the social net

understanding human behavior in cyberspace
A new book has been published, which promises to compare the online and the offline worlds, to examine how social behaviour differs in cyberspace, to bring together research never before brought together, and to provide a comprehensive and unique volume on Internet psychology. Only the publisher’s final claim: “Invaluable information for anyone doing businesss on the Internet”, makes me wonder if it is valuable for those doing research online, too.

AMICHAI-HAMBURGER, YAIR (ed.). 2005. The social net: Understanding human behavior in cyberspace. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

official description: “In cyberspace we see examples of the best and the worst aspects of human behaviour. The Internet environment is unique – it affects our attitudes, inhibitions, feelings of responsibility, emotions, impressions of others, and relationships. But how does it achieve this? How does the Internet enable people to express elements of their personality that they cannot express in the real world? This is a topic that extends far beyond psychology. Anyone doing business on the Internet needs to fully understand how people behave online. [...]


a new dawn arises

the long-running grand TC becomes very visible
Splashpage for the Max Payne 2 TC New DawnIn September 2004 the website of the MP2-modding-project Mission:Impossible — New Dawn went online. But the mod was in the making for a much longer time, as it was started as a MP1-mod way before MP2 was published. The team had enough zeal to port everything they had done to MP2. And I can assure you that already a lot had been done, as now and then I was allowed to see ‘secret pictures’ illustrating the progress. The general approach of the team is as professional as it can be outside a game-developer company. I was shown screenshots of one map before and after complete reworking. The first version’s quality already was way above what the average mapper in the modding-community is able to accomplish. And there are only few modders who are willing to sit down again and completely work over a result like that. The whole team — the core of which is German-speaking – has a very long breath and now allows us a stunning glimpse into their work by releasing a teaser-trailer (refer to the links at the end for downloading).
    Like many other mods, ‘New Dawn’ follows the tradition of adapting a major action-movie, or series of movies; in this case ‘Mission:Impossible‘. The style, production values, and quality of the trailer reflect this, as it easily can be mistaken for a trailer of an upcoming silver-screen action-thriller. The fact that ‘New Dawn’ is a grand-scale real total conversion (TC) of a computergame gets impressively emphasized.
    A TC is a complex project which normally can not be handled by a single individual, as the workload simply is too big, and too many diverse expert-skills are required. There are highly skilled all-arounders in the modding scene, but the workload of a project like ‘M:I — New Dawn’ is absolutely not bearable by a single person. The shipwrecked and abandoned one-man TC-attempts are ample proof for this. Sometimes the failed single-handed sailors even are thrown into a personal crisis and leave the community or even online-interaction in general, at least for a time, sometimes forever. To be member or leader of a modding-team does not at all guarantee that those crises won’t come up. Again the list of failed projects is ample proof. (But this does not imply that project-failure is the only cause for frustration leading to crisis.) Prominent examples from the Max-Payne-scene are the cancelled single-handed attempt ‘Blade Runner: Evolution’ by well-acclaimed all-arounder StratonAce, and the current events around the team-driven project ‘Rogue Ops‘.
    On the other hand the corpus of work to be done for a TC allows the generation of creative ‘secondary products’, mostly in the form of machinima (the ‘New Dawn’-trailer is a perfect example). If this ‘offshoots’ are well done, they heighten the status of the maker and the whole team. The only limiting factors again are creativity, skills, and time-at-hand, which in turn are influencing the motivation and the degree of dedication.
    For years ‘New Dawn’ has maintained a strict policy of secrecy and in-team interaction and communication only. Material is only presented publicly when it meets the high standards of the team-members. This may well have heightened the team’s inner cohesion and prevented them from crisis.


my ‘cyberanthropology’ workshop at the GAA conference

Logo of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde (DGV/GAA)I just got notice that my proposal for a workshop ‘Cyberanthropology’ at the Conference of the German Anthropological Association (GAA aka DGV) – Halle / Saale, 4th – 7th October 2005 has been accepted, and that I am organizing it. Here is the first version of my description of the workshop:

In the widest sense ‘cyberanthropology’ means the branch of sociocultural anthropology which aims to understand the culturally informed interrelationships between human beings and those technological artefacts which can be imagined and described as cybernetic systems. This interrelationships decidedly include the attempts to fuse technological artefacts with human and other biological organisms, with human society, and with the socioecologically shaped environment. In this attempts all the mentioned elements are envisioned as cybernetic systems. This outlines the contours of cyberanthropology’s broadest scope. But in the wake of recent discourses growing around metaphors like ‘globalisation’ and ‘information age/society’ especially Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) move into cyberanthropology’s focus. The complex ‘human beings and ICTs’ unfolds its relevance for sociocultural anthropology inside the following three main sectors:

1. ICTs as tools for sociocultural anthropologists both in teaching and research. The spectrum reaches from using a personal computer as a typewriter, using and/or generating online-databases and -catalogues, communicating with colleagues and peers via internet-services, to keeping in touch with informants online, and the theory-based generation of new forms of representationa for anthropological knowledge. The latter should especially profit by ‘writing culture’ and ‘visual anthropology’.

2. ICTs in the field. The sociocultural anthropological observation, analysis and interpretation of the consequences of the introduction of ICTs into specific societies and/or groups. (Again I emphasize the fact that this comprises the whole world, and not “just those” in the traditional field of the discipline, but does not exclude “them” as well.) Concepts like ‘cultural appropriation of technology’ and ‘ethnography of work’ seem to be indispensable for this task.

3. ‘Cyberspace’ as field. The sociocultural anthropological observation, analysis and interpretation of the sociocultural phenomena springing up and taking place in the interactive ‘space’ (‘cyberspace’) generated by ICTs and computer-mediated communication (CMC). This comprises national and transnational online-groups, but also movements like ‘Open Source’ and the according societal, economical, and juridical issues and problems.

To which degree the three sectors become mutually influential or even inseperable, depends on the specific research-projects, the involved methods and the specific desideratum of understanding. But obviously the sectors 2. and 3. are prone to contain ‘conflicts’ in the sense of the conference’s central issue.

Sociocultural anthropology’s unique potentials of contributing to the above mentioned understanding gradually get unveiled. This potentials already have been recognized by neighbouring disciplines. One symptom of this process is the adoption, or even appropriation, of ‘ethnography’, a generic method of sociocultural anthropology, by sociology, media studies, and other academic disciplines. The engagement by sociocultural anthropology in the last decade was somewhat weaker, but the trend is pointing stoutly upwards. Therefore it is time to join the cyberanthropological efforts of anthropologists in Germany, too.

A programmatic presentation by Alexander Knorr will serve as a starting point for the workshop and the discussion. The following contributions not only will present the diverse fields, approaches, projects, and results, but will be integral parts of a joint debate. That way the workshop not only provides mutual information, but will be a first step towards a generic subdiscipline ‘cyberanthropology’.

That is not yet the official call-for-papers; therefore I first have to talk to the organisators. Stay tuned.


anthropologists on instant messaging

Susan D. Blum of the University of Notre Dame has taught a class in anthropology on Instant Messaging: “Teaching an upper-division undergraduate class on linguistic anthropology, “Doing Things with Words,” at the University of Notre Dame, nothing got my students so excited—not gossip, not gender, maybe accent—as the topic of Instant Messaging. This I learned when my students and I decided to study Instant Messaging as a form of student communication.” Read Susan’s paper on the class: Buzzing and Writing the Day Away Instant Messaging, and the paper which resulted from the class: Instant Messaging: Functions of a New Communicative Tool (.pdf, 812KB).


popular ethnographies

Alex Golub just recently wrote: “A week or so ago I asked the question “what are the most popular ethnographies today that give you a sense of where the field is going, or at least what is popular right now?” With the help of a few friends, some commentors, a very large gin and tonic, and the internet, I came up with a few names I had never (or only vaguely) heard of before. Let me know if this makes sense or seems completely off to you.” Check out his Popular Ethnographies weblog-entry to get up-to-date. And don’t miss the prequel Hot Hot Ethnographies, and the sequel The British Addendum.


speed runs

Artwork by Francois Gutherz, winner of the CGTalk Choice AwardTomi Salo has run through the complete Max Payne 2 (MP2) game in 33 minutes and 30 seconds! Speed Demos Archive carries a collection of video-evidence of so called ‘speed runs’: “A speed run is a video of a player striving to complete a video game in as fast a time as they can manage. Sound easy? It’s not! A large number of tricks are usually used, possibly skipping whole areas of a game in the process, and there will always be mistakes.” Among goodies like a Half Life 2 (HL2) run by David ‘marshmallow’ Gibbons in 2:14:58, and several others on different platforms, Ben Fichter’s run through Max Payne 1 (MP1). This story has again drawn my gaze on the speed-run genre, which definitely is a part of my idea about ‘playful appropriation of gamespace’, on which I will elaborate later.
    As far as I understand the matter until now, speed runs are done by ‘fair means’; the game is not hacked, no cheats, and no bots are used, all is done by sheer skill within the limits of the game as they were intended by the developers. This raises the question about the tacit or explicit ‘speedrun code of ethics’.
    On first glance one supposes that gamemodders, investing loads of time e.g. into creating levels and being obsessed with detail, are scoffing on deeds like that. And indeed I remember a discussion, where modders clearly disapproved on running through MP2 as fast as possible. On the other hand the first comment on the MP2-speed-run-record story at Max Payne Zone was an approving “Geil” — posted by MP-modding legend Froz.

via Max Payne Zone
for more stuff like speed runs see new
artwork by Francois Gutherz, winner of the CGTalk Choice Award

46 best-ever freeware utilities

Ian “Gizmo” Richard’s Tech Support Alert is a comprehensive, commented, and regularly updated compilation of free resources. Gizmo says: “As a computer professional, I’m always searching the Web for new sources of technical information. New support sites, great resources and the best applications and tech utilities. In 1998, it occurred to me that if a lot of other people would be interested in the information I find. So Tech Support Alert was conceived and duly delivered.” Especially his 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities [which in fact are 56] are very worthwhile — not only for the power-user or cyberanthropologist. You’ll discover thoroughly tested free solutions for the things you always wanted to do on your computer, but never knew how to. But be warned: you although will find utilities for things you never dreamed about, but now absolutely wish to do …

via mosaikum

blogging and mapping

Blogging and mappingThe last week was pretty much filled with two major tasks: Finally setting up this weblog and working on the map I am contributing to the Max-Payne-2 modification “Rogue-Ops”. Unfortunately I can’t show off any screenshots of my map yet, as looks and contents of it still are secrets to be kept inside the team. [Screenshots of my contributions to the mods Lightsaber 4.0, 5.0, the first chain map project, and the real world can be seen at the exhibition-section of maxmod, my project's website.] To get an idea of Rogue-Ops visit the website and its media-section. The mod progresses at astounding speed and professional-standard quality. Once again I am amazed by the skills of gamemodders, their willingness to invest very much—and I mean very much—time into a mod, and especially by the power of self-organization featured by modding-teams. The longer my fieldwork lasts, the surer I become that this indeed is a worthwhile issue to be taken care of by sociocultural anthropology—and that doing “thick participation” is the only way to gain real access and understanding.
    The other thing that occupied me was installing and configuring blosxom, the software I chose for my weblog. ‘Chose’ is only partially correct, as it was recommended to me by KerLeone, whom I own huge tnx for setting me on the right path and helping me a lot by his expert advice. Blosxom may seem a somewhat geeky choice, as you have to configure quite something to make it run and look like you want it to — on the other hand it’s absolutely straightforward, clear-as-glass written and tremendously moddable and extensible. Once you understand how it functions you have absolute control about your blog. And that is exactly what I need for my project. When a cyberanthropologist creates his blog, it is like the anthropologist building his hut. In my case it, like mapping, means at the same time to share a part of “my tribe’s” practice — appropriating software, diving into it, creating something of your very own, and making it available for free to other people—in this case making it run on the Internet.


escher’s quake

'Relativity' by M. C. Escher, 1953Stephen [Edwin] King tells us that associating otherwise unrelated ideas in an original way is the key to creating an interesting novel. In a magazine-article he read that paranormal phenomena of the ‘Poltergeist’ kind are prone to appear in the vicinity of adolescent youths. He associated this story with his recollections of some outcast girls who attended school with him. The plot of “Carrie” was born and this novel paved the road to King’s incredible success … are you ready? Are you hanging at the edge of your seat? Not long ago during some quiet moments sitting at the window and wondering at the disturbing beauty of the city at nighttime in winter I suddenly brought together the following three ideas: My fondness of the pictures of M. C. Escher when I still was a kid, the experience of the horizon suddenly spinning clockwise at break-neck speed when I was training for my pilot’s licence, and playing “Quake 3 Arena” (Q3A). Quite unrelated those thoughts, aren’t they? Word has it that Picasso once said, the only thing he regrets is never to have done a graphic novel. If his fellow artist M. C. Escher still would be alive, he might well create a computergame like that:
    Imagine a death-match type first person shooter like Q3A. The map you are running through looks like Escher’s “Relativity” or “Another World”. Your enemies are not only running on the floor, but on the walls and ceiling, too. You see an enemy running on a wall. He jumps and in midair he suddenly does half a somersault and lands with his feet on the opposite wall where he continues to run. You try it yourself and you jump as high as you can … and you get sucked to the ceiling where you land on your feet. The former floor is now ceiling to you and vice versa. The experience will be very much like doing aerobatics with a plane. The horizon, and with it the whole gamespace, will suddenly tilt violently, adjusting the player’s view to the new plain of reference when entering its field of gravity. Continuously maintaining a real-time mental representation of the threedimensional gamespace, relative to the player character’s position and orientation will be as challenging a task, as the one a fighter-pilot has to cope with when engaged in a dogfight.
    To illustrate the matter have a look at Escher’s “Relativity” above. As a kid I wished, I could throw a ball into this ‘room’, because I wondered how it would behave.
    John Carmack, when you read this, feel free to contact me ;-)