Thursday, November 29, 2001

De ny-slitne; Finn Skårderud om utbrenthet -
I have been mentioning burn-out before, but after I discussed this with Hilde, she asked me to write about it in a form that other Ph.D. students can use.

Burnout is a real threat to students, and particularly PhD students, because studying is a task which never ends. When working on a PhD you also very often work with something you are really interested in, and the work can't be kept within the 8 hours you are supposed to be at the office. An article in the newspaper, a good book, a conversation in the sauna: it will all become related to your job in a very real and involving manner.

There is also no end to how much work you can do on a PhD. There is no quota you need to fill, it's an endless labour where everything from sentences to lab-experiments can be added, reviewed and calibrated over and over again.

You never know if you are doing well. Until the day when you get the response from the assessors, you have no real knowledge of whether you have done well or you will fail. The closest you'll come is indications - you can't be sure. And here in Norway, that means 3-4 years of lonesome struggle, just hoping you'll be smart enough.

So, what can we do to avoid burning out?

All the usual stuff, of course: have a life and make it a physically active one: that's a given, even if it's not always easy. But there are a few problems which are specific to scholars, which can be solved "the academic way".

It's part of the nature of the work we do that we shouldn't start splitting a PhD up in smaller bits and then be graded more often (like every year), so we have to live with the insecurity. But something can still be done, and I think the key-word should be "net-work".

Meet others who work in the same field, talk, chat, listen and present your own work - it's not just a luxury, but an absolute necessity. Conferences aren't just a good career-booster, it's a survival strategy.

For somebody tucked away in a remote location like me, the allotted funds for travelling don't get me far. This is one reason why I use the net, and this blog, as frequently as I do. It lets me see my own thoughts in a different format from the usual, and in different contexts - and it even leads to feed-back! But it would be more fun and better for me to be able to spend more time with Jill, Hilde, Lisbeth, Espen, Jesper, Gonzalo, Anja, Susana - to go to conferences and sit in on lectures in locations which are equally remote, just remote in an other direction. Or perhaps I could afford to invite somebody to spend time here?!?

Actually, I probably could offer an office and a place to stay if a fellow scholar wanted to spend a while in Volda. Want a winter in Volda?
Don't wait until it's over
a Page of Nerd Songs contains this "poem", which might be the first published use of the word "hacking" in the modern understanding of it:

The following parody of Carl Sandburg's "Chicago" appeared in the newsletter of the Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT back in the fifties. The TMRC evolved into one of the very first computer clubs, and this may be the first published use of the term "hacking" as presently used...

Switch Thrower for the World, Fuze Tester, Maker of Routes,
Player with the Railroads and the System's Advance Chopper.

Grungy, hairy, sprawling,
Machine of the Point Function Line-o-lite:
They tell me you are wicked, and I believe them; for I have seen your
painted light bulbs under the Lucite, luring the system coolies
Under the tower, dust all over the place, hacking with bifurcated springs
Hacking even as an ignorant freshman hacks who has never lost occupancy and
has dropped out.
Hacking the M-Boards, for under its locks are the switches and under its
control the advance around the layout.


Wednesday, November 28, 2001

the outward work
will never be puny
if the inner work
is great.
And the outward work
can never be great or even good
if the inward one is puny and of little worth.
(Matthew Fox 1983)
NTNU - doktorgrader
Anita Hammer has delivered her dissertation and is defending it Dec. 14th in Trondheim. It's a theatre-theoretical view on the World Wide Web, and I know Anita well enough to be certain it will be an original and perhaps even thought-provoking addition to the understanding of the digital media.

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Sometimes, a word or two is enough to find the resolution to that problem you have been working with for - I don't know how long. I want to thank Hilde for saying "action research", I want to thank the Volda College Library for keeping the book-shelves open and accessible for scholars in sudden and immediate need of literature, I want to thank whoever asked our wonderful librarians to order the Handbook of Action Research, and I want to thank my patient broker-friend matthew for patiently listening to a 30-minute rave on a long-distance phone-line about how much easier it will be to finish chapter 4 now, I want to thank my family for their once and future patience with me and my scholarly obsessions, and while I am at it, I want to thank Lisbeth for having started a very useful list of definitions of interactivity and sharing it with her fellow women and men.

Right now, life in my little office is good.

Monday, November 26, 2001

A joke while I keep worrying if I have seen the important things in my material:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip, set up their tent, and fall asleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes his faithful friend.
"Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."
Watson replies, "I see millions of stars."
"What does that tell you?"
Watson ponders for a minute. "Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?"

Holmes is silent for a moment, then speaks. "Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent."

I sincerely hope I will notice if somebody have stolen my tent.
Bibliography on Chat Communication by way of Carsten Jopp's joppLOGG. Thanks, Carsten!
Cybersoc: Internet Research, Consultancy, and Design
Misunderstandings and misinterpretations are common while doing research online, Robin Hamman describes his mistakes in doing research on cybersex. Seems like arousal is a source of error which should not be ignored.
Origo: Skole forbyr «okkult» Harry Potter
Harry Potter is an invitation to experiment with the occult. A school in Melbourne claims that the film and books make adults appear ridiculous, it presents children has having power over adults, and it presents witchcraft and magic like innocent fun. A Norwegian priest says that he doesn't think his 14 year old daughter should see this film.

This might look ridicolous, but in a way such rejection from christians is inevitable. After all, if you believe in the many magical acts which the Holy Trinity performs, then you have to believe that magic can be real. If the priest transforms wine to blood and bread to flesh, and if Jesus really turned water to wine; then of course transforming water to rum - or tepid tea, as the case was in the movie - is possible. But since Harry Potter doesn't get his power from God, and since the characters in the books and movie definitely aren't angels, in the black-and-white world of Christianity the magic has to come from "the dark side".

This means that to believe Harry Potter gets his power from the Devil, you have to believe quite forcefully in the Bible. My conclusion from that is that all us not-quite-so-strong believers, agnostics and non-believers can see the film and read the books safely and happily. And I had a couple of fun hours last night, in the Volda movie theatre!
WomenGamers.Com - Digital Women
By way if Lisbeth, and a review of female characters. Interesting, although not too enlightening: their conclusion is that games have very few great female leads, and that this is/ought to be a problem in the industry. I'd like to see some other statistics though: who plays the games with the strong female leads? Does girls choose games like that? How important is gender when it comes to identification in game leads? Are there other more important factors?

Often I feel that women in games are either helpless, or men with tits. Women (in the flesh world) tend to approach problems differently from men, have different priorities and very different skills and advantages. Some of these advantages don't look all that dramatic on the screen: the killer archivist isn't such a great title for a game, even if we know that women often have a better memory for details, better visual memory and are better able to understand complex, multilayered systems: like archives. That doesn't help much when the games depend on for instance spatial perception (in flight-simulators and first-person shooters) or single-minded pursuit of a position on the high-score list.

Friday, November 23, 2001

In case you wondered what shape to give your night-mares:- Dumb Bombs.
If you're the kind of person who dreams in colour, note that the submunitions (the part that does the real harm) is in green and yellow, like lemons and limes. Comes in different sizes, too.
Some links about the unmentionable: burnout
Utbrent - eller bare litt sliten?
Burned out or stressed out?
The Good, the Bad and the Burned Out
Burnout test
vog blog::vlog
This is one of my favourite descriptions of the feeling of helplessness faced with the Norwegian weather. Ever since the birth of my children - that's the last 15 years - I have felt restrained when walking in the winter. Either I'll slip and get out of balance, and my pelvis will give me excruciating pain, or I will walk like an old lady, and the tension in my back will become equally painful, just a bit more slowly.

My one consolation is walking uphill: it's easier to stay in control. Which is why I loved to read Adrian's post, vividly visualising him sliding slowly backwards. OK, so I read it with a touch of malicious pleasure, but when every step I take is accompanied with pain, I'll take any pleasures I can, malicious or not.

Thursday, November 22, 2001

An other Dragoness, and a roleplayer too! I keep finding more and more female gamers, and they aren't playing around with virtual barbies, but with powerful symbols and avatars which denote strength including, but not restricted to, sex.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Some electronic books will definitely have more traffic than others. This link is only useful for scandinavians. It tells you how to be a great lover, and what women should do to satisfy men. The author admits what we all knew though, that men are simple and that some encouragement helps. Wish I had a counter on that download, though....
Why do I think computer viruses are games? I have been thinking a little about that since I idly mentioned it yesterday. I often get questions like "why do people hack computers or make viruses", and while I can't really say, the same way as I have no idea why some people like to play football, I can look at why I think it's a game. So me and set out to find some material about that.

Let's look at Huizinga's categories in homo ludens: First of all, they are restricted to a certain arena: the computer. The computer is perfectly suited to be a gaming environment, it's separate from the "real world" without needing to erect stadiums, it gives an equally good view both for the players and the spectators, and you have a ritualistic approach to entering the arena - you even have a secret pass-word.

Viruses are definitely superflous. Nobody needs a virus. They are a result of too much time, energy and occasionally imagination on the part of the creator. They don't belong in "real life" - even if they impact reality (as does soccer, being a huge industry), their function is beyond the ordinary use of the computer. Although there are viruses which are taken very seriously, Huizinga points out that "Any game can at any time wholly run away with the players."

Viruses are limited in time and space, like a game. They are created, distributed, isolated and stopped. The periodic nature of virus outbreaks has its own rhythm, like certain games - or like the bug they are named for. But where the flu isn't created with intent (we hope), several computer viruses are. Viruses are, in their own way, a different order, and they are an important part of creating a hierarchy in some social groups:

While research shows a lot of virus writers act from boredom, Evan says there are a variety of reasons: "It was some credibility in front of my hacker peers to say, 'hey, I can write a virus and you can't.' There's almost even an aspect of 'make them afraid of you,' albeit, no real threat here, but there was the mystique that 'hey, don't mess with that guy, he'll give you a virus.'"

Viruses claim fame and a place in the history books through elegance and effectiveness.

Virus creation and hacking gives access to a world-spanning community. And like sports, it's healthy, because it keeps the skills of the wider computer community honed.

Even the secrecy and mystery of dress-up is well taken care of in the hacking community, particularly when it comes to sending out virus emails. Disguised through several layers of proxy servers, using automatons or 'bots to launch the virus remotely on certain dates, the hacker also often communicates through dramatic, romantic aliases signifying the lone ranger, the dark hero of the digital frontier.

All of this confirms that making a virus and spreading it is play, but is it a game?
I'd say yes to that as well. Hacking has its own "score-sheet" with hits and misses, and that score-sheet has reached the news. It also has the professional antigonists and established "enemies", somebody to measure skills and abilities against. Hacking Nasa, Pentagon or Microsoft ranks high up there, like an olympic gold medal. There is a game-play nature to hacking and virus-writing which is mirrored in other games to play with computers, popularly called computer games.

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

by way of Lisbeth: technofemme. Just so you all know what will make me happy come christmas.
A soft-ware technicians lament
by Red Crystal Scream


rubbing my eyes
dragging fingers over gritty eyelids,
staring at the sand dune of e-mail problems.
Condemned to dig forever
as the grains flow
and fill the hole.

At least Sisyphys
got a change of view
Salon Technology | 21st Challenge No. 24: Results
How to make people open those virus attachments? This is a kind of game as well.

Monday, November 19, 2001

"But the fourth World War is elsewhere. It is that which haunts every global order, every hegemonic domination; -if Islam dominated the world, terrorism would fight against it. For it is the world itself which resists domination."
From Jean Baudrillard's "The Spirit of Terrorism"
Anja Rau has started a blog! She starts out with replying to the comments on her review of Caitlin Fisher's The Waves, commenting on the instant attention given to her direct style of reviewing.

It's interesting to note that there is obviously a need for academic discourse outside the formalised genres, a need for a voice which is not restricted by the demands of reviewed publishing. With the academic community spanning continents, the net carries the opinions which we like to imagine happen informally where scholars are gathered physically. The web is now where we are gathered, and it's not a virtual conversation which takes place. The exchanges of ideas, the comments on each others' opinions, all of this is real, and influences our research, teaching and lives.

Welcome to this corner of reality Anja.

Sunday, November 18, 2001

I had planned to drink cider, but Jill made me taste her beers, and after sipping eight different beers, drinking cider and being offered wine quite generously, a lot of Friday night had become a blur of laughter, more-or-less successful schemes in order to lose Jill and Lisbeth in the labyrinth beneath the University, and some serious attempts at rating and determining the origin of the aforementioned beers. However, I still remember Jills eyes shining as she used Norwegian and thus excluded Adrian but included Lisbeth, discussing how she should use Baudrillard, and talking about this article she has just read about terrorism. She promised to put the link on her blog for us to reach, and yes, she did.

Friday, November 16, 2001

Yesterday, Jill and I finished the abstract for our paper for the upcoming SKIKT conference. We are proposing a paper on blogging. Jill got the idea of writing the papers on science theory about blogging. I'll spend the afternoon in a library, for the first time in a while feeling good about writing down new ideas and thoughts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Bergen tomorrow. Jill, Hilde and Lisbeth in the flesh, Espen waiting with his red pen hovering over my chapters, a huge library and a city with more than two bars. Wow. Don't worry if you don't hear from me for a while.
Sometimes, the fear of living overwhelms me, and I need to sit down and count my blessings painstackingly, one by one. Some of them are easy: that my kids are brilliant geniuses and my husband a paragon of patience is obvious. Some of them have to be looked for very carefully. Lately I have been trying to figure out if I actually know anything. Almost four years and 200 pages devoted to one topic, and do I know anything? Or will the final accessor on the day of doom look at the fruits of my labours and say: you write brilliantly. But you have no content!

So what have I learned, from these years of enjoying myself with a topic I (used to) love?
I have learned to search for knowledge.
I have met some wonderful people and made some new friends.
I have become a very good online roleplayer.
I have read a LOT of theory, and found a lot which is not relevant to the topic.
I have learned to argue beyond logic and exhaustion (thank you Espen).

Will any of this carry me through the last months between me and my PhD? Stay tuned for more thrills from the life of an exhausted scholar!
Issue 2 contents
don't want to lose this link, thanks to Marie-Laure Ryan for passing it on.
Klastrup's Cataclysms
Lisbeth is worried she is watched by Big Brother, but I'd like to point to Jill's discovery of the archive system the US government started after sept. 11th, where it's possible to alert the archivists that a site is relevant to what happened on sept. 11th.

Most likely somebody with a "note this" function have found something she wrote interesting in this context, and hit "note this" as they were reading, surrendering her website to - Big Brother. It might even have been Jill or me.

thesis update for those who might wonder/worry: 209 pages, and I still have at least one, perhaps 2 chapters to write.
OK, I am not going to try to fill out pages any more, it's time to edit!
Aftenposten Interaktiv - Politikk - Klemte ikke til mot Clemet
The new government, which has been profiled heavily towards education, doesn't think the students are important in that process. They cut the proposed increase in free student support, maintaining 30%.

I wonder what they would save just for students by erasing all student debts (including mine of course), dissolving Statens Lånekasse and taking seriously the proposal of the Prime Minister to give all Norwegian Citizens 100 000 n kr in "wages", independently of what they do for a living. They'd probably save a lot on administration of several social benefits, although the definition of "poverty" would have to be edited.
Hilde: I tend not to lock the door when I go out. And I have all that fresh air, a beautiful view, and I come from a working-class background where poverty (yes, I think I can use that word) would have kept me from studying if I lived in the United States. My parents have made full use of the health-system and well-fare system, and I have used it enough that I don't resent paying taxes. Do I live in heaven? Compared to the life I, with my social and economic background, would have lived in many other countries, I think so.
Odd Nerdrum, who by his own definition can't be an artist. (Picture nicked from
Nerdrum lovpriser Schau
Kristopher Schau has been eating junk food, sleeping badly and refusing to take a shower for a week, doing this in a window in one of the larger stores in Oslo. It's an experiment, or just a crazy stunt, which he named "forfall" or "decay". Schau is known from radio programs where he has been drinking delicacies like pizza, mayonnaise and cola mixed in a blender, and this is right up there with raw-fish-and-icecream-shakes.

The fun part is that serious artists who are more or less self-proclaimed guru's of the Norwegian "avant garde" have been asked to comment on this, and Knut Nerdrum says that this is great art. According to Nerdrum the criteria for good art is that the artist should not think a single complete thought, he should approach the task with irony and he should have no skills connected to the craft.

This sounds like the Norwegian ideal of the romantic artist, and in the name of outdated postmodern irony, I agree with Nerdrum. Oh, he happens to be a very classically educated painter - he has the skills of the craft. I guess he can never be an artist, right?

Friday, November 09, 2001

Conversation in LinguaMOO, with Frink, an old friend and long time computer game player.
(and yes, I am Missepus)

Frink says, "So I hear you were searching me out for an argument (Though I can't recall on what, except it made me salivate)"
Missepus laughs
You say, "YEs, that is right, thanks for reminding me"
You say, "It's about something Mark Bernstein is asking people: if computer games teaches us anything."
You say, "I'll find the link for you"
Frink says, "Particular knowledge, about ourselves, or just random stuff?"
You say, ""
You say, "He asks specific question: what does games teach us about sex?"
You say, "What does games teach us about handling dramatic personal discoveries?"
You say, "Game question one and two"
You say, "His premise is that games should teach us the same as books do. I don't agree with him."
Frink says, "I'd agree on face - no medium should behave as another."
Missepus nods
You say, "At the same time: I don't see that games can avoid being learning lessons: even if the lessons are different from those of books."
Frink says, "I don't think they need to avoid it, however."
You say, "No, why should they?"
You say, "anyway - I think you'd be able to answer his questions easily. and I think you should - just send him an email."
Frink jots down the address, and'll do that.

Frink says, "and by book I'm guessing your refering to fiction, or all written print?"
You say, "Fiction - which is his question"
You say, "one problem with his question is that I feel it's very much about high/low culture."
Frink pulls up the page, and laughs at the first thing. "I think I'm gonna have to check this page fairly often.
Missepus grins
You say, "just: gets you his entire page."
You say, "And Eastgate is developing the program he's using for making the page, which is rather neat."

Frink hurms and considers the basic question. "Its fairly loaded and fairly specific in its approach. I would have to say that in most genres we get a similar education to sexuality ... as ... oh as the supermarket magazines that features models and questionaries about sex life."
Frink says, "That said, if you do some hunting - in some RPGs you actually get something mildly deep... at least the lesson that actions have consequence and you'll not always be in the happiest of circumanstances."

Missepus nods
You say, "which I guess is a good answer - and the most important answer as to what you learn from games which you can't learn from books."
Frink says, "Causality? I dunno, a good book can paint the picture for you."
You say, "Yes, but it can't hit you in the head with it."
Frink nods and looks at the second question.

Frink thinks on it some..."Generally speaking - family in games is a shallow plot device. They've been hurt, they're evil, they need to protected, they do really cooky and odd things."
Missepus nods
You say, "so having a really weak father would not be anything new in a game"
Frink says, "If we were to include online games, I'd say its different. "
You say, "it could be the entire plot of a game: figuring out how to deal with that."
Frink nods.
Frink says, "It could be, it might even be compelling."
Frink says, "However, rarely is there that level of depth/interaction with the player and other characters. Which, isn't suprising."
You say, "why isn't there? I think that's an important question."
Frink says, "Now, I bet if you look about you can probably find some examples of it in NPCs interacting, but most likely they're small side notes, things to look at and go "Oh neat." and move on."
Frink thinks on that one.
Frink says, "This is off the hip, so it might be a bit to rash, but I would say the problem ties into causality again."
Frink says, "That and immersion."
Frink says, "While games have a higher potential for immersion, its a harder sell. And if your giving a player control, you need to come up with solutions to a wide variety of action."
Frink says, "And for the most part, when dealing with games, writers/programers would rather add length than width."
Missepus nods
Frink says, "Mind, you could probably do it in a fairly linear fashion..."

You say, "this is great. Promise me you write Mark bernstein about it. Or I'll cut and paste this conversation into my blog."
Frink says, "I just doubt it would be that good."
Frink says, "(While like books, and movies for that matter, games can endear you to characters, how can a game adequetly display the reaction of another character if one of the character's is you.)"
Frink says, "You can abstract the character/player connection some, which is done now and again... Cutscenes, inserted dialogue, and other forms of feedback, and this can be decent (I don't want to say good, because usually it comes off a little flat, mostly because of voice acting)"
Frink thinks of a recent first person shooter...Max Payne, "The central plot starts with your character coming home, and finding it a mess. You go through your house and kill some thugs. But not until you find the wife's corpse. If I recall correctly there are inserts of the main character's voice, calling out names at some point, then the yell of grief when the mess is found."
Missepus is copying, pasting and editing to the blog as you speak.
Frink says, "Its horribly cliched"
Missepus grins
You say, "Cliches work for a reason"
Frink says, "But then the whole game is."

Frink says, "I don't know what to make of the sequence as an educational subject though. I'm inclined to say its irrelevant. Though if you want to grab a lesson, I guess it says "Bad things can happen to those you love and in your home." (Not suprising given that most games are about bad things happening, or doing bad things.)"
You say, "I think he isn't really thinking of "education" as much as "presenting new models for action in certain situation""
You say, "And there I think games can't really offer much complexity: at least not single-user games."

Frink tries to think of other sequences involving family. "This one might have merit. In an RPG, Fallout, one of the minor quests is rescuing a daughter. Standard fair. Not all that interesting, until you actually do it."
Frink says, "Afterwards you can talk with the rescued daughter. She's down on the town she lives in, finds it boring and wants to see the world. Yet, when you suggest her leaving, there is a little litany of excuses of why she couldn't (Ending with it would destroy her father)"

Frink says, "And I don't think I'd agree with you. It offers as much complexity as a book or a play."
You say, "length, not depth?"
Frink says, "Width. (Depth is possible, width tends to refer to creating multiple paths)"
You say, "And as to the girl - do you think that can be a result of the "why do we have to rescuse the same stupid NPCs over and over-syndrome" that Brant was trying to avoid when he made the Moon Palace?"
You say, "Ah. Three dimensions. *smiles happily*"
Frink says, "No, I think that is more of an example of, "Why the hell are so damn many things in games just nameless faces""
Frink says, "Its more an attempt to add personality."
Frink says, "And yes, three dimensions, play time(length), possible consequences(two branches reaching the same goal, but having different side shows)(width), and content quality (Depth)"

Frink says, "As for games presenting model for action .. Its as possible as any medium, though a game is not just the player's actions, so you can show it with other characters. If your really good though, you can make it so the player has to do things they'd normally not think about."
You say, "I think that would be the most interesting aspect of computer games: gently pushing limits and introducing new realisations."
Frink says, "I'm simple minded, the most interesting thing about games to me is playing them. I could see how that is intriguing though"
Missepus laughs
You say, "well, the fact that all these media are actually used is intriguing."
Frink nods.
Frink says, "Another odd paralell/discontinuity jost popped in my head."
You say, "If we were more rational animals, literature wouldn't matter, nor games..."
Frink says, "Written work is fairly stationary in its base constant"
Frink says, "err in its base parts/how its formed."
Missepus listens
Frink says, "Words. New styles of fiction creep in now and again(The short story, novels). The variety of plays and the like."
Frink says, "With movies, the tools change over the years, better film, variety of acting methods, changing editing principals."
You say, "MmmHmm?"
Frink says, "With games things change at a much more rapid rate."
Frink says, "While there are a few sets of genres, and some methods/principals that are set in silicon...the underlying tech changes constantly."
Frink says, "An engine is fortunate to be used comerically a dozen times, and modified by hobbiest half a hundred. "
You say, "Are this technical changes quicker and more revolutionary than the early film technology do you think?"
Frink says, "I wouldn't say revolutionary, but definatly quicker."
Frink would be suprised if there is someone in the industry that got to work with the same tools/engine/tech five times.
Frink says, "(The numbers are coming off the top of my head)"
You say, "compared to the already developed technology? What has been introduced in the last - 7 years - which has changed the computer as medium as much as sound changed film?"
Frink says, "3d technology."
Frink says, "Lighting tech, 3d audio."
You say, "isn't that just adaptions from existing technology? was this created for the computer?"
Frink says, "Of later computers, and games, are driving the 3d rendering hardware developments."
Frink says, "and what I really mean to emphasise is that the barrier to creation is higher. Each technology has a different way of creating content."
Missepus nods - that's a good point.

Jill, Hilde and I have started a blog called blogonblog, a blog on the act of blogging, to be used as the tool to write a paper and a presentation for a major conference next year. The language will most likely be Norwegian and English: the presentation and the article will be in English, so the informal meta-discussions will be in Norwegian while the suggestions and drafts for the article and presentation will be in English.

So far we have almost agreed on which colours and design to use: unless Jill makes a sharp, artistic decision, it will be girly pink and small print, an adjusted blogger template. I'd have loved to have it a little fluffy around the edges as well, like a powder-puff... Our sharp words emerging from the fluff of our hesitation, discussion and digression - which is how it often happens when I work with Hilde and Jill.

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

The problem with the net: I learn about too many things going on in the world which I miss, tucked away in this narrow fjord.
The advantage of the net: I learn about so many great things going on, and some of them through great web-pages!

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

I haven't been this annoyed with a book for quite some time. The last time I think I burned the book afterwards. Interestingly Thomas J. Roberts, author of An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction quotes Janice Radway's Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature:

The reaction of the Smithon women to books they are not enjoying are indicative of the intensity of their need to avoid offensive material and the feelings it typically evokes. Indeed, twenty-three (55 percent) reported that when they find themselves in the middle of a bad book, they put it down immediately and refuse to finish it. Some even make the symbolic gesture of discarding the book in the garbage, particularly if it has offended them seriously.(page 70)

Well, here's news for you both, Radway, Roberts: It's only the rigid training towards respect for the written word and the academic book (particularly with hard covers) through years of study which keeps me from discarding Junk Fiction. It starts out with an interesting argument, but it tries to address this argument through the worst case of "synsing" I have seen since the 70ties. OK, so I didn't attend a university until the eighties, but I did read the books!

"Synsing" is a very good Norwegian word which I can't really translate. It would approximately translate into thinking, feeling, meaning - but that's not correct. "Å synes" indicates a judgement, not just reporting a feeling or standing for what you mean. A meaning can normally be argued for rationally. A feeling is clearly undefendable but also safe from attack: a feeling is not supposed to be rational. Å synes is to mean something, but in an irrational way: It is a judgement, not just a subjective preferance, but it's not possible or neccessary to test it objectively.

This is what I feel Thomas Roberts does: he carries no proof to his statements, and he makes up private definitions (enjoy his definition of FUN at page 89: you thought you were having fun? Sorry, that can't have been it) of important and well-known concepts, without any other support for the definition than his own opinion. That is such an arrogant act...

At least he looks at me as a reader who can't be dismissed: since I enjoy both "junk fiction" and "canonical fiction". Well, since his reader-group consists of academics who take an interest in trash, he had better not dismiss the only people who actually pay for this... I won't call it trash, because trash denotes a quite honest genre of mass-consumer literature.... well, I think I'll stop there. Words fail me in this language, I have only been taught the polite ones.
same quiz as Jill tested - and I was rather surprised with the answer:

44 points is in the 21 through 50 precent
You are a casual weblogger. You only blog when you have nothing better to do, which is not very often. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you'd post a little more often, you'd make your readers very happy.

And last year, in Linz, Vector Lounge was not just a web-jam, but also electrolobby Game Jam
Vectorlounge, a web-jam in Amsterdam: for those out there who enjoy flash!
spank the monkey and see how quick you really are with that mouse!

Monday, November 05, 2001

I have been reading about high/low culture, while at the same time thinking about Mark Bernstein's interesting questions about what games can teach us about life. His house-rules don't permit metaphors or the speech of silence, etc: and he wants to know what games teach.

While that is an interesting little game, I find several flaws in assuming that games can teach as literature does.
I think the most important flaw is that a game is not a story. What we learn of games don't necessarily compare to what we learn from stories. Games range over a wider specter: from games of luck to games of mimicry. To ask what 20 years of computer games have taught us about the relationship between a son and his weak-minded father is like asking what football teaches us of how to bake. Baking for the players have taught me quite a lot about it - but the game itself did not. Does that mean we can disregard what we learn from football? Apart from the physical advantages of exercise;learning to think strategically, to act as a team, to follow and submit to rules, to be creative within these rules and with certain limitations - these are things we learn from games and which are very important... but they don't apply directly to a plotline or a specific event or discovery. Literature can make us understand these things, it can give us the theoretical knowledge of them, it can make us feel as if we know them - but we can't act upon literature, not even hypertext literature.

We can act on and within a game, it can let us take responsibility for a team and let us win or lose, not just feel that we control a team and feel that we win or lose. Even if it's still within the realm of make-belief: there is no real-life consequence to what happens in the game, the game-achievement is a lot more active and has more of a consequence than the feeling of having achieved something.

Next follows the question if the real value of literature rests in posing the major questions in life? The value of certain books is that they pose and occasionally answer such questions, yes. The value of these books and their answers is not an objective value: what is a "learning experience" changes with fashion and the shift in focus of society. Isn't it an error to expect games which are very closely tied to the genre-fiction to give learning-experiences which don't belong in that genre? The power-fantasy as Mark Bernstein calls the LBA I plot is a lot more common in science fiction and fantasy than the introspective self-discovery better suited to... well, a different genre. When did I last read of an irredeemably weak father and his student son? I think Mark Bernstein and I read very different books...

And if so: is this a weakness in computer games? Do they have to be defended because they are not supplying the answers which "high literature" does? Personally I don't think so. I have found that the players I interview have very different reasons for using computer games, reasons which includes learning, but doesn't exclude reading books and learning other things from other sources. At this time and date I find that learning what computer-games teach their users is more important than learning whether or not they teach the same things as the media we already have. Yes, those are two different things: the one opens up for new discovery, the other confirms (or not) what we already know. Which of course, can be important... but not as much fun. Which is pretty important, when we talk of games!
Lisbeth wants games that skip back and forth between different stories, keeping suspense up. I seem to recall a King's Quest game from Sierra that worked like that, around 1997... Don't recall the number in the series rigth now - think it might have been the one before The Princeless Bride. The Princeless Bride came as a series, like a soap opera, not quite the structure Lisbeth was looking for.
Lisbeth, since you're writing about Animal Planet: You're in Bergen, so you should see if you find any of Barbara Gentikow's writing on nature documentaries. Barbara is at the Department of Media Studies, and has noted the same thing as you: how animal lives tend to be ruled by the same type of narratives as human lives, on television. Odd, hmm?
Somebody has already purchased
At least she has a blog!

Saturday, November 03, 2001

Oh, and Mark: does Lara Croft have to be more or less varied than Artemis/Diana? As I remember it, the gods would/will use or be human beings, manifesting in different shapes for different purposes and different times. Who says Lara isn't really Diana? After all, she is almost worshipped.
OK Mark, so this is how you want to play?
Fathers and sons in computer games.... And I guess the house-rules still counts? Or do we use father-figures here? If we do, there is Twinsen, fighting the evil tyrant Dr Funfrock, to save his world, Twinsun. In the end of LBA I the mother-figure rises and envelops Twinsen in her love when he has conquered the evil tyrannic father-figure...

This game is interesting because it is a game where the NPC's take on a compelling realism, some of them annoyed with Twinsen, some eager to help, some betraying him: he is not safe anywhere, but can have sudden and surprising allies. He fights oppression, and in LBA II he is himself the father figure, having detroned Funfrock his sweet-heart is expecting a child. Provoked and fighting for the future of his own child he fights to save the children of his world as they are abducted to an other world in the grasp of an other evil tyrant.

So in these games we have the evil father who has to be killed for the boy to become a man, the man metamorphosing into the good father, fighting to protect his offspring - as well as the society held down by an oppressor, quite reminiscent of East-Europe despite the fantastic flavour of the game, perhaps a Computer-game of the oppressed as Gonzalo is looking for? Typically it's produced by the once French company Adeline Software. Why typically? Because Little Big Adventure introduces the social conflict with more colours than black and white: Twinsen is the hero but he can't do it alone. He also doesn't appear to be a particularly strong hero, he's just a little clever, he talks to people, he figures things out and there's a lot of trial and error on both the player's and the character's behalf.

Did I like it? Oh yessssss!

Friday, November 02, 2001

Jill brought Mark Bernstein's question to my attention: what do I learn about sex from computer games?

Accidentally, one of the games I have analysed is a not-published game created by the Norwegian Health Department, and was designed to teach boys from 12-16 about sex. This is a particularly difficult group to reach, as they tend to be very reserved against channel where such information is normally available, have a strong distrust of authorities and be very shy.

The game I analysed was a fun idea, and it discussed sex and sexualised situations quite openly. Teaching through playing did however turn out to be extremely complicated, because a computer-game is a medium of digression, not of politically correct learning. To make sure the boys learned what they were supposed to, the game had to close off a lot of options. It also taught them quite a few not-intended things, because if the boys should choose the politically correct path they would have to be punished for options which in real life would have been perfectly valid.

What did work though was the data-base connected to the game. An exellent collection of candid information about sexuality, linked together with hyperlinks, it contained pictures, texts and tiny little independent game-like features (like "the kissing school").

So I guess, yes, I have learned about sexuality from computer games: is it cheating to use an example which isn't published?

As Jill suggested, I have also learned a thing or two through the MUDs. But most of that has been about what the human mind is able to fantasise about and be exited by. Through the role-play games I have learned of limitations, experiments, prejudices and openness and what distance, anonymity and the freedom to write can do about topics of communication. I have learned about force, consent and control, about long-distance relationships and the power of the written word over the body.

Was any of this about sex? I don't think I learned anything new from the games about SEX in the many years I have played computer-games. But then again: what can not be about sex? I have learned that it's possible to twist most objects the human mind can think up into a sexually charged object, that humans can be incredibly inventive in order to manage to imagine a fairy and a troll having sex (and getting pregnant! That is what I can't stretch my imagination around), that sex is still linked with power and gender even if it happens in the anonymous space of the net.

None of these things surprised me though. What surprised me, from all that I learned, was how important the games became to the players: how serious and how meaningful. It's just a game after all.

No. I have come to realise that there is no such thing as "just a game."
Interactive or participatory - Jill's question from nov. 1st, what I think of this distinction.
I think interactive demands some kind of response: I say something to you, you say something to me in response to that, and you and I discuss or do something together based on our agreement, our actions influencing the other and their actions influencing us.

Participation does not have to include a response though. I can participate in building a wall through lifting one stone or fifty, and I can have the satisfaction to see the stone I put into the wall afterwards, but my participation might not matter to the fact that the wall is being built. I did not change the wall, since the stones I put into it would end up there anyway, I did not influence the structure, and I had no response from the wall or the builders of the wall to my contribution, but I still participated.

With interaction, the reward is the influence you have on the process, with participation the reward needs to be something more than the process: being able to take shelter behind the wall, have a meal and the company of people you like, or getting your name in the paper as one of the participants and gaining social status.

What does this mean for computer games? I think most (if not all) are participatory, while the ideal is interactive. Problem is: so far only living beings, humans most suitably equipped of those, have the ability to interact. Interaction demands a level of self-consciousness computers still don't have. Participation is a better word, because it doesn't require the software to acknowledge us. As to participation already being used on something other than software (participatory art, theatre...), I can only wonder if the programmers think they invented interaction.
It had to come... I have seen this originating in Sweeden and with the Amish, here is the Taliban Virus:


You have just received a Taliban virus. Since we are not so technologically advanced in Afghanistan, this is a MANUAL virus.

Please delete all the files on your hard disk yourself and send this mail to everyone you know.
Thank you very much for helping me.

Talbanian hacker

Sad thing is: with the US bombing their infrastructure to bits and pieces, thinking it will be easier to find Osama bin Laden if everybody in Afghanistan are starving, freezing, have no water and electricity, I'd be surprised if anybody in Afghanistan could send an email in the first place. And I suspect all their carrier pigeons have been eaten or shot down by now.
Some Calls for Papers and links to conferences

International Workshop on Entertainment Computing, Japan May 14-17 2002

The Communication Technology section of IAMCR, Barcelona July 21-27 2002


APRIL 5-7, 2002
Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition,
University of Manchester
Manchester, England

Deadline for submissions: Friday, December 21, 2001.

Computer games have now been taking up room in people's homes for over twenty-five years. The mid-seventies fad for the black and white block graphics of Pong has turned into an industry worth over $6 billion in the USA alone. The new generation of consoles along with the almost frenetic development in graphic and CPU technologies for PCs demonstrates a time of great technological innovation for gaming technology and this is reinforced by the growing importance of new methods of gaming-related retail such as web-based e-commerce and interactive digital television. Further, gamers are becoming increasingly organised and professionalised through growing consumer gaming exhibitions, national and international gaming competitions and arenas such as LAN parties and online gaming.

At this rapidly moving point in the gaming industry the ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition (CRIC) will be hosting a conference of computer gaming, gamers and the gaming industry on the 5th-7th April 2002 at The University of Manchester.

Bringing together researchers from sociology, psychology, games design, cultural studies, economics, management and other disciplines, along with members from various sectors of the gaming industry such as developers, publishers and retail the central aims of the conference are:

* To provide an international forum for the exchange of ideas, information and analysis on the gaming industry and gamer research

* To foster research links between academic research and the gaming industry and develop new networks of research activity

* To offer students a supportive environment for sharing and developing their idea with more established researchers

* To facilitate dissemination of work produced for the conference in printed and electronic format

The organisers welcome submissions from any discipline, as well as work from those producing games and other leisure-orientated new media or working within associated industries. Panel presentations which establish connections across disciplines, institutions and/or continents are especially encouraged.

We invite paper, presentation, and panel proposals on, but not restricted to, the following areas:

Gamers as producers
Gaming communities
Ethnographies of gamers
Gender differences

Gaming Industries:
Organisational culture
E-commerce and bricks & mortar retail
Market values and sectors
Strategic alliances

Gaming Effects:
Gaming and health
Gaming and development
Games software in education

Gaming technologies:
Technological convergence
Avatars and AI
Console wars
Gaming via WAP, WED and dTV

Textual analysis
Gender in games
Constructing gameplay
Character and narrative
Gaming history

Legal Aspects:
Software piracy
Game certification
IPR and copyright
Gamers as a consumer market

Individual paper and presentation proposals should be no more than 500 words. For panel proposals, the session organiser should submit a 250 word description of the panel topic along with abstracts of up to 500 words for each paper or presentation in the panel.

Abstracts and proposals should be submitted electronically to in RTF, Word or PDF format or sent to:

Jason Rutter
ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition,
The University of Manchester,
Ground Floor, Devonshire House,
Oxford Road,
M13 9QH
PH: +44 (0) 161 275 6859

Deadline for abstracts: Friday, December 21, 2001.
Accepted authors notified: Friday January 21, 2002


Call for Papers

Consortium for Computing in the Humanities (COCH-COSH)
Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE)
2002 Annual Meeting at the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities
May 26-28, 2002
University of Toronto / Ryerson Polytechnic


Theorizing Computer Games: Do We Need a New Theory?

Although late to the scene, scholars have begun defining approaches to computer game scholarship, the most common being rooted in studies of narrative, cinema, and dramatic performance. As promising as these perspectives are, Espen Aarseth cautions against the oft-repeated mistake he finds in many recent approaches to digital media:
the race is on to conquer and colonize these new territories for our existing paradigms and theories, often in the form of "the theoretical perspectives of is clearly really a prediction/description of ." (Aarseth, 1999, 31 & 32)

This joint session between COCH/COSH and ACCUTE will address the problem--if, in fact, there is a problem--with theorizing computer games from perspectives used to explain narrative, cinema, and dramatic performance. If theoretical perspectives for analyzing non-digitally interactive forms of art and culture potentially represent computer games as something they are not, then what are the new questions we must ask about computer games that require new paradigms and theories? What is there about computer games that make them so different from other forms of culture that they need their own theory? Can computer games be understood in terms of narrative, cinema, or dramatic performance? Or does their use of character, plot, time, space, interactivity, user-initiated sequencing, subject positioning, special effects, and new computer technologies require a new theory of computer games?

Proposals for presentations are invited that address these and other questions related to the theorization of computer games.

Submit by e-mail or snail mail a full paper or 500 word abstract plus a short bio and CV by December 15 to:

Andrew Mactavish
McMaster University
School of the Arts
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario CANADA L8S 4M2
Looking at this blog, I notice that I am writing less and less. Looking at my desk, I realise that I am again working efficiently on the thesis. I guess the blog is serving its purpose, as a way to keep me loosely on topic when I don't manage to work on the "real" work. The last couple of days I have also found myself going through the archives, remembering a book, a comment, a link from some months ago, and tracking it down to use it.

What can I say? It works.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

Jill is reporting from a conference I had planned to go to (and reading her reports, really wish I was at), but couldn't raise the money for. Instead Erling Sivertsen went after I made him aware that somebody from the department should be there, as did the other woman studying computer-mediated texts in this department, Anne Mangen. Oh well, I suspect they are having fun!