Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Community channels

When I started blogging, I saw a lot of concern from journalists that blogging would ruin journalism. I wasn't too concerned, because journalism as a practice does not become ruined by diversity - but that was before I considered that while the best practice of journalism might not be changed, the general understanding of journalism might change.

Today we see a lot of "community journalists". Some are quite good and deliver an important service, reporting on topics that are overlooked, ignored or not accessible to others. The P2P net running in China to spread information off the internet about the protests is one example of this. But some are basically just spokesmen for a movement, and should rather adopt the terms "community press agents" or "community PR agents". This because they choose to represent rather than report, and they enter into the dissemination of ideas in order to convince, not to find the truth.

Often these community channels believe they are representing the truth. That is the problem with conviction, it is hard to see beyond it. Traditional journalism is aware of this problem, which is why balanced reporting is such an important concept. This basically means that in order to call something journalism, it needs to represent more than one view. The opposing side must have a chance to respond, or it isn't journalism, it's just channeling one side of an argument.

It is often difficult to get the opposing side to join in a community channel broadcast though, because the other side knows they are entering into a hostile environment. This has nothing to do with knowing they will meet disagreement, and everything to do with knowing they will be called names, ridiculed, and anger the audience of that broadcast. In present-day community activism, that includes, and is not limited to, being investigated by hostile investigators looking to grasp at anything that looks like an error, misrepresented in chat-rooms and on blogs, called names, having their emails attacked and their accounts hacked, and receiving threats starting with vague "making life unpleasant" going through phases of "we will ruin their lives and take away their careers" and up to rape- and death threats. These are very efficient silencing techniques, and journalists who work with areas where this can happen need to be very smart and very trustworthy.

This is the reason why traditional journalism contains the idea of "protecting the sources". Journalists have gone to jail in order to protect their sources, and that is why they can break open some astounding cases. The source needs to feel it is safe to offer up information.

The source also needs to believe that the information they offer up will be treated fairly. If the journalist cherrypicks the few items in the information that suits their angle, and is not ready to acknowledge when either side has a fair point, then the journalist will become a microphone stand for the loudest and most popular voices in his or her community, and not an investigative fair reporter. This (treating the opposition fairly) is rarely happening in community channels, because they are economically and socially tied to their audience. When they live directly off donations or clicks on their shows, allowing topics that will unsettle or perhaps even disperse the audience will not happen.

Quite the opposite, the community channel sees itself as defending, protecting, and fighting the good fight for their followers. The hosts of these channels may even feel that their cause loses if they have to admit that they may have been wrong, and so they will fight bitterly to the very end to support their cause. That is quite all right, as long as we agree on what that actually is. It is not journalism, it is PR, or even more frequently, propaganda, when the fact checking is flawed and they keep searching only for confirmation of their own idea.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What is an academic association?

Let’s start with “what is an academic?” The word is a circle definition, because to be an academic means to be within an academic institution, such as a school, college or university, to pursue the learning that is offered there, also the theory, not just the practice, and eventually to do research, teach, or do both.

So why would academics need associations? Let us look at how a university is organised. While the different departments may be big, very few universities hire people with the exact same specialities. This is counter-productive both for teaching and for research. For the staff, this means that while they are necessary to the institution, and so can depend on keeping their job, they don’t have many who understand their very specialised work in the immediate surroundings.

This is why they reach out to other academics in other institutions, countries, perhaps even on other continents, and decide to form an academic association. That is basically the main part: you need to decide to do it. And since there’s very little money to be made off academics talking to each other, you make it non-profit. Like all non-profit organisations, it needs a set of bylaws. Even if there’s no money in the organisation it needs a treasurer, if only to say to the auditor – because the organisation has to be audited – that you all met, brought your own lunch and paid 4€ each to the guy who made a run for coffee and snacks for the afternoon talk. It also needs a president, a vice-president, and some board members. The actual work of the board members will depend on what the association does – as it grows these roles may change. And that’s it; an academic association is born.

What the association does depends on the bylaws. Most academic associations are put together to organize conferences and/or publish journals. Some kind of knowledge exchange is what makes for better research: you are made accountable by presenting your work for others. It also offers a chance to ask questions, to get feedback, and weed out bad ideas, face to face.

The influence of academic associations depends on their size. A large one such as ICA has 4500 members. A small one such as DiGRA has a couple of hundred. Of course, a small one focusing on for instance the study of a rare, dead language can be 20 person big and comprise the entire community of researchers, and thus totally control all research on that topic. It’s all on what you consider “influence.”

Academic associations are normally funded by way of the membership fees, while some associations also get donations. Since there are some costs related to all organisations – postage, websites, coffee for the yearly meeting – there needs to be a fee. This fee for the most part comes out of the pocket of the members. Associations also don’t apply for research projects, or do research projects. It’s the members, through their institutions, who apply for research funding.

If academic associations organise conferences, some of the membership fees will be used towards the administration of the connection to the person(s) who take the responsibility for that conference. The association itself is rarely responsible for organising the conference, and doesn’t get much (if any) of the money from the conference. The academic association just brings their network of scholars, their knowledge and some support and know-how to the field. However, this differs from conference to conference; the huge ones that can be expected to generate a large income will have different ways to handle the economic side of this, and in some cases also have a professional conference staff, or buy the services of professional organisers.

So, to sum up:
Academic associations are collections of individuals with common interests.
The governments do not fund them.
They are non-profit.
Their main goal is to offer a place to meet others with similar skills and interests.
They are open to all who have this interest and have shown that they are specialists in their field (or, in the case of students – about to specialise).

Finally: “Association” is not a protected term. This means that there may be businesses that call themselves associations, but are for profit, or funded by private interests. It is not difficult to check if an organisation is a business or a non-profit, but it takes more than a quick look at the name. Reading the bylaws is a good place to start.

Some sources for academic articles on games

Journals specifically aiming at  games and virtual worlds:
Games and Culture
Gamestudies
Journal of Virtual Worlds
Journal of Games Criticism
Eludamos: Journal for Computer Games Culture
Game: The Italian Journal of Game Studies
Journal of Computer Games and Communication
JGDDE
Journal of Virtual Worlds Research
Journal of Computer Games
Well Played Journal
ToDiGRA

Journals where you will find a lot of articles on games:
Computers in Entertainment
ADA; a journal of gender, new media and technology
Journal of Computer-mediated Communication
Computers in Human Behavior
European Journal of Communication
Cyberpsychology and behavior

Link to a website that has collected even more relevant links to journals.

What is a CfP?

First, the abbreviation CfP means Call for Paper.

When there's a conference on a topic, you want as many people as possible to submit papers and panels to this conference. The more people submit, the greater chance for a good conference, through competition and variety. So you send out a CfP - a Call for Paper. CfPs are also used by journals, when you want people to send in articles for review on particular topics, by book editors when they want to make an anthology, a collection of edited articles, or in other cases when you want to create a collection of material.

A CfP basically describes the subject area, the deadline for submission, the place where the conference will be, who are organising it, and when it will be. If you want to be updated on the research being done in a particular field, and perhaps be able to contribute, you keep an eye on the CfPs.

The CfP will then be sent to as many places as possible for distribution. The calls are distributed on email lists, on paper posters, in trade journals (really big conferences) and on the front of web pages for relevant research communities. Basically, a CfP is an advertisement, just like any ad in a newspaper, only that the agency sending out the CfP normally does not have to pay to have it posted (except in those trade journals).

This means that when a CfP appears in the stream of any random website, the owners of the CfP and the website don't necessarily have anything to do with each other, just like seeing an ad for a soft-drink on television does not mean your television station has started to produce soft-drinks. Even less so, because your television provider has been paid to display the ad. So basically a CfP is an announcement, and it's published as a service to the general public, as it is made available to a much wider audience than the members of any specific community.

The same happens with jobs, and with calls for applications for research projects. This is how for instance a large research institution can publish on the front page of an organisation, without contributing any kind of funding, not even the price of an advertisement, to that organisation. The process of evaluating the papers, panels or applications falls to the organisation that issued the call, as that is also where you send your work. This is how a CfP, a research application call and a job application call can all show up on several websites without having any connection nor contributing any funding to the website where it is publised.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What is peer-reviewing?

There are three basic types of peer-review: open, single blind and double blind. Open peer-review means everybody knows each others’ names. This is normally discouraged, since people tend to read with a bias, even if they don’t know they do. Good points by somebody you don’t like are disregarded, bad points by a friend are accepted. Single-blind protects one or the other group, depending: are the papers or the reviewers anonymised? If the authors are anonymous, then the reviewers don’t know who they grade, if the reviewers are anonymous, then the authors don’t know who evaluated them. The last is often done if the issue can be expected to be severely contested, and the repercussions become aggressive. That kind of single blind is very rarely used. Double blind is when the authors don’t know the reviewers, and vice versa. This is the most common type, and what most journals and conferences practice, including DiGRA. DiGRA has recently (2010) tightened the peer-review net, and on top of having a double blind process, there’s also a meta review, which means that there are reviewers whose only job is to read the reviews and look for problematic reviews. This means that DiGRA not only peer-reviews articles, but also the reviews.

Why use meta reviews? Because a double blind peer-review process means that every review is weighted equally. This means that if you happen to hate one particular type of research, you can hide behind this process and downvote all that kind of research without being questioned. This tends to happen to new, challenging and very critical research. So if you have a brilliant new idea, peer-reviewing may destroy that idea rather than give it a chance, because most of the reviewers on any list will be dominated by who has the most common ideas about what is important. This is particularly visible when you want to introduce a challenging idea into a research community, for instance the idea that ethnography is as valid for collecting knowledge about society as surveys – if you visit a conference normally run by hard-data sociologists. The ethnographer is not likely to have a paper accepted. The same happens to a hard-data sociologist who feels that running books through a statistical program to see how many times certain phrases show up is a good idea , and then write about the quality of the book from counting, rather than reading – and then try to submit the results to a literature theory conference. It is very likely to be stopped in the peer-review process. This means that a regular, double-blind peer-review process is very good at maintaining a status quo, but bad at inviting innovation. Using meta reviews is a way to try to counter this. By reading through the reviews looking for methodological or theoretical bias, it gives a second chance to those articles that have been voted down because of the bias of the readers. Meta review is not used to remove already accepted papers, unless the process uncovers hints at collaborations.

How can one think to criticise a peer-review process? First of all, peer-reviewing is a way to restrict and control what can be published. It maintains the quality, but at the same time it frequently stops fresh, original and unusual ideas. Next, peer-reviewing is extremely costly, and makes it difficult to organise conferences on original, unusual topics. This means that scholars who want to study innovative topics – such as games – are punished in the academic system just because there are very few relevant conferences to go to, and few places to publish articles. No matter how good they are as scholars, they are handicapped in the general contest, just because they don’t have the same options for scoring academic points as other scholars. If let’s say a literature scholar can submit to a 100 potentially relevant conferences a year, and a game scholar can submit to five, getting the four accepted papers each year you need to impress your hiring board becomes very, very hard. And since Universities currently are focusing more on academic ”points” than on academic innovation, it means a game scholar will need to work a lot harder for the same recognition than the literature scholar. This is of course true of all new fields trying to gain traction in Academia.

This means that if a conference wants to be open to a wide range of ideas, it needs to go easy on the peer-reviewing. Many conferences do this by accepting abstracts, rather than full papers. This is risky, because you then don’t know what the quality will be, but at the same time it makes it easier for scholars who research actual new things to be heard. And since academia also is about actually learning new things, it is very important to keep some of these very open and welcoming conferences running, they are vital hubs for mixing the new and the old. Sadly, Universities tend to refuse funding to scholars that wish to go to the less rigidly reviewed conferences, which is another obstacle to innovation.

DiGRA currently has two types of paper submissions: full papers and abstracts. Full papers are very rigidly peer-reviewed, with two-three reviewers and then meta-reviewers. Abstracts are reviewed along the same lines, but the final full papers written from the accepted abstracts are not reviewed unless they are submitted to the journal, at which point they are reviewed again. This is to allow a mixture of traditional and new.

But all of this comes at a cost. A conference like DiGRA receives 2-300 papers each year. This means that scholars need to do from 600-900 reviews. Each reviewer can be expected to review 10 papers at the most – nobody gets paid to do this kind of work, so it’s all done on spare time next to very full schedules. This means that DiGRA each year needs 60-90 reviewers, and 10- 20 meta reviewers at least. These reviewers need to be scholars who know what they are talking about, which means preferably assistant- associate- and full professors. In a new field where there have not been all that many hires, finding 60 reviewers is not all that easy, particularly since you can’t expect more than a fraction of the existing professors to participate at any given time. It would be easier of there were 500 professors to choose from, harder if there are 100. This means that the double-blind peer-reviewing process itself becomes a huge bottle-neck for new fields of research, while it at the same time is absolutely vital to ensure academic quality and integrity. A dilemma well worth discussing.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Methods between text and player

I promised I would write something about method, and since I won't be able to write an academic article on it for quite a while, I'll just put some of the more immediate points about how I study games in here.

I predominantly work with reader-response theory, which is a theory concerning how the text and the reader interact. I started using this actively back in 1994, for the work on my first academic report on a game. This was a game designed by the Norwegian department of health, to teach young men about safe and consensual sex. It was never published, partly due to the very long and halting production process. For my first game analysis, I used reader response theory because it was one of the few literary theories that actually talked about interaction between the text and the user, as well as one of the few theories that put the user (reader, audience, player) in an active role of co-creator rather than just consumer. I found both of these to be relevant and important in order to understand what a game is and how they invite play. For this report I played the game myself, studied the textual structure, looking for nodes and kernels referencing Chatman, I interviewed the project manager in the Health-department, and I had several players test the game and then discuss it with me. My initial question had been whether this would be an efficient way to teach values, and my conclusion was that no, complex role-playing games are not particularly good teaching tools. This mainly because they are too unpredictable, and they invite transgressive or counter-productive play.

This way of researching a text is related to cultural studies, and it was a result of a drive towards more tolerance of and curiosity towards popular media. The main argument was that just because something was popular didn't mean it had to be bad, which is pretty much the opposite of the argument of the theorists Adorno and Horkheimer. This is also why I wanted to study games at a time when nobody really took games seriously - and if they did it was to discuss how they could be stopped, controlled and censored - because I believed that a medium that attracts so many wo are that enthusiastic about them can not be all bad. There has to be something attractive, stimulating and fascinating about them.

For the next major work I did on games, I used the same structure, but this time heavier on the player side of the research. I played two MUDs - this was back in the text-based multi-user games - and interviewed the players. This became my modus operandi for most digital media research: use the medium, analyse the text, collect user data. This was what later became my Ph D dissertation Pleasures of the Player; Flow and Control in Online Games. I played for months, late nights and early mornings. I'd stay at work, because playing from a modem would have ruined me, and so often stayed in the office until well past midnight in order to understand the flow and the process of play. At the same time I was reading up on ethnography. I had been leaning on ethnography for my master's thesis on a totally different topic, and so it was easy to get back in there to try and understand what I was trying to produce. I feel that I can claim that I at certain points in my analysis of the gaming practice achieved a thick description. I then went to visit and interview face to face the players I had been playing with the most. For the field studies I leaned heavily on the ethnography classic by Hammersley and Atkinson, and for the interviews I had a lot of use of Learning from strangers.

I spent almost five years on my dissertation, three of which were full time. For the interviews I travelled from Norway to the US, and was on my way for three months, interviewing players both on the east and the west coast, in order to understand the process, the flow of role-playing online. I later went back to the US, to New York, and did some additional interviews while I was a visiting scholar at New York University. The research was funded by the Norwegian Research Council and Volda College, where I worked.

What I learned from this process was that my first instincts for game scholarship; to use a mix of methods and also of analytical paradigms, were pretty good. Games are objects constantly in a process of being created - even single-user games become different depending on who plays them. This means that in order to understand a game you have to play games for yourself - no, you don't need to love them, but you need to be sufficiently curious that you want to spend a lot of time understanding how they are put together and how they work - but you also need to learn about the gaming experience of others. Other scholars will disagree - disagreement is what makes academia go around, after all. There are game-scholars who only look at structures, and game-scholars who are actually more gamer-scholars, as they mainly study the gamers as they play. I find that both these positions leaves something to be desired, you can't understand what gamers react, dislike or like, without knowing the game, while only looking at the structure leads to a too narrow point of view that limits the understanding of how a structure leads to a practice.

Once I was done with my doctorate and had a chance to look outside of my own work, I watched  a whole field of cyber ethnography come into its own. T. L. Taylor, Celia Pearce, Bonnie Nardi and Tom Boellstorff have collected some of the experiences on game ethnography in their book, while Annette Markhams book from 1998 was one of the ones I had already been using, a very important work at a time where we were mainly making methods up as we explored, building on the experiences of other scholars in other arenas, looking for a way to address the new problems of researching online environments.

But I still feel there is something more that needs to be explored. While online ethnography has acknowledged that the mediacity of the environment in which the research is done changes the research situation, it still doesn't take the step all the way towards the sensitivity to interpretation that the more textual analysis and cultural criticism offers. I don't have the language to express this just yet, it is all waiting to take shape. Which is of course why this is a blogpost, and not an article on it's way to a peer-reviewed journal near you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I am still a gamer

Being a game scholar who also plays, who studies gamers and play from the inside and the outside at the same time (one of these days I promise to write a methodology paper), I am not going to give up the "gamer" label. Neither, I hope, are my many gamer friends and gamer research subjects. But the last few weeks have definitely made me rethink the culture a couple of times.

The consistent attacks on Anita Sarkeesian for her Tropes VS Women series at Youtube is really horrifying in a "can't look away from the disaster" kind of way. While I might have gone a little easier on the moral preaching at the end of her otherwise really good latest installment, Women as Background Decoration: part II, in general I am impressed with the thorough work and solid research she has done for each movie. The attacks on her, resuming as regularly as her publishing, is like what happens when you drop a stone in an ant's nest - a thousand agressive little bastards swarming blindly to attack as venomously as they can.

Then another stone drops - as Zoe Quinn - a game designer - is attacked by her ex boyfriend. Now ex boyfriends are not the most reliable sources for information about anybody's love lives, but it was gobbled up and then used to attack Quinn for having an active sex life. Now, there are a lot of stories online about this. If you try to figure the story out, you will find one camp that is busy claiming that it's not about sex, but about ethics in game journalism, (or if it is about sex, it's for a good reason) while another camp claims the whole sex angle is a cover-up from the games press.Then somebody launches a twitter campaign with the hastag not your shield. Having spent years as a meat-shield (a bad one, though), I tried to figure that one out, but never managed to understand what it was about. OK, I did get that there were a lot of different people saying they were not shields in this discussion but - not what shields? Whose? Not the misogonysts' shield? Not Quinn's shield? Sarkeesian's? The game journalists' shield? The tweets under this label were as confusing as the rest of this disussion. Which may not be surprising, as it may be coming out of 4chan - at least according to Reddit.

For a while there, I was really annoyed. Why throw your voice in with either party there? Yes, journalism should always be read critically. It's my job to teach people to do so. But if you read the attacks and how they kept twisting back and forth and also reeling under the attacks on 4chan and reddit coming with the Celebgate or the Fappening, I have surprisingly little trust left. After having seen girls and women being treated as not real gamers for so many years - why would anybody worry about what happened to the gamer tag?

That's when a student walks into my office, and wants to study gamers. He hasn't read about any of this, he has a serious question about a fun and interesting activity, and he wants to have a female supervisor because he expects me to know what I am talking about. And he's a gamer.

That's why it matters. To be a gamer isn't to be one or the other. To be a gamer is to be a person who enjoys playing games. Some of these gamers will be jerks, just like some men beat their wives, and some women beat their husbands. Being a woman doesn't make me an abusive wife, just because some women are. Being a gamer doesn't make me neither a fake last-minute addition to a fading fad, nor a ranting maniac who gets a hard-on from abusing women online. (For those who speak German, a special little treat about trolls here.) Being a gamer is about wanting to play. The attackers who spend more time planning how to ruin Anita Sarkeesian's day than playing games are not gamers. They are trollers. So are the ones who really worry about Zoe Quinn's sex life. Just add voyeurs to that.

As for the boob-plate - I don't think we need to worry that it will ever be extinct. Feminist criticism of film has not made the Bond-girls dress up - it has just given some of them more interesting, and hotter, roles. Feminist criticism of games will not make babes, boobs or naked waists disappear, but it may lead to more alternatives for those players who don't play mainly to sit around being sexually tittilated. It may also double the market for games, by including women. And with a doubled market there will be more production, and so more variety and more competition. We could get back innovation, and see whole new fields of game production open up. But like with films - the boob-heavy (literally) segment will survive.

And hopefully, the gamers will remain. Because I love them, I love the spontaneous rants about impossible bossfights, the detailed descriptions of gaming systems, the light in their eyes as they talk about the latest achievement, the desire for new adventures.

--------

And as a special mention - I find myself surrounded by Frankfurter school followers, radical scholars all, in the very suspicious DiGRA. (Note, reddit thread has been linked in reddit to r/conspiratard.) Feminist professors and bloggers are out to get their games. And they are fighting oppressive systems, criticising the structure of peer-reviewing. Yep, that will really hurt the gaming industry... *facepalm*

I guess I should study trolls next.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The swing of the pendulum


Do you think these girls worried about getting likes to their Facebook updates?

 I can hardly read anything about women and social media, without seeing somebody complain about the peer pressure on over-performing housewives through social media. Psychologists talk about tripple pressure (norwegian link) - where women are not just responsible for a perfect home and a perfect career, but also are supposed to entertain and engage the children in their free time. This leads to women being 60% more on sick leave than men.

Normally, I just look past this issue, and shrug. I can bake when I want to, and leave it be when I want that. I played with the kids, but also yelled at them until they cleaned their own rooms and helped making dinner. And while I did finish a Ph D, I went a bit over on the time, and I guess there were a few typos in the script. "Good enough" has been one of my refrains, the other is "better luck next time."

But today I read an article in a Danish newspaper about "saying pyt" - which means "don't worry." Scandinavian has a few good words. English speakers know about "uff" or "uff uff" - which means "oh no, that is bad" - to varying degrees of badness. Now I want to point towards "pytt" or "pytt pytt", which means "it's nothing to worry about, it's not really important, just let it go."

Anyway.

I am old enough that digitally communicated peer pressure was never a problem. I never worried about seeing somebody else's cupcakes online, just to realise that mine looked like a lump of dusty coal in comparison. I did however not grow up without pressure on behaviour, performance, display and manners. Everything I did became a source of careful scrutiny and commentary, no, not online, but from the neighbours, or from the imaginary neighbours in my mother's mind. What "they" would say ran most of my childhood, and kept haunting me whenever I spoke with my mother until she died.

The sixties and seventies in a suburban neighbourhood was all about performance. The houses were showcases for the success of the families living in them, outside and inside. The size of the cars, the size of the garage, the price of the new tile on the roof, the quality of the lawn. Children's parties were a competition of cakes and entertainment, not to mention dress and manners. We were ruthlessly drilled in how to greet the hosts and how to say goodbye, carefully reciting the correct litany. We were always representatives of the family, constantly judged. And we, the kids, got off easy.

The women would host "clubs" - social meetings at each others' places, where it was all about dressing up, serving something fashionable and delicious, and then talking about what was going on. This was as much a display of perfection as any mommy blog. My mother said carefully thank you, and went out to spend the afternoon in the greenhouse. She knew very well that she could never match their fashionable clothing nor the elegant interior design. That didn't mean she didn't care. Every contact with the world outside the garden fence was scrutinised with the aim to decipher the one thing important to her: "What would the neighbours say."

Growing up in the seventies was a great way to learn to say "I don't care." The norms of society were blasted wide open by women entering new areas of society. The elegant housewives who kept the houses spotless and refused us entrance to most of the building if we wanted to play (mostly they ordered us to play outside, no matter the weather), were replaced by hippies with ecological gardens and busy working women. Divorces ceased being disasters we read about in the papers, and children born out of wedlock were no longer "uekte" - bastards born to eternal shame. My mother's "what will the neighbours say" could be fended off with a reference to how oldfashioned and intolerant that was. Who cared about a gaggle of old women anyway, life was here, now, rapidly changing and unfolding before our eyes!

And then I am suddenly older than those housewives were, and I realise that the pendulum has swung back. It may look different, because the acceptance today's young women seek is from an online circle, not from a knitting club organised every week in a new home. The perfect cupcake (which, I just want to mention, my mother would have baked in the late hours of the night, to have them waiting to tempt us into thoughtless indulgence in the morning with their perfect texture and intense tastes - my mother could bake the aprons off any online perfectionist, if we managed to drag her in from the garden) is just the same as the perfect snack for the club, and the pictures of the lovely garden are just a new mediation of the garden which used to be the showcase. It has swung back to the point that we again actually care about what the neighbours may say.

A few points in favour of today though:
  • It's ok to be queer. Actually, in many of those neighbourhoods it's now fashionable.
  • It's ok to be divorced, single mother, or just living together.
  • It's ok to have a job, and send the kids in daycare, kindergarden or pre-school.
  • It's ok to not have a car.
  • And kids get to come inside when it's raining or snowing. I like that part.
As for the rest: Try to learn something from the seventies. Perhaps you don't need to emulate all the ideas about drugs, sex, spitting in public, innovative use of safety pins and pretty bad social realist provocative literature and film, but learn to say: "It's a trap the system has constructed, and it's more important to find my own path than to satisfy the system." That should take care of most situations where you feel like you are about to drown in "what the neighbours might say." Or in concerns about Facebook likes. If needed, substitute that cute button you were about to take a picture of with a safety pin or some duct tape.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Procrastination: thinking about methods and gender

I have to finish one article, make a presentation, and edit another article. I also need to write a litt. review, and start outlining an application and an agenda. All of it has to happen now, there are people waiting, eagerly.

So of course, I can't work. That is exactly how it works.

Instead I keep thinking about all these other issues. For instance the question of method, discipline and the production of knowledge. I was recently at the conference Multi.player 2, in Münster, organised by the overly active Thorsten Quandt. Thorsten Quandt is a well known name among those who do quantitative media research, and he is now looking at games. Luckily for the rest of us, his mind isn't just organised and running at high speed, it's also pretty open for the fact that research isn't just numbers. However, the Multi-player conference was a trip into a very different discipline, and hence, also into conversations that felt very, very old school.

One thing is the idea that you can measure your way to understanding qualitative questions. Perhaps the most annoying example was one study looking at pro-social and anti-social behaviour in players. Players played, then reported their behaviour, and asked if they had fun. Prosocial players had, according to the study, more fun. The problem was not the results, I am convinced that having helpful friends and being helpful yourself is vital for multiplayer fun. The problem was the lack of definition of anti-social. Since anti-social was so diffcult to define, it had just been ignored. And so we don't know what anti-social is, who the anti-social players are, nor whether they have fun to.

From our work on the Dark Side of Play (soon to be published at Routledge), I know that there are popular games where the players are deliberately very nasty. Eve Online is one of the best known games for scams, double-crossings, and general ruthlessness. So, when you enter a game like that and do everything you can to gain resources, double-crossing your friends, cheating your guild and robbing innocent newbies, are you pro- or anti-social? The game, as it is being played now, is interesting because of the high level of risk playing it offers to the players. It wouldn't be the same game if all the players were helpful. And people still have fun while playing.

So how can you quantify anti-social, when it may actually be pro-social? And what does the first finding mean, when you can go to the next game, and find that the same behaviour gets a very different result? No smart suggestions to that problem were presented.

Next came the gender session, and for once I was able to pinpoint a moment of serious mansplaining while it was going on! I felt I unlocked an achievement or something. Here we are, listening to research - quite good and thorough research as well - on how carefully games are designed to give a very small demography what the designers think they want, which means hypersexualised female figures. It was more same-old same-old, but with a few new twists. That's when the mansplaining starts. Here's this male researcer who has never studied gender and design, carefully explaining to the young woman at the podium why the designers choose to do it this way. On behalf of all male designers, of whom he was not one, he felt the need to educate us on what men want and why give it to them.

I think what surprised me the most was the combination of overwhelmingly data heavy research, and extremely uninformed responses to other peoples' research. One should expect all these quantitative researchers to at least qualify their statemens with an "from this point of view". But no.

That doesn't mean Multi.player 2 was a bad conference. The keynotes were brilliant (I am a Chris Ferguson fan now), and a lot of the presentations were good too.

And now I need to stand up, breathe and stretch. No, not all of these. But we-who-sit-in-chairs should make some of these stretches every hour, and all of them once a day, as I was carefully told this morning. Have fun!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Lessons from an Italian beach

The Internet keeps bringing these alarming stories about the scrutiny and control women's bodies are under, and this summer brought great stories like this about how 38 year old celebrities feel it's time to stop wearing a bikini. This is something I keep seeing repeated online, particularly from the US - how important it is to have an absolutely perfect bikini body in order to wear a bikini.

Going to Italy was, in that context, amazingly liberating. At the beaches I found there, a bikini body was defined by a body wearing a bikini. Of course, we all know Italians know about style, about beauty, and worship the beautiful body shamelessly, so it might seem a bit odd that an Italian beach would be such a liberating experience. However, going to the beach there isn't mainly about the body. It's about the beach.

They will flock there in groups of the young and the beautiful, or in families with grandmothers and toddlers, they will slip in between lunch and work, or they will move down to the beach with everything from a full kitchen to the evening gown. They will swim, read, tan, talk, shop (you know all those vendors that walk the beaches? They get a lot of eager business.), and generally get on with their lives right there on the beach. And they will wear bikinis, and they will be nice to each other.

An Italian beach will be crowded, people will be carefully making their way to and from the water on the few free centimeters of unpopulated sand between the towels and chair. They will be engaging in their conversations and occasionally invite the neighbours in on them. And since so much of an Italian beach will be taken up by the commercial beach clubs with their organised chairs, and the locals prefer the narrow strip of communal beach, they will be surrounded by their local community, all the time, and know to keep it light and happy. Civility is the rule.

And in this delightfully diverse crowd, you put on your sunglasses and lean back to watch life walk by, because it will. On the firm strip by the water you will see them all: The ancient ones, moving with calm dignity and delight in their designer swimwear and dripping with gold, or in a cheap bikini and worn flip-flops. The young ones, sleek bodies and firm skin, like seals playing in the waves. The frustrated parents, watching over children, the tired mothers, pregnant or recovering, with a baby at the breast. The thin and the fat. The pale and the brown. The reader hiding under the umbrella with a book. The poser, perched on the only rock that will elevate him for display. And there will bikinis, everywhere. And if they don't like the one they are wearing, soon there will be a vendor with a huge bag of bikinis, and he will open it and offer his goods, and the women in all ages will sort through what he offers and add to their collections with colours, shapes, buckles, frills, patterns, a wonderful riot.

So next time you worry about the way you look in that bikini, just stop, and rather think about how to make yourself comfortable, the Italian way. Towel, parasol, book, water, sunscreen, snack, bikini. That's the only right thing to worry about anyway.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why I need feminism

The anti-feminism statements online are painful and disturbing, and since I can't really figure out if those girls are being set up by male friends, if they are paid to do it, or if they are for real (what's with all those references to Poland, for instance?), I can at least consider my own connection to feminism. So, today's blog-post is a long and rambling description of my own relationship to feminism, and how what I considered personal experiences grew into political awareness.

I never defined myself as a feminist. That was because I never joined the organisations, organised the 8th of March rallies, or spoke up for women's rights in public arenas. I did not, however, believe that my life would be better if there were no feminists. I was too painfully aware of the battles that gave me the rights I had. And when my students started arguing against feminism when it was on the curriculum, I chose to address, but not worry about their arguments, and rather teach them to question, to observe and to think. An observant, thinking woman with a varied experience will see what it's all about, was my logic. And while I can't speak of them all, enough of them did come back to tell me that they had realised I was right, that I now feel my choices were justified.

And that's when I realised that my lack of a feminist card didn't matter.

I suspect the girls on the "women against feminism" blog (if you want to find them, also take a peek at "cats against feminism". It makes as much sense.) would have claimed my life is not that of a feminist. I am married and have two children and a grandchild, I frequently cook for my husband and all the kids, I need men to help me with the heaviest stuff, I even prefer to let my husband do things like changing tires and fixing leaks. I worry about my hair, and, in my old age, I have started wearing a bra. It's just more comfortable. I don't attack men just because of their gender, I don't insist on having jobs I am not qualified for just because I am female, and I don't call for female supremacy. I guess according to the internet definition, I am not a feminist.

However:
My husband cooks for me as often as I cook for him. We clean the house together, and whoever is the last to leave for work, or the first to return, does the dishes and gets the little tasks done. I am a bit better at remembering important maintenance details, I remember bills and savings and numbers, I update calendars and initiate changes. I have a better sense of space and distance, and I am more intuitively sensitive. He is better at researching, spends more time on getting the details right, remembers birthdays, is more polite and worried about what people will say, and is also physically stronger and able to go on after I have fallen asleep. When the children were small, he'd let me sleep in, after I had been up to breastfeed during the  night. He will do more dishes, but I will make sure we get all the laundry done, not just what's on top of the basket. He will take the car to the workshop, but I will notice the changes that makes it necessary. We complement each other in ways which have nothing to do with our genders, and everything to do with personal abilities. What does that have to do with feminism? Feminism permits it.

My background is a story of parents who wanted something different for their daughters. My father taught us that we could do what ever we wanted, from driving vans, steering boats and operating power tools to knitting and cooking. My mother taught us how important it was to have these skills, by exposing the ugly underbelly of expectations and limitations to us, how women were not the masters of their own bodies, their own education, their own employment, mainly through the example of her own struggles. Our father gave his daughters confidence to act, our mother gave us a strong sense of the importance of independence and the need for society to change in order to permit that independence.

With this background independence and equality wasn't an option, it was an imperative. Oh, I know the fears of every woman, and quite a bit about the harm we can expect. "#yeseverywoman" could have had my tweets right along the others. But I knew the trap of "traditional roles", of retreat into the safety of "normality" for what it is. This is why I today take such immense delight in the options I have. Living with hard-won options, in a society where I have at least a chance at employment at my level of skill, where my daughter can marry the woman she loves and my son can work in a pre-school during the summer term, and where nobody thinks it's odd when my husband cuddles our granddaughter - a society where there are nappy-changing tables in both male and female toilets - is something I am deeply grateful for.

Still, I don't initiate contact with strange men. I prefer to ride my bike, rather than walk home through empty streets. I speak to and try to support, advice and function as a reference for female scholars, nurturing their strength when I can. I grieve when I meet women who have been abused, and I know enough of fear to share their pain. I let myself be engaged in supporting the research on female health, as the research tends towards a heavy gender bias where the man is the model for the healthy human being , disregarding the very differences which are supposed to be "celebrated". I know we have come a long way, but until men can stay home with their kids if they want to, until women and men are paid the same for the same job, until girls can play video games without being shamed, and boys can wear pink and be a princess if that's what they want, I don't make the error of saying I don't need feminism. Every year makes me more of a feminist.

And it makes me want to cry to watch those girls claim they don't need feminism. They need feminists to fight for medication suited for women, they need feminists to fight for their rights when they hit their heads in the glass ceiling, they need feminists to support the shelters, they need feminists to fight for the rights of their husbands as well as their own. Feminists have, elsewhere, negotiated paid leave for new fathers, and that hated quota system? It doesn't bring the incapable into power, it ensures that the capable and educated have a chance.

I am still embarrassed by the extreme fanatics though. However, those are embarrassing no matter what you believe in. It's why I back off, quickly, when somebody talk about r-e-l-i-g-i-o-n. Or the advantages of Apple computers.

So why do I need feminism? I need feminism because I want a world where men and women have equal opportunities, without gender-based pressure or harassment. And it doesn't happen for neither women nor men without awareness and struggles.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Confessions of a research object

It wasn't an experiment. I don't know where I picked up the bug that started it all, but I had been unusually active that autumn, working out, studying hard, living in an old, cold building and eating cheaply and badly. I was a skinny, poor student in a cold rainy city, and while I considered it a good life, my body didn't have the resources needed to fight the bug when it reached me.

We were planning to go away for a few days, but we had to give up that thought, because I was throwing up and had a fever. When my boyfriend - now husband - came back from the university, I was weak, had fever fantasies and spots. I couldn't remember to have had measles, so we assumed that was it, and we settled down to wait for it to pass. At some point during the night, I got a headache that felt like it was about to kill me. I managed to make my boyfriend go call a doctor. This was before cell-phones, and even before it was common for a poor student to have a phone at home, so he walked to the nearest phone-booth and called a doctor.

The doctor was there almost before him, came in, looked at me, and immediately started banging on the neighbour's door to borrow their phone. Yes, doctors didn't have cellphones either. Three minutes later I was on a stretcher in an ambulance, on the way to the hospital. Eight minutes later they were hooking me up to just about everything. Fifteen minutes later I was in a coma.

I don't know what happened for the next two days. I am told I fought the doctors and nurses and had to be restrained, or I'd pull the needles out of my body. I am told they paraded entire classes of medical students past me to see and take note of my symptoms, threatening the students that if they ever ignored such, they could just hand in their licenses right then and there. They tapped as much blood from me as they safely could, for diagnosis and study. When I finally woke up I was in a strange room, black and blue and hurting from the amount of needles and the harsh medication that had hit my veins, and there was a nurse stationed by my side in case something happened. I was alive, but nobody really knew how alive I was yet.

I was not well. Mainly, I didn't notice what I was saying. I would think one thing and say another. To this day I have a slight case of aphasia, of not having the right word, of feeling language slip away from me. Or maybe I don't, perhaps I am just more aware of it now, after that experience. I can fake it well enough, it just means I have to double-check if I want to lecture. I overprepare, just to make sure all the words are there, and I know what they mean. They may be gone in a moment's notice, to return at odd times.

But I healed up, slowly. I was young, 22 years old, fit and strong after all. I did lose some hearing, but not enough to be a problem in everyday life. I did however get half a year worth of study wiped, which hit me hard during next term's exam. I hadn't known that it was lost, and so I hadn't known to go back and repeat it. For the first month after I was not allowed to focus. I couldn't read, watch television, listen to the radio. I went home to my parents, walked the dog, rested, learned to eat again, had involved and silly conversations with my boyfriend.

Most of all though, I was cherishing being alive. After I was out of isolation and moved to another room in the hospital, a doctor came in, sat down in the chair next to me and grinned. "You are born again," he told me. "You should be dead. But you live. This is a whole new life for you." That man was dr Alfred Halstensen, at the time working on his Ph D on meningococcal disease. For the next couple of years he kept tapping as much blood as he safely could when ever he summoned me to the hospital.

I was one of the few that autumn of 1983 who survived meningitis at Haukeland Hospital, and I was an adult who could describe carefully what had happened, and who had been strong enough to insist on medical attention before it was too late. I got a spot on his graph for his Ph. D. all to myself, as the 100% survivor of being admitted in the middle of the night, and his plan for all that blood was to use it in the effort to create a vaccine. Today there is a vaccine against some types of meningitis. It isn't one of the mandatory vaccines, but it is used to protect people in cases when epidemics are about to break out. With a disease that had, at the time, more than a 50% mortality rate, and which also tends to create mini-epidemics in otherwise healthy communities, you want that protection if there is a case at a pre-school or a military camp near you.

Now, a vaccine resister could use parts of my story to say that it's healthy for the body to battle disease. For years after that very close brush with death, I didn't even get a sore throath. My immune system was working overtime to keep me healthy, something dr Halstensen had said would happen. That vaccine resister can sadly not tell that to another Torill. At about the same time as I battled meningitis and kind of won, in another hospital another woman my age, with the same name, lost. The mortality rate was 50%. For once I was on the right side of those percentages.

This event changed my life in a myriad different ways, some to the better, some to the worse. I suspect quite a few health issues can be traced back to the enormous doses of antibiotics they used to save my life. They claimed to have "whitewashed" my body, killed all bacteria they could, to make sure they got the ones that were killing me. That is not only a good thing, no matter what a miracle modern antibiotics are. The alternative is much worse though. On the up side, I lost the fear of death. I am on my second life. How many people get a second chance? I walk through life with that as a backdrop: Every moment I have here is a miracle - a miracle of modern science. When things get dark and dreary, I consider the alternative, and enjoy the fact that I am actually here, feeling angry, frustrated or depressed. When things are bright they are twice as bright, just because I am here to experience it.

The people who resist vaccines can never have been on that side of life - over the line to death, and then dragged back by expertice and drugs. They can never have felt the extreme pain, the pain that made me wish I was dead, if the headache would just end, the pain that made me kick and fight and finally black out into a two-day coma. I don't ever want another person to feel that, to experience that. I would have given dr Halstensen and the research crew at the hospital all the blood he asked for, without much thought of personal safety, to make certain that no child would ever need to feel the pain I felt that night. Luckily he was a responsible professional, an ethical researcher, and I was protected, informed and educated through the process.

I am writing this story because of the anti-vaccination movement. They are using emotional arguments against rational arguments, using fear and pictures of babies to reach hearts, while the rational arguments of scientists aim for the heads. But where do the vaccines come from? From people like me, the blood of survivors of bitter battles, living despite the odds to become a lover, a mother, a wife, a grandmother, a scholar, a researcher. I am both heart and head, and both parts of me appreciate being alive, thanks to the doctors that work to develop vaccines to save the world from the pain I went through, the pain that made it possible for me to be of some, tiny little bit of help.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dark Play in a book!

Finally two years after the Nordic Digra conference where the idea was conceived, our book project has come to the point where we have a publisher and a date for finalising it. I am talking about the project which up to this point was "Dark Play: Problematic Content in Playful Environments", and now is The Dark Side of Game Play: Controversial Issues in Playful Environments, Editors Torill Elvira Mortensen, Jonas Linderoth and Ashley M. L. Brown, and to be published at Routledge, most likely in 2015.

After a painful wait and a few adjustments, we are putting the physical signatures on actual paper next week, and from then on it's just a lot of work.

My first job as an editor for a book, although not my first realised book idea, it feels incredibly nice to have been able to bring it this far, and I am looking forwards to continue working with Jonas and Ashley until it's all in the box. Fun, fun, and then some fun!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A small lesson in the growth of bureaucracy

I have just ended my course for this term, and my darling students had as usual a wealth of questions. Several of those were to the formalia of the course: How to submit, how to write references, how many words and pages etc etc.

This is a fairly well developed course, but it's developed for paper submissions, which means there are certain things we take fairly easy on, and I thought the students would be happy about that. But no, this year the Q&A turned into a lesson in how bureaucracy grows.

First, we had a fairly soft limit: 8-11 pages, which increased at a fairly relaxed rate with the number of students. There's a formula for text type, size, margins etc, so the pages would get fairly standardised. Then the students needed a word count. OK, we gave them from 3400 - 4200 words. Still a generous range. Then they needed to know the precise word count if they were more than one. We set some more counts, still at a range. Then they needed to know exactly what to do with images. We tried again to explain that they needed to keep images at a very "need to use" basis, so please don't give us 20 pages filled with pictures. Then they needed to know exactly how many percent they could exceed the word-count range. What happens if they have 10 pages, but 4273 words? What if they have 3789 words, but 12 pages? What happens if...? They really, really wanted us to be absolute, to give them a strict and non-negotionable limit, something we would be forced to enforce. Flexibility, common sense and a generous interpretation were not words they wanted us to work by.

Year by year, as the technology allows for increased precision, this becomes more and more prevalent. In my days, we would count 10 lines, then the words in these 10 lines, find the approximate number of words on a line, add that up to a page, then add that up to the whole paper. Then we knew how much 4200 words was - approximately. And nobody would count every word.

Today they and we can count every keystroke, and with more options for precision there is also a much larger perceived potential for error. This means the insecurity increases, and answers that address a range or an approximation is no longer good enough. There is a point where the potential of the machine makes us forget about common sense, about the brilliant turn of phrase, the seductive writing of a good argument.

What I really want to tell my students is this: Write well, seduce us, lead us through the labyrinth of your argument, and we can forgive you the length of the text or the shape of the print. Make us laugh with joy as we explore the intricacies of your understandings and your thoughts, and remind us why teaching is such a beautiful thing. And please, don't make us formalize your work down to the last keystroke. We want you to have a range within which to work, some room, some flexibility. Each question we have to answer hems us in, more and more. Please - take a risk on the word-count, because we are reading, not counting.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Writing in bits and pieces

I am currently trying out the writing software Scrivener, to see if it is a better system for a type of writing which might fit how I think. It has a lot of very seductive aspects, such as several good ways to visualise chapters, a lot of ways to introduce meta-data which can also be used to outline or summarize the work, different tags and connections. But after years of handling text as massive monumental pieces, like a scroll growing mainly in one direction, it is very hard to wrap my head around another writing paradigm.

This is of course why I am doing it.

I have always felt that  my thinking happens in leaps and bounds, that my thinking is like a puzzle where nothing fits at first. I have a piece here and a piece there, but not really the whole picture. Then I start seeing how it needs to be organised, and I keep moving it around - a piece of sky there, a bit of fence here, until I have it more or less filled into a whole picture. Using Scrivener I realised that while this may be the metaphor for my thought process, it is not the metaphor of my writing process.

When I write, I visualise not a puzzle, but a river. Everything flows into the force of the direction I am moving in. Little thoughts and ideas flow into the writing and get caught up and carried along, until it's grown wide and heavy, powerful and overwhelming. Sometimes it falls into the ocean in a dramatic waterfall, splendid and catching rainbows, sometimes it works its way painfully through a muddy delta, but on it struggles until its conclusion.

Those are two very different processes, and while it may be due to the force of habit, it feels like Word is the river, while Scrivener is the puzzle.

At the same time, writing is a puzzle even when it feels like a river. I pause and put in references, I search for books, I write in qoutes. I use systems to organise the reference process - if I managed to figure out how to do that more efficiently in Scrivener, I might be over a big hurdle. All of this makes me feel old, tired and lazy when I can't get the different technology to work for me. Still, my understanding of well designed technology is that it makes me feel smarter, not more stupid. The technology I adore eases my everyday life, it doesn't make it harder. It fits in smoothly, without abrasions, because if I have to fiddle around every time I use it, I can do the processes quicker and easier by hand. On a piece of paper. With some scissors and glue.

So, no conclusion, just frustration. I still have a lot of other systems to mess around with - the perfect one may be out there.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Waiting for the barbarians

I am writing on European culture, and it's still early in the process. Hence I am googling random phrases, looking for the words, the articles and the books that can push me further. And there it is, suddenly, a poem that grips me, makes me think and also laugh, at this Europe in which I live, this odd, ancient, and also new and raw place. I found it in the beginning of a book that is available as a PDF: David Morley and Kevin Robbins (1995): Spaces of identity; Global Media, Electronic Landscapes and Cultural Boundaries, London: Routledge.

It is a poem by the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy: Waiting for the babarians. A snippet from the poem:
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

            Because the barbarians are coming today
            and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

I think we are, all over Europe, still expecting the barbarians. However, we have forgotten who they are.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Non-hedonic what?

After having written a few articles on hedonism and pleasure in relation to games, I was interested when I found, in the latest issue of Journal of Communication, two articles discussing hedonism in relation to communication. While saying you are a hedonist today means saying you are focused only on indulging yourself, hedonism in the original meaning was not about indulgence, but about taking pleasure in your life. This pleasure could be had from many different sources, and one of the frequently discussed topics in antiquity, was if this pleasure was in itself a virtue to be strived for, or if it involved and possibly even was dependent on virtue. Plato, Socrates, Epicurus and Aristippus, among others, did not promote senseless indulgence, what they discussed was a life free of fear, and low on pain, and rather more filled with good things. If they came out on the less fear and pain, more peace and joy side, they argued this had been a good life. The rest was a matter of how to get there.

One of the discussions involved eudaimonia. Since this involved Aristotle and the stoics, both parties high on the virtue scale, we popularly tend to read this as the opposite of hedonism. This is also how Hofer, Allemand and Martin defines it:
From a process-based point of view, Oliver and Bartsch (2010) introduce the concept of appreciation, which is defined as "the perception of deeper meaning, the feeling of being moved, and the motivation to elaborate on thoughts and feelings inspired by the experience" (Oliver & Bartsch, 2010, p 76). This nonhedonic gratification is conceptualized... (Hofer, Martin & Allemand, 2014, p 62)
Hofer and friends here makes the leap from something being different from hedonism to something being not hedonism, and defines it by the absence of something, in this case, by defining hedonism as pleasure, as the absence of pleasure. This is not the Aristotelian nor the stoic definition of eudaimonia. Let us go to what we, for simplicity's sake, can assume is an authority, and check Encyclopædia Britannica: "eudaemonism, also spelled eudaimonism, or eudemonism,  in ethics, a self-realization theory that makes happiness or personal well-being the chief good for man." Encyclopædia Britannica's descriptions of both epicurean hedonism and utilitarian hedonism, they are obviously not such strong opponents that they exclude each other. Rather, eudaimonia is a way of experiencing pleasures that are closer to utilitarian hedonism than to epicurean hedonism, but which is still a pleasure-based ideal of the good life.

This also makes reasonable sense if we look at the definition of eudaimonic vs hedonic entertainment as used by Iliver and Raney, cited by Hofer et. al. Here eudaimonic entertainment is driven by a desire for insight and meaning, while hedonic entertainment is more purely for the pleasure. We are back to what appears to be related to the virtue-discussion of the old Greeks, where in this case insight and meaning is deemed more virtuous and hence nore in the line with the teachings of the stoics.

The error that got me started on all of this is the idea that eudaemonism and hedonism exclude each other to the point that the one becomes not hedonic. That is a leap too far. Just consider the viewing habits of those who watch so-called eudaimonic entertainment, that is entertainment that makes you think, where you learn something and understand something about yourself. There is personal growth and there is a sense of meaningfullness. Doesn't this bring pleasure? Even if the movie is sad, don't the viewers enjoy them? Personally, while I thoroughly enjoy silly movies, comedy and easy television series I can fall asleep to, I also love being challenged and forced to think and question. Actually, I will claim that when I take time to consider a very difficult concept, read a book that I need to read and reread to understand, and then perhaps even get so far as writing a scholarly article about it, I am extremely happy! I experience a very high level of pleasure, and feel like I have indulged indeed.

To me, that is a hedonistic experience. I am quite willing to claim it is also a eudaimonic experience. I am not, however, ready to say it's non-hedonic. For it to be non-hedonic, it would have to be pure pain. I occasionally do those things too, it's normally called "chores". But even those have an aspect of utilitarian hedonism, as me finishing my chores tend to lead to other good things, like the happiness of others (more hedons for the world!) and future happiness of myself. And so it goes, as a professor expressed it at a vaguely recollected lecture on philosophy more than 30 years ago: "If you ask why we do something for long enough, the final response is - because I want to be happy." And there it is.

By the way, the other article mentioning hedonism in that journal issue, the one about how narratives persuade, the suspension of disbelief and didactic vs hedonistic processing? That one made me very happy, and I will most likely be citing it in a hopefully soon to be seen article. Don't hold your breath though - academic publishing is very close to creating more dolors than hedons all around.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Facebook, grandparent generation edition

I am one of the early Facebook users, and over the years I have used it in a lot of different ways. First, to stalk the students who invited me and discuss with other scholars how to use it as teachers, later - and for a very long time - to follow those other scholars and catch their news and their links, a mix of playful and serious, like a lunch table at a huge, international university.

Over the last year this has changed though. Facebook has seen a shift, and my personal past is suddenly also there. It started very nicely and casually: people I had missed showed up, we connected on Facebook, and it was just great. Then this group started to play games - innocent games, but surprisingly emotional. One of them was called "you know you are from XXX if..." - and then they started posting things only people from our part of the world, at a specific time, would know. It was surprising how painful that game turned out to be. Pictures of people and places once so important to me opened something I never though was so sensitive. I started to remember how deeply unhappy the girl who walked those streets was. Oh, I remember laughter and friends and fun - that was how I got into that circle of conversations in the first place. But underneath that was fear, loneliness and grief, loss and impotent anger. The Norwegian group Dum-Dum boys says it better than me:
GÅR MED EN HÅND
I HVER SIN LOMME
GATENE HER HAR VÆRT LENGRE
EN AV SVINGENE ER DEN SISTE

NABOLAGET HER ER FULLT AV SKRØMT
HAR ALDRI FLYTTA JEG HAR RØMT
NABOLAGET HER ER FULLT AV SKRØMT
HAR ALDRI FLYTTA JEG HAR RØMT
JEG VAR EN ANNEN DEN GANG DA
SLANG HEKK OG HAGELANGS
To translate: Walking with a hand/ in each pocket/ the streets here have been longer/ one of the turns is the last one. // This neighbourhood is full of ghosts/ have never moved I escaped/ this neighbourhood is full of ghosts/ have never moved I escaped/ I was another way back then/ slinking along the hedges and gardens.

And now I find myself carefully wetting each invitation. Do I want more of that? How do I deal with  those who think of me as a person they can easily approach, a friend lost to them, while to me they are part of a landscape of ghosts? Also, it's not that simple, I do long for some of those connections, to keep in touch with a past which is both slipping away and coming closer. And some of those people; I know that my presence on their feeds, that very tentative connection, is extremely important to them. While I may never be able to be what they would like me to be - a loving friend, a warm presence in their lives - I can give them this, a little sliver of closeness through digital media. Is it that much to ask?

I am starting to see how the popularity of Facebook may be its end. There is a point too close to the bone for me. The more people who connect with their ghosts, the more people reach that point. If I am suddenly absent from Facebook, that is what happened. I was eaten by the ghosts - or escaped, again.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

PhD course at ITU: Citizenship in the Digital Republic 2014 - call

Citizenship in the Digital Republic 2014:
Mundane counter publics in the digital age

March 12-14, 2014, at the IT University of Copenhagen

Lecturers: Prof. Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Copenhagen University; Prof. Peter Dahlgren, Lund University, Prof. Maria Bakardjieva, University of Calgary, Associate Prof. Bjarki Valtysson, Copenhagen University; Associate Prof. Lisbeth Klastrup, IT University of Copenhagen; Assistant Prof. Jun Liu, Copenhagen University; Christina Neumayer, Postdoctoral Fellow, IT University of Copenhagen.

Organiser(s): Christina Neumayer, Maria Bakardjieva

Date(s) of the course: March 12-14, 2014

Course description:
This course is the second edition of the ‘Citizenship in the Digital Republic’ course with a focus on ‘Mundane counter-publics in the digital age’. Citizenship, broadly defined, includes any form of democratic participation in social systems – political, technological and expert. The digital republic, for its part, is understood as a political community where the governance of the people is performed by creative utilization of communication networks. How is such governance realized and how can it advance participatory democracy? What opportunities for involvement do citizens have in a densely mediated polis? Can technological development itself be democratically steered? The goal of the course is to critically explore the new forms of democratic participation that the pervasive presence of digital media in contemporary societies affords and requires. The course aims at attracting and giving a forum to students whose interests focus on participatory forms of design, political and civic engagement, counter-publics and social movements, technological politics, regulation and education. The themes comprising the course take up the concept of citizenship and counter-publics in four distinct contexts:

first theme: counter publics in the digital age
second theme: civic activism, participation, and digital media
third theme: mundane citizenship, digital media, and everyday life
fourth theme: co-creation and participation in policy development and technology design

Counter publics in the digital age
The focus of the first theme is on counter publics in a society characterized by the thorough penetration of digital information and communication technologies (ICTs). Counter publics refer to the individuals or groups marginalized or excluded from the mainstream public sphere who contest, negotiate, and struggle against the hegemonic discourse, form spaces of political opposition, or establish alternative forms of community and identity. With the growing presence of digital technologies in all areas of social life, the internet, mobile phones, and social media are transforming the way people express themselves, interact with each other, engage or form communities, and perceive the world. How are digital communication technologies generating and facilitating opportunities that allow for the establishment of alternative political and cultural identities and communities that define themselves in opposition to established norms? What are the characteristics of the counter-publics in the digital age and how do they differ from those of the past?

Civic activism, participation, and digital media
The second theme will look at the uptake and appropriation of digital media technologies for the purposes of civic action and political participation. It will review the advances made by social movements and civic activists in rallying support and making an impact on political life and the political establishment through the creative use of digital media. The new civic cultures emerging from these processes and their relation to digital technologies and uses will be examined. This theme includes notions of media practices, media-based agency, web journalism and civic cosmopolitanism, which are according to Dahlgren essential elements of civic cultures in the digital age.

Mundane citizenship, digital media, and everyday life
The third theme will be centred on the notion of ‘mundane citizenship’ and ‘mundane counter-publics’. So far a relatively large amount of research is devoted exclusively to use of new media in particular moments of alternative or antagonistic mobilization, failing to associate these specific uses with a larger living context—the mundane, everyday experiences of new media users. In particular, current approaches largely neglect the power dynamics in the mundane use of new media technologies. Consequently, the heavy emphasis on the role of new media in specific eruptions of contentious politics overlooks the cumulative changes in civic agency associated with the mundane use of new media. Accounts narrowly focused on specific events fail to capture, reflect, and assess the political potential embedded in the new practices of civic engagement furnished by new media (e.g., "subactivism") that are submerged in everyday life.

Co-creation and participation in policy development and technology design
The fourth theme takes the notion of citizenship to the terrain of cultural and educational institutions, and cultural practices. It discusses the liberating and repressive forces at play in the way users co-produce culture online both within and outside formal cultural spheres. Co-creation and participation became buzzwords in policy development, technology design and use of digital media, in particular the so-called ‘social web’. Despite the creative potential and the possibility for engagement, a critical perspective on these developments also needs to take unintended consequences such as privacy issues, surveillance and limitations for the development of counter-publics and cultural practices into account.

By looking beyond “eye-grabbing” events (e.g., revolutionary moments), this course probes into the political implication of mundane use of new media in people’s everyday life. Addressing mundane use of new media in people’s everyday experience will help us to understand the cumulative effects of new media and their gradual evolution, but also shed light on the deeper impact of digital communication technologies on social and political changes both today and in the years to come.

How to sign up:
Sign up by sending an e-mail to Christina Neumayer (chne[at]itu.dk).
All students must submit with their application to the course a short abstract of their work as it relates to the course (not more than 500 words). Applications should be submitted by January 27, 2014. Enrolment is limited to 20 participants.

Please find more information about ECTS, etc. here: https://learnit2.itu.dk/course/view.php?id=1974436
and at the PhD school website.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Growing older

I am collecting links, quotes and references for a presentation in Leusden next week. Together with my scientific assistant I am off to the conference Games of Late Modernity, where we - or he mainly - will present a co-written presentation on play with identity. Now the games and play part - including the part about Huizinga - I am fairly confident about, but modernity isn't exactly what I have been spending the last 30 years on... I thought.

But here I am, letting myself sink into Giddens and Bauman, only to discover how familiar this is. No, I am still not an expert, and if I try to claim that the real modernity geeks will shoot me down like a sitting duck. But the more I read the more I realise how much of this development of paradigms I have lived. The seperation of space and time, disembedding and reflexivity - I have seen it happen, and the everyday reading, watching, writing, in general, living with eyes and ears open has led me to an understanding which is almost more like lived time - the argument becomes embedded in my lived experience, not disembedded and learned as mediated experience.

Or is it?

It is refreshing to sit and ponder the ambivalence of experience, and feel the contradictions like an ache in my bones, like the wrinkles of my skin. I feel both ancient (I have to be, in order to feel I have lived modernity), and surprisingly young (I feel transported back to the early eighties, as I try to figure out where I lost All that is solid melts into air. And the only reason I remember that phrase is because it is so poetic.)

Yes, I know, I write as if I am 80 years old. But the truth is that I feel like I am at a perfect age: old enough that I have decades of experience as a thinking, analysing being to draw on when I need to contextualise new knowledge, young enough to have energy, strength and an immediacy of presence needed to learn new things. At this point in life, growing older is still a good thing. At least as long as you have a really good hairdresser, and don't worry too much about having to wear glasses.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Happiness is an idle game

A while ago, I got a request from a journalist. I want to thank him, because he pointed me to something new and interesting, even if I didn't have a good answer to him. What he did was to point me to what so far is called the "Idle game" movement, represented mainly by Cookie Clicker, A Dark Room and Candy Box.

So much for that day - it turned out jet-lag and what I rather want to call "slow reveal" games are a perfect combination. I spent the day clicking back and forth between A Dark Room which soon became a firelit room, Cookie Clicker and Candy Box, revelling in a play experience I didn't know I had missed.

My favourite was A Dark Room, which is probably the reason why I prefer "slow reveal" to "idle". A Dark Room doesn't really let you idle. I have to open that pane regularly to click to gather wood and meat, check if my villagers are sick, build stuff and later go on quests. It has a certain "idle" quality in that once I have clicked a few boxes, I have to wait until resources fill up again, and if I die while questing, I have to wait until I can quest again. But it is not idle in the manner of Cookie Clicker and Candy Box. Right now I am waiting for 379,562,151,938,677 cookies, so I can buy another antimatter converter and make more cookies. I am aiming for 100 antimatter condensers (for now), and the main work I have to do is to wait. To give you an example, while writing the paragraph above, I built a house, three traps and a workshop in A Dark Room, I ate 647 candies in Candy Box (in one click), and waited through another few billions of cookies in Cookie Clicker.

So what are these games? My first immediate thought was Ian Bogost's infamous Cow Clicker. Cow Clicker was designed as a casual game parody, and was quite good at it. So good actually, that people refused to give it up. When Bogost took the cows out of the game, people clicked on the empty box, and wrote about the emptiness of a life without the mooing sound of the virtual cows in the non-game. (Btw - there I hit 379 562 billion and something, and could buy another antimatter condenser.) Like Cow Clicker all the games are highly playful and ironic, and they play with genres as well as with their own progress: layers of meta on top of actual, functional game engines.

Unlike Cow Clicker, they play with much more than one genre. All games are to a certain degree resource allocation games. Cookie clicker is definitely one, where the main goal of the game is to gain resources. It is also about gamification, as what you do is wait for the resources to build up, gain achievements and register progress. There is no risk - even the wrinklers, the monsters that eat at the cookie world, don't really delay the progress that much. I can miss clicking on the occasional golden cookie, but - well - perhaps it's me, but that doesn't feel all that risky.

Candy Box has more action. The candy box part at the beginning feels like Cookie Clicker in that it just allows a very few acts, but in this case, you don't have to click. All you need to do is wait, and while you wait you gain candies. Then you eat some or throw some away or save some, and you wait some more. After a lot of waiting (we see where the "idle" comes from), it's possible to play, and slowly, as you gain more and more resources (candy and lollipops), you can start exploring. This is where the game changes to a more regular old-fashioned adventure, with action! Candies can be used to by gear and upgrades, and by and by you can start outfitting your little avatar and go on adventures all the way to hell. This game even lets you learn how to craft, and crafting is a vital part of making it through the levels.

A Dark Room is my favourite though, with it's almost poetic minimalist beginning, and the explorations into a world that is slowly revealed to the player. This too includes a lot of waiting, but now there is a risk to waiting. My first settlers were deeply troubled by raids, and their traps were constantly ruined, forcing me to rebuild over and over again, for instance. The exploration part of the game was a little slow-reveal game within, as the map was totally unexplored until I started to walk into it - and so I died and died and died again. The game had four phases, one which was just waking up and waiting, one was allocating the initial resources, one was exploring the landscape, and then there is the space flight.

Slow reveal games are perhaps the essence of adventure games, at least Candy Box and A Dark Room. At the same time they are extremely casual, as we don't have to go out and actually do that much of the resource allocation work. No killing of chickens to gather enough feathers for the arrows, no emptying the secret hiding places of every inhabitant in the village for coins. All you need to do is wait, let it run, chck once in a while, when you need to pause anyway, to see how the game progresses. If you're smart, you make a little routine out of it - stretch, check game, back to work. Unlike smoking, it's a casual habit that lets you get out of a rut, take two minutes to reset, without giving you and your environments lung cancer.

And they are not trying to make you spend a lot of money on them. Unlike games like Candy Crush (which I have been playing for a few months now, hardcore mode, which for me means not buying any help), you can just play. The game isn't trying to trick you into anything. It is incredibly liberating after all those casual games on Facebook, where the genius of a small horde of graphic designers is dedicated to making you lust for those micro-transactions.