Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Ludologica is now official! I've got my own ISSN.
Now bla bla bla... fantastic... bla bla bla... conquer the world... bla bla bla... a great step for mankind... bla bla bla... 21st. century... bla bla bla... information highway... bla bla bla... freedom for all... bla bla bla... just say no... bla bla bla... spaceman... bla bla bla... love and peace... bla bla bla... artificial intelligence... bla bla bla... in a trillion years... bla bla bla... killing spree... bla bla bla... alien nation bla bla bla... investigation of internal affairs bla bla bla...
Oh shut up!
Yesterday I held a lecture on Edutainment for Humanistisk Informatikk in Bergen. It was a fine opportunity to present the issues of my doctoral thesis. They all seemed to like the presentation, so today I am looking forward to the day when I finally reach the goal of ending it. The questions I got afterwards is a reminder of what kind of attacks I will get at my defense. I must say I hate that part of the ceremony, when everyone is there and I am going to explain myself to the public. Frightening!

Monday, August 27, 2001

I guess Torill Mortensen was a bit annoyed on my earlier attempt to analyse her writings. I must say I do not think she is narrow-minded. See, I was concerned about the media perspective in general. The problem with the media perspective is that it is made for books, movies and television - but not for games.

Personally I find the whole issue about attitude change quite disturbing. If people did go around changing attitude whenever someone said they should, then life would be living hell. You could not trust anyone because you could not be sure they would not have changed attitude during the day. Luckily attitude is not something you change like you change your clothes. So of course you do not change your attitude just because you play a computer game, or read a book, or take a ride in the bus.
Esther Skaarup of Det Kongelige Bibliotek [The Royal Library] send me a mail in which she tells me I got the right to an ISSN since the blog does not conflict with the criterias of a periodicum. However she informs me, I should think of another title indstead of the authors/publishers name because then it would be easier to recognise as a periodicum.

True Names! Considering the veracity of a name. Thy name shall be Ludologica.

Friday, August 24, 2001

Lisbeth Klastrup mentioned a white paper from the danish ministry of culture called Kunst i Netværkssamfundet [Art in the Network Society]. Here a select group of people suggest danish computer game industry should have financial support from the ministry of culture. This however is not necessarily easy to get through the parliament, so of course they need substantial or at least rhetorical arguments.

They do in fact not begin their argument towards financial support by saying, we want to support computer games. In order to do so, they say, that they want to support interactive fiction. It sound like something we already know from books and films except its interactive and accordingly must have something to do with computers - something completely different. They don't however explain the term, but quickly translates interactive fiction into games, even though as they are quite aware of not all games are interactive fiction. Then they tell about some succesful danish interactive fiction/games like Black Out, Bagsædestrisser, Magnus og Myggen, Giften, Englen, and the international bestseller Hitman. But it is expensive to make these productions. On the other hand there is a growing computer culture - so we may even earn money by supporting the game industry in Denmark. The last part is a substantial argument.

They end up suggesting we should have a cultural subsiding of computer games like we have for the film industry. I belive the reason behind this is, that Nordisk Film (the worlds oldest film company and a Pride of danish film industry) is in fact going into the game industry saying they want to be among the ten best computer game producers in the world. Nordisk Film were indeed one of the partners behind the game Hitman, and Nordisk Film may be used to lobby in the danish ministry of culture. But I also believe USA to disapprove of subsiding computer game industry. They already disapprove of the subsiding of european film industry, which they find interfering and a violation of market mechanisms. Well, Denmark will have something to talk about in the WTO negotiations.

Still this upcoming support of computer games is in fact an official recognition of computer games as potential art.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

Torill Mortensen writes:
"While I find them [computer games] important, I want to understand how they connect to the wider media world. They are not isolated, no more than literature is isolated from other media, or perhaps a more obvious example, as literature strives to be isolated: Television from film, radio, music or popular written literature or journalism... we are facing a world of composite media, and computer games are becoming an important part of that."

While it is fine to look at computer games in a broader media sense, I find it narrow-minded to look on computer games only in a media perspective since computer games are so much more than what is possible to see from that angle. The ludologic perspective especially becomes a minor matter in that respect while it should really have the main focus of attention.

She also writes:
"By now I think: no, it [computer game] is not a good agent of attitude change. It's a good way to learn things that should be remembered, and new knowledge can lead to changing attitudes - but the game itself is considered a game, something apart, something not to be integrated in the set of experiences which act formative. Games are by nature outside of real life, and distinguishing the difference is a sign of sanity."

To some degree Torill is right here. But what she is saying could likewise be said about fictional litterature or movies. Just because you are told a story, you might not change your attitude at all. On the other hand you might do it. The problem of most edutainment research on computer games is that they do not take the games seriously. The computer game is just seen as an apparatus to learn something - anything. If you do want to make computer games from which to learn we must change our own attitude towards the games. We must focus on how the games are good entertainment - maybe even art. When we have found out what they are telling us, we may be able to make good edutainment software.

An example is SimCity, which is primarily made for fun and excitement. However the game opens our mind towards the economic and ecologic factors on how to run a modern big city. This is the lesson to be learned from SimCity in a constructivist learning perspective. But most edutainment computer games are made in a behaviorist manner, where the user are told how to think and behave. I cannot believe it will work for anyone, unless the teacher besides the computer game is equipped with a whip :)

When the game is over a teacher should put SimCity into a proper perspective and then the children might even learn more. But it is the same thing with books. We need the teachers to put the lesson learned into a proper perspective. Always! And that is what have been troubbling with computer game learning research, that in fact the Artificial Intelligence perspective still leads us to believe that computers will in itself make us learn anything. That teachers will become obsolete. They will not do that more than books or television already have done. Computer games could be a supplement to education since they can show us things which could not be shown in any other way - like e. g. SimCity.

By looking into games on there own premises, we might learn what they are all about. Yes they are in fact about having fun and excitement, but still they make sense and making sense is a primary tool towards changing attitude. But you dont know before hand what kind of attitude they will change into. We never do.

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Looking through Jill Walker's article: Do you think you're part of this? Digital texts and the second person address I must agree on her approach. An interesting aspect of many adventure games and hypertexts is the use of the second person address. I would indeed argue that what is often referred to as first person view in many computer games is in fact second person view, since the game adresses the user directly. And often we will find texts like: "Do you dare to..." or "Your mission is to...". This you is indeed directly adressing the user taking part as a role within the game.

In the 1980s a whole lot of popular literature sold as Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks was all with a second person adresse. You were the hero in your own adventures like Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The Steve Jackson mentioned is an englishman and not the american Steve Jackson behind Steve Jackson Games. This issue of second person adress is very similar to role-playing games in which the game master after describing the environment asks the player(s): "What do you do next?"

Anyway the shift towards adressing the second person is exciting because in literature studies you will learn that novels are written in first or third person. Even though third person view may in fact be following a single person and therefore be much like first person. The second person is to some extent forbidden. Why is that so?

Saturday, August 18, 2001

I've just been to Bergens largest of the seven mountains surrounding the city: Ulriken. It was a really wonderful trip in the cable car to the marvelous top. The day before this, I went to see Tim Burtons movie Planet of the Apes, which unfortunately is not one of his masterpieces. But my Bergen colleagues were there, so we had a nice time anyway. Later Frank Pierce and I joined Espen Aarseth at his home drinking beer and listening to songs by Weird Al Yankovic. When discussing computer game aesthetics, Espen Aarseth pointed out that aesthetics need not be what we indeed are looking for. Thinking of Kant I suggested computer games may in fact be closer related to the sublime than aesthetics. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's notion of flow seems to point in that direction too. So there is a thought. Hmm... not sure though.

Thursday, August 16, 2001

Regarding ludology, it so happens I came across Diffusionism and ludology: geomantic divination and mankala board-games (Web-book) by Wim van Binsbergen in which he uses this term. The book was first published at the 1995 International Colloquium Board-games in Academia, Leiden, 9-13 April, 1995. Its a comparative study on board games and divination in Africa and Asia. Wim van Binsbergen writes:

"I wish moreover to register my indebtedness to the following persons and institutions: the ASC and the NIAS for funds towards assistance in the translation of al-Zanati’s work (crucial for the history of Islamic geomancy); my friend Rafat Badawy for generously providing such assistance; Alex de Voogt for introducing me to the literature on mankala; the librarians of the ASC, Leiden, the NIAS and of the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Tervuren, Belgium, for making every effort to satisfy my voracious and omnivorous library needs; Frans Wiggermann for feeding me with stimulating Assyriological literature on board-games, to which I hope to do more justice in a sequel to the present argument. Irving Finkel made a commitment, as far back as Spring 1995, to publish this argument in his forthcoming Ancient board-games, an edited volume to appear with British Museum Press based on a conference held in 1990; while his enthusiasm for my first steps in ludology was heart-warming, the bok has not year materialised and I now take the liberty to publish, via Internet, a piece which is not only dear to me but which also, as long as it was not published, leaves many many months of hard work unaccounted for."

and later on...

"The scholarly literature on board-games continues to be dominated by Murray’s (1913, 1952) classic works History of chess and History of board-games other than chess. In the wake of these studies, also subsequent work on board-games has tended to keep aloof of any consideration of the relation between board-games and divination.1 This is all the more remarkable since around the turn of the nineteenth century the pioneering ludological works by the American museum anthropologist Culin (1991, 1893-1896, 1898) had claimed that divination was the origin of board-games."

Rather interesting to see, how this term suddenly pops up.

Wednesday, August 15, 2001

I've just met with Rune Klevjer, who begins his Ph. D. scholarship on computer games next month. It was nice to talk about problems concerning the study of computer game aesthetics. I mentioned a few titles by play theorists, he could use in further study. Though he is still not sure on how to approach computer games, I think he came up with a few good ideas on how to come around this new growing field. And he has some experience in teaching computer games as a subject.

Monday, August 13, 2001

Espen Aarseth and I was shown around the web-world of Anarchy Online by our professional guide Mikael Ladegaard. The computer game by Funcom looks both quite fascinating and intriguing. It's a cyberpunk setting using the same game mechanics as the non-computer role-playing game Cyberpunk by Mike Pondsmith, Talsorian Games 1990. By now before really getting into bussines Anarchy Online already has 120.000 players!

Sunday, August 12, 2001

The other day I sent an e-mail to Lev Manovich suggesting he should read Peter Bøgh Andersen: A Theory of Computer Semiotics (see earlier log). Today, I got an e-mail back saying: "Thanks! I do know of this book even though I have not studied it yet." Well, enough said. It seems it all turned out for the best.

Saturday, August 11, 2001

Yesterday, I went to a beer seminar at humanistisk informatikk [humanistic informatics]. Everyone was there enjoying beer from several countries. And Espen Aarseth told me later on when we had moved the seminar to Finnigan's Pub, that I am actually the first gjesteforsker [guest researcher] to visit humanistisk informatikk in Bergen. Lisbeth Klastrup will be the next when coming to Bergen as a gjesteforsker later this year.

Friday, August 10, 2001

This month I'm visting the University of Bergen in Norway as a guest researcher on computer games. Though I did bring a lot of luggage, I did not bring many books. So I borrowed some. Espen Aarseth borrowed me Steven Poole: Trigger Happy which is a generally fine book about computer game aesthetics. Even though Steven Poole makes thorough computer game analysis. On the other hand he is as Espen Aarseth puts it too much focused on video game consoles - and I would like to add too much focused on Lara Croft.

Jill Walker (who I have already mentioned) borrowed me Lev Manovich: The Language of New Media. He however only scratch the surface of the matters at hand. His analysis does not really get deep down into the problems of computer media. As for computer games he keeps telling they tell narratives, but don't get into what he really means by that. And in saying they are games, he does not have anything to say about what makes them games. He compares Doom to Myst only at a superficial level, concluding they create narrative space in different ways. Lev Manovich hasn't read Peter Bøgh Andersen: A Theory of Computer Semiotics when saying: "Future researchers will wonder why the theoreticians, who had plenty of experience in analysing older cultural forms, did not try to describe computer media's semiotic codes." (p. 7). We might not agree on Peter Bøgh Andersen's approach and conclusions, but still he made a real effort on trying to make a theory of computer semiotics.

Read also Jills critique on Lev Manovich.

Thursday, August 09, 2001

Jill Walker was nice to help me create this amazing blog. In the future I hope to expand this page as regards to research on computer games and role-playing games aesthetics.
This is the new blog of Lars Konzack, computer game and role-playing game researcher.