May 31, 2003

Word Herders

Well, Word Herders - a blogging collective that some friends and I are starting - is coming together. As you can see, I have successfully imported my previous entries into the new MT installation. Now I have to set up MT for the other users, so we can all get back to herding words.

More on wordherders when I get a chance ;)

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May 26, 2003

Snapshot Day

Random picture day - inspiration, recent scrabble game, and a virtual Second Life stroll.

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May 23, 2003

Second Life

No, I'm not talking about all those who are graduating today from UMD, including several friends getting their PhDs in English (ah, inspiration!).

I'm talking about Second Life, the game in development by Linden Lab. Currently in beta test, this game may be what The Sims Online is not. I hope to get a beta account and provide some more details, but for now, check out their website and this article about it on Slate.

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May 22, 2003

Could Someone Hit Pause?

I just need a week or two to catch up on all the stuff being published, shared, and presented about games. Too many blogs, lists, and message boards, too little time. Thanks to Andrew Stern's thanking of "Greg Costikyan's latest post," I too just discovered the "intense" conversations on the DIGRA listserv, especially some fascinating debate on interactivity (list archives require registration).

Also tons of stuff on the Digital Arts and Culture conference blog, as well as news of the new Center for Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen.

/Edit/ To add, here is a good game.slashdot list of links to summaries of this year's e3. I followed some things, esp. Worlds of Warcraft, as well as news about Turbine (who won e3's best developer of the year award), but didn't get to follow the whole event. /End Edit/

/Edit #2/ Add yet another thing to watch on the list - looks like GrumpyGirl is setting up a collaborative, fictional blog - Exit Page Left. I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out. /End Edit #2/

Ditto to Andrew's statement: "Damn there's a lot to read on the web these days."

Meanwhile, on a personal note, I just accepted a position at the National Endowment for the Humanities in DC working on the Edsitement project, a collection of online humanities resources for K-12 teachers. I'm excited about the position, which not only strikes me as a natural extension of my continued work in applied humanities computing, but also will nicely alleviate the financial strain common to graduate study. Instead of trying to juggle a research assistantship, freelance web design, and occasional teaching gigs, I get to focus on only two jobs - the NEH and writing my dissertation (plus my family, but that's a pleasure, not a job). I just need to find out how to blog on the metro.

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May 21, 2003

They Saved the World... A Lot.

The final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired last night and in the midst of the final episode frenzy, a larger than usual number of articles were written about the show. I tended to avoid most of them, hoping desperately to skip the spoilers. Even so, I found out that some Scoobies would die (Anya did, which I guessed, but didn't know for certain, as did Spike, even though we know he will be back in some form for Angel next season) and that Buffy would not. The episode excelled, however, in that I finally felt like I saw a gleam of the old characters I had come to love - the humor, the mutual respect, the "That was nifty" understatements far outweighed the battle sequence in my mind.

Though I avoided most articles, I did read one on Salon that my friend "L" showed me: Why Spike ruined "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (you'll have to do the day subscription to get the entire article). With L's permission, I thought I would share some of our e-mail conversation about it, whereby I rant, and she speaks intelligently about coolness, attitudes, cyborgs, and monsters. My rant starts, followed by L's, and it switches back and forth. As a disclaimer, this conversation happened prior to the series finale, which added a great deal to some issues, and helped resolve others. (edit: I moved most of this into an extended entry)

---- J ----
Ok, getting beyond my initial slapdash response... I read the rest of the article.

I agree with some points - esp. about Kennedy (I don't understand that relationship at ALL). But Spike is a total misfit - almost a complete misfit. He's not a "cool punk" [edit: the argument from Salon guy] - he's a failed poet in a cool leather jacket. And he's ten times more interesting a character than Angel ever was while on Buffy - b/c his life is about choices, especially the bad ones. Of course he didn't apologize about Woods' mother - because even with a soul, Spike can be an asshole. He has one priority, and that is Buffy [edit: usually, i would argue, from a needy, selfish perspective]. Which makes him a little off, a little scary, and a little daft.

As to the reference [edit: again, ref. to Salon article] about his "beating women" - well, first, I hardly think that's set up as a good thing (not so "cool," as it were); second, it's not like he's beating on women who generally aren't beating on him as well. Buffy was as much an abuser of Spike as the other way around. Both are seriously messed up individuals, who use violence as a primary method of communication. None of these folk are real charmers, with the exception of Xander..

And I disagree about Andrew - even though I didn't like him at first, he draws out the geekiness (and our love for geeks) in almost every episode. We like when Dawn treats him nicely. We laugh when Spike shares a recipe with him on the motorbike. We chuckle when Xander reveals that he knows just as much Star Wars lore as Andrew does. But all of those people are embarrassed by these hidden things, while Andrew naively (rather than innocently) spills them - this is perhaps the show's BEST revelation about adulthood - about how we become ashamed of those things that we loved as children and teenagers. A turn away from the games and fantasies that we loved to engage and a turn towards the "horrors" of adult life. Not to mention the fact that his episode with the camera (can't remember the title) was actually one of the best of the season, despite the fact that I thought beforehand that it would be terrible.

What ruined Buffy is not Spike, but Buffy, who has never learned from her mistakes, who only just now learned to block, who every single season runs away from her friends rather than embracing them and - god forbid - asking their opinions with intent to listen. The article is right - Willow got a token relationship, Anya got nothing, Xander got a poke in the eye, and Giles turned into a prick - but this is Spike's fault?

Hardly. It's the writers. A shame too...

---- L ----

Wow, Jason... this is a blog entry, not an e-mail! Here's another Buffy bit for the day:

All Things Considered is doing a story on Buffy in academia today... website says it will be available online after 9 p.m. tonight.

I wish I had time to give this a proper response. Mostly I would say I agree with you. I like that the less cool parts of Spike are often played up... his lowly beginnings as bad poet for instance... and you're absolutely 100% right that he is way more interesting than Angel ever was... I never liked David Boreanz (sp?) or found the character all that interesting, and that's why I chose Alias over Angel this year when I had to make a choice. Spike has always been the antidote to the very bland, and badly acted, Angel.

To me, Spike (*not* Angel) has *always* problematized the line between those with and without souls, those who are human and those who are vampires (and thus slay-able). When Angel has a soul, he's human and compassionate and etc... when he doesn't, he's a vicious, unrepentant maniac who needs to be killed (and Buffy did have to kill him once of course)... his "humanity" rests on whether or not he has a "material" soul. But Spike is more-or-less the same guy, with or without the soul... as human, as vampire, with soul, without, he has a tendency to fall in love, hard, and his volatile emotionalism has always been his downfall (remember Druscilla, I would say to Salon guy, or how Spike's jealousy of Angel got him into trouble time and time again).

That the line is problematized is crucial to the show and what it makes it interesting, particularly in the last couple of years when the issue of what is good, what is evil, is so central to the development of the story arcs. And it's central to the last episode, which I thought was fantastic (but I'm still feeling blog-shy so I didn't post to your entry on it). The whole ethos of the show turned on a realization that to fight pure evil and unspeakable violence you can't use more evil and violence, or at least not terribly effectively. Thus the elaborate speeches of love, the sex scenes.... thus Buffy fighting by not fighting. I don't think she just suddenly remembered how to block punches... I think she realized that evil is the absence of love and human contact (even the First is jealous that it cannot experience those things, that scene a big deal I think, a big clue as to what is at stake)... so to fight violence, you do so nonviolently. All season long she has been going at this thing in a scary extreme version of what he's been doing for years... she's been calling herself "the law," she's been acting like a general, she's been training warriors, she's placed herself above everyone else because she is superior at committing violence. I think the last episode illustrated how wrong she was to approach it like that... it plays off the episode where she turned down the power offered her in exchange for a partial loss of her humanity. A little sappy, but there it is.

All that said, Salon guy is right I think about one thing... I have felt some real lost opportunities this season to fully explore what it means for Spike to deal with having a soul and being human... we have only had that in narratives and flashbacks with Angel, but here was a chance to watch a real struggle over what it is to be human, an embodiment really of the issues the gang has been dealing with the last two years since Buffy was resurrected... and I think that the overarching plot of the First so engulfed the show this year that the opportunity was lost.

Some thoughts...--L

---- J ----

Sorry I didn't reply to this earlier - got lost in the tangle... and all I really have to say is, ABSOLUTELY. Spot on.

The thing that I would add to the monster/human binary (complicated by Spike, maintained by Angel) is this: cyborg. Spike is the one who had a chip in his head for years, thus creating a triad of cybernetic behavioral control, soul(less)-desire, and monstrous hunger. At some point, Buffy says to Dawn, "I want you to stay away from Spike - he's dangerous, he's a vampire." Dawn says, "What about Angel - he's a vampire." Buffy: "Angel had a soul; Spike just has a chip." Dawn: "What's the dif?"

That to me signifies an important trend in the Buffy-verse conception of morality and behavior - a really fascinating complication of what measures humanity. Because it's not like most of the characters are not morally ambiguous - Cordelia and her selfish behavior (as the most simple, earliest form of high school "nastiness"), Willow and the "dark" arts, Oz and his werewolf coupling (with that other female werewolf), Xander and Willow's frisky-ness in season 2 (3?) which caused them to betray their lovers, Buffy's *violent* abuse against Spike and Spike's sexual abuse of Buffy. Xander leaving Anya at the altar.

What, then, makes Spike "the bad guy"? Physical teeth. Frumpy brow. Physical signs as much as demonstrated behavior, which is why The First (while tedious) is also a somewhat interesting character, because it abuses this notion of physical signs as indicators of righteousness or "goodness" - Caleb "the priest garb" Evil-boy is a prime example.

Hmm.. maybe we need to post this all as a collaborative (anonymous, if you like) blog entry.

---- L ----

EXCELLENT... I agree... loved that scene... I had forgotten about the chip. Interesting that without the chip and with a soul, it's still ok to beat the hell out of Spike. I have to think way more about the Buffy-verse and morality... not sure how coherent this will be...

At some point (season 3? season 4?) I started to question the distinction between good and evil continually evoked... kill demons?=good but kill humans?=evil... maybe it was the point at which the show Angel comes along and we start to get "good" demons portrayed... or maybe the body count of demons was getting so high that it just started to bother me. It's coming up again a lot lately now that Faith is back, as she is often the catalyst for moralizing.

Seems to me that if Spike, not Angel, is the nonhuman character who best embodies the contradiction of humanity... Faith might be his human counterpart. Like Buffy, she's a slayer, born to kill essentially (notice they are "slayers" and not something noble sounding like "protectors")... but she actually seems to both enjoy it *and* feel remorse about it (neither feeling do we get from Buffy, at least on the surface)... and Faith crosses that (somewhat arbitrary, somewhat comprehensible) line between killing demons and humans, which condemns her to a lower spot in the moral universe, beneath Buffy, just as Spike is continually relegated to a sub-Angel position.

Yes, you can post it if you like ;) Just sign me L though.

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May 20, 2003

Stop the Madness

Been a slow posting week or two (end of semester craziness, even though I'm "done" with coursework), but stay tuned - with the Matrix on my eyeballs (both film and game), the series finale of Buffy just hours away, and recent (offline) conversations about games and disciplinary boundaries, I'm bound to write something soon ;-)

One quick note: earlier I posted about Turbine (makers of Asheron's Call & Asheron's Call 2) taking on Middle Earth Online, a forthcoming MMoRPG. Well, they also signed on for Dungeons & Dragon's Online - forthcoming in 2005. I've always been fond of the AC 1 engine, feeling that the interface suited me much better than Everquest. I found AC2's engine beautiful, but hard on my system, which discouraged me a lot in game play, leading me to shelf my Tumerok Healer until I decided it was worth shelling out some clams for even more RAM. Since I've followed Turbine's development since AC was in beta, I'm very curious to see how things pan out with the derivative Middle Earth Online and D&DOnline, especially since original content has always been one of the central aspects of what I've liked about their work.

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May 13, 2003

Grand Text Auto on the Information Superhighway?

A new collaborative blog is in town: Grand Text Auto. Self-described:

grandtextauto is about computer mediated and computer generated works of many forms, including interactive fiction,, electronic poetry, interactive drama, hypertext fiction, computer games of all sorts, and shared virtual environments. The discussion, by people who all work as both theorists and developers in these forms, considers questions of authorship, design, and technology, as well as issues of interaction and reception.

The "drivers" are Michael Mateas, Nick Montfort, Stuart Moulthrop, Andrew Stern,
Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Read Andrew Stern's introduction.

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May 12, 2003

3 Stops on Today's Bus Ride of Design Fun:

1. Open Source Web Design - share your web designs for all to use... or find quick inspiration for that late project!

2. I ended up at No Symbols Where None Intended through Chuck's blog (I always look at blogs by people named Jason) and noticed that the blog changes colors over time. How cool.

3. Looking for a handy script, I came across A List Apart, self-described as "for people who make websites; from pixels to prose, coding to content." Some good reads and helpful tips there, including an article on coding to standards rather than to browsers, a recent hot topic at work.

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Middle Earth Online

I heard about this possibility sometime last year, but it looks as though Turbine Entertainment is officially on board for the development of Middle Earth Online [non-flash here], to be released sometime in 2004. The press release is in the extended entry, if you want to read it.

Turbine is known for Asheron's Call (aka AC: Dark Majesty after the expansion pack) and Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings. The first AC came out about 6 months after Everquest. While AC has never gained the popularity of Everquest (and its 400,000+ subscribers), I've always felt it to be a more enjoyable game. I'm a long time AC player - I beta tested the game and still play my first retail character: Rasselas, now a level 81 archer/enchanter. Rasselas was born in November 1999 and I played him for quite some time before realizing that I had a gimped character on my hands. I created a new character - a swordswinger focuses on finding the Sword of Lost Light (now, about as valuable as a toothpick) - and played her (yes, a female character) for some months before changes in the AC game system allowed me to tweak Ras enough to make him a viable competitor. He's never been "uber," but playable was all I wanted.

One of AC's hooks for me is the monthly updates - every single month the Live Team develops the story a little bit more, very much a serial video game. While not exactly Dickens, AC has provided some really interesting characters. Rare are static Good vs. Evil typologies so typical in a fantasy setting; usually the characters are somewhere in between, whether they be the tormented and mad Martine, a human who was experimented on by the mysterious Virindi, or Asheron himself, whose choices always create a bit of suspicion in my mind.

Since Turbine creates such wonderful, original material, I'm curious how they will fare with adaptation. Licensed material is getting an online shot-in-the-arm: where would you prefer your playground - in Middle Earth or in Star Wars Galaxies?

--- Press Release [ from ]----
LOS ANGELES, May 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Vivendi Universal Games, Inc. (VU Games) announced today that it has entered into a production agreement with
Turbine Entertainment Software Corp. to develop "Middle-Earth Online," a massively multiplayer (MMP) game to launch in 2004. The game will be developed as part of VU Games' long-term agreement with Tolkien Enterprises to create interactive entertainment based on J.R.R. Tolkien's epic novel "The
Lord of the Rings."
The 3D role-playing game (RPG) will immerse players in the Middle-earth
world where they will choose their identities from a cast of archetypal Tolkien characters, form kinships, build race-specific dwellings, explore the landscape, craft unique items and weapons, and perform myriad other activities to bring the world-renowned fantasy realm to life.
"We are extremely excited to be working with a world-class developer like Turbine. Their track record and proven expertise in building, launching, and supporting massively multiplayer games is exceptional, making them the right
partner for a franchise as beloved and well-known as J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings,'" said Jim Wilson, EVP Product Development, Vivendi Universal Games. "Together, our goal will be to bring the vision and spirit of the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien to life in 'Middle-Earth Online.'" More information about "Middle-Earth Online" can be found at .
About Turbine Entertainment Software Corp.
Turbine Entertainment Software Corp., headquartered in Westwood, Massachusetts, is a pioneer in the design and production of massively multiplayer (MMP) games. Turbine's first MMP game was the award-winning
Asheron's Call(R). Turbine recently completed work on the G2 Engine as seen
in Asheron's Call(R) 2 this year. This groundbreaking technology and Turbine's commitment to shipping quality games on schedule continues to strengthen Turbine's position at the forefront of MMP gaming.
About Vivendi Universal Games
Headquartered in New York, Vivendi Universal Games ( ) is a global leader in multi-platform interactive entertainment. A leading
publisher of PC, console and online-based interactive content, Vivendi Universal Games' portfolio of development studios includes Black Label Games, Blizzard Entertainment, Coktel, Fox Interactive, Knowledge Adventure, NDA Productions, Sierra Entertainment and Universal Interactive. Through its Partner Publishing Group, Vivendi Universal Games also co-publishes and/or distributes interactive products for a number of strategic partners, including Crave Entertainment, Interplay, Majesco, Mythic Entertainment and Simon & Schuster, among others.
(C) 2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Asheron's Call is a
registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or
other countries.

SOURCE Vivendi Universal Games, Inc.
Web Site:

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May 9, 2003


Neal Stephenson's new book, Quicksilver, has a release date of September 23. As reported on Slashdot.

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May 7, 2003


A&E's wonderful Biography series tackles... Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

As a good friend would say: "Life writing, J, life writing..."

For you Buffy fans, the show premieres: Wednesday, May 14 @ 8pm ET/PT

On a side note, I was *incredibly* pleased last night when Buffy actually behaved as though she knew what the word "defense" meant. Let's hear it for blocking and dodging. Only two more episodes left. Woe.

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Salam Pax is back

Looks like Salam Pax is back online, but posting through a friend.

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May 6, 2003

Humor is... despair refusing to take itself seriously. -- Arland Ussher

Occasionally I come across a website that just causes me to LOL. Not always a good thing when in a cube farm (it tends to draw attention), but sometimes it can't be helped.

Case in point, the Demotivators Calendar, part of, which mocks the artistry of Corporate Can-Do Attitudes.

Two of my favorites (not from the 2003 calendar, but past entries of

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