking at you.)

If those criticisms sound half-hearted and nit-picking, that's because they are.  Jones' basic premise is that we should study videogames without isolating them, and I'm behind that sentiment wholeheartedly.  I would argue that we sometimes need to focus on just the formal elements or just the social aspects of a game for the sake of the unity of discussion, but the larger context should always be acknowledged in some form.  And I have to say, I did love Jones' choice of games and game-like objects; it was an excellent mix of popular forms and more auteur artifacts.  I'd recommend the book to those who don't mind a more esoteric approach, and those who are interested in the paratext that surround the social milieu of videogames.

Later Days.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Another Fine Moment

My life is a series of ridiculous and somewhat disgusting events.  Case in point:
 I went to the doctor today, to get a test performed.  The test required that I have a full bladder, so I was given very precise instructions: drink a litre of water of between 2 to 1 hours before the test, and don't drink anything for a full hour before the test.  Naturally, I forget to drink at all until it's 5 minutes before the 1 hour mark.  Desperate to make up for lost time, I guzzle the full litre in the time allowed.  How well did that plan work out? Poorly.  Hilarity and probable kidney damage soon ensue.  To make a long story short, it ends the way every trip to the doctor's does for me:

...And I could never look the nurse practitioner in the eye again.

Later Days.

Friday Quotations: And Don't Get Me Started on "Presence!"

"I would argue that typical video games, not experimental art projects or political interventions, are non-immersive in important ways--just in terms of their formal structures and conventions of interface--and at least a large number of players seem to want them that way.  Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, for example, is potentially more effective than other forms of discourse at exploring social constructions of race and media identities (such as 'gangster') because it is a game in which you play these constructions, configure them rather than just talk about them, and because it engages these constructions as constructions, roles and moves under the control of the controller pad buttons of the PS2, the player's moves in response to the game's AI and highly-charged urban maps.  Brecht's theatre, created in part in response to the Frankfurt school's debates, was based on the idea that normalized formal innovations, and the collective experience of formal effects for what they are, are the prerequisites for a truly critical and revolutionary theater.  The aware audience should not ideally lose themselves in the illusion but should as a matter of course engage the drama."
--Steven E. Jones, The Meaning of Video Games

 Jones is arguing here a point I've been championing for years.  Immersion is often held up as the holy grail of videogames, by developers, players, and scholars alike.  But for my money, it's not being immersed in a role that makes a game so interesting, it's being aware that you're playing a role, and pushing that role to its extreme.  That's why it's interesting, to take one example among dozens, to try to win a fight it seems you're being forced to lose in Disgaea, or replay Mass Effect without getting Wrex or Garrus on your team (you can pull off the latter, but not the former, BTW.)  The awareness that you're playing a game allows you to game the system, and get a better sense of how it's designed and fits together.  That's not to say that there is no immersion, but that the balance is more complicated, and should be more complicated, than a lot of people give it credit for.

Later Days.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brand Recognition

After reading dozens of Mario-related instruction manuals, I can finally spell piranha plant correctly on the first try.  Still working on moustach though.

Later Days.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'm writing this blog post to tell you I'm not writing a blogpost

I realized a while back that my notes on games are lacking.  Oh, my notes on game studies are incredible--hundreds of pages of summaries, and comments, and points requiring further investigation.  And when I choose to investigate a game for a specific paper I have in mind, I'm excruciatingly thorough.  But when it comes to noting down what makes a game special when I'm playing it for the first time, I tend to fall a little short.  By the time I get back to the game, I have to replay it entirely, and that is a rather different sensation than when I play it for the first time.  So when I finished a game yesterday, I started jotting down a few notes on how I felt about it.  And kept jotting.  And jotting.  And jotting.  When I finished, I had been working for a full day, and I had 6000 words.  Someday, I will devote this level of concentration to my dissertation, and wrap the whole damn thing up in a month.

Normally, I'd put all of this out in one huge blog post, but this time... This time, I don't think I will.  You'll notice I haven't mentioned the name of the game, either.  While I'm sure anyone who's talked to me in recent weeks would be able to divine it pretty easily, the omission now is rather deliberate.  And it stems, in part, from me mentioning this game to others.  For once, my fellow academics were interested in a game not because of the novelty of my description (or rather, feigning interest in the "novelty" of my description) but because they thought there might be something there worth discussing.  That interest forced me to face some tough questions, and unpleasant realities about myself.  First, on the unpleasant part, I didn't want to share information on MY find.  (Never mind that I found through the effort of a popular videogame news site.)  Academia is full of good people, but it's also competitive.  I wouldn't want someone to publish my ideas without giving me proper credit; does the same apply to anything I'm working on?  Or anything I've played?  Like I said, I'm not proud of my response.  The people who were pressing me about this game are my friends.  And mostly doing research so far from my own that any conclusions they made about the game would be far, from my own as well.  But it got me thinking--I probably shouldn't be giving away my top tier ideas for free.  But if that's the case... then what's this blog for?

The off-the-cuff answer is that it's for the stuff that isn't about my work.  But I see myself as a pop culture scholar.  EVERYTHING is a potential work subject for me, so there's no line of demarcation there.  The other answer is that it's a place to work out ideas, which again, is fine.  But should I really be publishing half-baked ideas?  And it's a place for self-promotion--but that directly contradicts blog purposes 1 and 2.  Much as I try to make it something fun and interesting, the Bibliophile posts perform a service.  So do the academic book reviews.  In fact, so do the pop culture studies--the post on the Punisher still draws more hits than anything else on the blog.  But maybe it's time to think more in terms of the big picture, and what I want the blog to be--and what I want to be myself, for that matter.  And until I work that out, I think I'll keep this 6000 word rambling, at least, to myself.

Later Days.