Archive for September, 2012

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Game Makers and other Magicians

September 26, 2012

The suggested correspondence between magicians and ideology is intriguing – and makes me cringe. Who doesn’t remember those moments between blissful childhood and cynical adolescence when all of a sudden you realized that the magical performance in front of you, complete with choices that come with the magician’s attention, had turned into a farce and that, all along, you had been led by the nose? And when the broad smiles (feeling special, good choices!) changed to a sneer? Maybe I’m all alone with this; but how can one be oblivious to the manipulations of the game, especially when the initial fun-factor has lost its charm? Channeling Borghes here, somewhat…

Maybe I just read Thomas Mann’s Mario and the Magician (1929) one time too many. Maybe I read the Hunger Games one time too many. Maybe I equate games with just too many rules one has to follow and thus wants to break. What would make games really magical is if they could undermine their own construction and gameness, as in, games get to be changed at the core. Haymitch Abernathy’s discovering the force field and using it as a bouncing device comes to mind. What makes a gamer not feel like a trapped mouse, the eager subject of the game makers’ disciplining layers of tests and competitions? When s/he can outwit the game maker – or is that just part of everyone’s ludic impulse?

Play is fun, games are fun, magic is fun. Especially if the game itself is part of the ludic enterprise – that’s magic. For those interested in ideological game making, how about Europa Universalis III…

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The Magic of Interactive Digital Media. . . as ideology?

September 22, 2012

I’m absorbed these days with questions of how ludic artifacts can use their manifest interactivity (the thing that in my view differentiates them from non-ludic artifacts like traditional film and novel) to do new things. The examples are starting to pile up: BioShockNo Russian” in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and the controversial ending of Mass Effect are the examples that stand out for me among mainstream games thus far, but it definitely seems like games that actually use their interactivity in thematic ways are growing more frequent.

As a quirky, but I think very important side note, I found this piece by Alex Stone about the role of choice in the arsenal of a magician’s tricks very revelatory:

Another familiar force is known as Magician’s Choice, the equivoqué. The idea is to set up multiple paths to the same endpoint. In the simplest version, you deal two cards down on the table and ask the spectator to “remove” to one of them. If your volunteer removes to the card you want to force, you say “Ok, that’ll be yours.” If, however, the spectator points to the other card, you eliminate it, saying “Great, we’ll remove that one.” (Here you’re exploiting the ambiguity in the meaning of the word remove.) Either way the spectator winds up with the same card.

Two things spring to mind: “ludic” films like The Usual Suspects (along with ludic epics like, say, the Odyssey, and, more importantly to me at least, every narrative digital game ever that convinced you that you were making real choices. The great frontier of making this illusion of choice manifest to the player is the one I’m excited to think we’re facing, and I take hope that the makers of games will be able to do a very great range of thematic things with it from the incredible variety of forces (of this illusionist type) one finds in traditional works of art: from the different ways Shakespearean comedies end with a marriage to the construction of the forum of Augustus as a traditional Roman family-home.

I’m suggesting that ideology can be viewed as a magician’s force, and that the connection may mean that narrative games have access to the machinery of ideology in a way they’re only beginning to explore. Worth pondering, maybe.

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Barthes and networks, not to speak of hypertext…

September 19, 2012

One of the fun things about writing a blog is that you get to look at Roger’s (and many others’) blog entries and just follow your proverbial nose. You click on one link, then on another, and then go back or keep going and just lose yourself in the maze or network or meanderings of the blogosphere. Happily, searchingly, intrigued and on occasion enchanted or provoked. And you realize how much stuff there is that makes your brain stay awake way beyond its bed time. And you keep going…

Of course Barthes designed Wikipedia (just like Marcel Duchamp is still alive, but that’s my own private joke). Barthes envisioned it in S/Z, as George Landow (who really should know) reminds us:

the networks [réseaux ] are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach, they are indeterminable . . . ; the systems of meaning can take over this absolutely plural text, but their number is never closed, based as it is on the infinity of language” (emphasis in original; 5-6 [English translation]; 11-12 [French]).

But then, how far back do we want to take that connection between text and network? Which text ISN’T a network? Florian Cramer, for instance, begins his blog entry with Borges and ends with creativity. Then again, Cramer’s work becomes much more interesting if we rephrase the question: how deep do we want that connection to go? You may find one answer in his intriguing Words Made Flesh – not a blog entry. And he has yet entirely different ideas about Wikipedia.

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Philip Roth and Wikpedia: the moribundity of the author

September 16, 2012

I kind of had a feeling. The view of authorship with which Philip Roth grew up, and which in my view is peculiar to Western culture ca. 1800- ca. 1980, isn’t compatible, thank goodness, with modern information-flows. A blogger named Oliver (aka quominus) who works for the Wikimedia foundation, writes in a post that’s far more persuasive than letter of Roth’s to which he’s responding:

Lets go through his account again, shall we?

“I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed.”

False. There was absolutely no misstatement in the article. What the article claimed at the time he wrote this open letter was that “Kakutani and other critics were struck by the parallels to the life of Anatole Broyard, a writer and the New York Times literary critic in the 1950s and 1960s who was of Louisiana Creole mixed-race descent and passed for white”.

If I’m right that Plato designed the first video game, perhaps Barthes designed Wikipedia?

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Mimesis is dead, long live Mimesis (via Aisthesis)

September 12, 2012

The discussion on the “new aesthetic”, as it is referred to in the blogs cited by Roger below, is biting off a tad much: ontology, remediation, aesthetics (as in Kant on beauty), post-humanism, phenomenology, and the Dasein of pixels – to list a few of the terms thrown about. Why not add some Husserlian Lebenswelt and a Nietzschean “transvaluation of all values” to address the reversal of perspectives from human to post-human, between things and things? If so, I want to just close up my airbook and go to sleep. What’s the point?

“Bogost also claims that the New Aesthetic is about the ‘relationship between humans and computers’ and he argues that instead it should be concerned with ontology, in this case the object-oriented relationships between lots of different kinds of objects. For now we will put aside the slippage between ‘computers’ and what are clearly representations for, or of, the ‘digital’ (see Berry 2012a, 2012b) and the fact that many of these New Aesthetic objects may have been created as artworks without the mediation of digital technology at all.”

Thank you. Let’s not put it aside. If mimesis is representation (and not limited to imitation), and what is represented is the perceived world, then we should be talking about aisthesis within the context of media aesthetics – a well-established field (Zettl 2013, Munster 2011, a series at Continuum) on creation and perception in the (digital) arts. Not sure how all of the above fits into that – and whether post-human and material studies (lots of things…) necessarily applies. Do judge for yourselves: check out the upcoming ISEA conference on MACHINE WILDERNESS or, if Albuquerque is not exactly around the corner, the current exhibit at the New Britain Museum of American Art, Pixelated: The Art of Digital Illustration. And if you are yearning for some post-human engagement, Vilém Flusser’s Vampyrotheutis Infernalis just appeared in English translation – pixelate that.

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Video Games and Human Values Initiative (School of Athens) Podcast

September 10, 2012

Every two weeks I do a podcast with some other game-thinkers at the Video Games and Human Values Initiative, which is now pretty much defined entirely by our Thursday night sessions. The first Thursday of the month is always a symposium; the third is always a “playversation“; both of those become podcasts like this one.

This one’s a playversation with Dan and Roger piloting their WW I fighters against one another and trying to decide whether there’s anything essentially digital about digital games, while Dan tries to picture what the heck they’re doing up in the analogically virtual skies.

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Digital culture and cheating

September 8, 2012

The citation of the Harvard situation in the first paragraph of this NYT story tells you much of what you need to know. That wasn’t cheating, in fact, and what these studies really reflect is how the execrable design of school is finally coming back to bite us in the posterior.

Large-scale cheating has been uncovered over the last year at some of the nation’s most competitive schools, like Stuyvesant High Schoolin Manhattan, the Air Force Academy and, most recently, Harvard.

The Harvard situation is a particularly good example, where it would seem an instructor had stumbled upon a way of doing actual formative assessment with a collaborative element, and then decided he had to revoke it; when the students continued on to do the well-designed activity, they were accused of cheating.

What does this have to do with digital culture? For me, digital culture is all about the information flows, and it’s the information flows that are leaving school behind.