The mother of science.

According to the mouse-over text  in, “if you take any article (in Wikipedia), click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and repeat, you will eventually end up in ‘Philosophy‘.” I just tried it. Here’s the sequence, which the phrases that create the first link, almost producing a series of Backus–Naur Form expressions.

I started with the old pen-and-paper role-playing game Gamma World, which I was looking up while writing about games, rules and authorship:

  • Gamma World is a science fantasy role-playing game . . .
  • Science fantasy is a mixed genre within speculative fiction . . .
  • cross-genre (or hybrid genre) is a genre in fiction . . . [1]
  • literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique . . . [2]
  • literary technique, literary method, literary devices, or literary motif is an identifiable rule of thumb . . .
  • rule of thumb is a principle . . .
  • principle is a law or rule . . .
  • Law is a system . . . 
  • System . . . is a set of elements . . . [3]
  • In mathematics, an element or member of a set . . .
  • Mathematics is the study of quantity . . .
  • Quantity is a kind of property . . .
  • In modern philosophy, mathematics and logic, a property is an attribute of an object . . .
  • Modern philosophy is a type of philosophy . . .
Wow. This should be automated.
  1. Mixed genre redirects to cross genre.
  2. Genre redirects to literary genre.
  3. If you violate the rule to ignore links in parentheses or italics, you wind up going to Latin, then Italic Language, Indo-European languages, Language family, language, human,  taxonomy, science . . . and eventually back to philosophy. It is possible to hit a loop at some point, depending on where you decide to adhere to the “no parentheses/italics” rule.

Critical gamification.

Too often, “critical” whatever (film making, poetics, art practice) just means peppering a form with references to social or political concerns are at the top of the practitioners agenda: what was called, in Japanese film history, was called the “tendency” film, or art engagé. When these politics are well-understood, Mark J. Nelson’s somewhat snarky definition of radical critique makes sense:

radical critique (n.) – applying well-worn tools in the conventional way to reach the expected conclusion

If it makes sense to distinguish between engagé practice and critical practice, then, the latter should reveal and de-naturalize something which has become epistemologically unavailable, which has receded into the texture of everyday life as constitutive. This is harder and rarer than it seems, and many projects which claim to be critical are often, at best, merely oppositional.

A recent trend in marketing is “gamification” – the application of game mechanics and logics to presumably ungamelike things, such as consumption, routine work (exercise, dieting), civic engagement (cf. Jane McGonigal) etc. In some ways it is an outgrowth of the “serious games” trend, which sought to use games for purposes other than entertainment (even when those goals might be furthered by making the game entertaining: which leads us to ask whether every commercial title, whose “goal” is corporate revenue, should be characterized as a “serious game.”) The idea is latent in things like customer loyalty programs, frequent flier miles, even the old “send in 5 proofs of purchase to get the secret decoder ring” promotions from breakfast cereals and other youth-oriented food products in the 20th century:

The idea that systems of “points” would provide an extrinsic motivation for activity that is otherwise inadequately motivated informs Jesse Schell’s 2010 DICE talk (called, by some, “the gamepocalypse”) is an almost Swiftian interpretation of ubiquitous gamification:

What is, of course, obscured by this longing to colonize the banal with play in this way, is that there already is a very powerful and effective “point” system that motivates and de-motivates: money, as wages, as capital, etc. Aside from the obvious naturalization of capital that is implied by this appeal to an external point system that is more “game-like,” the development of these more “fun” types of alternative currency miss the mark that Huizinga and Caillois already made about fun, play and games – it is the very disinterestedness of play, the negotiability of its consequences, that make it possible to be experienced as play. When the signifiers of a “play” system perform in world-significant contexts, they cease being elements of a play system.

(To be fair to Schell, what is important to him is less the idea that the spirit of play inhabit the otherwise dreary quotidian, but rather how “points” – a surrogate for money itself – can use sensing and networking technologies to infiltrate the nooks and crevices of human activity at the smallest scale, to make every action and interaction an opportunity to influence the decisions, the attitudes, the behavior and even the attention of citizen-consumers. He is clearly ambivalent about this: that his vision here was dystopian is something he made explicit in subsequent talks.)

Alex Galloway suggested the term “counter-gaming” to describe game design against a certain grain. That many of the aesthetics – the invented physics, the foregrounding of mechanics, etc – have become part of the language of a style of game design that doesn’t really fulfill the critical ambitions of his “counter-gaming” concept is notable, yet the idea itself is a worthwhile one. But perhaps we can start to consider a “critical gamification” as a project: one the works by revealing the covert and invisible “gamification” that motivates the contemporary episteme. In organizations, in labor practices, in social relations, in cultural institutions, there are systems of value and invisible currencies which implicitly determine our activity and our conceptualization of the world we think we are inhabiting. Those which were easy to monetize – reputation, brand identity and loyalty – have become the target of many gamification projects; sometimes set in a language of democratization, but always with an ontology that is familiar, on bedrocks of systems of value that remain untroubled.

I think a practice of critical gamification needs to exert pressure against those bedrocks. Some ideas: representing the labor that each of us performs in different places, identifying who benefits, and capturing as a game-able resource the concentrations of work-for-another that is often tied, either physically or by networks, to nodes of wealth and power. Another: a marketplace for unfulfillable desires – not to fulfill them, but to diagnose them – that turns the engineering of disappointment into game mechanics.

EA Simulates 2010 NFL Season, Predicts Super Bowl Champs | Playbook

EA Simulates 2010 NFL Season, Predicts Super Bowl Champs | Playbook

I’m more interested in games as powerful simulation tools than in (American) football, but there you have it. Of course, since football players have been using EA titles for training, perhaps this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I remember being told of informal research on the relative abilities of highly skilled (but non-athlete) gamers vs. collegiate football players with little videogame experience in playing EA Sport’s NCAA Football. Against expectations, I’m told, the football players quickly became very competitive and often out-performed the gamers, after a brief period of mastering the interface. I haven’t been able to find any more information about this study; perhaps it was just a few kids in a dorm room.


I have been reading about otaku – a term that translates loosely as “geek” or “nerd,” but around which a more sophisticated set of questions around subjectivity, built environments, and narrative consumption has grown (more interesting than anything I’ve seen yet under the umbrella of fan studies.)

As part of the Japan pavilion for the architecture show at the 2004 Venice Biennale, Kaichiro Morikawa included photographs of “otaku rooms” by Kohei Masukawa (images above grabbed from the website for the book.). Crowded spaces filled with books, magazines, game software, and other media and merchandise, these spaces seemed to defy any aesthetic criteria for the design of lived-in spaces, reinforcing a narrative which characterizes otaku as disinterested in the real, disengaged from aesthetic sensibilities, and obsessed with their commoditized objects of desire.

However, I have just thought that these spaces really represent databased-space, like that of the library or the museum archive, the model from which these spaces have sprung. The room becomes an interface to a collection; the otaku-interior-designer is creating a database-UI for accessing (and apprehending) the elements contained therein. There is an aesthetic at work: a contemporary one, an info-aesthetic of the interface, rather than the modernist one of movement through open spaces, of volumes, or of the room as a stage for performance. The otaku-room is one in which the occupant sits as the CPU to a system of catalogs to content, and also as a kind of archivist-curator to the constellation of artifacts in their possession.

I think this conception of the otaku room is consistent with Hiroki Azuma’s theory of the otaku as “post-modern database animal.” What this suggests also is that the modernist notions of interior space is more tied to a narrativist conception of the consumption of space than we may have previously allowed.

One thing notable about the relationship between the otaku and this kind of interface/room is that it is also compatible with recent changes in the the relationship between entity and index in systems of cataloging and visualization. Recently, I participated in a show at the Calit2 gallery (details on the Software Studies initiative blog.) One thing that many of our visualizations feature is an inversion of the normal relationship between feature and representation in large data-sets: where once a single feature would stand for an object (its name, an ID number, a thumbnail) we now can generated and access universes of information about that object for which the object itself is simply an index: our graphs of images used the images themselves to illustrate their low-level features, their relationships to other entities, etc. Otaku rooms also use the object in-themselves as indexes for them, often indicating their relationships to other media, franchises, brands, characters and other features of the object.

Sexy Videogameland: If You Run Out Of Ammo, You Can Have Mine

Sexy Videogameland: If You Run Out Of Ammo, You Can Have Mine: the perpetuation of a misguided notion.

Perhaps it is a mistake to focus on one post in order to diagnose a continuing delusion regarding videogames and the representation of women, but the timing was simply unavoidable: I had recently shown the 2nd episode of John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing,” and the way that he succinctly and tersely identifies the gender politics and the crisis of subjectivity at work in the tradition of the nude in oil painting makes it effortless to diagnose just what is wrong with the female avatar in game design.
There is a widespread presumption (especially among young consumers of popular culture) that the resolution to the problem of sexism in videogames and game culture and other pop culture forms is the so-called “strong female character,” the one that isn’t “passive,” that has “agency,” and, in the case of games, “kicks ass.” (Quotes taken from way too many undergraduates.) I had found it difficult to explain the inadequacy – even the wrong-headedness – of this approach, my perception that these depictions still ultimately served male vanities and played on female anxieties, and that the male game player – his needs, desires, and qualms – still was being overwhelmingly served in games that were supposedly being targeted to both men and women.
I realized that I could not think of a female avatar that had a male lover that was not, in some way, a player-surrogate. No matter how much ass a female character kicks, there is no one and nothing that obstructs the fantasy of her possession by the player – in fact, when the avatar is a female body, the “ass-kicking” aspect itself is partially that very occupation of the character by the (male) player.
This isn’t true for male characters, who have lovers, wives, girl-friends, love-objects: Dante has his Beatrice, Duke Nuke’m has scores of people, Gordon Freeman (implicitly) has Alyx Vance. Carl “CJ” Johnson has his girlfriends, Viewtiful Joe has Silvia, Solid Snake has Meryl Silverburgh, etc. But I can’t think of a corresponding list of love-interests for female-avatar/characters. Lara Croft has an ex- or two, but there is nothing between her and the player (odd how the film gets closer to giving her a love interest than any game does, as I recall.) The robust sexuality which Leigh Alexander praises in Bayonetta is predictable free and available. No real rival exists for the player’s affections for the character. (The closest thing to it in Bayonetta is conveniently sequestered to another dimension – and, arguably, may only have a role as a surrogate for the male player.) When the female character has a love interest, that love interest has to be made distant, ineffectual, phantasmic – in no way a substantial rival to the player’s need to possess the character.
This is what Berger noted about the nude: her nudity, her sexuality did not exist for herself, but for the owner/spectator of the painting. The nude flatters or teases the viewer, but their nudity and sexuality is not a reflection of their interiority, of their inner life, but only a reflection of the desires of the viewer. Because painting is a medium of stillness, the female nude is passive in painting. The fact that female objects of desire in games aren’t passive doesn’t change this formula, and in fact confirms it: their activity, ultimately, exists for the player, not in reference to the inner life of the character.
When I think of what approaches an exception in major commercial game titles, I come to an ironic position: that a character seen by many Westerners as the most excruciatingly hyper-feminized may actually be more liberatory and more substantial than the Lara Crofts and Bayonettas and other ass-kicking caricatures. Final Fantasy X’s Yuna, like many Square-Enix characters, is depicted (melodramatically, of course) as having a rich inner life. She doesn’t generally kick-ass, at least in the first Final Fantasy X title, but she is shown as being in the center of a profound moral and existential crisis (more so than the rather oblivious player-insertion character, Tidus.) Of course, she is still the love-interest of the avatar, not the player avatar herself. But in the sequel (which, against popular opinion, I actually loved – elsewhere I compare the transition between Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 as a reflection of the transformation of Japan from a tragic figure of war to a comic figure of post-war consumer culture) the dynamics get more complicated. Yuna moves slightly-albeit with a certain arch distance-toward the “kick ass” cliche I bemoan as a caricature. Yet, at the same time, she is a character with a love interest (or even three)- the (conveniently phantasmal) Tidus, the “its-compicatedBaralai, and the atavistic Shuyin.
The device by which Tidus may or may not be united with Yuna is complicated – it requires a level of completion in gameplay that may be more than most players fulfill, and it requires the consent of the player to see “him” again. Yet there is little doubt in most players’ minds that the object of Yuna’s desires is not the player, and that most of her rather-restrained sexuality is essentially not available “for” the player (even if glimpses of her figure are served to the male gaze with the usual sense of obligation.)
The “femininity” of Yuna – understood more as a crisis of responsibility than as passivity – offers a contrast to the “ass-kicking” yet sexually available female avatars which dominate game representations, perhaps because it does not pretend to a Colbert-like “color blindness” about gender difference, sexual politics and desire.

On Chrome OS: private clouds.

Wired magazine’s Brian Chen echoes some pervasive skepticism on Google’s Chrome OS.

Why Google Should Cool It With Chrome OS

I think there’s been a kneejerk reaction to the announcement regarding the lack of support for hard-drives, and the cloud model. Generally, the objection is that the cloud lacks privacy, the cloud is unpredictable and unreliable, the cloud requires users to abdicate control over their own data, etc.

I see this as a failure of imagination regarding what computing is and can be, and what the cloud is and can be.

The “cloud” can include network addressable storage and other dedicated hardware to handle the storing and processing of data on site (whether it is buisness data in a data center or a media collection in a media server at home.) These devices can be made more or less available over firewalls, within LANs etc. What the Chrome OS model does is to turn the netbook into an I/O and display device, and nothing more.

In some ways, this is a fulfillment of the concept behind IPv6, and the collapse of the distinction between network I/O and device I/O. It has long been possible to access data one keeps at home or work through VPN tunneling, etc, but a framework for making this transparent and easily managed doesn’t exist yet. There is every reason to expect this framework to be a part of Chrome OS.

In other words, the only things I really need from my laptop are input devices (mouse, keyboard, camera, microphone) and output devices (display, speakers, audio jack, etc.) There is no reason for me to have my precious data sitting in the most vulnerable, most mobile devices in my own information-processing toolbox.