Monday, September 30, 2002

New computer, new colleague Albertine Aaberge to pick up the slack after I have been sick and free more of my time to work with the "quality" reform, clean desk and just three weeks of work (if it's concentrated) until the thesis is done. Scary.

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Sunday. Since Thursday I have tried to do two weeks of work. But it doesn't work you know. Although I have edited four chapters since thursday, and learned how to use Dreamweaver. No, I don't have anything to show you yet. I have one chapter to edit, and one chapter to write - and then there's a ritual of waiting for Espen and for the proofreader. And the science-theory essay - I still don't know if I have to write it or if they'll accept "Blogging thoughts" - in which case both I am Jill will be done. Anyway: more later when I have been thinking something other than: "I just want to finish this."

Friday, September 27, 2002

I am updating now only because Jill has made her blog-list react to the updates of the blogs she frequently reads. 1) I want to see what it looks like when I am on top. 2) she has chance to check if it works. Hei hei Jill!

Thursday, September 26, 2002

When I write Norwegian, I use proofreaders in order to place punctuation correctly (I never mastered that trick) and check if I have done any of my common errors, like placing the last letter of the word at the beginning of the next, or using dialect based expressions in my rather formal written Norwegian. I am stilistically quite advanced in my own language, and there's rarely any need for the proofreader to restructure a sentence or find a synonym. This is why I, despite the differentiated types of writing I do in Norwegian, was not prepared to what happened when I got a proofreader for the thesis. After the first few chapters he has obviously grasped both my style and the topic. He has figured out the jargon he shouldn't correct, and he understands where I want to go and what I want to say. Right now I am going through chapter six, and as I click on the "accept changes" button over and over again, I am amazed. I sound eloquent, the sentences are elegantly shaped - in general: I appear more intelligent than I ever thought I could be!

While going through the text and the million little and large alteration in order to make certain that I can agree with what I have written, I praise what ever lucky star directed me towards this man. Proofreading. It's great!

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

And yes, I feel much better today than I have in at least three weeks, perhaps even a month, which is when my voice became unreliable. Now all I need to do is to get some strength back, and attack that load of laundry still lurking in the laundry room - grown bloated and malevolent during my period of household-chore neglect. I just can't work with the treath of new lifeforms emerging from the laundry-basket any minute. But first I need to go for a few more walks, play a little Baldur's Gate and bake a carrot cake * ** *** ****.
Automatic objectivity and New Journalism
Reading Jill's note on the objectivity of Google News, I couldn't keep from using her comments system. But what I'd like to say outgrew that format.

The myth that technology is unbiased and objective is so problematic that the automatons dilemma is one of the main themes of Science Fiction. I can't remember which book it was, but Robert A. Heinlein wrote about why artificial humans, despite their physical supremacy were not permitted as pilots for space-faring shuttles. The argument was that they rather wanted a human pilot who would try to save his crew and his passengers despite all odds, than a construct crew who coldly calculated the odds, found them impossible and gave up.

Two points to this example:
1: The construct is only as good as its design.
2: To be subjective is human, we can't avoid it and we shouldn't avoid it.

Once upon a time, New Journalism didn't mean weblogs * **, but a distinctive way of writing non-fiction: creative, subjective and engaging. While that doesn't mean it's imaginary or even highly imaginative - the facts have to be correct - New Journalism under all its different pseudonyms is subjective, written from a point-of-view decided by the writer, and visibly so. It doesn't hide behind a corporate or institutionalised mask of objectivity, but picks a point-of-view, reveals the existence of the human behind the text, and in this manner opens up for criticism in a much less manipulative way than the socalled "objective" writing with its "real" truth and "balanced" presentation of more or less well-researched facts.

Monday, September 23, 2002

I'll be spending one more week at home. Hopefully this week I'll have the energy to do things like eating, and carrying the laundry out of the bedroom and into the laundry-room. I love the view, but even that's getting old now. I am not really very sick any more, I am just exhausted - and I am out of books I haven't read before, so I am bored as well.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

The last couple of days I have spent trying to track down programs that send information of our surfing habits to servers and repay with ads. So far I have removed four different types of programs that did this, and their associated programs. It has increased the speed of the surfing, and cleared lots of space on the hard-drive. I can't get rid of a few last files of gator though. I am almost scared of learning more about them, it's such an extremely annoying program.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Today, tomorrow and Saturday, I should have been here, with a lot of my favourite people. Tomorrow, I should have been talking about blogs in the same panel as my former teacher and supervisor through the Masters thesis. I don't think he ever expected me to start a Ph.D. - but I guess he'll be even more surprised if I finish!
How to survive your Ph.D. seems to be the topic right now. We are all going through the same things, here at the end of the work. I have three weeks of concentrated effort (and two for Espen to read the last chapter, comment, me to refuse to agree with him, send it to the proofreader, and then change after it's been proofed) left before I can hand over the thesis, and it scares me sick. I wonder if it already did.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Lots of interesting things popping up in the blogs I regularly read, just as I feeling to tired to think clearly.

Lisbeth quotes Deleuze on the difference between real and virtual.
Jill discusses the difference between fiction and simulation - and I'll most likely be chewing on that one in my sub-conscious while I wait for the antibiotics to work.
Anders Fagerjord discusses stretchtext and Fluid, and Mark Bernstein comments on that, still optimistic on behalf of alternative programming for text-publishing.
I don't really have an opinion on the last topic, but I pointed Anne Mangen in the direction of that discussion, and I hope to hear from her, as she's writing her doctorate thesis on hypertext, and is one of the literature theory scholars who also knows Fluid well.

The suspense, the suspense... academic discussions are never as thrilling as when I for some reason can't do anything about them.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Time measured in advertising
I am going to see a doctor. I lost some time tonight: stood up as soon as the commercials started, walked towards the door to let the cat in, had to sit down on the floor and have a kind of a blank space there, before I managed to get up, open the door, and get back on the couch... just in time for the movie to start. I told this to the head of the department. His immediate reaction was: "On that channel, that's at least six minutes." I am not sure what worries me more, that I had spent six minutes on the floor, or that somebody actually knows those things at the top of their heads.
Chapters 4 & 5 are done.
Virtual Worlds
Lisbeth links to some very interesting definitions of virtual worlds.

Monday, September 16, 2002

AD&D history
Gamespot's story of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
Narratives again
What intrigues me in this story is that for years, computer-game creators have aspired to create something more than games—to make real, narrative entertainments. Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts, used to say that he wanted to create a computer game that could make you cry. But somehow that higher goal always got lost in the need to make a compelling game. In my own brief time writing for the game industry, I would often hear: We want this to be a truly great story. And then the next question would be: how many rooms do you want in the dungeon?

Lisbeth links to the article Girls Just Want to Have Games, a nice article about games for girls, some that work and some that don't. And then, in the middle of that nice article, when I think the conclusion will be that the gameplay is more important than the fiction: WHAM there's the narrative again.

I haven't really looked at the games created for girls only - that might actually be an interesting next project: girl games and girl gamers! But this article indicates one reason why they haven't become such a great hit. Games need to be good games first. If you then can incorporate a great, moving, beautiful story, nothing is better. It's like ballet: if the dance and the music isn't good, it doesn't matter whether they perform War and Peace or Amazons From Space II. If the Music is good, and the choreography is great, and you have dancers who love the challenge - then you can start to tell stories as well... and make people cry.
Two must-have links on Gamers and Bloggers.
Flash for News
Among animators, "flash" is spoken with a slight sneer, as if this tool for computer animation is as low-brow as it can get. But the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter uses flash in the most elegant online presentation I have seen yet of what happened september 11th. They also remember something which the news and the propaganda tends to forget. At one point through the presentation it's possible to click on different parts of the world map, and you get to see how many people from other continents than America were lost in World Trade Center that day.

Friday, September 13, 2002

In the Game Girl Advance blog, I found a link to an article about Griefers - that is, players who thrive on making life intolerable for other players of online games.

I think all who play or chat online have met "griefers" in one shape or an other. It is a version of flaming, annoying behaviour in order to stir the tempers and make people lose their composure. It gives the griefers a sensation of power and control when their victim is annoyed or hurt. The sudden interest in griefers comes with the advance of commercial online games. Since the sport of griefers is to make life hell for others, it becomes very unpleasant to stay where they are. This costs the game-companies money, as people don't want to play when they are harassed. The griefers are also often clever hackers, who put their energy and time not into playing the game by the rules, but into circumventing the rules. This ties the resources of the game up in a constant battle as the programmers try to build mechanisms and close loopholes for undesired (read: unprofitable) behaviour.

While I as a player detest griefers, the scholar in me understands why it's possible to say that they make the game better. They cause tension and introduce an element of the unknown into the controlled game universe. By hacking or just using the game creatively, they expose flaws and weaknesses in the design, and they stimulate the other players into gaining skills and strength as a defensive activity.

The problem is that they are so horribly annoying, cruel and inconsiderate, and they act that way regardless of who their victim is. Griefers are the bullys of the games, and the bully-mentality isn't any prettier online than offline.

PS: Mark Bernstein supplies this with his comments on griefers, or as he calls them:snerts, and their influence on the software industry in general.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

by way of Gonzalo, a link to a really good-looking and interesting-looking blog: Game Girl Advance
Chapter 3. And there are pieces of the logs from the role-playing between the first four chapters. I am putting that in, like illustrations, but also for those who'd like to see how the playing was done. I think after chapter 5 I'll start using quotes from the interviews.
I'll also like to recommend this quick and very sharp critique of the validity of recent reserch on video games and violence by Jeffrey Goldstein:
Young people bring their entertainment choices and experiences to bear on their intense concerns with questions of identity, belonging and independence. Nearly all their public behavior – the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, the rings in their noses, and the games they play – has a social purpose. Until researchers look, not at isolated individuals forced to play a video game for a few minutes as part of an experiment, but at game players as members of social groups, we are unlikely to come to terms with violent, or any other, entertainment.
Stephen Kline has written the article I have been waiting and hoping for: Moral Panics and Video Games. He describes the connection between Moral Panics and the Academic Discourse, and positions this against the evidence of existing research on Video Games and violent behaviour in children. What he finds correlates with what has been found in other media studies:

In fact the way we should interpret survey studies of kids play and violence is a hotly contested issue because correlations cannot reveal the causal relations be-tween gender, amount of violent play and aggressiveness or hostility that re-searchers measure. As in the TV violence issue the confounding of aggressive
predisposition with preferences for aggressive entertainment make it hard to explain either correlations or their absence. As Dill and Dill (1998) note the correlation between aggressiveness and video game play might have 1) a social learn-ing explanation – video games cause aggression (or its absence indicates cathar-sis); 2) a disposition explanation – aggressive disposition leads to preference for more violent video game play; or 3) relate to an underlying factor (low self es-teem, social isolation) which leads to both aggressiveness and video game play. But one thing becomes clear from just about all these studies: Experiencing intense and virtual conflict seems to be an attractive play experience for many males—an experience that heavy gamers seek and that most young females avoid (Kubey, 1996; Goldstein, 1998). (Kline 1999:17)

Although there is a slight tendency towards a connection between violence and playing violent video games, it's hard to know which came first: the preference for violence, or the computer games? Kline sums his paper up with an interesting observation on the topic of moral panics:

Indeed, as this review of the literature revealed there was very little concern about video game violence until the recent moral panic: most parents actually knew
very little about their children’s use of gamings experiencing their concern and regulating because of that addictive and displacement effects. What I discovered as I set out to
take stock of this evidence is that on a global basis there are almost as many reviews of the literature on violence and video games as there are actual studies. Yet the evidence is already available, that like television and films, this interac-tive entertainment industry may require guidelines for the sale and marketing of gratuitously violent entertainment to children and young people. Although the bleating call for more research is all too familiar, it is time someone sounded the fire alarms and noted the changing media environment. (Kline 1999:22)

Tracking dr. Griffiths
Video Games: Cause for Concern (Interviewing Dr. Griffiths)
Children in the New Media Landscape
I have with me here today Dr. Mark Griffiths...
Doom with a view (Asking Dr. Griffiths)
Games or crack? (Twisting the words of Dr. Griffiths)
Stephen Kline: Moral Panics and Video Games (quoting Dr. Griffiths)
One article was available online in 2001
Does Playing Video Games Cause Aggressive Behavior? (quoting Dr. Griffiths)
Does Internet and Computer "Addiction" exist? by Dr. Mark Griffiths

Why am I tracking Mark Griffiths? Because he is the author of a paper on video games and children which is frequently referred to. But since I can't find either the paper or the publication it's supposed to be printed in at any library or bookstore, I try to find the man. So far I have pinpointed him to nottingham Trent University, where his name comes up in the campus paper... but that's as far as it goes. I have however found a lot of interesting articles that refer to his paper, and since they are more recent, I think I'll go read them.
The price of information
I just ordered an article on .pdf from Eric Document Reproduction Service. The moment I had registered as a customer, I could download the .pdf I wanted, and the cost for me was 6$. On the one hand, 6$ for three printed pages sounds a lot - those had better be good pages. On the other hand: they were scanned and saved as a .pdf, and while three pages don't take all that much time to scan, the amount of work which still happens manually in the process of scanning and registering is definitely worth 6$. The priceless part is that I can search for the article on the net, make a new account, pay for it, gain access where it's stored and download it in 10 minutes. I love the information age!

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Whale watching
But not just one tame orca this time: 3-400 wild "Grindkval", Pilot Whale, swam past sunday afternoon. They hunted hering and mackerel in the stretch of the fjord just outside my living-room windows! The ferry stopped to watch, and several small boats sensibly pulled out of the area: The Pilot Whales are smaller relatives of the Orca, and these were busy playing and feeding. After an hour or so they were gone, to hunt elsewhere. Amazing.

(When I look at the picture of how they look as they breach, I think that's the same as the lone whale I saw Friday morning, heading in the fjord. It might have been a single scout for all we know!)

Saturday, September 07, 2002

Chapter two. Done. Ooowww - that feels good.
I just quoted a friend, Ragnhild Tronstad, and thought there might be others who'd be interested in her delightful little paper Semiotic and nonsemiotic MUD performance from COSIGN 2001: Proceedings of the 1st Conference on Computational Semiotics for Games and New Media. Amsterdam: Stichting Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica, 2001.
Jill mentioned the ban on Google. Now China apparently has blocked AltaVista. At least we are learning which are the best and most popular search-engines!

Friday, September 06, 2002

Everything in his life was reasoned or calculated. He was a compulsive neurotic and could never bear to see anything disordered or untidy. He seemed to suffer acutely, for instance, if a table had not been laid with perfect symmetry.

- Hannah Höch on Piet Mondrian, quoted by Edouard Roditi

The Mondrian machine
Chapter one. Done. Editing.
It's real human beings
at the other side of those monitors, fingers on keyboards and joysticks. They fight, they laugh, they cry, they argue and they love - and sometimes they die. And when some of their own grieve - they care.
Keiko again
It's turning into a war of images, where Keiko's obvious pleasure with the place and company he has found is certainly a set-back for the experts who need to prove that he'd be better off in the wild.

"We think people have to take responsibility for what they have done to Keiko by holding him in captivity," said Siri Relling of the Norwegian Federation for Animal Protection. "Let Keiko have a fjord. It's better to have a large fjord than a small aquarium."

From Monterey

The poor scientist who dared to say that if Keiko can't handle living in the wild, he should be killed rather than continue suffering, has become the target of indignation all over the world. It's no wonder he's not available, because his quite sensible comments about giving Keiko a painless death if the alternative was long-term suffering have been taken out of context and turned into the headline in papers all over the world. Siri Relling's comment, which mirrors the most common Norwegian reaction to Keiko's appearance is rarely mentioned - and when it is: in the bottom line.

From todays Norwegian broadcast: People living along the fjords don't consider feeding a tame orca (50-70 kilo fish a day) through the winter an economic burden, and are happy to offer a fjord as his aquarium. Norwegian fjords are deep, cut far into the country and are sheltered from the extreme weather of the fjord on Island where he has been kept the last years, and are rich on fish all through the year. Morst of them also don't freeze over, and the orca is a normal part of the fauna.

Behind this is of course a touch of economic interest - imagine what an attraction he would be. But isn't there a slight taint of economic interest from the association involved in "saving" Keiko? Already they have spent 20 000 000 $. How many people live off donations generated by the popularity of the film in order to maintain the effort to return Keiko to the wild?
By way of one of the blogs I read every day: How to Learn Sweedish in 1000 Difficult Lessons: Enigmatic Meermaid. I HAD to link to this picture. They are all wearing sami jackets and I would REALLY like to know what it's all about!

A little bit of googling brought me to the Leningrad Cowboys. Their .fi adress reveals that they are finnish, which explains a lot, but certainly the sami jackets. Seeing such unabashed bad taste always makes me feel better about the world!

Thursday, September 05, 2002

A history of the game "Adventure".
Here there be Dragons - The sometimes troubled history of Dungeons & Dragons.
A Brief history of Role-playing Games by Victor Raymond.
In this series of essays, we are:
Not condemning role playing games (RPGs) as evil.
Not ridiculing conservative Christians' beliefs about RPGs
We are simply describing what RPGs are, and the conflicts between various groups, including: Players of these games.
Conservative Christians.
Sociologists who have studied RPGs and their players.

Disclaimer from Dungeons and Dragons and other Fantasy Role-playing Games.
Do anybody know of the book Joystick Nation? I didn't find it in any Norwegian libraries, and I only find it used on and - and they don't deliver used books abroad. I keep wondering if it's worth the effort to order it to get it delivered to my NYC connection and then mailed here or not.

(Anja Rau knew about it, and for those who wonder: Fun and a good read, but not really academic. Thank you Anja!)
Gaming forbidden
In Greece, public computer games are forbidden. Internet cafes may remain open as long as there are no games played there.

Somebody must have misunderstood something. And I wonder where the limit is. If you can forbid games, what can you forbid next?

The text of the law.
There's a petition online, from a group protesting against this law.
And an other place to put your name on a protest against this public paranoia.
Don't take your cellphone on vacation to Greece.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

The call of the wild
The Keiko dilemma fascinates me. There has been so much money spent on this killer whale because of the public's need to anthropomorphize him. A combination of the romantic "noble savage" and the desire to return to the original, unspoiled and happy state of humanity was transferred to animals with Jack London's The Call of the Wild. Free Willy is all about this intense desire to return to the natural state of bliss. Since the human race can't return to this state of blessed innocence, they pay to give Willy what they think he wants. And so the money which might have educated and bought safe homes and futures for thousands of children, or supported research on the environment of the oceans of the world and ensured that the wild and free whales have a chance to remain so, is spent on living out this romantic dream of humans - through a whale. It's only suitable that the orca is such an efficient predator.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Burning Chrome by William Gibson.
More Norwegian Keiko-news:
Local whale expert claims it would be better for Keiko to be killed than left to fend for himself.
While the experts from the "Free Willy" project are unhappy because Keiko is too fond of people.

It's a dilemma. Humans want to give Keiko the best thing they can imagine: his freedom. But he chooses to use his freedom to go back to what he knows and likes: performing and playing with people. Doing that he endangers himself and his freedom. If he's wild and free, nobody can tell others how to relate to him, and he can for instance become valid game if he disturbs the fish-farms in the fjords, like any other wild orca. If he's tame, he's the responsibility of the organisation who's been setting him loose, and it's their responsibility to see to it that he behaves in the way they wish. If he's regarded as tame and somebody's property we can even say that he trespasses, because Norwegian property at the shoreline stretches to a certain depth at low tide, and he is well within that when he comes to beg for food, attention and company. Funny little 5 ton problem, this.
Ministry of defense, UK: definition of simulation and synthetic environment..'s definition of simulation.
A German definition of simulation.

These definitions all include simulating real systems, environments or situations. So far I have not found a definition of simulation which includes fictional environments or pretense situations. As far as I can understand, that would not be a simulation, but a game.
The simulation of fiction
Is a game such as Anarchy Online a fictitious environment: one depended on fiction and the acceptance of this fiction, or is it a simulated: one dependent on ”as if”, acting on known rules but in a controlled environment?

I’d say fictitious: there is no simulation, because it’s not pretending to be something we know from the real world. It pretends to be not virtual reality but fictive reality. The “as if” in anarchy Online is not dependent on the known rules of nature, society or law, it’s dependent on the pretense, the fantasy and the fiction. It’s the simulation of a day-dream. But a day-dream has no reality to simulate, so it’s the simulation of the realisation of the daydream – the only connection it has to simulating reality is through the rules both obey. Or is that theories? When building a simulation of Mars, it’s not resting on facts, but on theory. That Fantasy adventure-, role-playing or simulation games are closer to theory than empirical data should not surprise those of us who are aware of the connection between science, science fiction and fantasy.
I am an exellent administrator. Yes, really. The problem is, when I administrate, it takes up all of my attention. If I try to read a book or write a coherent paragraph, thoughts of what I should do to fix this, to improve that, to rationalize something else or to provide that leaps into my mind and pushes everything else away. I like running about to fix stuff, it gives me a little rush of adrenalin, and I adore the short-term projects where I get quick feedback and lots of happy students or colleagues.

Administration, if you know how to do it, and you like it, has a lot of rewards that research lacks. It brings you in touch with other people, it challenges you through a constant stream of smaller or larger problems, most of which are possible to solve with ingenuity, money and time, and solving a problem brings instant gratification. When you do it well, you get easier days, happier people around you and a better work-situation for all. I love it. On the other hand: bad administration is a lot more instantly frustrating than bad research.

Which reminds me, I have to administrate myself into finishing a piece of research. I'll just copy these forms, so the students can get the information they asked for in time, and then I'll make a few reservations for guest lecturers and think a little on who I'd like to replace a colleague who is on research leave because we don't want a too small staff for the supervision rush in October/November...
Sometimes an acronym is just a cigar.
Lisbeth had a post yesterday about the Digital Games Research Association or DIGRA. Considering that the word is pretty close to viagra and in Norwegian means "the enourmous one", it cracked me up when Lisbeth wrote: "DIGRA has now found a name and erected a website."

Monday, September 02, 2002

Swimming with Orcas....
Remember Willy, or Keiko? After the movie, when people found out that Willy was still living in captivity, public opinion demanded that he should be set free. Since then he's been trained to survive in the wild, living in a fjord at Island. This summer, according to the enthusiastic reports of the Keiko-watch, he's been swimming with wild orca.

That's what he did in July. Now it's September, an Orca is a swift, strong swimmer and he can cover large distances quickly. These days he is in Halsafjorden, somewhat north of here, where he trails porpoises for the fishing and the company. When he gets bored with that he begs fish from fishing Norwegians and play with children when they swim in the fjord. For some reason I am not too reassured by the combination Orca, children and play.

The Norwegian coastline is heavily trafficked, with lots of small boats on the water, and people use the water both for transport and for leisure. For a social beast such as a killer-whale, who's been trained to consider humans company and a source of food, the fjords offer shelter from the weather, entertainment and all kinds of eating. Only these fjords are populated with people who, while they would normally keep a healthy distance to wild orca, are thoroughly charmed, but totally inexperienced with the handling of such a big, efficient - although tamed - predator.

I think the orcas of the world should be spared from being trapped in tiny pools in sea-worlds for the entertainment of humans. But I also think that freeing tamed predators is a very dangerous prodedure - not only to the beasts. Let's just hope Keiko doesn't get clever ideas about "playing"... or I will suddenly be all for a bout of whaling in the local fjords.