Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Destroying myths
Nice email: Hans Terje Bakke, former acting director of Funcom, claims that all the media attention around my PhD and my persistent insistence that games are not dangerous and that games don't even always have to be violent, helped crack the bias against computer games. Seems like all that work was good for something, at least!
Not everything can be blogged. I hate it when that also includes fun and interesting and game-related stuff.

Monday, September 29, 2003

More Crisis Management
There are things I learn about because I just need to know if it might be interesting for my students. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management is one of those, although it feels like knowing how to deal with a crisis isn't beside the point any more, it's just good survival strategy.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

They have to be kidding
Spam - what we love to hate. Jill finds amazing discoveries, Kristin writes poetry from the spam in her mailbox and there are spam poetry contests, while I just occasionally find it hilariously funny. Like this promotion of college/university diplomas:

Dimlopa Proagrm

Ctaere a mroe prosperous ftruue for yourslef

Rvceiee a full dmlpoia form non accieertdd
uneveriitiss based uopn your rael life erpexinece

You will not be tesetd, or intreviweed
Revciee a Master's, Bahceolr's or Docttoare

Call 24 hours a day 7 dyas a week

1 - X X X - X X X - 8 2 4 7

If I was to get a fake diploma, I'd pick a forger who could SPELL! But then, I have most of the real diplomas I need. Perhaps what this tells us is: if you are clever enough to figure out that a fake diploma needs to be free from typoes and look real, that means you don't need it, and the spammers are adhering to some weird darwinistic logic. Or they have been overly influenced by this meme?

(Please note: Spam haiku is about the meat product, not the annoying emails.)

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Bleecker Street
I have found some of these places on my own, but I didn't know about the fish. At Rocco my favourites are the orange cookies, though.
Not a blog
But definitely an interesting person. I just added Mary Flanagan, artist and game designer, to my blogroll. And I am doing the same to Susana Pajares Tosca. Think of their homepages (and that of Nick Montfort, which is the same type) as really slowly updated blogs...

Friday, September 26, 2003

Make up your mind!
Turns out I didn't need to get a new, machine-readable passport anyway. The US authorities have changed their mind and do not require a machine-readable passport or a visum from Norwegian citizens until 26th of October 2004. Oh well, I have it. Now let's hope they don't change the requirements and make me go to Oslo in order to get yet an other passport before then! Sometimes, conspiracy theories and personal paranoia seems justified...
Remember the lovers?
Today I got the notion that I wanted to know what happened to Lane and Stu, the young lovers who got online in order to find people to finance their airplane tickets across the pacific. damnthepacific.com was gone, and the best explanation I could find of what happened was an article on Dead Blogs by Jenny Sinclair. Seems like their romance didn't survive until the second flight. According to this blog, which apparently is Lane's blog, she, at least, is happy in San Francisco. (And she has a new boyfriend.)
It has been raining
And the rivers swell. It's autumn in Volda, a perfectly normal, wet, windy and miserable autumn, of the kind we hate and the kind that fills the dams and produces a surplus of the electricity that lets us go on to live with our luxurious waste of energy. And the autumn lets us enjoy the subtle shades of grey.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Present, part one
It arrived last night, just in time for a decent escape from reality, and just what I need at the time: The Paladin by C. J. Cherry. From the description at Amazon: "Swordmaster Shoka bids farewell to court intrigue after the death of the old Emperor. Taizu, who is determined to become a swordwoman, seeks out Shoka and begs his help to exact revenge upon the evil tyrant Lord Ghita. Soon, Shoka and Taizu become the stuff of legends." This has nothing but good stuff for me: Intrigue, evil tyrants, a tired beaten not-so-heroic hero and an extremely stubborn young heroine.

It's a present from Lisbeth, Susana, Anja, Jill and Hanne-Lovise, and I have to say: it's perfect! The roses I got from you haven't wilted YET, and the lucky bamboo is sprouting roots - I'll plant it when the roses give in, and I am happily reading "The Paladin and you'll never settle for another ordinary sword-swinging female."

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Loss and grief
This is part of being a teacher as well. One of our students is dead. There have been students that died before, but none while they were still at the college. It is not easy to deal with. I am spending tonight with my teen-agers. They fill the house with sounds, practicing, laughing, dancing, and I cherish every sign that they are alive. The terror that they may some day not be is what wakes me up, screaming, from nightmares. In just a few - so very few - years they will be students, and the sounds of their living will fill other spaces. I will always worry, though.
Dungeons and Dreamers
Anyway, while waiting for my daughter in Ulsteinvik, I was reading Dungeons and Dreamers, which, incidentally, is also a blog - an other multi-blogger blog on games and culture.

I haven't finished more than half of the book, and while it's entertaining to read of the hip, cool entrepreneurs fighting the good battle in order to bring us the delightful games we study today, a little bell started to ring somewhere around the very casual treatment of Roberta Williams.

Where are the women? Yes, I know, this is a men's world, and we are barely permitted to play. (Well, ok, we may if we make topless skins for our avatars. ) But the book mentions women, like tantalising, intriguing spice. Who was, for instance, the woman holding the joystick while the men crouched around her in a darkened room? "Like cavemen" the book claims - and yes, the treatment of females like convenient objects along the way is quite reminiscent of a stone-age approach to history. What about the poor wife of Robert Garriott? We hear all about how she forces them all to move to New England and endure the horrors of winter and the cultural shock of living among people who keep tidy front yards, but when it comes to Robert Garriott risking his money and spending his time assisting his brother, Richard, we hear nothing about the security it must have given him to be married to a woman with an independent, successful career.

The mother of our heroes is mentioned frequently, though. Her role is developing and supporting the creativity of the young genius Richard, she moves her art out of the garage in order to accomodate the role-play interests of her son, and later on she moves again, to make space for the company. She makes dinners and bakes cakes, and behaves like a good mother should, in a story of male heroes.

OK, I may be slightly unfair here. I suspect that the women were rare, and the book is slightly fictionalised in order to appeal to a target group not really including me. I have also just read half the book - there might be women in major roles in the other half. But when the women are as rare as they probably were, the few who did play a role certainly deserve to be something more than the hand holding the joystick in the dark.
Quality Time
It is a pleasure, really. Every Tuesday I leave home at 18.35, drive to Rjåneset and take the ferry to Eiksund, then continue to Ulsteinvik. My daughter - of whom I am immensely proud, of course - has gone beyond the skill of the teachers in Volda, and if she wants to develop she needs a new teacher. This new teacher is demanding, but also attentive, and she is exhilerated. She practices more than ever, and dreams of an a-clarinet. (Somehow I need to find the money for that - but that's still in the future.)

This means I get to hear what my daughter is doing and thinking about. We sit there for two hours, in this car, on what is frequently a quite eventful trip. Last night the weather was a challenge: not just rain but hailstorms. The wind on the ferry was so rough we hardly managed to open the doors of the car, they were blown shut immediately. And while I navigated this weather - in quite a hurry, the ferry makes us 5 minute late in any weather - she was reading music history and chattering about a mixture of her anxiety about the test today, her worries about her music pupils, her ambitions with her music and her many different types of relationships to friends, class-mates, teachers, musicians... I can't even remember all the different categories of people she touches and talks to. It doesn't really matter either.

What is important is that I get to do this: sit for a couple of hours every week, listening to my almost adult daughter as she happily shares her thoughts and worries and dreams with me. My love for my children is perhaps the basic driving force in my life at the moment, they are the reason for an infinite number of decisions, large and small. Listening to my daughter, hearing what kind of person she is developing into, her thoughts, ideas and deliberations, confirms that I got a few of those right.

Who would imagine that "quality time" - this elusive concept of parent/child activities - could translate into getting there and getting back?

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Who is Salam Pax?
The person bringing this question up is Salam Pax:

Salam Pax has developed a life of his own, he is not me anymore. and I miss baghdad like hell.

Things have changed dramatically for our hero of Baghdad, Salam Pax (or who ever is the man behind). While I think the level-headed writing of the man who was the sane voice of Baghdad for legions of bloggers deserve attention, I wish for the man behind the writing that he can return to his Baghdad. Actually, I hope for Baghdad to develop into the city he misses!

Monday, September 22, 2003

Laboratory experiments and humans
All laboratory conditions are flawed when studying human beings, and games are no better than other labs. At Terra Nova, the hot new group blog discussing economic and legal issues of games, Dan Hunter asked I wonder whether it will be possible to get past the "hey, it's just a game" factor - in order to test out legal systems later to be implemented in the real world.

Personally I don't see why it is necessary to get past this, as gamers would be sure to test all realistic and fantastic loopholes in a system, as that is what gamers do. But if it was supposed to be used as a model of society, I fear that simulations will fall in the same trap as laboratories: human beings are aware of the context they are in, aware that they are part of a test, an experiment or a simulation, and they act accordingly. The information will always have to be interpreted and analysed with an eye to errors due to this self-awareness of human subjects.

And while you're looking in at Terra Nova, read Greg Lastowka's post on Games, intellektual property and ownership.
Disasters, cathastrophes and emergency planning
I am looking for a good case study on disaster or crisis information, or a good book on emergency planning. I found an interesting link of resources: UK Resilience, compiled by John Parkinson, a librarian at the Emergency Planning College in York. I love it how the British have these amazing buildings out of the way but still easy to reach in a few hours, to which they can retreat in order to consider such disturbing topics as how to plan for disasters and emregencies.
A step back
For the next three weeks I'll be doing something I haven't done for years. I'll be searching for literature on Public information/Public relation for the public information study. Yes, the defense is over, I am a Doctor, no more excuses, revise the syllabus for the next two courses NOW!

I am not all that frustrated or bored, it's good to have a task, a familiar one that I know I can deal with while my brain is winding down and my hands, arms and shoulders are healing from the stress of the last month. I am back to eating medication for that, so I am in a mire of odd emotional side-effects which means that at the moment safe and easy = good.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Bad connection
Volda is isolated from the rest of the world at the moment - no, roads, planes, boats still run, but there's a problem at an internet gateway between Volda and Ålesund, and I can never trust that the signals will pass through to the rest of the world. Perhaps just as well, as my hands hurt and I am eating anti-inflammatory medication again, hoping I'll manage to use my right thumb soon.

Friday, September 19, 2003

De-structuring lectures
This is what happens when I can't surf: I write stuff offline. This would actually have been a good blogpost, but it's way too long. The gist of it is: PowerPoint is being blamed for boring presentations. I don't think it should take the blame all alone, but technology has a way of imposing structure on writing, and this is a clear example.
The Real Language
I can't help it, I enjoyed this post at Desbladet with exactly the wicked pleasure he describes.

("No really, Impressionable Young Anglophone Person Of Gender At A Cocktail Party, once you've got the hang of Bokmål it really isn't all that much of a stretch...")

Even more so because Jan Fredrik Hovden has his office three doors down from mine, and I have the priviledge of conversing with him on topics great and small in the very language Des struggles over.

Oh, and there are two more significant nynorsk pointers in the sentence he quotes, right at the beginning: "Fyrst gjev..." Those words not only indicate nynorsk, but also a pure, conservative Ørsta version, straight from the homeland of Ivar Aasen. Enjoy...

(When that's said: I am impressed Desbladet found the thesis at all, not to mention that he is attempting to read it.)

Thursday, September 18, 2003

In Sydney in 1996 I tasted oysters for the first time. Since then I have had this yearning towards raw (even live) seafood, and I am really looking forwards to the Oyster Bay Oyster Festival at Long Island the weekend when I arrive in New York. It's the home town of my NYC connection, and where he used to work in the oyster and shellfish farms, so I am eagerly anticipating a feast!
New Media Journalism and blogs
Dennis G. Jerz has started a group blog for his New Media Journalism class. Group blogs seems to be the latest rage, but hey, blogs were created as software for cooperation, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised. I, for one, will be happy to look Dennis and his students in the cards.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

It's raining. I am cold. There's an impossible amount of paperwork waiting for me. Next semester will be a mess. I may stay away from this space until I have something nice to say. Until then, enjoy some silliness.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Reality in Kabul
Jill writes about Åsne Seierstad and the Bookseller from Kabul. Seierstad has written about her life with a family in Afghanistan, and now she is being sued for millions, for harming the integrity and honour of the family.

While the book does reveal things about the family which, acording to experts, can be damaging, we don't know what they agreed on in advance. What did Åsne say she was? What did the bookseller think she was? Did she make the mistake of revealing more than he thought any sane human being could reveal? Did he make the mistake of underestimating her skills of observation and her ability to write and get her writing published? Did she think they understood what it meant, to be studied by a journalist? Did he think a woman would not have a mind of her own, but write what he expected her to write?

The book is interesting because Seierstad obviusly gets behind the veil, and learns about a culture frequently unavailable to us, and the contrast between their obvious lack and Seierstad's success is distinct. But would we have been as sympathetic to the bookseller's plight if he had been a rich man? Would we think that he must have been misled and taken advantage of if he had been a wealthy westerner and Åsne a hungry Afghan journalist?

I really don't know who is right in this matter. Seierstad is keeping quiet. That makes me wonder: what does she not write? To me, her book seems to hold back, where a reality series would have pushed forwards: to know it all, to reveal it all. Now the bookseller is draving attention to himself. What will this do to his family, his honour and integrity? He obviously knows enough about western culture to know that he can sue Seierstad and demand a part of what she has earned. What else does he know about how things work, for instance media attention in the west?

Monday, September 15, 2003

The Big Description
or - concluding a chapter

trial lecture
I really didn't know how to approach the topic of the trial lecture. But I decided to stick with what I knew, and built my argument around Norwegian peculiarities. That turned out to be a hit. The audience laughed at all the right places. But the swordfighters stole the show. Thinking about it now, that was a daring move. The lecture became "the lecture with the sword fights" and not "Torill's brilliant lecture on LARP". However, the fights illustrated My points so well that it didn't really matter. Just the sound of steel when it slid out of sheats as opposed to rubber as it thumped against velvet demonstrated the differences in approach. And I found that wonderful description of professional wrestling by Roland Barthes, in his Mythologies, as well as Victor Turner's distinction between liminal and liminoid.

Yes, I was nervous, as the headmaster of the College and the dean from University of Bergen both opened the lecture with little tiny speeches. But the sword fighters made me relax: stepping aside for a moment, to enjoy their show, was a very good way to distance myself from the need to entertain the audience. Laughing at their antics as Brigt Ove crawled across the floor, pulled himself to his feet and stabbed Trond over and over and over again was a release too, not just for the audience, who needed a touch of comic relief, but also for me. Ten years ago I might not have felt secure enough as a lecturer to let them have six whole minutes of such an important lecture, but today I am really happy I didn't try to add an other two pages.

I timed it almost perfectly: 46 minutes, when it should have been 45 - the dean from Bergen congratulated me on that. T.L. later told me they had given me the topic because they really wanted to see me lecture on it, with a sneaking suspicion that I might be a good lecturer. And she also said they were not disappointed.

I returned from that lecture to a house that was in a perfect state of chaos. I don't want to know about all the things that happened in the many corners of the house during the most hectic periods. Somebody have spilled baby food in the ceiling. There are plants I have been looking for since Saturday. And not a single clean towel left.

Life with sisters means life with constant critics of what you wear. This has developed a certain conservatism in me: stay as simple and unremarkable as possible. In order to be certain I had what I needed for the defense, I actually had a suit tailor made years ago, aiming towards the test lecture and the defense. Problem was: I have lost so much weight since then, the suit looked like it was made for a totally different woman. I just couldn't wear it. So now I have this 5000 kr tailor made combination of jacket, trousers and skirt, and all the pieces are just wrong for me.

So, family and friends intervened, and attacked the closet. And they didn't stop at the clothes (final consensus for the defense was reached when they found the dress and jacket bought for a wedding last year), but went on to go through jewelry, shoes and stockings, hunting for the perfect combination. My plans for the trial lecture were approved of (black trousers and red top), but I was not permitted to wear a black jacket to tone it down, and the search for the perfect earrings commenced in consensus over a pair of black heavy dangling pieces that would swing with each movement and frame my face monumentally. Really high heels with the long black trousers, and even my artist sister approved of the length of my legs. I don't know when that happened last...

Quite accurately, T.L. Taylor pointed out that the procession at the start of the defense is like a wedding, (Vigdis Songe-Møller declared that it's more than a wedding) and we all concluded that after this, I'd really be married to my job. The dean comes first, then the candidate, first opponent, second opponent, third opponent. We walked down the stairs at the side of the auditorium while all in the room stood up to honour us. Then we were seated n reverse order: third opponent, second opponent, first opponent, candidate. The dean took her seat at the front, at her own table, from which she could see both podiums as well as the audience.

First opponent
Stuart Moulthrop was first, after my fifteen minute introduction. This was the moment I had been terrified of for years. It had caused me slow down the process of finishing the thesis. It had been the setting of many a nightmare, where I found myself humiliated, publicly shamed and personally ruined. And then he asked about Castranova and the connection between games, economy and the real world. Sly guy! My pulse held approximately the frequency of a bird, and he asked me to think. And he kept up that for 90 minutes, gentle sideways approaches, easing into problems, little lectures about the state of game and theory, and frequent bouts of praise to make sure I knew that he was not the enemy! The concluding question almost threw me off my heels! How did I envision a study of games should be organised? What did that have to do with my thesis? So I turned to the audience, gestured broadly to win an other moment, and entoned: "let me be a little visionary". But like all visionaries, I left out a few things from my vision. I was told so, afterwards... from a sociologist, a sports-teacher, a feminist... yeah, you can imagine. They all want to work in the future Faculty of Games though.

Intermission with food
This is an other of those weird traditions. The comittee, the candidate, the supervisor, the dean (two deans in this case), the headmaster of the college, the administrative head of the college and my immediate family all had lunch. In Bergen this would have been at some nice restaurant. Here it was at the college's VIP room, with a buffét and coffee and cakes. It was weird, but the food was great, the room was filled with happy eager people, and it was a blessing to be allowed to sit down. And no, we did not plan second act - we carefully avoided games at all.

Second opponent
T.L. Taylor is not a big woman, but she has an impressive posture and a natural presence that is disarming and warm. So while my pulse picked up at the beginning of the second round, I didnt' get quite that nervous. She addressed the thesis, theory and methodology, quite frankly and directly. This was when I expected the tough questions, and they came, albeit still veiled in this air of "why don't you just explain this?". The main topic of that conversation was the problems around pleasure and research: How is pleasure, desire and satisfaction a risk while doing ethnography (Or, as T.L. described it: autho-ethnography) or any other research on games? This is one of the most complicated issues in game studies, so it was natural to address it, but it's also not possible to solve in one defense. However, the attempts I made were accepted. Interestingly enough, this is the question that keeps spinning in my head. I may want to make an article on that - or perhaps a small booklet even: "The problems of pleasure in Game Studies." This session was perhaps shorter - or it just appeared shorter. IT was all over at 13.45, 3 1/2 hour after it started.

so how do you feel?
The stupid question that you ask a sportsman as he falls over the finishing line - and the students from the student television threatened to ask that at the party Friday night. I told them I couldn't promise to answer, and to my GREAT relief, they were tactful enough to stay away. But I did really feel great. I felt like I could do it over again. I loved the whole world, including the opponents and Espen, faithful lion but not always as faithful supervisor (I can say it now, Espen has one weakness as a supervisor: he is too popular and takes on too much. There was a long period when all my insistence didn't make him read any of my work, which caused several heavy rewrites at a later stage, with some very intense and not all that pleasant sessions of supervision. His absence was the only real problem, though.)

Today I am not feeling that great. I am numb, not rally clear as to what has happened, and I have no idea about my schedule the next weeks. I have a feeling it's busy, though.

The Party
This really needs a post of its own. Let's just say that wonderfully nice words were said, warm well-wishes were exchanged, and I tried to remember to thank everybody but of course didn't quite succeed. I now have a house that is filled in every room with the scent of flowers: roses and lilies, I have more champagne than I have ever owned, four new and individual champagne glasses to go with the champagne, a new, exclusive pen I would never have bought for myself, and a piece of art that I would never have invested in. The party happened at the hotel in Volda and then moved to my house, and I have no idea what time it is when we squeezed the last drops out of the red wine bottle, sat down to take a breath after a maraton washing up, and enjoyed knowing that the next day, we could sleep in.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Thank you, thank you, thank you...
First of all, I want to thank all the wonderful people of this small online community who have emailed and blogged congratulations. Jill with a spy in the audience and direct sms connection, is quoted by Lisbeth and Dennis, who reminisences over his own defense. Reading that description I can see why Stuart really considered having his student arrange the kind of grand occasions like the traditional Doctor Dinner, rather than just let them lose on their own with all that loose adrenalin in the body. Mark is the first to use Dr. Mortensen (and later Dr. Torill, which is really a cute version I could learn to like), while Esther, who gave me some really useful information for the test lecture, and who has some pictures on her site that I swiped happily for illustration, found the article on my swordfighters.

And there have been emails: from Noah, who should be in New York, greetings from somewhere else entirely, obviously still living out of his suitcase, the academic nomad. Nick wants me to go on breathing after the defense as well - I am doing my best Nick - and Pattie Belle Hastings sends her greetings and wonders when exactly I will be in NYC. For those who might wonder: I have ordered the tickets, and I'll set up base with my NYC connection from October 17th until November 9th.

If I should try to list the people who wished me luck, it's too much of a job. I'll just choose one special one to represent all:, Francis, who always signs "your fan, Francis", something that tickles me no end.

An other wonderful result of defending the thesis is the greetings streaming in from people I never knew about, the people I thought had forgotten me, and the people I have missed for years, silent little threads of grief connecting me to the joyful memories. The greetings and the words following the excuse to write makes it clear to me that the memories are shared and the little threads are still quietly connecting us: too strong to be broken, despite being too thin to pull each other closer in the face of the demands of our lives.

That is perhaps the best part of the entire experience: The warmth that has surrounded me from so many parts of the world.

But one email said: I am waiting for the BIG description! Go girl, go!

Susana... I am working on it! I promise, there will be details; nasty, gritty details.
(I am just going to finish this bottle of pink champagne that survived last night...)

Good opponents
They say that a good enemy is better than a bad friend, but these two were not enemies, these were opponents, and good ones, fighting the good fight. But good cannot oppose good, so with good opponents, does that make me an evil doctor?

Friday, September 12, 2003

It's done
The hardest part was breathing, which Espen reminded me I had to do.
It's all about swordfights
Or at least, that is how the college/student reporters, who deserted the lecture hall as my faithful swordsmen left the stage, will remember the test lecture. The article is in Norwegian, what pictures there are should speak for themselves.

But the fighters, my brother-in-law and his fellow swordsman, did a great job, and gave me illustrations for a lot of the upcoming themes by demonstrating the styles of re-enactment and live action role playing in the narrow space of the auditorium, to the delight of the audience. Great fun!

Thursday, September 11, 2003

not much left
On my to-do-list, before it gets serious.
And I still have no idea what I'll wear tonight. There's a shortage of clean clothes in my closet. Seems like I haven't done any laundry in two weeks. Probably been busy.

(Update: Before the lecture yesterday, I started trying on clothes, while chatting with a friend. Soon I had two of my sisters, a little niece, my friend and my son in the bedroom while discussing outfits. They went through my jewelry, wardrobe, make-up, shoes and stockings, and insisted on testing out everything, for both the lecture and the defense. What I had planned originally was discarded right away: it was simply too large by now. So for the look today at the defense I have to thank my stylists Kerstin, Solfrid, Unni, Hauk and Yr, and the assessors Trygve, Ole and Storm. As if I'd be allowed to go out there without help!)
Places I'd rather be
Today, right now, and for the rest of the week-end.
Other dark secrets
And yes, I also read Elfpunk... I have not yet found a good academic alibi for that, beyond "keeping updated on popular culture."
Bad Fantasy/Bad Science Fiction
Dennis G. Jerz asks:

While there can be plenty of bad SF that centers around the creation of/response to technology, isn't there also plenty of bad fantasy that centers around The Chosen One who must use a Gift undo Evil Magic? Torill, help me understand... how is technology in SF intrinsically different from magic in fantasy? --DGJ]

Actually, I don't think bad fantasy is any better than bad sci-fi. I was arguing against Spider Robinson, and pretty much in his own style. The point I wanted to reach was that fantasy, when it is good, has qualities which does not look back, but forwards. But it looks forwards with the explicit understanding that we need to learn from history, because today's evil normally is rooted in the past, and trying to disconnect the present from the past does not make the problems god away, it only lets it develop unchecked, without a real understanding of cause and effect. Science Fiction, even when it is good, rarely looks back, only forwards, an optimism of the technological development which causes a progress-induced blindness to the cause of present crisis.

There is no doubt good science fiction is important. We need the visionaries and particularly the critics of blind and unchecked development. But good fantasy does not only look backwards - although it, like science fiction has its own version of blindness: a blindness of magic and religion, where all solutions come from outside forces, and not from the abilities of humans.

So, my main point was: both science fiction and fantasy has good points and bad points. While science fiction writes of technological dreams, fantasy writes of interpersonal and societal dreams. Both are visions of a better solution to the problems of the present - or a way to put present problems into a relief.

My problem was that an established writer chooses to describe fantasy by its bad books, while science fiction is described by its good books, not that either genre in any way is better or worse than the other. They are just different.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

This morning
in Volda, by way of voldaveiret.no.

The person behind voldaveiret.no (voldaweather.no) is the district veterinarian. He obviously brings a digital camera with him to work, and his job lets him cross back and forth in the area, visiting the most remote little places in all kinds of weather. He is a keen observer, and has an eye both for flora and fauna, as well as for the people he meets on his trips. Like a good natural scientist, he also offers specific observations, and he reports what the weather is like at the moment.
Something else: Fantasy and Sci-fi
Jill writes a definition of cyberpunk, and Dennis quotes the concerns of science fiction writers about the future readers. I followed his link to Spider Robinson's article Forward, into the past

I'm not knocking fantasy, but if we look only backward instead of forward, too, one day we will find ourselves surrounded by an electorate that has never willingly thought a single thought their great-grandparents would not have recognized. That's simply not acceptable. That way lies inconceivable horror, a bin Laden future for our grandchildren.

This is an extremely simplified view of fantasy, which I hoped a witty writer such as spider Robinson would see beyond. Fantasy is not mainly about the past. Fantasy is about post-apocalysms, about conservative blindness that leads to tragedy, about the sins of the fathers and the responsibility of the children. Even Tolkien is not about history, but about the threat that needs to be fought, with new alliances, with new techniques, and with a new result: the creation of a new world.

The turn from Science Fiction and to fantasy is perhaps not as much a flight from new ideas, as a realisation that modernism has failed. The future isn't any brighter, and technology will not solve the basic cause of human suffering: Greed, selfishness, ethnophobia and sheer stupidness, just to mention some. And I haven't even directed your gaze towards religious fanaticism and the ambitions of powerful men.

The only thing which will solve the problem is the Deus ex Machina in fantasy: moral choice. Oh, there are a lot of other gods in the machinery of fantasy, but they are just the effects of the choices the characters do. No heroine can have divine assistance in her task to change the world unless she takes the responsibility on her shoulders and goes out to oppose impossible odds in order to make life better.

Personally, I'd rather have a hero who decided to try and find out what the problem is and do something about it, than a hero that builds more fantastic technology to solve it. We have been there, and no, sorry, it didn't work. Tecnology is just technology. Humans have to fix the errors of humans, and no robot can clean up our mess.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Dataspill er sunt
I knew that saying computer games are not the devil's own creation is controversial, but I never expected to stir up quite this much attention. And this is just a few of the places it was quoted, I have also given four radio interviews since the Aftenposten article was first printed, the article has been quoted every 30 minutes for hours, and little notices are showing up in paper-news versions as well.

Vårt Land
Hegnar Online

The original article, that gets all these quotes and then some: Dataspill er sunt, Aftenposten.
Computer Conspiracy
You know the way technology breaks down just when you really need it, and work the moment a technician arrive to see what's wrong? I have taken the consequences of that for years, and when ever I try to do something in a lecturing hall I bring a technician right away, rather than run to find him or her later.

However, technology has other, more devious ways of getting at you. The most mysteroius one, which I am certain is related to poltergeists and other paranormal activity, is the "bad contact". A contact error can occur in any part of the machinery, and it can occur at any time. Since it's a paranormal occurence, it will occur when it is really annoying and humiliating, and it will not occur when there are sceptics or non-believers present, who might isolate a scientific or rational reason for the error.

There's a "contact-geist" in my desk-top. It is driving me slowly insane - but the intensity of its activity is increased now, and escalates the closer I get to the defense. Thursday, I don't think I dare turn the computer on at all. I hope finishing the defense will exorcize it.
To do list
write test lecture
Find pictures and illustrations
Talk to the sword-fighters (and got a gentle warning: you had better step aside, if you want to be certain of lasting the whole lecture)
Write 15 minute introduction to the thesis
Obsess over whether the thesis will be printed in time
Figure out what to wear (I am dressed now)
Order tickets for New York
Bake cakes for after the party (or the after-party party)
Do test-lecture
Do defense
Thank everybody
Start preparing for teaching
Call a meeting for the information staff
Start planning next semester
Postpone exhausted breakdown until scheduled in October

Monday, September 08, 2003

A piece of advice
This piece of advise is directed at Norwegians who have a teaching position at the time when they submit their thesis for a PhD in Norway:

Straks dere har sendt avhandlingen avgårde til Universitetet, tar dere tre kopier, skriver en søknad om opprykk til førstekompetanse, og leverer dette til undervisningsinstitusjonen dere jobber ved. Hvis dere leverer en slik søknad, uavhengig av om dere tar en doktorgrad eller ikke, får dere nemlig etterbetalt fra måneden etter at søknaden er levert dersom søknaden blir godkjent. Hvis institusjonen følger det norske regelverket slik det kan fortolkes, får dere som doktorgradsstudenter ikke etterbetalt fra den dagen dere leverer avhandlingen, men fra den dagen doktorgraden blir godkjent. Hvis dere er uheldige, kan det lett bety ett år hvor dere hadde fått etterbetalt mellomlegget mellom amanuensis/lektor-lønnen og førsteamanuensislønnen - hvis dere hadde levert en søknad om opprykk til førstekompetanse, og ikke bare levert avhandlingen til Universitetet. Det finnes rom for tolkning i regelverket, men de fleste undervisningsinstitusjoner har en tendens til å tolke det på den måten som er mest mulig fordelaktig for dem - og minst mulig fordelaktig for deg.
Good morning Norway
For more than ten years, I have woken up to the voice of former students on the radio, or a list of their names as reporters, assistents or in other media-related positions. Today I got back at them, as my name got repeated over and over again every half hour since 5 o'clock this morning. Aftenposten, one of the larger, more serious Norwegian newspapers, had a large article on how good computer games are for you, and this was obviously news the world needs to hear at 5 am.

I am a little stunned: after five years of thinking about computer games, the whole idea that people might want to know what I found out was a lot more theoretical than the reader-response theory I started out with (and abandoned and returned to and reworked and tried to look beyond). But of course, it's fun - fun enough that I even put on a touch of make-up this morning. You know, just in case a paparazzi leaps out from behind a bush, it's better to be prepared. The news of my defense is spreading to the most remote corners of Norway - even to a deep water diver, isolated at the bottom of the North Sea, who could tell his wife that he had read about my defense in the newspaper last week.

Friday, September 05, 2003

There is this thing about really brilliant people. They get what I am talking about, and they see it in relation to other things, and that gives me new perspectives and new ideas. Having Noah here at the moment is just like that. When he arrived last night, the family all relaxed, relieved, as they no longer needed to listen to my frantic attempts to explain to them what I was trying to express, or what I was struggling with. Today at the college, as I was eagerly discussing some important point with Noah in the staff room I saw the entire staff with the same kind of relieved grin on their faces. (The kind of grin that said: she has found somebody new to bother.)

Some people are like that. Their brilliance is not diminished by that of others, their understanding does not grow any less by the knowledge of others, and their ability to reason goes beyond their own little sphere. I have a little circle of people whom I cherish for this quality, and Noah has always been one of those. Today he dazzled the students, made more than one fan, convinced the young angry men who came as sceptics ready to find a weakness behind the smooth academic front, and lifted a weight off my shoulders.

I am not talking nonsense. Noah understands me. He has to be really really clever.

Or there is this wast conspiracy that I just don't know anything about...

That could be. Probably includes the Knights Templar.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

My back hurts now. I have 15 pages. First draft can actually be considered done. Time to go home to wait for Noah to arrive tonight from Bergen. One week left. Actually, in 15 minutes and one week the test-lecture starts. Tomorrow I will pick up the thesis and see if I manage to wrap my head around it for long enough to write 15 minutes worth of description, to open the defense. Today's number seems to be 15. When I post this five minutes have passed, and it's one week and ten minutes until the test lecture. I think I have an obsession.
I almost forgot about the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Where I would rather have been right now

Hjørundfjorden. Picture stolen from voldaveiret.no
Dungeons & Dragons - the evil influence
Should a Christian Play Dungeons and Dragons?
Dungeons and Dragons death from Urban Legends
In defense of D&D
The upside of procrastination
Esther - or Neveah - of Ten Seconds to Midnight and the Ran Clan generously answers a question related to LARP. I just love it when intelligent people just can't help themselves but have to analyse their hobbies. That's the stuff the fun research is made from!

Remember to read the comments, Dave Phelan adds a lot of good points. By now I wish I had a couple of days in which to talk about all the aspects of LARP.

(You probably know, Esther, but Ran means "robbery" in Norwegian, and it's also the name of Njord's wife (Njord being the norse god of the sea) and mother of his seven daughters, all named for the waves. So I wouldn't expect the Ran clan to be the good guys...)

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

I have been planning to reward myself for being such a good girl and finishing the PhD with a trip to New York, my absolute favourite so far of metropols. So, if everything goes well, I will be in New York from october 17th until november 9th. However: if I manage to find something related to what I do: somebody who wants me to give a lecture, a seminar or a conference I can attend - anything along that line - it will make the trip much more likely to happen. So, anything somewhere not too far from NYC, in that period, having to do with computer games, personal publication, blogging, hypertext structures, online communities - would you please let me know about it? I need something to look forwards to right now...
Chris Crawford on storytelling
Kym Buchanan, PhD student and gamer, has Interviewed Chris Crawford for joystick101:

Chris is a game designer, author, and lecturer. He lives in southern Oregon. His most beloved project is the Erasmatron: an interactive storytelling engine. Chris believes games can be compelling, interactive stories, far beyond reflex tests and violent monotony. He created the Erasmatron to demonstrate the possibilities.
Husfliden and traditional Norwegian costumes
Norwegian laiv pictures
Heavy editing ahead
Not on my hand, but for the poor interviewer who tried to make me say that GTA3 is good for children, and that Trond Waage, the children's ombud in Norway, is stupid when he wants to control violence in computer games.

There were things Trond Waage and I did not agree on, and there were tendencies of conflict and debate - but the problem was that both of us thought it was a lot more amusing to arrest the interviewer when he tried to provoke conflict and tease him when he tried to control us, than to argue with the other.

However, I fear the public will not be allowed to hear any of that. Now I almost regret that I didn't agree to do the interview live. But if you really want to check, listen to P3 NÅ between 16.00 and 17.00 - I have no idea what comes out of it though! And I almost feel a little bad about being so mean to the interviewer. I mean - he could have been a student. Teachers shouldn't make fun of students and we should take their efforts seriously. Right?

(And obviously, we didn't answer properly - the debate was not aired. Well, that should teach me a lesson about wasting time on the media while I am trying to finish the test lecture.)
Online Radio
It's in Norwegian, but NRK, Norwegian Broadcasting, has web radio. Choose P2 and click "hør", choose isdn or modem (use isdn if you have broadband), and Norwegian State Radio, Program 2 (no commercials!) streams out of your computer speakers, no matter where you are in the world.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Media attention
OK, so I am the centre of the universe at the moment, and just need to get used to it. For those who are longing to hear my voice, I will appear in a radio documentary on P2 tomorrow, talking of computer games, and also in a debate on P3, again talking of computer games. And if you miss it, don't worry, there's a rerun of the documentary Tuesday next week.

GAME OVER Dataspill som drapsopplæring eller sanseutvikling Blir også sendt tirsdag kl 21.30.

At least I didn't need make-up for the radio... (but I just may lose my voice).
Roleplay and murder in the media
Earlier comments from my own blog
Vampire youth drank victim's blood
The masonic lodge in Stockholm
masonic regalia, with pictures of knights dressed up.
The illuminati freemason conspiracy
Freemasons and conspiracy theories
Freemason myths
Spelet på Stiklestad
Stiklestad.no - informasjon om og bilder fra Olavsspelet på Stiklestad
Hærmannsforbundet - gode bilder av hæren

Monday, September 01, 2003

D&D history
Dave Arneson in an interview in Gamespy
Gary Gygax in an interview with Gamespy
Gary Gygax in wikipedia
Gary Gygax the father of role-play in BBC
The forerunner to Dungeons and Dragons: Chainmail
A timeline of Dungeon and Dragons history
What vampire clan am I?
Ventrue clan symbol
Ventrue - Kings and blue-bloods, the Ventrue are
the self-proclaimed leaders of the Camarilla.
Accordingly, they are either hated or feared by

What White Wolf vampire clan are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Of course, after reading up on blood-drinkers, what better way to identify with them than a quiz?
Vampire LARPs
Die Kinder Kains von Giessen
Vampire Live in Essen
Bloodbeat of Silicon Valley
Atlanta interactive theatre
White Wolf and their many worlds and stories.
Fred-by-night has a site with a fairly good description of how the game is played.
Laiv pictures
On Hildreheimen.org, there is a collection of descriptions and pictures from LARPs arranged by the Bergen Role-playing group BFIT.

Esther at ten seconds to midnight has lovely pictures from her LARP group.
Coming of age
I feel like the information study is growing up when I see my former students out there, contributing to society through work and research. Or, as in the case of Are Halland, also through blogging. Are's topic is user experiences, on both sides of the interface, an interesting, Norwegian contribution to blogging.

Are was one of those students a teacher can't forget: opinionated, procrastinating, and much too intelligent to ignore. His best quality as a scholar was his ability to do wild, jazz-like improvisations of theory and practice under pressure that somehow took on the shape of serious-looking papers and well-considered scholarship. Some minds just work that way, and watching it happen is always slightly more thrilling than a concerned teacher likes... but Are always landed on his feet.
Queering theory
Who would have thought a defense concerning a thesis on homosexual (gay and lesbian) top athletes would be just the thing to put my own upcoming defense into perspective? Heidi Eng, my once-upon-a-time roommate, former top athlete and Norwegian champion in handball, now lesbian activist, researcher and self-defense instructor (Oh yes, she's buff, fearless and amazing) was defending her work on the role of gay, lesbians and bisexuals in Norwegian Sports: Sporting Sex/uality. The question she got during her defense that got me going was: why didn't she "queer" her theory?

"Queer" her theory? The concept was as alien to me as life on Mars (which, of course, means that I have been playing with the thought, but never really considered making it a topic of my research). How could it be more or less queer than what she did? She had been giving her informants a voice, brought out a deep taboo in Norwegian sports, discussed what this means for the people concerned and what it means for a society that imagines itself to be open and tolerant in sexual issues - what do you mean queering?

That's when I realised it. It wasn't about the topic, it was about the expectations of her opposition. Her comittee had their own agenda. They had issues that needed to be aired, and a public defense in Norway, with its strong performative aspect is exactly that: a place where issues can be brought up and taken into the open. It's not an arena for playing by the rules, it is a theatre, and the participants don't play, they act. All the preparation isn't about questions, it is about display.

I can deal with display. And if needed, I'll queer my theory, consult my inner evil male gay elf and talk about taboos and assumptions. But for my defense there will be other hobby-horses that need to be saddled and ridden. All I need is to stay in the saddle. If I get really cheeky I may try to tame them, too.