Monday, March 26, 2007

Finally done

Among the tasks I have struggled with this year is the article for the WoW anthology we are writing with Jill and Hilde as editors. First I didn't manage to get into the flow of writing, then it all exploded and it grew to twice the size. Today I managed to slice it down to an acceptable format, and I almost understood what I am writing too. Not bad, really.

This article has been haunted with problems. I started with an idea which turned out to be really hard to confirm. People do way too much more stuff ingame compared to what I thought they did, and they all wanted to talk about it. I got a lot of great information from a wonderful bunch of people, when I went to Holland to interview the guild I played with. Not much of that was about the topics I wanted them to talk about though. Oh well, it's what I get for interviewing real life people, I guess!

When I finally got time to have the interviews transcribed (and here I again had the pleasure of getting help from the guild: a member did the transcriptions, and I am not sure if he ever contacted the college to get paid for it. I hope he did! He deserved every krone, because it turned out that the quality of the interviews was really lousy. And as if that's not enough:) all the interviews were cut short. I cried when I discovered what had happened. The recorder I had borrowed at the college after many negotiations (I wanted to buy, they wanted to save - familiar story) had some weird malfunction, so not only was it a poor recorder, it also made me lose the end of every single interview.

So, patching this optimistically together, I kind of lost sight of what I was writing about. The first draft of the full article was more about "all kind of human experiences in WoW." Fun stuff, but babies had to die. 1/3 of the babies, really.

That's what I have been up to the last week: killing innocent idea babies. The blood was seeping into the keyboard, so I had to get it replaced. Also the touchpad and the main card of my brand new Dell XPS M1210 - the cutest and most powerful laptop I have ever had. I am absolutely certain it was the cruel attacks on the text with axe, spells and swords that shook everything lose inside.

Today I got the text down to less than 8000 words. I feel like a human being again. Tomorrow, after a final proofreading, I'll send it off.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Nordic Media Days

Bergen hosts a very nice and interesting event, an annual series of lectures and presentations which manages to mix the media professions and the media scholars in a very interesting exploration of the field. It's fairly well established, I remember being offered a job as a coordinator way back when I was finishing my masters. It's one of those jobs I regret I never took - instead I finished my University degree. Oh well.

Anyway. This year I will be in Bergen the day before it starts, talking about weblogs at the Bergent Student Union. I am quite exited about that, as the students have managed to find an interesting person for me to meet: VamPus, the Norwegian blogger who dropped her anonymity when she got into a conflict with her then-blog-client-owner (bah, bad word) over the infamous Mohammed caricatures.

So, I tried to figure out what's going on with the media days on the 9th. I check program. Nothing. I check if i can get a day pass, because the prices are stiff and I can't just shake down the department for any whim I want to have satisfied - nope, it's the whole thing or nothing.

There are some lectures there which are worth catching if I can. Arnt Maasø talks about new sound conventions in the age of YouTube. I'd really like to catch that one. Irshad Manji talks about Jihad: holy media strategies, defiitely a hot issue, particularly with the little reminder of the Mohammed Caricatures in the back of my head.

Oh well - I'll gamble that it's possible to buy a day pass at the door - or something. If not I'll look up some friends and hang out in a coffee shop in the area and look intellectually arrogant and talk about how utterly bored I'd be if I had to attend the Nordic Media Days...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Understanding criticism

One of the things we do is to teach our students to be critical, perform criticism. Particularly journalism students are constantly being told they should perform critical journalism.

But what does this mean? From
S: (n) criticism, unfavorable judgment (disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings) "the senator received severe criticism from his opponent"
S: (n) criticism, critique (a serious examination and judgment of something) "constructive criticism is always appreciated"
S: (n) criticism, literary criticism (a written evaluation of a work of literature)

Most of the time "criticism" is taken to mean the first thing: unfavourable judgement, pointing out faults.

I think this is one of the greatest mistakes of modern journalism: The understanding of "critical" to mean you have to find something wrong with whatever you are writing about. To be a critical journalist should be to employ the second meaning of the noun: a serious examination.

Today negativity seems to be the main criteria for a good story (unless it's the obligatory feel-good story). If journalists can't warn us of disaster, corruption, lies, danger to our health or what ever, it's not a story. What does this do to our perception of what is important?

First of all it scrambles the big picture. As long as we are only presented with the errors and the flaws, the public has no way to learn about possible strategies for improvement and growth. Only being introduced to options we should not choose makes choice almost impossible, and the result is that rather than searching for the better choice we settle with the lesser of several evils. The better choice is not interesting, as it doesn't offer the option of unfavourable judgement.

At the same time the warnings are important. We should not go without them. But my other problem with modern journalism is the mechanism which makes all news media report on exactly the same issues. This way you don't only get nothing but warnings, you get warned about the exact same thing everywhere. So the options for the public are diminished by the flawed perception of good competitive strategies: beating others at the same game is more important than looking around for some other and more interesting game.

So, I just delivered an unfavourable judgement. A common piece of criticism. How to make this constructive?

I think critical journalism is extremely important, and there's some really good work done out there. We need good gatekeepers and professionals to sort through the masses of information and ask questions about it on our behalf. It's an expremely important profession. I just wish they would put a bit more emphasis on the serious examination part, and a bit less on the unfavourable judgement part. And that they would stop hunting in such huge packs, victims to the blood fog of the deadline and the scoop.

Data mining and marketing

Sara Grimes wrote an excellent piece on this topic in The Escapist: Mining the game.

While I definitely see both the temptation of datamining and it's immediate application value for game design and game research, I can also see the ethical problems with analysing data not originally designed to be analysed in this manner. It's disconnected from the context of whoever submitted it, it is heavily dependent on the skill and mindframe of the analyst (yes, everything is, I think this is just more so), and it is, in some cases, plainly illegal.

I am not saying it is wrong, but it is definitely a way of gathering information which needs to be questioned, discussed and explored methodologically and ethically.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Abuse, media and fame

A controversial issue was raised by the Norwegian artist Marianne Aulie, when she, on the air, named two well known Norwegian males who attempted to drug and rape her 14 years ago.

The men in question can not be charged with anything today, it's too long ago. Marianne Aulie still felt she needed to name them in public. This has met some very aggressive reactions, but the men in question do not wish to press charges.

One of the interesting side issues of this was how the newspapers made a big deal out of the fact that some feminists do not choose to support Aulie's claim that she as a feminist needed to come forwards with her experience. What does that have to do with it? Is being a feminist being part of a club where I have accepted that some people have the right to speak for me? And I mean both sides of the issue in this case: I want to speak for myself, both when it's about sexual abuse, and when it's about what other people should say about sexual abuse. Neither Aulie or "certain feminist editors" have that right.

When that's said - this is a complicated issue. Should she speak or should she not? A Norwegian editor who initially supported Aulie's openness had her name blown up all over Norwegian media to the point that it became too problematic for her to maintain the support. Martine Aurdal had to publically recall her support of the act, and say she regretted saying it was "tøft" or "cool" to speak out.

Marianne Aulie is a hypersexualised artist. She knows her very good looks sells, so she uses it for all it's worth. More power to her. I am sure she can deal with her fan letters admirably, no matter what they contain. But we all have a limit, and too many have a story that was never told.

Aulie's story is about a party where she was too drunk or too drugged. Suddenly she was alone with two men. When she tried to leave by jumping from the fourth floor balcony, they stopped her and got a taxi. The taxi didn't take her home, but to the apartment of one of the men. When he left her alone there for a while, she managed to escape. She was just past 20 years old at the time.

Who wouldn't be troubled after an experience like that, no matter if she was drunk or drugged? Why shouldn't she talk about it now? OK, so she might have chosen the wrong moment, slander is illegal, but so was what she perceived had happened to her. And this kind of thing festers. It may appear to be unproblematic, but suddenly something happens, and everything you think you had supressed blow up in your face. It's a classic pattern.

Marianne Aulie might manipulate the media heavily with her good looks and her dramatic appearance. She might count on the shock value of revealing what happened to her, and she might expect the news to make her work sell better with the publicity. But I don't think these things make her stupid. I think she knew what she did when she named names, I think she knows what she experienced that night, and I don't think it's my (or anyone else's) job to take the decision of pointing fingers away from her.

Perhaps she'll get in worse trouble for it. Perhaps she'll find herself shut out of the artist communities and denied access to the media for having used her fame and access in order to spread slander. Perhaps she'll find that she is now old enough and strong enough to tell, and live with the consequences of what she has experienced and what she has done. I think Marianne Aulie may not be a brilliant tactician, but she has the right to commit her own errors. She is a grown woman, and has the right of her voice.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Blogging in Norwegian

For a while most of my blogging will happen in Norwegian, and it will be at the Women's Day Blog, 0803. It's an initiative by a group of Norwegian female bloggers, and it's a seasonal blogg - only around march 8th, the international women's day. I wouldn't have signed up, as I am shy about forcing my voice into other peoples' spaces, but they asked and I said yes.

I am also a little at loss about women's day blogging. I mean - feminism is still important, more so now than ever, perhaps, as borders open and cultures clash - but I can't get the hang on that straight forwards "female = good, male = bad" thing. I can't help but feel sorry for them. The guys that is. Society isn't really letting them play with a full deck either. OK, so they are consistently dealt more powerful cards, but there's a lot of fun ones they lack. Or have to steal at great cost.

So, anyway, if you want to know what's going on in my head some of the time until march 8th, check 0803.