March 2, 2007

Notes, World Building: Space and Community, Day 2

by Nick Montfort · , 5:32 pm

Onward to day two, with more fascinating presentations about many aspects of many different sorts of games…

Session 1: Insert Here: Video Editing, Interactive Fiction, and Mediated Surfaces

(All panelists are from the University of Florida)

Associations Through (Re)Mediation: The “Cut and Paste” Aesthetic and Transparency

Elise Takehana

Computing moves between transparency and a “cut and paste” aesthetic that forces the user to look at the interface. The “window” is important to Renaissance perspectival art. Modern art is not realistic, but exposes the process of painting, emphasizing how it was produced. How is the GUI window viewed, via painting? Antonella’s window in St. Jerome in his Study vs. Magritte’s in The Human Condition. Transparency in Windows Vista vs. OS X. Read the abstract.

Lyndsay Brown

Stories as Pieces and Fragments as Wholes: The Influence of Final Cut Pro and Nonlinear Digital Editing on Fan Videos

In 1975, a fan showed the first “vid” (music video made in fandom) at a Star Trek convention using a slide projector. Jenkins’ 1992 chapter on VCR vids, and one of his blog posts, constitute the only scholarship. 1995, Final Cut Pro was released, an important NLE (non-linear editor), changing vidding. No need to scroll through footage, non-destructive. Description of NLE interface, progression of three generations of vids. Vids are often 3-4 minutes long. A 1st-gen which juxtaposes lyrics with images and fan awareness of what characters said and did based on these images. A 2nd-gen, made in Final Cut Pro in 2003, is faster paced and sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically relate lyrics and shots. 2006 3rd-gen vid that is long but uses fast cuts, with clips sped up, frames removed, zooms added. Vid production relates to alternate versions (directors’ cuts) and mash-ups and remakings. Read the abstract.

Aaron Kashtan

The Slavering Fangs of a Lurking []: Interactive Fiction, Ekphrasis and the Painterly Text

(“[]” is pronounced “this space intentionally left blank.”) According to the usual narrative, textual IF was made obsolete by graphics. This neglects that text can provide effects such as ekphrasis, which graphics cannot. IF simulates a world, allows textual interaction with it. Adventure is characterized as an important ancestor of graphical games, not great for its own sake. IF seems to be as far as possible from the invisible interface, goal of evolution, by mediating everything in text. Language is viewed in a sensuous way, and is foregrounded, in Ad Verbum. As graphical games move to immediacy, IF does the reverse. Zork living room description gives minimal necessary description, naming only implemented objects but giving an image of the room. Room descriptions shouldn’t mislead – should be minimally mediated as text. Stephen Bond’s discussion of functional, uninteresting descriptions in Labyrinth vs. better Delightful Wallpaper. The grue is indescribable except for its slavering fangs, inviting the player to imagine the worst. The Gostak is an extreme example of mediated language that allows the player to imagine what things are and what he or she has done – David Welbourn offers a glossary, but there is no “right answer.” Instead of the invisible interface, the ideal of IF may be the image without pictures. Read the abstract.

Virtual Places: Gardens, Cities, and Altars

(Shinkle – University of Westminster; Murray – University of South Florida; Phillips – Rice)

Amanda Phillips

The Spirituality of a Cyborg: Sacred Spaces in Nintendo’s Metroid and Beyond

Metroid, Samus and the Chozo race. Gaming allows exploration of cyborg nature and resembles religious experience: myth, ritual, ecstasy (experience of self outside of self), gnosticism (esoteric knowledge). Controlling Samus is cybernetic, and she is a cyborg. On the NES, statues (influenced by statuary of Egyptian god) represent the Chozo, appear in special rooms, signify gift-giving. On SNES, the formerly nice statues move and attack. In 3D (Metroid Prime games on the Gamecube) expand scale to provide a sacred aesthetic, but statues are not gift-givers. Text describing lore of the Chozo. Music is reinterpreted from early games. True sacred spaces have an authority over people – is there a true sacred moment? Save points? Better: Altars that provide prosthetics necessary to progress. Music remains the game for item acquisition throughout the series, is Hallelujah-like. Read the abstract.

Eugene Shinkle

Gamescapes and Digital Gardens: The Space of Nature in Digital Games

Design of gamespaces owes a good deal to landscaped garden design, which involves ideological assumptions, and these influence contemporary representations of nature. Viewing a landscape in the 18th century was a social activity for upper classes. Denial of the material body in gardens. Walks go through enclosed shades to different views, highly constructed. Control (views) and chaos (shades) in the representation of nature is also seen in games. Screens (planted trees in gardens) are similar to 2D images in the background of 3D games. Things are scaled up and down in both. Stealth and adventure games make use of shades. Representation of nature is not benign, but politicized, making nature seem distant from humanity. Read the abstract.

Soraya Murray

Being There: The Aesthetics of Place in the Production of Urban Game Spaces

GTA: VC – getting lost in a place that doesn’t exist? How can one be there? Body as central to digital experience and aesthetics. Interface is complex, involving touch, sight, and sound. One idea: games just extensions of movies, providing media experience. Or, places for experimenting safely with modern life. Perhaps instead of saying “kill, kill, kill” to kids, the GTA games are saying “survive, survive, survive.” Construction site as a site of progress (?), a safe haven. Player can traverse places in the city that would be dangerous, inaccessible. Manhunt takes GTA to its most negative conclusion. Read the abstract.

Video Games and Text (As in Letters)

(Reed, University of Georgia; others from UF)

Chris “Tof” Eklund

Radical Depthlessness and Pseudogrammatical Code in Roguelike Games

Pong in 1972, D&D in 1974, then Rogue, one of the first games intended for play on a CRT. Nethack is a descendant. Influenced Diablo and other later dungeon-crawl games. The baroque is produced by folding. Elaborate combinations; 47 different ways a cocatrice can kill you. In Nethack, < and > represent down and up stairs, but “up” just means incrementing the level counter. In Rogue, there is only % leading to the next level, no way to go back. The “%” is not even a signifier, since it is not subject to a shifting of meaning. Deleuzian sense of actual screen image, virtual reception. Walls can yield to corridors; everything is imminent. Nothing stacks. NoeGNUd converts Nethack to 3D, but fails to hide Nethack’s radical flatness. Read the abstract.

Scott Reed

The Cybernetics of Gaming Worlds: Three Moments

Interested in games as rhetorical engines. Cybernetics is a science of relation, not essence – Hayles. Communication and control, redrawing boundaries of bodies. Ong and McLuhan concerned with how media contours meaning. Where is the body when we play games? Popular imaginary is that gaming is sedentary. Final Fantasy VII is low-violence, text-heavy, but plays with creation of its world. Playstation launch title. In a moment, immersion is the world is interrupted by flash of white, text, having a physiological effect. In WoW, the game is on all the time. Leads to obsession, addiction. The Wii shows that games are bodily. Read the abstract.

Zach Whalen

Lost in Emulation: Worlds of Difference in Videogame Typography

Considering bytes, bits of code, pixels, and typography to understand video gaming better. “Jaggy” and “fuzzy” text – appropriated by print designers. Type is expressive: “Say What Again” by Jarratt Moody. New type design practices emerge with photocopiers, HDTV. Text used extensively for status information, e.g., reporting the score. Abstraction vs. representation, images of tank, rook, aliens. Juul’s Half-Real offers good insights, but doesn’t allow much consideration of typography. Bogost’s Unit Operations. Text is often on a HUD, hard to tell if it is diegetic or not. Berzerk and its unremarkable aspects: “3.” Visible in code. Digital photo of how “3″ appears on actual TV using actual VCS. Fuzzy, RF interference – also more luminous. Photo of 15″ LCD monitor. Scan of “3″ from Berzerk instruction manual, which looks different – artist’s representation of viewed game? Ideal form which game imitates? Logos using jaggy type (e.g., on the Platform Studies site) are a revision of history, since this type was seen as fuzzy at the time. Read the abstract.

Establishing Rules: The Self-Definition of Gaming Spaces

(Johns, Michigan State University; Taylor, UF)

Dylan Horrocks

Physics Engines and Narrative Machines: Storytelling, Simulated Reality and the Aesthetics of Roleplaying Games

Known as a cartoonish, but has tabletop RPGs as a “primary aesthetic interest.” First D&D experience … wyvern attack slew the whole party. Nevertheless, had to keep playing for the next 48 hours! It was like being inside a novel. Some of Horrocks’s first comics done for a RPG zine. Essay: “The Perfect Planet.” Tolkien: a work of fiction constructs an imaginary world, a story-maker becomes a “sub-creator.” In 1969, the Brownstein game foreshadowed D&D, has players control one person. Then, Blackmoor + Chainmail … D&D. Rule system provides the physics of the world. Realism vs. playability. GURPS, a generic system, is very “crunchy” – a complex falling velocity table. Toon offers a different physics: if you walk off a cliff, you won’t fall until you notice you’ve walked off a cliff. Then, definition of personalities, focus on narrative. White Wolf’s focus on story. My Life with Master, Nicotine Girls. Action points (from Buffy) introduced to Eberron. Not real-world physics, but the laws of story. The “WHOOPS! factor” screws up the plan, but makes the world feel more real. “We are alive in a living world.” HHGTTG and planet fabrication. As a gamemaker, can’t try to structure the world around a narrative.

Geoffrey A. Johns

The Psychology of Space in Survival Horror Gaming, or, Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Visual Narrative Conventions I Learned in Raccoon City

Story of the destruction of Raccoon City due to T-virus outbreak; warning of violence given beforehand, although movies (and even gams about war) do not have this. Gee: video games allow players to identify with virtual characters. Survival horror uses a unique type of suture. Introductory cutscene. Clip (of both gameplay and cutscenes) from the beginning of Resident Evil 2. Door opening as typical transition. Read the abstract.

Laurie Taylor

Laws, Unwritten Rules, and Etiquette

Play situation often ignored – e.g., in studies of video game violence in which people play alone. Laws and ethical codes govern conduct, decisions also made based on unwritten rules and etiquette. Not only EULAs and TOS, but also guilds that can kick people out, shame them to shape behavior. Small-scale gaming situations also requires etiquette; most interested in multiplayer games where players are co-located. Video game play can be competitive, but interactions can be polite. Within-game etiquette: don’t save over someone else’s character, no camping. Quarter on the coin-op to reserve the next game. Many rules in casinos. House rules: Don’t spike the controller! Read the abstract.

I’ll give tonight’s keynote – the title of my talk is “Skinnable Worlds.”

One Response to “Notes, World Building: Space and Community, Day 2”

  1. nick Says:

    Cathlena Martin has written a column in the Gainesville Sun about the conference, too.

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