From 01 Dec 2005 through 03 Dec 2005 the ‘Digital Arts & Cultures Conference’ (DAC 2005) will take place at the IT University in Copenhagen, Denmark. The conference’s central topic will be ‘digital experience’. Have a look at the Call for papers.
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.
Tomi 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.
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 …
The 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.
Stephen [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 ;-)
Finally the website of my ‘cyberanthropological’ research-project “maxmod” has seen the light of day ( URI: http://xirdal.lmu.de )—its twin, the accompanying weblog will follow soon. Since 2002 when I started to develope this project I am doing ‘thick participation’ in an online-community. The core-interest and shared practice of the community’s members is the modification of professional computergame software — “Max Payne” and “Max Payne 2” in particular. Have a look at the abstract and the description of the project (work in progress) if you want to learn more about it—how it’s done, what are the goals, what is the relevance, etc. For everybody interested in doing research on ‘cyberculture’ my commented, enhanced, and ever growing list of literature may be especially worthwhile—prey on it!
games without frontiers by Aki Järvinen accompanies the Ph.D.-thesis he is working on: Games without frontiers: Theories and methods for game studies. Aki Järvinen’s gaming diary, the table of contents (includes thesis background), and chapters in progress of his thesis are online. ” I respect many kinds of approaches to the study of games and players, just as long as the researchers play games themselves.”—Aki Järvinen
Since “Writing Culture” (Clifford & Marcus 1986) there is a lot of discussion about writing ethnographies in literary style(s). In my view the discussions inside visual anthropology deals with quite the same set of problems and issues transponed to the media still photography and moving image. Somehow hypermedia, the computer, and the Internet merge all this together. So every cyber/anthropologist doing work visibly online (like me here) sooner or later has to try to get wiser from writing culture and visual anthropology. Tobias Rees’ paper “Writing culture — Filming Culture” (Rees 1998) comes in handy, in my opinion. [One advantage of the paper is the fact that it is online; the drawback is: despite of the English title it is written in German.]
Three titles I haven’t laid on hands yet, but definitely will: Half-Life 2: Raising the bar, The making of Doom II, and Masters of Doom: How two guys created an empire and transformed pop culture. When I was a kid I was tremendously thrilled by the Star-Wars movies (and still am today, I confess). This also is the root of a string of associations of mine which culminate in this research-project. With putting Star-Wars related items on sale, George Lucas started what today is well known as ‘merchandising’. I never bought a Skywalker-puppet or the like, but I went lengths for those making-of books and portfolios, sporting the beautiful production and concept paintings and drawings [check out the christmas cards!] by Ralph McQuarrie — like this early concept-sketch of Darth Vader you can see on the left.
Of course merchandising is nothing new to computergames, but with those three books it enters the Lucas-league.