Author Archives: David Builes
This week we explored the two different potential extremes that technology can have in our lives. On the one hand, several of the videos and readings we watched and read were about Augmented Reality and its potential impacts on the future. Although the effects of Augmented Reality will probably extend to every single corner of our lives, we focused on some potential prominent effects on gaming, dating, privacy, and more. Several more of its potential effects, from shopping to travel and history, our documented in writer Lauren Drell’s article here. On the other hand, we also brought into our discussion the “1 week no Tech” movement, which aims to make participants experience a week of their lives with no technology. The movement has the ironic flair that participants are supposed to share how they’re “1 week no tech” is going with other participants in several different online mediums. I, as well as many others, think that this ironic flair severely detracts from the aims of the movement. Nevertheless, the thought that it may be desirable to experience life without any technology is still present in the movement.
Exploring these two extremes lets us recognize that there is a large tension in our society’s attitude towards technology. Many people look to the future optimistically as one that is completely infused with mind blowing technological advances (e.g. Ray Kurzweil), while others look to the future pessimistically as one where the technology has endangered many of the aspects of human life that are essential to being human. One point that the latter group brings up is that we are being slowly eased into technological advances in potentially harmful ways. They argue that we would never willingly go to the technological places that some futurists envision that we will inevitably get to, however since we are being slowly eased into them, we more or less have no choice in the matter. Having a 1 week with no tech can potentially make us more aware of the dramatic effects that technology already has in our daily lives.
Drell, Lauren. “7 Ways Augmented Reality Will Improve Your Life.” Mashable. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
This is what google images thinks “1 week no tech” is.
Thinking about what a week without technology would be like helps us reflect on our dependence on technology. Because the progress of technology is often gradual, it may be that one day we wake up and realize that technology has taken us to places as a society where we really don’t want to be. Having a “1 week no tech” might serve as a partial antidote to this phenomenon of gradually being lulled into an undesirable place. Alternatively, it can make us grateful for the many benefits that technology gives us every day, since often these go unnoticed.
My project will be an in-depth analysis of the video game Portal 2. In the course of the analysis, several of the questions discussed in class will be raised. The game will be situated with respect to other games in its genre (sci-fi and puzzle games), it will be assessed for its artistic and creative merits, and its plot and style will be critically analyzed. I will be using the main gamer texts used in class (i.e. Wark and Bogost’s texts) as well as other outside sources. As the media element of the project, the game will be incorporated seamlessly throughout the essay – by adding and annotating images and/or video clips of the game whenever relevant. Lastly, after assessing the game on its own merits, I will explore the plausibility and implications of some of the futuristic elements present in the plot to our own “gamespace” – e.g. the rise of artificial intelligence doing our science for us and the ethics of interacting with and potentially “shutting down” or “killing” sophisticated intelligent and emotionally responsive AI.
Rememori is a flash based memory game, poem, and electronic literature piece made by Christine Wilks. Logistically, it is made up of six distinct levels, all of which consist in the player trying to match certain tiles. Each time one of these tiles is pressed, a question or statement whose theme is about memory loss appears. For example, some questions include, “Do you recognize me?”, “What city are we in?”, and “How much longer?”. The user can choose to play as different characters, where the options clearly correspond to the characters one finds at a hospital, e.g. a doctor, a carer, a nurse, etc. As the levels advance, the tiles move from being in an orderly grid to being in a randomly ordered mess. Furthermore, what is behind the tiles goes from being relatively concrete, for example a picture of a brain, to being quite bizarre, for example a deranged clock spinning out of control. Lastly, as one advances towards the end of the game, the brain in the background becomes more and more faded, until by the end of the last level, the whole screen slowly vanishes into pure whiteness. The game squarely belongs in the electronic literature genre because it is born digital, it is essentially digital, it includes literary elements that make it more than just a memory game, and it uses its medium well to provoke a particular feeling for which it is hard to provoke in any other way.
As a starting point in situating Rememori within the genre of electronic literature, the following conception of what it is to be a piece of electronic literature is helpful: “Electronic literature is born-digital literary art that exploits, as its muse and medium, the transmedia possibilities of the digital” (Gould). Rememori easily satisfies the first requirement in being born digital; it is also an example of an essentially digital piece since there could not be a print version of the game which included the sounds, the questions popping up, the timer and score counts, etc.
Does Rememori satisfy the second requirement of being an example of literary art? Here, one might imagine a critic who says that it is “merely” a memory game with little to no literary or artistic value. How are we to draw the line between computer games and electronic literature and which side of that line does Rememori fall? Katherine Hayles, in her work Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary has an excellent response to this question:
The demarcation between electronic literature and computer games is far from clear; many games have narrative components, while many works of electronic literature have game elements. Nevertheless, there is a general difference in emphasis between the two forms. Paraphrasing Markku Eskelinen’s elegant formulation, we may say that with games the user interprets in order to configure, whereas in works whose primary interest is narrative, the user configures in order to interpret. (18)
In other words, when playing Rememori, is it the case that the primary goal is to interpret the message, feeling, and motivation behind the project, or is the goal merely to get the highest score in the game of matching tiles? Whoever says the latter is missing out on really what Rememori is all about, and therefore, using this criterion for demarcation, Rememori clearly falls on the side of electronic literature. The primary literary elements of the game are not the matching tiles, but rather they are the often poetic phrases that appear once the tiles are clicked, the metaphorical significance of the degenerating of the organization of the tiles to the degenerating of a brain, the symbolic nature of the gradual whiting out of the screen at the end, and the coherence of the overall theme of mental degeneracy brought about by the characters, the background, the tiles, the music, and the phrases.
The final criterion left to address is whether Rememori exploits the “transmedia possibilities of the digital”. As a caveat, it should be acknowledged that Rememori does by no means use all the transmedia possibilities of the digital (really no electronic literature piece can) nor can it be said that its use of media is astonishingly comprehensive or “much better than” most other electronic literature pieces. For example, it does not at all use video and its degree of user interaction is pretty minimal (Rememori pretty much unfolds the same however one plays it). Regardless, Rememori does use its media element of being a flash game well. After all, what better medium is there to internalize the feelings of memory loss than an increasingly complicated and degenerating memory game!
Lastly, when one understands the context for why Christine Wilks made Rememori in the first place, much of its literary and artistic value is increased. In her own words,
I began creating Rememori about a year ago, when my father was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s Disease but still living at home, being cared for by my mother. . . my father had a third massive stroke and the prognosis didn’t look good. So for a while, I think I was reluctant to return to the piece. I’m glad I did. There can be no happy endings in situations like these but, now that we have him settled in our preferred Care Home, there’s a sense of respite. I think the work reflects that, certainly in the later stages of the game.”
The fact that the game was motivated not by some abstract thinking about the nature of mental decline in general, but rather by a particular tragic personal incident in the author’s life makes the project a more personable one. My own grandfather also exhibited a gradual mental decline due to Alzheimer’s which eventually resulted in his death. Since Alzheimer’s is such a widespread condition, in fact one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia (Alzheimer’s Association), this game can also play the sociological or political role of fostering awareness in all sorts of conditions which result in mental decline.
Gould, Amanda. “A Bibliographic Overview of Electronic Literature.” Electronic Literature Directory. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.
“Latest Facts & Figures Report | Alzheimer’s Association.” Latest Facts & Figures Report | Alzheimer’s Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
Wilks, Christine. “Rememori – a New Work.” Crissxross Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Wilks, Christine. “Rememori.” Rememori. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s Daytripper is truly a work of art. It is a meditation on mortality, a book of life lessons, a uniquely crafted biography of an obituary writer named Bras, a roller coaster of emotions, and much more. The graphic novel is broken into 10 important periods, in non-chronological order, of Bras’ life. At the end of each piece Bras always dies in one way or another, be it from a heart attack, a car crash, a shooting, or something completely unexpected like a peaceful ocean ceremony. Below, I recount four quick scenes of the novel.
This scene is taken from the end of chapter 2, where Bras falls in love with a beautiful Brazilian woman while on a trip with his best friend Jorge in Brazil. Strangely enough, Bras was having dreams of a woman that may or may not parallel his love interest before and after meeting her. Here, his dream women his foretelling where his actual love interest wants him to do. Unsurprisingly, he ends up dying on that beach.
This scene is taken from the following chapter, 3. In it, he is shown to have recently broken up with the woman he met in Brazil, and he is heart broken. However, the above picture is part of perhaps the most romantic scene in the book – his “love at first sight” moment. It is also an excellent example of the kind of deeply moving scene that the authors and Ba and Moon are capable of – both in its text and pictures.
Jumping forward, the above scene comes from chapter 6. It depicts probably the most gruesome and surprising scene in Daytripper. Throughout the graphic novel, we discover the depth of the friendship of Bras and Jorge. They spent college together, went on trips together, worked together, etc. When Jorge inexplicably left Bras to go live elsewhere, Bras often wrote postcards to him. Wanting to meet with his friend after being a part for so long, Bras goes out in search of him. After finally finding him, Bras discovers him in a very low place. Jorge then unexplainably murders Bras and commits suicide, apparently out of his very degraded mental state. Daytripper captures the emotions of both characters excellently in the above scene.
This scene comes from the very last chapter of Daytripper. Here, Bras has become very old, and he goes to the beach this night seemingly to take his own life. This isn’t because of any deep depression he was going through; he had spent this day in the loving company of his wife and children. Rather, it might have been triggered by a letter written by his father. In it, his father wrote that he was proud of Bras for not needing him anymore, and that one can only “let go” when one accepts that one will die. Perhaps Bras was finally in the state where he could let go.
Moon, Fábio, Gabriel Bá, Dave Stewart, and Sean Konot. Daytripper. New York: DC Comics, 2011. Print.
There is a very big mismatch between the public conception of data and what data truly is. As Blanchette writes in “A Material History of Bits”, many of us who do not know the nuts and bolts of the technologies used in our information age see information as immaterial; a misconception that businesses sometimes consciously promote. A very dramatic and easy way to demonstrate this mismatch, a method we used during our class, is by simply google searching “cyberspace” under images, here. These images no doubt come from various popular fictional universes, and one might think this is all just harmless fun. However, Blanchette argues persuasively that these misconceptions can have serious real world consequences. For example, when laws and policies about digital media begin to be formulated on the premise that digital media are somehow immaterial, then these laws and policies are simply based on errors (4-5).
Adopting a material perspective on the internet and networked digital systems gives us a more realistic perspective on them. For example, having a conception of information systems as immaterial can make us draw false conclusions about its risks. The idea that the internet can simply “break” during a bad natural disaster that harms the physical buildings where the internet is maintained is unthinkable if the internet is wholly immaterial, but fairly obvious once one recognizes its materiality. Furthermore, we can better appreciate the consequences that the digital has on the environment when we recognize its materiality. Again, if the digital were immaterial, then it couldn’t possibly have environmental impacts, but given that it isn’t, we have to be mindful about the environmental impacts it does have instead of assuming that the digital is always more environmentally friendly than the analog. Moving forward into the future, there is much interesting work to be done by future engineers to minimize these environmental impacts. While information will never truly be immaterial, we can try our best to make it as seamless as possible. Human ingenuity, coupled with Moore’s law and the new breakthroughs promised by quantum computing, gives us some reasonable hope that we can make progress towards this goal.
Blanchette, Jean-Francois. “A Material History of Bits.” Web. 10 Oct. 2014. http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/blanchette/papers/materiality.pdf
If by “medium”, we mean any substance that is used to convey information in some way, then without a doubt games can act as a medium. Moreover, as with all media, games have a unique set of affordances to them, which are not captured well by any other sort of media. One of these affordances, echoing Katherine Hayles, is that our interactions with games, especially particularly immersive ones, can be remarkably embodied interactions. They can make us physically feel relaxed as in Cloud, or they can make us feel regret as in Regret. Studying games is, therefore, a valuable enterprise for two reasons: it lets us nail down precisely what are the possible affordances of the medium of video games, which can let us utilize the medium to the best of its abilities, and studying games can shed another perspective on the “real” world as well. For example, taking the perspective of McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, by looking at the real world itself as a game, another perspective on reality is opened to us by which we can address some philosophical questions.
Ian Bogost, in the text How To Do Things With Video Games, defends the idea that games are a serious multifaceted medium in the following quote:
Games – like photography, like writing, like any medium – shouldn’t be shoehorned into one of two kinds of uses, serious or superficial, highbrow or lowbrow, useful or useless. Neither entertainment nor seriousness nor the two together should be a satisfactory account for what videogames are capable of. After all, we don’t distinguish between only two kinds of books, or music, or photography, or film. Rather, we know intuitively that writing, sounds, images, and moving pictures can all be put to many different uses. (5)
This is not to say that the value of video games as a medium for entertainment should be downplayed. As a child, I often played the video game series Kingdom Hearts with my sister. Although for sure it provided us with countless hours of entertainment while we explored several different virtual worlds in the quest to save Sora’s best friend Kairi, we also unconsciously internalized several moral lessons about friendship, teamwork, and perseverance. An interesting empirical, psychological question in the vicinity here about video games as a medium is this: how well do they serve, particularly in children, as an educational tool for the teaching of important life lessons? Several of these lessons are already imparted to children through storytelling, but there is no reason to think video games can not participate in this. In fact, new research is now confirming the utility of video games in this area. For example, a study done in the University of Victoria, which took a total of five years and studied gaming in teens aged 13 to 17, found that “playing video games can make children more ethically and morally aware” (Vincent). Studies like this provide a much needed contrast to the popular opinion expressed in the media that video games only promote morally bad behavior, e.g. violence.
We may also ask whether video games can be used as an artistic medium. Although it is true that the question, “Are video games art?” is latent with vagueness, I am absolutely confident in its answer, and I suspect that most people who have played enough of the right games are as well. The first point to make is that many video games explicitly hire artists to aid them in creating their virtual worlds. So if we understand the question of whether video games are art operationally, we get the easy answer “yes”. However, to be completely convinced of this fact, one only needs to look at examples. For example, we may look at some particularly big video games put out by Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft and Diablo III. Each is set in a very elaborate fictional world, and the corresponding games literally created entire virtual worlds for them. These worlds are completely filled with artistic details, from the creativity required to dream up and design templates for countless different species of creatures, to the beautiful game mechanics of lightning, meteors, totems, teleportation, etc. At the opposite end of the artistic spectrum, there are games like Parallax which are much more minimalist, but they still manage to be awe inspiring in their artistic creativity. A final example of a game in the genre of “art games” is Antichamer, a game which lets players explore non-euclidean geometries with extra spatial dimensions!
What can we learn from games when we look at them from a critical context? Can there be a critical theory for video games? These are the sorts of questions that McKenzie Wark explores especially well in Gamer Theory. One interesting theme to explore in the relation between games and reality is the notion of teleology, or purpose. Most games, though not all, have goal structures that are built into them from the outside. One has to beat the bad guys, maximize the number of points one has, get from point A to point B, etc. Is this fact shared by reality? Here we get embroiled in deep philosophical questions. For example, if certain religious traditions like Christianity are true, then the answer seems to be yes. We even have a reward system for whether you accomplished God’s goal or failed, i.e. heaven and hell! However, even in this picture, we can always step outside. Why does God have the purposes he has? Are there some objective purposes that are even placed on him, or are God’s purposes ultimately arbitrary? If the first option, where did those objective purposes come from? Is this not heading off to an infinite regress? If the second option, why should we care about God’s purposes if they are ultimately arbitrary? Reasoning like this, it might be tempting to come up with the conclusion that the notion of an ultimate, objective, external purpose is simply incoherent. If there were any such thing, it would either have a higher objective external purpose and we would have an infinite regress, or it would seem to be arbitrary. If this objective purpose came out of nowhere, why shouldn’t we invent our own purposes in our lives? This is the fundamental thought behind the philosophical school of Existentialism, which we have found can interestingly be arrived at by thinking about the nature of gaming. Not only can games be enjoyed by children for the sake of pure entertainment, games can be studied by serious philosophers to achieve new insights into the nature of reality. This is the remarkable range of affordances that the medium of gaming provides.
Blizzard Entertainment. Diablo III. 2012. PC
Blizzard Entertainment. World of Warcraft. 2004. PC
Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2011. Print.
Hayles, Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. Print.
Parallax: Steam Greenlight Trailer. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.
Square Enix. Kingdom Hearts. 2002. Play Station 2
Vincent, James. “Video games ‘can make children more morally aware'” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, Web. 13 Oct. 2014.
Wark, McKenzie. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.
The reason why adding the ‘digital’ to the ‘humanities’ is vital is that utilizing digital tools and digital media gives us a number of unique affordances in our approach to any problem or issue we want to explore. One positive affect is succinctly described in the first line of “The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books”, which reads, “studies of cultural change and evolution have been transformed recently by a new level of accessibility and volume of electronic data concerning human behavior” (Acerbi 1). In addition, they couldn’t have been transformed in any other way – the amount of time it would take for a human to sift through the amount of data used in Acerbi’s article without technology is so large as to be practically infinite. Another affordance given to us by the digital is displayed in the info-graphic about the Great Gatsby which Mark Wilson wrote about. As displayed in the “What we learn from 5 million books?” video we watched, this is yet another example where a digital picture is worth much more than a thousand words. One infographic is a map of all the locations where the book took place, and the other is a nine-chapter timeline. These infographics are bound to make any reader of Great Gatsby increase their understanding of the novel and appreciate how motion and setting integrate with the interpersonal narrative. Investigating these examples of pieces in the digital humanities after reading Hayles’ work only verified Hayles’ claims by providing some concrete examples of some of her remarks. One example is her very first claim, “How do we think? This book explores the proposition that we think through, with, and alongside media” (Hayles, 1) The above two case studies of the digital humanities illustrate examples where there is an unbroken link between our thinking and digital tools and media. So, we know the digital humanities do augment scholarship. Does it augment reality? It certainly does augment our understanding of reality, and on one reading it even augments reality itself. A reality with digital technology, especially when the techology gets to be as pervasive as it is in Neuromancer, is very different than one without it.
Acerbi A, Lampos V, Garnett P, Bentley RA (2013) The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59030. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059030
Aiden, E. and Michel, J. (2011, September 20). What we learn from 5 million books? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l4cA8zSreQ Video.
Hayles, Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. Print.
Wilson, Mark. (2013, July 25). Infographic: “Every Scene in the Great Gatsby”