Monthly Archives: April 2010

Halo 3

I personally loved the readings for tomorrow’s class, as I’m a big gamer and used to love Red vs. Blue like any other player of Halo did.  I had a great time combing through sites like This Spartan Life and The Machinima FAQ, just because it reminded me of just how well-loved Halo 3 still is.  Can anyone believe that Halo 3 came out in 2007?  Personally, it feels like just yesterday.  Halo 3 is still one of the favorite games to pull out at a get-together at my house or a lot of my friends’ houses — the multiplayer simply cannot be beat.  I’m sure I’ll spend a fair amount of this summer goofing off with friends in Forge or teaming up with them against players from around the world.  Unlike games like Modern Warfare 2, there can be up to 4 players on a single console, and party sizes can accommodate many more.  I usually play with my brother’s friends, which can range from 2, to 4, or even 8 guys from around the US and Canada.  MW2 simply doesn’t allow that.  While it’s a great game (believe me, I’ve played it through several times), it just doesn’t allow for the same group playing aspect that Halo 3 promises.

There’s a reason that Halo 3 was so popular when it was released, still is so very popular, and caused a flood of other media such as machinima.  Red vs. Blue was incredibly popular!  I really think that this popularity was not created by the single player story line (which was very good, all said and done), but by the multiplayer aspect of the game.  Hell, when I was browsing around This Spartan Life, I saw the Rube Goldberg Machine contest and immediately started planning ways to get my normal group of guys together and start building a machine to beat them all.  For me, Halo 3 was so successful because it offered a whole new way of playing online with friends from both near and far.  I can think of no other way that its popularity can still be so high.  I did my Sophie book on Halo 3 and Red vs. Blue, and the project only reaffirmed my beliefs about the game itself.

All that said, though, I am SO tempted to go and make some machinima out of Ocarina of Time!


4/26/10 Reading: Thoughts

Honestly, I can’t say I really disagreed with any of the points made in Gamer Theory. It made a lot of associations that I had never thought of before, as well as reaffirmed quite a few I knew to be true but had never seen put down in writing (or typing, I suppose).

Nevertheless, the presentation of the reading, at least in my opinion, was a huge turn-off. We addressed this a bit in class already, and I’m glad we did, because actually the way the text was presented deterred me more than it did attract me to the text. I could see the usefulness of the paragraph-by-paragraph comment system, but at the same time I imagine this could be executed a tad more smoothly and seemlessly. My biggest issue with the form was that you had to continuously click those arrows to keep reading. There was not shortcut, you couldn’t hit the right arrow key on the keyboard, you couldn’t scroll — and if you had been multitasking and/or simply couldn’t keep your mouse hovering constantly over the annoying little arrow, every five minutes was a distraction from what you were reading because you had to pull yourself out of the text to go to the next segment.

Also, considering that commenting had been disabled for sometime now, the effectiveness of the system seemed to have been lost.

The argument could possibly be made that “Well, you have to turn the pages of a book — that takes more effort and yet no one seems to mind it.” True, but first off, the pages in a book don’t end after every brief paragraph, so you’re not turning the page nearly as often. Secondly, books are not written in hypertext, a medium with the supposed ability to “break free from the constraints of the page and redefine linear text.” Books can be forgiven because linear, page-based text is all they will ever be able to display. They are archaic and simple, but hypertext has new expectations going for it because it incorporates new technology and potential. I expect more out of a hypertext because I know for a fact it is capable of doing more, and when a hypertext simply mimics page-based linear text (in an admittedly very frustrating way), then I’m made to feel quite disappointed.

Also, as someone mentioned, getting from, say, page 001 to page 010 (in the same chapter), or even page 040 (which would be in another chapter) was a massive hassle. In a book, flipping back to, say, 5 or 50 or even 500 pages ago isn’t to difficult. You simply just thumb to that general area and then look a little more closely at the page numbers. This text’s system, however, is more analogous to shutting the book, pausing, reopening it to the table of contents, finding where it is you want to go… then finally thumbing to the page you want to go to. Admittedly, the steps take a lot less time because the internet finds the pages faster than your thumb can, but the excessive amount of steeps it took to get to a page that as not in the group of 5 pages you were looking at at any one time was a huge pain. It would’ve been nice to at least implement a “Skip to page…” button or something!

Gamer Theory

Prior to this reading, video games were approximately the last place in the world I would look to for critical social commentary. This is probably because the only games I’ve ever really played are Mario Bros.’ games, Pokemon, and a little bit of Ocarina of Time. Even once I started reading Gamer Theory, I found myself wondering what the point of all it was. I doubted that most gamers would care about something like Gamer Theory, or whether it could even enhance one’s gaming experience.

This led me to think about more traditional modes of media, such as film and television. I assume that most people that watch TV on any given night have never taken any media studies courses, but are still completely capable of enjoying what they’re watching. Still, it’s hard to argue that having an understanding of media theory won’t greatly increase your critical understanding of the TV show you are watching.

What is it about film and literature that seems to encourage more of this analytical thinking?

Quick Cuts

I have a lot to say about each section and I don’t really know where to start, so I am going to go through two sections as I think of things to say.  

America in Civilization III:  A lot of interesting stuff here, and this section brings me back to my days as an avid Civ III player.  I remembered a lot of the game play elements that Wark mentioned in her article, especially the obsessive focus on segmentation by measuring time in “discrete and concrete units” and turning the process of history, an analog procession if there ever was one, into a digital process full of individual “turns” and “units.”  His description of the world as a “network of lines” that ultimately lead individuals to games in all aspects of their lives seems an accurate yet overly pessimistic appraisal of our current life.  It is true that virtual objects constantly provide individuals with a display containing statistics about every aspect of the life, and individuals try to maximize their “score” in these metrics in every realm from calory counting to productivity management.  However, I feel that these components of human life are not the completely new innovations that Wark implies, since corporate “rat races” and other “gamic” activities have been a characteristic of American society for at least one hundred years.  The numerical and digital aspects of these gamic actions have been emphasized over time, but I think that the disappearence of the non-gamic has been occurring for a longer period of time than Wark admits.  

    The game also speaks to the ability for individuals to accept algorithms — with their quirky characteristics and their arbitrarily chosen parameters — as a way of examining governance.  We are willing to accept the transformation of all elements of our human society into numerical and quantifiable data points, and we take on the role of game designer (with some game elements hidden from our view) with aplomb while playing these political simulation games.  Most disturbingly, individuals do not seem to question the hegemonic expansion of “America” to encompass all aspects of the game world within Civilization, with all countries (regardless of their nationality or their actual history) looking to expand forcefully and seek power, not your people’s best livelihood.  

Vice City:  One of the things that I loved about this piece is that it addresses the irony that gamic systems seemingly provide us with violent means of relating to the gamic world while simultaniously sugar-coating our experience of the gamic world.  Despite the fact that Vice City primarily consists of wastelands filled with “drugs, guns, cars and personal services,” it sitll remains a “nice place” for avatars to explore.  Wark’s point that “no place is separate” fits well with Vice City’s mixture of the mundane with the morbid, combining scenes of brutality and death with prosaic scenes of driving and running.  Even Vice City, it seems, in all of its lurid glory, cannot escape from the “boredom” and repetition that characterizes so much of the gamespace that Wark describes.  His argument about dystopias was quite interesting as well, as the author contrasts the “line” of most literary fiction (and its focus on a singular theme) with nascient media forms that allowing process-based technology to replace text.  He then argues that this conflict between process-based technology and literary fiction is at the center of the anguish seen in most dystopian novels, which was quite a new perspective on the issue for me.  Finally, I think that one of the most devastating points that Wark makes against the gamespace is that it has so perverted our conception of fairness and meaning that the very act of winning the game — of even participating in the world of “agon of all against all” — is seen as an ecstatic feeling, providing individuals with the “chance and competition, intoxication and spectacle” needed to replace internal emptiness.  It terrifies me that individuals are now demanding a Hobbsian game construct as a way to get rid of the boredom that we accumulate through the repition of countless tasks.  My only hope is that this frustration doesn’t’ spill out in pblic protest, which is the reason that Wark posits that the “military entertainment” construct keeps churning out new games.  Otherwise, Wark argues, individuals would rebel against the boredom that cucrently restains them.

Google, Digital Takedowns, and Privacy

I was just reading something in the New York Times this morning concerning Google’s new website automating the process of governments taking down information or requesting information from Google, and I was surprised to see an article about this issue on one my favorite blogs here.  Before I go on, I would suggest that you look at Google’s data here.

There’s a lot to note on that Google page.  The “chilling effect” — which posits that small changes in speech codes or in prosecutions — can have a much largely effect on speech in general by discouraging individuals from putting their content online.  We have talked a lot in class about he number of clips that are forcibly removed from YouTube on a daily basis, and I think its incredible to note that these clips are removed as a result of about fourteen legal claims per year.  Granted, some of those legal claims are larger than others, but it’s scary to think that a handful of people who are willing to prosecute their claims are silencing and removing content for the other few hundred million people who use YouTube on a daily basis.  Google is noticebly mum about the 3,580 data requests that it recieved from the US government over the last six months in 2009, which I think is interesting for a website expressly dedicated to introducing transparency into the process.  I understand that some of the information that they took off Google cannot be made publically avaliable, but would it hurt for governmental organizations or Google to provide more specific information about the type of data that is being taken?  It’s really depressing that we haven’t moven toward a better search system for one’s personal content, since users don’t have to be notified when their virtual mailbox or Google Docs account is searched by the federal government.  

   The other tidbit that I teased out of this Google site was the data concerning Brazil.  If you look closely at Brazil’s data, you will see that a large portion of its removal and data requests come from Google’s provision of Orkut, a social network that never really caught on in the United States but is popular in India and Brazil.  We don’t usually think of Brazil as a particularly invasive country when it comes to privacy rights, and it’s entirely possible that FaceBook is currently processing thousands of requests for information as I write.  Pretty scary stuff…

Interesting Theory

The reading for this week was indeed interesting. I can only agree that the game space is natural, neutral, intangible and without qualities. I remember when I first started to play video games and how my pupils had to adjust every time I would get up and out of the video game. It’s true, I said out of the video game because you get so immersed in the game at times that time seems to revolve around the game and not the real world. You start to feel separation from the game and the outside.
I liked the idea of how games have in a sense evolved. We no longer need an actual “space” to play them. We can do so from screens and from our desks. We can play opponents worldwide and with broadband speed. Evolution to the max.

Gamer Theory 2.0 Response

There are two distinct aspects of gamer theory to react to: the form and the content.

First, the form: I keep going back and forth between liking and disliking the way Gamer Theory 2.0 is presented. The progressing cards and color scheme help break the reading up a little bit, and tend to provide natural breaks that can sometimes offer a nice place to pause and think about the card. On the other hand, the cards also make for constant interruption of thoughts and ideas, and the flow would be much smoother if it were simply a work of text. One part of the presentation though that I very much like is the way the comment system is implemented. Having each comment you see be related to the specific paragraph you are reading is very nice, and infinitely more useful than comments on most online pieces of writing, where they are simply all stacked at the end in an endless list with no direct tie to a specific part of the text. Admittedly, the comments change what might otherwise be considered a very scholarly work into something that is somehow more…real…..more assailable or approachable perhaps? Opening it for comments means it can be critiqued in a way a book cannot. This however is simply an inherent truth in most online publishing, not specific to Gamer Theory 2.0 at all.

It occurred to me that this form of presentation (along with the style of writing) occasionally almost made the writing feel like some form of beat poetry. Such card-ending phrases as “If there is a difference, it may not be quite what it seems,” “Civic virtue drowns in a hurricane of mere survivalism” and “The romance of the outsider is dead” all would be right at home in a smokey coffee shop being spoken in hushed tones to the beat of bongos. This doesn’t detract from the work at all, and I clearly understand that the work is not beat poetry, but the fact that a scholarly work published by the Harvard University Press could even bring the comparison to mind was interestingly amusing to me.

As a side note, I found a few pages that didn’t seem to link properly to one another. Not sure if this was a browser issue or a problem with the site or what, but I occasionally had to go back to the table of contents to get to the next section. /minor gripe.

Content: I would not necessarily say that Gamer Theory resonated with me (as a gamer) in it’s entirety, but I can certainly appreciate the attempt to explain why gamers game to those who do not, and what that reflects of real life. I can’t really relate to the idea of the Cave, or to the idea that real life is a game, but I would guess that many gamers do. I similarly can’t relate to the offered explanations of the appeal of the Sims, nor in the section Vice City. I could relate much more to the Civ III and Deus Ex chapters. Not surprisingly, this aligns with the games I choose to play. I have never like the sims, or extremely immersive games such as MMO’s, but I greatly enjoyed Deus Ex and the Civ series. This is indicative of why I can appreciate the work as a whole, regardless of my agreement with it in its entirety. I know and have known lots of gamers, and it is amazing how difficult it is to agree on a game at a LAN party. The reality of gaming is that different people do it for different reasons, and different styles of games capture the attention of different people. Wark captures this very well in branching out to cover many of these different spheres of appeal, not limiting her writing by beginning with the assumption that ‘gamers are gamers.’ It’s the same way different people play different instruments, but are all musicians, or that different people play different sports, but are all athletes.

Gamer Theory

What I found most interesting in Gamer Theory was the discussion of what makes people play and how this search for an algorithm is one of the most important aspects of gaming. I think in many ways game play closely mirrors what we all do in every day life without even noticing it–searching for patterns, discerning rules of social conduct, trying to establish meaning. Today I was reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog as I do nearly every day, and came across this passage from a review of a book about childhood:

“Play, Konner says, “combining as it does great energy expenditure and risk with apparent pointlessness, is a central paradox of evolutionary biology.” It seems to have multiple functions—exercise, learning, sharpening skills—and the positive emotions it invokes may be an adaptation that encourages us to try new things and learn with more flexibility. In fact, it may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains.”

This could go a long way towards explaining the appeal of gaming, simply that it allows us to expand our horizons in ways that we couldn’t do in real life.

Electronic Book Rights

Yesterday in the NY times an article was published, Random House Cedes Some Digital Rights to Styron Heirs. The family of William Styron, author of such books as Sophie’s Choice, has claimed right to creating digital books. Random House has conceded this right citing family circumstances, but has been vague about the circumstances. This concession is in opposition to their general assertion that they have the rights to ebooks. I’m interested to see where this will lead. I wonder if aggressive estates like those we discussed in class will use this case as a precedent to gain back rights. Do you think families deserve the rights to electronic copies since they are not explicitly given to publishers? Or do you think that these rights should be given to the publishers because no one had knowledge of the technologies when the original contracts were created?

Final Project in the Works

I’ve started my final project which is a blog in which I explore the blogosphere and sort of gain an understanding of the range and variation among different blogging communities. Anyway, if any of you have free time and would like to read it, I would really, really appreciate your comments.

Sam Explores the Blogosphere