I presented on-going research and development (w/ Daniel Howe) on a textual based 2D-platformer at Miami’s Digital Expo. This work has been in progress for a while as we switch platforms in hope of making the game accessible in browsers without download. Daniel has developed a remarkable collision detection system using font-rendering. We are working on level design and a level-editor at this point, flirting with a narrative project, a pedagogical approach to teaching game studies, and a visual poetry approach which investigates the play-space of concrete poetry from the 20th century…
I’ve been working with Roxanne Carter to develop a new website for the Comparative Media Studies Program at Miami University. We launched a version a few weeks ago. It’s wonderful that the program has a web presence now, to detail aspects of the program and to be able to update events that are CMS related and happening around campus. The co-major for the new program should be approved in the near future, and in the meantime we are hiring a new tenure track assistant professor! The current Communication Department is being redesigned, and I think the Comparative Media Studies component will definitely emerge as an innovate, new possibility for studying Media@Miami.
I’m presenting a paper entitled “The Mycelium is the Mushroom” at the “Network Archaeology” conference being held at Miami University from the 19th to the 21st of April. It looks to be an amazing conference with keynote presentations from Adrian Johns, Richard John, Jussi Parikka, and Lisa Giteman. My presentation description is as follows:
This paper refashions, or de-fashions, Marshall McLuhan’s statement “The Medium is the Message” in terms of Sigmund Freud’s comment in his The Interpretation of Dreams that “the dream-wish arises like a mushroom out of its mycelium.” Indeed, the dream wish is, in some sense, the essence of the dream, but for Freud it arises at the very moment when the networked threads of dream interpretation are too dense, too thick, to allow for further untangling. This “center” of the dream—which is also a non-center, a “meshwork” which cannot be unraveled—marks the limits of the Freudian hermeneutic. It also marks the anxiety of interpretation faced with the possibility that its work will never end once it is figured as a network of signification without a center. Part of the comfort of McLuhan’s famous adage is precisely its ability to overcome such an anxiety, to replace the “mess-age” of ubiquitous media content with the specificity of the medium itself. In order to understand new media forms, which are increasingly networked phenomena, one cannot rely on McLuhan’s theory of the medium but one must understand the multifaceted fantasies and desires of networked culture from which these new forms emerge.
(Originally written for AIMS at Miami University)
The issue of “cloning” in video game production has garnered a lot of attention lately, even surfacing in the New York Times a few days ago. On a basic level, “cloning” describes a situation where the core gameplay mechanics of an original game are copied, repackaged, and sold as a different game with distinct graphics, audio, story-line, etc.. While the two games might be almost identical in terms of their play mechanics, they differ on the level of representation.
The Times article mentions a few examples which have recently caused a stir in the gaming community. First, the wildly popular game Tiny Tower, created by the tiny game development company NimbleBits, was cloned by the towering game company Zynga which released a similar title Dream Heights. (Take a look at NimbleBit’s humorous attack on Zynga’s game to see just how close they resemble each other.) Second, Spry Fox’s Facebook game Triple Town was cloned by the game publisher 6waves Lolapps, which released an almost identical, mobile game called Yeti Town. 6waves was able to release Yeti Town before Spry Fox (a much smaller company) could port its game to mobile devices; thus, the larger company capitalized on the popularity of the game mechanics developed in Triple Town before Spry Fox could make the jump from Facebook to the mobile market.
It gets worse. Spry Fox had been sharing private information about Triple Town with the larger company 6waves, negotiating with them to publish the mobile version of the game. When this didn’t work out, 6waves published Yeti Town. Damn. Although the details of the story have yet to emerge and Spry Fox has sued 6waves Lolapps for copyright infringement, it seems as though though Spry Fox was led along while the DNA of Triple Town was studied, extracted, and cloned.
Such infringement is certainly not new—even dear Pac-Man had his day in court with K.C.Munchkin. In fact, this cloning dynamic is at the heart of popular culture itself where films, TV shows, books, pop songs, etc., are endlessly cloned and repackaged so companies can cash in on the latest trends. There are many responses to the phenomenon of cloning: one can debate the yays and nays of patenting gameplay mechanics (which will protect the indie developers but probably stifle “innovation” in the long run); one can voice moral outrage at the unethical practices of large businesses who strangle the start-ups; one can embrace the power of the consumer, choosing to pay to play the “original” games while boycotting the bully businesses that capitalize on others’ ideas; or, one can don the hat of the realist and sigh, “Welcome to capitalism.” There are many interesting discussions floating about on the topic of cloning, for example, Killscreen’s enlightening article “Attack of the Clone Attackers” which takes a more sober approach to the issue.
Bertolt Brecht, the great 20th century German playwright and poet, had a word for aesthetic innovations which were not truly innovative. He called them renovations. Indeed, this seems an apt term for cloning practices, a kind of aesthetic remodeling, a face-lift of a structure which changes the outward appearance of a structure (to make it seem shiny and new) but not the structure itself. Thus, under this view, there are true innovators (Tiny Tower) and flashy but false renovations (Dream Heights).
Yet, for Brecht, the difference between innovations and renovations was not judged according to who got there first or who generated the idea first (Tiny Tower was itself a simplified renovation of Sim Tower). The criteria for judging the true from the false was far more serious. Brecht wrote that true innovations strive to change society, to fundamentally alter it at its core, to change the mechanics of life entirely instead of just tweaking some of its superficial aspects.
Such is a heady thought. Alas, “innovative” video games are probably not going to cause massive social change anytime soon. Yet, Brecht’s thoughts do provide us with a new, socially and politically engaged, notion of innovation—an innovation that tries to affect the social space, to encourage players and the public to think differently, reflectively and critically. Are video games like Zynga’s Dream Heights or 6waves Lolapps’ Yeti Town innovative? No. Clearly they are renovations—a new whitewash for Triple Town, a new paint job for Tiny Tower. But, according to Brecht, would NimbleBits’ Tiny Tower or Spry Fox’s Triple Town be innovations? Not really. While Tiny Town sucked me in for a totally pleasurable week of constant, distracting maintenance of a tiny, insignificant world…I’m not sure I was left with much else.
If game designers—and budding developers—have a fear of cloning, adding deep reflective meanings to mechanics will be more difficult to clone and copy. Can one clone or “monkey” the mechanics of 2D Boy’s critically acclaimed game The World of Goo? Certainly. Can one clone The World of Goo’s intense, fascinating reflection on the process of creative innovation, the revolt against large business practices, and the dream of indie liberation from the “Product Z” mentality of corporate production? Maybe, but not as easily.
When the Tiny Towers, Dream Heights, Triple Towns, and Yeti Towns disappear in the next wave of creative destruction (which is popular culture itself) I think many of us will still remember and replay The World of Goo because its layers of meaning are not repetitive stacks of more of the same, but meaningful layers of interpretative possibility that encourages us to reflect on our society, the games industry, and the problem of innovation itself.
A few weeks ago the Altman Fellows and Scholars—an interdisciplinary group of faculty at Miami—held their Fall symposium entitled “Networks and Power.” It was a successful, day-long event where students, faculty and visiting lecturers discussed a wide array of topics—from the politics of drone warfare to how networks allow us to imagine new forms of cohesion and togetherness, from the infrastructure of undersea cable networks to the “people’s microphone” used at the Occupy Wall Street Protests. The event was also associated with the Faculty Flash Mob that took place on November 10th in the King Library dining hall at Miami University, organized by Professor Denise McCoskey (Classics), Professor Ron Becker (Communications), and choreographed by Miami Student Caroline Farris. Professor Becker gave a lively talk about the mob at the “Networks and Power” symposium. Employing social networks and the flashy fun of viral dance mobs, the event was designed to catalyze a meaningful dialogue about networks of inclusion and exclusion at Miami University.
This year, Miami University’s Altman Fellows Program is organized around the topic “Networked Environments: Interrogating the Democratization of Media.” In the past few months we have been analyzing how citizens or “netizens” have increased access to both the consumption and production of media, partially due to the emergent networks of the early 21st century.
Is the democratization of media truly liberating the power of media and placing it in the hands of the people? Who is included and excluded from the process? What are the positive and negative aspects of networks? What can we learn from studying the history of different networks, performing a network archaeology of recent and past network forms? Are social networks like Facebook wonderful, new media forms that allow us to communicate and connect in productive ways or are they tools for gathering information about us, tracking our behaviors, and undermining our right to privacy?
Beyond these more superficial questions, the Altman Scholars have been studying the formal aspects of networks, asking how the network form challenges our traditional methods of interpreting media while inaugurating new, hermeneutic models of analysis that conceptualize networks as a catalysts for new forms of humanities research. Lisa Park’s talk at the Networks and Power Symposium, “Drone Media,” provided a wonderful example of a methodological approach that employed the non-representational structures of distribution and circulation to situate the powerful impact of the visual images that have emerged from US drone attacks in Pakistan. In my mind, Parks provided an excellent example of tracing the complexities of networks, mapping a participatory and journalistic documentation of “invisible” attacks in Pakistan which are then made visible to circulate and confront dominant networks of power that try to hide themselves. The import of Wendy Chun’s talk, which embodied the nodal explosion of connected epistemological and ideological thoughts withing an era of networks, was precisely the challenge that it presented to the audience to begin the process of reimagining power when the network form shatters our preconceived notions of an object of analysis that will not stand still. While being able to map the complex networks of contemporary life is a method for connecting the individual with a sense of his or her larger place in global culture, Chun begins to take apart the ideology and desire of mapping: what does it mean to be constantly called to map these networks? What happens when the search for (and analysis of) networks leads to production of more networks, thus increasing the difficulty in providing a “cognitive map” that can represent the network? Nicole Starosielski provided a wonderful explication of the material influences of networks (which are often deemed immaterial and friction free), demonstrating how these networks and their infrastructures reorganize space along colonial vectors of power and conceptual ideas of security. Starosielski seems to be creating a new form of media history and archaeology which employs the analysis of (culturally invisible) infrastructures in order to map historical changes through the friction of material networks and their so-called immaterial siblings. cris cheek delineated the historical precedents of leftist, decentralized organization, providing a pre-history for the people’s microphone in order to inscribe the act of speech within a decentered voice of change, invoking a backstory for radical, political narratives.
The Altman Program will hold another, much larger, conference in the Spring, from April 20th to 21st. If you missed the “Networks and Power” symposium, mark this event down on your calenders. The conference is called “Network Archaeologies” and will certainly be a strong and invigorating dose of thoughtful discussion, performance, and other events plumbing the depths of networks and their various histories. While I can’t promise more flash mobs I can promise mobs of flashy, intellectual fun.
A new issue of dichtung-digital edited by Patricia Tomaszek came out a few days ago. I have an article in the issue which analyzes Molleindustria’s game Every Day the Same Dream. I am still making my way through the other articles in the issue, but I am completely impressed by what I have read so far. Definitely worth checking out. Other contributors include Eduardo Navas, Davin Heckman, Roberto Simanowski, John M. Vincler, Scott Rettberg, Nele Lenze, Martina Pfeiler, and an elegant editorial introduction from Patricia.
Recently I attended a digital poetry event at Dartmouth organized by Aden Evans and Mary Flanagan. I had a delightful time participating in the event with Nick Montfort, Marjorie Luesebrink, and Stephanie Strickland. I had not seen Marjorie and Stephanie discuss and read from their work, which was truly a pleasure. Nor had I heard Nick read from some of his poetry generators such as the ppg256 poems. It was amazing to hear the pieces performed, so instead of simply watching the generators kick out lines of intriguing text on the screen, the remarkable sonic properties of the words and phrases came alive in vibrant colors. I often think generated text pieces are more interesting conceptually, but hearing Nick read brought them into their true poetic form, full of humor and remarkable rhythm and sometimes caustic flamboyance. But I think it was Stephanie and Nick’s collaborative piece “Sea and Spar Between” that truly moved me, this time conceptually more than audibly. Truly a work of the digital, poetic sublime which has not been so pronounced since Queneau’s “One hundred thousand billion poems.” If not a “must read” because of the sheer impossibility of doing so, often stripping the mind of language more than lyrically touching it, it is a must see and a must understand. One of the best pieces of digital literature created in the last few years…
For my part I presented on a 2D textual platformer that I am working on with Daniel Howe. We’re still in the development stages, but we’ll hopefully have some sort of prototype soonish. I am sure I will post more about the game, tentatively titled “Walkthru,” in the future. Here are a few screen caps…
The Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 2 just came out. There are some canonical texts/projects included, but some fresh fantasticness too. It’s definitely worth some exploratory peregrinations. I have one piece included, mémoire involuntaire no. 1, which I did awhile ago. I should post other similar texts I did back then…the project was, after all, entitled no. 1, and I made other permutations that I didn’t bother posting. Anyway, I hope to read through the collection soon and maybe post some reactions when I get a chance…