Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Three ways of looking at the Broken Leg TD from Madden

This video gained over five million views on Youtube. The player in question, Greg Jennings, happens to be a clutch receiver in real life and went on to catch two touchdowns in Superbowl XLV. But he's probably best known for (sort of) appearing in this video.

(Audio probably NSFW, depending on your W)

How shall we think about this video?

1. It's an example of emergent narrative, whereby the complexity of the game yields unscripted moments of drama and wonder worth sharing. A similar example would be after-action reports, or the tale of the Elven king of dwarves found in one particularly odd game of Dwarf Fortress.

2. It's the video game equivalent of Double Rainbow, where we are as much drawn to the commentator's religious intensity as we are to the subject matter itself. Except in the case of Greg Jennings, it's frightfully postmodern, because it's not the majesty of nature the commentator is holy-ghosting about, it's the determination and will of a figure in a simulation.

3. It's an example of convergence culture: The video game spawns a video, which was referenced by teammates and opponents in the real game. Now we've just learned that "Put Da Team on My Back" is going to be an achievement in Madden '12. Everything flows into everything else.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tower defense sweatshop: the wonderful world of newsgames

[Cross-posted from the Duncan/Channon Posterous...]

Screen shot 2011-07-18 at 1.50.07 PM.png

"Sweatshop is a new browser game, developed by Littleloud for Channel 4 Education, in which players fill the role of a factory floor manager in a developing nation. Taking design cues from the tower defense genre, the game tasks you with placing skilled workers and child laborers along a conveyor belt."

I'm a big fan of games that teach, not by lecturing or quizzing, but by letting you take on the role of a newsmaker. You're in a much better position to understand the decision space of the person once you've worked through their decision tree a couple of times. In any case, I'm following the recent wave of newsgames with a fair bit of interest. Their ability to model complex, inhuman systems lets us get past our usual bias towards narratives and personalites, at least that's what we hope for.

Which is how we come to a tower defense game in a sweatshop. Initially, you can make all the jeans or other clothes with fine and safe labor practices, but as the game increases in complexity you're forced to choose which goals you're really working for. Very clever example of procedural rhetoric, and a good use of existing gaming conventions.

The frightening, real-world power of Channel 4's "Sweatshop."

Monday, June 13, 2011

All craftsdwarfship is of the highest quality.

[Cross-posted from the Duncan/Channon Posterous...]

So you know Dwarf Fortress, that crazy game I may have told you about over the past six months? The sim game where you basically build the Mines of Moria? Where dwarves go crazy and build a fractal statue with 73 images of itself?

It's been written up at length in the New York Times Magazine.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A message from the Department of Escatological Preparedness

Tomorrow is widely predicted to mark the Rapture, the event described in I Thessalonians when the faithful "shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." Obviously, this greatly increases the odds of airline crashes and other catastrophic failures in mass transit.

It is difficult to predict what the rapture will really entail. Biblical eschatology states: "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them" (Revelations 20:13) indicating that the rising of the dead to devour the living may be among the potential unforeseen side-effects of tomorrow's events. In that case, make sure to read the CDC's timely messaging on that front. 

In any case, whether we face rising dead, boiling seas, rains of frogs, or the emergence of dread Cthulhu from his tomb at R'lyeh, simple acts of preparedness can make the difference. As Lt. General Hank Ketchim, noted expert on Civil Defense, has observed, "If you are failing to prepare, you are only PREPARING TO FAIL."

At this time we strongly urge assembling a 72-hour kit for your home. Consisting of versatile tools, materials, and food, your kit should give you whatever you need to survive the initial emergency, when most government and social services will be paralyzed. We also recommend the assembly of smaller "Go-Bags" in your car and at work. In addition to food and water, every Go-bag should contain:

  • Portable radio and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and handbook
  • 5-day supply of any medications you take regularly and a copy of your prescriptions
  • Whistle (to alert rescuers to your location)
  • Personal hygiene supplies (including toilet paper)
  • Emergency lighting (e.g. glow sticks, flashlight, headlamp)
  • and extra batteries
  • Large garbage bags and paper towels
  • Change of clothing and a hat
  • Sturdy shoes, in case an evacuation requires walking long distances
  • Dust mask
  • Pen, paper and tape
  • Cash in small denominations
  • Copy of health insurance card and driver license or identification card
  • Photos of family members for reunification purposes
  • List of emergency contact phone numbers
  • Pocket copy of the Book of Revelation

  • A final note: while some might urge speedy conversion as the only path to salvation, the notion of justification by faith alone strikes us here at the DoEP as putting all one's eggs in one basket. Given that the judgment is based on ineffable and frankly opaque criteria, it is unclear which church to join or what actions to take in order to secure the grace of a capricious and inscrutable deity. Regardless, should the rapture proceed according to predictions (see below), then there will be plenty of time to prove your bona fides during the oncoming struggle with Gog and Magog, which may involve riding a pale horse into an epic Lord-of-the-Rings-style battle.

    • To be honest, we're actually pretty stoked about that part.
    Ummm, maybe?

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Square Kufic: God's QR Code

    So, if you didn't know, the usage of QR codes has rocketed up in the last year. They're those weird squiggly bar-code type things you're starting to see in the corners of magazines and posters:
    That said, a word to the wise: should ever you visit the splendidly apportioned Islamic Arts Museum of Malaysia, don't try to scan their logo. It's not a QR Code. 

    It's actually a really cool form of geometric calligraphy: square kufic
    From Kufic.info:
    "Art in Islam follows the tradition of being non representational, especially in important circumstances such as in the mosque, writing and illumination. The strict style, influenced from the nomadic surroundings when Islam emerged, which restricted the medium of visual decorative art, gives it special appeal, being non-individualistic and not adherent to scale. In writing Square Kufic is the essence of this tradition in its abstract stylized form of the traditional archaic Kufic script."
    It gets into a square shape like so:
    Totally cool.
    All I can say is, the first person to come up with a working QR code that's ALSO a square kufic representation of the link deserves some sort of hash-function prize.

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    In Memoriam: George Mahlberg

    Earth shudders; she has lost George Mahlberg.

    George was sui generis, a true aristocrat of the spirit who made the lives of everyone around him richer. He bent the arc of my and countless other DJs' intellectual and creative development towards far more improbable and fascinating realms, and I shall think of him any time I see a comet,eclipse, or Aurora Borealis, for that must surely be where he resides.

    Pledge drive showdown w Dr Cosmo, Fall 2007 by adamflynn

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    A Young Man's Game

    "The oldest among us are not yet thirty years old: we have therefore at least ten years to accomplish our task. When we are forty let younger and stronger men than we throw us in the waste paper basket like useless manuscripts! They will come against us from afar, leaping on the light cadence of their first poems, clutching the air with their predatory fingers and sniffing at the gates of the academies the good scent of our decaying spirits, already promised to the catacombs of the libraries.

    But we shall not be there. They will find us at last one winter's night in the depths of the country in a sad hangar echoing with the notes of the monotonous rain, crouched near our trembling aeroplanes, warming our hands at the wretched fire which our books of today will make when they flame gaily beneath the glittering flight of their pictures.

    They will crowd around us, panting with anguish and disappointment, and exasperated by our proud indefatigable courage, will hurl themselves forward to kill us, with all the more hatred as their hearts will be drunk with love and admiration for us. And strong healthy Injustice will shine radiantly from their eyes. For art can only be violence, cruelty, injustice.

    The oldest among us are not yet thirty, and yet we have already wasted treasures, treasures of strength, love, courage and keen will, hastily, deliriously, without thinking, with all our might, till we are out of breath."

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    How can you be in two places at once...

    I may droop off some for this month of march, but it only seems that way. I'm collaborating with John Raimo on a two-person Book club sort of thing, Tandem Reading. The book we're discussing is the classic 60s paperback of high modern social inquiry, The Lonely Crowd.

    Furthermore, if you're interested in a more whimsical and business-oriented flow of thought, I also have a Posterous. So check it out.

    Monday, February 28, 2011

    @Mayor Emanuel, Emperor Norton, and Twitter as a literary form

    On the Atlantic Tech blog, Alexis Madrigal serves up a timely and fascinating look at the creation and development of the finest Twitter feed of the last six months, @MayorEmanuel. I like how Madrigal connects it to the picaresque novel and the long tradition of carnival figures who expose the masquerade of everyday life. He makes a good observation that the form has a chronological and ongoing aspect that differentiates it, as well as the ability to talk back (which brings to mind the episode in Don Quixote when the characters read Part 1 of Don Quixote.) In that sense, there's a similarity to be drawn out to the satirical periodicals and pamphlets of the 1700s (I'm thinking Jonathan Swift and Ben Franklin here).

    Image: When it's Dark Enough You Can See the Stars
    the official art for Norton, c/o Ryan Bubnis 
    I'm paying keen attention to this, as I am just about to launch my own experiment in Twitter storytelling as part of Reorb.it. Taking our inspiration from @SamuelPepys, @FeministHulk, and many other experiments in the genre, Reorbit is is a cutting-edge project that merges historical figures and modern technology to create a new set of online plays. For my part, I'm taking the role of Emperor Norton, the first and greatest of San Francisco eccentrics who in 1859 declared himself Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico.

    One of the most interesting things about Norton was that he was basically used as a @MayorEmanuel type figure by newspapers, who would issue their own proclamations in his name to comment and mock the events of the day. This gave them a rhetorical position more like the shakespearean fool than stately organ of the news, but when reality is suitably absurd and circulation in need of a kick, journalists are left with no choice (cf. Hunter Thompson).

    It should be exciting.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Third Eyes

    Apologies for the thin-ish layer of dust. In December I had to manage an artificial ice rink at a christmas village during the holiday season, an activity that demanded all my Christmas cheer (and gave me a greater  appreciation for the Santaland Diaries, incidentally). Since the new year I've started up with a bit of researchy work for Duncan/Channon, an awesome advertising agency based out of the Bay Area. 

    One of their clients is Blurb, which helps people design and print their own books. Given that we're in a major period of transition for media, we're all doing a fair bit of reading and thinking about futures for the book.  One thing I've run across lately is the results and findings from Portigal Consulting's Reading Ahead project, which really sets the mind abuzz. As part of that project, they did a One-Hour Design challenge with Core77, which had all kinds of cool results. I particularly liked the Booklight from Kicker Studios, which projects ebook text into a (real) blank book of your choosing:

    That's pretty cool, and feeds into the greater trend looking toward ubiquitous projectors as a means of overlaying data onto the real world, of which MIT's Sixth Sense is my current favorite. But that system also involves cameras, which is where we get to the other possibility this picture raised in my head: What if you could put a small camera/projector on a print book you already owned? With the right software, you'd get some of the the added functionality of an ebook (sharing, tagging, copy/paste, analytics and so forth), though obviously none of the portability that comes from e-readers. 

    If you took it a step further, what if it compared the text it was looking at with a database (like CDDB or Musicbrainz) to identify what you were reading?  You could easily comment on it socially, sync it with your other devices, and effect all manner of extensions to your reading life, with all the wonderful and regrettable things that means.

    There could also be issues if this doodad had the capability (either built in or suitably-hacked) to rip books and spare consumers from the vinyl-to-cd-like pain of paying again for something you already own. All in all though, I like the idea. One thing that shouldn't be forgotten in our rush to adopt new forms of text is that the ol' print codex has a pretty long shelf-life, particularly when printed on acid-free paper. There's an opportunity to be had in unlocking extra functions out of the stuff people already have.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Cambodian Students Review Hollywood, part I

    Most home-grown Cambodian
    films involve scary ghosts.
    Last year when I was teaching in Cambodia, I decided to start a weekly lending library of sorts for DVDs, since they were cheap (to me) and would provide an additional flow of English to students, not to mention entertainment. Unlike EFL students in more developed countries like Indonesia, students had seen relatively few western films, and were generally unaware of who big movie stars were. (This made the lesson on "Little-known facts of the Stars" a total pain to teach.)

    Once a month, I would have them write reviews. I have a good number of these, so it's likely to be an ongoing series. Here goes...

    Cambodian Movie Reviews

    Fly of the Concord: Germain and Bret are close friends. They are the main characters in the movie. They are kind of funny characters. Every episode they have one or two songs that describe their lives and feeling. In an episode the two friends get hurt because they faile in their love. At first I thought only Bret that have a broken heart, but later in the episode Saly also broked Germain's heart.


    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Today's Bizarre Primary Source

    ST. LOUIS, (Missouri Territory,)
    NORTH AMERICA, April 10, A. D. 1818.
    I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees; I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.
    Jno. Cleves Symmes.
    Of Ohio, Late Captain of Infantry.
    N. B. -- I have ready for the press, a Treatise on the Principles of Matter, wherein I show proofs of the above positions, account for various phenomena, and disclose Doctor Darwin's Golden Secret.
    My terms are the patronage of this and the new worlds.
    I dedicate to my Wife and her ten Children.
    I select Doctor S. L. Mitchill, Sir H. Davy, and Baron Alex. de Humboldt, as my protectors.
    I ask one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia in the fall season, with Reindeer and slays, on the ice of the frozen sea: I engage we find a warm and and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals if not men, on reaching one degree northward of latitude 82; we will return in the succeeding spring. J. C. S.