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13Dec/13Off

Marginalia 7

Shiodome Station, Christmas 2003

Shiodome Station, Christmas 2003

Marginalia is an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Amanda Lange, Ben Serviss and Raph Koster.

In this Christmas edition: why we should embrace luck, why some people like Beyond: Two Souls and how the Jump Point Search algorithm works.

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22Oct/13Off

Marginalia 6

Pontoon Dock DLR Station (under construction), London 2004

Pontoon Dock DLR Station (under construction), London 2004

Marginalia is an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Amanda Lange (GameSprout), Clara Fernández-Vara (NYU Game Center), Christoffer Holmgård (ITU Copenhagen), Miguel Sicart (ITU Copenhagen) and Raph Koster.

In this edition: how videogames made oral storytelling culture new again, political art made with computer technology and putting the player back into game design.

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13Sep/13Off

Marginalia 5

marginalia_5

Looking out from the Bridge of Sighs, Venice 2006

Marginalia is an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Amanda Lange (GameSprout), Clara Fernández-Vara (NYU Game Center), Christoffer Holmgård (ITU Copenhagen) and Nicolau Chaud (Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer).

In this edition: how games trivialize serious subjects, political videogames, videogame communities that refuse to die and non-linear storytelling.

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27Aug/13Off

Talking Point: The Business of Literature

Throughout August, HM is on sabbatical.

sabbatical_talking_point

Extract from Richard Nash's essay "What Is the Business of Literature?" (Spring 2013).

Selling a book, print or digital, turns out to be far from the only way to generate revenue from all the remarkable cultural activity that goes into the creation and dissemination of literature and ideas. Recall again all the schmoozing, learning, practice, hustling, reading upon reading upon reading that goes into the various editorial components of publishing; the pattern recognition; the storytelling that editors do, that sales reps do, that publicists do, that the bookstore staff does. Recall the average feted poet who makes more money at a weekend visiting-writer gig than her royalties are likely to earn her in an entire year. You begin to realize that the business of literature is the business of making culture, not just the business of manufacturing bound books. This, in turn, means that the increased difficulty of selling bound books in a traditional manner (and the lower price point in selling digital books) is not going to be a significant challenge over the long run, except to free the business of literature from the limitations imposed when one is producing things rather than ideas and stories. Book culture is not print fetishism; it is the swirl and gurgle of idea and style in the expression of stories and concepts—the conversation, polemic, narrative force that goes on within and between texts, within and between people as they write, revise, discover, and respond to those texts. That swirl and gurgle does happen to have a home for print fetishism, as it has a home for digital fetishism. This is what literature has always been. Being yoked to the Industrial Revolution’s machines for analog reproduction, accompanied by an arbitrary process for selecting what should be reproduced, will prove to be an anomaly in the history of literature, useful as that phase was for the democratization of access to reading. The publisher is an orchestrator in the world of book culture, not a machine for sorting manuscripts and supplying a small number of those manuscripts in improved and bound form to a large number of people via a retailer-based supply chain best suited for the distribution of cornflakes, not ideas.

A business born out of the invention of mechanical reproduction transforms and transcends the very circumstances of its inception, and again has the potential to continue to transform and transcend itself—to disrupt industries like education, to drive the movie industry, to empower the gaming industry. Book culture is in far less peril than many choose to assume, for the notion of an imperiled book culture assumes that book culture is a beast far more refined, rarified, and fragile than it actually is. By defining books as against technology, we deny our true selves, we deny the power of the book. Let’s restore to publishing its true reputation—not as a hedge against the future, not as a bulwark against radical change, not as a citadel amidst the barbarians, but rather as the future at hand, as the radical agent of change, as the barbarian. The business of literature is blowing shit up.

Go read the whole essay.

20Aug/13Off

Talking Point: Generational War

Throughout August, HM is on sabbatical.

sabbatical_talking_point

Extract from Jonathan McCalmont's essay "Sub-Cultural Darwinism: Some Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Fandoms" (July 2012).

A young fandom is a fandom content to experience stories for the first time and a fandom content to experience stories for the first time is also a fandom that does not require particularly sophisticated takes on traditional forms and narratives. It is only when people start to get a little bit older and a little bit more jaded that the old stories begin to seem boring. Thus, a popular culture attuned to the needs of older fans can also be culturally vibrant; this is what we mean when we talk about forms and cultures reaching a certain level of maturity.

The aesthetic difficulties associated with aging sub-cultures only become evident once this first wave of maturity and ‘cleverness’ begins to lose its appeal. As audiences and creators become more sophisticated and the need to appeal to younger, less sophisticated audiences becomes less pressing, many forms of popular culture begin to turn away from the world and in on themselves. An excellent example of this kind of cultural decadence is Grant Morrison’s widely celebrated All-Star Superman.

Morrison’s take on Superman is gleefully iconoclastic in so far as it flamboyantly rejects the dominant paradigm of presenting super heroes as psychologically flawed and conflicted individuals. This fashion for tortured superheroics originates in the 1980s when works such as Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns attempted to resolve the tension inherent in the fact that adults were reading about super heroes despite knowing full well that costumed vigilantism is a disastrously bad idea. Miller and Moore attempted to resolve this conflict by acknowledging both the morally problematic nature of costumed vigilantism and the fact that you would have to be fucking insane to think that putting on a rubber pervert suit would ever solve anything. What makes both Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns ‘clever’ and postmodern is the fact that they acknowledge, exaggerate and satirise the problems of their own form.

The problem with this particular piece of cleverness is that it proved so popular and influential that it effectively replaced the approach to super hero comics that it claimed to be deconstructing. Thus, American comics moved from being simple-minded and quasi-fascistic moral fantasies in which the good guys always win to being simple-minded and quasi-fascistic moral fantasies in which the good guys are always miserable psychopaths standing in the rain. Bored with the preposterous and hypocritical angst of the post-Watchmen era, Morrison set out to create a comic that celebrated the enjoyably uplifting weirdness of pre-Watchmen super hero comics. The problem with All-Star Superman is that in order to fully appreciate it you have to be familiar with both the traditional Superman comics that Morrison is celebrating and the increasing staleness of the dark and postmodern turn in American comics initiated by the likes of Moore and Miller. If you are aware of the source materials and share Morrison’s boredom with grimdark psychopaths in cloaks then All-Star Superman will seem both provocative and long overdue. However, if you are only a casual comics fan or young enough to be new to the form then All-Star Superman is likely to come across as little more than an impenetrable mess of disconnected plotlines and meaningless images.

Go read the whole essay.

16Aug/13Off

Talking Point: Authentic Art

Throughout August, HM is on sabbatical.

sabbatical_talking_point

Extract from Matt Pearson's essay "No-one Ever Cried At A Website" (April 2013; h/t Kerry Turner).

This is the nub of the problem. Too much attention is awarded to the mechanisms of digital art, rather than the message or intent of the work. Yes, these new technologies are terribly exciting, with the new possibilities for expression that are being opened up, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to label every tech demo we knock out as “art”. Art requires a little more than that. Not much, but a little.

In these shifting times the programmers seems to have a continual problem deciding what they should call themselves. “Digital Artist” seems to have become the current job title. In 2011 they were all “Creative Technologists”. In 2010, “Code Ninjas”. Roses by other names, all smelling just as sweet. Next year they’ll be “Imagineers”, “NeoArchitects”, “Exploraticians”, or whatever jargon-du-jour the culture has farted into the lexicon. It’s not their fault, they have no idea what they do for a living. No-one does. They’ve all suffered trying to explain it to their mum, or a crowd of non-geeks at a party. This may be why geeks don’t go to many parties.

But that doesn’t mean that, in the absence of any better category, they should always be allowed to call their latest experiment “art”. It’s something we often tend to do with things that have no apparent use but are kinda pretty. Digital Art already has enough enemies, it doesn’t need its own practitioners sullying the name with misuse. I won’t embarrass anyone by linking to them, writing as I am from my glass-house here. They’re nice people and they don’t do it with malice.

Go read the whole essay.

6Aug/13Off

Talking Point: Trash

Throughout August, HM is on sabbatical.

sabbatical_talking_point

Extract of Pauline Kael's essay Trash, Art and the Movies (from Going Steady, originally published Harper's Magazine 1969; h/t Eric Brasure).

When you’re young the odds are very good that you’ll find something to enjoy in almost any movie. But as you grow more experienced, the odds change. I saw a picture a few years ago that was the sixth version of material that wasn’t much to start with. Unless you’re feebleminded, the odds get worse and worse. We don’t go on reading the same kind of manufactured novels—pulp Westerns or detective thrillers, say—all of our lives, and we don’t want to go on and on looking at movies about cute heists by comically assorted gangs. The problem with a popular art form is that those who want something more are in a hopeless minority compared with the millions who are always seeing it for the first time, or for the reassurance and gratification of seeing the conventions fulfilled again. Probably a large part of the older audience gives up movies for this reason—simply that they’ve seen it before. And probably this is why so many of the best movie critics quit. They’re wrong when they blame it on the movies going bad; it’s the odds becoming so bad, and they can no longer bear the many tedious movies for the few good moments and the tiny shocks of recognition. Some become too tired, too frozen in fatigue, to respond to what is new. Others who do stay awake may become too demanding for the young who are seeing it all for the first hundred times. The critical task is necessarily comparative, and younger people do not truly know what is new. And despite all the chatter about the media and how smart the young are, they’re incredibly naïve about mass culture—perhaps more naïve than earlier generations (though I don’t know why). Maybe watching all that television hasn’t done so much for them as they seem to think; and when I read a young intellectual’s appreciation of “Rachel, Rachel” and come to “the mother’s passion for chocolate bars is a superb symbol for the second coming of childhood,” I know the writer is still in his first childhood, and I wonder if he’s going to come out of it.

One’s moviegoing tastes and habits change—I still like in movies what I always liked but now, for example, I really want documentaries. After all the years of stale stupid acted-out stories, with less and less for me in them, I am desperate to know something, desperate for facts, for information, for faces of non-actors and for knowledge of how people live—for revelations, not for the little bits of show-business detail worked up for us by show-business minds who got them from the same movies we’re tired of.

But the big change is in our habits. If we make any kind of decent, useful life for ourselves we have less need to run from it to those diminishing pleasures of the movies. When we go to the movies we want something good, something sustained, we don’t want to settle for just a bit of something, because we have other things to do. If life at home is more interesting, why go to the movies? And the theatres frequented by true moviegoers—those perennial displaced persons in each city, the loners and the losers—depress us. Listening to them—and they are often more audible than the sound track—as they cheer the cons and jeer the cops, we may still share their disaffection, but it’s not enough to keep us interested in cops and robbers. A little nose-thumbing isn’t enough. If we’ve grown up at the movies we know that good work is continuous not with the academic, respectable tradition but with the glimpses of something good in trash, but we want the subversive gesture carried to the domain of discovery. Trash has given us an appetite for art.

Go read the whole essay.

19Jul/13Off

Marginalia 4

marginalia_4

Marginalia is an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Amanda Lange (GameSprout), Thomas Grip (Frictional Games), Adrian Chmielarz (The Astronauts), Nicolau Chaud (Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer) and Miguel Sicart (ITU Copenhagen).

In this edition: mystery in the mechanics; crowdfunding statistics; why we procrastinate; play as both competition and cooperation; what we should take away from the storytelling successes of The Last of Us.

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27Jun/13Off

Marginalia 3

marginalia_3

Marginalia is an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Doug Wilson, Amanda Lange and Robert Yang. The cost of high-end game art, AAA development as R&D and how to transform noughts and crosses into an interesting game.

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8Jun/13Off

Marginalia #2

marginalia_2

Marginalia is an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Clara Fernández-Vara, Amanda Lange and Miguel Sicart. Kickstarter, free audio and how to keep a level head. Plus a gaming controversy from 1985 that was similar to the ludology/narratology debate.

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