Just another ‘little’ rant on economized politics reigning academia—skip it if you can’t stand it anymore.
Last night I woke up around one o’clock in the morning and couldn’t find sleep again. So, in trying to catch up with my personal reading schedule, I spent the rest of the night by burning through Steven Poole’s “Trigger happy” (↵Poole 2000) and especially ↑Henry Lowood‘s “High-performance play: The making of machinima”. I ↵already knew that the latter is a real gem, but somehow shifted it from desk to desk in didn’t come around to read it till last night. Already after three pages it was clear that I have to refer to it within the article I am currently writing. The problem is, I am only in posssession of a final draft version which sports a disclaimer saying “please do not cite”. Said disclaimer stated that the paper would be published within an anthology. So I hunted down the anthology and found that it will be published not before 2007—bad luck for me, but nobody’s fault. Further hunting dug up that it also would be published in the “Journal of Media Practice”. Perfect, I thought, and dived into the Bavarian State Library’s eJournals system. But the library has not subscribed to the journal. But there’s a link to the journal’s homepage. There I am able to view the lists of contents and abstracts, and find that Henry Lowood’s article indeed already has been published this year, in Volume 7, Number 1, pages 25 to 42. Great. My tremendously privileged position of course grants me access to the system of my university’s library as well. This is where I went next, and a little odyssey began. Mind, this won’t culminate in bashing the university library’s sysadmins. I can imagine what a hassle it must be to integrate an enormous flock of heterogenous systems, making the own system perfectly manage access data, certificates, and whatyouhave. All in all the guys over there do a good job and in by far the most of the cases the system runs very convenient for me. What I am going to shoot at is definitely not within the technicians’ responsibility. Anyway, the system said to me, that principally I have access to the journal’s full text, but … Well, the journal is not accessible the usual direct way, but via the EBSCO Host. What? Ah, there’s a link to a readme. Readme consists of an endless list of instructions for access to different systems. Again, not the technicians’ fault, it’s the way how access to academic knowledge is marketed nowadays. Full-text search for EBSCO within the readme. Found, readme says that I do not need special identification, username, or password to access the subscribed journals as they are available via “Business Source Premier, Academic Search Premier, or Mass Media Complete. Please refer to our instructions.” Link to the instructions, hodgepodge there again—once more: not the technicians’ fault, but the result of their trying to cope with a wealth of systems. I follow different paths which sound sensible to me, finally the system tentatively insinuates that the desired journal is just behind the next wall. But for opening that wall I now need, however, a certain identification. Well, I am in possession of a whole stock of different identifications. So, which one, what kind. More research within the system unearths the information that I need a kind of identification which can be granted by a masteruser. Gosh, I am a masteruser, I remembered, and I am perfectly willing to grant myself access, if I only knew the syntax and shape of the username and password I am expected to give to my humble self. After a while I get wise and identify myself through the wall into some “Premier” service intended to serve me poor academic. And there’s the journal’s full text … up to 2005. But I need the latest issue, 7(1), 2006. This issue already has been published, and it’s on the journal’s homepage, electronically accessible if I had a valid password, which I would have, if the university would have subscribed to the journal directly, and not via some broker.
I remember very well what was said in several meetings which took place at my university during the last two years or so. Because of the cuts of budget we should cease to subscribe to the print editions of a wealth of journals. Instead we should rely more and more on the electronical editions. During those discussions it came up, that some electronical subscriptions did not allow access to current, but only to back issues. Business model that is. Now I ran headfirst into the thing.
The university expects me to write cutting-edge papers, to produce “excellent” results and publications. (God, how I hate this rhetorics of “excellency”, and “premier”, and of all those hollow pseudo-superlatives. Have you ever seen an official picture of a “Hero of the Soviet Union”? His ceremonial uniform littered with decorations and medals—you can’t even catch a glimpse of the uniform’s fabric anymore. That’s the kind of operetta-excellency this rhetorics are going for.) If I, as a person, am able to generate academically worthwhile results is not the question at the moment. But I always try to incorporate current knowledge, current publications. The tidysome process of academic publication already takes a lot of time. And then the university adds another year of delay, just because they have struck some obscure deal with a broker. How can I be expected to be cutting-edge, if I am not granted access to the cutting-edge? Huh?
After having let off the steam, let’s return to the real thing. Lowood’s paper helps me a lot in several ways: First of all it filled up gaps in my knowledge concerning game-modding, its history, importance, and impact. Secondly it told me what I do not have to write (as Lowood already has written it), and cleared my view of what my anthropological approach can contribute, what I should concentrate on while writing my current piece. For everyone interested, here are the bibliographical references:
Abstract: In his paper, Henry Lowood provides an in-depth historical overview of machinima—animated films created using FPS (first person shooter) videogames such as Quake. He traces the evolution of this work from the early ‘speedrunning’ movies created to document exceptional gameplay through to the first pioneering works of narrative machinima such as Diary of a Camper and others. In parallel with this, he traces the development of the tools to facilitate the making of these works.
And finally, for everyone who at the moment is not under dire pressure to furnish precise references, but who just wants to be enlightened by Lowood’s great paper, go to ↑his page, head over to the ↑CV-section, scroll down to publications and download his draft-version. It’s openly accesible. A big Thank You! to Henry Lowood’s clear mind.