Tuesday, January 31, 2006

That's so gay...

One of the most-used sentences on the general chat of most normal servers I have looked into with World of Warcraft. Now, are the accounts of the endless gay-bashers suspended? No, didn't think so. But when somebody announces that a guild is GLBT friendly (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender), that's reason for a warning.

A lot more on this at Terra Nova, Boing Boing and The Guardian's gamesblog. **Update: I think Utopian Hell has an interesting take on this too. found by way of Dr B.**

I want to address the suspense of disbelief.

One of the most impressive characters I have had, in the manner that it made other people think, develop roleplay, plot, scheme and in all other manners get deeply immersed in the game universe, was a male gay elf. He never cybered (at least that I can remember), had no partner and was not looking for one. He was evil through and through, so not a gay posterboy for tolerance and loving understanding. What he did was to make people extremely uncomfortable, and in need of reconsidering what they offered him. Rather than offering their nubile bodies in trade for service and position, elf maidens had to work for it. Rather than assume easy manly understanding, male characters would find themselves at the mercy of another man who might have a sexual interest in them. He poked at their routines and assumptions, and the roleplay got much, much better from it. I have since heard of tributes to this character, as other players have used the name and created him the way they felt he should be played. I am quite touched.

I did get a chunk of gay-bashing aggression too. People who had no idea I was a woman, married and mother of two children, tended to get OOCly rather unfriendly. I never cared to enlighten them. The rest of the players bashed right back, and I felt it would have been too easy to take the easy way out: "but I am not really like this..."

Anyway, the point is: Anything we can imagine in human relationships is possible to imagine in humanoid relationships. And you can add some other perversities. Would human/tauren couplings be considered straight, or zoophilia? Gnomes, which look like children, with their pigtails and childlike bodies - are they an invitation to pedophilia? And the undead... really... Just don't get me started at the behaviour of the succubi. Wow is not a safe place if you start bothering about references and possibilities of sexual transgression, experimentation and deviancy. There is even a pool filled with deviate FISH! And for some reason, in this universe which is so thrilling because it is so rich on references to non-mainstream behaviour, one way of loving is discouraged.

I wonder if I should create a female gnome and start looking for a daddy for her. A guild for gnomes and their daddies. Although... how long before all the gnome players would be police hoping to catch somebody asking for a real world meeting? Would make for some really interesting guild get-togethers.

The soul of an enemy

Last night I played in Warsong Gulch with my lev 60 orc. Never having been in there for long enough to make sense, it was very interesting to see how it was structured. Two opposing holds representing the faction strongholds, a flag in each hold. The objective is to grab the enemy flag, and then run back to your own hold with it. For one group to win they have to a) hold the enemy flag and b) kill the carrier of their own flag, then c) plant the enemy flag at their own spot.

This sounds easy, and my raid group were all saying: this is just zerg, grab, run. But like all simple games, the strategy was a lot richer than that. Just getting from A to B was tough. Actually, just getting from A to A1 was tough, if I happened to run into an Alliance hotspot.

What did help was to team up with another player, and not run around alone. One of the guildmates I like is a warlock, and together we manage to do some serious damage. Warlocks do something neat: they make soulshards. They use the enemy as a source of energy: tap their souls and store them, then transform them to health and power - using them to call up demons to assist for instance.

There is something extremely satisfying in seeing an enemy die this way. After having been killed x amount of times by some hunter, I get to see it sink to its knees and die, drained of soul, and I know that into the bag of my companion clicks another little shard, a source of future resources I often get to share through healthstones and soulstones. Enemies turned into a renewable resource. Too bad my character is not undead, then she could have eaten their dead, soulless bodies too.

Been sick

Kind of back. If you missed me, I may not be all there yet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Returning home

All these years on the blog, I have been writing in English. Most of my academic work and just about all the blogging has been in English. While still not perfect, even I can see that my language has changed and developed since the first posts almost 5 years ago.

Now I feel homesick. I feel homesick for a language that touches me in a different manner, a longing towards harsh consonants, clear vowels and words that bring to mind a wider range of meanings. The writing I am preparing for the next 6 months will be in Norwegian, and I find myself hungry for it, as if I am going home after a long, long journey.

Putting the blogs to work

Searching for a new cellphone, I spent some time drooling over the specifications of Nokia's N90. So, since I had just watched a program on google, I googled it (OK, I'd have googled it anyway, but I wanted to link that program, thanks Erling). And what did I find? The N90 blog-watch by Nokia!

Rather than creating their own blog to promote the product, Nokia has some clever marketing person watching the blogs for mentions of N90. And look, they have negative reviews as well! OK, boing boing can hardly be neglected by any internet-wise company, but I am still impressed by the ingenuity of this. After all, if they don't warn customers of the bad parts about this phone, they will just have a lot more dissatisfied customers. Not many marketing departments actually get that.

Still, their marketing strategy is clever: send a gadget to a geek, ask the geek to tell the world how the gadget works, and to be honest about it, geek gets to play with gadget no matter what geek says. Then link geek's comments. Money can't buy that kind of advertising, but fun gadgets can. You have to be pretty sure of your product, this would be disastrous if no geek liked it. If they do - well, you have a screen full of the kind of testimonials that readers trust a lot more than your marketing department.

Clever, clever Nokia. Now send me a 8800, and I'll put it to rigorous tests on several continents.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Did you think it was free?

In Norway, two newspapers are competing to attract the writings of Norwegian bloggers. These are Dagbladet and Verdens Gang, VG - "the daily paper" and "how the world moves" is an approximate translation. The many derogatory rip-offs of their names are untranslatable.

One of these papers is a little more openly commercial than the other. After heavy marketing for weblogs, free areas to make the blog in, lots of small print that signs the content of your weblog over to the newspaper for ever, and subsequent free content for the net edition of their paper, they have now found a new angle on making money off weblogs. You may pay for your blog. If you want one that looks a little different from the others, you can pick a blogskin, and have a "pro" blog. So, for about 9 US$ a month, you may donate your content to VG in a somewhat more stylish wrapping.

I don't know if I want to thank Thomas for the link, it was too depressing.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Library surprise

This year I am doing something I have not done before, I am teaching the students how to plan their academic papers. It's not a big deal, I have a very small, exclusive group of last year students, and I am working very closely with them - also to develop some new teaching strategies. They have been my guinea pigs for two years, and a teacher couldn't have a nicer group to experiment with.

Today we are going to look at how they can find their own literature. They have to find up to 600 pages of independent literature, and I have not given them a suggested reading list for that. This is for their final paper, and after three years they should be able to use the library and different online sources. At least: so I have always thought. The last-minute calls from desperate students going: "Torill, I need to find some literature, what should I pick?" indicates it's not that easy. And the recent news about bad research articles doesn't make it easier...

But be that as it is: Today I am going to do two things. First, we will lookat how BibSys (Norwegian library system) works, and how different parameters brings very different hits, and then we will physically WALK to the library. This is the blessing of a small campus, a small group of students and a nice library: I'll go over, and we will look at the actual books in the shelves, and I'll talk to the students about what to look for while searching through shelves.

In a physical library you have the chance of being surprised in ways you don't have online. While the responses to a search can be pretty surprising, the actual books on shelves can catch your eye according to very different rules. Walking past shelves is a very different experience from fetching information from a data base, and the physical arrangement of a library can lead your attention astray - or perhaps where you should really be going?

I think I am going to enjoy today's class!

Research and glory

Not long ago a Norwegian medical resercher, working on oral cancer, was found to have fabricated data published in an article in a prestigeous scientific journal. He had a long list of co-authors, and the Norwegian department of resarch and education are now investigating not just the researcher, but all his co-authors as well. This morning it was on the news that he had confessed to have fabricated data for several more articles. It was his lawyer on the morning news, describing the personal tragedy of this man, a man who received and spent 10 million US$ on research which was, it turned out, plain bad.

The lawyer spoke of the pressure in academia, how publications in certain journals is the measuring staff for your success, not your real achievements, and how important it is to have results which can catch the attention of the research community. He is right, of course: to not have found is not a finding - particularly not as long as what you do not find has been not found already.

If you do what I do, and google cancer research fraud, you will get several articles pointing out how all current cancer research is a fraud. I am not entirely sure of how seriously I should take Chris Gupta, a man propagating do-it-yourself electromedicine, but he refers to some interesting views on the connection between cancer research and environmental issues.

Since 1997, when that last article was published, we have achieved a greater understanding of the connection between the environment and cancer. We are still, however, spending research resources on solving the cancer riddle - because the answer is not accepted from the powers that be. If it was possible to isolate a virus that causes cancer, fighting that virus could become an industry. Fighting pollution, food additives, lifestyle choices, general health ignorance and social gaps does not lead to a marketable product, and so, while it might possibly cause 80% of the cancer problems today, it is a non-issue. And researchers know what they have to deliver, even Norwegian researchers in these days of increasingly grant-driven research:
This point is similarly expressed by Dr. Sydney Singer: "Researchers are like prostitutes. They work for grant money. If there is no money for the projects they are personally interested in, they go where there is money. Their incomes come directly from their grants, not from the universities. And they want to please the granting source to get more grants in the future. Their careers depend on it." (10)

By having a teaching position which includes research, in a field that does not generate the kind of money that the heavier industries does (when did hollywood, fox news or microsoft bother to buy up a Norwegian media researcher?) I feel pretty safe and non-prostituted. But this is the reality of a market-driven research community. Luckily Norway is still fairly innocent, hence we are still surprised when something like this happens, and it makes the morning news. Perhaps somebody will manage to point to some of our more recent changes in the financing and evaluation system of academic achivement, and say something like "hey, can't this system cause even more of this very embarassing situation?"

Let us hope, and dream of free academic thought, while there is still room for anything but black sarcasm.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Once a warlock...

In the researcher's guild, we now have three players whose main characters are warlocks. Two of them have created warlock characters, the third made a priest - because we REALLY need healers - but plays as if he was a warlock, only with the occasional heal tossed in when the other players' health drop too low.

As far as I know, all the rest of the guild have created new classes. Well, perhaps one of our warriors used to be a warrior, but I am just giving up on the female-game-researcher-and-warriors-romance... more than 1/3 of the guild are now women playing warriors.

What I am thinking about now, though, is class loyalty. Why do you want to keep playing the same class? I feel that I become a better shaman by playing a warrior, etc, I don't feel like I should perfect my shaman-play by being a shaman in more than one character. Are warlocks different?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Out of touch

This week and next, modern technology will strike back with a vengeance here. Today and possibly also tomorrow, the phones are all down. Thursday and Friday our email servers will be offline. Monday there are software updates. If you don't hear from me or can't reach me this week, this is why. If you have very important things to tell me, try to hold them a week - or try to find some other means to reach me. Looking for me on Moonglade might work...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pathetic - or social?

From the next room I hear WoW sounds, and it annoys me. Why? Because it's my son playing, not me. He is even playing for me, offering his levelling services so I can get a buffer character fast. Yep, I am buying a personal trainer. I am still annoyed.

I try to figure out why I feel like this. I know I am not addicted. I don't stay home from work to play - it's not even the play I miss! And I think that is the clue to my annoyance. I want to talk to some of the people I play with. It's actually getting increasingly urgent, and if I just hang out in Kalimdor for an hour or two, most of them will drop by. I can sip tea, have my feet up and hang out, waiting for friends and colleagues to drop in and say hello.

It is an addiction to the social, not to the technical. It's a particularly fun social, yes, but games have always been a very important part of human social life, so what's new?

WoW and sound

I have found that I a lot of the time play WoW by ear. I am not always conscious of this, but I notice immediately if I for some reason can't have the sound on. If a party member is behind me, I notice the attack by the sound. If somebody tries to reach me, I hear the little ding announcing their whisper. If there is a rogue in the vicinity, I listen for the sound of the rogue fading in and out of stealth.

Right now I am fishing on the other computer. I don't need to watch it, because when the bobber jumps, I also get a sound warning - a splash. so far I have leveled my fishing ten points - five just during this post.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sure, no pressure

Last night I went into Zul'Gurub with a group formed mostly by a guild I have raided with before. Their guild leader is one of my favourite role-players on Argent Dawn, and there was some question about letting me enter the guild. So, of course, one orc chick with a different flag and 19 of the same clan, who do you think they were watching?

I didn't screw up too badly. I almost got all killed right upon entering, by hitting a magma totem. Bad. I had not considered how crowded the entrance to that instance would be, and the totem ruined the mages' efforts at keeping the enemies sheeped. I was also too busy figuring things out to remember to transform it to a firetongue, or even frost resistance totem. Well, when I died it disappeared, so suicide was an option.

I managed to do a couple of close-up-to-fighting resurrections. Being a mail-clad healer has advantages, and the raid system allows one group to be in combat while another is not. Only time I have done in-combat resurrections, but it worked!

Ctra is a great MOD, but I need to work more on how to use it. At the moment the use I have for it is to find out who are the targets of main tank and main assist. I don't heal much and I don't lead, so I don't need to know who has a soulstone available and who doesn't.

Did some right things at the first boss-fight, and role-played a little while waiting for it. My friend wanted me to interact with the others, overcome my fear of spamming the different channels and become visible to the rest of the group. Since hunters in game are as proud of their pets as hunters in real life, that was not too hard. Then next boss fight, and I was feeling that I had started to learn how this worked. Kill small bats, then kill bigger bats. Spam with frostshock. Get out of the way when people yell "clear". Don't touch the jinxed vodoo piles. I also managed not to mistakenly claim any loot - not even the nice purple-lettered hauberk - or spam the different channels.

The group only got through two bosses. At the next bossfight - called "bat lady" - we got wiped. Not my fault this time, nobodies' fault, just bad luck. I reincarnated, and started resurrecting other characters. But have you tried to pick out a singular corpse on a battledfield? They say it's hard. I believe them. The rule is: res ressers first, but who are the shamans and priests? CTra can probably be modified to show class on the screen without opening another window, but on my screen they all just said DEAD. After a couple of mistakes, resurrecting a hunter I thought was a druid and then the druid I was looking for, rather than a priest or a shaman, I started to get the hang of it. I had to check in the normal raid window, then look around for the person I needed to res, then do the same again. Trying to target them through clicking their icon didn't work, as they were mostly at the opposite end of the battlefield from me. I kept getting "that target is too far away" - of course after a 4 second casting period.

This was second try at the boss, I was feeling like a complete idiot, and I started getting whispers saying: "People are forming opinions about you. Roleplay!" When I watch sports events, journalists push their microphones into the faces of athletes at all the worst moment, expecting them to be eloquent. I had just done a tricky task in a half-assed way, the situation was spammed with OOC comments and actions, and if I really was Agirra, the most realistic thing to do would be to pee in my pants or something similarly non-heroic. Anyway, gathering my rp-wits about me I wrote one emote, trying to sum things up in a satisfactory common-sense manner. Lo and behold, the whispers changed. Talk about back-channel pressure.

Too bad the others weren't there when I did the kind of stuff I really like - role-play with plenty of time to enjoy what goes on. The guild-leader and Agirra went off to a balcony above Orgrimmar after the battle, to drink and talk. Agirra went from philosophical to argumentative to happy to sappy and then to falling down drunk. I have to say: I'd never have hired a half-assed, drunken mercenary, but the guildleader player and I were giggling on our backchannel.

I realised that I don't need the pressure of perfect performance and reputation. I have got a lot to learn about how to play my character, need to gather a whole new set of equipment, and certainly need lots of experience in dieing in new ways before I become a good endgame player. But the fun part was getting drunk while totally bewildering one of the forsaken with Agirra's wild passionate orc nature.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wow Europe researcher's guild

Tonight is a founding meeting, it's not too late to send me an email to introduce yourself and learn the names of some of the characters, borrow your newphew's wow account (he'll hate you later when you start arguing over playing time, so perhaps just get your own?) and log into Moonglade, Horde side, by 10 pm to be there from the start.

A lot of my favourite researchers are there already, mixed with some I am looking forwards to learn to know better. Some have characters in the 20ies, but don't worry, we also have characters which just started. All classes except warrior would be good - the way it looks now we will never need to go without a tank.

See you in Orgrimmar tonight?

***Update: we managed to get enough people online to create the guild. And we still miss one class: hunters.

Monday, January 09, 2006

It's cold!

This morning the central issue on our morning meeting was not how to further democracy through training better journalists or how to support communicative rationality and ethics - it was something closer and dearer to everybodies' hearts. It's cold.

In the middle of a long, stable cold period, the college has changed the system for heating our offices. This is an attempt to save energy by lowering the temperature when there are not a lot of people in the offices: after hours and in the week-ends. It also turns the temperature up in time to have the rooms comfortably heated when we arrive Monday morning. But this means that the control of our immediate environment - the temperature in our offices - has been taken away from us.

The morning was spent discussing different strategies for gaining the control back. One inventive strategy was taking the thermo-controller down from the wall where it is mounted, and put in the fridge. Others included removing batteries from the same thing, or hacking the control system.

Lately I have been interested in such alternative strategies in games: how players exploit loopholes in order to play the game in unexpected ways. And here I get the pleasure of observing the exploit options discussed in a heated discussion and with high stakes: our personal comfort depends on it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Jesper Juul visits Volda

But my exitement was short: the Jesper Juul in question is a family therapist born in 1948, and not our Jesper Juul, the gamer born in 1970.

I am certain that the gentleman from jesperjuul.com is as brilliant as the somewhat younger gentleman from jesperjuul.net, but I suspect he couldn't care less about gamestudies.

Less is more

When asked about my new-year's resolutions, I was taken by surprise, and answered with a cliche: "I want to work less." Later I started thinking about it. Did I really want to work less? Underneath the reply resonated the response and addition supplied from a colleague - "and live more." I think that is what I really want to do.

I love my work. No, I don't love every minute of it. I hate the way stress short-circuits my short-term memory, leaving me stranded in front of the door to the room with printers, office supplies and mail, wondering what I am doing there. At times of high pressure I carry little notes to myself when I embark on trips outside the office: "printer, copy prints, drop off". Then when I have been diverted by the colleague in the office between here and the printer, the three students looking for another colleague in the hallway between the printer and the copying machine, the statements I have to sign when I get close to the mailbox and the dean who was on his way out for a coffee - I can look at the note and check where it all started and go back to start the whole dance over again.

Point is: when I do less of that, less aimless wandering with a sticky note glued to my fingers, I can do a lot more. I can do the part I live for. I can learn, I can connect the dots of scholarship through research, I can write the connections out and I can share what I learned with students and colleagues. I reduce the stress factor and increase efficiency.

I think I agree with myself and my colleague, I want to work less and live more.

Efficient morning

Another "Oh I am so busy busy busy I hardly have time to... post"
But it's not true. I do have time. I have had time to finish planning the schedule for a course (I am responsible for 2 out of 3 this semester), settle one appointment for travels, start scheduling two more, ignore a journalist (Jill, come back to Norway so I can channel some of that to you, please?) and finish the preliminary grading of a stack of papers. And it's still not 10 am.

To-do list for the next two months has hardly been dented though (regular teaching and administration exempted):
More Game Studies editing
Write a wow article
Start up the researcher's guild formally
Plan game research
Lecture in Bergen on weblogs
Lecture in Bergen on games
Meeting in Bergen on large community communication project
Game studies bibliography
Outline book on computer games
Outline Blog Hui lecture

My life is so full of interesting tasks, no fear of feeling unwanted any time soon.

And now, back to the regularly scheduled teaching - which starts today.

Monday, January 02, 2006

2006 version 1.1

As I grow older, new years don't feel so new any more. Take this year for instance, it is totally packed with teaching and other tasks until the 10th of February. In the first 7 weeks of the semester I will be doing all my teaching this semester and next (until 1st of October). I have known this since August, nothing new about it.

That's why I have decided to make a few adjustments to 2006, so it fits my life better.

New Year will be celebrated properly 11th of February, without a stack of papers to grade hovering in the corner.

My birthday, which is normally at the end of a looong line of other birthday celebrations, is moved to give the family a chance to recover before celebration. I have moved it a month, but this year March 6th disappears, so I have to move my birthday a month and a day to make it fit.

6th of March disappears due to international time-zone crossings. There is no March 6th in 2006. Sorry everybody.

March 19th has been expanded. I hope for everybody's sake that it is a good day, because it will last approximately 40 hours.

Since summer failed last year, it's being stretched this year. Summer starts 15th of May and lasts until 15th of September. Midsummer will still be in place, but on that particular date the coastline of Norway invades every other spot on the northern hemisphere. There is nowhere prettier than by the North Atlantic on the shortest of nights, and this should be shared. I have booked exellent weather, if the temperature falls below 19+, talk to your insurance company and demand a refund. Autumn lasts from 15th of September until 23rd of December, when a light snow is scheduled, with a quick and pittoresque winter.

Christmas is not permitted to be surprisingly early this year. Therefore the 24th of each of the months September, October and November are set aside for "cold runs". These are days for panick shopping for relatives on surprise visits and last-minute searches through the house (and in electricity stores) for lightbulbs for the Christmas tree. It is also good dates for testing out different menues and particularly for testing wine, beer and booze.

I am sure that I will be able to think of other improvements. We still have time though, as the start of the year has been moved out. This may make the year shorter, but I am opting for quality over quantity.

So, more than a month in advance: Happy New Year

Newspaper ducks

Did you ever hear about the crocodiles in the London Sewers? Fat, thriving and dangerous? Years ago I read an interview with a reporter who had worked as a summer intern in a large London paper, editing letters to the editor. One of these asked what would happen if a baby crocodile was flushed down the toilet in London. The intern thought this was a fun little problem, brought it to a local reptile expert, and found out that theoretically a baby crocodile should be able to survive. After the article had been picked up by a newsagency and it had startet its trip around the world, the crocodiles grew - until they became a menace to the workers maintaining the London sewer system. This taps into a rich tradition of crocodile myths, from several larger cities.

Urban legends, myths and hoaxes can live on because they confirm how we feel about the reality around us. The sewer system in major cities is something we would rather not think about, but we all know it has to be very sophisticated - and filled up with strange things. This makes it a land of mystery, terror and also fascination: the world below us which we cannot control.

A contemporary area we cannot control is the US homeland security. Since the 11th of september 2001 anecdotes of security gone bad have popped up with increasing frequencey. The most recent one is not yet totally debunked - I am talking about the story about the student who wanted to read Mao's little red book, and got a visit from Department of Homeland Security instead.

This was a very bloggable piece of news and as such may indicate that bloggs are the tools of media legends, but if you look at the boing boing discussion, you'll soon see that bloggers were working as actively to check on the story as they worked to spread it in the first place. At the end the student broke down and cried, and admitted it was a lie.

This is in itself a fascinating story, but as interesting is the general will to believe something like that. Why can we believe that an agency mainly concerned with national security would be interested in what a student reads?

For a foreigner it's easy to answer. Since 2001 it has become increasingly difficult to enter US. Firms of high repute and impeccable standards are unable to get work-permits for their foreign expert employees - not to mention the problems Universities face if they want to take on a visiting scholar. Normal travellers submit more and more information with each crossing of the borders, and the interrogations... I have occasionally written "business" on my visa waiver when I go to USA for conferences or similar events. Unless you want to keep the line waiting at immigration - don't do that. You will be interrogated about where you work, what you do, why you are there, details about your topics, tired, hungry and dizzy from 8 hours of travel you have to stand there and answer politely, clearly and correctly for 10 minutes. Say "pleasure", pretend your main goal is Bloomingdales, and you'll be fine.

Americans feel this increasing pressure towards more control every day. They need to carry some kind of identification all the time, identify themselves in order to get into the most mundane buildings, submit to having their picture taken and stored in order to meet a colleague or friend for lunch - the land of the free is becoming the land of the very carefully watched.

The world just beyond sight, the metaphorical sewer, is expressed as Homeland Security. In the name of protection, things we would rather not think about may grow, develop and suddenly leap out of nowhere to attack us. Innocent functions become strange and threatening, the pipes below your home, the information given to the library - who knows where it can lead?