In her book Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, Katherine Hayles defines “electronic literature” as “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer” (3). In the classic sense, literature refers to the written medium exclusively. Thus, “e-lit” has many distinct characteristics that validate its existence as a separate medium. It is afforded certain functions that augment the reading experience in a unique way; when comparing it to popular media such as film, video games, or print, e-lit bridges the gap between text and multimedia most effectively. In other words, the balance between writing and audiovisual content is the most even. In addition, e-lit is able to utilize a wider variety of tools that enable authors to create a very specific experience for their audience (more so than static illustrations alone). These artistic media elements can be merely supplementary or integral components of the work, both of which can be seen in Eric Lemay’s “Losing the Lottery” and Mark Marino’s “Living Will.”
Lemay’s “Losing the Lottery” features a very interesting media element to supplement its writing. The work first brings you to a lottery mini-game: the screen shows rapidly moving random lottery balls with numbers, six of which the reader must choose to continue. The reader is then shown a two-column layout that displays a lottery simulator algorithm on the right side and a collection of 49 pages on the right side. Each of the 49 pages has a short paragraph, quote, or absurd statistic that has something related to the unlikelihood of winning the lottery, interspersed with personal anecdotes and thoughts from the author. The lottery simulator uses the six numbers chosen by the reader and cycles through randomly generated lottery sequences, with headers that show the number of times you have won, the degree to which your numbers match, and the time and money spent/earned playing the lottery.
This media element is supplemental to the text, but definitely enhances the simple message being portrayed. The combination of short excerpts and the miniscule winnings shown by the simulator shows the reader on a deeper level just how futile it is to play the lottery. The simulator serves as a personalized firsthand experience, and quietly runs alongside the text as you read. It allows the reader to glance over to the right and view his or her “progress,” while simultaneously taking in information about how difficult it is to win the lottery. Although the message in this piece is pretty simple, it is a very clear demonstration of how such a media element can simultaneously reinforce the ideas of a text effectively. This interactive simulator is a much more interesting method of visualizing an idea than merely showing data aggregates in a graph or table. While the simulation might not be essential, the work would be far less interesting without it.
Media elements can also play an integral role in the consumption of an e-lit work; Mark Marino’s “Living Will” is a great example. This piece functions as a highly interactive click-and-scroll story that allows the reader to choose what happens on a whim. As the reader scrolls through and reads the will, different parts of the text become clickable. Depending on what the reader selects, the document will alter itself instantly. The left hand side of the page has a box that explains who the reader is and what he or she is reading, and the right side of the screen features a simulator (just like Lemay’s piece) that runs simultaneously as the reader goes through the document, tallying up the inheritance (bequests, fees, taxes, etc.). In addition, the simulator features multiple points-of-view that let the reader see how much money the different characters of the work have earned as a result of the reader’s browsing through the document. This media element is very immersive and provides a rich storytelling experience. In a way, this feels like a role-playing video game (RPG), in that the decisions that the reader makes alters the course of the story. However, each of the various permutations of the path follows a parent storyline, implying that all arcs will eventually lead to the same conclusion.
This type of e-lit piece shows the powerful applications the medium can have when it comes to fictional storytelling. It is hard to compare this to film or video because it is mostly comprised of words as opposed to moving images; however, it is a dynamic experience that could be more aptly described as a video game of sorts (maybe not the most entertaining or colorful, but certainly interactive).
One of the few flaws that e-lit pieces are unable to rectify currently is the issue of accessibility. While they can serve as very interesting and immersive methods of consuming literature, one must have a computational device (a smartphone, computer, tablet) to experience it, which restricts access to many different people. Also, depending on which device is used, the full experience can vary. Personally, I would not enjoy navigating through “Living Will” on a small smartphone screen as opposed to a regular laptop screen. These are all considerations the author must put into account when producing a work. Furthermore, while this is not necessarily a limitation to the medium, it is difficult to reproduce such a work and present it in other media, as the author has purposefully designed the work with a specific representation in mind. Having a knowledge of coding flash/java/html scripts would be quite useful in attempting to do so.
While “Losing the Lottery” and “Living Will” are quite in depth, they do not showcase the entire range that the e-lit medium possesses. Some other e-lit works such as Robert Kendall’s “Candles for a Street Corner” or Campbell and Jhave’s “Zone” feature much more audiovisual content than text. In this way, they are more similar to other visual-heavy media such as graphic novels or film. There is an emphasis on what is seen in order to communicate certain emotions and feelings more effectively than text alone. However, one cannot exist without the other in e-lit pieces; without the writing to justify the media element, it is enormously difficult (and often unsatisfying) to navigate these elements without direction or apparent purpose. This is one of the reasons why the e-lit medium has such great potential as an effective means of telling a story or communicating information – the tools it has in its arsenal to relay a multidimensional experience far outnumber those which books can employ, which help the reader understand works on a significantly more personal and profound level.
Campbell, Andy, and Jhave. “Dreaming Methods : Zone.” Dreaming Methods : Zone. Dreaming Methods, 2013. Web. Nov.-Dec. 2013. <http://labs.dreamingmethods.com/zone/>.
Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2008. Print.
Kendall, Robert, and Michele D’Auria Studio. “Candles for a Street Corner.” Candles for a Street Corner. Michele D’Auria Studio, July 2004. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://www.bornmagazine.org/projects/candles/>.
Lemay, Eric. “DIAGRAM :: Eric LeMay.” DIAGRAM :: Eric LeMay. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2013. <http://thediagram.com/11_5/lemay.html>.
Marino, Mark. “Living Will.” Living Will. Markcmarino.com, 2010. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://markcmarino.com/tales/livingwill.html>.
After reading Chapter One on the book of Media Archaeology , written by Jussi Parikka and subsequently attending a symposium with the same person on Friday, I gained a more comprehensive understanding about media effects in our society, specifically, how the nature of a medium influences us as well as our environment.
One element that Dr. Parikka was talking about during the symposium which I especially liked was the impact, both deleterious and benign, of the physical essence of media in our lives. In terms of ourselves, our habits are concretely shaped by repeated utilization of the same form, or physical essence, as Parikka dubs it, of media. For example, having read more hard-copied books back during childhood, we simultaneously grew more accustomed to the presence of written media that we could touch and hold. Thus it is not surprising that most of us find it more comfortable and maybe even more reasonable to obtain a hard-copy of specific media, whether that be a newspaper, manual, textbook etc., rather than perusing said media on digital devices, such as PCs, laptops, and tablets.
Additionally, detrimental effects of the physical essence of media can be seen by environmental influence, specifically the creation of “dirty energy”, some mediums create in our world. Dr. Parikka talked about how an old watermill in his hometown in Finland got converted into a Google Data storage, and how the storage used hydroelectric energy as well as other forms of power sources to operate on a full scale, possibly polluting the ecosystem at the expense of creating more digital data “clouds” for Google users. Thus, we can see that the transmission of media, often considered invisible, often has an apparent physical essence to it. This physicality of media is also expressed in Neuromancer, where both hardware and software are abundant in the cyberpunk world.
Another very interesting aspect brought up by the authors during our discussion session was that whether a medium would become well-known or obsolete in mostly dependent on accident, which means that the fate of a medium customarily happens by accident, and cannot be physically manipulated into any direction. A classic example is the introduction of SMS text messaging in Europe, with phone companies at that time advertising the many advantages of text messaging. What the companies didn’t realize, however, was that the rapid proliferation of texting was not due to people’s recognition of it as a more advantageous method of remote communication than phone calls or other media, but that texting was simply cheaper and a better way to save money for households. This piece of history strongly demonstrated that how well-known a media can really become happens mostly accidentally.
The graphic-novel Daytripper that we will read and discuss this week in class presents some additional insights into media archaeology by furnishing different accounts of alternate history.
 Parikka, Jussi, Media Archaeology. http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520262744. Accessed Oct. 16, 2013
Following our in-class discussion of Jussi Parikka’s Media Archeology excerpt and his article “The Geology of Media” in The Atlantic, our class attended a symposium during which Mr. Parikka discussed the study of Media Archaeology, as well as fielded our questions regarding the nature of different media and mediums. An important theme that accompanied the majority of our discussion of Media Archaeology is that the informational content is not the only important feature when studying different works – the context and medium through which the media is communicated is arguably equally important.
One of the scholars discussed his current project at his publishing press. They are working on reverse engineering a facsimile of a work from many years ago. To do so, they are utilizing the same material and machinery used at the time of the journal’s original production (in lieu of modern printing technologies). This raises the idea that the experience of consuming a work has an important value in understanding the work fully. I want to know what this value is in regards to his current project. I understand the importance of distinguishing different media when it comes to music, video games, and other multidimensional mediums, but I do not know what new information they aim to discover from creating a tactile replica of the original work when they already have copies of the journal scanned that contain the informational content. Nonetheless, the process of gathering the materials and the research involved in operating dated printing technologies is both interesting and exciting. Our class discussion had many connections to this part of the symposium. Most notably, the disparity between digital and print media is an example of distinct experiences of consuming works (such as the tactile and visual sensations of looking at a physical book versus a computer/LCD screen). This will probably be a very relevant idea during our analysis of the comic book, Daytripper.
Recreating this journal could provide insight regarding the environmental impact of older printing methods, which may in turn predict said impact’s development. Towards the end of the symposium Parikka discussed the environmental repercussions of creating new media. With contemporary digital media, these repercussions include energy expenditure, electronic and chemical wastes associated with production and distribution, and a carbon footprint. The so-called “dirty energy” used to power our major electronic mediatic structures (such as the cloud) is noticeably damaging our environment. He at one point even referred to this concept as the “pathology of media.” I thought this was an interesting way to describe the problem; it is almost as if the excesses of information and pollution are a disease that needs to be treated. This issue has been brought up in class in our discussion of The Difference Engine, specifically the rampant pollution that was a byproduct of technological innovation in London. Parikka continued this discussion by bringing up the idea of progress being accompanied by destruction. The destruction is not just of our physical world either; the creation of factories and technology is accompanied by many ethical issues, such as the acquisition of labor resources (workers who are often outsourced and underpaid). Parikka refers to the sum of these issues as “gray ecology.” This could be one of many benefits of studying media archaeology – finding alternative methods of setting up production of new mediums that are less detrimental ethically and environmentally.
Media archaeology explores the components that make up various media elements and technologies and how the origins and interactions between these components have affected the way these medias have developed and established a role in our world. Jussi Parikka presents ideas and observations obtained through media archaeology in his article “The Geology of Media” and his book “Media Archaeology”, yet it was when our class met with the author that we were able to delve into the topic. One of the concepts associated with media archaeology that we discussed was reverse speculation—imagining what the world would have been like if things had gone differently, from a technology standpoint. I found it interesting to wonder, what would our world be like today if Bill Gates did not invent Microsoft? Where would computer programming be now? Would it have taken a completely different route in its design and function? And furthermore, how would that have affected other technologies—such as the development of Apple as a company, or computer software in general? Thinking in this way helps us to understand why our world is the way it is now, and thus we are able to trace the impacts the technology did have on our society and the development of other technologies based on the comparison between the path it took and the path it could’ve taken. This concept is related to William Gibson’s “The Difference Engine”, which explores what the 18th century would have been like if Charles Babbage had succeeded in the creation of the Babbage Engine. The speculative writing draws comparisons between what our world is like today and how it would have been (or how we imagine it would have been) in the past. By looking at the past in this light, we are able to see both how the computer plays a role in our society through the comparison between the known past and the speculative past.
Another component of media archaeology that I found interesting was the observation of technological effects and developments through their relation to Earth. It is easy to overlook that resources play a fundamental role in what is able to develop at what time. Media is more than just data, as it is the device that portrays the data that interprets it and has an effect on how it is perceived—the device gives the data meaning. Development of technology—specifically why certain technologies developed at certain times and how they became the way they are—can be analyzed based on the political economy of the time, particularly in relation to minerals and metals. Similarly, trends in wastes, energy usage, and exploitation of resources provide tracking sources for the development of media elements. The history of media can be traced through what it is made of—chemicals, the developmental processes, and subsequently the develop of technological processes necessary to create and produce the media element. Technology itself can be tied in to the destruction of the world as well, as it has just as much—if not more—of an impact on the world as it develops as the world has on its development. Media develops are thus correlated to pollution, changes in populations, and environmental factors such as storms, weather patterns, or events that affect availability of or accessibility to resources. And environmental pollution isn’t the only kind of pollution that can be traced through technological developments, but mental pollution as well. Though abstract, we are able to see how technology affects our everyday lives and the way we behave and interact. Essentially, geology affects our exposure to media, and our exposure to media affects how our reality is augmented—thus geology is the direct source from which our reality is augmented.
Very much from the occurance of colossal computers that filled rooms in the early 1970s to the ultrabooks super thin laptops we have nowadays, video games have existed to fill our needs for entertainment and maybe even learning. Video games have increasingly become sophisticated as newly operating software were produced and better-performing hardware were invented. Indeed, the digital information boom at the end of the 20th century engendered a series of ultrafast developments that led from the creation of multi-pixel 8-bit video games such as Pacman, to the open world non-linear games such as Grand Theft Auto, which take on several gigabytes on the computer’s hardware storage capacity.
With the sophistication and proliferation of games, people have engendered more complex and mixed reviews about them. Computer games were originally for entertainment for those very few who could afford computers only. As software became cheaper to manufacture, the word “PC” (personal computer) emerged, and families were already buying PCs and software (including video games) in numbers.
Before we go deep into the societal impact video games have for the generations around this time, a choice must be made of whether video games are mediums or not. A simple look-up in the dictionary tells us that mediums are “an agency or means of doing something.” Ian Bogost, in his book How to Do Things with Videogames, claimed that: “ games are models of experiences…we operate these models…our actions [are] constrained by their rules…we take on a role in a videogame, putting ourselves in the shoes of someone else…” (Bogost 04) Simply said, video games are a means for people to immerse themselves in information models to assume a role in a certain environment. Therefore, according to Bogost, (and I would strongly agree) video games are a medium.
It is not untrue that video games caused quite a dilemma for families in the 80s and 90s. In fact, many families reported that their children were virtually addicted to video games and did not put enough attention on the family. The problem persists till today as a main family and societal issue. This is also why “All-too-familiar questions arise about whether games promote violent action or whether they make us fat through inactivity.” (Bogost 05) In his bestseller, however, Bogost talks about how parents and people alike have simply misjudged video games as a dichotomous choice of good or bad, which he dubbed as the “media ecological approach”, rather than seeing games as a medium which is able to influence culture in numerous ways (microecology). I generally agree with Bogost’s idea. Games act as a medium by impacting people’s daily lives continuously, both in communication and perception. I will explore this along with examples in the next three paragraphs.
YouTube, a large video-sharing website as you might know it, has a very large gamer community. And many game commentators post game walkthroughs and reviews for the large audience on YouTube for a living. In fact, according to YouTube statistics, gaming commentators and reviewers alike will upload up to 75 gigabytes of video data to the website every ten seconds. Each gaming video might have more than a million comments (many of which the commentators rely to) and there are plenty of private discussion and public Q&A sessions. From this perspective, I believe that these videos undoubtedly have a large impact on the lives of millions of people who are watching the videos on a daily basis in terms of communication. Again, the gaming content of those videos are irrelevant compared to the impact the videos have on collective communication in gaming communities, as Bogost would have it: “The things a medium does to a culture are more important than the content it conveys.” (Bogost 04)
On the other hand, video games can alter our perceptions dramatically. How our perceptions are changed depend on the type of the video games and our perceived cosmopolitan view of the world. When engaging in video games, we are both acting out the role of the protagonist according to our general perception of the world while simultaneously abiding by the rules of the “model” (the gaming environment) that were created by the game developers.
A good example would be the Portal series created by Valve Corporation. The protagonist in the game is a test subject who has to navigate across numerous test chambers with her portal gun, which can created interdimensional space. Her goal is to flee the “unethical” testing facility, but is constantly stalled by the facility’s main AI computer, GLaDOS. Each test chamber is unique, and there are several ways to finish a particular level. It all comes down to how the video game player perceives the level. Also, there are many moral decisions to make in the game, further altering the gamers perceptions about certain aspects. In one level, for instance, after using the Companion Cube extensively, the player has to make a choice of whether incinerating the cube and pass the level or get stuck in the level with the cube. And it again depends on how the player perceives the game. In fact, many players on the Steam Community Hub reported feeling extremely emotional at that moment.
To acquire a more comprehensive view about video games in our society, we must think more critically about them, not just dismiss them as superficial objects that someone might get addicted to. Parents and families, along with other people who are in presence around video games, need to regard games as a medium which has multifaceted uses rather than only one or two. That said, games are currently used not only in entertainment, but also in medicine, psychiatry training sessions, tools for soldiers to simulate real combat and even placebo means in hospitals etc..In terms of communication and perception, as aforementioned, video games acts as an indispensable means to a medium by encouraging all sorts of discussions and perceptual alterations. The various uses of games cannot be overstated, and most of them have profound impacts in different sections of our society.
Last but not least, I definitely believe that it is vital for people to study gaming behavior. There are myriads of reasons for doing so. Social-cognitive psychologists could research brain pattern behavior when people are playing games. I personally have always wondered why people’s body do physical movements when they are actually playing games set in virtual reality. Furthermore, researching possible changes in perception of thought would be a great basis for developing our understanding of human behavior. The bottom line is, as games become more and more a part of people’s daily lives, the necessity to study them extensively is ultimately of extreme importance for the comprehension of human physical and psychological behavior to our community.
Bogost Ian, HOW TO DO THINGS WITH VIDEOGAMES, University of Minnesota Press.
Portal, Valve Corporation, http://www.valvesoftware.com/games/portal.html. Accessed Sep.29, 2013.
Are video games a medium, at least one deserving scholarly criticism? If we define a medium as “an agency by which something is accomplished, conveyed, or transferred”, it is clear that games are technically media just by showing the player the state of their character throughout the game. But the scholarly importance of video games is muddled by the fact that they are, in fact, games. They have rules and objectives. You can win. There’s no way to “beat” a film or a painting. Even a game with an excellent plot may still be bogged down by gameplay which does nothing to enhance the story.
But while the goal/choice oriented nature of games may detract from areas where other media excel, the ability for the player to make choices and participate in a game’s virtual world introduce a whole new realm of creative possibilities unique to the medium. In “How To Do Things With Video Games,” Ian Bogost attests that “we can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does.” (Bogost 3) Games can, of course, tell stories in all the ways that books and movies can, conveying information through text and video, but they also include the ability for the player to affect the game through their actions, thus giving them an additional sense of investment and responsibility within the world of the game. It is one thing for a movie to depict the execution of a civilian by a soldier; it is another for a game to have the player take the shot.
This draws to light one of the great limitations of video games – they are pre-rendered, every possible outcome anticipated in lines of code. “When we play games, we operate those models, our actions constrained by their rules: the urban dynamics of SimCity; the feudal stealth strategy of Ninja Gaiden; the racing tactics of Gran Turismo.” (Bogost 4) If this is the case, then it appears to defy intuition that a player can have any true choice. Whatever semblance of freedom the player may have, they are ultimately confined to the options that the games developers had the foresight to account for. This may give players the illusion of choice, but wouldn’t it also deny them true agency? A game’s world is certainly confined to its specifically laid out rules, but is the “real world” much different? No one truly has the freedom to do anything. Individuals are confined by the laws of physics, their resources and their abilities. If we accept that individuals can possess agency in a reality without absolute freedom, why is a video game arbitrarily too confined to allow for a genuine choice? Many games can accommodate every choice a player is reasonably likely to make, meaning a player may never even notice that they lack a truly free choice.
This can be a powerful tool, as in Shadow of the Colossus, where the protagonist is told to hunt down and kill 16 colossi. There is little to do except kill these creatures, but most players never even question whether killing the colossi is morally right. It’s a video game, and you’re the guy with a magic sword! Of course you should kill them. They’re presumably evil. It isn’t until the player has slain many of these colossi that the game begins to explore the implications of killing these creatures. Several colossi will not attack unless provoked. Several appear to fear the player, and fight only for survival. One colossus does not even fight back as it is being slain. The lengthy journeys between colossi, featuring minimal soundtrack and no living creatures but the protagonist and his horse, give the player ample time to ruminate on the implications are of killing what appear to be the last vestiges of life in a barren wasteland. The only real way for the player to avoid killing the colossi is to stop playing the game, but the ethical questions that the game raises hit much harder when the player is first allowed to act without considering them. “Was I rash to assume these creatures were monsters? What do I actually know about them? In another life, what else might I have done without question?” The game may only present the illusion of choice, but the illusion is potent enough.Of course, even if a player appears to be given some choices, they are rarely, if ever, given every choice. Most games are inherently interpassive. Laeititia Wilson of the University of Western Australia defines interpassivity as “a mode of relating that involves the consensual transferal of activity or emotion onto another being or object – who consequently ‘acts’ in one’s place.” (Wilson 2) This mostly manifests in games through pre-rendered actions or scenes. Players project an identity onto their avatar within a game. When this avatar acts without the player’s direct control, players must forgo their agency and accept these new actions as part of the identity they project onto the avatar. In directly plot-driven games, players should identify with the playable character and take the character’s responses to situations as a cue for how they themselves should feel as observers and implicit participants. The line between the audience’s identity and the character’s is slightly less defined in a game than in a movie, but the ability for characters and stories to impact the audience remains consistent across these media. If a character acts in gross contrast to how a player would react to a given situation, it may threaten the player’s immersion within the game, but even without immersion a game’s cutscene is as compelling as a scene from a book or movie.
Besides choice, games offer the potential for players to become immersed in their worlds in ways that no other media can offer. For instance, Braid puts the player in the perspective of Tim, a scientist who uses time travel to return to his past and fix a great mistake. Its gameplay forces the player to view the world as Tim does, with time as a variable to be manipulated. For both Tim and the player, every mistake is impermanent, a minor inconvenience that can be erased with the push of a button. This shows the player how Tim views the world differently from others on a fundamental level. At the end of the game, the ability to reverse time is used to demonstrate how deluded Tim has become about his past and his role in the life of “the Princess.” As the player traverses the final level, the princess appears to flee a large, hulking figure as she removes the obstacles that hinder Tim’s progress. However, everything around Tim is moving in reverse, implying that this is not the true sequence of events. When the player reaches the Princess’s tower, time finally begins to move forward. This time, the Princess is fleeing Tim, laying traps for him along the way. Clearly, though Tim can’t see it, he is the monster of the story. Moreover, he is blinded to his role in the story because he no longer perceives time and consequence like a normal human being.
Braid’s epilogue reinforces this notion that Tim’s reliance on scientific tools has distorted his vision of reality. Several events are presented to the player as Tim, or someone like him, experienced them. However, if the player obscures Tim from view, the event is described from the Princess’s perspective. For instance, consider how this scene:
“He worked his ruler and his compass. He inferred. He deduced. He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. He was searching for the Princess, and he would not stop until he found her, for he was hungry. He cut rats into pieces to examine their brains, implanted tungsten posts into the skulls of water-starved monkeys.”
is replaced with one in which the Princess laments Tim’s inability to recognize her:
“Ghostly, she stood in front of him and looked into his eyes. “I am here,” she said. “I am here. I want to touch you.” She pleaded: “Look at me!” But he would not see her; he only knew how to look at the outsides of things.”
Tim’s pursuit of scientific knowledge has again blinded him to the full scope of reality, and directly impedes his ability to be an impartial observer. Braid explores this theme with the interpassivity unique to video games. The player can only see the alternate perspective when Tim is removed from the screen – that is, when the player is no longer viewing the text as Tim.
Video games are still a fledgling medium with numerous uses yet to be discovered. However, they have already demonstrated themselves to be potent tools for creative expression and personal introspection. The ability of a gamer to choose, to explore, to interact with and inhabit the virtual worlds in front of them, ensures that the greatest games will be personal in a way that no other medium can boast.
Braid – http://braid-game.com/
Shadow of the Colossus – http://teamico.wikia.com/wiki/Shadow_of_the_Colossus
Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. Print.
Wilson, Laetitia. “Interactivity or Interpassivity: A Question of Agency in Digital Play.”Fine Art Forum 17.8 (2009)
With the development of the computational ability of machines, the videogame as an important tool for entertainment enters into everyone’s life and affects the society development directly or indirectly. Videogames, together with other traditional media like newspapers and films, carry their information and give people an extended reality while they spread information. From the view of media microecology, the videogame as a part of this ecology should be studied if we want to know the media ecology critically and systematically.
Are videogames media? This question has been debated for a long time by many scholars with so many people with old fashioned thinking believing that videogames designed for entertainment with interaction, computational models and digital roles should not be recognized as media. Those people ignore the impacts and nature of videogames behind the computational structures and entertainment activities. A medium is defined as “(1) a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment — compare mass medium (2) a publication or broadcast that carries advertising (3) a mode of artistic expression or communication (4) something (as a magnetic disk) on which information may be stored” in Merriam-Webster dictionary. It is obvious that videogames are media considering that information is communicated while videogame is interacting with the player and this information always reflects the designers’ thinking about space and time, life and death, justice and evil, society and nature, and so on. In addition, the videogame is a much more powerful medium compared with traditional media that can only affect people by texts, sounds and images. In a videogame, one can interact with the computational program; can experience a virtual life with their avatar in it; can live in a universe that has totally different rules from the real one. With the computational model, digital roles and interaction with players, videogames have huge amount of users and are more widespread compared with traditional media which can be easily seen from the download frequency of videogames and the region of gamers and the amount of games in everyone’s smart phone. Not everyone likes reading Hamlet but everyone likes playing Angry Birds; New York Times is not popular in every country but Angry Birds is popular everywhere in the world.
The videogame like other medium has its own diversity and extends from purely artistic uses to purely instrumental uses. It is true that some videogames are full of violence. But not all! The violence in films is no less than that in videogames. We should see the whole situation and give a critical opinion towards videogames. The videogame as a medium is a platform for designers to show their opinions and thinking about life and about world by means of computational models. For example, games like Flow and Cloud try to make the player have a slow pace when playing. That is the designer’s attitude toward life. With the simple structure and slow pace, Flow and Cloud tell us to take a low pace and enjoy the simple life. Videogames have unmatchable advantages over other media as for conveying new ideas about space and time. Portal and Braid are the two typical representations of games that give the players a total new concept about space and time. In Portal, the player uses the gun to create holes on walls to change the space structure of the world. Going into the hole, the player will shift to another space linked by holes. And in Braid, time can be controlled by the player. The player can learn from the past and uses the new concept of time to complete missions impossible for normal time sequence. Besides entertainment, videogames can be practical and used as instrumental tools in many cases. The simulation games like flight simulator are well known for their function for training pilots and soldiers. Scientists have realized the power of games and they have designed many serious games to help solve scientific problems by the collective intelligence of massive players all over the world. For example, Foldit is designed by the biology scientists in order to find new structures of proteins that could be useful in medicine design. In this game, the player design structures of proteins according to the rules and the system will score every structure. The structures that earn high scores are studied by the scientists to see if they have special properties. And many research accomplishments have been got by this way.
Fig. 1. A screenshot of the game Foldit.
“Medium is message”. Regardless the contents of a videogame, the videogame itself is an object that is informative and should be studied. “Gamespace is everywhere.” The word “gamespace” is induced by the videogames. In videogames, what players do is to compete with others to earn high scores. What players do is just obey the rules and make use of the rules to do activities that have been programmed before. Is that like some people’s life? For some people, they go along the way that has been designed by their parents or themselves years before. That kind of life is programmed just like what the designers do to games. The real difference between real life and games lies in the fact that things happen in the next moment are unknown to people. That is the real meaning of life. People should abandon the “programmed” way and think about what they really want. Otherwise, they will live in a gamespace until death. Videogames invoke the thinking of life out of gamespace.
The videogame has become a new medium that comprises the media ecology with other media. As a medium, it has the common properties with other traditional media. And at the same time it has some unmatchable advantages over other media due to its computational model and ability of interaction. In order to learn more about modern media and their functions, it is necessary to study videogames critically in terms of the contents and forms.
 Bogost, Ian. “Media Microecology.” Introduction. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. N. pag. Print.
 “Medium.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/medium>
 Wark, McKenzie. “Agony.” Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. N. pag. Print.
Are video games a medium?
There is an apparent answer isn’t there?
Although you may think there is, it is a controversial debate with both supporters and opponents. In fact, when I told my roommate what my assignment was he immediately responded “video games don’t teach anybody anything” and he asked me to explain why I thought they did. Rather than replying I told him to read my blog post.
My method of answering this question is based on the definition of medium. According to Merriam-Webster the definition of medium is “a means of effecting or conveying something.” Based on this definition I suggest that video games should be included under the umbrella of media.
From cave paintings to motion pictures, forms of media have co-evolved with society to more accurately and effectively communicate “something” to people. Similarly to any form of media, video games send direct messages, but what sets video games apart from other forms of media is how they communicate them. Video games are an interactive form of media that allows players to be a part of the game and to make choices. Yes, one can argue that in board games like dungeons and dragons this is equally true and that with proper imagination a reader can become part of a book just as easily. However, in How to Do Things with Video Games Ian Bogost highlights that “videogames are computational, so the model worlds and sets of rules they produce can be far more complex” and much more realistic (Bogost 2011). The dungeon master asking you to slay a dragon is much different than a mission given to you in Call of Duty. Missions in these games challenge your morality. In 2009, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 presented a controversial mission entitled “No Russian” where the user is told to massacre hundreds of civilians. This is different than the dragon because the player has to pull the trigger, witness the pain, and hear the suffering of the victims. However, game play allows for the user to not participate and act as a bystander (which is arguably just as bad). Decisions like this make gamers reflect on themselves and who they are. Not all the lessons of video games are as deep and thought provoking though. Pokémon for example, allows players to control an avatar that is an adolescent traveling the world with animal-like companions. Through this journey the player learns about independence, fiscal responsibility, and the importance of treating “animals” with kindness.
Understanding the relevance of video games as a medium is not limited to lessons learned, but includes how video games are impacting society. Scholars in the field of media ecology have started investigating the effects video games have on life. In McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, he proposes that “the game…is the sole remaining ideal” in life, and the world we live in is “gamespace” (Wark 008). He elucidates his point by describing the world of “The Sims.” In this world there is no such thing as idle time because every action is just a part of the overall plan to advance the life of your avatar. Although video games are more notably abstract, you find more parallels between our world and The Sims’ world than expected. In today’s society, more and more people are focused on advancing their lives to achieve a goal, but when “[they can do what [they] secretly wanted to do all those years ago… [they]can’t remember” what it was (Wark 017). The game’s designer, Will Wright explains how “The Sims” also acts as a parody of consumerism because players spend all their time acquiring objects that are meant to save time. Just like in “The Sims”, today’s society is overwhelmed by the compulsion to have the next big thing, but all of this time spent on these objects defeats their initial intent to save time. It is not just what games are saying about our lives that needs to be studied, but how these games are affecting our psyches and lives. The most popular topic in this genre is the potential correlation between violent video games and shootings in America. Is this truly the case? Or is this as baseless as schools banning Catcher in the Rye after the Lennon shooting? Millions of people have read Catcher in the Rye or played a violent video game and only a small percentage have participated in a shooting. Rather than focusing on this, I believe that the attention should be shifted to studying military training, especially those of drone pilots. Earlier I discussed how video games challenge our morality, but is it possible that games could potentially dull that sense? Pilots use video game simulations during training, and then when they execute missions their stations resemble that of a hardcore gamer. Bogost argues that technology is “changing how we perceive, conceive of, and interact with our world… it structures and informs our understanding and behavior” (Bogost 2011). By making it a less realistic scenario, is the military using technology to isolate morality from killing? (Though one could use this same argument to defend that video games correlate with shootings, there is an inherent difference between the two. This is intentional training, with the purpose of training to kill).
With the introduction of more mobile technology, video games are no longer limited to time spent at home. Sony has allowed for game play to transfer from console to handheld and the Facebook app has allowed for players to harvest their “Farmville” crops on the go. With the ability to keep this connection with video games at all times it has become harder to “jack out” and return to reality (Gibson 1984). Perhaps the break suggested by Wii during gameplay is not just advocating exercise, but jacking players out to remind players what reality is. As video games become more accessible, it becomes a medium for a more diverse population. Although gaming was once thought to represent a niche audience, times have changed. Video games are “woven into everyday life,” but not everyone is aware (Bogost 2011). Unfortunately, as suggested in The Matrix, “no one can be told [this]. You have to see it for yourself” (The Matrix 1999). So now this leaves you with one question. Which pill will you take?
Collaboratively written by Mithun Shetty, Kim Arena, and Sheel Patel
The efficacy of a digital humanities project can be vastly improved if the delivery and interface is thoughtfully designed and skillfully executed. The following two websites, “Speech Accent Archive”, and “10 PRINT eBooks”, both utilize non-traditional forms of displaying content that alter the experience of their internet audience. Both projects will be critically assessed according to the guidelines described by Shannon Mattern’s “Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited” and Brian Croxall and Ryan Cordell’s “Collaborative Digital Humanities Project.”
The Speech Accent Archive is an online archive of audio recordings that contains multiple speakers from a variety of regional and ethnic backgrounds dictating a specific set of sentences. These recordings are submitted by the public and reviewed by the project administrators before being added to the site. The purpose of this media element is to expose users to the phonetic particularities of different global accents. This website is useful because it provides insight regarding the various factors that affect the way people talk and how these factors interconnect – from their ethnic background to their proximity to other countries. This site proves to be a useful tool for actors, academics, speech recognition software designers, people with general appreciation for the cultural connections in languages, and/or anyone studying linguistics, phonetics, or global accents.
The website’s layout is ideal for accomplishing this purpose: users can browse the archive by language/speakers, atlas/regions, or can browse a native phonetic inventory. This allows users to explore accents on a regional basis which makes it easier to see similarities between local dialects. The audio recordings are all accompanied by a phonological transcription, showing the breakdown of consonantal and vowel changes as well as syllable structure of the passage. Each user submission is accompanied by personal data, including the speakers’ background, ethnicity, native language, age, and experience with the English language. The site also has a very comprehensive search feature which has many demographical search options, ranging from ethnic and personal background to speaking and linguistic generalization data. This level of detail is an invaluable resource for those who study cultural anthropology, phonetics, languages, and other areas, as it allows for a specific manipulation of the data presented. Also, the quality of user contributions is consistently high – it is very easy to follow the playback of the recordings.
However, the project does have its limitations as well. The passage being read by the contributors is in English, no matter the speaker’s fluency or familiarity with the language. Pronunciations of this passage may not reflect the natural sound of the languages represented. Further, because the audio samples are user-contributed, it is hard to maintain a constant of English fluency among contributors. Another limitation to the site is that many of the sections of the site have little to no recordings or data; this is merely due to a lack of user contributions, but could be resolved by website promotion. The project is still ongoing, thus the database will continue to grow as time goes on. Another limitation of the site is that it lacks any sort of comparison algorithm. The accents are all stored on their own specific web pages and load via individual Quicktime audio scripts; consequently, it is very difficult to perform a side by side comparison of accent recordings. As a result, the project is not really making any conclusions or arguments with this data. This could be improved by allowing users to stream two separate files at the same time, or by allowing a statistical comparison of the demographical information accompanying each recording. It would also be interesting if an algorithm or visualization could be created that could recognize the slight differences in the voices and arrange them based on similarity along with the demographical data that accompanies the voice sample. Further, the project could establish a tree-like comparison of regions and accents, visually representing the divergences and connections between where people live or have lived and the way that they speak.
With these additions, it would be easier to aurally understand the effects of background or ethnicity on speech accents. Still, this website shines albeit these setbacks. The project offers a tremendous amount of data in an organized manner, presenting many opportunities for further research and applications of the information. This level of detail is an invaluable resource for those who study cultural anthropology, phonetics, languages, and much more.
The book titled 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 is a collaboratively written book that describes the discovery and deeper meaning behind the eponymous maze building program created for the Commodore 64. The book can be seen as a way to look at code, not just as a functional working line of characters, but also as a medium of holding culture. 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 uses the code as a jumping point to talk about computer programming in modern culture and the randomness/ unpredictability of computer programming and art. The book explores how computation and digital media have transformed culture. Along with this book, one of the authors, Mark Sample, created a “twitterbot” that uses a Markov Chain algorithm to produce and send tweets. The @10print_ebooks twitterbot takes the probability that one word will follow another, scans the entire book, and tweets the random phrases it generates.
The clear goal of this book is to demonstrate that reading and programming coding does not have to always be looked at in the two-dimensional, functional sense that many people see it as. The authors argue that code can be read and analyzed just like a book. They do so by delving into how this 10 Print program was created, its history, its porting to other languages, its assumptions, and why that all matters. They also talk about the randomness of both computing and art, and use this 10 Print program as a lens through which to view these broader topics. The purpose of this book is stated very clearly by one of the co-authors, Mark Sample: “Undertaking a close study of 10 Print as a cultural artifact can be as fruitful as close readings of other telling cultural artifacts have been.”
The implementation and format of this book and twitterbot is a little difficult to understand and doesn’t necessarily help them portray and establish their goals, especially when talking about the twitterbot. The book itself is coauthored by 10 professors who are literary/cultural/media theorists whose main research topics are gaming, platform studies, and code studies, which gives a broad range of perspectives regarding the topics. It also dives into the fact that code, just like a book, can be co-authored and can incorporate the views and ideas of more than one person. This idea draws on the parallels that the authors are trying to draw between coding and literary elements. Code is not just one-dimensional; it can incorporate the creative and artistic ideas of many people and can achieve many different forms that often have very similar functions in the end. In this sense, the co-authoring of this book inherently showcases their main message regarding code and how it should be viewed. The book also progressively talks about the history of this Basic program, and how it coincided with cultural changes due to the advent of the personal computer. Sample’s twitterbot, on the other hand, leaves the user more often confused than educated, but that may be point. Using the algorithm it spits out random, syntactically correct sentences that sometimes mean absolutely nothing, but also occasionally it creates coherent thoughts from the words in the book. The occasional coherent sentence that the bot spits out may be a demonstration of code itself. The user may see that within jumbles of code or in the case of the book, words, and meanings can be pulled if put in the correct syntax. Also, the form definitely fits. The randomness of the twitterbot allows people to see that even by coincidence there can be substance to code. If it was done having people point out specific parts of the code then we would be limited to their interpretations. Having a machine randomly spew out phrases allows for many different interpretations.
This tool, although abstractly useful could be implemented much better. If the twitter bots are “occasionally” genius, then the website would be more efficient if it had implemented some sort of ranking system for the most interesting or coincidental tweets. If they had some sort of sorting mechanism, then the project may be more convincing in saying that code can be made to have a creative license or brand.
Regardless of the various limitations both projects may have shown, it is abundantly clear that their media elements vastly improve their ability to illustrate their ideas and accomplish their purposes. It would be practically impossible to illustrate these projects with text alone. The Speech Accent Archives’ audio recordings give concrete examples to an entirely aural concept, which is infinitely more useful than simply listing the phonetic transcriptions. The 10print Ebooks’ twitterBot, while difficult to understand, is an interesting concept that also generates concrete examples of what the project is trying to illustrate – that code is multidimensional in its structure and can be interpreted and analyzed similar to a complex literary work.
@10PRINT_ebooks, “10 PRINT ebooks”. Twitter.com. Web. https://twitter.com/10PRINT_ebooks
Baudoin, Patsy; Bell, John; Bogost, Ian; Douglass, Jeremy; Marino, Mark C.; Mateas, Michael; Montfort, Nick; Reas, Casey; Sample, Mark; Vawter, Noah. 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. November 2012. Web. http://10print.org/
Cordell, Ryan, and Brian Croxall. “Technologies of Text (S12).” Technologies of Text S12. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. http://ryan.cordells.us/s12tot/assignments/
Mattern, Shannon C. “Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited.” » Journal of Digital Humanities. N.p., 28 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-4/evaluating-multimodal-work-revisited-by-shannon-mattern/
Weinberg, Stephen H. The Speech Accent Archive. 2012. Web. http://accent.gmu.edu/about.php