March 31, 2005

Brainwave Pong

The Guardian reports that a paralyzed man has been fitted with a brain implant "that allows him to control everyday objects by thought alone."

During the three-hour operation, electrodes were attached to the surface of Mr Nagle's brain. They were positioned just above the sensory motor cortex, where the neural signals for controlling arm and hand movement are produced. ... In the most recent tests, performed earlier this year, Mr Nagle was able to use thought to open and close an artificial prosthetic hand and move a robotic arm to grab sweets from one person's hand and drop them in another. He has also sharpened his skills at computer games by playing the old arcade game Pong.

How cool is that? Answer: pretty cool.

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March 30, 2005

March 22, 2005

Feed Me

This might be the feed aggregator I've been looking for ... if [insert sheepish grin] I can figure out how to download the freakin' thing.

Really. I'm not *that* inept. Usually.


Do I want the nightly snapshot? Is it me, or is it terribly unclear where an available, stable version of the code resides?

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Mystery Solved

Fargo: So I was on my honeymoon when ICO landed at the GameSpy offices. I came back and everyone was talking about it in dreamy, hushed tones -- you'd think someone had just shown Citizen Kane to a bunch of film students.

Well, I guess that answers this question. ;-)

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March 21, 2005

OK. I Admit It.

We wants one Baggins.

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March 20, 2005

Welcome Intrepid Adventurers!

Dungeons Deep - Freeware Fantasy Dungeon Game Classics

[via geegaw]

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More Trouble for Genre

Because, for whatever reason, ebr is a building I get lost in, where I can never find an exit (or, at least, the path I want), I just found Aarseth's follow-up to his First Person article.

Once I read through it, I may update my own thoughts on "Genre Trouble." And, for reference, the entire ludology thread.

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text-narrative-image conference

Show & Tell: Relationships between Text, Narrative and Image
is a conference at the University of Hertfordshire (Hatfield, UK)
on September 12th, 2005.

Posters, paintings, guidebooks, films, computer games and other digital environments are just some of the cultural artefacts in which text, narrative and image intersect in particular ways. Art historians, design historians, material culturalists, practitioners of cultural studies and others are invited to reflect on their sources, the issues mobilised by articulating images and objects with language and the ways in which their talking and writing conditions understanding of cultural artefacts. Show/ Tell: Relationships between Text, Narrative and Image is the first conference in a biennial series.

Hopefully some papers or notes will be available.

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Gamespot: "Game Master Storytellers"

Gamespot: "Everything is Possible": Inside the Mind of Gaming's Master Storytellers. Interviews with Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Series), Ken Levine (Freedom Force), Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango), and Ragnar Tørnquist (The Longest Journey).

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I need food ... badly.

What Video Game Character Are You? I am a Gauntlet Adventurer.I am a Gauntlet Adventurer.

I strive to improve my living conditions by hoarding gold, food, and sometimes keys and potions. I love adventure, fighting, and particularly winning - especially when there's a prize at stake. I occasionally get lost inside buildings and can't find the exit. I need food badly. What Video Game Character Are You?

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March 18, 2005

Chronicling Searches in Game Studies

The Chronicle of Higher Education's "First Person" column is being written by a team of game studies researchers trying to garner a dual hire so they can continue their collaborative work. Judd Ruggill and Ken McAllister lead the Learning Games Initiative. Unfortunately, a subscription is required to read the articles:
Game for Anything
A Couple of Rare Birds
Team Job Interviews

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March 17, 2005

Generation M: Reading at Risk?

The Kaiser Family Foundation just released their report Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds:

A national Kaiser Family Foundation survey found children and teens are spending an increasing amount of time using “new media” like computers, the Internet and video games, without cutting back on the time they spend with “old” media like TV, print and music. Instead, because of the amount of time they spend using more than one medium at a time (for example, going online while watching TV), they’re managing to pack increasing amounts of media content into the same amount of time each day.

The Executive Summary describes the influence of console and hand-held gaming:

More than eight in ten (83%) young people have a video game console at home, and a majority (56%) have two or more. About half (49%) have one in their bedroom, and just over half (55%) have a handheld video game player. (Executive Summary, pp. 36)

In light of NEA's recent Reading at Risk report, I found the following really fascinating:

In a typical day, nearly three out of four (73%) young people report reading for pleasure. On average, 8- to 18-year-olds spend about three-quarters of an hour a day reading (0:43). Interestingly, those young people who spend the most time watching TV (the 20% who watch more than five hours a day) don’t report spending any less time reading than other young people do; and those who spend the most time playing console video games (the 13% who play for more than one hour a day) spend more time reading than those who play fewer video games (0:55 vs. 0:41 for those who don’t play video games at all, and 0:40 for those who play one hour or less). On the other hand, some kids do read less than others. For example, those with TVs in their rooms, those in homes where the TV is left on all the time, and those whose parents don’t have rules about TV watching all tend to spend less time reading than others do. (Executive Summary, pp. 35, emphasis mine)

This isn't to say that I think people read enough, but I think it does begin to address what seemed like a scapegoat-ish emphasis in the Reading at Risk report that videogames might be a major reason for their findings of a decline in reading.

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March 15, 2005

Canon Formation

Andrew Stern, over at GTA, puts forward a comment made during his panel discussion at GDC this year:

One of the comments that came out during the panel discussion Why Isn’t the Game Industry Making Interactive Stories is that the game industry has yet to reach its "Citizen Kane moment". This is the idea or hope that at some point someone will finally create a game that uses the medium in such radically new ways that it uncovers a new grammar of expression, and in the process reaches new artistic heights.

Like Andrew, I too have always found the analogy of early Hollywood cinema (CK is no Lumiere Bros production, after all) to games rather suspect, though I suppose useful in its own limited ways. The thing is, I think we *do* have a grammar of game expression and one that specifically incorporates elements of storytelling even (at least, that's what my dissertation is arguing), but because of bad implementation in a lot of games, the sheer *number* of games, the advances in technology that splits games into very different generations, and an industry that perhaps harbors even more control than early cinema ever did, it's rather tough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Toss in there the fact that we still operate with fairly limited understanding of game genre (or, I should say, genres), and the fact that we tend to view games and stories as binaries rather than components of the same part (when story is involved), and I'd say its not surprising that we find ourselves at a loss for a single defining moment.

And let us not forget that Citizen Kane enjoys at least part of its enormous prestige because of the multiple academic and popular voices that declare it so. Canon formation, be it in film, literature, or games, for all its limitations and problems, is also a useful filtering process. I suspect that as we all continue to understand, critique, debate, and teach a critical theory of games, we'll see how the waves (as Andrew so finely put it) crash together to form certain peaks.

mark's reference to Fable’s disappointment as both game and story, despite the hype (in the GTA comments), in fact, reminded me of one of my favorite publication histories, documented by Lawrence Rainey in his article "The Price of Modernism: Reconsidering the Publication of The Waste Land" (The Yale Review 78 Winter 1989: 279-30). T.S. Eliot had already planned to publish The Waste Land in his own Criterion, but he was looking for an American venue as well. Ezra Pound tried to convince The Dial to purchase the poem, and he argued that The Waste Land was “the justification of ‘the movement’ of our modern experiment, since 1900” (Rainey 282). Initially, the Dial only offered their usual $150, which Eliot thought too little. Eventually, and through no small measure of effort on the part of Pound, The Dial decided that they wanted the poem. In recompense, “they would offer Eliot the second annual Dial Award in confidence as the price of the poem, while officially they would pay only the $150 which had been their original offer" (Rainey 291). Rainey points out:

Literary history records few spectacles so curious or so touching as that of the two editors of a major review offering a figure nearly three times the national income per capita—in 1986 terms, the same ratio would yield over $40,000—for a poem which neither had seen or read. (Rainey 291, emphasis mine)

After offering such a substantial award for a poem, the editor of the American publishing magazine found it “disappointing on first reading.” That’s right. They paid that much, for something they hadn’t even seen, and, upon reading, didn’t much care for. Marketing, even in high literary circles, is an amazing thing.

In any case, this desire for a Citizen Kane moment reminds me too much of the "games that make you cry" quest ... Interesting, since the sentimental was for many years both feminized and disdained in literary circles (and, one might argue, still often is, despite valid attempts to recoup the term). Aren't there other ways we can frame successful emotional moments in games outside of either some sort of Rosebud moment or an appeal to the Old Yeller factor? Can't we point to foundational games - ones that really introduced a new element of play, style, or integrated story? I'm pretty sure we could all name a few.... some that even alter the way we encounter some games as stories. I know that some have taken a stab at creating a canon, of sorts (see the attempts by both Costik and Juul), but I wonder what we'd put together if we did focus on a very limited canon? For the first-person sneaker, would you choose Metal Gear, or Thief, or a later title? Why? Tetris seems an obvious choice over many other games, both for its foundational gameplay and because it's 'publication' history is ripe for discussions of copyright and the industry, but I'm sure arguments could be made for others.

What would a very narrow canon - say, twenty titles that you would teach in an Introduction to Computer Game Studies class - look like?

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March 14, 2005


Misc. celebrates its second year today. Like chuck, I've enjoyed having the blog as a space for working through scholarship and musing on the random, the mundane, and - yes - the miscellaneous. With the job, the additions to family, and other things going on in my life, this space has allowed me to keep in touch with both scholars and friends, two categories that I can say with great fortune frequently overlap. Thanks to everyone who has read and commented during the past two years.

And happy birthday to Angry Robot.

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The Blind Fragging the Blind

Michael Feir is an avid gamer. He spent so much time playing games in college he created his own online gaming magazine. But Feir doesn't play the best-selling games and has never seen World of Warcraft -- he's blind.

It doesn't matter. A growing library of computer games has been built specially for blind gamers, using sound instead of visuals to let players know what's going on around them.

This Wired article is about audio gameplay. It just makes you wonder how this style of play might permeate the traditional "video" game. Wouldn't audiogames be a great idea for mobile phone gaming?

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March 11, 2005

The Traversal Function

This began as a comment on MattK's post of restlessness about textons and scriptons. Since my comment sort of ... expanded ... I thought a post/trackback was in order, lest I crash the comment box. The relevant contextual posts are:
MattK - Restless about Textons and Scriptons
Matt Bowen - CodedAndRecoded
MattK - Wakey Wakey

My thoughts follow Francois' comment.

Skimming through the Hayles piece - the stipple engraving example struck me [see paragraph 9]

Stipple engraving, although it is normally perceived by the reader as a continuous image, operates through the binary digital distinction of ink dot/no ink dot; here the scripton is the image and the ink dots are the textons.[4]

Does this really work as an example for texton to scripton? Aren't we talking about two levels of scriptons here - micro and macro (collection of dots v. big picture)? 13 ways of looking at a blackbird...? There's no configuration here, which seems to be necessary to the texton-->scripton dynamic?

The remainder of that paragraph (#9) certainly provides a lengthier explanation of texton and scripton than we see in Aarseth's Cybertext, with various nods to the idea that whether something is texton or scripton depends on the reader (the browser, a person, a compiler, etc). Oddly, no mention whatsoever of the traversal function, which seems to be necessary third leg on this particular stool.

Her earlier "Point One: Electronic Hypertexts Are Dynamic Images" (paragraph 5) seems to be an attempt to recoup the "flickering signifier" and bring it into, perhaps, a larger discourse that appears more recently informed by the textual studies kind of work done by MattK, in line with McGann, Drucker, etc. She writes:

In the computer the signifier exists not as a durably inscribed flat mark but as a screenic image produced by layers of code precisely correlated through correspondence rules. Even when electronic hypertexts simulate the appearance of durably inscribed marks, they are transitory images that need to be constantly refreshed to give the illusion of stable endurance through time.

So, we do have the very real assertion of the screen here; the refresh rate reminding us that on the screened surface, image does abound (Francois' nod towards a possible occularcentrism noted). But as I think I recall from Matt's essay (so recently - and wrongly - reviewed as some sort of Humanities Computing fallacy), we also need to talk *around* the screen - and focus on the actual, functional computational boundaries and differences in text and image that still operate with or without a screen. Matt's more recent work (hex editors and so forth) also emphasizes these various layers that are, in fact, marks - magnetic or otherwise - with real consequence.

So, I'm going to talk around the screen, and wonder aloud, without having read any of this recently (that's my caveat), if Aarseth's true purpose wasn't so much in determining the multiple layers that comprise the computing experience (a materiality approach), but really perhaps an attempt to answer a terribly difficult conundrum when confronting any sort of interactive narrative - the relationship between author and reader. In other words, maybe we're asking his model to answer a question it wasn't intended to answer.

Given that we all know ludology's secret passion for narratology (this is the dirty secret of our study - and for any intending to complain, I'm poking fun at myself), let's suppose that the real uncertainty is that when examining the traditional models of readership relationships, such as Chatman, the easy split between author and reader is rather more complicated when the discourse of the story is not predetermined by the author. That is to say, in a hypertext/IF/game: though the story (the plot over time) may be established, and though the author - by providing the linking and configuration mechanisms (the game engine, as it were) - enforces a certain level of discourse (how the story is told), there remains the difficult middle-ground of choice and configuration in the eventual reception of the overall narrative (the scripton). How, in other words, does one account for the fact that a functional text output can vary reading to reading, beyond the normal expectations of interpretation, reader response, and so on (or, as Aarseth states: "Scriptons are not necessarily identical to what readers actually read, which is yet another entity").

If we read the relationship of author to reader as established partly through the author's shaping of the story through discourse, then how does one account for a readerly return to the discourse in the instance of configurable/interactive narrative. What the rather vague "traversal function" provides is a term that describes the interaction between the reader and the discourse-engine provided by the hypertext writer/creator that eventually leads to the final output text - the scripton. The traversal function may not be so much a material consideration, but a relationship consideration - the engine of possible configurations that aid the reader in the creation of a scripton.

I don't think it's meant to account for the multiple layers of textual construction process (read: materiality), as Hayles seems to suggest in her interpretation of it (though maybe it should), and as MattK was hoping it would, but rather provide a gloss on a rather thorny issue - a question of who has more control, author or reader. This is not a new problem in the theory of hypertext, which is covered quite well by Marie-Laure Ryan when she points out that early proponents of hypertext might have better focused on "controlled freedom" rather than "unbridled license."

When we're talking about a print edition of, to take a random example, The Great Gatsby, we can talk about textual variants, we can talk about textual history, but ultimately, we talk about an edition of a text. You and I can both point to the same page and read a quotation together, by virtue of the fact that the role of narrative participants is (at least to a reasonable degree) established and maintained via a completed text.


Chatman's model, in the image above, shows a singular flow: F. Scott Fitzgerald -> Nick -> ...story of Jay G... --> Implied Reader (Us, idealized). I don't remember an explicit narratee in the story. The "story" begins with Jay Gatsby's early life, continues through this rise to success, his quest for Daisy, his death, and finishes with Nick's observations. The "discourse" arranges the story so that Nick frames the tale; we don't discover Gatsby's "secret" until the end, nor do we understand Daisy's selfishness until the end either. The establishment of this order shapes our sympathy for the characters, our understanding of character motives, and so forth. By providing a complete narrative text, with no room for configuration (as we would understand it in a computation sense), the flow of narrative follows Chatman's model, from Implied Author to Implied Reader.

Since, by virtue of the nature of IF/hypertext, the discourse is not set completely (though it is set in part), that means that the reader - in controlled and limited ways - participates in the establishment of the discourse, either through asking questions (such as in Aarseth's example of Deadline), or by clicking (think Joyce's Afternoon: a story), or by piecing together various footnotes (think, House of Leaves). To varying degrees (always dependent on the mechanisms in place), the reader has some limited flexibility in choosing the discourse, based on how the broader delivery engine is built. Once you introduce a measure of configuration in a text, like we see in Aarseth's cybertextual examples, some sort of function has to be described to account for textual variants developed in the process of reading/playing a work.

All this to say, then, that the texton --> traversal function --> scripton question may well be one of narrative participation (author/reader), rather than one of textual materiality. Not that, of course, those are mutually exclusive entities, but I suspect that Aarseth might think that they are. I realize I'm playing my own sort of intentionality game here, but this line from Aarseth leads me to believe that the material considerations are to the side (although not forgotten):

(1) a text cannot operate independently of some material medium, and this influences its behavior,

I don't think that his model is set up to account for materiality, but rather that this line establishes a nod that materiality is, indeed, a factor. I'll need to revisit the pages in question so I consider the full context on this one...

This may be an aside, or maybe not, but I'm trying to work in another consideration for the role of the author. As Montfort has argued (Twisty Little Passages) in regards to IF, the function of the riddle establishes a dynamic that provides an agreement between riddler and riddlee. While there's certainly some sort of agreement in place in any literary exchange, the riddle does address another particularly thorny issue in literary studies: intentional fallacy. In IF and many sorts of games, solving the puzzle/game is a rather obvious intention on the part of the creator.

James Phelan gave a talk at UMD a little while ago on the Implied Author that in some respects sought to address the question of intentional fallacy. Note to self: dig up notes.

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Israeli Army Casts "Feeblemind"

Ynetnews - News - Army frowns on Dungeons and Dragons

Does the Israel Defense Forces believe incoming recruits and soldiers who play Dungeons and Dragons are unfit for elite units? Ynet has learned that 18-year-olds who tell recruiters they play the popular fantasy game are automatically given low security clearance.

“They're detached from reality and suscepitble to influence,” the army says.

[via TerraNova]

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Bioware on Games and Stories

Bioware is responsible for titles such as Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and the forthcoming Jade Empire. Wonderland took notes on their talk at GDC: Storytelling across genres: BioWare's perspective

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March 9, 2005

New Games Journalism

Ten unmissable examples of New Games Journalism via Guardian's Gamesblog.

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