Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
Despite my attempts to avoid it, my mind continually returns to this blog post. Why, I don't know, but something about it really resonates with my experiences as a gamer.
I find it really hard when people make commentary about the gaming community and gamers when they have not experienced the community themselves, or have not bought into the idea of being a gamer. Commentary tends to come off as derisive or insulting at worst, and inept or incomplete at best.
Part of this might have to do with the idea that being a gamer, or being an integral part of a gaming community, is a serious time investment. A bottomless time investment one might say. Bottomless in that you can continue to invest more and more time into a game or a gaming community and, if it's a good game, the game will continue to defeat your efforts to limit it, to end it, to defeat it.
I find it really hard to understand why gaming in the US carries the stigma that it does. From my parents' reactions to my gaming when I was young to comments in class about the value of gaming as an academic discipline, I don't really understand why people dislike seeing gaming as anything but a waste of time.
Slashdot always has interesting articles on gaming, and I find it interesting that scientists are asking for funding to look at gaming. Annoying, however, is the distinction that the scientists draw in the difference between educational games and entertaining games. Given that they cite team building as a potential benefit of gaming, I find it hard to believe that they would disregard games such as Counterstrike or Starcraft (which are undoubtedly built solely for pleasure) as educational.
I mentioned in a previous post that not everyone has the privilege of being heard. This differs in a pre-digital society, in which if you had the ability to speak, people had to hear you (barring earplugs or a hurricane). In a digital society, everyone has the ability to speak, but getting heard is a completely different project. For example, in order to speak on Slashdot (the infamous techie hub), one must only login and comment. After a comment has been made, however, that comment is assessed by other users and is assigned an evolving numerical rank from -1 to 5 (-1 being flamebait, 5 being very good). Comments can reach a 5 on different merits -- informative, funny, etc.
Read it. And weep. I think. (??)
I'm not sure what's going on here. I see Pogue's reaction as indicative of a societal position in which interpersonal interaction is real and in which there are consequences. Pogue laments that this has changed and that there is no respect anymore. I wonder if this has truly changed.
Pogue claims that the internet is anonymous and this has led people to do and say things without repercussions. In my experience, however, as one who has dabbled intimately in the internet security industry, this is anything but true.
I sometimes wonder whether blogging is a sincerely egocentric operation -- does anyone really care about much of what we have to say? My experience dictates to the contrary, and yet I'm still sitting here blogging away (though that might have something to do with a 25% hidden away on a syllabus somewhere--). I started out this project by dictating that I would escape this narcissism by simply presenting the content of others, but if you look at my blog posts so far, it seems I've audaciously decided that you want to hear what I have to say. Or think, if you believe that any sort of thinking went on in those posts. Maybe I have a bunch of monkeys sitting around with wireless keyboards--
The anxieties of inaccessibility are starting to be addressed not because of artistic projects (it is amusing to me, if no one else, that artists seem more concerned with producing content and then worry about the form after it has been released to the public), but because of legal/commercial concerns. Massachusetts lead the way (lead in that it made it a very public and commercial issue) by adopting the OpenDocument format (for a number of reasons), but it always makes me wonder why artists submit to proprietary formats (like Storyspace). Do artists not realize that in adopting a proprietary format they are giving over control of their content to engineers and coders governed by commercial interests?
Writing about 2Advanced, I find myself intrigued by the idea of temporality and why I find it so threatening. That is, why do I find myself threatened/annoyed by the idea that content can disappear or only be available during certain points in time? (as a brief note, this was brought up in class at one point where we talked about the difference in having information online vs. in a book, and how digital information is at once more ethereal and more permanent than printed works).
Aside from the annoyances with illusionary temporality I already discussed (nothing annoys me more than a pretense to temporality that I can easily bypass), I wonder at my need to have things on my hard drive. That is, even though the video is on YouTube, why do I still feel the need to download it to my hard drive? Hard drives fail, as do other forms of media storage, so in some way the video is safer on YouTube than it is on my hard drive.
Deciding what is good innovation and what is bad innovation on the web is always a challenge. After all, if web designers ignore accessibility (the ability of search engines to interpret pages, users to bookmark them, different web browsers to interpret them the same way, etc.), some very cool effects can be achieved (see many of the projects this semester). In contrast to these projects, however, I would like present a web design company that innovates in form while retaining a fair amount of convention.
Enter 2Advanced Studios. Beloved and hated all over the net (but known everywhere), 2Advanced are undisputed magicians of Flash (if you want to know more about flash). They have produced some of the most dynamic and interactive sites on the net, integrating animation, audio, and video (hypermedia anyone?) at an unprecedented level. So why are they hated?
One of the most interesting things I found about many of the projects we looked at (the projects that seemed to have frustrating elements to them), was the seeming need to innovate broken forms. Much like House of Leaves or Only Revolutions, many of the projects we looked at seemed to take a traditional mode of expression (a web site/a book), and break it.
In the case of Danielewski's works, I find the break to be intriguing and exciting. Somewhat scary -- I'm not sure how I'm supposed to read them if there's even a how to be found -- but overall engaging and stimulating in a manner that makes me want to read them rather than avoid them. In many of our projects, however, I decidedly felt alienated and repulsed. Of course, one could attribute this to the fact that website design is a profession for me, and dealing with websites that break from convention is both threatening and frustrating for me as a professional -- not a very interesting interpretation. Instead, I think there's a reason why some innovators produce forms that are engaging and others repulsive.
One of the hardest topics of discussion for me to participate in this term was web design (or interface design, or project design, or anything of the type). I'm sure this stems from the fact that I spend much of my life (outside dance and academia) designing web sites. Trying to discuss web design in class was like trying to hold a meaningful conversation about a senior seminar in maths with a bunch of freshman in Calculus I. That's not to say there weren't some interesting observations about web design especially -- there were, though not in any way that I expected.
As a web designer, the focus of my job is to produce a product. That product is a digital presence that sells my client on the internet (whether that sale be one of image, presence, brand, product, etc). When I look at web design, therefore, it's a question of functionality, aesthetic pleasure, and accessibility. And, like most developed arts, web design has a set of defined aesthetics that seem to work (why or how they work is a discussion that I may get into at some point, but not here). Some people may well argue that web design is an art form in its infancy, which I agree and support, but to argue that there are no rules or conventions is an experiment in wishful thinking. A search in Google should resolve any doubts on the matter -- a search for "web design" tops out at around 1.1 billion hits. Not all of these sites may be particularly relevant (or even helpful) in defining or producing conventions of web design, but with 1.1 billion hits there is at least enough material out there to define trends and have a discussion about what works and what doesn't.