June 26, 2003


Nooface - news about the "post PC interface" [via Matt]

Posted by Jason at 1:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Laugh it up, fuzzball.

Ever want to be a wookie?

Now you can - Star Wars Galaxies launches today.

As if I needed another temptation. Do I dare to answer the call of "research"?

Posted by Jason at 10:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 25, 2003

It's the end of the world as we know it...

and I feel fine.

Well, it's not really the end of the world, but you might enjoy this article about how prevalent Doomsday prophesies are nowadays. Somehow, I think the Jetsons version of the future might have been lost in the shuffle:

We're All Gonna Die! But it won't be from germ warfare, runaway nanobots, or shifting magnetic poles. A skeptical guide to Doomsday.

Posted by Jason at 11:03 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 24, 2003

Level Up Conference Fees

Well, I just looked at the conference registration fees for Level Up - the student rate of 80 euros (approx $92 US) is only for BA and MAs. The fees for PhD students - 250 euros (that's after joining DiGRA for 30 euros). That translates to about $290 US (plus the $40 or so for joining DiGRA).

The conference dinner is another 60 euros (around $70 US?) on top of that. So, total just for registration is around or just below $400?

I'm really curious - do PhD students make more in Europe than they do in the US? Does that seems to be a lot of money for conference fees to anyone else, or am I just behind the times? Do European PhD students get travel and conference funds?

I think we can apply for a one-time $300-400 travel grant in my Dept., but with those fees, that means all other expenses - airfare, hotel, food, etc - are straight out of pocket. Ikes.

Note: Realizing that tone of voice is difficult to discern at times, I am asking these questions with sincerity... I'm really curious what kind of support is offered to other grad students both in and out of the US.

Posted by Jason at 9:38 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Pixels for Sale

As several other gaming-related blogs have mentioned (as thus, here for my own archives), a fascinating article: Edward Castranova's The Price of 'Man' and 'Woman': A Hedonic Pricing Model of Avatar Attributes in a Synthethic World.

(by the way, I have a nice virtual bridge I'll let go - cheap!)

Posted by Jason at 6:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 23, 2003


Just found out that my paper - All Thumbs? Ergonomics, Materiality, and Gameplay - was accepted for the Level Up conference sponsored by Digra (check out the program). Now I just need to, um, save money for a plane ticket to the Netherlands. And, um, to the a(o)ir conference in toronto (blogged about earlier here.) Hmm.

Oddly, I haven't received written notice - I just saw that GrandTextAuto posted that the conference proceedings were up, so I looked for my name.

Posted by Jason at 4:21 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 20, 2003

embodied interaction

found a review of a book - Paul Dourish. Where the Action is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. MIT/Triliteral, 2001. - at PURSE LIP SQUARE JAW by
Anne Galloway
(an interesting blog in itself that I found while rummaging through some folks' blogrolls)

Seems to be in line with ideas I want to work through regarding the body's role in (so-called) "interactivity".

So many books to read... and Harry Potter just might get in the way of it all.

Posted by Jason at 5:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

PS2 for Two?

games.slashdot poses a good question - what games are fun to play with your spouse that are cooperative rather than competitive?

Lisa and I noticed this difficulty a while back, so this is as much for personal future reference as anything else (once we both finish The Matrix ... in all that free time we have).

Posted by Jason at 2:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Citation Machine

No longer can your students claim they did not know the proper citation guidelines. Meet the Citation Machine.

Posted by Jason at 1:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 19, 2003

Joining the Hokey-Pokey (or, Putting My Left Foot In)

I'm hoping that we can dig deeper into this discussion of the difference between textual interpretation and operation, all of which seems to be attempts for us to grapple with this always present and rarely (well)defined concept of interactivity (with a book, a poem, a board game, a film, or a computer game). In some respects, the differences seem functionally different because of the operations' embodied-ness as opposed to interpretation's mind-function - so, say it a little less crudely, while sharing space with the interpreting mind, the body is involved in operations (non-trivial effort, as E.A. would say), whereas the mind is the dominant partner in 'traditional' literature (novel or poem), sidelining the page-turning-but-otherwise-latent body. This is what I think I'm reading in the following quotations from the comments of a really excellent discussion on GrandTextAuto:

The difference between the virtual environment of a novel (or a poem like the Inferno) and that of a computer game is the difference between description and simulation. They're not the same; the latter requires not just interpretation but operation as well. Theories of textual interpretation don't explain how people operate cybertexts. (nick)
It seems that the boundary you're speaking of is between knowing (through description) and being (through experience). Textual interpretation, as you point out (and correct me if I'm reading you wrong) is a form of knowing,not of being (or operating). (peter)

Knowing vs. being is a bit existential for my mind, so I'll have to avoid it until I can wrap my head around it better. But I am intrigued by the difference of description and simulation that (as I perceive it in this discussion) is one that might be defined as separated by primary mind-interactions (description) rather than mind & body interactions (simulation).

Overall, as I'm following the various discussions here, in other blogs, and on various lists, it seems like one of the central desires on the part of everyone involved in (call it what you will) computer game/video game/GIVE studies is an apt and direct attention to the material conditions in which the game exists. How so? By paying attention to the specific material conditions of a game, we can recognize "it" for what "it" is. The ludologist argument is valid, but so is the film-analysis argument ("such-and-such games use film techniques, as described here and here") and the narratologist argument ("such-and-such game uses narrative in this way").

What do I mean by "materiality"? I'll reveal my literary prejudices - to be clear, I'm referring to the type of attention to material conditions on par with practices in textual studies. Textual studies (as I'm sure most of you already know) focuses rapt attention not only on the text, but also the trappings of the text (the material conditions), ranging from graphic art, bookbinding, types of paper, variants, fonts and so on all the way down to line breaks and comma choices (and this is far from an inclusive list, so forgive me if I didn't mention a favorite component). All of this is also considered in its historical moment.

Several of us had a brief trackback / comment frenzy along these lines a few months back when George asked "Is it accurate to call print an information technology?" (if interested, be sure to follow the trackbacks as well). I mention not only because it strikes me as relevant to the conversation at hand, but also because I'll just borrow Matt's comment to save retyping the names of folks in the field I'm referring to: "The immediate progenitors here are people like Johanna Drucker, Jerry McGann, Marjorie Perloff, Charles Bernstein, and Randall McLeod, who have been mining the materiality vein in rich and sophisticated ways for quite some time now in their writing about the avant garde (and textual studies)." Matt K. modestly did not include himself in the list, but his forthcoming _Mechanics_ certainly will be a useful and important addition to this long-standing discussion, especially considering its attention to all things electronic/digital.

Further relevancy of materiality?

First, it helps us work through issues of virtual environments, pen&paper environments, and so on, by developing specific descriptive vocabulary dedicated to discussing the particulars of a game's material environments - this draws from film techniques (when appropriate), narrative techniques (when appropriate), but perhaps most importantly also paves the road easily for integration of this "new" methodology everyone seems to clamor for without (hopefully) alienating those others who don't think discarding previous methodology is such a good idea (I'm probably distorting the argument, at least in someone's mind, so I ask for leniency and/or input). It would give us the freedom to use - most of the time - general references to games (thus keeping our blog posts, comments, etc. short) but also allow a quick break down of material components. In short, it would hopefully (as Nick so aptly described) avoid descriptions that were either "very vague or hideously elaborate". Currently, "virtual" doesn't do it for me, because of some of the concerns already mentioned - how do we count certain board games? Do Pen&Paper RPGs count? Does virtual = digital? and so on. Nick mentions that D&D would count as a GIVE, but how then do we distinguish playing a Pen&Paper version of a module called Neverwinter Nights from a session online of Neverwinter Nights?

Second, I think a more in-depth discussion of material conditions helps us work through this issue of body/mind that appears to be one of the functional differences between our conception of interpretation/operation, virtual/non-virtual, ergodic/non-ergodic, and so on. Because while "interpretation" might be adequate for some traditional literature (say, _The Great Gatsby_), I feel much more like an operator when reading an artist book by J. Drucker, or Danielewski's _House of Leaves_, or a great Powers issue. In fact, in the many times I've read House of Leaves, I still feel like I'm driving the book rather than reading it (prompting me to feel less like a reader, and more like a practitioner of textual ergonomics). In any case, if the delineation of interpretation vs. operation is a mind/body thing, or a knowing/being thing, I'm not sure what to do with these avant-garde (and no so avant-garde) objects....

I'm afraid this might be all horribly muddled, but I'm sketching these ideas on the metro on the way to work, so blame any rattles on the tracks ;)

Posted by Jason at 12:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Watch blogs appear on a global map as they update. Warning: dangerously eats away time. [edit: i actually added the link, whose absence made it all seem rather farcical (the link looped back to me: "i am the world, muhahaha")]

Alas, I wish I were this cool, but Jill found it first (actually, her post says she got it from Frank, so I'll just trackback everyone. It's early).

Since today might just turn out to be random (or not so random) links day, have a look at the MT Plugin Directory. You can even get a plugin that filters your text into Swedish Chef language. I wonder if people from Sweden find that stuff just plain tiresome. Do they hug the Swedish Chef, or burn him in effigy? Burk Burk Burk!

I notice that yesterday I said "So, hopefully my draft will be ready tomorrow or Thursday." As everyone realizes by looking at the date of the post, that was a bit of a redundancy. Tomorrow was Thursday. Clearly, I meant Friday. Or Monday.

Some of you have asked what I do, how I like the new job, and so on. The job is great so far - everyone has been nice and, of course, I don't mind my view after a few years of working in a library basement. My office space isn't bad - I have an L-shaped cubby that affords a reasonable amount of privacy. The windows have these large sills, so I can take papers over there to read when my back or wrists start aching from the computer. Having a sixth floor vantage on Pennsylvania Avenue is nice - every couple of days, the roar of sirens floats up and I can look down at a police escort for some dignitary or another. We speculate on who it is - "is the President in town?" "Is some foreign president visiting?" and so on.

I suppose I should clarify what I do - I'm a Program Analyst for the National Endowment for the Humanities, where I work on EDSITEment, a web portal and lesson plan provider for the humanities. EDSITEment has two major components. First, it serves as a portal to humanities websites. The websites listed go through an extensive vetting process (at least three levels of peer review), which usually whittles the applicants from several hundred to 30-40 final choices. The second major component of EDSITEment is the development and distribution of lesson plans for K-12 teachers. The lesson plans all make use of parts of the websites we list, so it really encourages the use of humanities computing projects in high school classrooms.

We're in the first stages of the vetting process, so I'm working with that. I've also written two short "feature"-type articles (think there are generally two new ones a month) and worked on a few other writing projects. One of the things I find most interesting is the review of web-based learning tools that Marcopolo (our funder) is building for all its partner websites. EDSITEment, I should say, is one of eight websites under the umbrella of Marcopolo, who provides most of our funding. Each website is partnered with an appropriate agency or agencies (so we're with NEH, others are with the Kennedy Center, or NSF, and so on). So Marcopolo is working on "interactive exercises" that can be used in all sorts of websites, ranging from those dedicated to arts and humanities to geography or math. So part of my time is reviewing these exercises, games, and gallery spaces and offering suggestions for improvement.

I do miss the people from my old job at MITH - so far I haven't found anyone who likes to talk TV/Buffy talk. And I have found no replacement for the co-op, sadly.

Posted by Jason at 6:55 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 18, 2003


Alas, no major posting today (at least this morning). Working on an addition to the code/form/content discussion, which requires more thought and time than my 45 minutes of writing allows. So, hopefully my draft will be ready tomorrow or Thursday.

Since I'm laying out some writing plans, I also want to expand on the notion of crafter, which can be both in and out of the game. The crafter player type might be proficient in building in game items (whether it be a master crafter in Everquest, a barkeep or miner in Ultima Online, or even a person who is quite proficient with that cube thing in Diablo 2), but they also might be the type who enjoys building/coding enhancements outside of the game for other users - such as plugins, mods, and the like.

I also want to talk about cheating a bit, since I found Aarseth's concept of "cheating" a touch different from mine.

Posted by Jason at 7:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 17, 2003

Game Methodology (and misc.)

Lots of folk tinkering with blogs yesterday (yes, in my little world, two = "lots"). Rain must bring out the handy(wo)man in all of us. I recall Neal Stephenson saying something like "PC people are tinkerers; Mac users are aesthetic creeps." Well, maybe he just said "non-tinkerers." In any case, I think his point was that the Mac's sealed computers don't exactly lend themselves to tinkering. What does that make bloggers? Creepy tinkerers? I don't know. It's early, so don't expect me to make sense, or have any thread of argument.

Speaking of which, I think my wisdom teeth might be coming in. I only have the bottom two, in some weird shift of evolutionary oddness. And no so the backs of my gums are sore and I find myself constantly running my tongue over what feels like rough edges trying to poke through soft tissue. Maybe not dinner time conversation, but there it is. So I think I need to find a dentist - anyone in the area have suggestions? I would prefer someone who doesn't laugh (or heck, even smile) when the tools are laid out, glistening. In fact, someone who just blinks I-Dream-of-Jeanie-style in order to remove plague and tartar. No drills necessary in that. Saw Little Shop of Horrors one too many times as a kid I guess. L's worse - she screamed during the dentist scenes in Finding Nemo, prompting one kid in the birthday party group behind us to mutter "wimp" softly under his breath. L makes my dentist phobia look like affection.

On to business - read Espen Aarseth's DAC2003 talk Playing Research: Methodological approaches to game analysis, available with other talks from the conferencehere. As I mentioned earlier, papers made available like this - although you lose the 'moment' of the conference - are a real boon to those of us who are not in the European hotbed of game discussion. The article in part continues a major discussion in game studies at this point - the question of methodology. I've written about this some before, but clearly this is an issue very much at hand that is unlikely to disappear for a while.

The basic argument seems to run thus: on the one side, we have a lot of early discussion of games that draws from traditional fields of inquiry - narratology, rhetoric, film studies, and so on. Now, because discussion of games (at least initially, and still some now) were very much integrated with discussion of early hypertext, and because discussion of hypertext sometimes went a little too far on the "we embody postmodern theory" gambit for a while, I think that some people understandably reacted against that. So, there was a call for something "new" - which is all well and good, except I think some people (and I'll likely count myself among these) have a reaction when they hear the word "new" that runs something akin to suspicion - mainly suspicion that the "new" is often something "old" with a new suit. Often these two groups are called ludologist (for the "game" people) and narratologists (which is the label usually employed when referring to anyone using an "older" theory). [remind me to come back and enter some links to the digra list discussion about ludology and narratology]

But here's the thing - I think what both sides are really looking for is a way to use some of the traditional methods/terms/etc (and ask some traditional questions) while recognizing that games - while influenced by other media (avoiding "older" here, intentionally) - are unique unto themselves. Narrative theorists want to be able to say "I'm interested in narrative in Asheron's Call" without someone hollering back "games aren't narrative!" And likewise, ludologists seems to want to say "games should be taken on their own terms" without a narratologist pointing out "they were influenced by other media."

One thing that I've found quite curious as this has played itself out over the years is that it appears as though - unlike some parts of the sciences - the humanities has very little experience in accepting failure of a hypothesis as a reasonable and (more importantly) successful aspect of scholarship. Yet it is precisely in trying and failing that we are able to experiment with notions of media, form, and methodology - letting us see what was effective and what was not enables us to draw the best aspects of various methodologies while we - at the same time - work towards forming an individually "new" one. Games are multimedia; our theories should be multimethod (that sounds more awkward that I'd hoped, but you get the idea).

Running low on time, so I'll put out a few other ideas from Espen's article that I found useful and interesting.

He offered "games in virtual environments" as an alternate name for "computer games." This also cropped up a bit on Grand Text Auto (esp. the term "virtual"), and I was pleased to see that virtual did not mean "digitally virtual" but allowed for inclusion of board games and (importantly) games like Dungeons & Dragons. Still, I'm not sure about the term's clarification potential over computer games and other specific terms (like Pen and Paper Role Playing Games), so I'd like to give this more thought.

He also referenced Bartle's typology of players:

The four types are socializers (the players who play to enjoy the company of other players),killers (players who enjoy preying on and harassing other players),achievers (players who like to win and triumph)and explorers (players who enjoy discovering the game ’s secrets and hidden mechanics, including discovering and exploiting programming

To this, Aarseth added cheaters, which I think is an important category, but inappropriate in this context. I think most of those four types have a cheater element within them, and so I would put cheater as a potential subcategory (or a flag) on each of those types. Instead I would add crafter, the player interested in making, building, and distributing /collecting craft items in the game.

More on this later - have to catch the metro.

Posted by Jason at 5:40 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 16, 2003

Unravel the Threads

Ok, a few threads dangling in the breeze, but announcements first:

Most recent Digital Arts & Culture conference papers online here For those of us without travel budgets, blogs and pdf papers are a life-saver (and no, not the candy). Several days worth of metro-reading in printable format.

Hope everyone had a great weekend. As I mentioned, L and I met my folks in Charlottesville. On Saturday, Dad and I went up into the mountains, put up our tent, and did some hiking - something we used to do for a week or two every year as I grew up. This usually happened when Mom took a week off to bang out a chapter of her dissertation, so we would make for the mountains so I wouldn't (as had happened at least once) kick the plug (accidently, of course) of the computer, causing her to lose half a day's work. Anyway, aside from the rain (inches away from flooding our tent), we had a great time. We saw a bear (no pics though) - only the second one I've seen in the Shenandoah in the 20+ years I've camped there. More on the weekend later, once I get the digital pics downloaded (sometime later in the week, probably).

Ok, some quick notes on our discussion of form and content - shortly I'll grab screenshots or text examples to complement my discussion earlier, but I want to respond to George's post, where he said:

Might we restrict our view to the "document" -- whether that's a blog entry or the interface for a chat client -- as it appears on our screen? The skin, the database backend, or the stylesheet are the means by which the document was formatted, but now that it's there on screen, do these things matter so much to our analysis of the document itself?

George is right in a key respect - there is a significant difference between speaking of a document as a completed incarnation (I'm sure the textual studies folk can help me out with a term that's not coming into my head at 7am) and speaking of it in terms of production process. To a user's eye, the completed page may look nothing more than single document - a single-page newspaper whose fold is a "digital fold" rather than a physical one. And this is often how we look at many types of traditional printed documents. Most non-specialists don't concern themselves with the differences between editions, the collaboration of author, printer, and perhaps artist.

I do think, although I haven't thought this through yet, that the structures can not be boiled down to "formatting" - in other words (maybe a question is the easiest way to phrase this), how do the "skin, the database backend, or the stylesheet" function differently in their "formatting"?

In the comments section of that same post, I asked: "what happens when I syndicate your site and apply my own style?"

George responded: "The same thing that happened when a seventeenth-century reader copied a Donne sonnet into their commonplace book. Ok, maybe not the same thing, but I don't think it separates the two strands of form and content."

But I'm not sure it is the same thing. If I syndicate a blog, I get an XML-marked version of the blog (at least one, if not two layers of structure - the initial post structure, enforced by the database, which is subsequently marked up in XML) but I can also place it seamlessly within a new blog or website encoded with my own new HTML and CSS. So, maybe like copying Donne into a prayer book (poem is ordered already by its poetic structure, after all), but does it simply boil down to a function of scale? It seems to me that at least some of the strands unravel, or don't at least others thread themselves in?

Posted by Jason at 5:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 13, 2003

Gone Fishin'

Well, not really (unless the rain keeps up, but that would probably be more like: "Gone Boatin', Love Noah"), but L and I are out of town for the weekend. We're going to Charlottesville to meet my folks. On Sat, Dad and I are going to hit the moutains for the night, while the ladies stir up some trouble in C-ville.

I'm looking forward to camping out, even if it is just for one night. I also suspect that I'm going to sleep like a rock. I'm still getting used to this regular work schedule after six years of working grad student hours and sleep grad student (non) sleep. Just two weeks ago, my regular bed time was around 2 am - now I'm beat by 11 and up by 6. Oddly, I suspect I'm actually getting *more* sleep than before, but I also guess that I was able to distribute my work week over the course of an entire 16-18 hour day rather than in one discrete 8 or 9 hour chuck (well, plus the hour of reading/writing in the morning ... and my hour of reading during the commute).

Anyway, I'm rambling. Everyone have a good weekend!

Posted by Jason at 2:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 12, 2003

Taxing Taxonomy

While I want to add more to the conversation we're having about content/style, I'm taking a brief aside because I have wanted to (however briefly) engage some of the really interesting discussions happening right now in the gaming community regarding terminology, classification, and categorization. As I mentioned before, the Digra listserv has been hopping with activity over terms like narrative/narratology, ludology, and interactivity.

And Nick's latest post over at Grand Text Auto brings us back to the general discussion of drawing up categories and to the specific distinction between virtual and non-virtual environments/ games. One remark in particular seems to have garnered significant interest:

Then there's the question of when a game actually has a virtual environment and when it doesn't, which I just alluded to. I'm still wondering if chess and hopscotch have virtual environments

(Mental aside: While I have to run to work, I want to come back to this quotation).

What strikes me initially about these conversations (and I'm as guilty in this as anyone, so let's assume the finger is pointing at me) is that it seems as though we're all talking in terms of taxonomical structure and, implicitly, its hierarchical, inheriting structures. So while we all nodded our heads when Lev Manovich wrote in The Language of New Media that this is a database age (I'll dig for the quote later - I'm pressed to get to work), we then turned back to our flowcharts to see what games fit under what category.

So I'm suddenly trying to think more in terms of theory as database. Having worked on a few databases, I understand the basic structural development, so I'm trying to imagine what the tables would look like, what queries I would build, what keywords I would use, and how we might structure our thoughts differently if we were to build a database, rather than a taxonomy (in the strict sense - an ordered, inheriting system), of games?

Posted by Jason at 5:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 11, 2003

I create this content in my form

I have been thinking quite a bit about Matt's recent post where he said:

Indeed, with the rise of CSS, skins, etc. there is now a more pronounced division than ever between "form" and "content"


but the interface as "contact surface," an add-on to a "pre-existing bundle of functionality" is precisely the relationship between data and styles that's been reinstated by CSS, is it not?


Note too that the separation of data and styles goes against the grain of the old humanistic saw about the mutually informing and inextricable nature of the relationship between form and content

This seemed fairly straightforward to me at first (this is how I interpreted it, not necessarily how Matt said it) - here we have two documents: first, the HTML document, content. Second, the CSS, form or (sounds like smooth jazz) - style. Visual rhythm. Sure. That makes sense.

And then my head said: Wait a second. That's not right. The data is not in the HTML - it's text in a (in my case) MySQL database.

Alas. A wrench.

Ok, three parts to the gestalt triangle: HTML templates (to include, perhaps, an image header), CSS styles (link and page colors, physical arrangement on page, fonts), and database (text/content). And of course I'm ignoring Perl scripts that make MT work, the server it runs on, the extra Perl:modules that give you perks. These things I'll continue to ignore for now, because a triad is as much as my brain can handle before my second cup of coffee.

Since I'm not the only person intrigued by Matt's comments, I refreshed myself with the discussion through his trackbacks, finding myself struck again by Kari's astute discussion of "accidentals and substantives" and the terms' influence on textual editing. I was surprised by this deft twist, which I expected to go one way, when it actually went another:

"In the context of Matt's entry on the strict separation of style and content in current web-design practice, I am struck by just how "organic" the metaphor is: each of the strands, linguistic and bibliographic, intertwines about a common textual axis. The free variation of style in electronic environments--the ease with which one skin can be swapped out for another--throws a monkey wrench into contemporary editorial theory.

I loved this notion of an organic metaphor, but I thought of it in entirely a different manner. In looking at the CSS, the HTML templates, and even the database, I see a variety of levels of "form" and "content" intertwining in a (seemingly) organic fashion. I'll describe quickly what I'm thinking and then I'll follow up later with some snips of the code to (hopefully) support my point.

The database itself contains a structure of tables and data cells. Each "type" of data rests firmly in its assigned cell, although within those cells there is of course "play" between the types of data that sneak through. The main entries, for example, can have almost any type of alpha-numeric content and I could buck the trend, for example, by editing into the main text of my argument comments made by others after the fact. Slippage perhaps.

If you export MT files, the format provides a pretty good indication, however, of the basic structure established by the database, so we already have form and content in place. But is this text file, structurally sound perhaps, "my blog"? Personally, I don't think so. Nelson Goodman might say, "sure" (or he might say, "Don't put words in my mouth").

As I turn to the HTML document, I notice that it is actually as second (at least) layer to the design of the blog as a whole. The div tags are very specific and help separate the website into specific units (headers, bodies, title types, and so on). They are the bones on which the muscles of the CSS must graft. And yet by adding extras to the default, I can add "content" to the website that is not part of the database. In my case, I have extra links, a little picture of angry robot, and (soon, I hope) some added features.

And the CSS - well, whether or not that is content, or accidental, or substantive, I suppose is an argument of materiality. I personally believe that such markings - fonts, colors, etc. - by choice or not, play a role in our reception and interpretation of a work.

Wish I could write more about it, but alas - time to put on that tie. I'll add edits later.

Posted by Jason at 5:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 10, 2003

Power Up

The digiplay list announced Power Up, a gaming symposium in Bristol the 14th and 15th of July.

Lots of reading today, topped by some necessary yoga. Carpal tunnel is not our friend.

Posted by Jason at 5:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 9, 2003

This is my view

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Edit: A little inaccurate. I'm actually on the other side (my view is of the capitol, and the Washington Monument is over my right shoulder - even though I can't see it from my window).

Posted by Jason at 11:43 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack


Well, I start my new job today. In about two hours, I'll be hopping off the metro and walking into the Old Post Office building, home to the National Endowment for the Humanities. I'm working with Edsitement, a portal website for educational websites and lesson plans for K-12 teachers.

I'm trying to follow some advice from a pretty smart guy, who suggested that I establish my early morning writing habit ... well, early. And 6AM sure felt early (and apparently is not early enough to get done what I want to get done), especially for a long-standing graduate student who for quite a long time went to bed around 6AM. Sure is odd seeing the sun from a different perspective.

I don't imagine that I will get any solid dissertation writing done this morning - my mind is all tied up with other pressing issues. It has been, for instance, a long time since I've had to wear a tie for anything but a funeral or a wedding. I sometimes have a hard time remembering if your socks should match your shoes or your pants. Never button the bottom button on a sports coat - that's an easy one.

Another thing that has me nervous - I must finish my coffee before leaving for work. For the past four years, I've snuck my coffee through the underbelly of the library to my office, where I could drink it safely outside of the glares of disapproving librarians, who think any sort of beverage aside from water (in a clear container) is an open invitation for bugs to eat their books. Now, since I'm taking Metro, who apparently disallows any beverage on their trains (despite the fact that there are NO books to eat there), I must drink all the coffee I want prior to leaving or pay some guy in DC $1.50 for burned joe at the office. Must be some sort of deal between the Metro and the DC coffee bars. Conspiracy.

Now, this is not to say that I'm not excited. These are little concerns. I'm excited - especially after working in a basement for several years - to be in an office high above Pennsylvania Avenue. With a view no less. I'm certainly excited about the project itself. And I'm definitely excited about the fact that I am no longer working at a graduate student wage, no matter how rewarding the work.

Alas, time flies, so I must post and hurry on. I need to leave a little extra time this morning - so I can make sure my socks match.

Posted by Jason at 4:58 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 6, 2003


Tis the season for nostalgia, apparently. Matt's recent post had me thinking about my early computing memories - playing Choplifter on an Apple IIc, with its tiny green and black screen. Playing Zork on our new IBM-clone with my dad, as I typed the commands and he carefully drew maps on graph paper. Or the many hours I spent on Prodigy message boards while listening to The Connells' Darker Days over and over again. Listening to that album brings me back to the little computer study every time, in an odd Bergsonian memory shift.

While reading through the blogs this morning, I came across Newly Digital: A distributed anthology of early computing experience, which I saw on the MT devs' company website - Six Apart - as I was reading about their forthcoming TypePad. If blogging has done anything for me, it has renewed my enjoyment of web surfing (and since this has become a post of asides), although not for the term "surfing" itself. I always feel more like skulker than I do a surfer, as I peer around the corners of a link.

In any case, I was surprised when I came across Newly Digital after reading some posts and reactions to Matt's entry. Nostalgia isn't uncommon, of course, but in my experience it tends to come in waves (or, maybe I just find it that way). Waves of nostalgia and memory sweep across the various gaming message boards I read - for months the boards will be crowded with trade offers, OT (off-topic) randomness, l33t sp34k, and PK smack talking, but then someone will post a memory of the "early days," which in turn creates a wave of "Do you remember..."-type threads. Recall that several of the graphical Massively Multiplayer games been around almost four to six years (to say nothing of the years of text-based games before that). Asheron's Call started beta test in late 1999 (release was Nov. '99). Everquest was available about 9 months prior to that, and Ultima Online's adventures began in 1997. That's quite a lot of time to build memories.

I often think about the future of these games - what happens when they cease to be profitable? What will we make of the ruins of these worlds, if at some point we recover them? Or will gamers simply continue their quests on their own, running hacked code on pieced-together hardware? Will people figure out a way to save their character, frozen in an odd stasis, world-less?

One of my favorite passages on nostalgia is from Richard Powers' Plowing the Dark. Chapter 16 starts with the first lines of ADVENTURE blinking on a character's screen, late at night, sent anonymously across the network from one of the eighty-six users logged in from a variety of facilities on the west coast:

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building.

The passage is a beautiful composition of collective and individual memory, shifting between Jackdaw's childhood recollections and the eight-six users' shared nostalgia:

His eyes took in the summons of the words. His hands on their keys felt the fingertips of that seventh-grader still inside them. He stared at the sentences and saw his father, one Saturday morning in 1977 when young Jackie had been acting out, taking him to the office and parking him in front of a gleaming Televideo 910, hooked up to a remote main-frame through the magic of a Tymeshare 300-baud modem.

All a trick, Jackdaw saw in retrospect, an elaborate diversionary tactic to fool a boy into - of all things - reading.

The chapter begins like a small wave, foreshadowing a crescendo comprised of Jackdaw's childhood memory blended with collective recollection as the eighty-six users type subsequent lines from the game to one another over the network. The experience is a carefully crafted commentary on individuality - a playful negotiation between the second-person, non-specific "you" of the game, the collective "we" of the shared nostalgic experience, and the personalized individuality of Jackdaw's recollections of, and gratitude towards, his now-deceased father. The chapter ends softly, like a receding wave:

... the broadband conference drifted into static, releasing its system resources, relinquishing the moment of brief coalescence, dispersing all participants to chip away again at their various private galleries, their maze of tunnels spreading through the unmappable hive.
Posted by Jason at 9:25 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 5, 2003

Read On

Came across an electronic version of Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design while browsing a book list recommended by Adrian Miles. Also found this one intriguing:

In Palamedes' Shadow: Explorations in Play, Game, & Narrative Theory By: R. Rawdon Wilson Abstract: This is a work of narrative and literary theory that explores the parallels between literary texts and games. It also provides a nice, introductory overview of the main theories of play in the Western philosophical tradition. Published: 1990

Good thing I'll soon have all that reading time riding the DC metro in to work.

Posted by Jason at 9:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 4, 2003

Word Herders

Wordherders is starting to come together - three blogs are already set up, with more to come.

This post is really just to test trackback... not sure pings are working.

Edit: Hmm. Trackback works, but for some reason my pings to weblogs.com are timing out. Anyone else experiencing this problem? Will have to test after my walk...

Posted by Jason at 2:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 2, 2003

How was *your* Monday?

So, I drive home after work today, arriving at about 6pm. I wave at my wife, who happens to drive past heading the opposite direction towards the neighborhood tennis courts. I park my car, noting that a large group of neighborhood kids ("kids" - they were upper teens or slightly older perhaps) were hanging out just a bit down the way. Not uncommon, as we live in a fairly friendly condo community, and lots of folks chat in the parking lot and whatnot.

I walk in the house, putting my wallet and keys on the table. Stroll into kitchen looking for a quick snack before heading to karate practice. Pop an oreo.

And hear five *pops* that sound, to my ear, like gunfire.

Now, I've shot guns before, so I know what they sound like. I'm not a huge fan of them, but I used to occasionally shoot skeet and have even tried handguns a few times at a shooting range - nothing uncommon for someone who grew up in southern Virginia. I do not keep guns in the home and never plan to - I think they tend to cause more problems than they solve, and I have fairly strong opinions about gun control laws, none of which I was thinking at the time. I was thinking: that sounds like gunfire.

This is an odd thing, because aside for an occasional stolen car, we live in a fairly safe neighborhood. Generally no violent crime. The rowdiest our neighbors tend to get involves jumping up and down during a basketball game, rooting on the university team. So, I walked outside to take a quick look (which, by the way, I've already had pointed out to me as quote-unquote not the brightest thing you've ever done, genius). We're on the first floor, so I stepped out onto the "deck" (read: slab 'o concrete). I can't really see most of the parking lot from where I live, but I did see two adults with a good field of vision looking curiously - but not excitedly - towards the parking lot. I stand there for a second, watching to see if some horrible realization dawns on them and they start sprinting for (or away from) the parking lot.

But that doesn't happen. The just gaze over and then return to their conversation.

Firecrackers, I think to myself. I shrug, go inside, and mosey about my business. Pop another oreo.

Which is when I hear the helicopter.

Now, again, this isn't so odd, because I live under what probably constitutes the airline superhighway near DC. We tend to get a lot of air traffic, either heading towards BWI up north, National in the city, or even Andrews air force base. We also tend to see a lot of traffic reporters hovering over a gridlock on BW parkway, oftentimes laughing at the fools in the cars. Flying is so easy, they think, waving at the earth bound commuters. Shrugging, I pop another oreo, making a mental note not to buy oreos again, because this is what happens - I just eat them non-stop.

Putting the oreos away, I hear the helicopter again, circling apparently in an ever-widening pattern. A spiral pattern.

My curiosity is peaked.

So I gather my things and head out the door. Turning past the building, I look into the parking lot. Five police cars are there, lights flashing. A helicopter circles wider and wider. Yellow tape blocks one lane of the parking lot. Police officers are collecting bullet rounds.

So, about three minutes after I parked my car, a drive-by shooting happened about 30 yards away from where I parked. I heard later that one of the kids was shot in the leg and refused (huh?!?) transport to the hospital.

This is just a few weeks after a woman was found murdered in a condo down the road.

I tried finding news about the shooting, but I guess if no one is killed, it's just not news-worthy. Sheesh.

Anyone want to come by for dinner?

Posted by Jason at 8:34 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack