Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tagged! - 5 things

I am not such a great fan of these chain-mail-type games (unless they involve sword and sorcery), but I am a great fan of Luca Rossi, so when he tagged me, I will play along.

Five things you didn't know about me
1) I used to be great at maths, physics, chemistry and biology. All straight A's, and I planned to become a veterinarian. At High school I picked the science classes, full load of all the hard sciences - and then I got a maths teacher who really didn't make things easier for the class. I managed to keep a fair grade in chemistry and biology, passed physics, but maths went really wrong. I went from A to fail in three years of intense struggle to understand what was going on up at that blackboard. I managed to pass a few months late after tuition from a great person I met at the next school. Petter Stigar, THANKS!

2) When I daydream, I am a dancer, or an acrobat. I can make my body leap and fly in my head.

3) I have a set of handpainted china plates that I painted myself.

4) I made a comic strip with a penguin who wanted to fly when I was 19. It was published in a school paper. (25 years later one of the students at our college made an animated movie over the same topic. Same topic, same kind of bird, very different way of getting there.)

5) I have written two books which I have never, and probably never will, publish. One it's pretty sure is gone for ever, because it was stolen with my laptop in 2005. The other is a joint project with my kids, and perhaps I'll revise it when the grandkids are the right age. I don't think it's a great loss to the world if I never become a literary author, though.


OK, that was five things about me that nobody knows. Who to challenge next?

I think I go for Hilde, Jill and thomas

Go go go!

And yes, you all know I am evil enough to tag you, which is why I didn't count that into the five things you never knew...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

German game studies?

I have this impression that German game studies is mainly hard-data sociology. This may be an error of mine, from a traumatic experience at a conference in New York a couple of years ago, but when I look for computer game studies in Germany I don't find it. This is probably due to my bad German skills, it's hard to find the right keyword in a language I write badly. So please, dear knowledgeable and skilled readers: what do you know about German game studies? Can you please tell me?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Game Studies for Christmas!

Just in time for your holiday reading: Game Studies 2006 is out! Rejoice, hark, the angels sing etc - we of the editors team are delighted, you have no idea how much. Now, enjoy!

Friday, December 22, 2006

"We were wrong"

That's not really what they said, the Norwegian television company TV2, but I just saw something I rarely see: a news provider spending valuable space on admitting to unethical behaviour.

PFU is the Norwegian press (which means all news media) board for ethics and professional integrity in journalism. They have no real power, but their power is in the threat about what can happen if the Norwegian press stops listening to them. There is not a lot of legislation in Norway really regulating the content of the media, except what counts for everybody about slander. In order to keep this kind of legislation unnecessary, the press censors themselves, through such boards as PFU.

Recently TV2 and Nettavisen lost against a complaint to PFU. Perhaps not the kind of case I really worry about, producers of diet pills are not my idea of a sympathetic victim, but still... they deserve fair and honest coverage in the media as much as anybody else.

Putting in a news item in a net paper doesn't cost much, but TV2 had a poster (EXTREMELY dull looking) with the text stating that PFU is of the opinion that TV2 and the net paper did not follow good news procedures when they indicated that the death of the mother of an anonymous source was caused by the diet pill in question in best commercial time. That one must have cost them, even if the voice reading the statement from PFU and the poster was about as dull as it gets.

Things to count

Bjarte Arneson counts the men he has met since his birth. At the moment there are 1350 persons on his list.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ginger Cookies

On request, my ginger cookie batter. Note: This is not a low-glycemic cookie, quite the contrary, and I don’t eat these any more. The family members who don’t have messed up metabolisms are happily chewing away, although we normally reduce this amount by at least 50%. This makes a LOT of cookies.

Christmas ginger cookies
About 250 cookies

300g butter
5 deciliters (400grams) sugar
1 dl syrup or molasses
2 tablespoons ginger
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons cloves
1 tablespoon cardamom
2 deciliters water
1 tablespoon “natron” (NaHCO3 ) also known as baking soda
1,6 liters (ca 800 grams) fine wheat flour

Stove temperature: 200 degrees Celcius
Baking time: 5 minutes

Mix butter, sugar and syrup intil it’s soft. Add water, spices and baking soda and work the flour in well. Let the batter rest somewhere cool at least 12 hours or 1-2 days under some kind of wrapping. Use a rolling pin and make the dough into thin sheets, use flour to keep it from sticking. With cookie cutters, make cookies of different sizes and shapes and transfer them carefully to baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for 5 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius, and cool them on the sheet. Decorate with icing.

2 deciliters powder sugar
½ eggwhite
Some drops of vinegar

Mix all ingredients until smooth and shiny. Make a cone out of paper and fill with icing, use this to decorate the cooled cookies. Have fun!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Touching the past

I started working at Volda College 15 years ago, when the study of public information and public relations was newly formed as a two-year study. To the green new employee was given the task of kicking it off - basically I was given the keys to my office, a room and a bunch of students. Nobody bothered to give me the carefully developed curriculum and reading list until I had been asking for it for three months... By then I had done all the work for the first semester from scratch, too inexperienced to realise that I should not have had to work like that, and that I should have asked more often, louder, and from more people for the information which was lacking.

Today I have been revisiting the one, great thing about those first years in Volda. I love all my students, but can there ever be another group like the first? A handbook with pictures and names, and google, and I have spent the afternoon tracking them slowly through publications and jobs, to send them emails with greetings in the hope that yes, that's the right person.

I am doing this for two reasons: I am generally curious about where they all are now, what do they do, how did they use the knowledge we tried to share with them? But I would also like to use their knowledge about the information profession and the education in order to create a better, stronger and more updated education. And a third reason, which is the one the PR department at the college loves - I want to show them off to new students: "Look, these were my students once! Now they are there - and there - and there."

An afternoon with Google shows me I can do this, safely. I am feeling all warm and fuzzy with pride. And I have only gotten through the first two years. I am going to enjoy this!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Henry Jenkins and the bloggers

He has gotten himself an official blog, so he doesn't need to ask Elin for help to talk to bloggers any more. But Henry Jenkins today uses the authorial power of an established and well-respected scholar to frame history correctly.

The article is no longer at the end of the link, but if you want to read it - well, you got to buy the book: Fans, Bloggers and Gamers. Here Jenkins repeats the story about the editor making an unfortunate analogy calling the bloggers "cockroaches", and how he had the editor do something to his article which has since been dubbed "Doing a Dave" - changing the content after it has been blogged, hence making a lot of very angry and outspoken bloggers look stupid.

In the introduction Henry Jenkins claims that the bloggers never got past the "cockroach" phrase to understand what he was saying. However, this is from his article: "Once this column appears, my authorial control ends and theirs begin." First - if it really was the editor who wrote that unfortunate intro (and editors can be blamed for any number of things , several which are true), Jenkins' control ended long before the column was online. Second - the bloggers understood that perfectly. No need to tell them - it's why they reacted. Third - by changing the column it was clear that Jenkins' authorial control DID NOT end once the article was online. "Doing a Dave" took authorial control away from the bloggers and placed it firmly in the hands of the man with the advantage.

And while we're talking about framing... Henry Jenkins may have asked the blogging community to "blog this", but that's not why they responded. The "pretentious ass" he claims he may be called by bloggers is not deserved for his more well-considered scholarly writing, but for sentences like this: '"Blog this" I said, and not unexpectedly, the blogging community followed the instructions.' What redeems his framing of the incident is the next sentence: 'I simply wasn't prepared for the consequences.'

Water under the bridge 5 years ago, old stuff, yada yada, but I am still happy there is a reprint of Jenkins' "Blog this" article now that the links are no longer correct. Sadly Jill and I can't change the reference in our article, as it's in print and not online, but it should be Jenkins, Henry (2006): "Blog This!", in Fans, Bloggers and gamers, Ecploring Participatory Culture, New York University Press, New York, p. 178-181.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I haven't even thought about it. But today I realised that I have gotten the plans for next semester off earlier than at any other time, I have a small stack only of papers to read still, and I have my daughter home to help with baking and cleaning. I can go home and make plans and expect to be able to follow them up!

Oh joy!

I may get into that Christmas thing for real this year!

Friday, December 08, 2006


I am one-eyed for three days, due to an upcoming eye check. A stylish white band-aid covers the left eye, and I am muddling through with one ye.

I had no idea how much I relied on that left eye. I also didn't know my right eye had become this nearsighted, as the left has compensated. After an hour I have a headache, and the right eye is tearing from the strain. 10 minutes online is more than enough already. I guess reading, writing, surfing and gaming is pretty much out of the question until Tuesday. See you all then!

Update: For those who were worried - eyes are fine, really, it was just an test in order to see how much they need to adjust my eyesight in order to make the eyes cooperate without prisms in the glasses. I am going to have an operation to adjust the muscles around the eye some time in March -07. After that I might be able to wear lenses! I am trying to imagine my face without glasses, and it's scary. But until then life goes on as usual, which is pretty good, although I found it was easier to read books and papers with only one eye! Everything else was pretty frustrating though. Suddenly getting a blind side was quite stressful.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Theory? Huh?

I am currently reading student papers, preparing for oral assessments tomorrow and Friday. Before I meet my students, I want to give them (and not just the ones who are to face me, but all students writing papers all over the world) a free tip which may make paper writing in academia easier.

Figure out what "Theory" means.

Here are some free definitions:

A bit more challenging:
Jonathan Culler, What is Theory, chapter one in his book Literary Theory, a very short introduction.

The Wikipedias don't entirely agree:
Wikipedia has a long and quite informative article about it, discussing the meaning of "theory" in different contexts.

This is opposed to the Norwegian Wikipedia article, where theory is presented as applicable to the natural sciences only.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Nick Yee on Addiction

Thank you Nick Yee, for this very thoughtful article on gaming addiction! There is still a lot more to the discussion and why it exists at all, but this is one of the most consistent treatments of this topic I have seen so far.

And thank you Jill, for emailing the link while I am up to my ears in reading student papers, unable to look out in the wide world without help!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Norwegian media statistics

Another couple of useful links, this mostly for Norwegian language users. The media use reports by the Norwegian statistical office, and a long list of European sites with an emphasis on Scandinavian by Nordicom/Norway.

And while we're at it: The Eurobarometer, a test which keeps being repeated - the quality of the questions has been discussed, but they are the same in all ov europe, and have been repeated at intervals for 20 years.


Machinima is movie making through games, and if you want to see what that can look like, have a look at, where you can pick your favourite game for a scene for all kinds of adventures.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Another day in Utopia

A nourishing meal in a clean bowl, eaten comfortably in the safety of a warm and even gracious room. Tea served steaming hot, fragrant with rare spices from a distant country. Can there be a better way to start the day? Add to this luxury the chance to wash in clean water, warm, clean clothes and comfortable shoes, which I, like all other inhabitants in this wondrous land, don before I settle into a vehicle which can easily be steered through the rain and uphill - no effort needed at all.

Then hours are spent in another warm and comfortable location, one with ample lighting and walls covered with books. A magical machine lets me read, write, pass messages and images to others, and receive the same. Delicately I touch the keys and a world of events come to me. Work - the hours I need to engage in it, to give back something to this rich society in which I live - is an intricate sorting of information and passing on my ideas about it to others, a complex process, but painless and performed at the tap of my fingertips.

When the light beyond the large pane of glass changes, it's time to return to the domicile - but first we gather reseources for another meal: fish, meat, eggs, cheese, vegetables, fruit - anything I can imagine and more is spread out before me in one spot. And all they ask as I leave with my catch is that I swipe a plastic card. There is some connection between the resources I have access to here and the tapping of my fingers through the day, but much work or little, it is a long time since I worried about what to eat, when, where.

Safe in the comfort of the place where I store the far too many objects I possess, I can eat, rest and entertain myself alone or with family or friends. I can do this until I am exhausted from the delights of the day, and I fall asleep, warm, safe, well-fed and comfortable.

Truly, Utopia must finally be here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Norwegian academic publishing

This article, in Norwegian and by Professor Anders Johansen at the University of Bergen, discusses the reforms in academic publishing in Norway. It's deeply problematic as the ranking of publishers in the form about to be implemented will kill any research connected to local issues with a strictly national interest. This reform means publishing on Norwegian language, history, society, culture - everything specific for Norway which would be of interest in order to develop an intellectual Norwegian debate - becomes irrelevant to academia.

I am going to stop there, and not translate more of the points in the article. This is a battle Norwegian Scholars need to fight in Norwegian, in Norway. Hvis du leser norsk og er akademiker eller ønsker å lese norsk forskning også i framtiden, les hva Anders Johansen sier!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Congratulations, Anne Mangen

Once time colleague and still working in similar fields, Anne Mangen recently defended her Dr. art. on "New narrative pleasures? A cognitive-phenomenological study of the experience of reading digital narrative fictions".

Anne defended her thesis at NTNU, the Norwegian Technological University in Trondheim, but she has spent much of her research period in California, since about 2000.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blizzard and the gold-sellers

Not long ago I wrote about the connection between gold, time and twinking, and how some gold seller sites claimed they cooperate with Blizzard. At the time I didn't consider it, but a certain attunement needed if I want to join future raids have made me pause.

In order to enter some areas in the game, special effort is needed, or attunements. To enter Molten Core (MC) you have to get through Black Rock Depths (BRD) in order to get a fragment of the core, carry it back to an elf just outside the entranc and voila, you're attuned. Takes a bit of effort, but fairly easy, really. You just have to be a good enough player to get through a lev 54+ instance.

To get attuned to Blackwing Lair the stakes are a bit higher, you have to look for the letter that starts the quest - means killing some high level elite orcs. Then you need to go with a ten person raid through Upper Black Rock Spire (UBRS), kill the final boss and touch the orb behind him. No longer easy-peasy, but again, what it takes is skill and time.

Now, for the Onyxia attunment, you will be working for some time. You have to kill certain bosses in Lower Black Rock Spire (LBRS), then run around and deliver quests, collect items in UBRS, run a bit more, disguise as a dragonkin, talk to a dragon, kill a bunch of dragons, well, you get it, this is a loooong quest chain of things you have to do, and then you can enter Onyxia's Lair.

For the Ahn'Qiraj instances in Silithus, the entire server joined in for the attunement. Everybody have to work towards opening the gates, and once they are open, everybody can enter. This is both for the 20 and the 40 man instance: AQ20 and AQ40.

Now, up comes the newest, latest instance: Naxxramas in the eastern Plaguelands. For all the other instances, what you need to get attuned is friends, groups, gaming skills: the same kind of skills you need inside the instance. To get attuned to Naxxramas (Naxx), you need soloing skills and gold.

To enter Naxxramas, you must become attuned (which you do through the Argent Dawn) and then enter a Teleporting Spire in the Eastern Plaguelands. Although there is a green raid entrance deep inside Stratholme, it is blocked off by a gate.

The requirements for attuning to Naxxramas will depend on your reputation with the Argent Dawn:

5x [Arcane Crystal]
2x [Nexus Crystal]

1x [Righteous Orb]

60 gold

2x [Arcane Crystal]
1x [Nexus Crystal]

30 gold


The fastest way to get into Naxxramas is to run Scholomance or Stratholme until you are Honored and then simply buy the required materials. Prices obviously vary, but to give you a rough idea, the materials costs are approximately 250 at Honored (and about half that at Revered).

So: what you need for this attunement is either to give up all hope of entering for weeks of grinding, or to buy gold. Add to the equation that in order to get the equipment you need for Naxx, you need to run the other raid instances regularly to get new gear, because the only gear you can re-use is the nature resistance (NR) gear from AQ - and for some bosses some of the fire resistance (FR) gear from the dragon and fire related instances, but you can't even reach the FR bosses without the NR from AQ and most important in Naxx: frost resistance and shadow resistance. When you do heavy grinding of gear in raids, you spend a lot of the cash you make there on resources to maintain your presence: Potions, buffs, enchants, repairs. Raiding needs to be supported through grinding.

What does this mean? Naxxramas is a goldsellers' goldmine. Blizzard has built into the game an instance which ensures that nobody but the most devoted players can enter without either a very strong and generous guild supporting them, or through buying gold.

I am trying to understand what Blizzard gains from this. One thing is of course that goldsellers are players, too, and they have to buy the game and pay the fees. And they have to pay more than other players, as they have their accounts revoked each time they are discovered, and so they buy a new game to make a new account to get back into business. I would love to see an estimate of how large a percentage of the player population are gold sellers. It has to be a bunch, I normally get 4-5 whispers every gaming session from different gold seller sites, I report as many as I can, but they pop right back up.

An other issue is: Is Blizzard planning to make players buy their way into better positions in the game? The changes with The Burning Crusade (TBC), where mounts and gear is more advanced than ever, and where movement will be more restricted if you don't have the right gear, hints towards that kind of development. Today an epic mount riding skill costs almost 1000 gold. Before you could get one character to a certain status and buy cheaper mounts for your other characters and your friends. The recent changes makes this practice impossible. I can only guess that it means transportation will be more expensive in TBC. At the speed which I can grind - and mind you, I am a pretty dedicated player, I have to, in order to maintain a presence both with the raiding/role-playing guild and the researcher's guild - 1000 gold takes a month. 10 000 gold, which is the logical sum for a flying mount? Sounds like a year. A year of dedicated grinding, hours and hours of farming. I will never do that. What will Blizzard do to "help"?

Commodification is already an obvious part of TBC. Special "packs" offer goodies for players who buy them, like flashy funny mounts. Are Blizzard planning to beat the gold sellers by joining them?

I was looking forwards to The Burning Crusade. I would love a flying mount, a blood elf paladin and new areas to explore. Now I really don't know.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Selfcontained blogs

Recently I have discovered a few blogs which are actually pretty good, but which are, oddly for a long time blogger, extremely self contained. Some of them have no links in the text, some of them link to themselves.

When news media moved into the net, they tried to avoid links in order to hold the reader in one spot. It didn't work, people got bored and used search engines. So the news media, not being totally stupid, started working with the power of the links and made several different types, both to their own archives and to other sources.

But these new bloggers, who do serious and nice work, so they are no spammers of marketing blogs or anything like that, they link to themselves, don't share the link love, and when they write comments on other peoples' blogs they put in links to themselves. This is a way to use the gift economy of links which I find is ungenerous and selfish: use other peoples' sites to link themselves, but not link back.

I don't know what I'll do yet. So far I am reading the comments, checking each blog carefully, and if it's unique and interesting I let the comments pass. But I am a little surprised at this isolation, this way to use a weblog as a place for display, not for connections and sharing.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Television and feminism

I am leafing through Joshua Meyrowitz' No Sense of Place, a great work on how electronic media in the body of television changed out society. It does point to some of the same issues as the extremely popular Amusing ourselves to death, but it holds so much more. It is a rich and interesting read, and since it's such a long time since I read it parts appear to me like recognitions of my own thoughts. A little sad too, as I realise it was Meyrowitz who wrote it, and not my original thought. Alas.

Anyway, here goes:
Before, isolated from men and from each other, women had "no outside standards to reckon by." "For women at home... the loss of a direct tie to the outer world means a loss of cognitive knowledge of how things work and real standards to test oneself against." As an arena of news and entertainment shared by both sexes, television alters women's perspective. Television gives women access to "outside standards" and it provides knowledge of "how things work." The shared arena of television also invites public comparison of the males and females portrayed in it. And by the male standards offered by television, women are weak, isolated, and relatively useless. If a man were in the position of most female television characters, he would probably be considered a "failure." (1987:211)

This rings with the same kind of truth as does Loving with a Vengeance by Tanya Modleski and Reading the Romance by Janice Radway. Both these works on women and popular culture show how a communication technology apparently worthless and fully commercialised was used in ways that empowered the users rather than numb their brains. Or, in the words of Adorno and Horkheimer:
The stunting of the mass media consumer's power of imagination and spontaneity does not have to be traced back to any psychological mechanisms; he must ascribe the loss of those attributes to the objective nature of the products themselves, especially to the most characteristic of them, the sound film.

Studying, playing and and generally hanging out with consumers of computer games does not leave me with a feeling of interacting with stunted, unintellectual people with no imagination. Quite to the contrary, they are imaginative, hard working and spontaneous - within the gaming context, at least. What I really would like to know is how the women think about it. PerhapsI should try to find one of the women's guilds or a group of women's gamers and do a Radwayian study? OK, one more point on the to-do list...

So there we go - opening one old book made me drag out two more, and one ancient article. Returning to the classics today, I guess.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Videogames and violence - a matter of faith

Cleaning my desk today, I found an article I kept because of the reference to what looks like fairly rigid and serious research on video game effects. I went to check the resources, and yes, there are researchers out there who feel that they have found a significant correlation between video games and violence:

Dr. Anderson and colleagues have shown that playing a lot of violent video games is related to having more aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Furthermore, playing violent games is also related to children being less willing to be caring and helpful towards their peers. Importantly, research has shown that these effects happen just as much for non-aggressive children as they do for children who already have aggressive tendencies (Anderson et al., under review; Gentile et al., 2004).

I am presently harassing the librarians here to get me a copy of Craig Anderson's special volume of Journal of Adolescence from 2004, because I have some questions about this research. What games did they test? Under what conditions? How did they measure violent behaviour? How do they define violent behaviour?

In other contexts when I have seen research making such claims, even celebrated and lauded research, when looking closer at these parameters I have been rather disappointed with the lack of understanding of games in general, and some really strange ways to measure "violence" and "aggression". I don't say that this is true here, I just really want to look at their methodology. Particularly as the findings do not fit with other observations around games:
1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.

According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers — 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts. According to a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General's report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester.
2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.

Claims like this are based on the work of researchers who represent one relatively narrow school of research, "media effects." This research includes some 300 studies of media violence. But most of those studies are inconclusive and many have been criticized on methodological grounds. In these studies, media images are removed from any narrative context. Subjects are asked to engage with content that they would not normally consume and may not understand. Finally, the laboratory context is radically different from the environments where games would normally be played. Most studies found a correlation, not a causal relationship, which means the research could simply show that aggressive people like aggressive entertainment. That's why the vague term "links" is used here. If there is a consensus emerging around this research, it is that violent video games may be one risk factor - when coupled with other more immediate, real-world influences — which can contribute to anti-social behavior. But no research has found that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.

The Anderson study appears to be methodologically sound, from the write-up, but the things I want to have a look at are exactly the issues which Henry Jenkins bring up here: How has the research actually been conducted? Once I get hold of the relevant issue of Journal of Adolescence, I will be back.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reach a decision maker

Occasionally people I know invite me to join LinkedIn. Since I have accounts wilting at Orkut, Friendster and probably a few other network/social sites out there, I know myself well enough not to join any more of those. I even have a problem with email lists. If I don't REALLY want to participate, they become spam which I just shove into an archive and forget very quickly.

LinkedIn however promises something which surprised me. They announce that you can "reach a decision maker". I had to stop and think about that. First: If I was a decision maker, I would not be hard to identify for the general public. Why would I need to make a profile on a network site to become more available? Second: Let's say I had a profile on some kind of network software, would I want to be contacted that way? And last but not least: Would I trust the decisions of a decision-maker who was approachable through something like LinkedIn?

Joi Ito's now much-cited claim for WoW to be the new golf does however put me on the track of something here. LinkedIn, with the invitation policy, is supposed to be the same kind of exclusive community where you invite your friends and those you would like to have as part of your network into the inner circle. Like the two researchers' guilds in WoW you are invited to come play with the people who you would otherwise only read articles by.

It doesn't work the same way though. A golf club is exclusive because somebody are excluded and the participants contribute and risk something by their participation - if only a substantial fee. If you are contacted while at the club the person contacting you has been pre-screened, and is very likely to have useful assets you can then access at some other point. The contact becomes a valuable exchange of favours, if not mutual right now, there's an expectation of future favours included. LinkedIn invites us all to sign in. This means that the people you may want to reach will be contacted by a lot of people who have very little to offer in exchange, or if they do, they have made no commitment to the exchange.

I think systems like LinkedIn are interesting, and they most likely work great for the people who keep maintaining their presence and following up others. For people like me, who keep getting distracted by shiny phat l00t elsewhere (see that teenagers who do l33t speach? Women your mothers' age and up are doing it now, you can stop, it has become uncool), it's enough to be in the phone book. Which is where I find my old classmates, and quite a few decision makers, when I want to.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Norwegian cozyness

A comment on my blog lead to reading the blog of Renny Bakke Amundsen, who among other things teaches corporate blogging(!). A post I noticed was by his American wife, who wrote about the Norwegian cozyness - den norske kosen (Psst, Renny, what's up with the permalinks? I can't find a good way to link, had to link to the comments). She explains this very simple but very complex concept well, and for those who read Norwegian and would like some more views on this, here are a couple of interesting links.
Kjetil Rollness about Norwegian cozyness, Kosesamfunnet.
Not everybody loves the Norwegian way of having a good time, and I would have loved to read the interview with Nina Witoszek both articles refer to.

Henry Jenkins blog

Henry Jenkins started his official blog in June 2006.

I am glad and will add it to the list of interesting stuff to read. I have always liked his common sense approaches to fan culture, and look forwards to reading convergence culture, which I have ordered - delivery estimate is loooong though.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

First female dean

The Faculty of the arts at the University of Oslo has their first female dean, and if they had to wait this long, they waited for the right woman. Professor Trine Syvertsen is someone I have known since I started studying media, a brilliant student, efficient researcher and all round a nice person. If I could have voted she would have had my vote too, but hey, Trine didn't need it! The votes were clear, she is the dean!

Status bars and gold stars

At the workshop in Bergen, I mentioned the importance of the status bar, and how positioning the World of Warcraft status bar in a very visible spot, split it into small boxes and keep it functioning after level 60 by making it useful for tracking reputation, is a stroke of genius. I find myself going: "Let me just kill 10 more furbolgs and fill out that next box on the status bar," while I am really totally utterly bored with what I am doing. Justin claimed, tongue in cheek, that he has a status bar at the bottom of Word, but hey, he was not that far off! We do keep counting pages, after all. It's also the same as I do with the stacks of papers which need to be marked: by moving the papers from one stack to the next, I can track the progress visually while grinding, eh, grading.

Returning from some months of research/writing grind to the grind of teaching and administration, I felt dissatisfied with my progress at all levels, both what I have written and what I need to teach. Today I sat down and tracked my progress in a way which could be visualised. I have a book I write "things to do" in, and I love stroking out what I have done. Guilt has however kept me from using it, and looking at the book on my desk just made me feel worse. I went and bought stars and other stickers, then I bravely opened the book to see if I could line out at least one thing and reward myself a gold star.

Now I have a lot of stars all over the front of the book! I have been so good! The book of work to come is back in a prominent position, shiny with proof of how efficient I am even if I don't notice it, and more stickers are just waiting to decorate the front. I have fantasies about the epic look it will have when both front and back are COVERED with stickers.

Childish? Yes, but at least now I am giggling with the silliness of it all, and not moping at my own self-destructive behaviour.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Computer game statistics in Norway

From the Norwegian Statistical Bureau - SSB, statistisk sentralbyrå, an article on computer/video game use in Norway. It shows that in 2005 57% of the boys between 9 and 15 have used a PC or video game, while 23 % of the girls played every day.

I am very curious to see what this looks like for 2006.

Beauty norms and plastic surgery

This is for Norwegian readers, an article referring to a work of research done by Professor Anne Karen Bjelland. She has conducted a study of women who have had plastic surgery, and discusses the norms for a healthy, beautiful body.

I haven't read the study, only this article, but I am putting the link in here so I remember to go back to it later and learn more.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Not all that truant

Some of The Truants were gathered in Bergen 3rd and 4th of November, to work on an anthology on game research in World of Warcraft. Jill and Hilde are editing the book, which will be published in 2008, at MIT.

A guild name "The Truants" shouldn't be able to have a well-prepared workshop, but we did. It was disciplined, nice, all had taken time to write and read and gave thoughtful responses, and some even joined just because they thought it would be fun, not because they had to.

However, the moment we were off to play and raid, the discipline was blown away. For a group of very serious and professional scholars, The Truants are extremely undisciplined players. Gather them in a raid, and nobody listens to a word that's said. Everybody chooses to dance, run out in advance and get killed, or talk about something totally different. I wonder if renaming the guild "The Disicplined Players" would remake us all into smooth, calm and disciplined team players? It's almost worth trying... but not quite. I suspect the name of the guild echoed with too many of the members already at the very beginning, and a name change now will not help at all.

I was not part of the other non-serious activity, as I needed some sleep that week end, but Scott made a little film that makes us (them) look very serious and competent, at the shooting range. Here they all look dangerous, but not at all as if they are going on a raid. Nobody are dancing!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Taylor: "simply entertainment"

I have always been impressed with T. L. Taylor's scholarship, and happy and priviledged to be allowed to play and work with her - ok, occasionally also exasperated or surprised, but that's a good thing as I would otherwise have been a victim of total hero worship. I have told you all before how much I like her Play Between Worlds, but today I am offering a quote which contains a large part of the reason for my continued devotion to new media technologies and the social spaces they facilitate:

The common framing of games as "simply entertainment" often obscures the ways they act as key cultural sites in which forgoing participation may have real costs. We increasingly live in a world in which opting out of technological systems is more and more difficult and yet participation within those systems pushes us to accept structures we might oppose. Try eliminating a technology (especially a communication one) from your life for a week and see how you fare. As people find their friends, family, colleagues and the broader culture engaging in some sphere, the desire to participate can be quite strong and also a social imperative. We might also consider the ways participating in particular forms or places always are tied up with questions of power. Separate does not mean equal, and sometimes we can see quite clearly the benefits that come from being in particular spaces. I do not want to suggest that we do not have choices that we can make, but instead want to highlight that there can be meaningful benefits and costs attached to those choices. (Taylor 2006:135)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Norwegian MUD cake

And after reading Hilde's muffin post (which I sympathize with and recognize at all levels, except for the dog part, that dog looks pretty happy to me), this post is dedicated to her.

If you all thought there's nothing but gaming going on in my life these days, I can comfort you all and offer a wonderful new chocolate cake experiment. No picture, it was eaten before I could get the camera out! This is a cake with very dark chocolate, fructose; a natural sweetener which does not cause as much of a bloodsugar fluctuation as regular sugar does, and spelt flour which I am not allergic to. I found the recipe at a Norwegian web site called, and adjusted it a little to suit me better:

Norwegian MUD cake

One large breadpan

300 grams of 70-80% chocolate
250 grams of butter
6 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
150 grams of fructose
110 grams of fine spelt flour

Melt chocolate and butter. Whip eggs and fructose well, until it’s moist. Cool the chocolate and butter mix down to hand temperature, then stir it into the egg mix. Gently turn flour into the batter at the end.

Cover a large bread pan in wax paper for baking. Pour the batter in. This cake does not rise much. It is supposed to be just barely firm at the outer layer and still moist in the middle. Bake at 180 degrees Celcius for 10 minutes or so. I baked it for 20 minutes and it was slightly dry at the edges, but very moist and appetising in the middle. I also made muffins, and baking those for 10 minutes they were nice chocolate muffins, with only a little moist core.

This cake is supposed to be frozen. It is easy to cut when frozen, so just cut off a few slices when needed and heat in a microwave. Serve while it is still a little warm, and since it has a very strong chocolate taste serving it with whipped cream is a brilliant idea. My cake never got as far as the freezer. It's a large serving though, so use a large breadpan, or more than one small one, and share with friends and family.

"Where will blogs be in 10 years?"

I have answered this question with: "Somewhere we never anticipated, but where ever it is, it will involve more media than writing." Adrian Miles in Melbourne is one of those who has been thinking about involving more media than writing for a very long time, and faced with YouTube he thinks some more:
Note the words - “existing video content”. Just as authors thought back in the mid ’90s about words and writing so 2006 is the year in which traditional video (television, video makers, wannabe’s and coodabeens) finally found the web, got over size (”what do you mean pixels, our screens are metres man!”), figured out some data rates (courtesy of the iPod which, like television before it has settled all that by having hardware defined requirements) and are now realising its potential in spite of it not being full screen, full motion and the rest of it.

So, in about five years we’ll have moved on, finally. And video will be as text is now. Linked, linkable, and we’ll ‘write’ video inside the space of the network.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Boy Who Played

Did you ever read Anne McCaffrey's book: The Ship Sho Sang? Technology is now making some of this possible, if not by having human brains direct ships, then at least by having them play games.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Gaming and time

I just finished answering a lot of questions about WoW. Very few of them were about research, most were about the fear of addiction, and the fear of misspent time.

Time is a big deal for those who care about a player who is not able to control his or her own time in relation to the game. Time spent ingame is time spent not interacting with those non-players you live with. This is however not a problem that is limited to people playing WoW. Academics know it well - one of the most dangerous periods for an academic marriage is when one of the spouses is doing their PhD. The work takes so much time and so much mental energy that you neglect the people who are not involved in te topic. It is also very easy to become infatuated with somebody who really understand what you are trying to do, and can help out.

While gaming isn't the same as a PhD, there are similarities between games and other challenges. What we all need to learn, often the hard way, is to prioritise our time. In group based play, such as the level 60 or endgame play in WoW, your use of time influences not just the people around you in the physical world, but also people on computers all over the world. Drop out of a raid, and 39 other people are influenced by it.

To deal with the dual demands of the partners in the flesh world and partners in the game world, players need to learn to be extremely disciplined. To make it work well they have to establish routines to maintain all spheres, and not let the use of time blur too much. Some just can't do it, raiding and work and their loved ones and their health - the fact that there are only 24 hours and some of those must be spent sleeping doesn't add up. And if it is a choice between spending your precious time helping 39 people who think you are a great main tank get through Black Wing Lair, or spend it doing dishes, laundry and other chores... Well, I know what I think is more fun. And those dishes will wait, right?

A lot of what is mistaken for addiction is this kind of prioritising between conflicting demands. I grew up with a mother who loved her garden over everything. From spring to fall, she was outdoors planting, weeding, tending, picking. She left cooking, doing dishes and cleaning to her children, including tending to each other. She hated to have to make dinner at a certain time, so she made us do it. My patient father ate endless amounts of burned fish pudding and badly cooked potatoes, while the garden was an amazing jungle of flowers, herbs, vegetables and berries. Was my mother addicted to her garden? She ignored her children, she let the work in the garden come before participating in our lives, before other chores and the health of others (all that burned fish pudding can't have been healthy), and she was mentally and socially absent. But who would use the word "addiction" about this activity? She just thought having a nice garden was important, and anyway, we learned to cook, clean and do dishes early, and became very independent.

Prioritising time isn't easy, and time is probably the real currency available to individuals today. Money is a way to buy or swap time. The other big hard currency is energy, but individuals only trade in energy when we swap time (money) for it. So when somebody spends a lot of time on an activity we don't share, we think it is wasted - wasted as it would be if the person spent all their hard earned money on fancy clothing or a big powertool that's never used, to use some examples I suspect some of the worried parents may recognize... And so time becomes a field fraught with conflict and a source of power-struggles in all kinds of relationships. When gaming adds to all the other things which use time, of course gaming will cause problems for kids, teens, adults, partners and everybody else who share time. Until we have worked ways to negotiate this into the daily set of etiquette it will continue to be an issue.

When my kids were younger, the meetings at their school were about how many hours the kids in their class should be allowed to watch television. Now parents of kids that age discuss how many hours their children should be allowed to play games. The need to help kids administrate their time is real. The activities that needs to be negotiated are interchangeable.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gold, status and twinking

Like all players who can't spend hours grinding, I have had a peek at the gold selling pages. The prices are not unreasonable at all, and I understand why people buy. For me to make 1000 gold takes at least a month of ingame collecting. I can buy it for $38,99, which is half an hour in real life work. The conversion rate of time is fabulous.

Why don't I just do it? The interviews I have been listening to this weeks explains why. There is a very strong disapproval among large groups of players against gold buying. Social pressure and fear of losing face is an important barrier to buying gold.

There is of course a logic to this disapproval. The real value in multi-player games is your reputation. Such reputation is spread virally through social intercation, but it has no visual or other more explisitt expression. Your reputation - if it is a good one - will however often be reflected in your access to groups and raids: your path through the complex areas of the game will be easier and you will have more access to gear. For those who are not "in" on the social rumour circle, the fancy gear appears to be what infuses respect, and they assume that getting the same gear means getting the same respect. Since they don't have access to the same pool of raiding partners, they have to gain what expressions of status they can through the auction house. At the auction house a particular item can run up to several hundreds, if not thousands of gold. The price of a certain dagger obtained in Molten Core is currently 1500 gold at the ingame auction house (prices wary between servers and factions). For a player with no or limited access to raid groups this object will either mean months of grinding for gold, or a trip to the gold sellers.

This has created a new type of characters, what they call "Twinks". Twinks are characters which have not played the instances, but own the gear which can be bought at the auction house. A twink will not wear much of the gear that is "bind on pickup" - which means only the character that takes it off the body of the monster can use it - but instead have plenty of good "bind on equip" gear - things which can be bought.

Twinks are awarded the disgust of the noveau rich, the social climbers who want to have the status without the effort. But the strategy of twinking has one socially acceptable outlet: the twinking of level 19 characters solely for play in Warsong Gulch. A level 19 character has no access to the high level instances, and the cost of buying gear at that level is normally not higher than a level 60 main character can support easily. You don't need a raidgroup full of friends to run a level 19 character through an instance with correct gear for the level, all you need is a mate or two who agree to kill everything and let the lowbie loot the bosses. At the same time a twink can earn honour and reputation in the battleground far exeeding what the level 60 main character could make, and can through rank gain access to gear far better than the regular end-game dungeon sets.

These twinks do however have to work for it. They can be outfitted and assisted by a higher level character in order to gain access to otherwise very exclusive gear, but the very high activity level in one battleground is one thing WoW gold can not buy. In this context the derogatory concept "twink" becomes honorary, and while everybody hate meeting twinks in the battlegrounds, having them on our side is not a social stigma, but a nice convenience.

And this is why I blog. I was planning to write a blogpost about a blog reviewing goldbuyer sites and according to the writers affiliated with Blizzard, because I think it's really weird if Blizzard is an associate of a gold farmers' promotion site. Ended up somewhere entirely different though. And I put in the rel="nofollow" tag up there, here's to hoping it works. I am such a snob, I am not buying gold. Yet.

(Link fixed and NRK has, as far as I know, nothing to do with Blizzard, gold-farmers or the gaming industry in general.)

Net meeting at Schrødingers Katt

Tomorrow, Friday 27th of October between 11:00 and 12:00 I will be answering questions on computer game research in a "net meeting" organised by Schrødingers katt, the popular science program where I have been interviewed about The Truants, our game researchers' WoW guild. The program is on Norwegian broadcasting tonight, and you can find it online here. All in Norwegian, of course, but if you can figure out the interface I think I can deal with questions in English, too.


Somebody just had to do it, it is too good an opportunity for unlimited parody to let it pass: The Uncyclopedia wiki.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Torill on TV

Or is it my character who is the real main in that event?

Some weeks ago now, I spent a day with a television team from Schrødingers katt, a program on NRK mainly concerned with research. They were fascinated with the idea of The Truants, our guild of game researchers, and wanted to talk to me about game research and why somebody wanted to use a game as a base for academic networking, writing, lectures, discussions on methodology and ethics, and all the other stuff we do in between playing and studying the game.

They have edited the day down to a few minutes, and these minutes will be on this Thursday, 26th of October 19:30 at NRK1. According to Eivind Grimsby Harr, the journalist, I will be presented kindly, but he did admit it would look like I am a nerd who lives totally in Cyberspace. A nice nerd, though, according to him. I'll just have to accept that.

And to emphasize my nerdiness, I have agreed to be available for a net meeting Friday 27th, between 11:00 and 12:00. I don't have the link to that yet.

Update Oct 25th: the part of the program with me in it is already online.

Monday, October 23, 2006


When media studies entered the Universities in Norway, for some reason it was approached as a practical subject. To understand the media we had to learn to produce something. We made bad movies exploring suspense, cutting techniques and directions in conveying movement, we wrote journalistic articles and we ran around with recorders for radio programs. All of this within the confines of the University, the tower of theory.

The idea of media studies as a practical subject was possible to adjust to the confines of theoretical academia until we did our main thesis - hovedfag, today the master's thesis. Here the formal requirements were however so strong and so thorough that there was no more room. For anybody to pass you had to meet the formal requirements, do the thesis as well as anybody else who chose not to have a practical production as part of their work, and at the same time produce the work. It was - and is - a course for those too stubborn or too stupid to make the clever choice. Somebody like me.

This problem is still very present in media education at the higher levels. At the level I teach it's not as problematic, because we have developed systems to test for many different types of skills. A student who makes great productions and can talk about it will be rewarded at one exam, while the student who is more theoretically minded will be rewarded at the next. This way it's also easier for the students to emphasise one or the other side of their skill, and they don't have to show it all in one big thesis.

For the master students at the universities this is still a problem though. There is and can't be such a controlled system for testing their skills, because the final production/thesis is still close to all important.

In the years that have passed since 1990, when I finished my main subject, I have encountered this problem over and over again. Students need advice on how to write a practice-oriented thesis, and assessors need to learn how to assess them. The advice I would like to try out is not nice, friendly and all-understanding though. Quite the opposite: It's strict, demands a lot of discipline from the students and imposes guidelines and rules on the assessors. It also begins and ends with theory. On the upside: It is based on the experiment, which is very much an accepted academic discipline.

1) A very firm and strict topic for the subject, embedded in theory.
2) Clear methodology for self-observation, with heavy emphasis on reflexivity and the discipline of the research log.
3) Continuous logging of the process of the project, including decisions, problems and alternatives which have been rejected.
4) A presentation of the finished product, to an audience of for instance other students or a group of the target audience. I insist on this even if the chosen theory might not point towards audience research. Showing and being criticised can help achieving the necessary analytical distance to your baby, the produced material.
5) A written description of the product, short and to the point.
6) A return to theory: applying it again on the product as it now exists, going back to point 1 to see what happened to the original research questions.
7) Accepting that "no, that was not a good way to apply this theory" or "no, that didn't work at all" is a perfectly good answer, as long as it is clear what lead to this conclusion. Don't try to save the work by throwing in some theory or ideas you never thought of in advance, unless it really and very clearly explains what happened. This had better be good to be worth it!

A problem with this kind of advice is however that the students who want to do practical productions are like I was/am - they want to see something practical, something real, from their work. Those students don't like theory. And to work well, this kind of practical/theoretical work needs to depend on a very clear understanding of theory as well as an extremely sharp analytical eye. The challenge is huge, but the students should not be able to get away with second rate work just because it's such a large body of work. We really need to learn how to scale these productions in a way that makes the high demands to a good practical/theoretical production realistic.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Humans fighting spam

On another blog which I use for lecture material, I just made a post with a series of links to ads, examples for a lecture I am giving tomorrow. After several drafts I posted it and didn't think more about it, until I had to update the post. That's when I discovered that my blog had been registered as a potential spam blog.

I had to type in a word verification in order to post, in this way proving that I am human. I also submitted a request to have my blog read by a person in order to verify that it's not a spam blog. A real human being is obviously the best way to fight spam.

I am waiting, curious to see what happens. The blog is mostly in Norwegian, so who knows, it may all appear to be nonsense to the human eye of a non-Norwegian speaker. And if so, what will happen? Will my entire lecture blog be deleted, to avoid spam?

Retro race for space

By way of Dennis' blog, a link to retro ads. I particularly enjoyed this elegant drawing of solar-wind powered space-ships.

Update: looking through the ads I found this one. It includes several different techonologies: the television, the record-player, the radio and the camera, in dads hand as he takes pictures of the children happily absorbed in front of the multi media center.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Lost Time

It was a Love Story. Young man meets young woman, they fall in love, she dies from cancer. We have seen it on the movies, and it feels like a cliche. That is - until it brushes up against your life.

I was not a close friend of his, and I don't want to draw people to this site by using his name. It would feel wrong if my traffic went up because I write about him. Links will have to do - pagerank for his site, not mine. Why do I still write? Because he was a person who always gave me an insight or at least a better - or different - feeling about things when our paths crossed. Those people are important and should be cherished.

We studied the same subject for a while, shared a spot at the computer lab. His working hours and mine complemented each other - when I had dropped the kids off in the morning and came to work on my masters thesis he had left just a few hours ago. When he arrived in the afternoon I had just cleaned up and left. Occasionally we met at both ends - if either of us were late or really early. At parties he was not the rowdiest person there, but he was the person people wanted to be close to; brilliantly intelligent, creative, musical and a poet - and a nice person too, what was not to love about him? And we did love him, even those who, like me, only knew him in the casual way of people who like each other but live very different lives.

He loved a girl who also studied the same as I did at the time. I had to check the interview with him to remember her name, our encounters were not even conversations. But she was beautiful, and he shone when he looked at her, even I saw that past my veil of busy-ness. When she was pregnant he had this amazing smile when he talked about it.

Then she got cancer, and chose the child over chemotherapy. The doctors thought they had been able to remove the cancer through operation, but once the child was born the tumors were found to have spread and there was nothing more to be done. She died shortly after their daughter was born, leaving him a single father, leaving their child motherless. I met him once before she died. I had not talked to him or heard news since I had heard she was all better. My life was chaotic, I had been in a car accident and ruined my knee, tried to cope with my first real job and struggled to feed a small family while on sick leave. Yes, I felt very sorry for myself. He was waiting for his great love and the mother of his child to die. All my worries shrunk and withered into nothing right there.

Even today the memory of his calm description of her suffering makes me cry. Perhaps more so today. We were so young. In his grief he still spoke with wisdom and love. He was a father. It redefined his life.

I didn't see him much since. I left Bergen, and our paths crossed only a few times - a nod on the street, a quick "hello, how are you doing?" But I heard of him from mutual friends. I heard about his life with the child, his creativity and his achievements. He never promoted himself, but to those of us who knew about him the world was a little richer for his presence in it. The choices he made were not easy, not mainstream nor conventional. In this way he was a living reminder that it is possible to grow, develop and create outside of square boxes.

He died in September. The story of his life is powerful and touching, almost overwhelming, and he had accumulated a lot of friends: creative, active friends who took action once they heard he would die from cancer. They created a record with his music, to his tribute, and he sings on it himself. The money goes into a fund for the child.

I heard some of the music he wrote on the radio today. His words asked for the lost time, if he could have it back. The song was called "Madelen" - not his love's name, but I still guessed it had to be about her death. The lyric conveys a great loss without being specific, through imagery and tender poetry. I was never so close to him that I qualify as a grieving friend, but hearing his words I still grieve. What I grieve is the loss of the promise his aquaintance always was. As long as he was alive we could have happened to meet, gone for a coffee and had a long chat. Doing this I would have learned something new, gained a new insight or felt different about something unexpected. Now that is all lost time.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Norwegian role-play history

One of my colleagues, Torbjørn Lien, made role-play history with his game Imperium 3000 published in 1993. How do I know this? Torbjørn has a blog in comic strip form, and he writes about his own past (and present) as a gamer in the strip 7th of September. It's in Norwegian, but it might still be fun to see a blog in a different format.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Professor Kym

Kym Buchanan is a person I first met online, in Dragon Realms. Dragon Realms is the game where I found most of my material for my doctoral dissertation, and Kym was one of many great, helpful players. In August he started his job as an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin, and in Septemberhe defended his thesis successfully. Kym is, according to himself, an educator and a gamer. Already in 1999, when we met face to face, he had one of the most coherent visions of the connections between gaming, teaching and democracy which I have ever heard. It is not surprising that he continues to follow two of the great passions of his life, and I really hope this will make it easier for us to meet again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hilde and Jill in the media

The Bergen Newspaper BT has a case with Hilde and Jill about the study in World of Warcraft Hilde has initiated this year. I saw this days ago, I just forgot to link it, in the mess my head has been the last few days, I promise! But Jill reminded me, when I read her blog, and she also pointed to a nice interview with Hilde, in the University paper. Looking good, Hilde!


"We must, in the name of freedom of speach, accept that people have their opinions of what happens in a college."
Gunnar Bodahl-Johansen

This, of course, applies to all, and is also a pretty good rule for life outside of colleges.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Deer tracks

And to maintain the gender balance (Goddess forbid anybody think I am biased in any direction or that I should dare express any bias these days), also in Norwegian, a deer hunter's blog: [På hjortefot] bortenfor speilet.

Girl Economy

Sometimes I almost regret not writing this blog in Norwegian for a Norwegian audience. The Norwegian blog sphere is growing, and there are some great, intelligent and very entertaining Norwegian bloggers. Today I bring any Scandinavians out there, or others who understand Norwegian, a lesson in Girl Economy. Little Girl gives us two lessons, part one and part two on how girls think about costs, income, utility and savings. She explains things like why it's so important, as well as rational and sensible to have another green top or another pair of shoes (there can never be too many shoes). She also explains how it's possible to spend 1500 you were going to use for something else, and still earn 3500 which you never had and never see.

Blogging practice

Lilia Efimova is doing an interesting study which I will make certain to read: Crossing Boundaries: A Study of Employee Blogging. Lilia work with interesting and useful things, as always, and I will be waiting eagerly to see what she's been writing this time.

Gambling, not gaming

But it's still interesting to note that the US ban on online gambling potentially causes such huge drops in income for large companies.
LONDON (Reuters) - Online gambling firms faced their biggest-ever crisis on Monday after U.S. Congress passed legislation to end Internet gaming there, threatening jobs and wiping 3.5 billion pounds ($6.5 billion) off company values.
Yes, that's billions they are talking about. In the 90ies, the question was if the Internet would ever be a source of income, or just an academic and military experiment. Well, what can I say: Somebody have figured out how to make money online.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Poem and Plagiarism

Looking in at Dennis' blog, I noticed a poem that made me laugh, but also really want to figure out what was going on. Turns out that Mike of Vitia, Clancy of Culture Cat and several other agencies were discussing plagiarism and the way to catch it. The discussion is opinionated, thorough and very interesting, go have a look. I do recommend starting with Dennis' poem though, as the pages of arguments are packed with all those hard words that don't stick in my little head Sunday morning.

Important acronym in this discussion: PDS - Plagiarism Detection Service.

(Clancy's post has several links to Kairosnews on this, look there for more links, I have been unable to retrieve them for some reason.)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Diversity of the blogosphere

Simon Owens of bloggasm publishes the results from a survey he did on the diversity of the blogosphere. Not the biggest survey out there, but it looks like a very interesting strategy to extract and demonstrate the diversity of the blogg world.

Link by way of Jan Fredrik Hovden.

Male locker-room humour

---Update: I am going to "Do a Dave" here, and change this blogpost a little. I am doing that because talking to some of my colleagues reminded me that the way this reached the journalist may not have been as deliberate as the article presents it.---

This post has been written as a response to an article in Sunnmørsposten 29th of September, where the journalist claims I have attacked my colleagues in a blogpost.

To begin with I want to give a little English-Norwegian lesson.
locker-room = "garderobe"
men's room, loo, toilet, wc, bathroom (and I am certain a lot more words I never learned) = "do"

male locker-room humour = "herregarderobehumor", or as the article translates it in one case, "mannehumor."

And I want to point out that despite the journalist's use of "several" while he was talking to me and in the article, I don't believe he had been contacted by a majority, not even a significant minority of my male colleagues. The acts of one or two have created what is presented as a massive conflict.

When that's said: I obviously stepped on something sore in my post about my fear for losing my voice: Voice update. This sentence hurt one or two of my male colleagues in a bad way:
Scared enough that I am deeply unhappy about the male locker-room humour of our staff room, which I thought the last 15 years had made me deaf to.
I obviously hurt something badly enough that the owner(s) have been talking about this in the company of a journalist. As Norwegian readers can see from the article, some of my colleagues mentioned my blogpost to a journalist.

What can I say to these hurt individuals of the staff but: I am so sorry. I am so sorry I interpreted certain words as humour. I am so sorry I interpreted them as something particular for males. I am so sorry you felt so hurt by that blogpost. Want me to wear a scarlet B for Blogger? Want me to stop talking about my life, my feelings, my opinions?

Well... in that case, let me quote what Gunnar Bodahl-Johansen, cited as an expert on journalistic ethics in the article, told the journalist: "We must, in the name of freedom of speach, accept that people have their opinions of what happens in a college. It (the blogpost) did not mention private relations and did not expose private individuals, Bodahl-Johansen says."

And let me add:
I did not say that I had been to a meeting and been hurt by jokes told there. I never leaked what happened at the morning meeting in question. This is something the journalist got from the offended parties after the posting. What I did was to mention that a workplace where I until this fall was the only female researcher and teacher, permits a form of humour which is typical of male-dominated and male exclusive rooms. What a bomb.

I am so sorry I had to be the one to tell you.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The subject blogs back

I spent a nice afternoon and evening with two young men, a journalist and a cameraman from "Schrødingers katt". It's a program on NRK, Norwegian Broadcasting, and they wanted to make a case on games and game research. Main topic for the interview was The Truants, the game researcher's guild I am part of. And with that as an entrance to the topic of game research, we also talked about games, gamers, gaming and game research - for hours and hours and hours. All those hours are supposed to be cut down to 5-6 minutes, so it's not like I will be proselytising endlessly. But the experience was interesting: the conversations with two nice and interested people, the technical solutions in order to get the best filming conditions, the sheer physical work of hours of information collection.

After all these hours I admit I enjoy blogging the journalists. They were great people, great guests, good fun to talk to.

The program is supposed to be sent October 19th November 2nd October 26th, with a teaser October 19th, and will be online the day after.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Children and online communication

There's a report on children's use of the net, safety and awareness, published this year in Norway. The report and summary is in Norwegian, but SAFT, Safety Awareness Fact Tools is an international European consortium working to increase awareness of good and safe internet use.

The study reports that more children have been harassed online and had more unpleasant meetings with other people they first got in touch with online than in 2003. It also shows an increase in net use for communication. Boys have been harassed more than girls, something which may have a connection to the fact that boys use the net more for chatting and games than girls do. Of the people reporting unpleasant meetings with strangers after netchat, the majority already had dysfunctional relationships to parents, friends or other in close relationships, a sad mirror of an adult reality where victims attract further abuse.

On the up side, children are more careful about giving out their physical address or other information which can be used to track them. They also have more email addresses, which can be used to cover their identity in online communication, and they are increasingly suspicious to information they get online. They use the net for homework, and are aware that they need to check on their information.

Spam flatters

Spam gets smart, and not just technologically. I just got a comment which seemed to be both believable and nice, until I googled some of the keywords in it, and found that the exact same comment was all over the web, in some really strange places. Here's the comment, links removed:
****** ******* has left a new comment on your post "Let me screw up!":

I'm doing a paper about the merchandise liquidation and got this post. Its not where I was looking for but it is a good article for my Finance class... Very professional blog.
Of course I like to hear my blog is very professional. And yes, I know that Google can give random hits. Nice to hear that you can use what I write - what's not to love about this little comment? The spammer skillfully wields one of the more manipulative ways to address people, and makes it sound sincere and a little naive, as the sender positions him/herself below most people by being a student who uses your article/post in class.

But being suspicious, I checked if that search would actually lead to this blog. No, it doesn't. It does however lead to comments from the same person in several places.

For this blog I have activated several layers of blogger's protection options. First people need an account to post comments. Then they need to write a keyword which is not supposed to be copyable by bots. And last, I moderate comments. The first is fairly easy for a bot to deal with. The second was a good way to stop spammers, but either spammers are buying work time off chinese goldfarmers and having the spam done by hand, or there's now a way to translate the visual cue to letters without having it touched by human hands. Once those two things are dealt with, the spammer uses flattery and the randomness of net search tools to work on me, to have the human in the other end accept the comment. Clever, very clever.

(Another post analysing spam.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Privacy, scrutiny and research ethics

The last few days have linked some interesting discussions. Jill and Dennis says much of what needs to be said on this, but I'd like to add another perspective to this topic.

When doing research, we know that surveillance changes the behaviour of the research object. We also know that covert surveillance is very problematic, and there are rules about how we can use the kind of information we collect withut the knowledge of the subject. If we are not open about our role and our activities, when we publish we have to anonymize the information to the point that the objects can not be identified. Hence such inventive names as "case A" or "subject 1", and the total lack of environments and other things which can give flavour to the story. All this gives contextual information, and contextual information can be cross checked and ruin the anonymity of the research objects.

People who find themselves suddenly revealed through a study are, and have a reason to be, angry. They often feel abused and used. To reveal the secrets of another after careful study is powerabuse, the same kind of crime as rape. To hold and use certain information against another is called blackmail. It doesn't matter that the information has been gathered legitimately, if you use it to gain power over another individual, it's a crime.

As researchers we are in control, we are the ones who are gathering information. We know that we have to talk about our own behaviour, and so we are not taken by surprise when something comes up: We can't be blackmailed, we were there and were there for a reason. Armoured with a cause and armed with knowledge, we are both invulnerable and powerful.

The people who implement such things as MyBlogSpot and the changes on Facebook rarely think of themselves in the context of doing systematic information gathering along the lines of research. Truth is: that's what they do. We, the net users, don't think of the net as a field for information harvesting (for others than us). Truth is: The flow goes both ways. We don't move invisibly through the links, we leave a fine trail, much more real than pixie dust, but as intangible. Gathering information, we leave a trail of information. The ivory tower does not protect us here, and there are no sets of information gathering ethics protecting the subjects clicking on a link online. There shold be though. Information is power, and the right to gather and display information should definitely be discussed in a wide range of contexts.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Player's Realm

After a loooong and slow publishing process, the anthology edited by Jonas Heide Smith and Patrick Williams is finally up on the publisher's site, to be published spring/summer 2007. Name is now: The Player's Realm, and I have an article in it called "Mutual Fantasy Online: Playing with People." Or that was what it was called last time I looked...

Privacy and options

By way of Dennis G. Jerz and apropos of Jill's thoughts on MyBlogSpot, a link to an article about another display of online behaviour on Facebook, this one prompting a huge response.

If I were an evil spammer...

I have just been looking at Jill's excellent post about MyBlogLog as well as their quick response, and of course had to have a look at it. It looks like innocent fun, but I agree totally with Jill, I don't want to have my face or my information on the front page of all sites I visit.

However: some do. Now if I was an evil spammer, a seller of porn or something equally evil and tempting, like WoW gold, what would I do? I'd make a blog, register with MyBlogLog, write a bot to click its way around the blogosphere through the MyBlogLog links, and leave my "face" in as many spots as possible.

Of course, the MyBlogLog providers probably thought about this before they made the nice, cool, social sharing technology, so I am sure there are ways to block spammers other than doing it by hand with each and every one that leaves a "face" on your blog. Or at least they are thinking about it:
Similarly, the site publisher will be able to ban the appearance of specific profile pictures from the widget and will no longer know when those individual MyBlogLog users visit their site. That feature is also not yet available.
Now I am looking forwards to seeing how this will develop. It's too good an opportunity for exposure at other people's web sites (some of them heavily trafficked) for some to pass up, and if the creators and users manage to keep it clean, that's a great feat of sorting and censoring.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not going there

Resolution: I am not going there.
I have thought about the flattering request I got, talked to friends and relatives, and had all kind of responses. "Power is fun!" was one response. "Go for it!" "No, don't do it, it's the death of your career and all you have worked for" was another. The most important and reasonable comment came from the people who really know me: "You are great at this kind of work, but it's the stuff that wears you down and makes you unhappy. You'll be bound and restricted, and that's not good for you. It's what you've been trying so hard to get out of." And they are right, really, although my freedom is not exactly Kris Kristoffersen's version:
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin' don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Money and power or research?

I have been asked if I'd be interested in going for a position which means a lot more responsibility and a good chunk more money (at least 15 000$ or 12 000 eu a year) than what I have, for the next 4 years. It implies political influence, the possibility of making a real difference for (this little spot of) Norwegian academia, and a chance to meet a lot of interesting, important people and perhaps even be listened to by the same. The drawback? No research, no travel for conferences, no time to write and explore, no books, no articles, no research- or writing leaves for 4 years. At least. The maximum time, if I get caught up in this, is 12 years.

I can get the same kind of money, although not the same kind of influence, by working my ass off at publications and projects and become a full professor. Problem is - I don't get funding for my projects, because I don't have experience in leading researchers, something this job would give me.

I am suffering from cognitive dissonance. Or I am just plainly in doubt about what to do.

WoW is the new MUD

The October version of Games and Culture by Sage is out with a WoW edition. In it I have an article on MUDs and WoW.

There's a lot of great stuff there, some of my favourite people have published in it, and I thoroughly enjoy reading their work. I hope you will too!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Orc Professor, lev 40...

Our researcher's guild is pretty well established by now, enough that it's been discovered by a Swedish journalist in the game magazine Super Play. I am not sure if the interview is (or will be) published, but he did find us in Azheroth and did an interview with me, T. L. Taylor and Jessica Langer - in our game avatars.

Running a guild like this has its special challenges. The problem with researchers is that we always have more will and curiosity than time, and with time at a premium and tight schedules, logistics becomes an issue. I never had ambitions of 40 man raids in Black Wing Lair, manned only by game researchers (although... how cool would that be? Not to mention a pre-made game researcher Alterac Valley?), but I still have ambitions of being able to just once raid Upper Black Rock Spire with the guild.

Recruiting for a guild like this is however special. We have a few non-researchers in the guild, but it's people who like to hang with us anyway. You know, the ones who are close enough friends or sufficiently fans to tolerate having their media experiences ruined by sarcastic deconstruction even after a bottle of wine, or to show up to have lunch with a bunch of strange academics and still be polite after an hour of literary references flying through the air. They are rare though, so it's not like we have a huge recruiting base.

What I am trying to do with the guild is to give the members a varied range of game experiences. We spent the spring term levelling and just learning to play. The fall has a role play motive, a plan for more in character interaction and role play events. We move through these things slowly, frustratingly so for those of us who are experienced gamers, but quickly enough for a group of folks who are constantly interrupted by conferences, deadlines and students. It's not all parts of our work that can be done ingame, after all.

But I am still having fun. It gives a warm and fuzzy feeling to log on and find scholar friends right there. See you in Orgrimmar?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Big Men, small bikes

As I walk in the shadow of the famous bridge, several people ride past me on bicycles. The speed bikers out to excersize in all the requisite equipment are hardly noticeable. Nor are the few female bikers, either in sportswear or just on a more casual trip. It's the men I notice.

For some reason, men who ride bicycles in Brooklyn are either dressed for it from the tip of their pointed toe clicked onto the pedal and to the top of their aerodynamic helm, or they ride a too small bike. Even men who ride together with some woman on a fitting bike will ride a bike that is too small, or at least has the seat adjusted so they can't stretch their legs properly. They pedal along, looking like they have just found a bike outside a school, and taken a ride.

Perhaps they have. It may be that all Brooklyn men past 18 who are not dedicated bikers are dedicatd bicycle thieves. That's one theory. A nicer one is that all these guys have been looking after their bikes since they got one as a present when they were 12. Now, 20 years later, they are still pedalling along on the bike their parents bought them.

A third theory, which struck me today, is that perhaps biking isn't something men are supposed to do. I mean: In a society where the ultimate freedom is owning your own car and handgun, who wants to admit that he likes to ride a bike? The bike is soft, it has no round metalling edges, no dark glass, no real weight. When you crash into something, you will hurt as much as they do, there is no cushioning. The power you control is no more than what you can produce with your own muscle, no purring horse power to add to the waning strength in your thighs. A bicycle is a soft vehicle. It's not one for men.

So what can a man do, if he wants to enjoy the freedom, the leisure and the fun of riding a bike, but doesn't want to dedicate himself to it, like a lifestyle? Yes, he has to pretend he isn't really doing it. The bike has to look like it belongs to somebody else, like he just brought an old relic out of the basement, like he borrowed it right now from a younger brother. It has to be ill fitting and odd, not matching his frame, his height, his weight.

Then and only then can he enjoy his freedom from being trapped in his car like a carapace.

For some reason, the men I meet on these bikes all smile. They look happy with their ill-matched rides. Perhaps they know a secret about what riding a bike is all about?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Diner

The other piece of Americana out here at the edge of Brooklyn - right under the bridge that they are doing stupid stunts on in Saturday Night Fever, you know - is the diner. The closest diner is a weird mix which could exist nowhere else in the world.

It is a low, concrete building, with an ample parking lot in front. Still, most people walk here, this diner is for the locals. There's no traffic through this area, it's all people who live here or who come to visit their relatives. Here you meet all the cliches.

In the boot behind me, two men discuss what they will do if they get crossed, in heavy fake-russian accents. They loudly flirt with the waitress, in between describing their favourite weapons. With them is a woman with a blue wig and an old handbag. As they leave, my New York connection murmurs "bad actors. Really need to work more on that accent if they want to pass the audition. Not to mention their table manners."

The waitress they were flirting with is no little spring chicken. She banters with her guests, yells across the room, and calls everybody "love", "honey" or "darling". She wears white sneakers with the black skirt and vest that's the diner uniform, and a white towel, tucked into the belt of her skirt, trails her as she jogs by. The service is quick and efficient and definitely no-nonsense. And with the food you'll get her opinions on just about anything, just give her a moment of chance. It will also be freely shared with the rest of the people in the diner.

Not that the guests are a private lot. In five minutes after the wannabe russian mafia has moved out, we learn all details about an aunt's chemotherapy and the relatives coming over from Manhattan for dinner, tonight. And where is a good restaurant? My New York connection joins into the common sharing of local restaurant lore, and suggests my favourite restaurant. 30 seconds later three waitresses are trying to lower their voices while they explain to the lady that THAT restaurant is just too... Well, you should have seen what they do... how they behave... so stuffy... and the food is just odd...

We quickly learn the names of all the waitresses, as they are yelled across the room. Only the one male waiter is somehow outside of this. He is serving in the table section, not the boots. He moves quietly and quickly back and forth, silenced perhaps, by the massive - in all ways - femininity ruling the booths.

The diner isn't bad. The food is OK, and the servings are good for at least two meals. The cakes are huge and overdone, and the desserts are a punishment, not a treat - unless you share them with eight. They have a cocktail lounge, which means mainly that you can get all kinds of cocktails. This is where I had my first Long Island Ice Tea. It was served with a snicker, and I am never doing it again. If you don't know what a Long Island Ice Tea is - well, let's just say, it's an experience.

This may sound like a nightmarish experience, but it isn't, it's just really different. I think the reason why I like it is the people who come here, and the way they are received. Old ladies who can hardly hear are treated with the same offhand manners as their yuppie grandsons. Pretty student girls bend quietly ignored over their books in the corner boot, while kids going trick or treat are taken in, treated, have their costumes discussed and then are sent off again with tips to where they should go. It is an institution, abrasive and brash, yes, but also alive, vigorous and in synch with the people who live here and use it. And despite its fake stained-glass decorations, complete with clashing music selections at each booth, it could only exist here. I do think it's a place outside of time though. I have seen it in movies for 80 years.