July 21, 2006

Tour de Floyd

Go Floyd Go

Updates on time trials tomorrow are here:

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July 20, 2006


Kathleen Fitzpatrick has offered a lengthy post about MediaCommons (cross-posted also on her own blog), in which she - in collaboration with many scholars and The Institute for the Future of the Book - introduces preliminary suggestions for a model of scholarly publishing that moves beyond what for many appears to be an unsustainable and slowly declining print model. Rather than attempt to summarize, I offer the above link (which also includes a number of insightful comments) as well as if.book's post containing a round-up of initial reactions.

I suspect this is a project that must be led primarily by senior scholars (read: tenured), for no other reason than to protect the untenured from investing too heavily in something that may not be valued (enough) come time for review. Notwithstanding, there are a number of good ideas at work here - I'm excited about MediaCommons' prospects and look forward to watching the discussion unfold.

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So Grave a Matter

May 7. There hath been a sad case. A woman and man hath been fined for playing cards. They lived very near the meeting house. The fine was five pounds, but Uncle John says it should be more for so grave a matter.

-- Hetty Shepard's Fears about the Future of New England, 1675-77

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July 12, 2006

Games, Fictions, Narratives

The following post is in response to Francois' excellent points and questions in the previous post on game fiction. To begin with his first comment: the unfolding of a game event is only *sometimes* driven by narrativity, and oftentimes only in collaboration with the ludic drive. In other words, the narrative drive is not always primary (or even present - Poker has plenty of ludic and absolutely no inherent narrative drive). The trick, of course, is to understand how they do co-exist when both are present. To take an example, the playing of a chess piece is not driven by narrative design (an already-in-place narrative design), but by ludic imperatives - the needs presented by the arrangement of pieces on the board at that play moment. We can discard chess as a possible candidate for game fiction.

On the other hand, a more challenging example would be Clue/Cluedo (to keep to board games for the moment). Here we do have some elements consistent with narrative - setting, character, MacGuffins galore. And here (to now get to Francois' second point), the player must manage multiple roles. They are at once a named-character (Colonel Mustard, e.g.) and the unnamed "Investigator." One in six times (potentially) these two roles adopted by a single player must work at cross purposes, because the Investigator may in fact implicate the same player's character as the murderer. In other words, the good Colonel would implicate himself, without any clear motivation to do so.

Clue remains a complicated case because it is, at its heart, an emergent game, rather than progressive. There are 324 possible solutions (6 cards for characters, 9 cards for rooms, and another 6 cards for weapons), and the shuffling of cards, removal of 3, and subsequent game play all revolve around the emergent process of elimination. So, Clue (for me at least) remains this border case for game fiction. It certainly uses fiction within its ludic design, but to borrow from Chatman, I would argue that the fiction functions in service to the ludic design (see Chatman's Coming to Terms).

So, for our third example, let us take a computer game like Half-Life, a single-player "first-person shooter" that is heavily steeped in an apocalyptic narrative: science experiment gone wrong, leading to the invasion of the world by alien beings, with one man (Gordan Freeman, the protagonist) trying to escape from the destroyed science laboratory. Is this a narrative? Some may be tempted to say no, because the action unfolds through player participation in a way that defies narrative conventions. The narrative is not medium-independent (so would say Juul, drawing from Chatman). Or it is quest-based, but not narrative (which is Aarseth's implication in Ryan's recent collection Narrative Across Media). Yet, Half-Life is clearly a game fiction, a ludic narrative. It is progressive, whereby the action moves in stages that are repeatable and consistent. Its purpose is one of actualization of a narrative design (more than one ending exists, but each repeatable and programmed). It is, in essence, scripted and therefore, despite the potential illusion (in play) of occurring in real time (to the player), the player works through a retelling of a pre-planned event.

These, I believe, are some of the distinctions we need to make in order to crack this nut that is at the heart of the oft-cited (and oft-maligned) ludology/narratology discussion.

With regard to the Stewart quotation - the significant shift here, of course, is we have added to the process of reading (or viewing, in the case of film) a feedback loop that is, in Aarseth's terms, "non-trivial" (which I think is perhaps the wrong term, since reading is anything but - yet the point of physical engagement rings true). That feedback loop, what is often (mis?)called interactivity, remains one fundamental distinction between what we have traditionally called narratives and what are, in most respects, narrative games (ludological fictions, game fictions - whatever they must be called to allow us to discuss games-combined-with-narratives). But that players shift between multiple perspectives throughout their engagement with any game fiction is absolutely true, and part of what I'm talking about when I focus on the interface - rather than simply the avatar - in some of my work.

Thanks Francois, as always, for your careful reading and feedback.

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NEH Digital Humanities Initiative

If you are looking for some money to pursue a digital humanities project, check out NEH's recently announced Digital Humanities Initiative.

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