Simulate this!

Lest I forget again:  In addition to Randy Farmer’s article (of historical interest, in particular) in the Salen/Zimmerman volume, you’ll want to take a look at Bogost’s article on simulation and learning, as well as Starr’s article (ca. 1993) on SimCity and policy design.  You can find them linked from the main course guide.

Only One of All Possible Posts

Over the past couple of years, I have observed here and there that simple antinomies like “linearity vs. non-linearity” and “top-down vs. bottom-up” and even “organic vs. inorganic” are increasingly unsatisfactory.  I’m hardly the only one to say such a thing.

Nevertheless, students frequently furrow their brows at the notion of a network of selves, or the idea of consuming a narrative that accommodates dozens of different and contradictory arcs simultaneously and without effort.  Pluralism, multiplicity.  In Pierre Lèvy’s sense, this is a sort of “virtuality.”

Terminators:  We'll be back.

Terminators: We’ll be back.

The best example of the Old Guard mentality is popular science fiction from the 80’s.  Star Wars fans were (and often continue to be) rabid defenders of “canonicity.”  In the 90’s, fans of the Alien series were angered by David Fincher’s somewhat nihilistic Alien 3, which saw characters whom we had cheered throughout the 2nd film (including the adorable little orphan girl, Newt) perish during the opening credit sequence.  Fincher also let Ripley assume the role of a female Christ, who labors among the untouchables, but eventually sacrifices herself (arms outstretched) and the gestating alien inside of her so that the world might spin on.  Fincher’s science-gothic tale (think The Monk, or even Castle of Otranto) continues to be a sore spot, in spite of the three or four films that soldiered on.

Again:  Old Guard.  New Guard?  Illicit fan edits of Star Wars; Bad Robot’s reboot of Star Trek (which we might call, after Sobchack, “the familiarization of the alien, and the alienation of the familiar”).

And now, this, via io9, via variety:

Terminator Genisys

Jai Courtney talks about the film as a standalone entry in the franchise:

It’s not a reboot or a sequel or a prequel,” Jai told Variety. “It stands alone. We’re introduced to a world that we’ve seen before. However, when Reese is sent back to save Sarah Connor, something has happened in the process and everything has changed. All the information he has for the mission and the task at hand is different. Therefore, things have been reset and that’s where we move forward from. That’s about all I can say.


See?  Multiplicities of mutually-exclusive but simultaneous worlds.  This is the proliferation of the virtual. This is (Lèvy une autre fois) “Universality without totality.”

By Way of a Further Update

> 23 Mar:  Updated links at bottom to improve visibility.

Ready Player One

A reminder that this week, we are venturing into the realm of that most dangerous, most endangered of species, the Gamer.

Readings for this week include a diverse set of what have essentially become “canonical” texts in game studies:

Bartle, Richard A. 1996. “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs.” S/Z 794.

Castronova, Edward. “Virtual Worlds: First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier.” S/Z 814.

Koster, Raph. “Declaring the Rights of Players.” S/Z 788.

NB that while I characterize these as “canonical,” and insofar as they are “about” gamers, they are not at all about gamers as playful, idiosyncratic, self-reflexive subjectivities — Daseinludens. Instead, they are about working to build worlds that are both appealing to most players and, more importantly, are characterized by affordances most likely to “softly determine” player behavior, driving ambiguous identities into slotted, ready-made categories.

None of this is to say, of course, that these authors are advocating games as a means of delimiting personhood: In fact, of the few games scholars with whom I am acquainted, Richard Bartle and Ted Castronova are easily among the most humane. Nevertheless, game studies (the discipline) and game studies (the methodology) both raise their ugly heads here, and suggest that the less we know about human beings, and the more we generalize, the better we’ll appreciate them…

If you have time, and are so inclined, consider checking out:

Nelson, Noah. Hard–Core and Casual Gamers Play in Different Worlds. NPR’s All Tech Considered.

Sell, Jessie. Gamer Identity. on last accessed 12 Feb 2015.

Finally, in the unlikely event that you’ve got optimism to spare for the future of humanity, dip your toe in these fetid waters. (The blog post linked below surely stands as one of the most powerful indictments of the naivete of Kant’s Sapere Aude: Never has so much reason and skepticism yielded such an inhumane conclusion.)

Random blog stupidity.

For next week, we’ll change things up a bit, and tackle some articles that grapple with larger, more abstracted issues.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1992. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” OCTOBER 59, Winter. pp. 3–7. [PDF]

Ito, Mizuko, Matteo Bittanti, et al. “Gaming.” In Hanging Out Messing Around Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. 2010. pp. 195 – 242.  [PDF]

Thomas, Douglas and John Seely Brown. “Learning for a World of Constant Change: Homo Sapiens, Homo Farber & Homo Ludens Revisited.”Paper presented at the 7th Glion Colloquium, University of Southern California. June.  [PDF]

Readings, Update

Because we’re spending longer in this section than I anticipated, I am moving a few things around this afternoon.  The new schedule won’t be too different; it will be posted here on Sunday, 15 Feb.

For the present, though, here is a reminder of the readings for next week, together with links to those readings (as appropriate).

For the time being:

Most Important Readings are indicated by two pluses ++

Readings of Secondary Importance include a single plus +

Optional, but Strongly Suggested Readings, a lonely interrobang ‽

Recall that S/Z is both (1) a clever meta-reference on my part, and (2) indicates a reading in the Salen/Zimmerman collection.  But mostly (1).

Play’s the Thing

‽ Caillois, Roger. 1962. “The Definition of Play: Classification of Games.” S/Z 122.

++ Huizinga, Johan. 1955. “Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon.” Homo Ludens.  S/Z 96.

‽ Steinkuehler, Constance. “The Mangle of Play.”  PDF

+ Sutton-Smith, Brian. 2001. “Play and Ambiguity.”  The Ambiguity of Play. S/Z 296.

Play in a Terrible Time: Dada, the Situationists, Kynikism

+ Debord, Guy and Gil J. Wolman. 1956. “A User’s Guide to Détournement.” Les Lèvres Nues #8 (May). Transl. Ken Knabb. PDF

++ Debord, Guy. 1956. “Theory of the Dérive.” Les Lèvres Nues #9 (November). Transl. Ken Knabb. PDF

Readings for 12 February (Lincoln’s Birthday!)

There are only two things to read for Thursday, the Heraclitus fragments and the last part of Plato’s Republic (in this transl., Book 16, Sections 592b–608b; colloquially referred to as “the Exile of the Poets”).  (You do not need to read the section entitled “The Mobile Eternity of Subjects.”)  We will use these texts to thicken the basis by which we apprehend play — ludus — and its relation to being, becoming, epistemé (knowledge) and techné (know-how).

NB that Badiou’s translation is presented in modern, colloquial American English, and that Badiou has often radically adjusted the text to his liking.  If you’re curious about the particulars of some of his changes, consider referring to Jowett; the intro to our translation includes Badiou’s explanation of his strategy, and his co-translator’s insights (she worked with him to re–translate the work from French to English, after Badiou had finished his work on moving it from ancient Greek to contemporary French.)

Alternatively, if you’re really ambitious, consider Shorey’s more scholarly effort.  In any event:  The text is meant to be comprehensible, not cryptic.  If you’re having trouble understanding where they’re headed, look for another translation, and have another go.  Philosophy that is incomprehensible should never be tolerated.

If you haven’t picked them up from the other site, here are those links:

Heraclitus, “Fragments” (transl. Burnet)

Plato, Poleteia (transl. Badiou)

"Lincoln Navigator 2015 repite el plato"

“Lincoln Navigator 2015 repite el plato.”  On an ill-advised whim, I searched for images containing the names of both our most beloved, most bearded President AND Aristotle’s teacher.  Here’s what I got. A mystery. But who am I to refuse the wisdom of Chance? Perhaps Google’s vast network of networked servers has discerned that Plato would have preferred 21″ rims. Surely Abe would have opted for the bullet-proof glass option. Philosophy! Computers! We know so much more than they used to!


A reminder:  Because context is the all and everything of knowledge, I’m providing students enrolled in CCTP628 Badiou’s translation of Plato in its entirety.  If you are not enrolled in this course, this text is not intended for you:  Please do not download it.

Last Minute Addenda

In fine fashion, I neglected to update the site to include all of the readings assigned that are external to the Salen / Zimmerman text. To make things simple for the nonce, here are the two texts that I had intended you to read for this week. Look at them if you have time (they are both interesting, Jerz’s article for DHQ especially so).

Jerz, Dennis G.  2007.  “Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original ‘Adventure’ in Code and in Kentucky.” PDF

Juul, Jesper.  2003.  “Game, Play, World.  Looking for the Heart of Gameness.”  In Level Up: Digital Games Research Conference Proceedings, edited by Marinka Copier and Joost Raessens, 30-45. Utrecht: Utrecht University. PDF

I meant, additionally, to encourage you to experiment with a version of Crowther’s Colossal Cave.  There are, unsurprisingly, myriad versions available.  If you want a quick sense of content, but aren’t interested in seeing how the game was really played, take a look at this version.  Rick Adams developed a nostalgic instance of the game for use in a promo for AMC TV’s quasi-historical series, Halt and Catch Fire.  (As for the TV series? meh.  Too much quasi, not enough historical.)  And here is a later iteration (550-point version), available via DosBox and played in the browser, as part of the recent release of games to the Internet Archive.

Finally:  A CaveMap may be of some use.

Interactive Fiction

post-it-notes2I have no idea how writers who post regularly and uniformly to the Internet manage to do so.  I have tried, off and on, for years to do the same thing — indeed, I’ve devoted hundreds of hours to the task — but almost always without ever actually pushing content to the web.  Instead, my blog entries tend to remain virtual:   stacks and stacks of Post-It Notes; notes scribbled on the backs of used envelopes and on the kraft-brown insides of Petit Ecolier biscuit boxes; Evernote entries tagged “blogfodder”; .txt files tagged “blogThis”, “blogMe”, and “blogMe?BlogYou”; and at least half a dozen Moleskines, each brimming with cryptic, half-forgotten notes, quotes, links, and titles, everyone more urgent than the last.

So:  In addition to the approach described below, I’m going to try pushing material that may be more obliquely related to our weekly conversation over tea and scones.  You may find it interesting — but you are welcome to ignore it, too.

Which brings me to why I wanted to write this post in the first place (maybe this is why the content never gets out the door?).

infocom_spriteI spoke briefly about Infocom and their excellent text-based games (circa the 1980’s).  We’ll pursue them further at some point in the future, but for now, if you’ve some time on your hands, consider inviting the extraordinary author and narrative-technologist Emily Short into your corner of the spacetime continuum.  In this episode of her podcast, the venerable Short focuses on genre for which she has been one of the most able torch-bearers, “interactive fiction.”

The page on her site includes lots of related links.  Think of it as though you’d just run into, say, Emily Dickinson at the grocery, and asked her “So, whatcha been reading?  Anything good?”

The Short Game: Interactive Fiction


Discussion Supplemental 29 January

Clearly, I need to hire a stenographer in order to be sure I can keep track of all of the genuinely interesting, wildly varied insights that you bring with you to our weekly conversation.  For the time being, though, we’ll have to depend upon my ability to decipher my hasty scrawl.

Here, e.g., is what we’re up against, taken from last week’s notes:

S? --> bmb / @St (Lndn)

It may be that I was writing a reminder about when to bomb the British Parliament — or perhaps I was reminding myself NOT to bomb the Parliament.  It was more likely the latter.

Point ’n Click

We were speaking today about the newly-resurgent point-and-click genre, a UI likely popular among tablet programmers for many of the same reasons it was initially popular among PC game-makers:  It represents the interface at its most stripped-down, most essential level, and allows authors to devote more time to creating a compelling story and writing meaningful dialogue, rather than, say, ensuring that your hyper-realistic avatar is adequately lit from every conceivable angle.

Grim Fandango

A propos of that conversation, and with a nod too to the mention of Good Old Games, be sure to check out the newly-restored Grim Fandango Remastered, which just dropped yesterday.  Grim Fandango, a product of the legendary Lucas Arts studio (now defunct), from which Double Fine studios eventually emerged, is surely one of the most beloved digital games, point-and-click or otherwise, published during the 20th Century   There’s a lot to like about Fandango — I adored the weird pastische of Aztec mythos, Art Deco, and 50’s film noir, all mediated via digital 3D animation (an entirely new consumer technology prior to the publication of the title in 1998).

In a way, the whole thing recalled aspects of Orson Welle’s amazing proto-post-modern contribution to noir, Touch of Evil (make a point of watching it—the opening scene is a marvel, done in a single take, as we walk casually with the hero (Charlton Heston) from the US into Mexico, only to find that border-crossing isn’t as easy as we thought it would be.  Dozens of films have cited that shot — e.g., Polanski’s Chinatown, Tim Robbins’ The Player and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men.


The soundtrack of Fandango was marvelous, too — it draws on half a century of jazz history, with an emphasis on the big band sound and the hot jazz era, but with the occasional nod to Henry Mancini, Miles Davis, and so forth.  Apparently they’ve re-recorded the soundtrack for the re-release, but it doesn’t seem to be available separately.

More broadly, though, it might be interesting to reflect on the recent trend of “remasters” and “HD editions” at some point.  One the one hand, like the recording industry’s “Best Of” albums, and the film industry’s beloved “Director’s Cut” editions, the HD remaster of decades-old games is, first and foremost, a calculated money grab — but (based on the considerable financial support of the Kickstarter community, for example) it is clearly one that has been embraced by the gamer community.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that we tend to regard games as a transmedial phenomenon:  The technology used to put the game in front of us is seen (for better or worse) as subsidiary to some “ideal” game experience itself.  “Improving” the resolution of the display, or re-writing the soundtrack, or even just eliminating bugs and rebalancing gameplay are thus frequently regarded as acts that leave the “truth” of the game unchanged.  I can certainly understand that sensibility, but I think it raises some challenging questions about our perceptions of truth and “the real” as mediated by these ostensibly interactive technosystems through which we float (and by which we are endlessly fashioned and re-fashioned).

I’ll continue to sift through my notes and post more material this weekend.  If you’ve anything to add, don’t hestiate to post it here or send it my way.

What Does a Blog Want? *

I’ve been experimenting with blogs in both graduate and undergraduate courses since my first year in grad school.  That spring, I was summarily hauled before a faculty committee who had heard that I was posting Freshman essays onto the Information Superhighway so that students from around the world could more easily plagiarize them.  My position, which was probably a subtle combination of righteous indignation and apoplexy, was that (1) asking students to write essays that no one would ever read seemed like a silly way to teach them about writing, and that (2) based on what I’d read of their material so far, the likelihood of plagiarism was, well, nil.  Or less.

They listened politely, talked among themselves, and then explained to me that I underestimated student wiles, and that surely if others abused this Information Superhighway as I had, it would lead to rampant and callous disregard for intellectual integrity among undergraduates.  The papers were removed from the server forthwith, and I am happy to report that Higher Education has thrived ever since.

I am yet looking, however, for an organic, sensible way to make use of blogs, wikis, forums, Tumblrs, Twitter, and so forth, in the conduct of a course.  There are many ways to deploy these technologies, of course, and (if everyone is willing to give it their best effort) they tend to work out just fine.  Or, at least, they don’t do much harm, per se.  But insofar as I am concerned, the artificial character of the classroom community, and the extrinsic requirement that members of that community regularly contribute to blog X or wiki Y, means that we’re still not doing it right.  This is not to say that other faculty members’ present use of the technology is wrong, or is without merit:  Only that I remain unsatisfied with the way I have interfaced with these technologies in the past.

So here is another approach.  On this blog, for the duration of the semester, I will frequently make available materials related to our last meeting (lecture notes, links to videos we discussed, further research on our favorite issues) and material that anticipates our next session.  If you have any thoughts about this approach, please let me know.

* Louis Kahn, renowned architect and Professor of Design at Yale during the middle of the 20th Century, famously asked of his students, “What does a brick want?”  To which Kahn would invariably imagine bricks responding with requests like “I want to be an Arch!” and “I want to be load-bearing wall!”  This has always left me cold:  Bricks likely just want to be left alone, and put back in the cold, quiet ground with the rest of their clay-based friends.  Asking “What does a brick want?” is really just a coy way of asking “what does an architect want to do with this brick?”