Sunday, July 29, 2007

Getting real

This has been a weird year, and I have been working with a lot of stuff that might or might not get real. Two things are now crystalising out of all that potential though.

I am about to finish the second-to-last chapter of a little book on game studies, in Norwegian. The topic I am still missing in this chapter is gender research in games. I do have a lot of stuff for it, but since this is something no female games researcher can neglect: Is there a name I really should not ignore? Is there a name which is often ignored, but who deserves to be mentioned? I have written about a lot of the women and men doing gender topics in their research under other topics in the book, but you know what it's like: If I don't have a headline for it, it doesn't exist.

When this book is done, I am moving to Umeå for the winter. I received a post.doc. scholarship from HUMlab at the University of Umeå, and Volda College has generously agreed that I can take a leave from parts of my position for this. It's a great deal for me, and I am really looking forwards to this winter. Well, I am not looking forwards to a winter somewhere even darker than here, but I do like the thought of a larger academic environment, a bigger library, a bigger town, no administration (going to miss my students though) and lots of time to read, write and think.

From Umeå I will be going to Australia and Japan this fall. I am also still looking hard at the Vancouver AOIR conference, trying to figure out how to get money for it. I have a very personal reason for wanting to go to Canada this fall, and the conference, with it's great topic, is very convenient. But I have to see how things with work out with two employers, another apartment and the costs of living in two places. And it's not like I am sitting in my tiny room in Sweden sulking through all of September...

This is all painfully close and painfully real, and getting more so every day. Changes are scary - although these are scary good.

Anyway, about those gender research hints? I'd love them.

Friday, July 27, 2007

More clever spam

Can you guess I am desperate not to write what I should? Anyway, writing at the blog again, I just checked a comment I permitted. Turned out that it was the most clever of spam.

What it did was to copy a passage from another post:
I believe that there should be gold-sinks in the game; however, make the currency sink a thing of pure fluff. In the MMORPG Ultima Online, it cost 500k (a decent sum of money) just to dye your hair a fancy neon color. The hair color did not give you a statistical advantage over your opponent, it did, however, show your high status.

This was part of the content of a comment on a farily old post of mine. It looked perfectly to the point of the post, so I didn't hesitate on permitting it. But being a curious old bitch I wanted to see what exactly that comment was about, so I checked. That's when I recognized the words.

I can't help it, the cleverness and inventiveness of spammers is impressive. All this effort and energy, just to invade the blogs of strangers! I almost feel flattered.

Gamers ignoring kids

With the increasing popularity of games, in some demographic groups it will be harder to find somebody who does not play a game, than people who do. This means that everybody will be playing, the genius and the not-so-smart, the loving parent and the abusive parent. And this is the point of Halen A. S. Popkin, as she writes about the Straw couple, parents who had their children taken away due to neglect - neglect supposedly caused by their addiction to internet games.

Popkin's point, which is a refreshing view in these days of panics and witchhunts, is that when people neglect their children, they have problems, real, not-game-caused problems. A computer game may increase these problems in many ways: if you are a compulsive or obsessive personality, a computer game will play right into that. But the game didn't make you the person you are, and if the game wasn't there, something else would be. Neglect of children is, sadly, nothing new. If banning computer games would ban neglect, crime, bad grades, social insecurity and isolation, depression, suicides, war and drug abuse - then by all means, wipe those disks RIGHT NOW! It doesn't though. Telling ourselves it's caused by games is kidding ourselves, and it makes us look at the symptom, not the cause. Obsessive gaming isn't caused by games, it's caused by the problems of the people who play games. Remove the symptom, and there will just be an other one.

And now: lolcat quiz!

One of my favourite weird net phenomena of the minute are the lolcats. By way of Clancy Ratliffe I got reminded of them once more, through this lolcat quiz. Of course, I had to see which lolcat I am:

The Romance Princess

We learn at school that the feudal lords received their right to rule from higher powers. They were the chosen ones, the ones with extraordinary abilities. Well, it seems like this belief is alive and blooming in the Norwegian royal house. Princess Martha Louise has "come out" as a clairvoyant, healer and one who can see angels. She is starting a school, Astarte Education, where she teaches healing and whatnot.

Martha Louise is a well-loved figure in Norway, and people are quite tolerant of her many controversial (for a royal princess) impulses. Well, so they laugh a bit at her posturing husband and their wannabe bohemian lifestyle, but it's a rather indulgent laugh.

This time she may however have crossed some lines which are not as easily accepted. She is using her authorisation as a physiotherapist in combination with spiritual healing, something which crosses Norwegian legislation - she is flirting with "kvakksalverloven", which means she can risk becoming, legally, a quack. She has also always been quite well loved by the church, but in the Norwegian church there are no middlemen between man and God - the angels are not for conversation, if you have to talk to God, you go straight to him.

For a scholar with an interest in popular culture, this is however amazingly fascinating. Martha Louise is going - not eactly mainstream, but straight into the women's magazines. Her life is becoming a modern fairytale, or, more precisely, a romance novel. Consider this synopsis:

"Young princess who is mainly interested in horses and angry with the restrictions of her royal life, strives to overcome these restrictions and find meaning beyond her birth. She has several undesirable romances, but the family always manages to cover it up somehow and she remains in the cluthces of her position. Finally however the travelling, mediocre minstrel (journalist, writer, designer) shows up and sweeps her off her feet, convinces the parents that he truly loves the princess, and charms the nation with his devotion. His great gifts for public embarassments finally frees the princess from her burden of royal duties, as she renounces her title to be with him. With motherhood and no more public duty, tedium sets in, she is no longer in the public eye and also, there's the money issue. With the title, she also renounced the public support a royal princess is due. Used to a lifestyle no common physiotherapist can support, the princess needs a miracle, and lo and behold, just as she was getting too bored, angels come to her! She can heal, she can see, she can commune with great powers! And so, by the miracle of her exceptional birthright, she is lifted out of the dreariness of being a married mother and into her true vocation: A magically gifted healer. Peace at last for our much-tried princess."

(Sorry about getting carried away with some sarcasm at the end there - there are reasons I don't write romance novels.)

I think I have read that story already - over and over and over again, in exactly the kind of magazines that are filled with pictures of royalty, the magazines that have followed Martha Louise since her birth. That reader segment comprises her most loyal supporters, and accidentally also the most likely customer or "students" to her school. Now, if I were mean, I might suggest that this is an incredibly well-conceived scam, where the princess ruthlessly abuses her birth, her publicity and the dreams of the many who have watched, loved and celebrated her all her life, to make money off the suffering and unhappiness of those with uncurable ailments and unfullfillable dreams. I am not a mean woman though, so I suggest rather that Princess Martha Louise has come to believe in the story about herself. May the story lead to a happy ever after, for the sake of the many who share that belief.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

About the price and size of cucumbers

Warning, all links in Norwegian.

"Cucumber journalism" they call it in Norwegian, from the time when the summer temp was sent to the market to check the price and quality of fresh cucumbers. Dag Solstad (video, get an author home), a well known Norwegian author, wrote about how the broccoli was discovered by a summer temp in a local newspaper - on a marketplace in Norway.

This week it seems like the correct contemporary word for cucumber news would be "game journalism." I have had 5 phonecalls from 4 different news media on 5 different takes on games this week.

Some of those were kind of interesting. I may even buy one of the papers to see what they will be writing about political games and propaganda games. Some of the phone calls felt more like I was doing unpaid elementary education, not even in games, but in general social science.

And while we are at that: is a GREAT source for statistics on Norwegian statistics, and they publish "Norsk Mediebarometer", one of the most useful sources I know about on media statistics, including game use in Norway. Did you get that? Statistisk Sentralbyrå, that boring old public institution which has been publishing facts about Norway from 1832 as part of the ministry of finance: Tabellkontoret, and then as an independent public institution since 1876. If you count the start of their work with the first Norwegian Census, that was in 1769.

No, journalists are not stupid, that's not what I am saying. I am just as always baffled by the power of the media threshold: once a topic is used by one large news agent, everybody else need to have their take on it.

Cucumbers, anyone?

Monday, July 02, 2007

so, so yesterday?

We should however be realistic: the 'blogging revolution' collided with human nature and human nature won. Most people do not like writing, even if they have something to write about. Many people do not have time to blog on an ongoing basis in a way that attracts a substantial audience.

While I agree with this statement in blog statistics and demographis in the profile from Caslon Analytics on blogging, I agreed with it in 2001. So I guess this statement is so, so yesterday? Even using the amazingly simple technology of pen and paper, not a lot of people write. For those who do, who enjoy writing and enjoy communicating online, weblogs will, in some form, continue to be part of their toolbox. But it will still be possible to survive without a blog.

PDF n00b

I just received the page proofs for an article I wrote ages ago. Apart from considerable frustration with the proofreader's automated requests - I am sorry, but if a journal doesn't have a volume number, I can't supply it!!! - You want me to write (sic!) behind something? Behind a lowercase letter? which one? Why? Where? That sentence has lowercase letters all over it!!! - they have asked me to make correction directly into the page proofs. At least that is how I understand this sentence:
When you review your proofs please read them carefully, being sure to respond to all copy editor queries, and make all corrections (including those resulting from copy editor queries) on the page proofs. The final responsibility for correcting typographical errors in proofs is yours.

I have no idea how to edit PDFs. I now understand that this can be done with the touchup text tool. The problem is that when I try that, they ask for the font. And 1) I obviously don't have it installed and 2) I have no idea what font it is, so I don't know where to get it.

As far as I am concerned, the publishers are asking me to supply information that doesn't exist, insert comments which don't make sense, and make the changes in a way which can't be done. If anybody know of a secret trick, please, please share it.