Monthly Archives: April 2012

Videogames and Artistic Wishes

I’m reading Foucault’s Pendulum at the moment, and it’s quite the intellectual read. The main thing I’m getting from it is that Umberto Eco is probably one of the most well-read people on the planet. He just seems to get references from everywhere.

Anyway, I’m getting close to the end, where the book has turned into pages and pages of conspiracy connect-the-dots, when I came across a great little section.

“…Proust was right: life is represented better by bad music than by a Missa solemnis. Great Art makes fun of us as it comforts us, because it shows us the world as the artists like the world to be. The dime novel, however, pretends to joke, but then it shows us the world as it actually is—or at least the world as it will become. Women are a lot more like Milady than they are like Little Nell, Fu Macnhu is more real than Nathan the Wise, and History is closer to what Sue narrates that to what Hegel projects. Shakespeare, Melville, Balzac, and Dostoyevski all wrote sensational fiction. What has taken place in the real world was predicted in penny dreadfuls.”

“The fact is, it’s easier for reality to imitate the dime novel than to imitate art. Being a Mona Lisa is hard work; becoming Milady follows our natural tendency to choose the easy way.”

Now, in relation to videogames this struck a bit of a chord with me. We all go on about games reaching the status of Art (it’s already an art), but do we need them to? Perhaps they already show us what the world is like, what humans are like, and in 100 or 200 years we shall look back and recognise them for the great works they are. Video games are the easy way, but with so much potential compared to the established Great Arts. We don’t need to make games as artists want them to be; I swear art games already make fun of us by removing the interactivity that makes games games.

“Ha ha,” says Indie Art Wank no. 234, “You think I’m a game? I’ve tricked you, you see; there’s no game here at all! The content is my social commentary and misplaced metaphors! Just click through this stylised Powerpoint!”

The hyper-sexual and hyper-violent nature of games is a joke, and shows us that the world really is misogynistic and bloodthirtsy. Gears of War is a statement on the current trends in global politics! The lack of meaningful  female lead characters is just a reflection of the corporate world! Intellectuals may point out the faults of videogames, and decry the decline, but they are that decline! Let games be games—let them take our pennies and be dreadful—for if we let the play shine through, who really needs Art?

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This Thing Might Have Legs

So there hasn’t been any posts of late, simply because I’ve been super busy. There’s so much to write, but between work, writing for Australian Gamer, and seeing people I’ve not had the time. What I have been doing is reading, and hopefully it’s paying off.

See, that Internet Communities article could be great. But I think it could also be more. Currently there aren’t really any facts in it. A good story needs the human, personal touch, but it also needs facts for the story to relate to. I am fascinated by communities on the internet, and have been delving into a bit of the literature surrounding the topic. It all started when I thought that a history of myg0t would be quite interesting (for me at least, but no doubt others as well). But why stop there? Sure, make a magazine/paper piece about myg0t, and one about the three forum shift, but why not a history of other communities? 4chan, Reddit, WELL, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Dramatica, and others I personally haven’t visited. Make something that explores the current climate of internet communities. In 10 years things will have changed, but it’s that capturing of history that’s important.

 

One of the books I’ve been reading is a series of essays about internet communities. One in particular has 10 principles of essentially making a good internet community, and I can see a lot of relations to my own experiences. Here’s a quick summary of the 10:

1) The community must be geared towards a pre-determined, identifiable audience.

2) The community website must be seeded with audience-relevant, engaging content that models the type of content expected of its participants.

3) Draw boundaries around the community and establish barriers to entry.

4)Enable participants to coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate with one another buy setting up features that promote emotion-charged interaction and foster the acquisition of social capital.

5) Provide and encourage an environment of hospitality, caring, honesty, empathy, and growth for exchanges between two people and between larger groups of people.

6) Anticipate the need for hte community to developer a history of its existence and textual interactions.

7) Find ways to make the community contributors feel unique and that their contributions make a difference by fostering group ownership and a shared emotional connection.

8) Establish policies and rules of conduct using language and tone that indicates that the rules have been written to engender self-governance and a sense of personal ownership by the community members themselves.

9) Cultivate a sense of accountability, continuity, and flow.

10) Evaluations of community sociability and usability must be conducted during its development, soon after launch, and at specified times throughout the community’s evolution in order to assess the members’ needs and if they are being fulfilled, and to predict the community’s chances at success.

 

Some interesting things to think about, and a lot of parallels I can draw on. My experience with forums reflects a lot of this, particularly the scenario where members left one forum, started another, and when that failed finally coalesced into what is, I think, a utopian forum few others can ever hope for. Through trial and error the third forum was the lucky one. There is a wealth of thoughts to draw from these readings, and I have already purchased other books on the topic, including Deeper by John Seabrook, The Virtual Community by Howard Rheingold, and Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. It feels more and more like a university essay. But I’ll relish it. Hopefully drawing on a number of resources, and then doing my own dirty research by delving into the web (including interviews. I must contact myg0t members; theirs is a truly gossip-filled story), a book may come out of it. In the mean time, I’ll continue the novella based on my experiences, and work out how to make the topic into a nice newspaper article.

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Day and Night Part 2

It was a gross sunlight, crooked beams and haunted memories of things called dreams. Those mysterious visions of Felicia’s rule. She had always been able to dream, that sweet embrace of Night. And now she would try and let others take part, lead them in one dream that spanned many minds.
The Night Queen slipped through the entrance of the inn, and not a soul noticed. She kept to the shadows, not wanting to betray herself, as the people would be on the lookout for strange travelers. Cursing her outfit, Felicia went to the innkeeper.
“A room for one, please.”
The innkeep gave her an cursory glance, hesitating on agreement.
“A room for one, at the top, if you please,” she insisted, dropping a small pouch onto the table. The innkeeper’s eyes darted to it, heard the weight. He fumbled for a key and gave her the room number.
On her way to the stairs Felicia realised it had been some time since she had eaten a hot meal. Swiveling on her heel, she glided to the kitchen.
As she ordered the daily broth and a mug of Raymead, she overheard some of her fellow patrons, a group hunched over near the fire.
“Sundown draws near, mates, and I fear the other side brings bad news,” said one, an older man, his red beard nearing the ground.
“What? Bad news? Surely you can’t be serious?” said a younger man, taller than the rest, bronzed and built. “When we stir, news of war will be on everyone’s lips. The Night Queen has returned, they say.”
“Och, and what of it?” said yet a third, a burly woman with a crimson eye patch. “Let me tell you, I fought when she fled, and if it’s half as bloody after this Sundown I’ll never forgive her.”
“Hear, hear,” said the first. “War and battle, you don’t want it. We’ve never had it bett–”
“Oh, I doubt that,” the young one interrupted. “Unlike you, I’m not afraid of Ears. The Night Queen promises balance. I’ve heard the stories–I long for a True Sleep, a Deep Dream. Curse Solar, I could settle for a Nightmare!”
Felicia had heard enough. This kid, and others hopefully like him, would get his wish sooner than they thought. The corner of her mouth twitched up into a smile, and hung there for the first time in months.

I Was Blind, But Now I See

The greatest lesson my father ever taught me was to ignore those who annoy you. This did apply to my brother at the time, but obviously it can be useful for any and everyone (if you so desire). I think that is doubly true when those people are ignorant in their grievances.

Without context, we impose our own prejudiced and arrogant presumptions. Without context, you assume. When you assume, well, you’re an ass.

A second lesson that I’ve kept with me is that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. When it comes to media or political criticism, it’s fine, as long as it’s constructive.

No understanding of context mixed with a habit of saying anything you like turns you into a bigoted, insular asshole, and there’s really no more to it.

Good luck, I’m done.

Internet Communities Article

If there is one thing that unites humanity, it’s our sense of community. Our ability to come together has allowed us to come this far in the universe. Sharing ideas and grouping together for support come naturally. It’s survival instinct, but what happens when this same instinct meets modern technology, namely the Internet.

The Internet is ubiquitous, whether in the home or on our phones. It connects us like on a new level, creating the global community. But within this massive sphere of information, there are pockets of individualism, and room for niche communities. We can connect to these places at will, bypassing space and forming whole new networks.

You may think you know the Internet, but there is far more there than you are aware. It’s like a gigantic, secret underground military base. There’s the plain admin building on top, of which Google and Wikipedia are a part. Then a few levels down we have places like Reddit and 4chan. Deeper still you pass rooms that hide tiny pockets of people discussing their own plans and hopes. Right at the bottom, where the really secret stuff lies, is the Deep Web. Almost off the radar, Deep Web is the (mostly) unlawful frontier. Each level has its own communities, and everyone is part of a different one, whether on the surface, or in the darkest recesses of the Web.

My own e-life begins with MSN Messenger, a program many other people my age are aware of. A friend introduced me, and soon I was constantly interrupting the phone line to dial into the Internet. I met a few strangers through mutual friends, and later even began a relationship this way. But MSN was merely a stepping stone.

Chat rooms were big through MSN, and sometimes my brother and I would idly chat on some random board, awaiting an invite for cybersex. That provided endless giggles. But this limited discussion soon bored me, and as I meandered across various Flash and comic sites, I discovered forums.

Forums are places of great discussion, often among entirely anonymous people. You choose an inventive handle (essentially a nickname), pick a suitably noticeable avatar (picture that appears beside your handle), and get stuck into posting. There is a forum for everyone, whether you are a pregnant mother, gym junkie, or aspiring writer. My first forum was a place of great notoriety. It was the home of myg0t, Internet pranksters and hackers who took enjoyment in destroying the fun of others.

I do not remember how I discovered http://www.myg0t.com, but discover it I did. At first I ‘lurked’ (a term that means to browse a forum, but not register as a user), but was lulled into the tough guy attitude of the so-called myg0ts. These were the leaders of the group, the ones who digitally attacked innocents in video games. It must have been my youth, but the exclusivity and hardcore nature of the forum enticed me.

My first handle is one that still makes me cringe. OzFactor_XxX. Just read that and savour the immaturity. Soon I was linking funny videos (this was before Youtube), and trying to blend in. Without success, I might add. A number of forum goers soon targeted me as easy picking, constantly starting flame wars and harassing me. I pushed through, and I like to think this early bullying toughened me for what the rest of the web had to offer.

At some point I became banned from the forum, but not before many, many experiences were had. There I saw some of the worst images one can find on the Internet, the least of which includes Goatse. I’ve seen a man snort Oxycodin on webcam. I met and befriended probably the greatest troll I have yet to witness, a man of such eloquence and passion that even the myg0t leaders marveled.

I watched what was a declining community fracture and breakdown further, its leader suffering a mutiny, and its focus becoming lost. I also emerged with a new handle, one I’ve kept since. Homemaster. There’s a whole other story behind that one.

Despite anonymity, anyone can be someone on the Internet. You may be the sage of a forum, or an infamous pot stirrer. Your handle can become respected or feared, depending on how you act. And more often than not, that online persona is a vastly different reflection to the one in the real world.

After myg0t there was a gap in my web-life. I didn’t go on the PC as much, and had a gap year. About a year after returning though, a whole new chapter opened up.

As I waited in an airport, I picked up a magazine. It was a video game magazine, and like any young male that sort of thing interests me. After reading it, I saw a link for the magazine’s official forum. I found myself signing up, once again taking up the name of Homemaster.

Soon I was lost in a thriving community again, the leaders this time being the magazine contributors, a handful designated moderators, and one or two revered denizens. I remained largely invisible, making a few friends who shared similar interests in games, and generally contributing meaningless posts you see very often. I was a nobody.

But the sense of community was like nothing else. The general subforum, where anything went, was awash in topical discussion and general chitchat. Camaraderie was in the air. But then it all went so horribly wrong.

The then editor of the magazine made a perilous decision. He merged the forum with that of another site, one with its own infrastructure. The result was a mess, with users being unable to access their beloved home. Adverts aggravated the eyes, the layout was offensive, but most of all it was rarely running. And so the community left.

A majority, indeed all those who actually provided the most interesting and varied discussion, departed. One of them had begun his own forum, one strictly to be used in emergency. This place was free from company control. Everything went back to normal, and I followed.

There was a seething dislike of the former forum, and the decision that had been its undoing. When the site actually worked, those who had remained barely posted, and what they did was boring. The new forum laughed at the misfortune, knowing full well that what held a place together was the people. And they were the people.

For a while, everything was fine. Discussion ranged on all topics, from the random to films. I was still anonymous, but nonetheless enjoying this sense of belonging. Things changed with Janus.

Some people are just naturally charismatic. Some are even more so online. Janus was just such a person. Whether or not he had actually been a member of the original forum has never been found out, but somehow he quickly became a moderator and subtly began a tyrannical rule.