23: The Final Bow

             In our last class, we examined the relationship between work and play online, and how often they end up being the same thing. We also looked at the idea of play at work, something that the procrastinator in all of us is very familiar with. Right now, the relationship between work and play is changing, as the two concepts come together with the help of digital technology.

            The concept of play covers any activity that is done for the enjoyment of the participant without any specific goal in mind. While this idea obviously applies to things like children playing in sandboxes and on playgrounds in its purest form, by extension it would classify most video games as something other than play. A vast majority of the games we play, from MMOs to First-person shooters to Wii Sports to online flash games, all have a specific purpose that the player is looking to accomplish. This concept in MMOs has been well explained by our readings, the addictive qualities of other reward-based games (which almost all games are) are equally significant. One example of this is online ranking systems. Popular franchises like Halo and Call of Duty have very popular online multiplayer modes where players earn experience points or rankings based on their achievements in the games. From personal experience I’ve found that once you start playing one of these games, earning rankings and therefore a reputation for your skills, it quickly becomes hard to stop. It soon gets to the point where you aren’t playing the game for the game play but for the rewards, at which point it have become work. This also applies to the silliest online flash games, where trying to earn the most points or make it to the next level can consume you after playing for long enough.

            The developing idea of using this delusion of play to accomplish real work is fascinating and potentially extremely useful for companies in need of volunteer labor. Online games are immensely popular, and since I’ve established that playing most games involves at least some level of work, they might as well absorb some of that and convert it to productivity. My favorite example of this is a game I mentioned in class called Free Rice (freerice.com). Concept behind the project is that for every vocabulary question each player gets correct, the site’s sponsors will donate 10 grains of rice to fight world hunger through the UN World Food Program. In the past two years, the site has donate over 72 billion grains of rice to starving children, while simultaneously testing and improving the vocabulary of its players. The game itself might sound lame, but I promise it gets extremely addictive, especially because of the tangible rewards involved.

            Over the semester we have covered many aspects of multimedia, and I think the work-play relationship could be one of the most interesting and applicable to our everyday lives. The beauty of learning about New Media is that we’re investigating the things that we use every day in an academic and in-depth way, helping us understand our world that much better. I’ve found the topic stimulating, and I can say with full confidence that I’m happy I chose this class to be part of my first semester at Hamilton.

22: Outsourcing Fun? (or Outsourcing. Fun?)

           Yee’s article explains the hidden connection between playing video games and working, showing that MMPORGs are in many ways just like having a second job. This idea makes a lot of sense the way he explains it, but it begs questions that he doesn’t even attempt to answer. People play games for amusement, as a way to do something that they find fun. Thus, its hard to see how people would play games that are work. However, there is something deeper. Somewhere in our brains we are wired to enjoy thing things that we enjoy, so what is it that makes us enjoy work so much that we would want to do it in our free time? This article makes me think there is something scientific going on here that I don’t understand.

            Gold Farming, as Dibbell explains it, shows how sometimes games are not like work, they literally are work. In this case, fun isn’t even an aspect of how the farmers play at all. These gold farmers are playing games for ridiculous hours at a time in return for extremely low pay. This is a lifestyle that even the most intense gamers wouldn’t enjoy. However, the existence of these paid players shows how entrenched players can get in today’s games. The fact that they would pay for in-game items means that game money is more important in their lives than real money, and by extension hat their game lives are more important than their real lives. At what point does this phenomenon become a problem, a social disease that needs to be cured? I personally find it somewhat disturbing.


21: Differently the Same

            Of the four game we played in class yesterday, I think the most interesting comparisons and contrasts can be drawn between Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, because while parts of the same are extremely similar and equivalent, they have extremely different media forms. Need for Speed is an arcade racing game published by EA games in 2002 that both includes a typical arcade racing mode, which we demonstrated first, and also a separate game situation involving the police chasing racers. The diagesis of the game includes an environment which puts a racetrack in a number of different locations- in the demonstration it was a southwestern desert. The tracks also had off-road shortcuts built into them, giving an advantage to experienced players who know their locations. The game also involved bonus points for passing other cars and jumping the car. The characters in arcade mode are the different cars, but there isn’t much story. In pursuit mode, players can either be racers, who aim to circle the track twice without being pulled over by the police three times, or the police, who try to trap or catch up to the racers and pull them over. This adds a bit more of a story to the game, as it follows the classic cops vs. criminals theme. There are also some more characters, which take the form of other cops who talk to you over the radio. In this mode, the principles of racing are somewhat ignored, and the police can use craftiness rather than speed to trap the speeding cars. In the game, the car’s steering, acceleration and braking are all operator acts, while physics and the other AI cars are all controlled by machine acts.

            Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contains all these elements, and much more. Published in 2004 by Rockstar Games,  San Andreas combines a 3rd person shooter with an arcade driving/racing game with a free-roam adventure game. The driving aspect of the game is actually very similar to the police chase mode of Need for Speed, because the goal is to outrun and eventually escape the police. The diagesis of the game is far more complex, however. The environment is a massive urban area that can be roamed freely, with lots of interactive elements. For instance, any car or vehicle in the game is drivable because of the carjacking feature, which makes selecting cars possible in-game, rather than through menus like Need for Speed. Even the radio stations in the cars can be changed to play different music. In our demonstration we played around with cheat codes, which make special items and vehicles available instantly. Another interesting part of the diagesis is the dying function. If the heath meter, part of the heads-up display, gets too low, the character dies, only to come back to life immediately. Story wise, the game is much more of a narrative than Need for Speed. The game includes cinematic cut scenes, complete with dialog and characters. During game play, you can either follow the story and complete missions or just roam the streets, so if you would rather just play there is the option to ignore the story. The characters in the story include the player, who is a gangster recently released from jail, as well as an extensive cast of characters, ranging from police officers to other criminals to innocent bystanders. In the game, the operator controls the main character, which includes walking, shooting, and driving functions. The machine controls the environment, which includes traffic and all the cars, people walking the streets (which can all be attacked), and the police which try to stop, and occasionally shoot you.

            While these games both involve a driving element where the player tries to escape being stopped by the police, GTA provides so many more options in its game play than Need for Speed that the games really can’t be considered members of the same genre. 



20: Puzzled, Too Much?

          Murray’s examination of the relationship between game and story documents a change that I think is getting even more relevant today. A few weeks ago one of my roommates bought Modern Warfare 2 and was playing the campaign in our common room, and another of my roommates entered the room and averted his eyes from the screen to avoid spoilers. The idea of a storyline being such an important part of a game that a player could be concerned about the story being spoiled is unfamiliar to me, and shows how far games have come in the direction of story, as Murray explains. However, part of her explanation seemed suspect to me. At one point she talks about how even puzzle games like Tetris are stories in a sense, and gives the example of how murder mystery stories are like puzzle games. I think this is missing something. Murder mysteries are an example of a story that somewhat resembles a puzzle game, but she needs to show how puzzle games have stories, not the other way around. I personally don’t see any form of story in games like Tetris and Scrabble. While some puzzle games have found ways to incorporate story, such as Portal, I don’t see the story element of all puzzle games.

          Galloway’s article is certainly well researched and well thought out, but I can’t help but wonder about how necessary it is. I suppose video games are developing into a new frontier of media for some, but it seems like the vast majority of the population still sees them as simple fun entertainment. The level of analysis that Galloway goes into seems to only apply to the very small number of extremely serious gamers that are invested in the medium enough to care. For example, how many gamers, even habitual gamers, have ever really thought about the concept of ambient acts? Sure, they’re probably well aware that if they leave the TV then things stop happening in the game, but have they ever thought about it enough to need to know the name of that state? Does that advancement in understanding really matter? In a gaming climate where the best selling games are like Wii Play, collections of mini-games that people like to play because its fun to wave around a wii-mote, such an intense look into the idea of gaming seems like overkill.

19: The Commons Question

          In our class discussion today we spent some time discussing the ideas behind Benkler’s concept of commons based peer production and how it applies to different spaces in our own lives, both physical and virtual. We also looked at the restrictions on all of the spaces that came up, including qualities that would disqualify them as true commons according to the articles definition. However, in revisiting the article, I’m not sure how valid all of the restrictions were. In the article, Benkler specifically outlines two different concepts- open and closed commons. His examples of open commons are not physical spaces but intangible institutions, like breathing. Obviously breathing is available to everyone and the institution cannot be changed or affected by a single persons actions. Closed commons, however, were what we focused on in class. Essentially every example mentioned fit this definition, in that they desicribed spaces that were created for the free access of a specific community’s members. For example, facebook is a closed community in that the content that I upload is available for anyone to see, provided they are members of my networks or are friends with me. Commons dining hall also fits this description because it is open for the use of anyone in the Hamilton College community. In class, we challenged the validity of these spaces as commons because certain individuals have the power to radically change or even eliminate the commons altogether. However, under these rules, essentially any closed commons could be considered invalid. The president of Hamilton could decide to close commons dining hall or eliminate a dorm common room, the state could decide to get rid of public parks or even roads if they wanted. Thus, the idea that a commons cannot have a regulating authority doesn’t really hold water.   

18: Friendship without Speaking

Thompson’s article about the development of social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter seemed to cover a lot of the standard points of this type of article (and it feels like thousands of articles have been written about the topic), but he did cover one thing that I’ve never seen- a defense for Twitter. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard people complain about how stupid and worthless Twitter is, but I honestly can’t say I’ve ever heard a journalist give an honest explanation of its benefits. His points about how ambient tools have changed our relationships made a lot of sense to me, leading me to rethink my position about twitter.

In “Peer Production and Sharing,” Benkler wanders from one topic to another, focusing on the community of producers that the internet has created. Initially his writing is boring and confusing, not really focusing on technology directly, then he eases into discussions of communities like GNU, Wikipedia, and Slashdot. While it makes sense after reading the whole article, I was initially confused about his link between the idea of commons from the beginning of the article and his discussions of online communities at the end. Why doesn’t he make a stronger, more direct connection? I think the article would be much more effective if he did.

The Pew 2007 survey raises an interesting point about social networks, as well as new media in general. At the time of their survey, MySpace far outpaced Facebook in active users and popularity. Today, however, that balance has completely shifted. In my personal experience, almost everyone I know has Facebook while I can’t name a single person that still updates MySpace. This begs the question- what causes such shifts in popularity online?

The second Pew article seems like a lot of obvious statements. I don’t think anyone is surprised that social networks are getting steadily more popular or that they’re more popular among younger people then adults. It would be interesting to compare the statistics to other internet trends, but on their own they aren’t very surprising 

17: Causal Confusion

             In class yesterday we talked a lot about how the vast majority of video game characters are male, with only a few exceptions like Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, but we didn’t really delve into the cause of that phenomenon. What it boils down to is a question of cause and effect. Are characters mostly male because it’s mostly males that play the games, or do boys play the games because of all the male characters? It’s a question that game publishers seem to have figured out, as games are starting to make unprecedented amounts of money.

            The point of view that the male-female ration in game characters is designed to reflect the gender balance of gamers is a purely economic idea. Game developers invest millions in surveying their audience, looking to find out how to sell the most games possible. This testing shows that the majority of video game players are male, by about a 60/40 margin. We also talked about the fact that gamers prefer to play as characters similar to them, making them feel like they’re actually carrying out the actions in the game personally. In this sense, it makes sense why game makers would want to create games with male lead characters, because they are more likely to appeal to the most people, and thus sell more copies of the game and make as much money as possible. This is an economic fact.

            On the other hand, it is also possible that the discrepancy between male and female gamers is caused by the images that games present. Given all the male characters and the scarcity of strong females in video games, it makes sense that women gamers would be discouraged or feel left out, thus they wouldn’t play as much as their male counterparts. As we said, players want to play as themselves as best they can, so women would be less attracted to the games than men.

            Furthermore, the topics of games tend to be far more oriented towards things that appeal to men than women. For example, the three best selling games of all time include the realistic war combat of Call of Duty, the acts of random violence of Grand Theft Auto, and the fantasy violence of Halo. While it may be stereotypical, it’s a pretty reasonable fact that men are more attracted to guns and violence than women, thus that’s what games tend to focus on. Thus, it’s reasonable that the popular subject matters in games present another reason for the male-heavy video game community.

            Overall, the discrepancy between the amount of male and female gamers is caused by a number of reasons and can’t be simplified down to a single cause.

16: Horror Stories from the Wild Wild Web

 In “Malwebolence,” Schwartz investigates internet pranksters who occupy and entertain themselves by using their technologic resources to meddle with the affairs of others, occasionally with disastrous effects. At one point in the article he starts to discuss why enforcement officers aren’t able to catch these virtual predators. At what point does the era of the virtual wild west end and the age of online police begin, and will that overall be better or worse for internet users? These pranksters exist, but in such small numbers that the vast majority of internet users will never encounter them. Is it worth it to invest in the resources necessary to crack down on such a generally marginal issue when there are problems like global terrorism and environmental crises going on outside of the digital world?

Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace” admittedly makes very little sense to me. As far as I can tell, the article describes some stupid guy typing horribly obscene things for lots of people to read. I know there’s a whole online world associated with the forum that he used, but it boils down to one guy typing terrible things for other people to read. Now I certainly can see how this could upset people, but I don’t see how it’s particularly uncharacteristic of the internet. There are lots of terrible, disgusting, awful things to be found on the web, and to write long articles about every single one of them would take almost infinite amounts of time. The fact that this one particular instance caused so much uproar within the community that it warranted an entire article to be written about it is something that I really don’t understand.

Professor Anable’s article presents another interesting question, somewhat related to that posed by “Malwebolence.” It chronicles some attacks made by the Political Nigras, a group of trolls on Second Life. Their actions show the conflict between legitimacy and folly that occurs in the game, as legitimate operations such as political campaigns set up camp, but only end up being vandalized in silly (or offensive) ways by virtual pranksters. The fact of the matter is these jokers have no way of being stopped, giving them the power to do as much damage as they please. Thus, legitimate operations need to either deal with the attacks, or keep away from Second Life and similar communities all together. 

15: I'll Stick with First Life, Thanks

The first time I heard about Second Life was on The Office, when Dwight introduces the avatar that he made because he says his life is so good that he wants to have another one. This scene gave me some pre-conceived notions about the program, namely that it was for people like Dwight. If you’ve seen even one episode of the show then you know what I mean. I’d never taken the time to investigate the program myself, until yesterday.

            My first impression of the program’s avatar customization interface was that it was surprisingly hard. The sliders controlled every single tiny detail of my avatar, Jaack Stickfigure’s appearance with frustrating sensitivity. Moving the slider a tiny bit would either drastically change my avatar’s look or do nothing at all. In order to actually make Jaack look like a real person I felt like it would take lots of practice and experience. Thus, the design interface makes it much easier to create an extremely exaggerated version of a person rather than someone who looks realistic. Given this difficulty, it is no wonder that second life produces figures that represent over-the-top stereotypes. In trying to make someone who looked like me, I ended up messing with the facial features until Jaack looked somewhat deformed. At one point I tried to change my hairstyle, but the only thing I was able to do was turn up all the sliders and be Cousin It from the Addams family. I don’t think its Second Life’s intention to make everything exaggerated, and thus stereotypical, but the game is too tricky to avoid it.

            The other aspect of Second Life that we explored was the marketplace function, which contained even more examples of the exaggerated stereotypes that define Second Life. In every store, the goods consisted mostly of skimpy women’s clothes, ranging from weird fetish clothing to lingerie. As far as I could tell, there weren’t any clothing options for women that didn’t project a hyper-sexualized image of femininity. I think it stems from the idea that in Second Life, you can be whatever you choose to be, and our society makes it very clear that all women are supposed to want to be stereotypical sex objects. Thus, I found the whole shopping experience to be fairly offensive, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Even the men’s clothing selection seemed to be limited to only things that rappers would wear. Second Life takes advantage of the freedom involved with being able to change yourself in ways that are impossible in real life, but it assumes that everyone wants to become the prototypes that we see on television. This is what really turned me off from Second Life, leaving me with even greater problems with the program than I had before I started playing.

            Also the graphics and gameplay were very poor, presenting a virtual world that was extremely counter-intuitive to navigate.  

14: Social Problems 2.0

 The Lara Croft article spends plenty of time examining the different roles and sides to her character, specifically as a feminist symbol and a sexual object to attract the attention of men. However, I think the idea of Lara as one of the first strong female protagonists in a video game could be explored in much more detail. Specifically, did Lara’s character change the relationship that most women and girls had with video games? Did her creation increase the amount of female gamers? I think that statistic would contribute well to some of the points that Kennedy makes.

Leonard’s commentary on the portrayal of black athletes in video games makes some very bold claims, but I’m not even going to try to go into it out of fear of saying something that could be found racist. Yes, censorship is ruining free speech, im sorry for helping it.

The Cybertyping article also makes some valid points about the idea of race in today’s technology, but in reading it I can’t help but wonder about the validity and necessity of the argument. While I see the problems with racism online, it seems like they simply reflect racism in our overall society. Thus, it isn’t online racism we need to fix, it’s the idea of racism as a whole, a much greater undertaking.

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