cyber sabre

Dragon BladeQuite a time ago, while drinking beer at a party organised by our students, I told a fellow anthropologist about game-items from Everquest being sold at ebay (see e.g. Castronova 2001 and 2003). All I harvested was an amused smile and the somewhat depreciatory comment “That’s completely crazy!” Resisting the temptation to answer “And what about ‘your people’? Talkin’ to the Dead! Bah!—Humbug!” (my colleague has done equally extensive and phantastic, simply great fieldwork in Southern India) I instead started to think about the response—I had to think a bit in order to reach the following quite obvious conclusions, for I was at a party drinking beer, remember. Everybody not accustomed to MMORPGs encounters the culturally alien with this stories of selling game-items for hard cash (same with the conversations with the Deceased). Essentially this is because of the non-realization of what this items—or the Dead—are meaning for the everyday-life of the people involved. Now this meaning has manifested itself in the form of a new peak of drama: “Reuters reports that Qui Chengwei loaned Zhu Caoyuan his virtual game sword from the MMORPG Legends of Mir 3 known as a ‘dragon saber’. Zhu then went and sold the sword for 7,200 yuan (US$870). Qui reported the dragon saber to the police as a stolen item but the police said there is no law for protecting ‘virtual property’. So, Qui took revenge into his own hands and murdered Zhu with a real sword.”
via entry at gamersgame and entry at digital-lifestyles


biella in the maelstrom of complexity and confusion

biellaEnid Gabrielle ‘Biella’ Coleman is a graduate student in cultural anthropology at the University of Chicago. Currently she writes her PhD thesis on the ethical dynamics and political implications of the Free and Open Source movement. Her fieldwork, which mainly took place in the San Francisco Bay Area, consisted of going to free software meetings, interviewing programmers, and conducting online research. Besides her homepage she has at least three blogs: Research, Sato Roams, and her newest at digital genres: biella’s blog. The latter carries a recent entry on Hacker Humor: What is It all about?

Much more difficult than I had imagined was the period many anthropologists find awkward for good reason — ‘initial contact.’ […] Soon it became clear that hackers had an uncanny and exhaustive ability to ‘misuse’ most anything and turn it into food for humor. […] Out of this everyday form of technical activity, hackers have constituted an expansive pragmatic practice of instrumental and non-instrumental experimentation and production where the lines between play, exploration, pedagogy, and work are rarely drawn rigidly…. […] Among hackers ingenuity exceeds a means to regiment and guide technological innovation but has taken a substantial life of its own. Hackers have come to value cleverness for the sake of cleverness. And the most crystalline, lucid example of the autonomy of cleverness is hacker humor – a punctuated and sovereign expression of wit.

And then she used a favorite word of mine, for which I am somewhat famous in the MP-community: maelstrom.

Hackers self-reflexively idealize cleverness as the poetic characteristic par excellence that transforms what they spend all of their time doing – creating technology and fixing problems in a great maelstrom of complexity and confusion – into an activity of shared pleasure and a crucial vehicle for expressing creativity, constituting individuality, and designating the social boundaries of hacking.

All this strikes me to be very valid for the realm of game-modding, too. Alas, biella, hurry up, finish and publish your dissertation, so that I can prey on it big time. And those of you anthropologists interested in ‘ICTs in the field’, do not miss biella’s The Politics of Open Source Adoption, NGO’s in the Developing World.
via entry at digital genres


chip reads mind

This BBC story would be a hell of a lot easier to judge, if it had been published tomorrow: Brain chip reads man’s thoughts A paralysed man in the US has become the first person to be fitted with a brain chip that reads his mind. Matthew Nagle, 25, was left paralysed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair after a knife attack in 2001. The pioneering surgery at New England Sinai Hospital, Massachusetts, means he can now control everyday objects by thought alone. The brain chip reads his mind and sends the thoughts to a computer to decipher.” If that is true then the drawing of Vévés has been started—we are approaching Mona Lisa Overdrive.
via Anthro-L


call for papers: book on games

Games without frontiers—war without tears
Computer games as a sociocultural phenomenon
In Germany a new academic book on computergames is in the making. Here is an excerpt from the call for papers:

As a rule Computer games remain to be the focus of media attention when specific acts of violence which deeply horrify the audience (war and ampage – Iraq and Erfurt) draw the public’s perception to them. The first ever occuring impetus then is aimed at a more or less serious examination of their dangerous and problematic aspects (blunting people’s senses, playing down and provoking violence, player’s loss of touch with reality, escapism, unscrupulousness, etc.). Beyond the dominating reflex of such an often monocausal, naive formulation of the topic, a thoroughly controversial – yet most of the time superficial – discussion about the critical sociocultural implications of computer games has been established.

Even in the academic analysis the surely relevant, though by no means sufficient concentration on the link between computer games and violence is dominant. Up to now only few studies have offered a contextualizing view of the political, aesthetic, narratologic, economic, historic aspects with regard to their mutual connection.

Accordingly this volume is meant to become an extensive account of the phenomenon “computer games” with all its different genres. The various perspectives of analyses (aesthetics, economy, narratology, etc.) will thus provide the reader with a sound insight into the subject.

As I understand the matter, texts are welcome in English and German language.
via ludology and entry at academic gamers


call for papers: cyberspace 2005

The call for papers for the Cyberspace 2005 Conference has been released:
Paper abstracts are solicited for submission to the following workshops of III. International Conference Cyberspace 2005: 1) e-government, e-justice 2) philosophy and sociology of cyberspace 3) psychology and internet 4) law in cyberspace 5) crime and security in cyberspace 6) regulatory framework of electronic communications. [Read all] The conference will take place 7 to 8 November 2005 in Brno, Czech Republic.


cyber syllabi

So, you never knew where to find the courses on the really hot topics—Aaron Delwiche maintains a list of Games-related Syllabi on the Web, and a list of Courses in Cyberculture. Especially Claudia A. Engel‘s course on “Virtual Communities: Online Technologies and Ethnographic Practice” suits my interests: “Traditionally the fieldwork of cultural anthropologists has been based on face-to-face interaction with informants from an oftentimes local community. As modern communication technologies and the Internet are spreading this course invites you to explore ethnographic methods and the field of cultural studies from a new perspective: How can an ethnographic project that involves new online technologies be approached, theoretically as well as practically?” ( .pdf, 145KB)
via entry at digital genres


digital genres

“The DGI [Digital Genres Initiative] is a loosely organized network of fellow-thinking intellectuals, academics, and computer geeks. The goal of the DGI is to spur debate and thinking about the way that digital technology allows us to think and communicate with one another. The DGI is dedicated to the idea that some of the best thinking about new digital technologies comes from the people who make and use them even as academics and intellectuals provide a unique and valuable perspective. The DGI is committed to creating a space where the academy and the internet can cross-polinate. The DGI is dedicated to the idea that some of the best thinking about new digital technologies comes from the people who have a foot in both worlds.”
via golublog

[…] the DGI is based on the idea that digital and network technologies are creating new methods of communication that, like the popular genres of the 1920s, allow novel methods of creativity and expressivity. Moving away from Seldes’ concept of ‘art’ to a more embracing notion of ‘genre’ (Bakhtin) as a general method of understanding the structured, meaningful, and dialogic nature of cultural production, the DGI examines a wide variety of cultural production enabled by digital technology. We argue that these new genres – the genres that will preoccupy us on this side of the millennium – are as important as the popular genres of the 1920s that preceded them.”
via entry at digital genres


no phone

Finally someone who shys away from cell phones like I do: “I’m not a cell phone guy. I resisted getting one at all for years, and even now I rarely carry it. To a first approximation, I don’t really like talking to most people, so I don’t go out of my way to enable people to call me. However, a little while ago I misplaced the old phone I usually take to Armadillo, and my wife picked up a more modern one for me. It had a nice color screen and a bunch of bad java game demos on it. The bad java games did it. […] This time, I decided I was going to work on a cell phone game.” Guess who. Indeed: John Carmack.
via entry at John Carmack’s blog


call for papers: cyberanthropology

The new website of the GAA conference 2005 now is online, and the German abstract of my workshop ‘cyberanthropology’ can be viewed there. Please understand the German and the English abstract as a call for papers. Proposals must not exceed 1500 characters and have to be sent to me by e-mail: Alexander.Knorr [at] before 15 June 2005. Proposals can be in either English or German language—presentations at the workshop can also be in English or German, but must not exceed 20 minutes. The workshop is tentatively scheduled on Thursday, 06 October 2005, 13.45-15.45 and 16.00-18.00.



Concept SSing to the tune of Dylan’s ‘Rising Sun’: “There is a house down in Agatha | They call the ragin’ bull!” Seemingly it is cars week for me: Lamborghini has done it again, as they already did when I was kid. Back in 1971 the first prototype of the Countach was introduced—the futuristic aztec architecture flabbergasted the audience, and several years later, when it went into production and on sale, us kids, too. We were standing at our preferred kiosk and wondered at glossy magazine pictures of that supercar of a never-seen-before kind. The car-magazines featuring the Countach even edged out the Batman-comics on the shelf nearby, at least for some time. Now, at the Salon d’Automobile 2005 at Geneva, Lamborghini showed off the Concept S—after the Diablo, the Murciélago, and the Gallardo the fourth reincarnation of the immortal Countach. A German newspaper said, with the Concept S Lamborghini is going for the future and for people who have nothing to say to each other, as the passengers are separated by the engine’s windpipe. Well, if you ever rode in a Lamborghini, you know that its pure piston sound already suffices to render every conversation an utter impossibility—no material separation of the car’s inmates needed. The raging bull says: “The classic single-seaters did not have a traditional windscreen, but utilised the so-called ‘saute-vent’ (in French: a sudden change in the wind) in order to direct air over the head of the driver – and so does the “Concept S”. These devices divide the cabin into two distinct compartments, giving the car an aggressive and futuristic look and also creating a space between them that acts as an additional air inlet for the powerful engine, which is positioned behind the seats.” (official press release)

Lincoln FuturaWell, in the 1950s Bill Schmidt, then chief stylist at Lincoln Mercury, had similar visions of what looks futuristic. Based on his ideas the Ford Motor Company built the Lincoln Futura, a concept car, which saw the light of day in 1955. “The most revolutionary car to appear on the American road in the past decade was revealed at the Chicago Auto Show, January 8 to 16, 1955.” ( official press release) Coincidentally the Futura’s body was made by Ghia in Italy—Lamborghini’s homeland—and its original color was white, just like the Concept S’. The Futura toured the motor-show circuit before it was sold to George Barris, self-proclaimed ‘King of the Kustomizers’ (this was allegedly the first time of ‘custom’ being spelled with a ‘k’—an early case of 1337-speech ). Barris had the Futura appear in the occasional movie, then stowed it safely away.

BatmobileIn 1965 Barris was asked to create a Batmobile for the upcoming television series, but was only given three weeks time. He pulled the Futura out of storage, painted it black, completely turned the car inside out, and built the Batmobile upon it.

Bob Kane and George BarrisIn the picture George Barris is shown together with Bob Kane (1916-1998)—the taller guy in the dark suit—, the creator of Batman. Batman has appeared for the first time in 1939 and since then became a globally recognized character, appearing in print, movies, TV, and on countless pieces of merchandise. with George Barris’ 1966 Batmobile the concept of the globalized costumed mythical superhero artistically appropriates the equally global concept automobile. It may seem a little far-fetched, but customizing cars for telling stories on the silver screen is the movie-maker’s cultural appropriation of the motorvehicle.

Now imagine Lamborghini’s Concept S varnished in a shiny black, the raging bull emblem on its hood substituted by the simplified silhouette of a bat on yellow background … Welcome to the 21st century, Dark Knight.

UPDATE (08 November 2012):
The Los Angeles Times carries a feature article on Barris.