Thursday, November 30, 2006

Another day in Utopia

A nourishing meal in a clean bowl, eaten comfortably in the safety of a warm and even gracious room. Tea served steaming hot, fragrant with rare spices from a distant country. Can there be a better way to start the day? Add to this luxury the chance to wash in clean water, warm, clean clothes and comfortable shoes, which I, like all other inhabitants in this wondrous land, don before I settle into a vehicle which can easily be steered through the rain and uphill - no effort needed at all.

Then hours are spent in another warm and comfortable location, one with ample lighting and walls covered with books. A magical machine lets me read, write, pass messages and images to others, and receive the same. Delicately I touch the keys and a world of events come to me. Work - the hours I need to engage in it, to give back something to this rich society in which I live - is an intricate sorting of information and passing on my ideas about it to others, a complex process, but painless and performed at the tap of my fingertips.

When the light beyond the large pane of glass changes, it's time to return to the domicile - but first we gather reseources for another meal: fish, meat, eggs, cheese, vegetables, fruit - anything I can imagine and more is spread out before me in one spot. And all they ask as I leave with my catch is that I swipe a plastic card. There is some connection between the resources I have access to here and the tapping of my fingers through the day, but much work or little, it is a long time since I worried about what to eat, when, where.

Safe in the comfort of the place where I store the far too many objects I possess, I can eat, rest and entertain myself alone or with family or friends. I can do this until I am exhausted from the delights of the day, and I fall asleep, warm, safe, well-fed and comfortable.

Truly, Utopia must finally be here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Norwegian academic publishing

This article, in Norwegian and by Professor Anders Johansen at the University of Bergen, discusses the reforms in academic publishing in Norway. It's deeply problematic as the ranking of publishers in the form about to be implemented will kill any research connected to local issues with a strictly national interest. This reform means publishing on Norwegian language, history, society, culture - everything specific for Norway which would be of interest in order to develop an intellectual Norwegian debate - becomes irrelevant to academia.

I am going to stop there, and not translate more of the points in the article. This is a battle Norwegian Scholars need to fight in Norwegian, in Norway. Hvis du leser norsk og er akademiker eller ønsker å lese norsk forskning også i framtiden, les hva Anders Johansen sier!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Congratulations, Anne Mangen

Once time colleague and still working in similar fields, Anne Mangen recently defended her Dr. art. on "New narrative pleasures? A cognitive-phenomenological study of the experience of reading digital narrative fictions".

Anne defended her thesis at NTNU, the Norwegian Technological University in Trondheim, but she has spent much of her research period in California, since about 2000.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blizzard and the gold-sellers

Not long ago I wrote about the connection between gold, time and twinking, and how some gold seller sites claimed they cooperate with Blizzard. At the time I didn't consider it, but a certain attunement needed if I want to join future raids have made me pause.

In order to enter some areas in the game, special effort is needed, or attunements. To enter Molten Core (MC) you have to get through Black Rock Depths (BRD) in order to get a fragment of the core, carry it back to an elf just outside the entranc and voila, you're attuned. Takes a bit of effort, but fairly easy, really. You just have to be a good enough player to get through a lev 54+ instance.

To get attuned to Blackwing Lair the stakes are a bit higher, you have to look for the letter that starts the quest - means killing some high level elite orcs. Then you need to go with a ten person raid through Upper Black Rock Spire (UBRS), kill the final boss and touch the orb behind him. No longer easy-peasy, but again, what it takes is skill and time.

Now, for the Onyxia attunment, you will be working for some time. You have to kill certain bosses in Lower Black Rock Spire (LBRS), then run around and deliver quests, collect items in UBRS, run a bit more, disguise as a dragonkin, talk to a dragon, kill a bunch of dragons, well, you get it, this is a loooong quest chain of things you have to do, and then you can enter Onyxia's Lair.

For the Ahn'Qiraj instances in Silithus, the entire server joined in for the attunement. Everybody have to work towards opening the gates, and once they are open, everybody can enter. This is both for the 20 and the 40 man instance: AQ20 and AQ40.

Now, up comes the newest, latest instance: Naxxramas in the eastern Plaguelands. For all the other instances, what you need to get attuned is friends, groups, gaming skills: the same kind of skills you need inside the instance. To get attuned to Naxxramas (Naxx), you need soloing skills and gold.

To enter Naxxramas, you must become attuned (which you do through the Argent Dawn) and then enter a Teleporting Spire in the Eastern Plaguelands. Although there is a green raid entrance deep inside Stratholme, it is blocked off by a gate.

The requirements for attuning to Naxxramas will depend on your reputation with the Argent Dawn:

5x [Arcane Crystal]
2x [Nexus Crystal]

1x [Righteous Orb]

60 gold

2x [Arcane Crystal]
1x [Nexus Crystal]

30 gold


The fastest way to get into Naxxramas is to run Scholomance or Stratholme until you are Honored and then simply buy the required materials. Prices obviously vary, but to give you a rough idea, the materials costs are approximately 250 at Honored (and about half that at Revered).

So: what you need for this attunement is either to give up all hope of entering for weeks of grinding, or to buy gold. Add to the equation that in order to get the equipment you need for Naxx, you need to run the other raid instances regularly to get new gear, because the only gear you can re-use is the nature resistance (NR) gear from AQ - and for some bosses some of the fire resistance (FR) gear from the dragon and fire related instances, but you can't even reach the FR bosses without the NR from AQ and most important in Naxx: frost resistance and shadow resistance. When you do heavy grinding of gear in raids, you spend a lot of the cash you make there on resources to maintain your presence: Potions, buffs, enchants, repairs. Raiding needs to be supported through grinding.

What does this mean? Naxxramas is a goldsellers' goldmine. Blizzard has built into the game an instance which ensures that nobody but the most devoted players can enter without either a very strong and generous guild supporting them, or through buying gold.

I am trying to understand what Blizzard gains from this. One thing is of course that goldsellers are players, too, and they have to buy the game and pay the fees. And they have to pay more than other players, as they have their accounts revoked each time they are discovered, and so they buy a new game to make a new account to get back into business. I would love to see an estimate of how large a percentage of the player population are gold sellers. It has to be a bunch, I normally get 4-5 whispers every gaming session from different gold seller sites, I report as many as I can, but they pop right back up.

An other issue is: Is Blizzard planning to make players buy their way into better positions in the game? The changes with The Burning Crusade (TBC), where mounts and gear is more advanced than ever, and where movement will be more restricted if you don't have the right gear, hints towards that kind of development. Today an epic mount riding skill costs almost 1000 gold. Before you could get one character to a certain status and buy cheaper mounts for your other characters and your friends. The recent changes makes this practice impossible. I can only guess that it means transportation will be more expensive in TBC. At the speed which I can grind - and mind you, I am a pretty dedicated player, I have to, in order to maintain a presence both with the raiding/role-playing guild and the researcher's guild - 1000 gold takes a month. 10 000 gold, which is the logical sum for a flying mount? Sounds like a year. A year of dedicated grinding, hours and hours of farming. I will never do that. What will Blizzard do to "help"?

Commodification is already an obvious part of TBC. Special "packs" offer goodies for players who buy them, like flashy funny mounts. Are Blizzard planning to beat the gold sellers by joining them?

I was looking forwards to The Burning Crusade. I would love a flying mount, a blood elf paladin and new areas to explore. Now I really don't know.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Selfcontained blogs

Recently I have discovered a few blogs which are actually pretty good, but which are, oddly for a long time blogger, extremely self contained. Some of them have no links in the text, some of them link to themselves.

When news media moved into the net, they tried to avoid links in order to hold the reader in one spot. It didn't work, people got bored and used search engines. So the news media, not being totally stupid, started working with the power of the links and made several different types, both to their own archives and to other sources.

But these new bloggers, who do serious and nice work, so they are no spammers of marketing blogs or anything like that, they link to themselves, don't share the link love, and when they write comments on other peoples' blogs they put in links to themselves. This is a way to use the gift economy of links which I find is ungenerous and selfish: use other peoples' sites to link themselves, but not link back.

I don't know what I'll do yet. So far I am reading the comments, checking each blog carefully, and if it's unique and interesting I let the comments pass. But I am a little surprised at this isolation, this way to use a weblog as a place for display, not for connections and sharing.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Television and feminism

I am leafing through Joshua Meyrowitz' No Sense of Place, a great work on how electronic media in the body of television changed out society. It does point to some of the same issues as the extremely popular Amusing ourselves to death, but it holds so much more. It is a rich and interesting read, and since it's such a long time since I read it parts appear to me like recognitions of my own thoughts. A little sad too, as I realise it was Meyrowitz who wrote it, and not my original thought. Alas.

Anyway, here goes:
Before, isolated from men and from each other, women had "no outside standards to reckon by." "For women at home... the loss of a direct tie to the outer world means a loss of cognitive knowledge of how things work and real standards to test oneself against." As an arena of news and entertainment shared by both sexes, television alters women's perspective. Television gives women access to "outside standards" and it provides knowledge of "how things work." The shared arena of television also invites public comparison of the males and females portrayed in it. And by the male standards offered by television, women are weak, isolated, and relatively useless. If a man were in the position of most female television characters, he would probably be considered a "failure." (1987:211)

This rings with the same kind of truth as does Loving with a Vengeance by Tanya Modleski and Reading the Romance by Janice Radway. Both these works on women and popular culture show how a communication technology apparently worthless and fully commercialised was used in ways that empowered the users rather than numb their brains. Or, in the words of Adorno and Horkheimer:
The stunting of the mass media consumer's power of imagination and spontaneity does not have to be traced back to any psychological mechanisms; he must ascribe the loss of those attributes to the objective nature of the products themselves, especially to the most characteristic of them, the sound film.

Studying, playing and and generally hanging out with consumers of computer games does not leave me with a feeling of interacting with stunted, unintellectual people with no imagination. Quite to the contrary, they are imaginative, hard working and spontaneous - within the gaming context, at least. What I really would like to know is how the women think about it. PerhapsI should try to find one of the women's guilds or a group of women's gamers and do a Radwayian study? OK, one more point on the to-do list...

So there we go - opening one old book made me drag out two more, and one ancient article. Returning to the classics today, I guess.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Videogames and violence - a matter of faith

Cleaning my desk today, I found an article I kept because of the reference to what looks like fairly rigid and serious research on video game effects. I went to check the resources, and yes, there are researchers out there who feel that they have found a significant correlation between video games and violence:

Dr. Anderson and colleagues have shown that playing a lot of violent video games is related to having more aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Furthermore, playing violent games is also related to children being less willing to be caring and helpful towards their peers. Importantly, research has shown that these effects happen just as much for non-aggressive children as they do for children who already have aggressive tendencies (Anderson et al., under review; Gentile et al., 2004).

I am presently harassing the librarians here to get me a copy of Craig Anderson's special volume of Journal of Adolescence from 2004, because I have some questions about this research. What games did they test? Under what conditions? How did they measure violent behaviour? How do they define violent behaviour?

In other contexts when I have seen research making such claims, even celebrated and lauded research, when looking closer at these parameters I have been rather disappointed with the lack of understanding of games in general, and some really strange ways to measure "violence" and "aggression". I don't say that this is true here, I just really want to look at their methodology. Particularly as the findings do not fit with other observations around games:
1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.

According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers — 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts. According to a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General's report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester.
2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.

Claims like this are based on the work of researchers who represent one relatively narrow school of research, "media effects." This research includes some 300 studies of media violence. But most of those studies are inconclusive and many have been criticized on methodological grounds. In these studies, media images are removed from any narrative context. Subjects are asked to engage with content that they would not normally consume and may not understand. Finally, the laboratory context is radically different from the environments where games would normally be played. Most studies found a correlation, not a causal relationship, which means the research could simply show that aggressive people like aggressive entertainment. That's why the vague term "links" is used here. If there is a consensus emerging around this research, it is that violent video games may be one risk factor - when coupled with other more immediate, real-world influences — which can contribute to anti-social behavior. But no research has found that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.

The Anderson study appears to be methodologically sound, from the write-up, but the things I want to have a look at are exactly the issues which Henry Jenkins bring up here: How has the research actually been conducted? Once I get hold of the relevant issue of Journal of Adolescence, I will be back.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reach a decision maker

Occasionally people I know invite me to join LinkedIn. Since I have accounts wilting at Orkut, Friendster and probably a few other network/social sites out there, I know myself well enough not to join any more of those. I even have a problem with email lists. If I don't REALLY want to participate, they become spam which I just shove into an archive and forget very quickly.

LinkedIn however promises something which surprised me. They announce that you can "reach a decision maker". I had to stop and think about that. First: If I was a decision maker, I would not be hard to identify for the general public. Why would I need to make a profile on a network site to become more available? Second: Let's say I had a profile on some kind of network software, would I want to be contacted that way? And last but not least: Would I trust the decisions of a decision-maker who was approachable through something like LinkedIn?

Joi Ito's now much-cited claim for WoW to be the new golf does however put me on the track of something here. LinkedIn, with the invitation policy, is supposed to be the same kind of exclusive community where you invite your friends and those you would like to have as part of your network into the inner circle. Like the two researchers' guilds in WoW you are invited to come play with the people who you would otherwise only read articles by.

It doesn't work the same way though. A golf club is exclusive because somebody are excluded and the participants contribute and risk something by their participation - if only a substantial fee. If you are contacted while at the club the person contacting you has been pre-screened, and is very likely to have useful assets you can then access at some other point. The contact becomes a valuable exchange of favours, if not mutual right now, there's an expectation of future favours included. LinkedIn invites us all to sign in. This means that the people you may want to reach will be contacted by a lot of people who have very little to offer in exchange, or if they do, they have made no commitment to the exchange.

I think systems like LinkedIn are interesting, and they most likely work great for the people who keep maintaining their presence and following up others. For people like me, who keep getting distracted by shiny phat l00t elsewhere (see that teenagers who do l33t speach? Women your mothers' age and up are doing it now, you can stop, it has become uncool), it's enough to be in the phone book. Which is where I find my old classmates, and quite a few decision makers, when I want to.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Norwegian cozyness

A comment on my blog lead to reading the blog of Renny Bakke Amundsen, who among other things teaches corporate blogging(!). A post I noticed was by his American wife, who wrote about the Norwegian cozyness - den norske kosen (Psst, Renny, what's up with the permalinks? I can't find a good way to link, had to link to the comments). She explains this very simple but very complex concept well, and for those who read Norwegian and would like some more views on this, here are a couple of interesting links.
Kjetil Rollness about Norwegian cozyness, Kosesamfunnet.
Not everybody loves the Norwegian way of having a good time, and I would have loved to read the interview with Nina Witoszek both articles refer to.

Henry Jenkins blog

Henry Jenkins started his official blog in June 2006.

I am glad and will add it to the list of interesting stuff to read. I have always liked his common sense approaches to fan culture, and look forwards to reading convergence culture, which I have ordered - delivery estimate is loooong though.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

First female dean

The Faculty of the arts at the University of Oslo has their first female dean, and if they had to wait this long, they waited for the right woman. Professor Trine Syvertsen is someone I have known since I started studying media, a brilliant student, efficient researcher and all round a nice person. If I could have voted she would have had my vote too, but hey, Trine didn't need it! The votes were clear, she is the dean!

Status bars and gold stars

At the workshop in Bergen, I mentioned the importance of the status bar, and how positioning the World of Warcraft status bar in a very visible spot, split it into small boxes and keep it functioning after level 60 by making it useful for tracking reputation, is a stroke of genius. I find myself going: "Let me just kill 10 more furbolgs and fill out that next box on the status bar," while I am really totally utterly bored with what I am doing. Justin claimed, tongue in cheek, that he has a status bar at the bottom of Word, but hey, he was not that far off! We do keep counting pages, after all. It's also the same as I do with the stacks of papers which need to be marked: by moving the papers from one stack to the next, I can track the progress visually while grinding, eh, grading.

Returning from some months of research/writing grind to the grind of teaching and administration, I felt dissatisfied with my progress at all levels, both what I have written and what I need to teach. Today I sat down and tracked my progress in a way which could be visualised. I have a book I write "things to do" in, and I love stroking out what I have done. Guilt has however kept me from using it, and looking at the book on my desk just made me feel worse. I went and bought stars and other stickers, then I bravely opened the book to see if I could line out at least one thing and reward myself a gold star.

Now I have a lot of stars all over the front of the book! I have been so good! The book of work to come is back in a prominent position, shiny with proof of how efficient I am even if I don't notice it, and more stickers are just waiting to decorate the front. I have fantasies about the epic look it will have when both front and back are COVERED with stickers.

Childish? Yes, but at least now I am giggling with the silliness of it all, and not moping at my own self-destructive behaviour.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Computer game statistics in Norway

From the Norwegian Statistical Bureau - SSB, statistisk sentralbyrå, an article on computer/video game use in Norway. It shows that in 2005 57% of the boys between 9 and 15 have used a PC or video game, while 23 % of the girls played every day.

I am very curious to see what this looks like for 2006.

Beauty norms and plastic surgery

This is for Norwegian readers, an article referring to a work of research done by Professor Anne Karen Bjelland. She has conducted a study of women who have had plastic surgery, and discusses the norms for a healthy, beautiful body.

I haven't read the study, only this article, but I am putting the link in here so I remember to go back to it later and learn more.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Not all that truant

Some of The Truants were gathered in Bergen 3rd and 4th of November, to work on an anthology on game research in World of Warcraft. Jill and Hilde are editing the book, which will be published in 2008, at MIT.

A guild name "The Truants" shouldn't be able to have a well-prepared workshop, but we did. It was disciplined, nice, all had taken time to write and read and gave thoughtful responses, and some even joined just because they thought it would be fun, not because they had to.

However, the moment we were off to play and raid, the discipline was blown away. For a group of very serious and professional scholars, The Truants are extremely undisciplined players. Gather them in a raid, and nobody listens to a word that's said. Everybody chooses to dance, run out in advance and get killed, or talk about something totally different. I wonder if renaming the guild "The Disicplined Players" would remake us all into smooth, calm and disciplined team players? It's almost worth trying... but not quite. I suspect the name of the guild echoed with too many of the members already at the very beginning, and a name change now will not help at all.

I was not part of the other non-serious activity, as I needed some sleep that week end, but Scott made a little film that makes us (them) look very serious and competent, at the shooting range. Here they all look dangerous, but not at all as if they are going on a raid. Nobody are dancing!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Taylor: "simply entertainment"

I have always been impressed with T. L. Taylor's scholarship, and happy and priviledged to be allowed to play and work with her - ok, occasionally also exasperated or surprised, but that's a good thing as I would otherwise have been a victim of total hero worship. I have told you all before how much I like her Play Between Worlds, but today I am offering a quote which contains a large part of the reason for my continued devotion to new media technologies and the social spaces they facilitate:

The common framing of games as "simply entertainment" often obscures the ways they act as key cultural sites in which forgoing participation may have real costs. We increasingly live in a world in which opting out of technological systems is more and more difficult and yet participation within those systems pushes us to accept structures we might oppose. Try eliminating a technology (especially a communication one) from your life for a week and see how you fare. As people find their friends, family, colleagues and the broader culture engaging in some sphere, the desire to participate can be quite strong and also a social imperative. We might also consider the ways participating in particular forms or places always are tied up with questions of power. Separate does not mean equal, and sometimes we can see quite clearly the benefits that come from being in particular spaces. I do not want to suggest that we do not have choices that we can make, but instead want to highlight that there can be meaningful benefits and costs attached to those choices. (Taylor 2006:135)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Norwegian MUD cake

And after reading Hilde's muffin post (which I sympathize with and recognize at all levels, except for the dog part, that dog looks pretty happy to me), this post is dedicated to her.

If you all thought there's nothing but gaming going on in my life these days, I can comfort you all and offer a wonderful new chocolate cake experiment. No picture, it was eaten before I could get the camera out! This is a cake with very dark chocolate, fructose; a natural sweetener which does not cause as much of a bloodsugar fluctuation as regular sugar does, and spelt flour which I am not allergic to. I found the recipe at a Norwegian web site called, and adjusted it a little to suit me better:

Norwegian MUD cake

One large breadpan

300 grams of 70-80% chocolate
250 grams of butter
6 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
150 grams of fructose
110 grams of fine spelt flour

Melt chocolate and butter. Whip eggs and fructose well, until it’s moist. Cool the chocolate and butter mix down to hand temperature, then stir it into the egg mix. Gently turn flour into the batter at the end.

Cover a large bread pan in wax paper for baking. Pour the batter in. This cake does not rise much. It is supposed to be just barely firm at the outer layer and still moist in the middle. Bake at 180 degrees Celcius for 10 minutes or so. I baked it for 20 minutes and it was slightly dry at the edges, but very moist and appetising in the middle. I also made muffins, and baking those for 10 minutes they were nice chocolate muffins, with only a little moist core.

This cake is supposed to be frozen. It is easy to cut when frozen, so just cut off a few slices when needed and heat in a microwave. Serve while it is still a little warm, and since it has a very strong chocolate taste serving it with whipped cream is a brilliant idea. My cake never got as far as the freezer. It's a large serving though, so use a large breadpan, or more than one small one, and share with friends and family.

"Where will blogs be in 10 years?"

I have answered this question with: "Somewhere we never anticipated, but where ever it is, it will involve more media than writing." Adrian Miles in Melbourne is one of those who has been thinking about involving more media than writing for a very long time, and faced with YouTube he thinks some more:
Note the words - “existing video content”. Just as authors thought back in the mid ’90s about words and writing so 2006 is the year in which traditional video (television, video makers, wannabe’s and coodabeens) finally found the web, got over size (”what do you mean pixels, our screens are metres man!”), figured out some data rates (courtesy of the iPod which, like television before it has settled all that by having hardware defined requirements) and are now realising its potential in spite of it not being full screen, full motion and the rest of it.

So, in about five years we’ll have moved on, finally. And video will be as text is now. Linked, linkable, and we’ll ‘write’ video inside the space of the network.