April 28, 2003

Col. Mustard, in the blog, with a keyboard

One of my favorite games of all time is Clue, the "classic whodunit game!" Some people who know me may have heard me angrily mutter under my breath "Col. Mustard with the lead pipe on 495" after a driver cut me off, or "Prof. Plum with the rope in the seminar room" during a frustrating class lecture. I loved this game enough that it became part of my anger management process.

Not only did I have the board game and rent the film more times than it was healthy (you needed to watch at least 3 times for the 3 different endings!), but I also had the Clue VCR Mystery Game (1985), which allowed you to adopt one of the characters as your own while you watched several mysteries play themselves out on the television. Each game (there were several on the tape) allowed you to not only guess "whodunit" but also what characters your (real-life) opponents represented. The acting was terrible, of course, but this was popular "interactive fiction" of 1985, alongside the Choose Your Own Adventure books (the first of which was published in 1979).

So New York Times reports that a Dungeons and Dragons -style DVD - Scourge of Worlds: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure is forthcoming. No, this is not the flash-in-the-pan movie, but a "roleplaying" experience, where you guide your character through a series of choices in order to come to one of four conclusions. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure on DVD. The creator says:

"This is a hybrid," said Dan Krech, president of DKP Effects. "We want to bridge the gap between a video game, a movie and the Internet."

I'm surprised by what seems a backwards approach to developing "interactive fiction" - DVD technology for gameplay does not measure up to the possibilities afforded by a gaming system or a computer. While DVD players might serve well enough for a game like Dragon's Lair and other Laser Disk-style games (in other words, 1980's "one-button" games), the richness of RPGs like Neverwinter Nights will certainly overshadow such a hybrid. After all, who likes to play a game with a remote control?

Right now I'm working on an abstract for a paper I would like to present at Digital Games Research (DIGRA) 2003 Conference (full call available here; abstracts due May 1). My working title is "All Thumbs? Ergonomics, Materiality, and Gameplay" - I want to talk about a specific component of gameplay: ergonomics. I've brought this up briefly before and have been thinking about this since Geoffery Rockwell gave a guest lecture at MITH about gaming. He proposed a rhetorical approach to game interactions (he was mostly speaking of text-based adventure games); when asked during the Q&A about ergonomics, he said that he thought he would leave that for the computer scientists (not a direct quote, but close). The implication was that the body was for science and representations of the body were for the humanities. Ever since, I've been working through this idea of ergonomics and gameplay - how do input devices affect our sense of play, or sense of immersion? How important is the material component of a controller or even a book to our playing or reading practices? [side note: I noticed that one of the articles listed in the Video Game Theory Reader is titled "Stories for Eye, Ear, and Muscles:Video Games, Media, and Embodied Experiences," by Torben Grodal. I'm anxious to see what it says.]

All of this points to the idea that various media have specific methods through which users/watchers/players/readers "interact" (that word again); these methods are based in part on the material conditions of the work. I agree with Matt - the "M-word" just doesn't cut it anymore. Material conditions are an implicit part of our critical vocabulary (ok, I think they should be anyway) - now we need specifics. The current battle, at least in video game studies, is a disciplinary one (which is, of course, inherently political). Christopher Douglas recently summarized many of the discussions currently at play in the field (at least from a humanities point of view), so I don't feel the need to draw up a complete history. I would like to emphasize what I believe are three key ideas implicit in the development of game study as a genre:

1. To paraphrase Stanley Fish, being interdisiplinary is hard. Games are indisciplinary, which means they not only draw from many disciplines, they generally require many disciplinary approaches to understand them. The current battle over whether or not narrative, film, rhetoric or other approaches are *the* approach is somewhat moot. The answer is, of course, that they are useful in their own way, but must be stated with the understanding that they are but part of the (undefined) whole. Why does this need to be said?

2. Because many of the battles waged over the "new-ness" of the field and the proper disciplinary approach have as much to do with creating or maintaining political boundaries as anything else. Claiming a "new" genre as part of one's own discipline emphasizes the importance of that discipline. Likewise, by claiming that games are outside of current disciplinary realms, one carves out a space for games not only intellectually, but politically. The "new" requires new departments, new journals, and new financial support. But one must also be careful in separating the "old" from the "new" - in claiming the new-ness, there is implicit danger in ignoring the historicity of the subject. Games, in other words, were not born from a vacuum, nor are the theories used to describe and investigate them. Which leads to:

3. Methodology and theory are not the same thing. An important follow-up: theory written in stone is no longer a theory. So what's the point? I think we should be less concerned about seperating ourselves from former theories (narratology, film, or whatever) in the study of games and more concerned about how games revolutionize our thinking about older media. We also need to pay strict attention to and even emphasize the importance of our methodology (Aarseth, for example, clearly draws from narratology, just as Manovich draws from film), rather than trying to distance ourselves from the weight of previous theory. The importance of games comes not only from their "new-ness" but mainly from their ability to help us reshape conceptions of so-called "older" media, reformulate previous (and always incomplete) theories, and increase interdisciplinary rigor - all necessary components as creations, memes, characters, themes and stories permeate the weave of media.

Case in point, Games to Film Frenzy, an article I found following a link from Klaptrup's Cataclysms, lists about 20 games that are in various stages of development as film projects. I've been tempted to name the first decade of the 21st century "Revenge of the Geeks" as I look around to see the popularity of comic book characters and games in film work, while shows like Buffy and Angel (in my mind at least) continue to put out some of the best writing on television. In other words, the mutant, the freak, the supernatural, the superhero - in short, the realms of the "geek" (a proud title, in my mind) - prevail. Reading over the list, however, I'm not sure many of the films will do much better than Super Mario Bros. or Mortal Kombat.

In the midst of all this media convergence talk, I'm most excited about the forthcoming Matrix titles. Both the film The Matrix Reloaded and the game Enter the Matrix are released on May 15th. As the game's website states: "This game isn?t just set in the Matrix universe ? it?s an integral part of the entire Matrix experience, weaving in and out of the highly anticipated 2nd installment in the film trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded." A recent issue of PC Gamer reported that the game cost some $30 million in production. The collaboration between game makers and film makers resulted in a series in which a character might exit the frame in the film only to enter a frame in the game.

I suspect that it is in the storyboard stage that we will begin to see true convergence, where the material condition (the mechanics, or the engine) helps shape the overall story progression. More than just the difference between cut scenes (the section of the game that is usually more like film), I see this as active choice - how do we tell a story *best* using as many media as possible? Not just remediation - game to film (or, in the case of Clue, board game to film and VHS game) - but rather a co-mediation. A term such as convergence can be misleading, however, and so this bears repeating: the materiality (the "M" word) - meaning the interface, the physical manifestations of print, screen, and performance, and even the ergonomics - will serve as crucial aids in understanding the current and developing media ecology and our relationship to it.


The Dragon Lair's Project has more information on laser disk games.

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April 24, 2003

Oh, to be accepted

Just got word that a conference panel on multiplayer gaming that I co-authored with D. Synder was accepted for aoirtoronto: broadening the band. The conference runs October 16-19. The AoIR (association of internet researchers) maintains a very active listserv - great for people interested in that sort of thing.

P.S. I'll get back on the Materiality conversation after the weekend (in response to George's comment below).

P.P.S. George sent me a nice read on the local Kansas City comic scene.

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April 22, 2003

Link and Run

quick entry: a great source for MovableType Help.

More coming later concerning a great conversation about New Media, interaction, and materiality over at George's.

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April 21, 2003

Nebula and Hugo Awards

Alas, another quick "link and run," but as reported by slashdot, the winners of the 2002 Nebula Awards and the nominees of the 2003 Hugo Awards.

Neil Gaiman's book American Gods won the Nebula best novel (I read this a while back and thought it was a fine read, but I was not overwhelmed by it). Of course, Gaiman is perhaps best known for his Sandman series.

I was pleased to see that the Buffy season 7 episode "Conversations with Dead People" was nominated for the Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Category. This was an amazing episode co-written by Jane Espenson (one of my favorite scriptwriters) & Drew Goddard.

Sadly, Buffy ends May 20. I will wear black.

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April 18, 2003

Video Game Theory Reader

from Matt:

Video Game Theory Reader

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April 16, 2003

Hands On Gaming

Check out the new P5 glove by Essential Reality.

I've long held an interest in the role of the body not just as a textualized, abstracted entity, but as a physical materiality in relation to media objects. In other words, I'm entranced by how we react to media objects - how we read, watch films, play games. What does our body actually do, and how do media objects help form habits, manipulate our bodies, and so on (Hayles might call these "incorporating practices"). I'm interested in all sort of reading, writing, watching, playing performances - interactions. The P5 reminds me of that failed Nintendo product of the 90s - the Power Glove. Hopefully, the P5 will fair better.

Lest we forget other fun game peripherals: the Nintendo Power Pad!

From the Power Pad instruction manual (source):

"Persons with heart, respiratory, back and joint problems, or high blood pressure or under a physician's direction to restrict activity should not use the Power Pad without a physician's advice. Pregnant women should not use. Serious personal injury can result."
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April 14, 2003

Geek Alert

BBC reports a new study on Everquest - "Breaking the Stereotype: The Case of Online Gaming" - reveals that gamers aren't all geeks.

Thank goodness. Never know what geekiness might do to my nerd status.

Demographic statistics listed in the article:

Its key findings included:

Over 60% of players were older than 19.

About 85% of players were male.

Fifteen percent of people play for more than 50 hours a week.

A "significant minority" (15%) adopt a character gender opposite to their own.

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Power Up: computer games, ideology and play

Of interest to the game research community:

Power Up: computer games, ideology and play

You are invited to participate in a two day seminar on Computer Games
Ideology and Play on July 14th ? 15th 2003 in Bristol UK.

Please see our call for papers below. There will be approx 20 papers or
presentations (of a 20 minute duration) over the two days. We anticipate an
audience of 40 delegates, the event will be single strand ?round table? with
plenty of room for exchange and interaction.

Abstracts and RSVPs should be submitted by Fri 16 May ? notification will be
at the start of June. Please also send expressions of interest if you wish
to participate but not to formally present.

The cost of the symposium will be £100.00 , to include lunches and one
evening meal, but excluding accommodation. Accommodation will be booked
separately by delegates ? notification of locations will follow
confirmation of your place.

Please reply by email to Helen Kennedy

Power-Up: call for papers

New theoretical frameworks and approaches are needed to study computer
games. These games are at once new media, new technological forms, and new
activities with distinct positions within everyday life. Yet, computer games
circulate within existing economic, cultural, technological and social
networks and forces that underpin the contemporary world. As such their
study offers unique insights into emerging relationships of consumption,
play, new media technologies and structures of social and economic power.

The Play Research Group within the School of Cultural Studies at the
University of the West of England in Bristol invites you to explore the
implications and possibilities for studying games and play as part of a
changing world and its power structures. The symposium will be organised to
maximise the possibilities for debate ? there will be a limited number of
papers, workshops on specific issues and debates, and the space (and
provisions) for the convivial and informal exchange of ideas. We encourage
submissions of abstracts for papers, proposals for panels, workshops,
suggestions for posters or online / interactive presentations of ideas and
research. The symposium will be of interest to those concerned with playful
popular culture or new media in general and not only with computer games.

The symposium will address and explore ?ideology? as a contentious and
contested term, and will use it to focus on key issues in the study of
computer games and play:

? How might we rethink relationships of production: for example, the
production of computer games through modding networks or differences to a
similarities with other forms of a global cultural production?

? How do we understand the consumption of computer games? As everyday lived
and embodied practices of play? Do they invite us into cyberspace ? Are we
participating in a commercial ?liminoid? cultural economy? offering an
illusion of escape or transgression from everyday life ? Or are we
participants in a psychological or cultural ?third space? - at once part of
and separate from the real world?

? What are the politics of gameplay? How do we theorise its interactive
dynamics? For example: is the relationship between player and game rules
analogous to the relationship between subject and cultural order? Are we
playing with the rules?

? How are power relationships encoded within games, and how are they
challenged, or played with? Is the player ever more fully interpellated by
dominant social forces, or can games and gameplay offer any ideology
critique ? any knowledge, or mapping, of the power structures and dynamics
of the world today?

The list below indicates some possible headings for contributions ? these
are suggestions only:
- subversive pleasures
- playing by the rules
- rethinking ?effects?, effecting thinking.
- cheating
- the politics of simulation
- neoliberalism and interactivity
- allegories of information
- cybernetic play: control or communication?
- commodified play: theorising the liminoid
- technological imaginaries
- games as critical discourse, games as art
- talking power: the status of ideological critique in Cultural and Media
Studies today

Abstracts (200 words) or expressions of interest by May 16 to

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April 11, 2003

Angry Robot

I'm feeling increasingly compelled to formally name Angry Robot. "Who?" you ask.


My wife gave me Angry Robot about 2 years ago - I think he might have been a toy from a Happy Meal (so many layers in that already). His head actually spins. On the one side, you get Angry Robot, with the requisite angry red face, frowning triangular mouth and arching, indignant brows. He's the one that routinely sits on my desk, glaring, his mental voice bubble loudly proclaiming "Type your dissertation, Fool!" while he shakes his mobile fist (it really does move).

Oddly his other face, which you might have expected to be a smiling, encouraging face, is actually green (as in Go!), with a straight line for a mouth, and slightly 0-ed eyes. Usually, I have this face to the wall, because that's where it seems to want to look. This side is clearly cowed by Angry Robot and only offers a slight shrug, mental bubble saying "He's right, you know." Resigned Robot (or, occasionally, Mundane, Get a Backbone Robot) is somehow more depressing that his rambunctious counterpart. Thus, the face to the wall.

Somehow, they seem like an unlikely conjoined twin replica of Nick Hornby's two side-kick characters from High Fidelity - Dick and Barry. We might remember Dick as the guy who got pushed around a lot, who was quiet, not quite sad but simply ... mundane (in the movie version, he's the one who ended up with Darlene Conner from Roseanne). Barry was the jerk who screamed at customers. Somehow, I'm not sure Barry has quite the *oomph* that Angry Robot deserves in a name. Resigned Robot - he seems fine with the name he has. Of course, he wouldn't say otherwise.

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Social Software

Belated post of a great list of links by Liz Lawley on "social software." Like Jill, I wonder if "social software" is the term I've been needing - although not so much in terms of blogs, but rather MMoRPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games)?

(and, as an aside, here's hoping that trackback works. I'm still figuring that out :-| ... while we're on the subject, how do you get the "permalink" to show up in your entry links - anyone know?)

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April 10, 2003

"interactive" books

Pop-up and Movable Books [and a related site]

I suspect an overlooked genre when discussing "interactive" fiction... hopefully more links soon.

History of the Book, interesting links:

Is it a book?, part of The Book Arts Web

Super cool! TouchGraph GoogleBrowser V1.01 - Find out where you are in the Netaverse! (it's amazing the stuff you come across when researching)

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Ghosts of Albion

Ah, the internet is a dangerous place, especially when one should be writing ... imagine my dismay (and my hour long procrastination session) when I came across Ghosts of Albion, a BBC animated webcast written by Amber Benson (alas, Buffy fans recognize her as our dearly departed "Tara") and Christopher Golden and animated by Cosgrove Hall.

Set in 19th Century England, siblings Tamara (a writer) and William (architect's apprentice) Swift discover that their grandfather's profession as a stage magician was cover for a hidden legacy - mystical protector of Albion (huh? you ask - ancient name for England, i reply).

Equally fascinating to me is Tamara's Diary, where you can read more backstory and even help solve clues. While I haven't had much time to read through this section, it highlights a significant interest for me - world-building, or the process through which we create a dynamic, believable world system. Faulkner was a master at this, as was someone like Tolkien. I'm fascinated, for example, by Faulkner's inclusion of the map of Jefferson, the Genealogy, and the Chronology in Absalom. These apparent "historical artifacts" work in direct contrast to the intricate negotiations and complications that Faulkner weaves throughout the "main" text itself; they are a comment on the act of making history and (I believe) not addendums but rather a crucial part of what we call Absalom.

More and more we see instances where writers, artists, (etc) employ a variety of media and perspectives in order to create the illusion of a complex world system. Comic books have been doing this for a while - weaving art, word, and overlapping superhero titles to maintain a constant sense of universe (unless, of course, you read competing publishers - not sure I've ever heard of Batman running into Spidey). In fact, a few recent comic books play on this idea.Alias (not the TV show) is about a former "power" - Jessica Jones - who decides that she just doesn't dig the superhero gig, so she becomes a private detective instead. Set in the Marvel Universe, she negotiates the power system of the tractional police departments (who dislike her because she's a PI and a former "power") and the elite superheroes (a club she used to belong to) - so you watch her get brushed off (or interrogated) by the police as well as the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, etc. She acts as a conduit through which we view the Marvel-verse; since Jones rests on the margins of these various power groups, she acts as the seam that stitches these worlds together.

Another semi-meta comic book is Powers, published by Image Comics and written by Brian Michael Bendis (who also writes Alias, as well as some Daredevil and Ultimate Spiderman) and Michael Oeming. Two cops (one a former "Power" - a superhero) are Homicide, Powers Division, investigating crimes of the superpowers who are, in this world, much more like pop stars. Again, we read at the seams, and while the powers are all original (not set in a Marvel-verse, or DC-verse), this book seems much more meta to me - commenting on the fandom of superpowers (and comic books) and the function of media in society. Not to mention some pretty great writing.

How did I get here? Comics have been on the brain, since a friend - D - lent me issues from Powers, Alias, Ultimate Spiderman, and Daredevil (the last of which I haven't read yet). I felt the need to brush up on my comic lore base on my interests in the intersections of various media - print, art, film, and so on. Not to mention the fact that I collected as a kid and wanted to revive my interest without paying $3 an issue. Matt lent me the first four issues of Global Frequency, which chronicles a network of agents that save the world from a variety of (often cybernetic-style) dangers. The premise is interesting, although I think that the issues suffer from compactness - they force an entire story into one comic, which doesn't leave too much room for dynamic development, whereas a traditional arc for one of Bendis' comics is about four or five books.

Back to world-building - I think this fits into a couple of schemes, one of which is marketing. Consider, for example, the strategy of a popular film of 1999 - The Blair Witch Project. I first encountered this film on the internet, not in the theater. The so-called "paratextual" (paravisual?) of the Blair Witch project is what helped it achieve such commercial success. Combined with the pseudo-documentary nature of the film, the "world" of the Blair Witch was so convincing as to drive people to call the University of Maryland for more information (by the way, there is no Maryland University - tricky tricky). Marketing or no, the success rests on the sense of verisimilitude that seems to be the ultimate goal of world-building - create a logical structure whereby even the unexplained - or the unmentioned - can be accounted for in some fashion (incidentally, lots of fan fiction is born out of such openings; yet another wealth of material to study and explore).

The failure of the follow-up film - Book of Shadows - destroys this verisimilitude by documenting the very act that we - as audience - enact during the first film. We already were terrorized by following the "documentary" - watching others do the same is less exciting (aside from the fact that BoS was simply mundane) and actually divorces us from our initial sense of participation. We *watch*, in other words, our role as "movie watcher" in BoS, whereas in the original we felt as though we were in the act of archival discovery - we *played* the role of "movie watcher".

I think this same sense of discovery (a game, perhaps?) is what interests me in books such as Danielewski's House of Leaves or Nabakov's Pale Fire. Incidentally, if anyone happens to have some version of Danielewski's HoL as distributed on the internet prior to its release in print, I would very much like to see a copy (for research purposes, of course - I already own two copies of the book ;-) ). I *really* would love to get my hands on the limited release "Full Color" version, complete with braille (if it even exists - has anyone seen it?).

Final thought re: world building - I'm waiting in great anticipation for the next installment of The Matrix - both in its film and game incarnations. Talk about an expansive world both in media - film, comic, anime, game, text - and in imagination.

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April 9, 2003

Game as art, game as criticism, game as activism.

Last night, I drove up to Baltimore to see Alex Galloway give a presentation at the Maryland Institute College of Art as a part of their New Media Forum series. Galloway is the former Director of Content and Technology @ rhizome and co-founder of Radical Software Group (RSG), the group developing Carnivore.

Galloway's talk was advertised as "How to Hack Multiplayer Games," a procedure that would lead to what he called "game remixing." Still very much a work in progress (he admitted that hacking the games was turning into more of a chore than he had thought it would), this notion of game remixing is a combination of "mod" creation and world collision. The example Galloway provided was a mod he created using the Half-Life game engine. The level was a multicolored explosion room - you wandered around with your crowbar (the basic "weapon" in Half-Life), slamming it against the floor and wall to create explosions of light and sound. Ultimately, Galloway and his collaborators want to create a scenario whereby several games of Half-Life intersect with one another (perhaps running a variety of mods?) - several large, intersecting, performative avatar spaces.

Since this notion of "game remixing" is still very much a work in progress, Galloway spent most of his time discussing projects already (or almost) completed. Perhaps his best known work is Carnivore. RSG adapted a network surveillance tool used by the intelligence community. RSG's Carnivore listens to network traffic and then filters the data through artist-built clients, creating effects that range from splashes of color and code to animations of graffiti I personally liked Jonah Brucker-Cohen's "Police State" client, which takes flagged data (such as catch words associated with terrorism), coverts it into the appropriate police code, and transmits it in binary as commands to control several little remote control police cars.

Here's a snip from Brucker-Cohen's website:

PoliceState is a Carnivore client that attempts to reverse the surveillance role of law enforcement into a subservient one for the data being gathered. The client consists of a fleet of 20 radio controlled police vehicles that are all simultaneously controlled by data coming into the main client. The client looks for packet information relating to domestic US terrorism. Once found, the text is then assigned to an active police radio code, translated to its binary equivalent, and sent to the array of police cars as a movement sequence. In effect, the data being "snooped" by the authorities is the same data used to control the police vehicles. Thus the police become puppets of their own surveillance. This signifies a reversal of the control of information appropriated by police by using the same information to control them.

What is fascinating to me in this piece is the distinction between the "engine" (Carnivore), the "client" (Police State), and the "performance" (on of any installations of Police State, the result of which depends on the network traffic intercepted) - how might these be used to investigate other media objects? I can think of one necessary addendum to the list - the "record" of the event, which in this case manifests in a variety of ways: still images, films, verbal (spoken and written) descriptions. Which leads to a perhaps not-so-new but still intriguing question - how do we talk about an object composed of multiple nodes? How do we track the development of such an object and discuss it in critical terms? I'm thinking personally of the difficulty in tracking an online game like Asheron's Call - thousands of players (though still quite a bit fewer than Everquest), thus multiple performances. The engine remains somewhat static, although the performance within that engine constantly stretches, breaks, bends, manipulates those rules. The client itself is manipulated through a variety of methods, either by "skinning" the client, or by using any number of client add-ons through (in AC's case) the Decal project. The engine and the client, combined, help set the rules of engagement - and I believe that one can make a case for a descriptive language of this (in fact, some have, and it's what I'm writing my dissertation on) without falling into a structuralist trap of determined meaning. In other words, the performance - of reading, of playing, of artfully bashing like in Galloway's Half-Life mod - is manipulated and limited by the engine and the client, but (like reading) this does not result in one type of performance or interpretation.

Enough of my aside - some more things from the talk that I'll lay out quickly, hopefully with time to discuss them in more detail later (clearly, Galloway sparked quite a few ideas in my head).

Other things Galloway shared:

MTAA's "Simple Net Art Diagram" which aims to demonstrate the belief that the artistic act happens in the process - in the wires:

A quotation from conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (Googled: from "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Published in ArtForum, 1967), emphasizing the importance of the framework - the machine - over the performance:

"In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."

Low Level All-Stars DVD - a collection of video graffiti from the Commodore 64 computer. Rad.

Also included: Galloway's "How to Win" - a transcription score and video documentation (of his fingers, not the screen) of every level from Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers; "2x2" - a modified Gameboy game displaying video feed broken down into 4 pixels total (thus, 2x2); Cory Archangel's Nintendo Mods; and "WYSIWYG" - Galloway's code-front project.

Final comment - my title says "Game as criticism." While I was watching the presentation, I kept thinking of how we do and can use games as methods of interpretation and criticism, such as Natalie Bookchin's version of Borges' "The Intruder." More on this in a bit - my morning freewrite has accidently colonized my afternoon writing session.

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April 8, 2003

Fox News: A History?

Other amusing looks at Fox News' "History" available here.

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Want a phobia?

Pick one on the list. Not graphophobia - that one's mine.

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Staying in to play

John Paul Bichard announced his new project "Staying in to play" on the digiplay list today. Here's a clip of the description:

Bichard is developing a 3D video game environment during his 90 day on-line residency at the variablemedia.org site. Regular visitors will see the environment, structure and functionality of the game mutate and modify, towards an indeterminate end.

I took a brief glance this morning and was struck by two things. First, I was amazed at the environment (basic as it was) delivered by Shockwave. Once the world begins to mutate, I'm looking forward to examining this in more detail - will Shockwave allow an easily designable (I'm not sure how easily it was done) virtual world?

Second - it was empty. I only had a few minutes, but I wandered the mountains, hoping to spy something aside from the glorious green plume that marked my entrance point. No such luck - so I'll be checking back over the next few days to see how the world develops. I wonder if they are using some sort of tracking software to monitor the developments, or if, like many virtual worlds, the cleanliness and sparseness of the "new" disappears under the press of virtual bodies, towns, and homes.

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April 7, 2003

Agonist a Plagiarist?

For the past few weeks, I have woken up, pounded out a few paragraphs of free writing, made some coffee, and then turned my attention to things global as I enjoy my first few sips. Usually, my morning reads include The Agonist, a site I've mentioned before on my blog. What was so wonderful about The Agonist is that I could sit down and read a combination of news sources about the day's events in Iraq. Generally, I saw a variety of viewpoints and it was much easier to digest than the 7CS (7 Click Spectrum of news agencies on coming through the TV cable box). And more than once, I wondered, how is The Agonist doing it?

In part, apparently, by copying directly from a privately owned intelligence service, as reported by Wired.

More thoughts on this later.

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I misplaced an hour somewhere. If you happen to see it, perhaps sitting lonesome and sorrowful in the lost and found box in a department store, could you retrieve it for me? Or at least let it know that I miss it?

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April 4, 2003

First thought that popped into my head this morning:

If there is magical realism, are we shifting to technological naturalism? I'm thinking here of a variety of works, none necessarily "science fiction" per se, because of the contemporaneous nature of the writing (side note: has science fiction become historical fiction?). The most substantial example that comes to mind immediately is Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" - his history of early computing during World War 2 combined with a late 90s push to build a data haven. No Case's here, no Hiro Protagonists who virtualize, but plenty of cowboys with carpal tunnel and a laptop. Cyberspace juxtaposed with physical geography, "black ice" becomes trapped mountains that get hacked to boil forth beautiful gold, vivid descriptions of jail cells (confinement), bowel movements, physical punishment and torture. The danger of surveillance, the government, and multinational corporations replace (or at least exist alongside of) unfeeling, manipulating determinism. Survival of the fittest? Scary ex-roomates (Andrew Loeb always struck as a bizarre mutation of Marcus Schouler from Norris' McTeague) or ex-partners as certain foes.

And always, always, always, the media mind, the telemarketers' meme, the ubiquity of technology. Who needs nano when we have omnipresent?

Why is this even coming to mind? I've been struck lately by a shift (or perhaps just an attribute, depending) I've seen in some writers I follow. Cyberpunk is in some ways a historical "now" - subdued, current, but still, in lay person's terms, far out, unbelievable (Gibson's Pattern Recognition, for example or Stephenson again - the difference between Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon is telling). All of it leading you to ask - that's not possible now... is it? Echelon, Russian mafia, global travel, online love, arrows and land mines, submarines and sub-mountainous gold?

Other possibilities for inclusion, off the top of my head: Delillo's "White Noise"; Ellis' "American Psycho";

Maybe: Richard Powers' "Plowing the Dark" (less naturalism, more realism?); Tad Williams "Otherland"

There must be others in this vein. I had some in mind, but promptly forgot. Definitely time for morning coffee.

Edit: Possible film inclusions: PI ; Fight Club (haven't read the novel)

Posted by Jason at 8:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack