Need for Speed Hydrocarbons


Apologies for my rather slow return to Ludus Ex: many interesting events have happened meanwhile and have been missed by me because of other engagements. As I try to refuel my engines and get back to research after conferences, parties and my other job (not necessarily in that order though), I find myself in a world plagued by petrol crisis and inflation. This makes me wonder whether petroleum, that extremely important mixture of hydrocarbons, has any of the effects on the videogame-world as it does in other aspects of our quotidian affairs.

Need for Speed but No Need for Petrol?

The thing that surprises me is that videogames seem to ignore this very important part of our lives. We drive cars in GTA 4, race like crazy in Need for Speed Carbon or Motocross Madness and we even fly all kinds of aircraft in videogames but I don't remember ever having to go to a petrol station. Not that petrol has been ignored altogether in videogames: players of Rise of Nations will remember how important it is to possess your enemies oilfields so that your tanks and planes can keep flying. Suddenstrike introduced petrol trucks as an important element in its Resource War version: the animated petrol truck explosions bring a sense of fear into even the mightiest martial spirits. A more recent (and for me extremely disappointing) game series called Act of War even has the petrol crisis as a key theme. In general, however, games seem to avoid the issue. The in-game characters need weapons, ammo and even food but their cars seem to have an inexhaustible supply of fuel. I wonder why. Also, why connect the importance of petroleum only to military affairs?

As games get more 'serious' and responsible, perhaps they will be able to take this into account especially keeping in mind the millions of people who play them.


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From Under the Playful Mask

The 'Under the Mask' Conference at the University of Bedfordshire is all set to begin. The joysticks, gamepads, mice and keyboards are at the ready; the players in position. To cap it all, the papers are all online, including one by yours truly. A quick skim through shows me that research on online multiplayer games is getting increasingly richer. 'Griefing' has been singled out for particular attention - with two papers providing a detailed analysis from different angles. Esther MacCallum-Stewart's paper reveals a whole new world for a non-MMORPG gamer like me (yes, that species exists). I didn't even think that a possible typology existed for 'griefing': ludic grief, social grief and spectacle grief. This is very illuminating and the 'deeper' levels of MMO gaming is well revealed in the analysis. Good grief, Esther! I didn't know that there are so many 'griefers' out there ...

The ultimate 'Griefer' mask

Narratives, narratives ... yes, narratives ... games tell stories: now that is for sure. Many papers testifying to the fact, here. Pity, i didn't join the team having chosen 'becoming' and ludic philosophy of Deleuze (perhaps, I did take the storytelling aspect for granted - i have been doing so since I first started researching games). Particularly interesting for me are Anne-Mette Albrechtslund's paper on narrative in online games and Jan van Looy's on Alice. The first paper I have only just had time to glance at and since it's just after mine, I'll get to have a good listen, i think. It's the next that's even more up my street. Van Looy speaks on American McGee's Alice ... we say similar things. Visitors to my website will find two papers by me on the subject: one written in 2000 and the other one being more recent: my 'Brown Bag' presentation at Nottingham Trent University. Van Looy's work adds the novel dimension of viewing the game using 'Kendall Walton’s theory of representational artefacts as props for evoking imagining in games of make-believe.' Moreover, it does a pretty decent job of analysing the Alice narratives in different media.

There are thirteen solid papers and I haven't the skill to summarise them here. I can't help noting another very promising paper on onlookers of arcade games. The audience of gaming has always fascinated me ... somebody somewhere says that games don't have an audience ... I wonder. The papers can be accessed here and the direct link to mine is here.

Finally, Tanya Krzywinska's keynote presentation on 'Reanimating HP Lovecraft: The Ludic Paradox of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth' looks very intriguing. Never had the chance to delve much into the Cthulhu mythos. Here's my chance.

My first paper on Alice are to be found on the London School of Journalism's website and the more recent one's to be found on my own website, here.


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Videogames and Boiled Eggs

When I wasn't an egghead: the glorious days when eggs (and life) were unproblematised

I've not eaten boiled eggs for a while now. The reason, according to my friends, is that I am too lazy to go and buy eggs; but there is to more to it than passes show. I have been struck by the dreadful Endian-controversy. Yes, this is the infamous controversy that claimed millions of little lives in Lilliput and Blefuscu, the mighty empires that went to war over which end of the boiled egg they should first eat. Whilst I am still indecisive, I will let you fathom the problem in depth. The controversy is best described by none other than the illustrious traveller, Mr Lemuel Gulliver:

It began upon the following Occasion. It is allowed on all Hands, that the primitive way of breaking Eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger End: But his present Majesty's Grand-father, while he was a Boy, going to eat an Egg, and breaking it according to the ancient Practice, happened to cut one of his Fingers. Whereupon the Emperor his Father published an Edict, commanding all his Subjects, upon great Penaltys, to break the smaller End of their Eggs. The People so highly resented this Law, that our Histories tell us there have been six Rebellions raised on that account; wherein one Emperor lost his Life, and another his Crown. These civil Commotions were constantly fomented by the Monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the Exiles always fled for Refuge to that Empire

Let us also have a visual representation of the problem, just to understand the awesome complexity. Here is the picture:

The simple and delicious boiled egg has now become a scary element in my life

'That's all about eggs and your agonising psyche but where's the connection with the videogame?' says the impatient reader. Patience, dear reader (you need to play more of the slow strategy games). This 'allegory of the egg' is my message for the videogame world. In an earlier posting on the Ludologist, Jesper Juul mentioned that 'It’s official: The new conflict in video game studies is between those who study players and those who study games.' Like the Ludology-Narratology conflict. Indeed, these are serious battles and believe me, they all started with the problematised boiled egg.

Well, the good news is that while writing this posting I came across an ingenious solution (the Internet be praised) that has put eggs back on my appetite:

By the way, Jesper has since clarified his own position(on videogames not boiled eggs) in a very sensible (characteristically) follow-up comment.

I hope the others do the same.

For the really hardboiled reader, I've picked up another trail to the egg-endian controversy in software. Read on at your own peril.

As for me, I'd better get back to my breakfast.


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A Dialogue Indeed

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This is a belated posting and I sincerely apologise. A few quick comments on my all too brief chat with Stephan Juergens who presented a paper at the Dialogue conference on the 23rd of May. I was the discussant for his paper at the conference and here is a brief summary of what we spoke about (or rather planned to speak about - we ran out of time!) These are just notes from Stephan's emailed comments with my own glosses - more like a research log, i guess.

SM: Interactive art ... i will start a discussion linking your paper to other kinds of interactive art - will ask for a definition of the limits of interactive art (if any)? Are computer games interactive art or Second Life?

SJ: Interesting question... in my perspective computer games can be art if used by an artist as a form of expression. Today artists use any kind of platform, medium or material to work with, why not computer games? It all depends on the artistic vision, I guess.
As far as Second Life is concerned, it is rather a platform, which allows you to interact with all kind of intentions, commercial, artistic and otherwise.

SM: I am curious about the cyborgian nature of the interactive artist - how much is he/she part of the machinic?

SJ: I was very much into the Cyborg debate at the time of my MA (2001), but the more I investigated, the more the cyborg lost my interest... seems rather important as a cultural construct... but as a choreographer and dancer, I am naturally interested in "embodied" practices, in "intelligence amplification" as opposed to "artificial intelligence"

SM: Is the technology a prosthetic element to the dance itself?

SJ: I see technology rather as emerging from bodily knowledge; I use technology as a partner for performance, including "old technologies", such as light design, sound system etc.

SM: Could you comment on the other aspect where the machine and user produce 'art' on different levels? I am thinking of a game using dancemats such as Dance Dance Revolution or music videogames like Guitar Hero.

SJ: DDR in my view falls into the category of the "sensitive instrument", a reactive form of interaction. Though requiring some of the dancer's skills (coordination, rhythm, learning sequences etc.) it feels more like a limited "personal trainer"... don't know Guitar Hero to well.

SM: machinic agency... Is there a difference between interaction and agency? How does machinic agency work with conceptions like 'free will' that are implicit in some discussions of agency?

SJ: My favourite suggestion of yours! I think, this could be quite an interesting exchange, as we have a term in common and could compare! [later, Stephan compared the Deleuzian idea of the action in the 'Zone of Becoming' (from one of my conference papers) to similar ideas of agency in Mark Downie's work on dance ... must follow up on this. I think I introduced the religious debates on 'free will' in the discussion. Stephan, quite interestingly, brought up the idea of agency and action in Buddhism -again another interesting area to read up on.]

SM : The software agent: I am reminded of Weizenbaum's Eliza - is Eliza an agent in the sense that 'she' carries out a dialgoue with her interlocutor (sometimes pretty convincingly).

SJ: Yes! There are a lot of similarities. We could look more closely at Downie's work.

SM: would you like to say more about the human-computer complex?

SJ: We could have a look at Downie's "creatures" There is a "tree" amongst them... [regrettably, we didn't have much time for this one]

SM: what is the reaction to such interactive art in the more conventional areas of performance studies (dance, especially).

SJ: According to Sarah Rubidge interactive technologies are used by choreographer's of all kinds and styles; they are usually interested for different reasons!

Well, there you go ... the ravages of time and a week spent in reworking a chapter does so much to the memory. We continued the conversation in the pub and unfortunately Mr Guinness took some of it away with him!

So this is more than a dialogue , then: it's on one-level a dialogue between me and Stephan and on the other, one between me-at-the-present-moment speaking myself-a-week-ago (and i expect Stephan is somewhere around, interjecting, interrupting and correcting).

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