Listing entries tagged with video_games
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grand theft auto flipped in new coke ad 09.03.2006, 12:35 AM
This apparently made the blog rounds recently, but I just saw it for the first time tonight in a movie theater and was mighty impressed:
And a twist on this: check out this Washington Post article on live ads in video games.
"highbrow" video games? 08.22.2006, 8:57 AM
Recently in the gaming blog Gamersutra, Ernest Adams questions why aren't there highbrow video games." His article comes one month after an Esquire article, where Chuck Klosterman wondered why isn't there good video game criticism and makes the claim that video games needs its own Lester Bangs. As the video game market grows, it is not surprising that fans and advocates of gaming will want to form to grow and mature as well.
Adams' call for "highbrow" games is rooted in a desire to add creditability and legitimacy to video games. As someone who has dedicated his career to making and writing about video games, the never-ending criticism about the violence in games by various groups looking for easy political targets must be frustrating to endure. I can appreciate the motivations behind Adam's conclusion, however, his description of highbrow video games is ultimately too narrowly defined and overlooks impressive experiments of video games.
I hesitate to even try to deem games "high" or "low" because the terms are not that useful. Adams specifically points out that the films he aspires video games to emulate are not "art films," which he describes as a "short low-budget titles filled with impenetrable weirdness." Therefore, his definition of highbrow edge towards the problematic "I know it when I see it" definitions of art. Further, we can gather insight on culture and ourselves by interacting will both high and low culture and valuing one form over another is problematic.
From his description of a highbrow video game, I think what Adams is really asking for is better interactive narratives in gaming. He alludes to the films of Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory, who are best known for adopting the novels of E.M. Forester, often with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Their films tend to be beautiful, well crafted analyses of class. Although, they are not generally know for pushing the boundaries of film.
Last year, Adams gave a talk which he published on his website, in which he assesses the state of interactive narrative. It provides more insight on his train of thought. In it, one of his references in video game scholarship is Janet Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck which uses a theatrical frame of reference in postulating the future of interactive narrative. Also, Adams offers a model of a "structured" approach to the narrative of video games and reveals that he is particularly wedded to the idea of single player games over the shared gaming experience of MMORPGs which are increasingly popular. In his current essay, his description of states that the highbrow video game "would reward close attention and playing more than once." This implies that he still leans towards single player role playing games in his conceptualization of highbrow games.
However, video games that are pushing the form in more "artistic" ways are occurring outside the bounds of single player game. For example, we-make-money-not-art reported on The Endless Forest, which is a gorgeous MMORPG in which players assume the identity of a deer. Developed by the Belgian studio Tale of Tales, The Endless Forest has an elegant interface and darkly rich art direction. Although it lacks an explicit narrative, the gameplay engages users without the typical violence and sexually charged themes of many games. The Endless Forest limits the use of language. Therefore, it does not include a chat function and players are "named" with pictograms rather than words. However, as more of these kinds of games are created, they are unlikely to lessen the criticism of the negative social effects of video games.
As for criticism, the notion of elevating video game criticism to a higher form is rather ironic, as it comes at the same time when the New York Times critic A.O. Scott finds himself defending film criticism. While not a music critic, Scott describes the critics' predicament that often panned movies are still hugh box offices successes. Media critics want the new and interesting, which is somewhat expected if it is your job to watch and write about movies, music, or video games everyday. Their standards are quite different from the typical audience member. Lester Bangs was a polarizing figure, who wanted to raise the standards of writing on music. He appeared at a time when people were ready for similar standards. It may be that a critical mass of audience for a similar kind of criticism for gaming is beginning to emerge.
As previously stated, most gamers will still want "mainstream" titles. Because games are expensive, they will still rely on criticism which Klosterman dismissives as "customer advice." That is, many gamers, if not most, will still mostly be interested in reading reviews which describe gameplay, graphics and sound design, rather than thematic and issues of meaning. Many gamers don't like the academic scholarly writing on video games, which is in adbundance, but is not what Klosterman wants to read. We learned about their attitutdes in initial reactions and comments posted across the gaming blogosphere about our project "GAM3R 7H30RY." It's not clear to me what is bad about gaming publications serving the desires of the video game playing community.
My guess is that both boundary pushing video games and criticism will be begin to get more exposure fairly soon. For the actual video games, I would look towards Europe and Asia, where more government funding exists for developing these kinds of endeavors. I don't expect many of the big gaming companies in the US to create experimental games of this nature. Although, they might in the future, after the proven economic viability of them. In that, major movie studios started funding more smaller films after they saw successful crossover of films of the Merchant Ivory variety. Although, Rockstar (the maker of Grand Theft Auto) have the upcoming and already controversial game Bully, where you must navigate a boarding school as a new student. It was described by the New York TImes as having, "an open world for the players to explore, tightly defined and memorable characters, a strong story line, [and] high-end voice acting," which is precisely what Adams call for in his article.
Regardless of who moves video games and its coverage further, it's bound to happen. Although, these new forms may not look exactly has Adams and Klosterman describe or wish. Media takes time to evolve, just compare the "highbrow" television series the HBO produces as compared to rather "lowbrow" television from the 50s. (I will admit that I don't prefer one over the other.) For a great example of how a medium transforms the perspective of an artist, see Scott McCloud's description of the movement from comic book fan to student to professional to genre pushing pioneer in Understanding Comics. If someone really wants to write video game criticism in the style of Lester Bangs, then the current low barriers of entry to electronic self-publishing allows her to do so. Creating video games, of course, requires a lot more resources. However, in closing, Adams states, "maybe I'll design one myself, just for the fun of it."
war machinima 05.05.2006, 9:26 AM
Ray, Bob and I spent last week out in Los Angeles at our institutional digs (the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC), where we held a pair of meetings with professors from around the US and Canada to discuss various coups we are attempting to stage within the ossified realm of scholarly and textbook publishing. Following these, we were able to stick around for a fun conference/media festival organized by Annenberg's Networked Publics project.
The conference was a mix of the usual academic panels and a series of curated mini-exhibits of "do-it-yourself" media, surveying new genres of digital folk art currently proliferating across the net such as political remix movies, anime music videos, "digital handmade" art projects (which featured the near and dear Alex Itin -- happy birthday, Alex!), and of course, machinima: films made inside of video game engines.
As we enjoyed this little feast of new media, I was vaguely aware that the Tribeca film festival was going on back in New York. As I casually web-surfed through one of the panels -- in the state of continuous partial attention that is now the standard state of being all these networky conferences -- I came across an article about one of the more talked about films appearing there this year: "The War Tapes." Like Gunner Palace and Occupation Dreamland, "The War Tapes" is a documentary about American soldiers in Iraq, but with one crucial difference: all the footage was shot by actual soldiers.
Back in 2004, director Deborah Scranton gave video cameras to ten members of the New Hampshire National Guard who were about to depart for a yearlong tour in Iraq. They went on to shoot a combined 800 hours of film, the pared-down result of which is "The War Tapes." Reading about it, I couldn't help but think that here was a case of real-life machinima. Give the warriors cameras and glimpse the war machine from the inside -- carve out a new game within the game.
Granted, it's a far from perfect analogy. Machinima involves a total repurposing of the characters and environment, foregoing the intended objectives of the game. In "The War Tapes," the soldiers are still on their mission, still within the chain of command. And of course, war isn't a video game. But isn't it advertised as one?
Time Square, New York City (the military-entertainment complex)
There's something undeniably subversive about giving cameras to GIs in what is such a thoroughly mediated war, a sort of playing against the game -- if not of the game of occupation as a whole, then at least the game of spin. "I'm not supposed to talk to the media," says one soldier to Steve Pink, one of the film's main subjects, as he attempts to conduct an interview. To which Pink replies: "I'm not the media, dammit!"
In the clips I found on the film's promotional site (the general release is later this summer), the overriding impression is of the soldiers' isolation and fear: the constant terror of roadside bombs, frantic rounds fired into the green night-vision darkness, swaddled in helmets and humvees and hi-tech weaponry. It's a frightening game they play. Deeply impersonal and anonymous, and in no way resembling the pumped-up, guitar-screeching game that the military portrays as war in its recruiting ads. This is the horrible truth at the bottom of the "Army of One" slogan: you are a lone digit in a massive calculation. Just pray you don't become a zero.
Yet naturally, they find their own games to play within the game. One clip shows the tiny, gruesome spectacle of two soldiers, in a moment of leisure, pitting a scorpion against a spider inside a plastic tub, reenacting their own plight in the language of the desert.
At the Net Publics conference, we did see see one example of genuine machinima that made its own spooky commentary on the war: a hack of Battlefield 2 by Swedish game forum Snoken that brilliantly apes the now-famous Sony Bravia commercial, in which 250,000 colored plastic balls were filmed cascading through the streets of a San Francisco.
And here's the original Sony ad:
McKenzie Wark doesn't address machinima in GAM3R 7H30RY (which launches in about a week), but he does discuss video games in the context of the "military entertainment complex": the remaking of postmodern capitalist society in the image of the digital game, in which every individual is a 1 or a 0 locked in senseless competition for advancement through the levels, each vying to "win" the game:
The old class antagonisms have not gone away, but are hidden beneath levels of rank, where each agonizes over their worth against others in the price of their house, the size of their vehicle and where, perversely, working longer and longer hours is a sign of winning the game. Work becomes play. Work demands not just one's mind and body but also one's soul. You have to be a team player. Your work has to be creative, inventive, playful - ludic, but not ludicrous.
Video games (which can actually be won) are allegories of this imperfect world that we are taught to play like a game, as though it really were governed by a perfect (and perfectly fair) algorithm -- even the wars that rage across its hemispheres:
Once games required an actual place to play them, whether on the chess board or the tennis court. Even wars had battle fields. Now global positioning satellites grid the whole earth and put all of space and time in play. Warfare, they say, now looks like video games. Well don't kid yourself. War is a video game - for the military entertainment complex. To them it doesn't matter what happens 'on the ground'. The ground - the old-fashioned battlefield itself - is just a necessary externality to the game. Slavoj Zizek: "It is thus not the fantasy of a purely aseptic war run as a video game behind computer screens that protects us from the reality of the face to face killing of another person; on the contrary it is this fantasy of face to face encounter with an enemy killed bloodily that we construct in order to escape the Real of the depersonalized war turned into an anonymous technological operation." The soldier whose inadequate armor failed him, shot dead in an alley by a sniper, has his death, like his life, managed by a computer in a blip of logistics.
How does one truly escape? Ultimately, Wark's gamer theory is posed in the spirit that animates the best machinima:
The gamer as theorist has to choose between two strategies for playing against gamespace. One is to play for the real. (Take the red pill). But the real is nothing but a heap of broken images. The other is to play for the game (Take the blue pill). Play within the game, but against gamespace. Be ludic, but also lucid.
Posted by ben vershbow at 9:26 AM
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tags: Games , Remix , Zizek , appropriation , battlefield , bravia , documentary , film , gamer_theory , iraq , machinima , mckenzie_wark , movies , newyork , sony , video_games , war
sonogram of networked book in embryo (GAM3R 7H30RY part 3) 02.24.2006, 4:42 PM
It probably won't be until mid to late March that we finally roll out McKenzie Wark's GAM3R 7H30RY Version 10.1, but substantial progress is being made. Here's a snapshot:
After debating (part 1) our way to a final design concept (part 2), we're now focused (well, mainly Jesse at this point) on hammering the thing together. We're using all open source software and placing the book under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Half the site will consist of a digital edition of the book in Word Press with a custom-built card shuffling interface. As mentioned earlier, Ken has given us an incredibly modular structure to work with (a designer's dream): nine chapters (so far), each consisting of 25 paragraphs. Each chapter will contain five five-paragraph stacks with comments popping up to the side for whichever card is on top. No scrolling is involved except in the comment field, and only then if there is a substantial number of replies.
The graphic above shows the color scale we're thinking of for the different chapters. As they progress, each five-card stack will move from light to dark within the color of its parent chapter. Floating below the color spectrum is the proud parent of the born-digital book: McKenzie Wark, Space Invader (an image that will appear in some fashion throughout the site). Right now he's a fairly mean-looking space invader -- on a bombing run or something. But we're thinking of shuffling a few pixels to give him a friendlier appearance.
You are also welcome to view an interactive mock-up of the card view (click on the image below):
The other half of the site will be a discussion forum set up in PHP Bulletin Board. Actually, it'll be a collection of nine discussion forums: one for each chapter of the book, each focusing (except for the first, which is more of an introduction) on a specific video game. Here's how it breaks down:
* Allegory (on The Sims)
* America (on Civilization III)
* Analog (on Katamari Damarcy)
* Atopia (on Vice City)
* Battle (on Rez)
* Boredom (on State of Emergency)
* Complex (on Deus Ex)
* Conclusions (on SimEarth)
The gateway to each forum will be a two-dimensional topic graph where forum threads float in an x-y matrix. Their position in the graph will be determined by the time they were posted and the number of comments they've accumulated so far. Thus, hot topics will rise toward the top while simultaneously being dragged to the left (and eventually off the chart) by the progression of time. Something like this:
At this point there's no way of knowing for sure which part of the site will be more successful. The book view is designed to gather commentary, and Ken is sincerely interested in reader feedback as he writes and rewrites. There will also be the option of syndicating the book to be digested serially in an RSS reader. We're very curious to see how readers interact with the text and hope we've designed a compelling environment in which to do so.
Excited as we are about the book interface, our hunch is that the discussion forum component has the potential to become the more vital half of the endeavor. The forum will be quite different from the thousands of gaming sites already active on the web in that it will be less utilitarian and more meditative in its focus. This won't be a place for posting cheats and walk-throughs but rather a reflective space for talking about the experience of gaming and what players take games to mean. Our hope is that people will have quite a bit to say about this -- some of which may end up finding its way into the book.
Although there's still a ways to go, the process of developing this site has been incredibly illuminating in our thinking about the role of the book in the network. We're coming to understand how the book might be reinvented as social software while still retaining its cohesion and authorial vision. Stay tuned for further developments.
Posted by ben vershbow at 4:42 PM
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tags: Blogosphere , GAM3R_7H30RY , blogging , book-blog_experiments , creative_commons , design , ebook , gaming , phpbb , video_games , word_press