Monday, December 12, 2011

Abiding in the Wii

Was playing some Wii Sports Resort the other day, specifically the bowling (where yes you can get English on the ball by spinning your hand like you do with a real bowling ball), and noticed this guy in the background:

Some of you may realize that looks a lot like Jeff Bridge's character from The Big Lebowski, a.k.a. "The Dude". The Dude, of course, bowls. Now I grant that the background of this bowling game was filled with a large number of Miis who covered a large range of visual types (hair, clothes, skin tone, etc.), but, this one was pretty good. He is even reflecting off the shiny parquet floor.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Copyright and... Whaaaat?

Sometimes you have to wonder about copyright. You read some odd little snippet about a copyright and have to wonder, what in the world is going on?

"The Bulldog Club of America (B.C.A.), which owns the copyright to the American standard..." (From the Sunday NYTimes magazine.)

What? Apparently "the standard" is just a written description, and written things do indeed fall under copyright: "the bulldog standard (a written template for the look and temperament of a breed)." But this isn't just a copyright of some written stuff, it's more than that, it's the definition of a breed of dogs (with horrible health problems) as recognized... well as recognized by people who recognize it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Making, Self-Making, Community Sharing

I was skimming through a web forum for people who care about and work on a particular type of car (E46Fanatics, for a specific body-model of BMW, the E46, which looks like this), not primarily mechanics but instead owners who maintain and work on their cars -- car modders, essentially -- and I noticed that a lot of them would, as part of their post (and probably part of their .sig), include a photo of their car.

This is in part because their car is something they have modified since it came off the showroom floor and, although it may not exactly be unique, it is probably unique or definitely quite rare in that specific configuration. (We're talking rims, tints, suspension, trim, some things you can't see so easily in a shot of the body of the car, and some things I probably don't even know about.)

However, it is also in part because the car is part of their identity -- it is something they are proud of, something they may have had a hand in modifying (i.e., creating), and it is something that identifies them as a member of the community.

What struck me (was the tire that flew off the car... no no) was that this is the same behavior that some people who play MMOs do in their MMO forums -- in some cases people will post pictures of their in-game avatars. I think this has been written about academically, but I don't offhand recall by who. But it's easy to see the similarities:

  • Posting/sharing the image
  • Image is of the thing that the community is about
  • Object in the image is made, to some extent, by the poster
So we have:
  • Sharing
  • Membership-claiming
  • Making
All of these activities (or behaviors if you will) are pro-community activities, they can both create and reinforce community and sense of community.

The obvious and significant difference between these two examples are that one community deals with concrete objects (cars) and the other with digital objects (MMO characters), yet, the behavior is the same.

(EQII has a default sig image, I grabbed the generic "this is what it will look like" image which doesn't have the character image in it but is for my main. And, that's an E46 with three really nice non-standard features: the rims, the clear turn signal covers, and the spoiler.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

He's Dead, Jim.

Star Trek is all over the net. Everywhere. Even before the World Wide Web (and I'm not having a debate about capitalization or hyphens with that). But, I hadn't seen it in EQII, despite all the homage there, until now.

"He's dead, Jim," is the classic line spoken by Dr. McCoy (a.k.a. Bones) what seemed like every time someone or something died, which was quite often.

Someone has even made a little montage of "dead" quotes from Star Trek, mostly by Bones but not all.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Candy Humor

EQII also has plenty of cultural references, like a quest based on icanhazcheezburger. Here, though, is some of the Nights of the Dead (Halloween) candy, spoofing green M&Ms. (Nice M&M color chart in Wikipedia showing the timeline of changes.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Seasonal EQII Homage: Norm Baites

There is so much homage in EverQuest II, it is almost ridiculous to continue pointing out examples, although it is nice to have some visuals in the blog. Here is one I think is seasonal, given the name of the character, Norm Baites, obviously playing on Norman Bates from the famous film Psycho. I'm not sure the character is usually there. Norm is wearing an EQII Halloween mask (Halloween is renamed "Nights of the Dead") of a nautilus-like creature and ends up looking like something from a Lovecraft novel. Given it's The Nights of the Dead in EverQuest II currently, Norm makes sense as a seasonal homage. You can see his name floating on the top of his head.

Survey Results: Age and Industry Job

A lot gets made of how some modders hope to get a job in the industry. When talking to my friends at Sports Mogul about the survey, they theorized that this might correlate with age, where younger modders have this idea while older modders are more established in career tracks. Indeed that is what we see, although younger modders (at least in this sample) have a range of opinions about it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"I Told You So"

About five years ago I told a major market research firm the following:

Currently the Zune is too problematic to be part of the digital near-future.

I said that Microsoft had to "fix it." I don't think the market research firm liked that I said that, since they blew me off after that. Something happened earlier this month that was so barely noted I missed it until earlier this week: Microsoft cancelled the Zune. It is actually difficult for me to find a news outlet that I am used to using which reported it (but there is always Wikipedia).

I could say that it feels good to be right, but I've been right the entire last five years and I've always known it. As for the market research firm in question, well, they don't know what they are doing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Survey Results: Motivations

Here are five of the motivation questions from my game modding survey (not a random sample), re-ordered and shown as a bar chart in percentages. Motivations about the industry in reddish tones on the left of each grouping, green in the middle is other players, and on the right of the groupings is fun and "improve the game for yourself". I know the colors aren't optimal but the chart does a good job of showing that people aren't motivated in relation to the industry. I don't think this says modders are selfish, I think this is a reflection of how people get an idea to improve a game (their own idea), and then make that idea via a mod since they want to improve the game based on their idea, and, it's fun.

Even zoomed out, you can see the pattern (but that could be a fabrication based on the questions, however, I did group the questions and the pattern is the end result, not the other way around). (The image/chart should really have a title, but it isn't meant to stand on its own. "Modder Motivations", perhaps.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

One Quick Result - Modders' Survey

Been busy filtering out spammer entries and trying to get the write-up done for ICA (due Nov. 1st), and I haven't pulled all the numbers but here is one I made a nice little graph for. The nice thing about the graph is the curve, which was unexpected -- I expected a decline, but the "No" response on this question set roughly doubled with each proceeding question, so the curve is rather visually appealing.

Here is the rough table, I haven't formatted it completely. Numbers are % and # of respondents. N=111.

What is also cool is that the numbers are fairly high, although it is possible that I got a lot of pro-community modders in my survey since I advertised for it on mod forums (a form of community) and the respondents may be slightly more helpful than the more general mod population (since they were helping me by taking the survey, although perhaps they were feeling curious).

Interactions with Other Modders

No Yes
I have told a modder I liked their mod or thanked them for making it. 7.2 (8) 92.8 (103)
I have made comments in order to help someone improve their mod. 12.6 (14) 87.4 (97)
I have contributed code, scripting, voice, visual elements, or other content to someone else’s mod. 23.4 (26) 76.6 (85)
I have co-authored a mod with others. 43.2 (48) 56.8 (63)
I have taken ownership of a mod someone else stopped working on. 82.9 (92) 17.1 (19)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sometimes You Feel Like Homage

Another example from EverQuest II. Many don't fit Kaveney's "geek aesthetic"(1) like this one. Geek aesthetic is mostly sci-fi/fantasy nerd/geek culture. If you Google "sometimes you feel like a nut" you'll see why this is homage (although it isn't trademark infringement). This example is from EQII's version of Halloween, going on in-game currently, "Nights of the Dead".

1. Kaveney, R. (2005). From Alien to The Matrix. London, UK: I. B. Tauris.

Survey Drawing Winners!

Ok after weeding out the big fraudulent entry and a few other obvious ones via data cleaning, I was able to...

  • Make a list of the valid emails.
  • Use NeoOffice's "random" function to choose three numbers.
  • The numbers were 66, 75, and 60, which were all a little high and close together but indeed that's random.
The winners are... Well the initial parts of their emails, so they can probably recognize themselves but no one will be able to send them spam (so not even complete to the @ sign), are:
  • Rolanxxxxx
  • Shirtxxxxxx
  • Twilightxxx
Later this afternoon I will be completing the Amazon side of things--I'm a little behind due to the big survey spammer and their 20+ entries, since I really didn't expect that--and then maybe I can do some analysis as well.

THANKS to everyone who actually took the survey for real, there were a lot of you and I am really grateful for your time and your help with this project. Thanks also to Ambrosia Software and Sports Mogul for advertising the survey on their boards (and boo to the three sources that didn't help, you know who you are, your name could have been here!).

eHarmony Pimps the Virgins Again

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Game Modders' Survey Now Closed

I had some preliminary results up, but Survey Monkey alerted me to the likelihood that a fraudster hit my survey and took it over 20 times. Survey Monkey is working with me on it, but until I get those responses out of the results I can't do anything. (This also means I can't yet run the drawing for the Amazon gift certs, although those were apparently enough of a draw to lure in the unwanted fraudulent respondent.) Sucks. This person is not a modder, they are a fraud! Boo! You have been caught and will not be "winning" a gift certificate (winning in your case equals cheating). Everyone ELSE did not cheat, and I am really honored that they all took my survey.

I have used the HTML comment tag to make it so you won't see the previous and now-invalid write-up, but you can view the page source if you really want to see it. If the fraudster answered "male" every time (I don't know yet), then the male-female ratio will be severely distorted (with the fraudster, it was 33F/109M, so maybe it's more like 33F/85M).

Well, it is internet, I knew this might happen, I just didn't think it would.

Edit: Or, bummer, almost all of the female responses were from the fraudulent respondent. Perhaps the findings from this survey, once the data is cleaned up (amazing what some people do), will show that the % of women who mod is more in line with the % from the IGDA survey (10% or so, mentioned in the part I have now commented into invisibility).

Friday, October 14, 2011

Game Modders' Survey: 100+!

I would like to thank all the respondents who have completed the game modders' survey, since as of this afternoon over 100 people have completed it! Awesome! Thank you everyone! (117 as of right now!)

If you are a game modder and would like to take the survey:

The survey runs until Oct. 19th.

If you aren't a game modder but want to look at the survey, this link will put your responses in a different "collector" so you can peruse the questions:

It is really awesome to see that 117 people will complete a survey from some random person (me) who they don't know. And, it's about modding, which is very exciting stuff (mods are cool, modding is making and playing and usually there is a sharing element to it so there's a community angle -- modding is a the middle of the Venn diagram of several awesome and important things).

Hopefully I can get it analyzed and written up for ICA, due Nov. 1st, that's the plan.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Because Fun is Important

Fun. It's important. It's enjoyment, it's learning, it's playful, it's related to sharing which relates to community, I would say it's everything but I just said design was everything (although I'm sure the two are related).

Let's play connect the dots:

  1. Because it's fun.
  2. Because it is fun.
  3. Just for fun.
Which we will give context to with some sources:
  1. "Bob, why do these bears play?".... "Because it's fun." (Italics in original.) Stuart Brown's convincing and moving book, Play, from p. 28, about why bears play (the book is about play and much more than bears, which are just a few pages). Brown is an MD and a play researcher; in other words, he's an expert and knows what he is talking about. (A national bestseller.)
  2. From a small survey of computer game modders, one respondent's answer to "WHY do you take spend your time and effort into developing an idea on how to make the game better and/or developing some user-generated content?" 
  3. The title to Linus Torvalds' book about why he started what became linux and why he codes.
I keep insisting that this is deeply-rooted human behavior and I get academic reviews by people who have no idea what I am talking about, look, people, it's all the same.

Steve Jobs and Design

Design is really an important part of the Steve Jobs story, and it isn't one that a lot of people understand. Some do. So, although it isn't an understanding that comes quickly or easily--it's more like riding a bicycle, you have to learn it by doing and falling over sometimes--it is one worth understanding.

So, here's a NYTimes article on Jobs and design, and here's the text of Jobs' Standford address from 2005, where he discusses calligraphy, and lastly here is one about Jobs and what is not there in terms of design, called ma, or what is not there, which I think is a vital part of the picture (the author of that article, Jeff Yang, explains it well).

Everything is design, design is everything.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011

I only saw Steve Jobs once, since I didn't live in the right places or do the right things to meet with him or see him at a Keynote. I saw him at the NeXT building, in 1993 or so, and he was running a meeting. I remember the building had a cool glass staircase in the middle, just like many Apple stores do today. So I don't have any stories about Steve Jobs, but I do have a story about the Macintosh, interfaces, and understanding the Mac, because Steve got it, and a lot of other people didn't.

Freshman year I got my first Mac, a Mac Plus. Previously we'd had a family Apple IIc, which was awesome. The Mac was so different at first I didn't even really know how to use it. One following year, perhaps sophomore year, as a computer room TA I attended a meeting where the new student computer lab was announced, or something like that. This wasn't the computer science computer lab, but the one where students would all write papers (amusing, there used to be computer labs where the only things students did on computers was write papers). The person in charge announced that the only computers in the lab would be brand-new IBM PS/2 (somewhat strangely, Sony would later use the same name, at least as spoken, for their second Playstation, but really almost no one remembers IBM's little odd computer line).

I knew this was a horrible decision, so much so that I had a look of shock on my face. I probably would have forgotten this entire event, except the computer person looked at me and said, "You're a Mac person, aren't you?" somewhat smugly.

The problem was Macs cost more -- in the immediate, this financial quarter, short term view.

But what I knew was that the GUI that Apple had started to make viable was the future, and needed to be the present, and that the DOS-based world of IBM and Microsoft was on its way out.

Instead of a GUI, which is vital for word processing -- think of formatting like centering, italics, and bold, all the things that students do in papers -- we got... some hackneyed CLI and a word processing program with an almost unusable interface. This means the TAs were always busy answering the same formatting questions, and students wasted thousands of minutes sitting there trying to figure out the command for italics or save.

There was no mouse (actually, there might have been, but a mouse without a GUI is somewhat stupid). There were no menus. What you saw had nothing to do with what you got. I don't remember exactly, but text in italics was probably highlighted a little. Text in bold, perhaps moreso. To find any command, instead of using an easy menu-system, there was the horrible set of function keys. If you're old enough you'll remember those horrible plastic templates that you had to put over the function keys to see how to get any command you needed. F4 did something, shift-F4 something else, ctrl-F4 a third thing... Probably alt-F4 and maybe even alt-shift... An entire massive template, with tiny text and absolutely no order to the commands at all.

The computer lab was horrible for both students and TAs. The college's computer buyer had no idea about computers, she only knew about the bottom line for that term. I knew what it should be, because Steve had showed me: he a vision, he pushed for it, and made it happen.

Later, I had a NeXT cube for a while. Even with an 040 processor (after-market) and only four colors (black, white, and 2 greys), there was a great ease and simplicity to the design of the GUI. Not a simplicity of poverty, but one that gave you everything. I think this is what people are talking about when they talk about how Steve Jobs knew to focus on what to take away, and what wasn't there.

XKCD's tribute:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Game Modders Survey - Live!

My Game Modders Survey is now live, through Oct 19. Are you a game modder? I would like to learn more about your sense of community and your motivations. Your help is awesomely appreciated, and, three random respondents will win $20 Amazon gift cards.

My survey has already been picked up by my friend Clay over at Sports Mogul, which is a great help.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Felicia Day Homage with Felice Adae

The masters of homage, those clever designers for Sony's EverQuest II, have homage for just about everything, including actress Felicia Day, who is present in EQII via the NPC Felice Adae. The names are phonetically similar, and both are white women with reddish hair. (Of course the whole idea of "white" in EQII... well, there's no Europe, and in the real world that's where a lot of white people are from, right?) The EQII version is an elf, I think (observe the ears) or a half-elf according to the wiki, but Ms. Day has also played an elf (well at least in these photos).

Why is this blog-worthy? Well, I can do a photo, and visuals are good for blog entries. And, EQII and Ms. Day are very internet-relevant topics. But it's a nice clear homage, something I've covered before. It's one thing to say how there is a ton of homage in games (games are playful, homage is playful), but for a more emotional impact I have to show it's true, and this is a great example. Ms. Day has also done some awesome MMO acting work, EQII is an MMO, and the homage is a nice way to give her some in-game credit.

While nosing around the net to see who else has pointed this out (since it is from the second-most recent expansion, it's not new), I found yet another homage in EQII, this time to the awesome show Mythbusters. (I keep trying to get a picture of the Love Boat homage since it really doesn't belong in EQII, but I missed it last time and it doesn't occur every time you walk by the character in question. If I do finally get it, I'll post it.)

Edit: Kotaku just came out with an article, Felicia Day is Just What Gaming Needs. Timely.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Professors as Comedians

Professors and comedians have a lot in common. When I was young, a slightly older friend of mine was starting on what would be a successful career as a comedian. I realized that I learned a lot from watching his shows, especially about audience engagement, the use of personal stories, narrative, and humility in front of an audience.

It's your jobYesYes
Live audienceYesYes
You have a narrative you want them to followYesYes
Need audience engagementYesYes
They're judging youYesYes
They're paying for itYesYes
They expect their money's worthYesYes

Thursday, September 22, 2011


When you read "MMO" in the headline, did you know what it meant? Or did you think it could refer to two different things and you weren't sure which one it was? No, you knew it meant "massively multiplayer online role playing game." That's why it's MMO, not MMORPG or even MMOG.

There are actually three reasons why it is MMO:

  1. There aren't any other "MMOs", so "MMO" is clear.
  2. "MMO" is consistent with the MMO-predecessors, MUDs and MOOs (text based, multiplayer but not massively so, and role playing or not).
  3. "MMO" is also consistent with the TLA standard (three letter acronym) from computer science.
So, if you don't use MMO and instead use MMORPG, it tells me that you probably don't know much about computer science, don't care about previous forms of online spaces, and you like to write like it's the 1980s and every computer referent has to be written in lengthy, all-caps words, like say COMPUSERVE there I look like an idiot now don't I? That's what you look like when you write MMORPG!

And, truth be told, MMORPGs (I did it for a reason there) aren't very RPG-ish anyways. People don't play roles so much as do what they want. Sure, maybe in WoW or EQII you're a healer or a tank. Healer and tank do fit one definition of "role", but not really in any deep way. "RPG" has mostly come to mean "a fantasy game like Dungeons & Dragons, with elves and mages and such," and really has very little to do with roles as played necessities. Second Life is far more about playing roles (if you want it to be) than any MMO that I am aware of, even though Second Life is not a game, although its sandbox approach allows for people to play games in it (just like a sandbox).

Edit: Apparently this bothers me so much I wrote about it last year, but it's too annoying to keep in mind. Maybe it will become an annual rant.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inconsistent Interfaces

Apple, which is usually the master of great interfaces, pulled some weird things in the recent upgrade to OSX. The Calendar app lost its metallic look and feel (and I don't like it and it's not consistent with everything else). The Contacts app lost the great letter-tabs that let you jump to a letter (this feature is still present in the iPhone version).

But in Mail they did something I don't understand and have only noticed recently (so I assume it was not like this previously). If you make a new message, some of the buttons (like for attachments) are on the left, whereas if you reply some of those same buttons are on the right. I do a fair amount of attaching, and this is highly annoying since I cannot make a work habit, I have to actively think about it each time.

Here is a reply. Only the Send button is on the left, Attach is on the right.

Here is, as you can see, a new message. Attach is now on the left.

Given there is little difference between a new message and a reply, I cannot see that there is any reason to move the buttons around. (Everything is about design.)

Edit: I remade the images so they fit better. The image/textwrap is killing me, though.

PAX Writeup

A great writeup of PAX by Matthew Baldwin at The Morning News. "PAX Primer", but pre-subtitled "Of Dice and Men" which is pretty funny. A good read (which is why I am mentioning it). I've been to a PAX Prime and a PAX East.

With less than a single lap remaining, Team One encounters a string of disasters: they are struck by lightning; they crash into a wall of fire; and then, perhaps disoriented by this cavalcade of misfortune, they barrel off the road while trying to navigate the final bend.
Hysterical. But the writeup is much more than just about games, just like PAX. Amusingly has a photo a lot like one I took at the last PAX East (since it's a cool photo, the one of the dice for sale).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Iron Crows - Shipbreaking

Modern shipping vessels, ships like oil tankers and container ships, help us live our first-world lives with affordable items. But, like how our modern computers often end up in the third world to be broken apart even with the accompanying health hazards, so too do these massive ships. The breaking apart of these ships is the focus of the documentary Iron Crows (NYT review), a powerful and sad film that could have used a bit more of a guiding hand in terms of narration but is still worth seeing. It takes place in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where the shipbreaking takes place.

What is fascinating, although perhaps not unexpected, is that you can easily see the ships of Chittagong, Bangladesh, in Google Maps. Granted the view will change as Google gets newer images, but for now there they are.

Here is a snippet, from the dozens of ships currently viewable. At the bottom, one that is mostly stern. Top left, perhaps that is for natural gas or something that we like to ship in spheres. Top was a cargo ship, it's huge. Along the shore the ships are more in pieces, further out they've just arrived or were too big to get closer to shore. (I have rotated the image 180 degrees, so although the ships are facing the "wrong" direction the image is less disorienting to view.)

Edit: From my friend Anna, see this photo essay at The Economist.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gotta Catch 'Em All: Pokémon and EQII

Pokémon was such a well-known cultural event (it's a card game, it's a marketing gimmick, it's little animals....) that even South Park based an entire episode on it (season 3 episode 10 and of course you should go watch it now free (legally) online).

So perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised to find that the masters of homage at Sony included it in EverQuest II, since they included dozens and dozens of cultural references in the game. As I've pointed out, this kind of behavior is common human behavior and occurs in a lot of games, not just EQII. (Sony makes an appearance in the South Park episode at about 5:30.)

Although it's been in EQII for a while, there are so many quests in-game and I only just came across it recently. The quest is Grassgalor, a chokidia who eats lots of grass I guess. You have to capture him as he might have lots of powers... or not. But you have to catch him in a little sphere, which you get as the reward--a chokéball, which when activated causes Grasssgalor to appear and follow you around. If you know of Pokémon, you know this is how they work (you contain them in special Poké balls and release them when needed).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Google H Score, Year 3

This is the third year I've posted my Google H Score, and, my H score is up to five! Yes! My original post about my Google H score (and year 2) that started the whole thing showed that, back then, my G-H Score was 4. Is more still more? Are there hot topics and more-widely cited journals? Do things fade over time? No idea yet. And, hey, my solo score is up to 3.

In order to get to 6, I'll need the Cross National Study... to get to 6, and one of the lesser-cited ones also to get to 6. Tough to do, I think, but there is some solo work out right now (one R&R, one new submission from ICA, and one I'm vetting with a friend which will go out soon) and two co-authored pieces in progress (well they're not progressing while I work on this post...).

Article (short title)JournalAuthor(s)Year200920102011
Mechs of an online public sphere JCMCSolo2005*25*42*51
To broadband or not to... JoBEMCo200491012
Honey, I shrunk the world!MCSCo200681215
Playing Internet curveball...Convergence Solo200671112
A cross-national study...TISSolo2007125
Technology as place(chapter)Co2010--2
Online org... (HICSS) Co 2011 - - 1
Copyright notices...JCMCSolo2008*1*1*1
Global citation patterns...IJoCSolo200900x
Strat and global elite theoryIJoPORCo2009000

Values as of Sept 10th, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

* indicates one self-cite (relevant!).
x = missing from/mis-titled in Google.
Neither self-cite affects the Google H value.
The numbers fluctuate from time to time, which is odd but they do.
HICSS is conference proceedings.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Academic Writing

Academic writing... well some of it is horribly dry and unreadable, filled with jargon which seems to be the author showing how cool they are while not actually saying anything. As as academic who is pitching a manuscript which is neither dry nor jargon-filled, I am sensitive to these issues. I once wrote, about a horrible book I was reading, "the author has confused the use of jargon for research." Recently I received some feedback from an academic press about my manuscript, "the manuscript is interesting [and] written in a lively manner..." I don't think "lively" was a good thing to the author of the letter, although it isn't clear. I think lively is important.

George Orwell explained five (six) rules of effective writing, note rule 5:
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Jargon is a problem, although science is a good thing and has its time and place. If you are trying to explain something to an audience that knows the scientific word, like in a journal article, fine, but if you want to reach a wider audience, think carefully about your word choice.

As the newest APA (6th ed.) style guide stated clearly, "Although scientific writing differs in form from literary writing, it need not lack style or be dull" (p. 66, 5th printing). IT NEED NOT LACK STYLE OR BE DULL. Ok "need not" is a rather formal construction, but NOT BE DULL. I don't think there would be a need to write that unless there was enough scientific writing that was dull. There is even an index entry for "Jargon, avoidance of" (p. 265).

Most people who have experience with publishing ask me if my book is "academic or trade?" Do you know the one about how there are two kinds of people in the world, those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't? It's like that. This is an oversimplification and doesn't serve anyone well. There are lots of smart books written by academics and non-academics that have a wider audience, and may be published by a trade or academic press. There are smart histories written by non-academics like Bill Bryson (lively style) and Nathaniel Philbrick. There are accessible histories written by professors, like Fordlandia by Greg Grandin at NYU. There are non-PhD part-academics like Clay Shirky, who is a professor at NYU and whose books are read both in classes and more widely by the public. There is Lawrence Lessig, who is a professor but whose many books are widely read.

Then there is also Clifford Geertz, specifically, two of his articles, both well-known, one about Balinese cockfighting and the other about a funeral. Because this is not an academic publication, I can say how both are lively pieces, although sadly the main character in the second one was not very lively, due to death. But his piece on cockfighting has blood flying and penis jokes (since "cock" in English parallels the equivalent word in Balinese and thus all the off-color jokes that go along with that). Penis jokes! The man of cultural anthropology wrote about penis jokes. That is lively, that is good academic writing. Granted it's not good just because it's lively, but academic writing can be good and lively at the same time. And if your writing is lively, it's of interest to more people, and thus you'll reach a wider audience. It's also more enjoyable to read, and who doesn't like that?

Let's try a checklist, which is, I grant, fabricated. Is your writing...

  1. Lively
  2. Straightforward
  3. Deathly

I know which I prefer, as an author and as a reader.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cats Still Rule The Net

I remember in 1996, when I had just started my graduate work at UM, and I had a NeXTcube in my dorm room that I left on all the time (solid Unix there, thanks, the base for today's OSX yes that's right), and cats were pretty much the internet (except for MUDs and file depositories at universities).

Today, cats still rule. Amazing longevity. Behold my examples:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More About Professoring

A piece, "What Does A Professor Do All Day, Anyway?" by Prof. Edward Ayers, from 1993 but still accurate today.

The only logical solution that some people can draw is that we must be goofing off...
Yeah but we're not. If you think that, you weren't paying attention.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Indepenent Scholar Thing

I was reading the acafan entries over at Henry Jenkins' blog, and in one of the entries Karen Hellekson writes a bit about being an independent scholar (like me).

I am unaffiliated, and people's reactions (when they see "independent scholar" on my name tag...) are often weird, like they're not sure how to deal with me.... My job as a freelancer is isolating. This academic thing is a way to get out of the house, to talk about things that really interest me, to engage with fabulous like-minded people, and to have substantive, thought-provoking conversations.... My scholarship, including writing articles and books and editing an academic journal, is basically unpaid service that I can't explain in a sentence at parties.
(I have trimmed that a bit, as you probably noticed.)

I completely agree. It is difficult for a lot of people both in and out of academia to get that I just don't like teaching (because at the same time a lot of them do). A lot of the academic world is about status. This makes sense, it's supposed to be merit-based. Is your work any good? Does it add to scholarship? This is reflected in where you have a job, the conferences you present at, and the journals in which you publish. So, if you don't have a job, you do not initially fit into the framework; you for some odd reason aren't playing the usual game (either you are a horrible scholar and can't get hired or you had a thing with a student and will never get hired again). Generally, if you have a PhD and attend conferences, you are supposed to like teaching.

I don't, I like research.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Being a Professor

"Being a professor is a profession that has been shown to have the longest work hours, heaviest work demands, highest psychological stress, and lowest occupational energy expenditure compared to other professional occupations," Megan A. Kirk and Ryan E. Rhodes, in an article called "Performance Pressure" that I read about on the Tenured Radical blog (to which I was pointed by a tweet).

Yup, I knew that. Too bad almost no one believes it. I think a majority of people think that professors walk into a room, talk extemporaneously for an hour, and then their day is done. Easiest job ever. Not so. I won't go into grading, class prep, office hours, building syllabi and keeping reading up to date, coming up with assignments, trying to do research, writing it up, presenting it at conferences, and service, which includes various committees (student theses, college/university panels, etc.). Did I mention grading? I did? Well I should mention it like three times since I hate it, and I don't know anyone who likes it. (No, we don't make tests and assignments so that they are easy to grade, we make them so students have the best opportunities to show us what they know -- not that we make them easy, we just have to put students in a positive situation where they can work well.)

"Longest work hours, heaviest work demands, highest psychological stress..."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Source Material

So, I've been poking at the cultural work for "the Other" done by Elves (hinted at in my original post on the matter), and one common influence for what Americans think of Elves is the game Dungeons & Dragons (yes in addition to Tolkien, of course). A common quote, widely found via Google (or here for example), for the D&D source is attributed to D&D creator Gary Gygax, supposedly from an old Dragon magazine. Gygax (supposedly) said,

Drow are mentioned in Keightley's The Fairy Mythology, as I recall (it might have been The Secret Commonwealth [of Elves..., by Kirk]--neither book is before me, and it is not all that important anyway), and as dark elves of evil nature, they served as an ideal basis for the creation of a unique new mythos designed especially for the AD&D game. [Supposedly from "Books Are Books, Games Are Games" in Dragon #31.]
So I looked at both -- Keightley online via Google Books, and Kirk in the 1933 edition at the NYPL although I later discovered it is also online. It's in neither (well it is once in Keightley, as a verb). The nice thing about the online sources is, you can search both via Google (Google Books or Google with the URL for the Kirk).

The searches:

What does appear is trow in Keightly, but they are little green-clothed Shakespearean fairies: they are "of a diminutive stature" and "are usually dressed in gay green garments" (p. 165).

According to the Wikipedia page on Drow (the D&D version), Gygax later corrected his source. But the uncorrected quote was what I ran into a lot initially. This isn't an "interent good, internet bad" story, it's more a story about people (Gygax misremembering, people putting up quotes and then never noticing corrections....).

Sadly, I can't verify the Dragon quote by Gygax.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Leisure Suit Larry's Last Laugh

Recently, with the game series Dragon Age (Origins and II), Mass Effect (1 and 2), and even Grand Theft Auto IV, there has been a focus on relationship management in-game. GTA IV was a bit heavy in this respect, whereas you can ignore it somewhat in the others if you want. But, the thing is, if you choose the right dialog options with the right characters, you can have sex with them. Ok it isn't usually shown very explicitly, isn't realistic (nor is the dialog or the whole scenario in the first place), and it seems like an odd addition to the game that isn't related to what the point of the game is.

An LSL screenshot - love me some pixels.

But there was a game series where sex was the entire point of the game, the Leisure Suit Larry series (which, according to Wikipedia, survivied longer than I thought). I remember them from when I was a teenager, although I never played one. They were generally thought of as rather weird, they weren't quite games, they weren't quite legit uses of your computer, and they weren't real porn either (now we have the internet for all that).

But with the intentional, direct inclusion of dialog to get to sex in hugely popular, successful, and mainstream games, Larry is vindicated to some extent. (I still don't find these weird sex scenes in games anything worthwhile or even hot, they're just creepy.)

Scenes are easy enough to find in YouTube. Here's a search for Mass Effect 2 scenes, and a video making fun of one (a combination of the gameplay footage and real people -- that makes it sound creepy -- real people as if they were other characters on the ship who do not get it on with the digital in-game characters). I've tried to watch a few to see what they are like but they are all so creepy right away I give up. (And I gave up on Mass Effect 2 since I found it rather tedious and repetitive.)

Edit: I totally forgot The Witcher, which I really see no reason to play.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Game Designers and Culture Play

People can't resist piracy I mean cultural homage. Of course it's not piracy when a giant company does it. Some of the homage found in Dragon Age II, although not all of it is well-cited.

On Half Elves, Narrative, and Cultures

I was reading "Second-Hand Elf" over at the Escapist Mag, and realized there is a bunch of stuff about elves we usually don't see in fantasy games. So, it is time for a cultural studies/critical theory approach to elves. Non-exhaustive, of course. But, we typically have "half elves" and "dark elves" (Drow from D&D).

Merrill, from DAII (She's an Elf)

I am very sure many people have pointed out how "dark elves" being the evil other is totally absurd. OMG dark people! Scary! I don't actually know what to say about this, it's been done over and over, sadly because it keeps coming up. Actually, in The Elder Scrolls series I don't recall if they're evil or just elves--ah, just elves of a particular sort. (TES has several kinds of elves.) The dark elves, called Dunmer in that series, can be anywhere from bluish to greyish to pale white, given the characterization capabilities in the game (see the Google image search page).

In D&D, well at least the first version, Drow were from deep underground. Usually things that live underground lose their pigmentation, and their eyesight, so they are kinda creepy and pale. Not so the Drow.

We could discuss how different species (elves, dwarves, humans) are called "races", which is totally wrong but typically done across game spaces. Dwarves and humans are not the same race in the same way as all humans are members of "the human race," or "race/ethnicity" on the census or a survey of some sort. That has been commented on before as well. (There's material in both a Google Scholar search and a regular Google search. Who knew there was a journal of Tolkien Studies?)

But the whole "half elf" thing is fascinating. Why? Because it doesn't end there. It can parallel with the history of whites and blacks (or, "whites" and "blacks", really) in the US (or elsewhere, but I know the US material best, although I'm not an expert or published on it). Since it's fictional, it can't totally parallel the real-world situations, but the real-world can act as a guide.

Why is it half-elf? Why not half-human? (D&D also had half-orcs, since humans and orcs could also have children, but elves and orcs could not. Don't ask me about the genetics, this is fiction, there are no real genes here.) Ok yes, it's human-centrism. Humans write the fictions, the games, humans are the players. But if it is real in the fiction, it's not that simple.

What about the quarter-elves, and three-quarter-elves? (Note we're sticking with the human-centric nomenclature there. Quarter-human, anyone? Sounds like a science-fiction film.)

I think I have to drop the hyphens.

What of half elves where one parent is "pure" human and one "pure" elf, and then half elves where both parents are half elf? Genetically (there are no real genes here) they would... I think... be the same, but culturally they might be very different, or be framed differently by different cultures. Half elves could be a sustainable culture, genetically speaking (since if all you have is half elves, all you get are half elves). What about half elves with one parent 1/4 and the other 3/4? Yay, math.

There has been some good academic work done on "passing," where mixed-race people try to pass as a "pure" member of one of their parental/ancestral races. Maybe a 1/4 elf would try to pass as a human (there's a plotline there for a game).

Some half elves would be born of love, others.... not. Sadly. Vengeance-seeking children, anyone? (Ok that's a too-typical plotline, but, this is fiction we're talking about, even though I am paralleling it on reality.)

A wealthy human noble could proclaim his hatred of elves within racist human groups (I mean, speciesist), while secretly paying off his half elf daughter to keep her quiet, years after impregnating her then-16 year old elf mother who was a maid in his family's manor. Oh wait that already happened in real life.

There might be cultures that accept half elves, and ones that don't, or that lump them in with whichever species (elf/human) is less-accepted. There could be pure-blood societies on both sides, perhaps some would be racist, but maybe there would be pure-blood societies within the fictional elf and human societies who focus on pureness of bloodline, thinking that all bloodlines should be pure, yet they bare no hatreds based on species. That might be a stretch, but we're talking about fictional worlds here, imagination is key. (It could be like, they appreciate both horses and donkeys, and don't disrespect mules [which are the offspring of a horse and a donkey], but they prefer horses and donkeys stick with their own kind when it comes to creating offspring.)

Mules may not be a particularly satisfying end to this post in terms of narrative, but, if there is a fictional world where humans and elves can have children together, I think most fictional worlds fall short on developing the cultures (for better and for worse) around that issue. Why is this worth mentioning? Because game designers are getting much, much better at plotlines, in-game cultures, and back stories, and are aware of the importance of such things, that's why. It's time to take another step forward, and this is a place where such a step could be taken.

We could discuss skin color of humans in game worlds, and how in the real world there is a genetic and geographical history to it, yet there have always been people on the borders of those worlds, the borders themselves are not robust, and how there is actually a huge variation in how people look (and it's not just skin color). Oh and how game worlds don't always include the geo-genetics of human appearance. It's a good step forward for game designers to allow different human and main character (the player's character) appearances in games, but there are still steps forward that we can take, in terms of visual complexity, backstories, inclusiveness, and in-game cultures.

Bethesda's Dumner Artwork
The Elder Scrolls series does this a bit, with different types of elves and humans that you can play and then modify how they look, and you can even play lizard-humanoids (Argonians), cat-humanoids (Khajiit), and orcs, and all the "races" have their different backstories, although the Redguard as "black people" seems a bit forced (in addition to the "dark elves"). There are no half elves in the Elder Scrolls (well not III and IV), but you can modify the appearance of you character heavily, and you can change many specific facial features (and skin tone) a great deal. I don't know if you can create every "race/ethnicity" of human beings, but it gives players wide latitude. I feel I should mention there are also "Bretons" and "Nords", which are based to some extent on French cultural elements and Nordic cultural elements, but I haven't studied how closely these are to reality -- it's fiction, of course, they don't have to be.

Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II also portray elves as an underclass, and Dragon Age II has a half elf (named Feynriel) that you need to help find a home as a quest, since he may not be accepted in either society (IIRC he can pass as human, though). I think the writers did a pretty good job with it, although it's just a start (and it isn't part of the main storyline, so it isn't as developed as other parts of the game's stories). There's a bit about elf parallels to real-world cultures in the DA wiki (which could of course change at any moment, and it isn't particularly sourced but it's there for now). 

It's nice to have some backstory, but race and cultural differences in the real world can be fraught with difficulty for cultural outsiders (and in fictional worlds, where are the lines between "based on" and "this is made up"), although learning about other cultures and meeting people from other cultures is an awesome and important thing to do. It's also how we get half elves.

Edit: I also realized that half elves, when they come from a setting with a variety of exclusive elves such as high elves, dark elves, and wood elves, are usually half human and half generic elf, even though there is no generic elf in their setting. And why not all sorts of mixed-elf elves?

Edit: Oh look at that, Bretons in TES are half-elves, sort of. They're human, but they're part elf. Or were. Or are a sustaining half-elf community and genetic group who are considered human.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Google: What Are You Doing?

Sometimes you have to wonder. The newest Dwarf Fortress (0.31.24, which will be 0.31.25 soon most likely) has a minor fix, "Corrected baby guineafowl to keets." Keets is not in my local dictionary, so I looked it up with "fowl" in Google, and the first result came back with "fowl" but not with "keet", instead Google gave me "keep". No no Google, that is not what I wanted, which is why I didn't type it. Seriously, this kills me. #fail

But, keet is indeed, apparently, a baby guinea fowl...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cultural Play and the ASWCC

There is an object, humorously called the Aperture Science Weighted Companion Cube, in the game Portal. But, people like to play with things, and we like to play with the things we like, and we like to play in the spaces in which we like to play (on the surface, that's a tautology, but that's not just what I mean, I mean, we like to play in them and play sometimes means not following the rules), so, when people like the Companion Cube, they play with it across the spaces they like to play in.

Thus the Cube is not just in Portal.

People have included the Cube in...
  1. Spore (by EA) [examples]
  2. LittleBigPlanet (by Sony/MM) [example at 1:10+]
  3. Second Life (by Linden Lab) [example]
  4. EverQuest II (by Sony) [example]
One of these things is not like the other, however (and I won't claim that that is an exhaustive list).

Which one?

EverQuest II. In the first three, the majority of content is created by players/users; in fact, the point of those worlds is to have a lot of content created by players/users. (I include "users" since Second Life is not exactly a game.) In EQII the majority of physical (virtual) content is made by the game designers/maintainers at Sony. Mundane items, game actions, and conversation are content that are made by players, but a lot of important items are not made by players. Yet, in EQII there is the Cube (and many other cultural references).

We love to play with the things we love, and we will do so across the various spaces where we can play, even if that object is not from the space we are in. Thus, the Aperture Science Weighted Companion Cube is in a lot of places. Culture is not just objects and practices we create, culture is something that we further play with and redefine over time. I think "culture play" might be a good phrase for this fundamental human behavior, despite the title to this post where I use the phrase "cultural play", which is a better headline.

The four spaces in the list also include many other cultural references through cultural items and homage, because this is something that we, as humans, are driven to do.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Media, Old Framework

I attended a taping of Al Jazeera's Empire, at the Columbia School of Journalism yesterday. Some of the panelists were Carl Bernstein, Amy Goodman, Evgeny Morozov, and Clay Shirky. Although some interesting, Twitter-friendly sound-bytes were said, ultimately there was little new or insightful, which was rather disappointing, given the combined (and individual) intelligence and experience onstage.

The main focus was new media and Egypt. But new media, or social media, was never defined, and at one point we watched Al Jazeera (television, which is old media) over the internet (which is new media). Clearly the two are not distinct. Maybe everyone except me knew it was a straw man argument.

Amy Goodman complained how only in two places in the US can you receive Al Jazeera over cable TV, which is a good point, except that you can watch it anywhere you like as long as you have an internet connection: Wasn't that the point of the internet, at least from ten years ago? You can go watch it right now if you like. Given that we had just watched President Obama on Al Jazeera streaming over the internet there in the room, and NYC is not one of the two places you can get Al Jazeera in the US over cable, it was a strange thing to say (although I agreed with her, but still).

Shirky had the odd claim that the cell phone network (which was mostly ignored in the discussion) and the internet were essentially the same, since cell phones can push and pull info over the net. That much is true, from the user's viewpoint, but the way they are run (in terms of organizations and technologically) and the way they are regulated can be very different from country to country. Also, 20 years ago I would sit in my dorm room and connect to BITNET over my modem, but no one would have said the phone system was a part of the internet.

Morozov had the nice point that the internet is neither necessary nor sufficient for revolutions, and he is 100% correct on that point. Revolutions have happened before the year 1990, and they have failed since (Iran is one). He had some nice points about other media being used to aid communication in older revolutions (like tape cassettes, I think). By understanding the common motivations behind using communication technologies to spread messages during different periods of civil upheaval (cassette tapes and broadcast TV in the past; Twitter, SMS, and satellite TV today), we can understand the important features and affordances of the technologies, and can make sure we build those into future technologies and try to protect them legally and technologically. (Much could be written about that, I will not try to do so here.)

Everyone did agree that revolutions are a form of organization, and organization takes communication, and that people will communicate with the best tools they have at hand. Today that is indeed some of the digital, online, internet, Facebook, Twitter, whatever you want to call them, whatever their labels are today, forms. But this media ecology also includes television, cell phones, and face to face, and a good analysis and understanding of human behavior has to include all of the behaviors, not just the newest and coolest ones.

The most annoying part of the taping was at the beginning when we were all told to turn off our cell phones, since the wireless headsets of the camera people and the producers were running into interference problems (I thought this was why we had regulation about these things). No Twitter for you! Tons of people tweeted and re-tweeted the same sound bytes over and over, they may have been in the room or in the overflow room. The needs of old media (TV) had triumphed over new media.

The most amusing part of the taping was when the make-up person powdered Shirky's head.

The biggest let down was that Shirky and Morozov did not come to fisticuffs. People on the internet love to say how they are polar opposites on this Egyptian/revolution/Twitter discussion. They're not. They were seated far apart from each other. They actually agreed on mostly everything. Morozov had a wide range of examples of revolutions. Shirky had a nice analytical point, questioning when do we define the beginning of a revolution? Egypt had several uprisings and riots previously, they could easily be counted as "the start" of this most recent action.

All of this left me wondering about new media and old media. If I can get Al Jazeera (old) over the internet (new), then what does that mean about "old" and "new" media? I think it means the framework is not useful.

The alternate framework, more in use lately, is "social media," such as Facebook. I originally got on Facebook since a friend of mine, in about 2004, wanted to see what her undergraduate students were doing on this new (to UM) medium, but she didn't want her own account: Could she use my email address to sign up? (Facebook was still restricted to selected universities at that point.) She spent the next two hours laughing, reading some things to me (all of which were hysterical), but also exclaiming how some recent find was amazing but totally inappropriate to read to me out loud in a coffeeshop. She would turn the laptop around so I could read the post in question, and indeed, many were completely inappropriate to read out loud with other people around.

If you had told me then that a website, which was restricted to a few American universities and was exclusively used by American undergraduates to post writing that could not be read out loud in a coffeeshop, would, six or seven years later be used to foment revolutions and topple governments, I would have thought you were insane.

And you would have been, since that's not the Facebook we have anymore. It's open to everyone, and millions around the world can use it. And this is, I think, where we find the real difference between the things we are talking about when we talk about new media, old media, and social media.

It is a question of both content production and ease of group formation.

Newspapers have global distribution. They are all over the world. There isn't any one newspaper that you can get everywhere, maybe the International Herald Tribune (aka the New York Times), the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, or the Guardian (yes, all in English, but ok Le Monde maybe). You can write in and maybe they will print your letter to the editor.

The internet, too, is found all over the world. And newspapers are found on it.

But with the internet, so many more people can make content. And although the majority of content is, like so many academic journal articles, unread, it is much easier to find things online, and when you find written things, you often find the person who did the writing.

So I think that is the big difference, which is why "social media" is a better term than "new media." Social media let us create content, find content, and find the people who made that content much easier, and on a much larger scale, than ever before. Once we find those people, we can connect with them in some way: follow their Twitter feed, "like" or join a group they made on Facebook, or some other type of connection. And, thinking of Morozov's warnings about how the internet makes surveillance easy (in the 1990s we would have mentioned Bentham and the Panopticon), notice that I did not mention type of use, or who is finding who and following them: it could be friends, it could be the police arm of an oppressive state. The technology is, to some extent, use-neutral.

A small aside about industry, which wonders why we write-off television:

Television has done well in the last 20 years, there are many, many more channels than there used to be. Al Jazeera is one. In 1980 in the US, most likely you could only get the local, over the air broadcast channels, some of which would be part of a national network like NBC or PBS, however they were all ultimately local channels. Now you can get channels from all over the world, in all sorts of languages (I can get Spanish, various Asian languages, I think I've seen Greek, there are probably others, there's the BBC America of course). And there are many, many more channels (I do not actually know how many I get, well over 100), and most of them are national and have no local presence to speak of. I do not have satellite, but I have friends who do, and I am under the impression that there can be many, many more channels available.

The internet... well in terms of business, it's different. It did very badly ten years ago when the dot-com bubble burst.

But there are different components to both of these industries. The internet has, for instance, backbone providers, local connection providers (so, mine is Time/Warner sans AOL), web site hosting companies, blog posting sites, content providers like Apple/iTunes, Hulu, the New York Times, Gawker, and Salon, but also entities like Amazon who sell physical goods (and yes digital music and digital books). Television (from a US perspective) has local broadcasters, national networks (like NBC), national channels (like AE or Sy Fy), but also all of the production studios, cable providers, and satellite providers. Content production is not enough for success, as public-access cable was a huge failure in the US: the content produced by the local people who cared was generally terrible and no one watched. Yet do the same thing, generally speaking, on YouTube, and it might work--but the distribution is totally different (as is, I suspect, the content of successful non-professional material when compared to local access cable). (Sorting? Wider distribution? Sharing? The "long tail" of terrible material... You can't have the "short head" of great stuff without the long tail, but with searching and "liking" and such you can more easily find the "short head" that you're looking for. Something like that.)

This is, perhaps, an important distinction between "old" media and "new" media: New media such as Facebook and Twitter have corporate structures that are not at all connected to the content-generation of their sites or the editing of that content, but yet many "old" media have the two bound together -- the writers, content creators, and editors are all employees; not so for the masses of FB and tweet-land. Cell phones, as part of the telephone network, are interesting since today "smart phones" are really mini-computers with phones built-in, but phone networks have been around for over 100 years and we have always been able to speak our minds on them. Phones were not a communication tool with an easily-achieved wide reach. Yes you could call anyone, but calling everyone was much harder, even one-at-a-time or with a phone tree, where you call five people (5) who then call five people (5^2=25 + 5 =30) who each then call five more (5^3=125 + 30 = 155), etc. (People invented that method, that system, in order to reach more people--that is simply what we do, via whatever technology, and the current ones are the best we have for doing so.) I cannot fit phones easily into this framework, which shows that the framework isn't quite right, but also that we have diverse communication tools at hand, and that those tools in turn have diverse functions. This, I think, is a good thing.

In the end, it appears that if you put the tools of production into the hands of the people, great things happen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hulk Smash

Here's an image to go along with my story about Feep and the Purple Pants, which sounds like a Encyclopedia Brown story but isn't. I didn't want to grab one off the internet, this is a picture I took of a guy's sweatshirt (you can see the drawstrings).

The Hulk's pants... they are always purple, and torn. Bruce Banner could be wearing a three-piece suit or a bathing suit yet the Hulk always ended up in torn purple pantaloons pants (the pantaloons are the EverQuest II version, which is the point of the story).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Big Words and Small Ideas (and Reviewers)

I've been reading cartoons over at The Oatmeal, and I wish I could apply The Oatmeal's sensibilities to some reviewer comments I just received from ICA. Let us explore why. (Reviewer comments are a topic I have discussed before not once but twice at least.)

My paper title: Look at the Toilet I Made for My Avatar! Community-Building Through Meaningless Elements in MMOs.

Status: ACCEPTED at ICA. Bold, italics, all caps, you heard that right.

The "toilet" part is a narrative hook, something absurd but relevant and in the paper, designed to peak readers' curiosity. Really it's about the sub-title, and the toilet is an example of such a meaningless element. I use EverQuest II (EQII) as my exemplar. Communities are important.

Comments from first reviewer: None.
Summary: Useless.

Comments from second reviewer: "The author looks at the concept of transportation, which is operationalized..."
Summary: You're kidding, right? The word "transportation" is not actually in the paper. There is one paragraph that mentions the work of another researcher who mentioned in-game travel. I certainly don't operationalize it. Did this reviewer read the paper?

Comments from third reviewer: I don't even know where to start.
Summary: Useless cultural studies dreck. Not that all cultural studies is useless, I know they get defensive about that, some is quite good, but, to roughly quote my former advisor and cultural studies giant, Susan Douglas, there are a lot of universities that crank out useless and wrong-headed cultural studies people. (Michigan is not one of them, thank you, although my degree is not in cultural studies.)

Let us take two three comments from this reviewer.

Apparently, I "...reference Durkheim, Goffman, and Carey almost as an aside in an unconvincing discussion about ritual."

Except no. This reference is in the discussion. The discussion is supposed to be concise, and you don't explain every piece of literature in the same manner as you do in the literature review (the literature review is still concise, though). And, I discuss certain practices, such as online weddings, and also holidays in-game (so, the EQII version of Christmas, and Halloween, for example). Weddings are ritual. Holidays, especially and obviously ones with religious meaning or origin, are ritual. Weddings have deep historical and religious origins. Maybe the reviewer doesn't like how I discuss ritual, but it should be in there (all three theorists talk about ritual and community, so it is relevant). "Christmas", for example, does not exist in EQII. This is a fictional world with elves, there are no Christians. Jesus Christ and whatever Roman holiday Christmas usurped do not exist in this fictional world, nor are they part of the backstory. "Christmas" is turned into "Frostfell." It is still ritual, and it still has pro-community functions, just like our Christmas does.

The reviewer also says, "The paper would be substantially improved by more deeply immersing itself in the canonical cultural/critical literature on how cultural meaning is produced, appropriated, maintained, and challenged."
Uh, no. This is not a cultural/critical studies paper. I do not look at how "cultural meaning is produced, appropriated, maintained, [or] challenged" at all. That is not this paper. That could be some other paper with the same examples, but not this one. I look at how cultural meaning is used in order to create community by whatever terms you want to use to talk about it (groups, strong ties, bridging or bonding, etc.). But I especially consider how items which, in-game, do not have meaning for advancing one's character or for the narrative of the game, such as toilets or weddings or Frostfell, serve to advance community.

This reviewer also uses the words emic, etic, and ludic, none of which I like in the least. I do not even know what emic and etic mean, although I looked them up once. They are just not used in the literature of the academic areas where I reside. Using them identifies you as an insider to some evil academic cult, I am sure. Let us observe the sentence that contains them.

"The methods section makes an unconvincing case for the trade-offs between emic and etic approaches to participant observation..."

Given that I don't use the words emic or etic, I don't see how I can be making a case for the trade-offs between them. Pretty amazing that I manage that. I could be making a case for what they actually mean, but (after having looked them up), I'm not doing that. I just point out how some people use participant-observer to study virtual worlds and MMOs. Some people use other methods. I just reviewed my methods section, and there is no discussion of any trade-offs in any way at all. None. Given it's a lit review (but yes in the methods section, for the methods lit), should I....
  1. Review the literature about virtual worlds and MMOs; or,
  2. Ignore what other people have written about virtual worlds and MMOs.
I vote for #1. So do 5/5 PhDs (ok I asked myself five times, but I was amazingly consistent).

Emic: I don't actually have anything to say about Emic since I really, honestly, have no idea what the heck it means. I just don't. I have a PhD from one of the best universities in the world and I'm Phi Beta Kappa in college. This means, I am the man. But I don't know these words. I don't like them, I don't use them. I could tell you more about unicorns, and they're totally imaginary (sorry to tell you if you didn't know). Let us turn to... be seated for this... Wikipedia. I know, I know, I can hear your complaints already.

They are so... well I've been judgmental enough already... they are so useless on their own as to be joined as one in the same Wikipedia article. And the discussion page is much longer than the page itself (never a good sign, but always fun to go read it).

As the article points out, these are just fancy buzzwords for "insider" and "outsider" points of view. One might also use "subjective" and "objective" as well, but we don't really need to get into a discussion of "objective" right now.

Etic: I can't recall if this is the "insider" point of view, or the "outsider" point of view, and it's irrelevant since I should never see these words again. Nor should you. (It's the outsider point of view. Well that's what the Wikipedia page says, that could change at any time.)

Oh wait I am horribly wrong, this reviewer does not use the word "ludic." But they could have. Someone must have, somewhere, since I block out emic and edic and etic or whatever they are. I think edic and emic (e-mic?) must have reminded me of ludic, since they are all horrible words that should never be used, can be expressed with much more simple words that have actual meaning, and they all sound alike (I think they all rhyme with "BLARGH!").

I apologize to reviewer #3. You are, nonetheless, still misguided about the direction my paper should go in. (It is where it needs to go, already!) And you used... those two words I can't even recall how to spell them, they are so bad my brain refuses to contain them. They are cast out.

Ludic: This means gaming, or of games. There is nothing wrong with the word gaming, except it doesn't sound very cool or academic. "Ludic", which is Latinate, sounds much more official. This is the view of people who want to study games, and play them (heaven forbid), but don't take gaming seriously, so they need a fancy word to make their activities defensible.
"Are you a gamer?"
"Oh good Lord no! I'm ludic."
"Oh, I see." (Quietly shuffles far, far away from our ludic friend.)

When you pull this crap, the corpse of Mark Twain should rise from the grave and give you a good buggering. If you can't explain yourself in plain language, then don't explain yourself, but especially don't make up words to tart up what it is you're trying to say. If what you're trying to say is so boring that you need the word "ludic" to help you out then you shouldn't be speaking in the first place. Yes, I know, the originator of the word, Huizinga, is the ancient god of game studies, and we all have to bow down at his altar and cite his Homo Ludens work to show the reviewers we know what we are talking about, or else we're not in the cult actually knowledgeable about game studies and oh just reject my paper already. And if you think I'm too pedestrian because I used insider instead of... etic? emic? I don't care, whichever one, then please, please reject my paper, because I don't want to know you.

Edit: Here are some guidelines from George Orwell.
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.