May 27, 2004

DC in the Summer

The 2004 Smithsonian Folklife Festival runs June 23-27 and June 30-July 4. The three subjects this year are: Haiti, Nuestra Musica (Music in Latino Culture), and Water Ways (Mid-Atlantic Maritime Communities). I'm especially interested in this last one, since that's my old stomping grounds (raised in Virginia by the coast).

Also, Screen on the Green: Outdoor Movies on the National Mall. UMD has a schedule listed. Films this year are:

July 19: All the President's Men (1976)
July 26: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
August 2: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
August 9: The Thin Man (1934)
August 16: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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May 26, 2004


Passion of the Present, a blog about the terrible situation in Sudan. News and background about this crisis that really demands increased U.S. and U.N. attention. [via Crooked Timber]

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May 25, 2004

Kid's Play; DDR Gets You Fit

Kids Play (amusing article where kids play and comment on older games like Donkey Kong, Pong, and E.T.):

Your average gamer these days is in his late 20s - young enough to still find new ways to destroy brain cells, old enough to worry about bills and 401ks, and wise enough to reminisce about the good ol' days of videogames. But was the age of Pong, Atari, Mattel handheld football, and Donkey Kong really all that great, or are we just blinded by fuzzy, warm nostalgia?

And, Dance Dance Revolution as exercise routine:

Forget the image of paunchy video gamers holed up in a dark room, surrounded by sticky Twinkie wrappers and empty soda cans.

Dance Dance Revolution players burn extra pounds along with their quarters. Weight loss is an unexpected benefit of a game designed for dance music.

For addition to previous thoughts on ergonomics/haptics/physical play.

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May 20, 2004


Moving in 9 days to the scratchy charms of cicadas. Eat, play, sleep; Eat, play, sleep. Rhythmic cycles. Box. Work. Paint. Write. Eat, play, sleep.

Dissertations. Bills. Transfer of power. Phone. Cable. Dis/Connect.

Change your address.

Address change.

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Lisa Kabisa says:

I mean, this house is like a living, breathing to do list.
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May 19, 2004


Just in case you were wondering... I will not, under any circumstances, be discussing my job here.

In fact, I work for a dairy farmer in Wisconsin. Really.

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May 14, 2004

Bruce Sterling at Olsson's in Arlington

Bruce Sterling, Olsson's (Arlington), tonight. Details in link.

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MT Changes & Wordherders

Jumped over to slashdot for a quick technews fix only to see their post about changes to MT's Payment Schedule - which even with the $149.95 Personal Edition only allows for a maximum of 9 authors and 10 weblogs. The commercial license, which is what wordherders would need at its current levels of support, costs $600.

Ha. I ask herders for $12 a year total just to help offset what I pay for the server space.

Had I known this was going to happen, I would have set things up quite differently, giving each herder their own installation that would have allowed them to maintain up to 3 blogs apiece (but only one author).

Currently, most herders (at least the ones housed on my server space) blog from the same installation, with the same MySQL database. All of this was done for ease of setup on my part, since this was a labor of love done in my "spare" time.

I also wish I had downloaded the most recent patches (2.661) rather than waiting just for 3.0. Anyone have the 2.661 installation?

I will say - I don't begrudge paying for the product and had planned to suggest that we all chip in extra for our yearly wordherder fees in order to send a check to sixapart... but it's frustrating when you set up a certain infrastructure without realizing that future support might prove incredibly costly (either in time, to switch, or money, to upgrade).

I guess we'll stick w/ 2.64 for a while... and hopefully not break any rules in doing so?

[Edit: Wow... quite a string of trackbacks on their announcement post ...]

[Edit #2: scribblingwoman has a thoughtful post about the situation]

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GHW's Tattoo Outed?

I was reading the latest AP story on Shelley Jackson's "Skin" story [Short Story Printed Only Through Tattoos] when I came across this:

Poulos, 22, heard about it in his literature class at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His professor was given: "pen?"

Hmmm.... George?

[edit: here's GHW's long-running entry on the topic]

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May 12, 2004

The Perfect Planet

After work reading material: THE PERFECT PLANET: Comics, Games and World-Building by Dylan Horrocks [via games/.).

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May 7, 2004

Jefferson Lecture

Helen Vendler's 2004 Jefferson Lecture is online. Easy tickets being a perk of working for the NEH, I attended last night, as did a few other UMD English students and faculty members.

She spoke of Wallace Stevens and reflections in his poetry on the necessary intersection of art, the artist, and the critic.

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May 6, 2004

Notes: Commercial Games, Genre, Engines, Form

[Warning, you might find yourself walking on familiar and well traveled ground. This post, sparked by recent conversation, is part notes, part rehashing of old thoughts, and some rambles towards additional ones. Comments, of course, always welcome.]

In the recent discussion (aka, as the front page reads, Morpheus is fighting Neo in the Construct!Alien vs. Predator vs. Ludologist vs. Narratologist!) about games, ludology, narratology, and whether or not games should make you cry (psychological depth of games) at Grand Text Auto, a subthread emerged on who studies what kinds of games and what role commercial or noncommercial games should play in the discussion.

Espen Aarseth's describes Max Payne 2 as

perhaps the most lavish and successful story-game hybrid out there. I absolutely enjoyed playing it, yet it left me completely cold in terms of its psychology, and I cared about the main "characters" much less than I care about an individual ant in my garden.

Nick Montfort responds:

I would hate to characterize video game scholars as being people who, if you throw them a story, begin to dribble, but there has been great neglect of some of the recent interesting computer game work that relates to literature - probably because it has happened mostly in a slew of innovative non-commercial games. Restricting your attention to commercial games is a reasonable (and perhaps financially sustainable) policy, but making claims about what all computer games can't do, based on such studies, is really rather tenuous.

Behind both statements - and throughout the thread - are several recurring questions:

  • Is psychological depth or player emotional response an accurate measure of success for games or, in fact, any media?;
  • What types of games do or do not lend themselves to stories? Are such narrative attempts successful, and does narrative function in the same way in games as it does in other media (in other words, just because it looks like a story - is it a story in the way we commonly understand it)?;
  • Is it possible to create a 'theory of games' that is both useful and can account for the wide range of game-types or media-types associated with games?;
  • and the always present, What is the relationship of games to literature (or narrative), or is the comparison even useful?

But what caught my eye was the subthread focusing on the commercial aspect of games. In some respects, we can perhaps tweak Nick's statement to read:

Restricting your attention to commercial games any one genre of game is a reasonable (and perhaps financially sustainable) policy, but making claims about what all computer games can't do, based on such studies, is really rather tenuous. [strikes and italics mine]

And that would probably be a fair statement (and speaks to the second question, above, though it by no means answers it). But the vexing question remains - how do we deal with the commercial/industry attachments of many games? This is particularly important to me as I continue work on my dissertation, which over time to focuses more on specific - and specifically commercial - games and less on literary works I saw as related to games - although my approach continues to draw from a blend of narrative and textual studies as well as ludic and interface design principles.

Aarseth counters Montfort's criticism above by stating that

literary critics would not be having this conversation - "so, you only analyse commercially published novels, how opportunistic of you"

And while Montfort's response holds true to a certain degree -

A comparison to a film department that only considered Hollywood movies would seem more apt. Or, perhaps, to an Emily Dickinson scholar who only studied the seven poems she commercially published during her lifetime. If we're going to make the cross-media comparisons.

- Aarseth's point is well-taken. After all, Jack London's Martin Eden is but one of many literary explorations of the business side of 'creative writing.' Many film studies have, in fact, considered only "Hollywood-style" movies. And instead of using Dickinson's published work as a counter to her unpublished, I think the more accurate comparison might be between the relatively unpublished (in a traditional sense) Dickinson and the published - and very public - Whitman. I'm being a bit pedantic, but I am intrigued by the intersections of business and art, of commercial independent game (and film) development, of Barnes & Noble and the 'vanity press.' What institutional differences account for independent game designers' - from the IF writer to the mod and plugin designer - ability to avoid that last (often disdained) demarcation?

Where is the fine line that divides the commercial and the independent? Under which category would we file Turbine's Asheron's Call? Published by Microsoft (until recently), but developed in a studio apartment by a team who paid the CEO with insurance money he received when he was hit by a car (read Jon Monsarrat's story of Turbine's creation - click on Business, "A Company I Founded"). Alongside the rags-to-riches stories, what do we do with the mod designers whose work gets repackaged and sold on the shelves? The plug-in designer whose ideas get built into the next generation engine? The independent developer who uses a commercial engine, like Bioware's Aurora engine?

I suspect part of what is needed (conveniently, since it's part of what I'm writing my dissertation on) is a ludo-textual-studies-style examination and contextualization of the various game engines, an exploration of how rules discourage and encourage certain aesthetic choices, how specific engines help define the formal features of their associated games. Doing so also helps us examine the distinction between commercial and independent games that use (or are based on/enhancements of) commercial engines. Importantly, it also seeks to address the issue of speaking towards one type - platform, genre, commercial/noncommercial, etc. - of game as representative of the whole (as in Montfort's quotation above). Just because something is game-like doesn't mean it must overwhelmingly share properties with other games, a point made forcefully enough in literature that it is seemingly odd for Nabakov or Danielewski or Eggers to use conventions of critical works (footnotes, etc.) as fictional devices. Their very oddity speaks to our expectation of and familiarity with convention within particular genres.

I know some of this is covered in Rules of Play and, while I haven't read it yet, I believe (based on shelf browsing) that this is the kind of important work that Montfort does in Twisty Little Passages (and thanks to the fact that my 3-month old daughter has amazingly achieved a relatively regular sleeping schedule, I hope to tackle the book soon). It's this kind of focus on genre and platform that simply removes from the equation complaints that an argument doesn't account for another kind of game, but also leaves plenty of room for extrapolation.

Which really brings me right back to rehashing the same old points. One final note, and a launch pad for future discussion: Nick summarized Marie-Laure Ryan's conference talk as follows:

She suggested that a cognitive approach to narrative, which saw story as a world that had characters and objects undertaking meaningful actions, actions that had consequences in a system with rules and laws, was particularly amenable for use in understanding some computer games.

I need to plumb Ryan's work for a discussion of what "meaningful actions" might be, in the sense that (coming back to "commercial" games) the potential for meaningful action is, in fact, often fairly limited, although the illusion of meaningful action is at time effectively offered (a focus of my chapter on agency in Bioware's Neverwinter Nights and Turbine’s Asheron’s Call).

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May 3, 2004

ebr + first person

electronic book review has established a thread for Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan's First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game.

Check out the thread introduction or see an overview of the weave.

Also, some thought provoking conversation over at Grand Text Auto - the aftermath of conference posts:

Scriptons, Textons, Possibility Space conversation stemming from the Narr@tive: Digital Storytelling conference

and, The Debate that Never Really Took Place (in a serious way) continues

More thoughts on this soon, once I have a chance (in the midst of moving madness) to read it all.

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