Saturday, October 30, 2004
As a player and as a scholar interviewing players, I found that identity is extremely stable. The players had certain limitations to their identities which they would not be able to transcend. Examples are for instance how it is impossible to pretend to be more intelligent than you really are. It is possible to appear to be more intelligent than you appear in real life, particularly as there are different skills required in the flesh world and the game world. An otherwise socially insecure and unskilled character, can bloom in the game. But this can not happen unless the potential is within this person, embodied, as it is, in the physical body carrying the wetware of the brain around.
I also found that the flesh world has a very powerful influence on the game world. The game would work around such things as chores, meals, social obligations in the flesh, timezones and repeated stress injuries. And so the body and our physical lives influence the world. I entered as an adult in control of my life and time, with an agenda that let me put other things aside without being accused of neglecting central western social values such as work, duty and ambition. The body is caught by these considerations and so the players' actions will at some level be influenced by this.
For instance, Celia Pearce is just now demonstrating how her research avatar functions. But her avatar interacts oddly with us, broken up and haltingly, and even if she has Mary Flanagan reading for us who can't read the text on the screen, the delay of typing colours the communication. And Celia Pearce is a fluid typer, Mary Flanagan is a willing interpreter, and the audience is patient, but still the physical and the digital does not merge fluently enough to make me read the avatar as anything but an annoyingly slow and actually quite boring filter between us and the real body, and not a value of itself.
The actions in digital worlds are not something "different", they are a same which is edited and limited, the same way a blog representation is limited by the editing activity of the writer. Reading outside of the represented text is so much less rewarding in digital spaces, due to the more narrow bandwidth. It is however the same individual behind all actions, and while different aspects are activated in different contexts, this was observed quite keenly by Erving Goffman in his 1959 Presentations of Self in Everyday Life.
While the discussions of roles, identities and human interactions have developed since Goffman, I miss this background material in the discussions. The digitally mediated interaction areas (aka virtual worlds) are just new contexts for human interaction, and what we do is studying humans, first of all.
And now, as a white arrogant female, rather than bringing to you all the very interesting and important discussion of how ethnicity and gender influences, I have written out my own issues on virtuality and identity in this line of study. However, as a female representative of an ethnic minority I can play the race and gender card and say: my voice has a right to be heard! But I don't know, really, which voice I speak with here, the working class girl, the half-blood sami with nomadic kaukasians on the other side, or the over-educated doctoral one?
And Celia Pearce by way of her avatar and given voice by Mary Flanagan just stated the same as I me: that identity online is aspects of the offline personality.
Greg Lastowka was opening the first panel, talking about the connection between game and law, and suggesting to his audience that scholars of law before saying anything about how the legislation of games should be constructed, they visit "the foreign country of games".
Betsy Book ran quickly over a few historical overviews about the connection between chat and games, and discussed the difference between social spaces and games, drawing very strict lines and claiming that gaming is very different from social interaction. At this point I itched to protest, but I never needed to, because the next speaker was T.L.
T.L. Taylor talks as I write about the importance of the culture of games, and points out what I wanted to point out during Betsy Books presentation, that games are social spaces, and that the dichotomy of social/gaming is in the way of understanding both games and chatrooms. People play in chatrooms and chat in games. She also points out clearly that players are fundamentally producers, that the labour of other players makes the games playable.
Play is Diverse - same game can be played in many different ways. Players create the game, the game culture and the game life - the structure and design is nothing without the players themselv, and T.L. wars against fine-tuning the game until the structure is so rational there is no space for the humanity of the gamers.
Perhaps most important in T.L.'s presentation is her warning against a dualistic, dichotomous understanding of games. Perhaps my sympathy is caused by our common academic understanding of the human culture as fluid and manysided, not stagnant, simple and black/white,
Constance Steinkuehler opens by saying "ditto". I understand the feeling. She talks about her experience from Lineage II, and the issues of "game sweatshops", in this case in China. The "farming" of certain objects in the game for sale in real life economies outside of the game has caused an inflation of certain parts of the economy, and the characters that have a crafting advantage (girl dwarves) are being treated as symbolic representations of what the gamers assume is chinese players, and racism is expressed as a discrimination of the girl dwarves.
But the community is reacting against the racism, and the issue and the discussions change the gameplay and the community.
Dave Myers is the last to present at the panel. He focuses mainly on the cognitive play behaviour, play as a semiosis, a manipulation of sign and symbols.
T. L. Taylor at the panel.
Friday, October 29, 2004
Coffee was not just coffee, but giant brownies, chicken wings, large trays of vegetables and dip, muffins, sandwiches - the generous side of US cooking. Energy is up, particularly after I met Scott Rhettberg, hugged Mary Flanagan (now with white-blond hair), chatted with Ren Reynolds and was introduced by TL to Celia Pearce.
I miss an important aspect here. How does all of this compare to sports? Are sports work or play? Are professional athletes sportsmen or labourers? Is the player who makes money the dystopian gambler or the ideal athlete?
I think I want somebody, soon, to discuss gaming and sports. There is a link there which might be beneficial to the game studies.
Electronic Arts and The Sims Online have repeatedly tried to shut down Professor Ludlow and the Alphaville Herald, after banning him from the game.
Interesting story, for many reasons, and for bloggers of course the connection gaming, blogging and cencorship is eyecatching.
Update: an article from Wired on the Free Expression panel.
The form is very dense, no time for casual chatter. Somebody are at the end of the room, in the panel, talking, constantly. Each panel is set up like a conversation between the members of the panel, rather than as presentations or lectures. I normally like this kind of panels, but during the third in row, this is straining my attention. There is something to be said for the thought-out presentation, the rhetorically considered talk.
I also fear I will be exhausted before the day is over, and starved of social interaction. How can it be possible to talk to others and discuss issues when there are talks through every meal? And then the lunch period is supposed to be organised as well, as people sign up for "birds of a feather" tables during lunch time. Perhaps will this work wonderfully, certainly somebody thinks so, as it is organised this strictly, but I already feel rebellious, the rebellion transmuting into a desire for alternative activities, for reading non-related books (perhaps a tiny little thing on Derrida hidden in my notebook - at least it looks kind of polite to be intensely busy with my notebook...). Last night's talk during dinner was very distracting and distracted, I wanted to chat with the people on the table I was at, T.L. Taylor, Richard Bartle, Greg Lastowka and several other interesting people, many from Terra Nova, but instead I was captured, listening to anecdotes of Second Life.
Although some of that was interesting. Check out Wagner James Au's Second life blog.
And the man in the panel just said "This is the first time I have ever sat next to a socialist." I am a long way from home. But closer to Kansas than Volda.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
I am using the NYC bloggers by subway map, and have picked some of the more interesting (to me) blogs along the route from here to Union Square. The list is:
95th street (Where I am now)
The landlord's black-eyed daughter
Games*Design*Art*Culture - An old familiar one there - didn't know he claimed Rector street as "home" for the blog.
Rachel and the City
What I saw - A dead weblog, but interesting for the last observations.
Biz Stone, Genius - Another name we have heard before.
Today's plan, before I go to the State of Play II, is to get a subway pass, fill the backpack with all the things I have not been doing because I have tried to work, and go prepare the presentation and the article I have been saving for later. I will also be shpping for drumstick for the drummer boy, something to wear for a party this weekend (the suitcase was almost empty when I left this time. All work and no play makes for a dull wardrobe), bring a map of NYC, a list of restaurants I haven't tried, a card that will get me into Bobst Library and the cash I have left. Did you by the way catch the weblog of Steve, who lived in Bobst Library?
I'll have to live on what's in my NYC connection's fridge for something over a week, but at least then I don't bother you all with worries over my diet. Oh, and somewhere along the line I will try to remember to post the pictures from the eclipse tonight. I saw it down by the Verrezano Bridge, the weather was beautiful and the college camera, bulky as it is, caught the red moon. Ooops - I am running late. We'll see how much of this I get around to!
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Just because he thinks nobody will ever be interested in his blog, I, the evil Dr. Mortensen, will put in this link to point you, my fifteen readers, in his direction.
If you read Norwegian, you may enjoy to have a look at Thomas' blog, and learn about how to love a VolksWagen, how to survive a media theory exam and how to dream of Cuba. And if you read English, you can enjoy the two posts in there which are in English. They happened through the inspiration of this blog. Sensibly, he returned to our own language, which he uses with flair and delight.
What do you get when you have two workaholics, a ruined hot water valve, a not-too-active landlord, a plumber who will show up "sometime this afternoon" and a lagging and drooping wireless network? Well, the potential for a mess is endless. People like this have to be distracted, or disasters will happen. As they did, even as I write, the drooping wireless network flicking on and off, my laptop occasionally shut off from the world, occasionally connected at monstrous speed, as the person at the controlling computer is doing who knows what. I managed to postpone the disaster until after I was done working on the articles I have to write these two weeks, and I managed that through some ingenious manouvers early in the day.
I started planning for this already while shopping for groceries. Getting ingredients for work-intensive food was the plan. And the menu this evening was to be roast beef, guacamole and almond-orange poundcake. My NYC connection hates having anybody working in his kitchen while he is in the vicinity, and as he makes good food, I don't complain about being made superflous. The pound cake was created from this basic recipe, and adjusted to fit what was available and my particular diet.
1 cup butter
2/3 cup fructose
2 cups almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
zest of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream butter and fructose well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Mix flour with baking powder and add to egg mixture a little at a time while beating. Add orange zest and vanilla extracts. Blend well.
Pour into greased 9-inch cake pan and bake at 350-degrees F for 50-55 minutes.
This cake didn't rise too well, but the taste is rich and luxurious. The almonds and the orange zest makes it juicy, while the eggs bind the whole thing together. With a glass of port (barely on the diet, but since red wine is OK, port almost is...), it made for the perfect dessert after a simple meal of meat and guacamole.
So what's going on with the network? Well, my very sweet but very wannabee geeky host bought an airport express to extend the wireless network and enhance the signal in the far end of his apartment, as well as use it (once I am out of here) for playing music from his laptop to the livingroom speakers. For some reason he decided that the way I set it up was wrong, and he has been trying to repair that for days. Today's attempts closed the whole wireless network down for the laptops (his apple, my dell), so since after dinner I have had extremely patchy access. He is still working on it, and with the same propriety air as in the kitchen. Perhaps, if I start doing dishes I will have a chance to fix his wireless network...
Monday, October 25, 2004
I love my cellphone. So I ought to love a better cellphone more. But the better cellphone comes with a manual as thick as the phone itself, but much much bigger.
I love my computer. So I ought to love a better computer more. But the better computer has so many other uses, a webcam, the possibility of making a network where I would like, a snakes nest of wires and extensions that weight almost more than the computer itself, and which I need a consultant to set up.
So what am I saying? I am saying that everybody have a certain level of "couldn't care lessessness". At that point we stop wanting things to be better, and want them to be simpler, lighter or smaller instead. Technology is at the moment exploring this edge, and the competition is fierce. In which direction can the limit be pushed? Who can do it? How? Who ever pushes in the right direction first, and can make people see it is the right direction, wins. If they know their advertising.
Interesting time to like technology.
Story? Did you say story? Eeehhhh, well, that should be easily covered by just about any superhero comic strip from the 60ies. Actually, Superman gets a link as the female reporter is Lana Lang if she was played by Greta Garbo, and with some goodwill you can see a touch of Godzilla and some War of the Worlds there too. But somebody got so busy just quoting the classics of pop culture that the story shrivelled and died somewhere around the third "but I told you not to come with me" scene.
For a barbarian like me, that didn't matter though. I like pop culture collages.
Saturday, October 23, 2004
Most of the time there is plenty of hot water. My frugal shower habits learned sharing a tiny hotwater tank with my then-boyfriend-now-husband as students in Bergen hardly taps into the supply. As a matter of fact, the water isn't even warmed up before I am out of the shower. Normally. This weekend though, the water is always warm. The secret: it is constantly running.
The bathroom has been transformed into one of those indoors fountains, and a hot one at that. Running in an even, peaceful stream from the hot water tap, we are wasting this building more than I care to think about in fuel and water bills. In an attempt to stop this waste, we called the supervisor of this building. This is now a day ago.
He was supposed to show up this morning, but by now it is afternoon, and no supervisor. The mailbox on his messaging machine is full, no chance to leave a message about the leak. I have wasted the morning sitting around waiting (and when I am waiting for something else, sensible work done doesn't count, we all know that), and I have considered doing violence to the tap with my own dainty hands.
But you don't do that in apartment buildings in the states. Because if you do and something is less than perfect, or something happens later, you will be held responsible. So your main maintanance task is calling the super. Who has a full message machine. Who does not pick up the phone. Who does not show up when he said he should.
I am done listening to the warm-water-fall, and am heading out of here. There's a city to explore out there, and more stores than there are potential customers in Volda.
Friday, October 22, 2004
Thursday, October 21, 2004
The panel on Games as Mass Media Dialog Devices was, however, a disappointment. With a title and a write up as it had, I expected most of the presenters to talk about games, mass media and dialogue. Ian Bogost was first off, and he scored one out of the three, as he was presenting what is best described as a persuasive games manifesto, a description of his view of how games can be understood and created to be persuasive. At the end of his manifesto, I started wondering if what he was describing is games at all, or something else: ergodic persuasion, perhaps?
The second speaker, Cheryl Bernard, had been in Afghanistan, and obviously had a little culture shock. One of the things she had discovered what that media literacy is not instinctive or intuitive, but learned. I am very happy that she discovered this, but a little sad that she needed to go all the way to Afghanistan and feel like she was meeting natives willing to sell Manhattan for glass beads, in order to learn this. But she did get around to games in the end, and spoke with great enthusiasm for using games to teach particularly science in arabic countries. My question at the end of that was however: are games the logical solution to lack of just about EVERYTHING you need in a school, from teachers to paper.
America's Army with Chris Chambers scored a full house though. That was an exellent example of how a game can also be an arena for exchange between humans, a site of learning and a presentation of an ideology. I think they discovered that in Greece a few thousand eyars ago, but America's Army has brought it right into the electronic age.
As for Nico Mele - at this point I was exhausted by taking notes, but I did note that he went on the subway with a game in his pocket, and it beeped when he met a kid with the same game, on his way to school. A gaydar, Nina Wakeford style, but for gamers.
The keynote that day was however worth the wait. Johnny Wilson's keynote is supposed to be out there. If you can find it, read/listen to it, it was the talk to summarise a sensible, informed view of computer games and their development.
And one observation: Gamers use ALL kinds of computers, the variety was much larger than the mac-dominated academic conferences. Fun, really.
The Hot Spot
Luckily, not all the sessions at the Serious Games Summit were equally interesting, so I hurried off to lunch and a quick look-around at the Museum of the American Indian. Lunch elsewhere was a brilliant idea, the lunch-boxes at the conference contained nothing I felt comfortable about eating (exept the apple, that was nice), and I needed motivation to stay away from the way-too-nice cookies. So I had American food, south-west style (I think), tamales and a nice apple and orange salad.
The museum was interesting, but I should of course had a lot more time than I did. Most of all I looked at the building itself, a lovely warm yellowish stone building, all curves and natural materials. The entrance faces the White House - a pale structure fading into the mist, from that vantage point.
Monday, October 18, 2004
From behind a lot of backs. The rooms I have been in so far have all been packed, and with the options of either seeing only half the room (in the larger room) or only seeing backs (In the smaller rooms), somehow I have a strong feeling that not all hotels are ideal venues for conferences. They serve nice cookies though!
Ben Sawyer and Ian Bogost (of Watercooler Games) spoke of Project Connect: from A to Z, and spoke warmly of flash games and small, short games. For their use I think the small games are a god way to go, as the games basically demonstrate complex, but finite processes. Their session was however a little sale-strategy heavy for a poor academic, who feels that the point is the games and their structure and function, not whether or enough Ben Sawyer is a good salesman. To this audience that may be the main point, though.
Next session was How can games change future behaviors. This was a both frustrating and interesting session. In a way this put the Serious Games approach sharply into focus for me. The speakers in the panel treated games as algorithms, as training environments and as persuasion tools. And by using all of one side of the media theory, they showed how games can be powerful and influental, and why that is the reason why they should be used by schools, the military and everybody else why might want to influence a game-friendly target group. There was absolutely no mention of the theories and studies used by other academics when arguing that games are not dangerous: in this case they wanted to prove that games can be dangerous, but with a beneficial content, they are good. Only one question really addressed this issue, when a gentleman towards the end asked a validity quesiton:
Validity questions: Teaching Americans about Arabic culture through multiplayer games, why do we find that people either behave like american, Arabians or a third party, independent of both other cultures: Gamers. How will gamers in this case learn anything but gaming culture?A long and interesting discussion which relates to this came from the "Real Rules" post on Terra Nova.
I met two nice young men immediately after the keynote, and had their company for lunch: Jason and Dennis are both here. I also hooked up with Stuart Moulthrop and met Eric Zimmerman before I hurried up to Monet IV to catch the next session.
The last session before this blogging and breathing break (this is the least airconditioned conference in quite some time) was a panel on Game Based Approaches to Story Based Training. A refreshingly narratology and ludology approach to the role of story in games, it lacked a common understanding of what the story is in a game, how it is represented, whether stories are linear or not. The most useful distinction emerging in the panel was between embedded and emergent stories, where embedded stories are the stories built into the game while emergent stories are the stories the players perceive and create while playing. Nobody disagreed with the idea of games having stories, but I also missed some talk on how stories work as training environments - why is it so great that the games tell stories?
Now I am in a comfortable chair in the lobby, accompanying several other serious gamers who have found a place where to connect. There are all kind of computers here, but interestingly much less macs and more PCs than in the academic conferences.
I loved the movie, but tired as I was I managed to register that it may be offensive. So, for the sensitive osuls out there: If you get offended by joking with the American armed forces, actors being called F.A.G.s, the UN portrayed as impotent and Hans Blix being treated horribly by a North Korean dictator who is desperately lonely and distributing weapons of mass destruction, by cultural stereotypes and the streets of Paris paved with croissants, explicit sex between puppets and overly explicit use of goo in unappetising scenes with some of the same puppets, extreme violence against puppets and really bad lyrics, then you should not, I repeat should not, see this movie. Not a lot of blasphemy though, so religious people should be able to see it. That is, unless they object to the offensive language. For a preview of the offense, see the clips.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Notice the "was".
As I arrived early Friday morning it was an ugly, dirty building-space. Walls had come up to make it a maze, and sawdust irritated the eyes and lungs and covered every surface. The people working there were still as amazingly nice. Jokingly they asked if I had a lot of stuff in my handluggage. "Sure, it's packed" I replied. With a touch of genuine concern they asked: "Can't you check that in?" "No way," I replied, "It's a computer." With a smile and a shrug the man behind the counter let it go. "Then the plane will just have to be delayed. Hurry up and you'll be first in line." I had no idea what waited after this, but I kissed my husband goodbye in front of the counter, uncomfortable, and turned to go into the maze of temporary walls. I came to a dead end in front of a door that had never been there before. A security person came out and called the man waiting in front of me, and left the door slightly ajar. As I tried to walk through I was immediately told to go back. Beyond the door was a comfortably familiar waiting room, and reassured, I stepped back and waited patiently.
When it was my turn, I was led through the door and into an other little temporary space. A small room where I was told to submit my backpack and handbag, and to stand in the corner, legs and arms spread. The female security officer frisked me, while the male went through my stuff, carefully but thoroughly. He poked into every book and every wallet and pocket, his touching of the insides of my wallet feeling a lot more intrusive than the hands stroking down my body, arms, legs. But they were both very polite and very nice, chosen, perhaps, for their easy courtesy and matter-of-fact attitude rather than intimidation. Because there was none, just an air of "we all know why this has to happen, let's make it as painless as possible."
The plane WAS late, but not due to me. A gaggle of men who started out with beer at 6 am came just after me, having waited outside as long as possible before they went through. The waiting-room had been stripped of the television set and the artwork, probably to save it from ruin during the rebuilding, and we all waited in uncomfortable silence, even the slightly drunk men being impressed with the gravity of what had happened, the change in our lives caused by terrorism somewhere far away, and one lunatic with an axe - not that far away.
Our local airport staff hasn't quite lost their touch of friendly concern and personal service though. I was warned Thursday night, by a text message to the cellphone, that I needed to check in half an hour before the flight. Now, I know EVERY airline says this, but in Volda/Ørsta nobody really ever cared. We'd come strolling happily in ten minutes before takeoff, and still make it comfortably, Hence, the special care for the passengers, a little warning that the world has changed and the ripples have reached this remote corner.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Or is it simply that in New York I am so far away from the responsibilities of everyday life, in time and space, that I manage to focus on my own work?
Whatever, I am off tomorrow morning really early. Time to pack, I guess.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
(Blogger is acting up, so I may have published this five times already. But one more attempt, first saved as a draft this time, and now hopefully it will publish...)
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Monday, October 11, 2004
Still - being peer reviewed is exhausting. It never becomes routine. I guess it should not, but I wish I could develop some calluses soon.
The first thing I didn't know was that "serious games" are so dominated by the military. If you choose a track on the summit, your options are "military" or "education". If you choose "education" there are four sessions. If you choose "military" there are 31. I was aware that the military used games for education and development, I was not aware that they had been doing it for such a long time. It is however interesting to see what they define as "military". Let's look at the keynote speakers.
The first keynote speaker, Jim Dunnigan, runs his own gaming company started in a New York basement, and develops wargames - for the civilian market. He lectures to the military, and is an analyst of military strategy with a background which includes a period in Korea.
Second keynote is by Dr. Johnny L. Wilson, and is also considered part of the military track. Dr. Wilson is an author of High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, and speaks of how games impact perception.
Looking at the military track with new eyes, I find that it could easily have been dramatically reduced. How about this description:
It is thought by some that providing deep insight into complex subject matter, simulating interpersonal relationships and providing an interactive environment offers great opportunity to shape the logic that drives various behaviors. While there is much debate regarding games’ ability to cause behavior, there is no doubt that games have the potential to provide the learning that underpin people's attitudes about a variety of subjects.
This is the description of a military track session: How can games shape future behaviors? Of course, I haven't read the manuscript, it may be that everything they talk about is how to use games in order to make game-players into better soldiers and more efficient weapons. The three available bios of the presenters indicate a more diverse presentation that that.
So why is the military track so overwhelming? Is this an economical decision: If it is interesting to the military there is a huge potential market and it's easy to get support for the conference? Is it a political decision: The US is at war, and only an effort that can aid the military is worth supporting? Or is it a pedagogic decision: the scholars and educators are able to search through the material and find what is interestign even if it says "military track", while those who are interested in a military need to have it spelled out if it might be interesting to them?
Looking at the four "education" tracks offers a fourth explanation: Serious games are aimed at the military, and not at education. The Education track contains a funding and research roundtable, a roundtable for game developers to discuss how to attract more projects, a military roundtable (!) and one - 1 - lecture discussing how serious games can reshape education.
It is all about catering to the military, because yes, that is the big market. From the description of the military roundtable:
The military market for games is the leader in the serious games field. This roundtable is meant to allow for some freewheeling discussion about how this field of military simulation development will progress. Attendees are asked to outline the current problems, needs, and key resources that people interested in this market should know more about.
Why am I surprised at all? I guess I come from the land of innocence. The first game I studied academically was a game to teach young men about sex: sexually transferable diseases, safe sex, nice sex and some hints about how to treat girls. The work I have been doing since has been flavoured by an interest in how games can be a tool of development, freedom of choice and a way to liberate the learning potential of those who may not respond to standard procedures. Going to the Serious Games Summit makes me feel a little like Pippin returning to Bree. I don't think I will be able to find and uproot this Saruman. That, I suspect, will be up to the American voters.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
At 18 I was a confused high-school student. In the week-ends I did my mother's cleaning job at the hospital, in the week I did the household chores. The summer I spent gutting salmon. With regular intervals I would have to look after my little sister while my father spent time at the hospital, and what I made in the summers would disappear for books and clothes and at times food when the adults were too busy surviving to remember that they still had two children living at home. In between this I struggled weakly to keep up at school.
My future was pretty clear to me. I would get a job cleaning or something similar, I'd marry a local man, have a couple of children, buy a little house in the area and split my energy between raising children, cleaning, looking after the house, garden and husband, and read trashy novels. On the coastal steamer some years ago I saw one of my old boyfriends and his family - a tired-looking wife with too much makeup and two stubborn, red-headed boys (just like himself). I pulled discretely further into the corner where I was seated and raised the book I was reading like a shield between the potentialities.
I have the house, kids and husband - and occasionally the trashy novels - but somebody else cleans my office, and the experiences I have through my work are way beyond anything I imagined. No, I don't ever want to go back. But I always make sure to be really polite towards people who do the kind of work I could have done, if I had not taken another turn at some point in the past. We could all have lived some alternate life - and not all alternatives are to be mourned.
So what about Neverhood? I just think it is the prettiest game I ever saw. The music is cool and funny, the clay figures are amazingly well made, the animation impressive and the whole thing just a pleasure to have running on the PC. And it's the best example I know of a delicious interface - and a really bad game. As a game it just doesn't work. The puzzles are so cryptic you have to be inside the head of the creator to get it, and even using the cheats heavily I never managed to finish the game. It is slow, not because it has to be, but due to the rhythm - it's a cool, laidback game with slow responses and long pauses. Good for contemplating the impossible puzzles... not so good for fun intense gameplay. In the terms of Huizinga: there is no tension.
Still, I was very happy when I found it today. Bad games can make good examples!
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
So: for ICQ users out there: Don't click the URL if one part of the adress is "lonar". (As in the crater. Perhaps a meteorite carried the computer virus here?)
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
If possible, we buy a calf or yearling deer from a farmer and hunter I have known since childhood. He owns the farm surrounding the house where my mother grew up - the land which today is our summer paradise. He is the same age as me, a man with a warm sense of humour, a generous attitude towards my nomadic family that occasionally spends a few weeks living in the middle of his land, and a friendly dose of curiosity towards what we do with our lives.
His passion (apart from his family and the farm itself) is hunting, and owning a farm on the Norwegian West-Coast lets him do exactly that. He has a quota of game as part of the land he owns, and as many of the other people in the area where he lives are too old to hunt their own quota, he also shoots for several other farms. This means that he spends the autumn weeks out in all kinds of miserable weather. It also means that the rest of the year he is studying the deer, preparing. Walking the mountains and fields about his farm he studies the deer. He knows their paths and where they mate, he knows where they graze and where they drink, their habits and their hiding spots.
When I come to pick up the meat, it hangs neatly cleaned in his barn. He can tell me where he shot the animal, and laughs and complies when I question him about its last meal. Over the years he has told me that "this one will taste less of game than the others, because I have seen it on the fields most of the summer" or "this is nice and plump, the mother was very close, we had shot her and then we had to shoot the calf as well - lucky we still had one left on the quota." It is all part of the ritual: visiting with him, updating on what we are up to, seeing how his children grow, asking about his parents, telling him about the failing health of my mother. He is a link to an area that somes as close as any for being where my nomadic family has roots, and we enjoy this little ritual from both sides.
This doesn't really say much about him as a hunter though, it is more about him as a nice person, somebody I like to have as part of both my past and my present. What speaks of his skill as a hunter is how the deer has been shot. Sometimes there has been some bleeding, and he tells me he won't really charge much for those parts. Sometimes the death has been almost instantenous, and he has a touch of price in his friendly face as he decribes the shot. But over the 15 years I have been buying deer from him, they have all, every single one, been killed with one shot. He never shoots unless he knows he can kill the animal as quickly and as humanely as possible. One shot to the chest, stopping the heart or filling the lungs with blood, causing the animal to collapse and die very quickly. He never brags at this, but takes pride in the meat being clean and as undamaged as possible.
This is the hunter for me, the man who supplies his family and his "tribe" with meat, expertly, quietly and with great pride in his skill but very little posturing. While hunting is a passion with him it isn't the passion of the half-skilled player of games, it is the passion of the professional, tempered with skill and knowledge.
First I started noticing the visual effects. Fighters have little of fancy visuals in Neverwinter Nights. There is a certain goryness and goo factor, but it's most about checking for damage points. The sorceress had interesting visuals, each spell different and with different words as well. It could be possible to recognize the type of spell being cast from the words spoken and the images accompanying the spell - the colour of the rays, the shape of the power.
Then I started noticing the consequences of the spells inside the game. Casting light caused the sorceress to be the source of the light. When she moved the shadows moved with her, long grey shadows creeping across the floor at some distance from herself. This was one of the really impressive effects to me. Flashy, short-term and highly demonstrative effects appear simple, but this kind of consistent and fairly long-term effect is such a showoff of the skills of the programmers. Subtle and unecessary detail which still flesh out the illusion - I love it.
I find I am a lot more aware of how this character performs. I have been in most of the areas already. I haven't gotten all the way through even the first part, there's a young man who hogs the one home computer I can play Neverwinter Nights on, but I have been through the early scenes. This means that I can focus more on the skills and abilities of the character and less on surviving. The challenge is actually to survive with the mage. After playing powerful constitution-rich fighter types that can take a hit it's a challenge to learn to send the henchman into danger and stay far enough away that my character will survive. At the moment there is this dire spider that just keeps killing us off, so I am haunting some other parts of the area, collecting some experience points and money, hoping for a new level and perhaps enough gold to hire another henchman, one that kills better and quicker than the current one.
And there are a few new quests I haven't been able to do before, as they are exclusive to the classes. This makes playing it again a whole new and different experience from reading a book over again. Some is similar, like discovering new details, some is totally different, like the class-exclusive quests. Fun fun fun - even if it is, actually, pretty painful to see the character die over and over again...
Monday, October 04, 2004
The universities and colleges in Norway are starting to read the submitted exams papers electronically, to compare them to documents on the internet. They will be compared to Norwegian and English language douments, which means they will not just be electronically read but also to a large extent translated. This is an amazing feat for a computer system, and I am very curious about the efficiency of the system.
What the University of Oslo will be looking for is
1) immaturity - which is defined as quoting large amounts of well-known works, things which are so easy to discover that the student is not suspected of having tried to cheat, but just of not knowing how to write a scholarly paper. This will just lead to failing.
2) cheating - defined as quoting large amounts of text from unknown sources not cited in the bibliography and not marked as quotes or citations in the text.
Some universities and colleges will make the stakes higher for the cheaters, and hope that will have a preventive effect: if a student is caught cheating he or she is immediately suspended for the rest of the year, and may not make a new attempt at passing the test. The last part is the gravest reaction, because the student will have invested a lot of time and money in getting to the point of being allowed to take the exam, and also, with the new system, one exam can be vital to finishing your whole degree - which is a new situation in Norway.
That brings us back to the quality reform and why there is more cheating since the reform. I'll have to think a little about that one, but I have a few suggestions, and they are all based on the system, not on the lack of student morality. My basic approach to students is that they individually are as smart, honest and well-behaved as all other classes before them. Any significant changes are most likely caused by changes in society or in the system within which they function.
For instance: students today live so far below the threshold of poverty that it is more common than not to work while you study, making them all inn effect do the work of 1 1/2 - 2 jobs. Combine that with the increased pressure on throughput - students are rewarded for keeping within the allotted three years for a bachelor's degree, and punished for being slow - and the pattern is starting to take shape. Then add the increased control of the students' time through more emphasis on frequent reports rather than the liberal approach from when you could study for a year and then finish all your exams in one batch, allowing for very subjective time-management.
No, I don't think it's easier to be a student under the new system. It may be better for some, but it's still rough, and we get entirely new and unexpected problems, problems for which we have no routines in place yet. I also think this will be going on for some years, until we start to understand the new system. Until then, colleges and universities in Norway will look for those who cheat, in order to strike swiftly and deal with them harshly. Oh joy.