military training geeks

Two new publications from the extreme ends of the spectrum, but both touching my topic. Now guess which one of the two is closer to my mind and heart.

KELTY, CHRISTOPHER M. 2005. Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics. Cultural Anthropology 20(2):185-214.

official abstract:
This article investigates the social, technical, and legal affiliations among “geeks” (hackers, lawyers, activists, and IT entrepreneurs) on the Internet. The mode of association specific to this group is that of a “recursive public sphere” constituted by a shared imaginary of the technical and legal conditions of possibility for their own association. On the basis of fieldwork conducted in the United States, Europe, and India, I argue that geeks imagine their social existence and relations as much through technical practices (hacking, networking, and code writing) as through discursive argument (rights, identities, and relations). In addition, they consider a “right to tinker” a form of free speech that takes the form of creating, implementing, modifying, or using specific kinds of software (especially Free Software) rather than verbal discourse.

BONK, CURTIS J. AND VANESSA P. DENNEN. 2005. Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming: A Research Framework for Military Training and Education. Advanced Distributed Learning, Technical Report 2005-1. Washington, DC: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) Readiness and Training Directorate Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative. [.pdf | 608KB] Available online: http://www.adlnet.org//downloads/files/186.cfm

official abstract:
Massive multiplayer online gaming, first popularized in the entertainment world, is now finding growing interest in education and training environments. The military and business have noted the potential for simulation and gaming technology to develop higher order thinking skills; in particular, they see potential in such areas as problem solving, metacognition, and decision making. However, much of the research in this area lags behind the technological advances, focusing on user demographics, attention spans, and perceptual skills, instead of addressing the impact these games might have on player’s analysis, decision making, and reflection skills. In part, the current body of research represents the interests of the gaming industry, which is more focused on exploiting any new technology to satisfy the attitudes, preferences, and expectations of its users, rather than the interests of education and training. It also reflects the fact that this is an emerging area that suffers from limited research and strategic planning. The report reviews the relevant research literature and proposes 15 primary experiments.

via entry at golublog, and entry at terranova

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piling up

playful appropriation of gamespace
 
Quake 3 Arena pile-up
[HP] just sent me a screenshot of an avatar-tower done in ‘Quake 3 Arena’ (Q3A—check out the movie-collection at planetquake3 for footage of more like this, for example the 57 Player Q3 Tower [.avi | 35,2MB]). [HP]’s only accompanying line-of-text was “roxooxoxoxorz”, roughly meaning: “that rocks like hell&mdash’nough said!” The tight to-the-pointness of his commentary gives me the opportunity to post my unfinished thoughts on ‘playful appropriation of gamespace':

Although it was published already in 1999 the so-called first-person-shooter Q3A still is very popular today (in 2005), both on the Internet and at LAN-parties. The underlying narrative of this game is very similar to that of a boxing-match: The player is thrown into an arena where she encounters one or more (up to 63) other players. The task is to ‘frag‘ as many other players as possible until the ‘frag-limit’ (which is negotiated prior to every match by the participating players) is reached. That is the gist of the story, but the whole game is far more complex: On the strategical level you have to learn the geography of each map by heart—that encompasses the architecture/topography and the ‘landmarks': which level-items (weapons, ammunition, shields, and a diversity of power-ups) are going to appear when and where and so on. There is no use in bursting through a level headlessly and panic-stricken. Instead you have to navigate along strategic patterns—on every disturbance you have to continuously improvise and alter this patterns. On the tactical level you need a stock of running patterns which have to be chosen and changed ad-lib, too. Only if your tactical movements are almost unpredictable there is a chance of not being hit and avoiding damage. The same is true for choosing, aiming, and firing your weapon. Running, jumping, turning around, switching weapons, aiming and firing the latter … all this has to be done in threedimensional gamespace and in realtime. And it has to be executed quickly and very precisely, because Q3A is a stunningly fast game, there is no time for much reflection. The named skills have to be internalized, instantly available directly from the subconscious—just like a piano player has not to actively think about which key to hit next. One can have opposite opinions about the development and acquisition of this skills: Is it adaptation to, or appropriation of the gamespace? An argument in favour of the former would be that this skills are indispensable for ‘survival and success’ in the world of Q3A—that means for having a chance to reach the goal of the game and win. But some players have developed skills which are not indispensable for successfully playing Q3A. Quite to the contrary: some of those skills are downright useless, even counterproductive in contest-situations.

The Meta Baron doing an early mortar-shell-jump

 
Adequate examples for the playful appropriation without altering the gamespace are the ‘rocket-jump’ and the ‘plasma-lift’—both being Q3A-skills. When doing the rocket-jump or its variations like the grenade-jump, the player makes use of the shock wave of one or more nearby exploding projectiles to propel the avatar aka player character into the air. In the first album of the graphic novel around P.I. John Difool, “The Black Incal” by Moebius aka Jean Giraud and Alexandro Jodorowsky (Jodorowsky, Moebius & Chaland 1981:43)—an early piece of cyberpunk, a character called the “Meta Baron” already does exactly this, as you can see above.

The plasma-lift or -climb is an even more artistic, if anything equilibristic feat. The basic version requires the player to face a wall as close as possible, choose the plasma gun, aim it to a point near the own feet, but still on the wall, and then jump, ‘lean’ forward ‘into’ the wall, press, and hold down fire simultaneously (it took me a while to figure that out, but now it works, is great fun, and elates me big time). This allows the avatar to climb up a wall vertically, or slide along it horicontally or diagonally, riding the recoil-wave of the plasma-gun’s continuous spitting of projectiles—until getting stoked … or fragged by the own weapon. The advanced version is crashing into a wall in mid-flight and continuing by doing the plasma-climb. Don’t ask me how the guys get that coordinated.

Both skills have close to no value in Q3A competition-play context, because executing this tricks simply costs too much of the player character’s ‘shields’ and ‘health’. The rocket-jump is very seldomly seen in contest-situations, the plasma-lift virtually never. To a certain extent acquiring this skills is an end in itself. On the other hand mastering this special skills means a tremendous boost of the player’s overall skill of finding her way around in Q3A-gamespace, of becoming familiar to its qualities. So learning this skills indeed has some, albeit indirect benefit for the player’s ability in contest-playing, too.

The game’s greats (and greatest) of course master all of this and much more, which permits them to show off incredible sequences of Q3A-tricking—see new gods. I showed one or two Q3A-tricking-movies to some fellow-anthropologists. They were impressed by the aesthetics of the gamespace and to a certain extent by the dramaturgy of the movies. Everyone was amazed by the high standard of the production values of those clips, as they could imagine how much expertise, time and dedication it needs to create movies like that. Especially the visual anthropologists were fond of that. But nobody was impressed by the incredible skills demonstrated by the players whose avatars starred in the clips. For everyone it just was animated characters jumping and flying around on a computer-screen. My colleagues could not imagine what it takes to move and act like that in Q3A gamespace. You have to be enculturated/socialized into the realms of games like Q3A—or at least have to have understood quite a bit of them—to be able to embrace ingame stunts. And this is not possible without a minimum of shared experience. Hence I again emphatically second Aki Järvinen’s opinion, which reflects a part of the anthropological approach: “I respect many kinds of approaches to the study of games and players, just as long as the researchers play games themselves.” (games without frontiers)

Another breed of equilibristic stunts are the Q3A player tower records. This means the attempt to stack as many player characters as possible on top of one another, as depicted far above. Already in, or: not before 2003 “Polish quakers first have made a q3 tower which is 64 players high. They’ve reached the maximum capacity of a Quake3 server. No higher tower is possible to build using Quake3. This has been the third Polish attempt of reaching 64 players for the last few months and it has ended with success after 115 minutes of trying. It’s worth to notice that the server was full just five minutes after it had been raised. […] There will be no more records, the Polish one is definitely the ultimate.” And the online-fanhood cheered. (planetquake3.net—from there you can download the video-proof) Without altering the game in the sense of reworking, a completely new kind of competition has been created on top of it. Just by envisioning and then negotiating a new goal and a new set of rules—as with speed runs. And more is done, and can be thought of, like stacking-up-objects competitions and records in ‘Half Life 2′ (HL2), or the infamous HL2-running-through-the-game-with-the-suitcase-from-the-railway-station-contest which unfortunately suffered an untimely death because of three-dimensional teleporter-malfunction (in German—this story is as hilarious as insightful, I promise to translate it into English soon—given that KerLeone grants permission).

In all the above examples the gamespace itself is not altered by the players like in gamemodding, but appropriated by the acquisition of skills, which requires the investment of substantial amounts of time spent ‘inside’ the gamespace. The players are plumbing the depths of the possibilities particular gamespaces provide. With gamemodding a deeper level is explored—not merely the gamespace, but the potentials of the game-engine itself. Nice examples are Q3A mods like soccer and basketball, tremendously popular at LAN-parties. And the song remains:

Where has all the violence gone … ?

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filing up

ZettelspaltenThis project started some time in 2002, the exact starting point can’t be named, as the idea gradually developed by associating otherwise unrelated input. After KerLeone had preached enough I converted into an ardent believer in weblogs. Consequently the two of us started the ethno::log. Soon it became clear to me that I needed an own weblog for my project, but due to a whole array of contrarieties it did not see the light of day before late 2004. Until then I wrote and saved everything on my harddrives, or published it over at the ethno::log. Especially the latter’s categories cyberethnologica, tools, and tech. adaption harbour a wealth of entries worthwhile for my project ‘maxmod’ (abstract). Besides many other things, xirdalium is my slip box (Zettelkasten) which hopefully—as time goes by—will turn into an orderly filing cabinet. One of the reasons why I chose blosxom as my weblog-software is the fact that I easily can ‘forge’ entry dates, which allows me to fill up the blog with entries written or begun a long, long time ago while preserving the project’s chronology. Now I have started to enter those stories from the past—especially some which I originally posted at ethno::log, because of lacking my personal weblog. Just to not let it get lost and forgotten below the sides bottom, here’s what I inputted today (in reverse chronological order, ‘newest’ on top): wandering astrayscambaitersvisual jack inxenophiliaunix history.

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ethnicity online

Having read on ‘quasi kinship’ (Brown 1989), on the forming of transnational communities on ethnical basis (Glick Schiller, Basch & Szanton Blanc 1995) and the problem of ethnicity in anthropology (Cohen 1978) led me to the question: what about the common myth of origin within the MP-modding community? What was the primordial mythical time? Some esotericism: MP-gamespace is the primordial time, which can always be accessed, is potentially omnipresent.

BROWN, DAVID. 1989. Ethnic revival: Perspectives on State and Society. Third World Quarterly 11(4)1-17.
COHEN, RONALD. 1978. Ethnicity: Problem and focus in anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 7:379-403.
GLICK SCHILLER, NINA, LINDA BASCH, AND CRISTINA SZANTON BLANC. 1995. From immigrants to transmigrant: Theorizing transnational migration. Anthropology Quarterly 1: 48-63.
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time traveler convention

H. G. Wells' timemachineThe folks at MIT are hosting The Time Traveler Convention on May 7, 2005, 10:00pm EDT (08 May 2005 02:00:00 UTC) | (event starts at 8:00pm—feel free to come at either 8pm, 10pm, or anytime in between.) | East Campus Courtyard, MIT | 42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W | (42.360007,-071.087870 in decimal degrees) … that should suffice to spawn correctly. Although “technically, you would only need one time traveler convention” ever (think about it a bit, just a bit) and nothing else, the guys are helping out by answering questions like: Can’t the time travelers just hear about it from the attendees, and travel back in time to attend? I’m from the future, and I’d like to attend! I’m from the present, and I’d like to attend! [… what shall I do?] Not yet in the FAQ: I am from the past and I’d like to attend! In any case check out their fiction and non-fiction reading list.
via Anthro-L

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dark side of casemodding

Millenium Falcon casemodBy squishing a computer into a vintage-model of Han Solo’s Millenium Falcon casemodder Russ Caslis made the Star-Wars-nerd’s heart jump high and right out of the galaxy. Alienware just seems to have achieved the opposite, according to boingboing: “Alienware has licensed the right to create an official Star Wars PC from Lucas, and then squandered the opportunity by shipping a pair of stock PCs distinguished only by cheesy van-art airbrush murals on their sides.”

A perfect example of casemodding becoming “‘ethnokitsch,’ commercially designed and profitably mass produced.” (Mitchell 1992: 174) Kitty, one of Michael Kitchenman’s informants has voiced that, too. In other words, but quite to the point: “In my opinion, the modding community is becoming more and more divided. There are those who are happy with all having the same mods as the other 95% of the group. To me, they are no better than those who are content with plain beige boxes. In fact, I see them as being worse. I call people like that “clusterfucks” – people who think they are being different, when in fact their work is no different from other modders.” (Kitchenman 2001: 3) This decidedly emic comment goes perfectly well with the definition of modding Russ gives at his site XKILL—mods:

What is a modder? Well, it’s someone who enjoys modding. To be a modder, you have to posses many different skills. You must be a technically oriented, artistic, don’t believe in warranties, and a little crazy.

But what is modding? The answer to that is different to every single person who’s involved with the hobby. In short, modding is modifying something, in this case computers and computer cases, to go beyond what they were originally. Modding can take the form of a functional mod, such as adding additional fans to cool your case better. Modding can also take an artistic form such as painting your case or some other aesthetic mod. A great mod incorporates both types.

via entry at boingboing

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hypermedia ethnography

Note to me: Checking your own referrer-log ain’t just a bonfire of vanity, but sometimes indeed proofs to be useful. Anthropology student Andrea Handl of Vienna urges me in her blog entry to have a look on the dissertation by Johann Stockinger. Then some soul was good natured enough to click the link to xirdalium Andrea had inserted and presto—I found it in my logs. That’s one of the ways the blogosphere works, I guess. Here’s what I am urged to read:

STOCKINGER, JOHANN. 2004. Ethnologische Wissensrepräsentation mittels XML. Univ.-Diss. Wien.

Unfortunately it seems not to be published yet. Mr. Stockinger, Sir, choose one of those and bring your wisdom online, please. All this reminds me of XML and Open Office, the OpenOffice.org XML Essentials and Astrid Blumstengels Entwicklung hypermedialer Lernsysteme. The latter being a true hypertext (in German, though) trying to fathom how to create a scientific hypertext.

Anyway, word has it that Stockinger tries in his dissertation to develope hypermedial ethnological (equals ‘sociocultural anthropological’ in this context) means of representing knowledge. This shall happen by an interactive process of data-collecting, data-analysis, represenation, publication, and interaction. But that’s not enough yet. Stockinger wants that this data can be worked upon in the future, too. So he includes ethnological meta-data and does everything in extended markup language. That’s what I have understood from Andrea’s blog-entry.
Another note to me: Urge Stockinger to take part in my panel.
via entry at zerzaust

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