So I did that whole riff on identity, which yeah, but I think I’m going to go somewhere else this time. Let’s try democracy, because now I’m kind of in this place that makes my little social science-y heart go pitter-pat.

(What can I say? The theory, it infects! Read a bunch and then play spot-the-philospher with the Matrix! As a drinking game!)

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6 Oct 2009

Do you wanna date my avatar *

October 6, 2009 501A, assignments, responses 5 Comments

I think our understanding of gaming lends itself well to a discussion of broader concepts of identity and the creation (or re-creation of identity).

While Steven Malliet tries to explore the concept of an external identity change (that is, how gaming influences out-of-game actions by game players) in his piece, “Adapting the principles of ludology to the method of video game content analysis,” I think a more interesting subject is how games allow players to explore their own identities within the context of the game itself. As Malliet states, “It is an essential part of games that players are allowed (and required) to be creative within the framework provided by the game rules.”

That creativity, whether in play style or in other game aspects such as socialization or even in creation of an avatar, is related to the formation of identity. A new identity, an idealized identity, a trial version: all things are possible in-game (or, in a broader context, on the Internet itself.)

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

The New Yorker cartoon, typically invoked in discussions of trust, but which also has applications to ideas of identity and the digital world.

I mean, look at MySpace pages (which, unlike Facebook, are less connected to real-life identity), or even earlier, IM handles and profiles, all methods of a digital recreation of identity in a more idealized or trial form.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson illustrates this struggle between the ideals of identity, albeit in a fictional setting.

Your avatar can look any way you want it to, up to the limitations of your equipment. If you’re ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful. If you’ve just gotten out of bed, your avatar can still be wearing beautiful clothes and professionally applied makeup. You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse.

In Snow Crash, how a user creates his or her avatar is a point of pride. Hiro appreciates individuation, as “most hacker types don’t go in for garish avatars, because they know that it takes a lot more sophistication to render a realistic human face than a talking penis,” but there is an element of classism and elitism in looking at others’ avatars:

“When white-trash high-school girls are going on a date in the Metaverse, they invariably run down to the computer-games section of the local Wal-Mart and buy a copy of Brandy.”

Similarly, the black-and-whites, no matter what they look like, are judged on the basis of their use of a public utility to access the Metaverse.

The Metaverse isn’t a game, per se, much the way We Live Here,” describes that a player’s level and in-game wealth end up being secondary to the personal character traits of the person behind the character in the social milieu of the game world.” Riches don’t buy leadership skills, relationships are built upon human connections. Games offer a way to tweak those connections in a non-destructive way — an individual social experiment that allows for growth and change outside the strictures of a real environment, where outside expectations and history weigh heavily on action.

We don’t just communicate identity visually. Actions speak louder than words.

That experimentation with identity is a function of any game, digital or not. C. C. Abt, in his 1970 work Serious Games, identified play as an important component of understanding interaction and forming identity. Again, as with ideas about convergence technology doesn’t change or destroy real-world interaction; it merely extends it.
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*I’m not going to link it. Felicia Day doesn’t need my help in her pursuit of geek love. I don’t begrudge her, but I see no need to help. Google is your friend.

A final note: So remember how a few weeks ago I was all, “blah blah Roy Oldenburg, blah blah Third Places blah Internet?”

Why do I not make sure someone else didn’t do it better, first, before I haul off and try to make what I think is an intellectual point? Because otherwise it just ends up being obvious. Hello, Hinton.

P.S. I write most of my posts in the HTML window and write my own tags. This one is no exception.

29 Sep 2009

Penguins aren’t cute.

September 29, 2009 501A, assignments, responses Comments Off

To paraphrase, “It’s the experience, stupid.”

(I tried to post this last night, but was having some issues. I think WordPress lost a few of my posts as well.)

This cute little penguin was posing for photographs. Coincidentally this is a Gentoo penguin. It's nice that they named the species after a Linux distribution. I wonder what a Debian Penguin would look like?  -photo from Paul Boxley (Lord Biro) on flickr.com

This cute little penguin was posing for photographs. Coincidentally this is a Gentoo penguin. It's nice that they named the species after a Linux distribution. I wonder what a Debian Penguin would look like? -photo and caption from Paul Boxley (Lord Biro) on flickr.com

Penguins and experiential learning

Linky goodness:

Penguin Experience at the Mystic Aquarium
Beluga Experience
The Secrets Inside Your Dog’s Mind
Mars 2112
Max Brenner
The Overscheduled Child
Obama would curtail summer vacation

Other stuff about reading, play and developmental readiness:
Can the right kinds of play teach self-control? (New York Times Magazine, Sept. 25 2009)
Educators differ on why boys lag in reading (Washington Post, March 15, 2005)

28 Sep 2009

You got to know when to hold ‘em

September 28, 2009 501A, assignments 1 Comment

I play games all the time! I bought myself a Wii about a year ago, and I love it — I really need to buy Shaun White Snowboarding, because I’ve rented it too many times — and of course I play silly little games like Snood (on my computer) and Text Twist (phone), because they’re a good little brain break. I’ve wasted months of my life playing Tony Hawk on XBox; I went to a LAN party when Halo 2 came out (even though I hate first-person shooters, I’m terrible at them); I bought myself Neverwinter Nights last time I was unemployed to give myself something to be involved in. I’ve personally owned Atari, Sega, Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Game Boy (that’s not really an impressive list) and owned several games for XBox (though the console wasn’t mine).

I’m pretty lame in that I don’t really like multiplayer games — I’d rather play stuff by myself than against people. One of my favorite games ever is Settlers of Catan, which a friend introduced me to the online version, and then gave me a copy of the board game. I still like playing against the bots in the online version best. For me, gaming is an escape and a chance to lose myself in a story, which is why I’m more likely to play Tony Hawk in the story mode and gravitate towards games like Crash Bandicoot than the new Halo. It’s just a game, so why be serious? Unless we’re playing blackjack. Blackjack is Serious Business.

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21 Sep 2009

Basement dweller. Geek. Internet Tough Guy.

September 21, 2009 501A, assignments, responses 7 Comments

Yeah, not so much anymore.

Convergence, as posited by Henry Jenkins in “Convergence Culture,” is less about the actual coming together of various forms of media, but about a digital translation of shared experience — a new kind of Third Place.

While Jenkins said “All sides are assuming greater participation by citizens and consumers, yet they do not yet agree on the terms of that participation,” that way of thinking about civic engagement is not necessarily true (though yes, the devil is still in the details). People have always engaged in mass culture in the public sphere, from water-cooler conversations about television, books, movies to political discussions in bars. The venue has changed, but essential features of the engagement have not:

“Neutral ground provides the place, and leveling sets the stage for the cardinal and sustaining activity of third places everywhere. That activity is conversation.” (Oldenburg, 26)

The decline of concrete third places that fostered discussion did not coincide with the rise of the Internet. The long process of suburbanization, as Oldenburg pointed out, encouraged social disconnect over the long term (and increased socialization, I would argue, within workplaces, where again a shared experience, work, encouraged social connections) and led to the decline of physical Third Places.

Putnam posits an ongoing decline of social interconnectedness and a great deal of unused social capital; similarly, Benkler posits vast quantities of unused creative impulses (and computer cycles).

The rise of the Internet gave outlet both to this dissatisfaction with self-imposed social isolation and unused creativity. Today, there are many virtual third places of many kinds, some commercial, some not, all organized around interest (perhaps like … a bowling league?)

(That’s a joke. There is no online multiplayer mode for Wii Sports. But there should be, NINTENDO.)

Go back a little further than that, way way back, near the beginning of the Internet, to message boards, which still flourish today. Many of the most popular are organized by and for fan communities, virtual Third Places that allow fan culture to flourish: “Fan cultures will be understood here as a revitalization of the old folk culture process in response to the content of mass culture.” (Jenkins 21)

The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer has spawned a massive youth fandom (filled with fanfiction, though not necessarily the Rule 34 variety), and of course, a creative reaction to that fandom.

(Transformational creative work as a reaction to a specific culture, a form of engagement and social commentary.)

To take an example from that fandom (and there are many, even within that particular subculture), it’s interesting to not that that particular forum, like most if not all, has a section for non-subject-related content. The section for discussion of what’s going on in members’ lives has the second most responses of any of the subforums. People post problems, interact, receive advice and support, all from people they trust understand them because of a shared interest. On many forums, there is a place for political discussion as well — all features of a traditional Third Place.

In this way, Third Places have gone digital.

While Jenkins argues “Citizens were better served by popular culture than they were by news or political discourse; popular culture took on new responsibilities for educating the public …”   I would argue that’s a misunderstanding of how convergence is enacted in the public sphere. While some content owners and producers encourage convergence in a media sense, convergence is not about cross-platform media availability, it’s about people interacting with other people regarding things — online, offline, both — they find interesting.

Oldenburg describes the rise of coffeehouses thus:

“The breadth of its invitation, the inclusiveness of its ranks, and its unequivocal acceptance of all men, lent an aura of excitement to the early coffeehouses. The joy of discovering people whom tradition had suspended in their respective places was endemic to the new coffee establishments and soon became epidemic within them. The coffee-house was democracy at birth, equality incarnate; it was a heady and hearty involvement that prompted one observer to liken it to Noah’s ark in which ‘every kind of creature’ may be found.” (186)

Sounds a lot like the Internet, no?