Thursday, March 29, 2001

Desire, seduction and consent: Writing, reading and the blurring of boundaries.

I have been staring at this title for an hour now, and that might be a hint that I ought to change it. But there are still a lot of reasons why I'll keep it, and I keep listing more and more of them as I stare.

Desire: Something makes people want to play, there is something about playing which Huizinga recognises as desire.. What does desire do to the games? Where's the limit to compulsion?

Seduction: how do they seduce? What is the secret which holds people in the thrall of the games? Can there be something about the computer mediated communication which in itself is playful and seductive, making more than the limited area of the game into a playground?

Consent: Consent is important to all play, simply because "play is freedom" (Huizinga).

Looks simple. I guess I just have to start writing to see if it is.

Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Today feels like spring. I won't pursue the subject, just try to sublimate this sensation into other pursuits, although this little bunny catched my attention. Eduardo Kac presents some impressively alternative works and ideas.

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Computer/video games are harmful for young girls, according to Children Now. The games show heroines with breasts larger than what a girl can have, waists more narrow than possible (well, I have seen what 20 years of living in a corset can do, it is possible) and a lot of exposure of cleavages and thighs.

"38% displayed those characters with significant body exposure: 23% exposed breasts or cleavage, 31% exposed thighs, 15% exposed behinds and 31% exposed stomachs or midriffs.

In addition, 38% of female game characters had "large" breasts and 46% had "unusually small" waists."

This will, according the Children Now, give children unrealistic ideas about how girls are supposed to look and behave.

My question is... Did it take the fear of computer games to make these researchers discover the Barbie Doll?
Jill mentioned a game in her blog, then Torbjørn wanted to know what I think about the same game. That's peer pressure, and I crumble under it and check it out.

Majestic is hyped up to be the game that steps over the limits to your reality and plays you. To quote from the page: "You only use 12% of your brain. Mind if we play with the rest?" This is, according to them, new. To anyone who has been reading reader-response theory, that idea seems less new and romantic - although it's a good catchphrase. Books, films, music - it all plays with our brains and makes us supply meaning, understanding - do our own "gap-filling". This game seems to play on that skill of gap-filling.

It's also supposed to be "The Game meets the internet" - with references to the film of a game breaking down the border to reality. This sounds exiting - but not exactly what Huizinga would call a game: "Nevertheless........ the consciousness of play being 'only pretend' does not by any means prevent it from proceeding with the utmost seriousness, with an absorption, a devotion that passes into rapture and, temporalily at least, completely abolishes that troublesome 'only' feeling. Any game can at any time wholly run away with the players." While a game can run away with the players, this game doesn't threaten to do that unless you choose it. According to their FAQ the level of realism will be adjustable - that is, you will be able to choose whether the game will alert you that this is a game-related request or not.

It also looks somewhat like a live game in the presentation. But according to their site, the characters who will contact you are NPCs, run by the game. The live element applies in that you can choose to play in groups. The format of this game is less like a MUD or even Quake, and more like riddle-games where you can choose to solve the riddles alone or in company - more like a single-user game with a group of followers, like all those boys I keep finding in my kitchen, in front of the computer, going: try this! try that!

No, I am not evaluating it - I can't even play it, not being in the US. That doesn't make me less curious, though!
This is a site I loved, with its playful approach to topics which are both disturbing and attractive.
Some mornings I have to approach work in degrees. This morning is harder than some. First I needed to feel like sitting still at the computer. I did that by logging on a game, to say good morning to a lot of friends. Then: get started writing. Luckily, the game has a message board where I could leave an IC story. That lead me to write some quotes from Huizinga on the ooc board... And here I am. Full circle. In time for lunch.
"Vocabulary has a central role here, because it is what weaves the tissue of habits, educates the gaze, informs the landscape."(1995:108)

I have finished with Mark Augé (1995): non-places, and I sit here with an odd sensation of almost grasping something. Augé writes of how we create spaces which are not made into places by their lives and their history, but by language. An example he uses is the airport, and the airplane passing through the airspace of other countries. The airport is constructed into a space by signs, it's not a place where recognition comes to you from physical memory. In your home town, you know the way around, through a chain of connections which include your personal experiences and your network to those around you. There is a link to history and culture: "The social space bristles with monuments - imposing stone buildings, discreet mud shrines - which may not be directly functional but give every individual the justified feeling that, for the most part, they pre-existed him and will survive him. Strangely, it's a set of breaks and discontinuities in space that expresses continuity in time."(1995:60)

Airports, highways, malls, they are all places defined by directions, signs and regulations, not by "monuments" creating a sensation of connectedness. When on the airport, what you experience is a dis-connectedness. The people working there have no other life in your perception, the way they would if you saw them in the family-run restaurant in a small town, the exits change from visit to visit, you cannot follow the memory of you body when you make the twists and turns which will lead you to your destination.

"He was enjoying the feeling of freedom imparted by having got rid of his luggage and at the same time, more intimately, by the certainty that, now that he was sorted out, his identity registered, his boarding pass in his pocket, he had nothing to do but wait for the sequence of events."(1995:2)

Sunday, March 25, 2001

Does computers and cell-phones make kids lazy?
My daughter plays three instruments, and is learning a fourth. My son plays football, handball, is an active table-top and live role-player, and playes the drums in two different types of bands. They both have a lot of friends, and love to go skiing, swimming or just hanging out with their friends. Their friends are equally active. Yes, it's hard to make them clean up their rooms, do laundry or dishes, or help out in the garden. But as I recall, my parents claimed it was impossible to get my help for that as well, and there wasn't a computer in that house as long as I lived there.

Perhaps computers make some kids sit still instead of be physically active. That's bad because it will make the quality of their lives worse when they grow older and don't have habits which helps them maintain the body. But would they have been in better physical shape if they had spent their time in front of the television?

Or do I have the most perfect children in the world, and all the others are lazy, bored and stupid, due to their excessive use of computers? Much as I love my most perfect children... somehow I doubt that to be true.

Friday, March 23, 2001

I just finished reading a book I should have reviewed. My bad... I didn't finish in time. But at the same time - I wouldn't have done the book justice.

However: Birgitte Holm Sørensen and Birgitte R. Olesen (ed): Børn i en digital kultur is a collection of articles reporting from the project Børns opvækst med interaktive medier - i et fremtidsperspektiv.. It's a study of how children use computers in and out of the classroom, and how they interact when they work with computers, through observation and interviews.

The study is very interesting, but the reason why I feel I can't say much to shed light on the book is that my degree isn't in teaching, but in media theory. In these articles, the observations are about the children's responses and interaction with each other. The medium or it's channel, the computer, is just one more prop introduced in the classroom. The observers find that children use computers in different manners, and act differently around them, but I am left asking: why does this happen? Does this change happen as a result of the software, the hardware - or is this what happens when children are taken out of the normal class-room situation and offered a chance to cooperate in smaller groups? The study refers to a set of literature which I don't know, which perhaps would give an answer to the question of: "Is this normal group-behavior, or does the computer add something different which an other prop would not add to the interaction?"

The observations were fun reading though. And yes, it did confirm some of Sherry Turkle's observations that children enjoy the sensation of mastery and control over the computer. But *coughs* who don't? Jill, why do I blog? In my case... for control and discipline.

Thursday, March 22, 2001

Online, communication patterns are all you have to judge each other by. When I realised that, the communication with others in different games went smoother on my behalf as well, as I learned to phrase my words more suitable to the role I played. An interesting interlude appeared however when I changed gender. The same administrators who had not trusted me as a woman, were delighted with me as a man. Reading Deborah Tannen, I suspect that my communication patterns are a lot more male than female. Online - I make a better man
Journalism students. They deserve a few lines today, since they managed to shake me out of my comfortable thoughts about computer games and in this case females and aggression. Actually, this is about females and aggression as well.

With just the pretense of a knock on my door, two young pretty girls stormed my office, leaving a male colleague looking surprised and a little shy in the background. Trapping me in my chair, they introduced themselves quickly, and then started telling me what they wanted me to do for them... they had this case, a matter of a public relations officer (the head of the cinema in Volda) wanting to manipulate independent journalists (in the college newspaper) by asking that they did not make public a certain piece of news before a certain date. And they really needed me to be present in this forum (a journalist-student ethics discussion-group) while they discussed how public relations professionals attempt to manipulate journalists.

Being as bitchy as any young student girl can dream of, I told them that I didn't accept their problem as valid, that I did not wish to be present as a hostage while they stamped an entire profession as manipulators, and that their initial case was a matter of maintaining a good relationship to their sources, and sorted under journalist ethics and work-morals.

They left in anger, of course.
For me, the interesting thing here is my own reaction. The entire time while I told them no, I knew that had they approached me a little differently, I would have said yes. Had they paused long enough for me to say "enter" after they knocked, had they not entered my private space by rushing up to the chair and grabbing my hand, had they presented the case itself slower, and without telling me that "we all agreed that what we did was right", had their topic not been "how journalists are manipulated by PR officials" but perhaps "Is there a conflict of interest between journalists and their sources?" - if they had moderated their approach a little... I know I would have said yes. What I am left asking myself is - did I react like that because they were girls? Would I have let boys bully me into saying yes?

According to Deborah Tannen, I would have accepted that behaviour in boys. But actually - no, I wouldn't. I have met my share of pompous caricatures of agressive journalists, storming my office to make me say something about what they consider "a case". Since these were two pretty girls, even I, a woman and a mother of a girl almost their age, thought: "Oh, look at those enthusiastic girls, aren't they cute?" Had boys behaved like that, the reaction would have been: "what the ¤%&# do those idiots think they are doing in my office!" Does that make me sexist? Yeah. And poor boys, they don't have a chance now the girls have the guts, the arrogance, the confidence... and the looks on their side.
This looks like an interesting blog... an other mudder... I feel related... - and definitely have to look those MUDs up. It's work. Right?
Is this what we fear in the future?
An interesting link from Jill to a site called Internet and American Life shows that women are more likely to play games online than men are. While this is surprising as the "gamer" is immortalised as a male, socially dysfunctional geek, looking at the statistic twice should make it less surprising. It's been accepted knowledge for a long time that women use the net more as a communication tool for social activities, and playing online games is to many players, male and female, about being social rather than reaching high scores.

An other question is... what is games? I'd love to know the type or genre of the games these women play - that could say something about what they seek when playing online - do men and women play the same games, and do they even consider the same activities to be games?
"Gamers" - there are many sorts, and some of them love dwarves and write articles about it. What shall I say? I am a cat and elf-person myself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Travelogs. that's what I was talking about. and I found one... yes, the net and the blogs suit the format better than any roadmovie.
Non-places. Places which we talk about, which we pass through, but which does not take on the cultural meaning of a place, where the history isn't or history, where we do not experience the place as much as we experience out own presence. This is the kind of places Marc Augé discusses. Since I picked the book up to see what it could say about computers and computer games, I have been focusing on the sensation of the individual presence rather than the historical presence. But that's wrong, the net and computers very much build their places up around culture and history. There are entire wars fought over territory online.

If you look at the Sign Up Boards of Bianca's Smut Shack, which once was a friendly place for people who wanted to dream and share sexual fantasies online, you find that it has become a battlefield where fantasies and information has lost the battle against the flamers. So is it a place or not? For those who have established a circle of friends, a social status, a reputation connected to their personae through careful nurturing, even a sex-chat site can be "a place". For those who surf through it becomes a non-place, an other URL where they stop to empty the toilets of their mental caravans...

And what are these blogs but a kind of travel-reports? The good ones, the ones you want to return to over and over to see what happens now, they are descriptions of a journey, not through geographical space but through time and digital space. But is it a non-place? Still a few pages to go... But for me, this book makes the geographical metaphor of the net stronger and more functional.
Jill's page gave me a good link today, and I keep peering at it, with the one good eye, and occasionally two. Stelarc discusses the body, and the body anaesthetised. I sit here in front of the screen with half my face numb after some minor surgery, the right eye won't shut properly, and I can't even smile... My face is a total stranger to myself when I can't control the miniature movements which are such an important part of my image of me. And in this state, I really wonder if the body anaesthetised is a good metaphor. After all, the human as a cyborg is the human extended, not diminished. Yes, we are in worse shape than our parents, from spending too much time in cars and in front of screens - but at the same time we are doing more than ever to retain the full range of functions of the body. Modern society doesn't accept a heart which isn't as perfect as modern surgery can make it, we operate eyes to obtain perfect vision, the perfection and presence of the body is more important than ever. To numb sensations is the opposite of this movements towards the perfect, alert human.

Perhaps I misunderstood. Perhaps we really agree. I'll have an other look when the right eye stops tearing, and I can wink properly - and thus process information in functional intervals.

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

I knew the truth had to be out there....
And this blog posts the screenshot for the famous phrase, now reached mainstream fame after three years as an online underground recognition code.
There are things I am satisfied with being protected from by living in a deep narrow fjord in a tiny country with a language more or less well spoken by 4 mill. people. Although a certain mirth can be gleaned from reading about phrases like: All your base are belong to us. Everybody who have played cowboy and indians know that it's the way the indians speak. At least when it's translated into Norwegian. Through translating software, in this case Japanese-English, the indians have taken over the english language, and the cowboys, who never really did have such a firm grasp of english anyway, only making conversation with their horses, have finally lost after the indians allied with japanese game-producers.
Tuesday. Snow turning to sleet. Dark grey March. I am reading non-places by Marc Augé. Augé makes me wonder what kind of place the net is? It's been described with machine-metaphors, but the most prevalent ones have to do with time and space. We surf the web, we navigate it like the seas, we live on it in a different time. Virtual time, virtual life as opposed to real time and real life. I will turn my back to the snow which is reducing my vision, taking away the view of the magnificent mountains I live among and leaving only the next building visible. And then I'll dive into the book and see if I agree, that in front of my computer, I am in a non-place.

Monday, March 19, 2001

OK, I admit it, I took a break from being extremely goal-oriented and intellectual. That break I spent checking out what kind of party beast would match me! I ended up with a penguin, and yeah, at least he'd be dressed well!
The road to wisdom?
- Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

Kumbel (Piet Hein)
Norske Rollespill has a page with links to the sites of different game-systems. Going through that list reminds me of the variety in roleplay-games, and what an industry it really is. The page is in Norwegian, but the links are easy to use and the sites they point to are in English.
I am part of a project to write about role-play games and computer-games. Volda College, Norske Rollespill (Norwegian Roleplay-games) and The Norwegian Board of Film Classification are all part of the project. So far Volda College (that's me) is administrating and overseeing the writing and printing of a report written by a member of Norske Rollespill, and financed by The Board of Film Classification. The report is done, all that's left is an introduction by me, proofreading, a layout and printing.

Sunday, March 18, 2001

This article is connecting Huizinga to a project called Burning Man. This looks like a very interesting phenomena to pursue for those who are interested in temporary or fluid communities. Burning Man looks like a mix between a party, a survival course and a live action roleplay-game, with a large group of people camping together in an extreme climate while in different ways commenting on/adhering to topics chosen for all for the experience.
I am in a mood for random searches, and computers are made to accomodate such moods - searching for : "hypertext games culture" I end up with 1347 hits, and the first I check turns out to be an interesting list by Stuart Moulthrop cronologically presenting the events he feels are important to the scholarly pursuit of studying hypertexts. It contains works, but no games. I change the search to "games cybertext" and I narrow the search down to finding Markku's paper about some of Espen's concepts from DAC 98, and an interview with Espen from 99. It's still a small scholarly field, despite the size of the industry.
An alternative is to make up adversaries. We can have a Non Player Character for the opposition. That's a safe and comfortable option as long as the Administrators don't start playing the NPC. An NPC could be run by me or the Prince, and we'd control both our own characters and the opposition. A win-win situation on one level, but it wouldn't generate more roleplay for people outside of the court, or draw more players, ideas and challenges in. It's an interesting little problem - and it is a little painful as well. I like control. Giving other people more power will force me to give up some of that... but I have to if I want a game to play. The tension of the game needs to be maintained, to maintain the nature of the game. Looks like I'll return to Huizinga to look for ideas of how to maintain this play.
It's Sunday, and I have been carrying Huizinga's Homo Ludens with me all week-end. Instead of reading it, I have been thinking about the game. The court where I am second in command, is supposed to be custom made for inner conflict and intrigue. However, the character who's my main opponent isn't logging in to play - that makes the court static, I sit too safely as long as the prince sits. Even if he falls, I will most likely sit, or become prince. This isn't a situation which Et'Thalior can function with. So we need to create some inner conflict, but for that we need players who will both maintain their circle and want to play opposed to my circle. What I'll most likely do, is try to put some of my allegiants in positions where they have a reason and the power to undermine me. digging my own grave... or rather, the grave of my poor elf. There is no winning or losing in roleplay, if it were, I have already won, as I have reached several of the early goals. But winning would make the game end, and this is the never-ending story indeed - keeping the game flowing is more important than winning... and right now, Et'Thalior needs one more worthy adversary for its intrigues.

Friday, March 16, 2001

An other web-logger is born... Torbjørn Lien is a colleague at Volda College, a cartoonist and general idler according to himself, and now - an other blogger. This is great, now I can watch him from my office, instead of walking five doors down the corridor, knock on his door and say: "hey, how was your day?" Well, I guess if I did that, I wouldn't get to read his inner dialogue, as I do now. Never knew the potential of all his voices...
One of the students from Volda is doing a "Big Brother" parody all of her own, lille søster (little sister). What she's doing is actually to log (a weblog!) her day-to-day events in her internship in the NRK-radio - Norwegian Broadcasting. The weblog is cute - but it made me wonder again about reality-TV, logs and games... On of my colleagues, Hans Martin, claims that the tension in "Big Brother" is created by the anticipation of the moment when the people in there can't play their roles any more. My reason for viewing this as roleplay is that they all play a role - they perform in a competition for the chance to win 1 mill - which is a little more than 100 000 $ (check the exchange rate here). His argument was that the tension is created by the fact that you can't stay in a role 24 hours a day for 100 days - and it's those slips the audience is looking for.

This is an interesting direction of thought. This points to the conventions of roleplay, and the conflicts and intrigues which can develop from mixing In Character and Out Of Character situation/information, it points to sports, where we are greedy for the details from outside of the arena which can influence an athlete's performance, and I am certain Richard Schechner could say something about the on-stage and off-stage of modern theatre or traditional performances outside the western culture which can shed light on this phenomenon. There's of course Erwin Goffman: The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and his discussion of how we always play roles...

I still don't watch it though. This is a dilemma. I am really curious about it, and I would love to figure out why it's so fascinating - it would make some great and boring lectures - but I have such a problem with what I feel is an abuse of people's intimate lives that I can't bring myself to watch it.
A Friday that's as sunny as the childhood we all wish we had, and I started out early, hiding from the beauty of a landscape dressed for disrobing through the heat of the sun melting away the veils of snow over the ancient peaks surrounding the smooth mirror of the fjord.. See what it does to me to look out the window? I'll keep my eyes firmly on the computer, I promise. And the first thing I pounced on to escape nature romanticism today was a blog called: popular culture slut. This blog had an interesting link I couldn't leave unclicked, and I went to Rob's amazing poem generator to make a poem out of my blog. And here it is - the

Thinking with the Senators making
no Barbarians come into the bottom
of the of exerting
power and bad television, as the English speakers
think they
come and to the English speakers I will alter not
nice young girls and
really be a web that computer
game rather as power to take meaningful
or when I think
a reason for subjectifying?. To achieve with sportstape,
covered with the why is a hundred
elfin years going in this is I
had forgotten all the of your
own potential. That this is my work?
of the best posted by
Torill Mortensen
13:39 if you
can enjoy the year
I can I snatched this weblog. he
asked me the americans
was kidding. three days
later a sentence and desire.

Thursday, March 15, 2001

Like one of the vodoo-dolls of Mr Bungle, Julian Dibble's A Rape in Cyberspace comes back to haunt me. Ever since I read it, it has bothered me. How can there be a rape? And of course, there is no clinic rape. But there is an act of abuse, or most seriously, the power and control of some players over their characters was taken away from them.

In a digital space like a MUD, a MOO or a chat-room, your independence to act and choose your actions is the way you express yourself as an individual, and not a 'bot, a coded object sending off different messages. When this is taken away from you, in this environment you are less than a raped woman, you don't even have the choice to cry and express your unhappiness. You can of course turn off the computer, but that doesn't return to you the power to act, speak and be an individual in this space. That is the final retreat and abandonment of your identity in this context. No, there are no scars on your body, and the harm to your self-worth can't really be compared - it isn't a rape. But a new way to communicate means a new way to be abused. We just need an other word for it.
What is the difference between Agency and Power?
Yes, I know there's supposed to be one - Janet Murray (1997) has a definition of agency in Hamlet on the Holodeck: "Agency is the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices. We expect to feel agency on the computer when we double-click on a file and see it open before us, or when we enter numbers in a spreadsheet and see the totals readjust." It does not, however, distinguish Agency and Power. She uses the word power in her definition and explains agency as power - power to take action. It feels like a circular definition, or a need to give a new name to something - an act of euphemism, making the thrill of controlling events on the computer more acceptable.

"The interactor is not the author of the digital narrative, although the interactor can experience one of the most exiting aspects of artistic creation - the thrill of exerting power over enticing and plastic materials. This is not authorship but agency." I'd say - it's not authorship, but it's still power and control. Power and control are not nice words. They come into our vocabulary loaded with connotations of marxism thought. The idea that being able to influence your surroundings as being pleasant because it makes you feel powerful has echoes of "Power to the People" and other silenced catch-phrases. To say that you have agency can be uttered in the most conservative of lecturing halls. Control is as stigmatizing - to be a control-freak, to desire, even take pleasure from being in control; there is something sick, egocentric, neurotic about it.

But if there is a reason for using the word agency about the power and control the computer-user has over the text which is not cosmetic - I can't find it.
Somebody found me. I have been writing this for only a few weeks, and mainly to answer that eternal question: "so how's your work going?". And already they have found me - made me into a part of a wider context, a Norwegian voice in a web that covers the world. I am flattered, of course - but also terrified. The first thing I meet when looking through the blogs on that net is the discussion about language, what language we should write or not.

Language is identity in Norway. Four million people and we have three languages, two of them so close that if you write with all the permitted dialectic variations there's really no difference, while the third is the Sami language, one of an ethnic minority. My father was a Sami. I didn't know until the year I turned 30 - my husband, the historician, checked the old records of the family from before World War II. In these records they were registered as Sami-speakers, but after the war they had all re-registered as Norwegians. There was this thing about my father - he would always start a sentence and then suddenly he'd lack a word. I'd supply it for him, and he would speak on. I never noticed until I started learning about immigrants, and what happens to children of immigrants when they are forced to learn Norwegian, and can't learn to read and write in their native language. They displayed the same language patterns. I started asking around, and found that my father, who had been to a Norwegian-language boarding-school, like most Sami children, had been functionally illiterate until he was 25. I still remember him moving his lips as he reads the newspaper, asking me what this and that word means.

Norwegian robbed him of his language, and of his ability to communicate. He was for ever the wild man, the foreigner among strangers, even with his own people. Norwegian does not have my blind loyalty, but language does. The importance of being given access to the language you speak, to be taught to write and to think in your own language before you are forced into an other is to me not just a political statement, but also the heartbreaking memory of a man I loved and admired, who spent an hour every morning while I prepared for school, mumbling his way through the newspaper in search of words.

Wednesday, March 14, 2001

I have finally managed to start using the interviews with my friends the players in my writing. It's interesting material, some of it pointing towards games as a tool of the revolution, opening for the people to take back the control of their lives, and appear like players, not pawns. I love it, wrapped in a long rambling diatribe from Kym where he speaks of what games can and will do.

Now the question is - the players, those young ones who demand to have power over their own pleasure, are they Barbarians or Senators? Am I a Senator, waiting for them to come and make the laws? In that case, from what I have read of the interviews today: come, Barbarians - please don't fall on the battle-field.
What are we all waiting for crowded in the forum?
The Barbarians are to arrive today.
Within the Senate-house, why is there such inaction?
The Senators making no laws what are they sitting there for?
Because the Barbarians arrive today.
What laws now should the Senators be making?
When the Barbarians come they'll make the laws.

I snatched this from "Waiting for the Barbarians" by C.P. Cavafy, printed in Morley and Robins: Global Media, Electronic Landscapes and Cultural boundaries, Routledge 1995. The book discusses culture, tradition, space and time in a Europe swept by the technological revolution. And I liked the conclusion to that poem, it very much has a feel of the dilemma of Europe:

Because night has fallen and the Barbarians have not come.
And some people have arrived from the frontier;
They say there are no Barbarians any more.

And now what will become of us without Barbarians? -
Those people were some sort of a solution.

Monday, March 12, 2001

Reality TV.
That's the big Issue in Norway these days. A smaller Norwegian TV-station is sending a norwegian version of "Big Brother", giving us all a view of what a bunch of people closed up in a small apartment close to the main airport in Norway will do or not to win one million kroner. This series has lead to a lot of discussion, here as elsewhere, about good and bad television, as my colleague Erling Sivertsenshows in his collection of links to the "shitbag-television"-debate. The question in the lunch-room of the Media Department at Volda College today was: "Is this a Documentary?" Personally I think that it is not. The stage is set, the actors are picked, the directors have their dramaturgy plotted in and add different props to nudge the action in certain directions. At the same time I can understand the argument that this actually happens, these people actually live there, what they do to, with or against each other isn't in any manuscript that they know of. So perhaps this is a filmed psychological experiment, where the publicity is a factor? Does that make it a Documentary? I spent lunch discussing (I won't write arguing over) this with a couple of colleagues, and I still don't think it is. I will think of it as a roleplay-game (LARP - Live Action Role-Play), or perhaps a sports-events - which I think was our first "reality-TV". Those are the categories which makes sense to me. That doesn't make it all fiction though. Complicated. And interesting.

Sunday, March 11, 2001

Did I spend the last 19 years going in a circle? Or is everything a web of connections, where we do not walk forwards, but back and forth, weaving a net rather than spinning a thread? Reading Panofsky was stepping into the past for ideas and thoughts which resonate through the work I do now. The main argument of the little book from 1951 was that the patterns of scholarly writing would spread from one topic to an other, and everything would mirror the scholastic manner of arguing. The form of the scholastic argument spread, according to Panofsky, to all the other forms of expression, but seen most clearly in the gothic churches and cathedrals.

What does this have to do with my work? One of the original claims when I started studying computer games was that the structure of the media of expression and creativity for the computer literate generation will alter not just the way they approach games, but the way they think and express themselves. The patterns of computer game play will spread to other areas of life and creativity. I don't think I can definitely prove this, but if I manage to point to the patterns that computer games teach, it might be possible to see later on if they can be found elsewhere, in scholarly thought, in play, in architecture, in different types of expressive art, or even religion.

Friday, March 09, 2001

Jan Fredrik Hovden is a colleague and a really nice young man. He's specialising on Bourdieu, which only tangentially touches on what I do, but listening to a presentation of his work, I found a reference I had forgotten all about. So now I am tucked up in my comfortable office chair with Erwin Panofsky: gothic architecture and scholasticism, feeling like I am right back in and studying Art History, my first subject at the university of Bergen.
In the series of "watching grass grow" I found out that I can actually control the web-cam which gives a view of Times Square! A video camera gives a running view of what happens at this infamous New York square, and after a few very futile attempts, I was able to figure out which button to hit to be able to take control of the pan, tilt and zoom of the camera. I guess it would have been a little more exiting if I didn't do it at 4 am EST, though.

Thursday, March 08, 2001

I told a friend that I had made this weblog. he asked me if I had made it for people who like watching grass grow? I guess I did, and for that special audience, I give you a view of the bridge he can see every day walking home from the subway. matthew, this bridge is for you.
It's the International Women's Day (I knew that) and I should be on strike (I didn't know that). How can I not support the demands and still talk about solidarity and sisterhood? At the same time, it's easy to see how the young girls of today's Norway can feel that this doesn't concern them. The main topics of the meetings are international, and don't really touch on the daily lives of Norwegian girls and women. I live in a society where women don't need to be liberated from external violence, but the internalised violence. While we have more women in higher education than men, these women think they will have worse grades and achieve less than their fellow male students. While we have a law supporting women who apply for positions as leaders, we have women who think they are not good enough to lead. While we have the best female soccer-team in the world, Women think a) they can't cooperate with others, be "team players" and b) they have to look good to succeed.

One of my favourite images from a world championship in football (soccer for the americans) was when one of the Norwegian girls pulled her shirt up to hide her face, running around in blind joy after a victory. She was however never "discovered" for doing that, as was one of the American girls who did the same later in the same championship. The Norwegian girl didn't show off a strong tanned body and a black bra, but was taped with sportstape, covered with bruises from playing a rough match, and her breasts were hidden behind a sports-bra my grandmother would have approved of. To me, the picture of her is a moment of wonderful pride and pure joy of achievement, looks be damned! And while I will never run around a soccer-field like that, I want the girls who are my students to feel that they can enjoy and display their pride, their joy and their ability to achieve with the same ruthless exuberance as the Norwegian Women's Football-team express when they show the world they are THE BEST!
"Representations are bodies too!" (Deleuze & Guittari: a thousand plateus p 86)
I am being seduced. "They do not understand that seduction represents mastery over the symbolic universe, while power represents only mastery over the real universe." (Baudrillard, Jean (1990): Seduction, New York, p. 8) My symbolic universe is flirting with the many readings of Deleuze, and now I am approaching slowly, drawn in and seduced into accepting more and more of the symbols, the metaphores, the thoughts and ideas, as I start nibbling at the original text. And as I let Deleuze and Guittari have their way with my mind, the open system unfolds like a temptation I both resist and desire. And I return to Baudrillard again, to give words to the experience: "Seduction is never linear, and does not wear a mask (that is vulgar seduction) - it is oblique." (p. 106)
Last night I read Ian Buchanan(1999): "Deleuze and Cultural Studies" in Buchanan, Ian (ed): A Deleuzian Century, Duke University Press. I liked some of what he wrote, like (p 114) "A Deleuzian cultural studies would, I am sure, begin with the question of the subject, but it would not ask, what is a subject? Rather, as we have just seen, it would ask how does one become a subject?" The part I have problems with is his claim that cultural studies reduces the subject by trying to understand what it is. Perhaps I have misunderstood something about Cultural Studies, but I thought it wasn't asking "what is the subject" at all, but rather: "how is the subject active and relates to its context?" Studying the acts of the object of study and how the object is being created to me looks equally "objectifying" (or not objectifying. Is there a word for subjectifying?). To quote Bucanan again: "So long as we insist on examining subjects in terms of an ostensive "what is", we will continue to objectify them - perception, itself, objectifies." I agree with him on that critizism of sociology, but I feel he's aiming at the wrong part of social oriented studies when he attacks the cultural studies for this objectification.
Living in Volda gives you some different perspective on mortality and the influence of nature. I have been putting off going to visit a tailor - the road to where she lives has been closed due to avalances! A colleague of mine who moved up here from Oslo, lived in Austefjorden, the bottom of the fjord I live by. "Look out for avalances" I told him when he moved there. He thought I was kidding. Three days later a huge rock just missed his car as he was driving to work.

These very physical reminders that I live in a world where I am flesh, soft vulnerable flesh at that, carry into the games I play. It's interesting to observe others playing, there are those who choose to let their virtual bodies be virtually invulnerable. The pleasure of having control, of being invincible and powerful is very seductive, particularly to new players. Older and more experienced players discover the pleasure of being vulnerable - their characters have flaws, and their plots sometimes fail or give bad backlash. Do we as humans need the thrill of mortality? That's actually a valid topic for discussion in MUD-world. What does longevity do to the mindset of elves? What does having short lives do to orcs and humans? Aarinfel discusses these topics seriously, to use the views to further roleplay - players are writing long essays exploring the consequences of longevity on world-views, on racism, on sex (busy topic), just to pick some of what's discussed there.

Right now I am sulking because I don't have the energy to push a plot I got involved in through... I comfort myself that I am up against the immortals, and what mortal can win in a case like that? But I fear for my darling elf... And so I am staying out of the game, mudding when I am too tired or not feeling well makes me blur the borders between IC and OOC - In Character and Out Of Character.

I feel like mastering something today, succeeding in something - and because I know what I am up against in the game, I know there's no other end than tragedy. Although tragedy might be a hundred elfin years off *smiles*. Losing sight of the difference between IC and OOC is one of the worst sins a mudder can do - forgetting that it's just a game after all.

Too many take their losses, their depressions, their weaknesses into the gameworld and hope to be the beautiful princess where they are just average people in the flesh-worlds. Little is as painful as the realisation that the character is just a part of you, although it might be a remote one. It might be a part you don't use in other occasions, it might be a flirt where you are normally shy, it can be wicked where you are kind, but it can't be anything beyond your own potential. That reminds me I have to go back to my interviews... Jodi Nevins has some great thoughts on the roleplayer subject, but the world will never know unless I publish.

Wednesday, March 07, 2001

So many efficient people, and one of them my older sister, Solfrid. She's having an exhibition in April, but sadly I can't go see it. Instead I'll enjoy the online presentation of her work. For the English speakers I can just say - the pictures are in there somewhere, and they look great.
I read the article Jill recommends, by Daniel Pargman on SvenskMUD, an adventure MUD in Sweedish. The way he discusses the aspects of playing, and the insights into what the "magicians" (administrators more commonly known as "wizards" or "immortals") view as important topics to create a good online playground is interesting. This seems like a different type of MUD from what I am working with, as it looks to be a pure "hack'n'slash" game rather than roleplay. In his article, he doesn't specify if it's DIKU or what other code-base it's built on, but for the topics he discusses, the brand isn't important. It's an interesting article, and I will be looking for his dissertation - it looks both interesting and useful in relation to what I am working with, although it doesn't overlap - luckily. I'd hate to find that somebody have already written my dissertation.
I looked in on my friend Jill's page. She looks too efficient for a poor old lady to even want to watch. I guess I'll just slink offline and start a new chapter. 6 months to go, and a dissertation to write...

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Massuni, Brian 1993: A user's guide to capitalism and schizophrenia
"Deleuze recommends that you read Capitalism and Schizophrenia as you would listen to a record. You don't approach a record as a closed book that you have to take or leave. There are always cuts that leave you cold. So you skip them. Other cuts you may listen to over and over again. They follow you. You find yourself humming them under your breath as you go about your daily business. Capitalism and Schizophrenia is conceived as an open system."

Perhaps this is why I read four books at the same time:
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1987): a thousand plateus, Minnesota Press
Massuni, Brian (1992): A user's guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia; deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, MIT press
Rajhcman, John (2000): The Deleuze Connections, MIT press
Goodchild, Philip (1996): Deleuze & Guattari; An Introduction to the Politics of Desire., Sage publications

The openness which is supposed to be central to the work on Capitalism and Schizophrenia so far reads like a game, a multilinear text or an ergodic text, where using the parts which makes sense to you, the reader/user, is more important than grasping the entire monolith of the work.
Outside it's raining in the snow, and inside I sit in front of the computer chatting to Ben about Spain and Portugal... I went to Madeira once upon a time, I was recovering from meningitis, and spent two weeks there just before christmas. I still don't understand why people live in places like Volda. But then again, looking at the news from Volda, I realize that it's just too cold to be anything but nice to your neighbour, and the arguments are all about how to make this place a better place for people to work and live. That, I kind of like.
Oh yeah, and I managed to get the x-files pages linked in a reference in the text. That's what I love about the net... I could ask Adam, one of the most fun roleplayers I know (the Prince to my Prince's Hand) and a very nice guy at that, and he told me the html for the link... for some reason, html doesn't stick in my brain, but I hope if I just use it often enough, it will work. Thanks Adam!
To do today... I should have gone on with Deleuze, but instead I am thinking of the book I brought home last night: Textual Poachers. The players of online computergames aren't alone in their sense of community and their interest in social experiments. This book points out how fans of fantastic and futuristic television programs are equally active, particularly in the way they explore through fanzines. The book was written from studies done just after 1990. During the 90ies the fanzines have moved into the internet, as we can see for instance the X-Files fan pages. In the area of science fiction and fantasy, the social experiment has always been a major part of the experience, and roleplaying is a related experience to writing fan-fiction or producing fan programs, films or costumes. That reminds me, I need to go find Marion Zimmer Bradley's collections of fan stories.... I know they are somewhere close to B in my bookshelf.

Monday, March 05, 2001

My mind is stalling at transcendentals in the Kantian Subject and Deluze's thoughts on duration.
That meant I had to repeat Kant, and a quick search gave me a really nice page of links on Kant:

For someone like me, not having looked in the direction of Kant since 1984, was a most useful repetition to kick the brain back into work. OK, so it's simple, but it's clear enough that it helped me pull those buried memories of lectures in a narrow room which felt like a bomb-shelter and smelled of cement and dust out of the darkness where they were hidden, and the voice of the lecturer mixes in my mind with the memory of the images I was drawing on the note-pad, exotic fish swimming among my notes, and the distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge is written down in black and red with intricate twirls to the lettering.
There are aspects of using blogger I still need to figure out. Like how do I make links appear as links without doing the html for it? Which template do I prefer? Should I tell people I have a log of my own? It's like having a room of my own, a space on the net where I have absolute power of publishing - now I need to decide the limits for myself. And why am I writing in english? That is a decision taken I think, from a desire to have others read this, friends I hardly ever see, but who I wish to stay in touch with. Spread around the globe, computers give us a chance to stay in touch across timezones and distances. And I start out with abandoning my native Norwegian for my dreams of grandeur and international fame...
So this is it. The first online log. Jill claims making her very own log makes her feel more efficient, and structures her day - I wish! We'll see how this works out.

Today's topic - Deleuze and Guittari. No, I don't understand this quite yet, but reading about capitalism and schizophrenia, I found this quote in a book on Deleuze and Guittari. The author qoutes Kafka: "Josephine the singer, or the mouse folk" in Collected short stories of Franz Kafka, London 1988, p 437-8

"Our laws are not generally known; they are kept secret by a small group of nobles who rule us. We are convinced that these ancient laws are scrupulously administered; nevertheless it is an extremely painful thing to be ruled by laws one does not know... Perhaps these laws that we are trying to unravel do not exist at all. There is a small party who are actually of this opinion, and who try to show that, if any law exists, it can only be this: The law is whatever the nobles do."

Why did I like this quote? It fits perfectly with the rules of one of the courts in the online roleplay game I play. When my brain doesn't work (in periods, too much of the time), I log on to the MUD Aarinfel, and slip into the body of a male gay elf (IRL I am a female, fairly straight and not elfish looking at all). The link to Aarinfel and a lot of information about the place can be found here:

Roleplay to several of the players at Aarinfel, is a way to think about social structures and relationships, and to learn about assumptions. In a fantasy world, assumptions drawn from flesh-world habits can have unexpected consequences, and this is one of the most interesting aspects of playing, particularly online. On the Aarinfel discussion board, among the more-or-less posts of juvenile banter, there are discussions of the development of societies, the logic of racial interaction or the importance of climate to agriculture and trade - all in the fantastic realm of the Empire Erenai.