September 29, 2004

And in other news....

I looked out my window this afternoon and saw the new Security Blimp. Acknowledging that Goodyear's proficiency for picking out cheerleaders at NFL games might be good for homeland security, the Department of Defense reverts to Civil War tactics in its new high-tech espionage-meets-BladeRunner floating device. Not reported: apparently they also received tech support from the Klingons - I turned around to read this article only to look again out my window: the blimp was gone. Engage the cloaking device!

Soon the Security Blimps can float by and encourage off-world colonization. With SpaceShipOne successfully making the first of two space flights required for the X Prize, the Virgin Group's Richard Branson said that they plan to offer commercial space flights available by 2007, based off of SpaceShipOne technology:

Branson believes he will fly some 3,000 people into space in the first five years that his "Virgin Galactic" space line is operating.

Not reported: Branson reportedly decided on the name "Virgin Galactic" because it nicely mixed the excitement of Apollo on Battlestar Galactica and the alien seduction powers of Captain Kirk from Star Trek.

Meanwhile, beware travel to Norway, where apparently they don't believe in security at all (they need more blimps!). A man attacked two pilots with an axe:

Just minutes before the plane, a small Dornier 228, was scheduled to land in the northern Norwegian town of Bodoe at 10:50 a.m. (0850 GMT), one of the seven passengers onboard walked towards the cockpit, and suddenly attacked both the pilot and the co-pilot with an axe in an apparent bid to crash the aircraft.

Not reported: the attacker wore a helmet with spiked horns, bellowing "Give me wenches and mead!" while waving his axe in the air.

And in further news: Diebold Machines Cruise Fells Point! After hearing what a blast they could have in the dive bars around Baltimore, several Diebold voting machines were found, apparently passed out, in a bar and next to the sidewalk. One was turned into the police. The others reportedly sobered up enough to escape, screaming "You'll never find us - we have no paper trail!" as they fled.

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September 20, 2004

DIGRA: Changing Views: Worlds in Play

The next DiGRA conference CFP is available. Abstracts due November 30, 2004.

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September 16, 2004

First Person: Reading Notes

With all the excitement of the summer, I've only just now begun working my way through First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. The book has certainly sparked some debate in circles, from the rather heavy (one might say harsh) review by Julian Kucklich to the dynamic (and, again, sometimes one might say harsh) discussion developing over at electronicbookreview (over and/or around - it's unclear to me at this point which "responses" have and haven't been published and/or retracted by ebr, complicated by the fact that their interface is simultaneously fascinating and infuriating).

With many pages to go, I hesitate to offer an opinion on the book as a whole, but I did want to toss out what I found to be a striking passage from Espen Aarseth's contribution. Aarseth is well-known - and deservedly so - for both his oft-cited Cybertext as well as his stewardship of Games Studies. He has argued more than once about the battle royale between so-called narratologists and ludologists and the consequences regarding the 'colonization' of game studies by other fields, like narratology, literary studies, and cinema studies, most notably in his article The Dungeon and the Ivory Tower: Vive La Difference ou Liaison Dangereuse?, as well as in his DAC paper, Playing Research: Methodological approaches to game analysis [pdf] and, according to Geoffery Rockwell's report, a keynote at ACH/ALLC.

In his First Person article Genre Trouble, Aarseth writes:

My warnings about narrativism and theoretical colonialism might seem unduly harsh and even militant. Why not let the matter resolve itself, through scholarly, logical dialogue? The reason for this vigilance, however, is based on numbers. The sheer number of students trained in film and literary studies will ensure that the slanted and crude misapplication of "narrative" theory to games will continue and probably overwhelm game scholarship for a long time to come. As long as vast numbers of journals and supervisors from traditional narrative studies continue to sanction dissertations and papers that take the narrativity of games for granted and confuse the story-game hybrids with games in general, good, critical scholarship on games will be outnumbered by incompetence, and this is a problem for all involved.

Unduly harsh and militant, indeed.

What's particularly puzzling, I suppose, is the assumption that one's training in a field means immediately that one is blind to one's training; e.g., that a person trained in narratology would simply bang away with the narratological hammer, as if theory were some sort of tool to be "applied," as opposed to, you know, theoretical suppositions to be pondered, challenged, debated, and refined. Apparently some are able to negotiate around their own conceptual blindspots, taking degrees in other disciplines before making the intellectual leap into game studies scholarship and leaving the discarded skin of former disciplines behind. If only we were all so adept.

Certainly not all complaints are misplaced. Plenty of articles exist that would have been more fascinating had they eschewed an overt and overriding affection for a particular theory (and that is not a problem unique to game studies). Yet for all the complaints, many of the articles - this one included - complain most generally about the application of terms like narrative, story, or neo-Aristotelian, usually turning to take a quick pot-shot at Janet Murray's 1998 Hamlet on the Holodeck, and yet fail to address particular investigations of story within games.

On the other hand, we have articles like Jesper Juul's Games Telling Stories?, which spends a great deal of time using particular aspects of narrative theory (drawing mostly on Chatman and Brooks) to show how games and narrative don't mix. A popularly recurring example: narratological claims that "narratives are indeed structures independent of any medium" (Chatman 1978, p.20; quoted in Juul). But in doing so, Juul commits the same mistake many accuse narratologists of committing - using theory like a hammer to either support or refute the presence of narrative, of story, or, what Ken Perlin, in his Can There be a Form between a Game and a Story?, unfortunately and vaguely calls "The Novel":

The form I have just described, of course, arises from what I will call "The Novel," which has for some time been the dominant literary form of Western civilization. Whether it is in the form of oral storytelling, written text, dramatic staging, or cinema, the basic premise is the same. A trusted storyteller says to us, "Let me tell you a story..."

Such vagaries are problematic and ignore the material, cultural, and historical context of literary and artistic works. "The Novel" is not simply a catch-all phrase for all literary forms that tell stories - it has a particular intellectual history very well covered in such books as Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel and Michael McKeon's Origins of the English Novel. Likewise, a more complete investigation of Chatman and Brook's point might lead us to discuss more thoroughly the changes form/discourse have upon story - and perhaps even consider new ones. Certainly literary studies - and more specifically textual studies - emphasizes the material alongside the textual, the interface alongside the typeface. And games draw on the literary, the visual, and the performative.

Aarseth states as much,

Games are games, a rich and extremely diverse family of practices, and share qualities with performance arts (play, dance, music, sports) material arts, (sculpture, painting, architecture, gardening) and the verbal arts (drama, narrative, the epos).

but the tautological introduction to that sentence offers an unnecessary caveat, an obfuscation of an otherwise appropriate description of the many media forms that influence games. That they are games seems the most obvious point of all.

I've seen no missive - perhaps I missed it - passed through the ranks of established departments laying sole claim to the study of games. No English departments spiking flags in fertile soil; no Drama departments chasing ludologists off of their performance plots of land. Nor do I understand the rhetoric of colonization so frequently bandied about; games are not some Promised Land, and ludologists - certainly a newcomer group as much as any other - are not the natives. Such rhetoric creates a myth of ownership and an accusation of invasion, neither of which are particularly helpful - or honest - to the history or future of game study.

Maybe I'm missing the urgency that drives the self-proclaimed "militant" message in this piece, the impossibility of investigating such questions "through scholarly, logical dialogue," or why literary and cinema studies are particularly at fault, while "sociology, linguistics, history, economics, and geography" get a day-pass. Game studies is a field that enjoys various influences and, as such, should encourage all types of critical perspectives (even, occasionally, those that are wrong or misapplied). Or to quote a gentler Aarseth from his introductory editorial at Game Studies: "These are interesting times. You are all invited!"

Previous related posts:
Notes: Commercial Games, Genre, Engines, Form - May 6, 2004
Notes on a Form(al) Theory for Games - March 15, 2004
Games Studies Levels Up - November 14, 2003
Joining the Hokey-Pokey (or, Putting My Left Foot in) - June 19, 2003
Game Methodology and Misc - June 17, 2003
Col. Mustard, in the blog, with a keyboard - April 28, 2003

Posted by Jason at 7:57 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack


Relatively recently someone, somewhere, linked to an article where a games industry writer claimed that the RPG he just worked on had XXXXX number of words, the equivalent (if I recall correctly) of some 5 novels.

Does anyone remember this? I'd appreciate the citation if you do.

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September 13, 2004


Michael's Noah's post Writing Fable - part one explores the script behind the anticipated (at least by me) game Fable by Peter Molyneux and the design team behind games like Dungeon Keeper and Black & White (the latter featured prominently in my PhD oral exams).

As a side note: how is that Microsoft managed to get more of the new, story-driven RPG games as exclusive licenses for the xBox, such as Bioware's KoToR (and Bioware's future releases), Fable, and others? Never one for Final Fantasy titles, I need to explore other possible RPGs for the PS2... suggestions welcome.

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September 10, 2004

Up in Arms

While I support the rights of those who wish to own a firearm, I do not believe such a right extends to the point where public safety is at risk. So, I support bans on assault weapons; I believe in background checks and waiting periods. I do not support laws such as Virginia's recent "Open Carry" law, or any other laws that allows folks to pack heat just because they are concerned about their safety. See, because them having guns makes me worry about my safety.

In any case, I'm entirely disappointed (though not surprised) that the Federal ban on assault weapons (what exactly does one hunt with an uzi? - lots of squirrels at one time?) expires midnight Monday.

What really pissed me off (if true), was the following tidbit from the San Fran Chronicle article Expired ban on assault weapons will leave us vulnerable:

With NRA support, Attorney General John Ashcroft (a longtime NRA member) has refused to allow law enforcement officials to check the federal list of firearm purchasers for suspected terrorists, purportedly because to do so would violate the privacy rights of gun owners.

Wait a second. You can search my library records, but the AG is unwilling "to allow law enforcement officials to check the federal list of firearm purchasers for suspected terrorists." Ashcroft might just believe that the pen is mightier than the sword, but someone should slip him a memo that an Uzi with a 100 bullet clip sort of trumps both.

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September 7, 2004

PBS: The Video Game Revolution

PBS offers The Video Game Revolution:

From Fad to Phenomenon

This is the story of how a whimsical invention of the 1960s helped spawn the computer industry as we know it. Video games have influenced the way children live and play, forever altered the entertainment industry, and even affected the way wars are fought. See how it all began and find out what it means for the future....

The Video Game Revolution examines the evolution and history of the video game industry, from the 1950s through today, the impact of video games on society and culture, and the future of electronic gaming.

Airing in D.C. Wednesday, September 8, at 9:00pm, MPT/Maryland Public Television, Channel 67 (and re-aired Thursday, September 9, 12:00am).

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September 3, 2004

Context is Occasionally Useful

GOP Prism Distorts Some Kerry Positions (

Setting Kerry's record right—again. By Fred Kaplan (Slate)

And a nice bipartisan org that examines fast and loose rhetoric on both sides of the aisle:

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How We Read

(according to microsoft)

The Science of Word Recognition [thanks GHW and /.)

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