Category Archives: Essays

A response: Gamergate

I’d never heard of Gamergate before reading the assigned articles. Most of all, I’m surprised so many people care so deeply about games that something like this would happen. I guess people who spend considerable amounts of money and time playing games are passionate and feel deeply invested when it comes to games, who makes games and how they’re covered in the media. It still surprises me that people care.

Basically, Gamergate started because some guy blogged about how his ex-girlfriend supposedly cheated on him with five different men. Ostensibly, she “did” this for publicity purposes — to drum up interest in her own games. As it goes, some members of the game community were outraged with this immoral, pleasure-seeking woman, and they publicly attacked and threatened her. When these people realized they actually were the ones being made to look bad, they made the issue about the ethicality of people who review and write about games. They even duped Intel into being on their side.

It’s upsetting that this woman was personally and publicly attacked over unconfirmed accusations concerning her private life. It’s upsetting that some gamers supported this movement and later attempted to shift from the personal attacks to a moral high ground — a shift they made only after realizing that personal attacks and misogyny were bad colors on them. It’s upsetting that some people care so deeply about games they would attempt to harm other living people in the name of games and the industry’s credibility. It’s all very upsetting.

I don’t have much of an opinion about some of the issues that fall under Gamergate — I lack knowledge of the game industry and how such business is conducted — but the entire notion of Gamergate seems misguided. A few people were mad that this woman might have been unfaithful to her boyfriend in a ploy to grow interest in her games. When that became an unpopular and unbecoming position for gamers to have, they conveniently shifted focus to the ethics of game journalism, even though this woman doesn’t seem to have crossed any ethical boundaries. It seems as if these people are scouring their lives and the game industry for presumably nonexistent issues about which they can be upset.

A response: ‘Ghosts of a Chance’

“Ghosts of a Chance” sounds a little more stimulating than “World Without Oil.” The concept of “Ghosts of a Chance” — hauntings at a museum — certainly is more attention-grabbing than an oil shortage. What does that say about our priorities? The biggest issue I see with “Ghosts of a Chance” is its accessibility, or lack thereof.

It’s a creative and engaging idea, and I like that museum-goers can play the game during an afternoon visit. From the museum’s standpoint, it’s a profitable idea. The game creates new ways in which visitors can see paintings and engage with their surroundings. It also encourages teamwork, as some clues — those that are coded, for example — might only be accessible by a small number of people.

That’s also the major drawback of the game in my view: a lack of accessibility. Some people like to play games alone, whether it’s because they’re shy or enjoy a challenge. If some clues are hidden in computer coding, foreign languages or complex riddles, a singular player’s ability to complete the game is diminished considerably. So, the game essentially forces players to work with one another, which could be a turnoff for some.

A response: ‘World Without Oil’

I don’t exactly know what to make of “World Without Oil.” I think the designers’ intentions are in a good place; making consumers think critically and with an eye for solutions when it comes to our dependence on oil is a novel idea. I just don’t know how many people would be interested in playing. I don’t really play video games. I know I wouldn’t play it, regardless of its merits and problem-solving potential.

I think the idea is compelling for a few reasons. First, it plays off a contemporary issue with which almost everyone is familiar. Second, it lets players dictate the story through their posts, as opposed to players working toward a ready-made, predetermined outcome. Third, it’s a sort of practice field on which players and researchers can consider a fake problem before it becomes a real one.

On the other hand, I suspect interest in the game and similar games might not be strong. First, it only lasted for about a month, which doesn’t allow much time for players to recruit their friends, or for players to grow accustomed to the game. Second, the game is somewhat of a downer; people might not want to think about a potential oil crisis. Third, documentation and record-keeping isn’t exactly exhilarating.

A response: ‘Video games go to Washington’

I’d never heard of the Howard Dean video game before reading this article. I, like the designers of the game, pondered at first how to make a political video game that wouldn’t be seen as trivial but wouldn’t be seen as a tacky, desperate plea to voters, either. Though his campaign was unsuccessful, Dean demonstrated for future political candidates how technology could be used to advantage a campaign. Even technology normally existing outside the political realm, like video games, has a role to play.

The Dean video game points to, what in my estimation, is a broader infiltration of politics into institutions used for entertainment or recreation — institutions that used be free from politics. I tend to view politics — at least the images politicians hope to project — as traditional, professional and stately. It seems a little odd that politicians and their campaigns would venture into the realm of video games, cell phone applications and so on. But it’s happened.

And while I tend to associate video games and cell phone applications as frivolous or entertainment-based, they also have qualities that make them powerful political tools capable of swinging an election one way or another. The more I think of it, that political campaigns employ this new technology isn’t odd at all. There was a time when newspapers were news, and then came a time when they were first used by political campaigns to convey messages. There was a time when TV was new, and then came a time when political campaigns recognized the opening TV presented for advertising and public appearances that could advance the interests of a candidate. It makes sense video games would follow a similar path.

A couple characteristics of the Dean video game stick out in my mind. First, the game focused not on partisan politics but on the strength and influence of grassroots efforts. On the other side of the spectrum, I imagine an action game in which Dean attempts to take over the White House, sparing the country from the policies of the Bush administration. I think the Dean campaign was wise in its design of the game and its premise.

Second, it’s interesting the Dean campaign picked a promise rooted in civic duty and grassroots efforts. The game was able to show the ability of grassroots efforts to multiply; if you reach out to two people, they might reach out to two people and so on. The game also was entrenched in real time, counting down to the Iowa Caucus. This alerted players as to the date of the caucus, an aspect of the game that worked to eliminate the ignorance and indifference that some cite as reasons for low turnout. In this way, the game served a public good.

A response: ‘From work to play’

I didn’t understand much of this article, but I did understand some parts. I don’t play video games and don’t know much about them. One concept that caught my attention is the malleable definition of fiction and the changing aspects of storytelling. This applies not just to video games but to storytelling of all modes and methods.

I found interesting the argument that some video games are not fiction or storytelling in the traditional sense. The argument centers on the idea that users/players control the action — the structure — by pushing buttons and joggling sticks and such. It doesn’t even matter if the game has a singular ending reached regardless of the users’/players’ actions. Such games diminish the elements of shared experience and standardization — two staples of traditional pieces of fiction.

But at the same time, this argument can be made for even traditional pieces of fiction if the users/readers consume the material in unique ways. While more traditional pieces might not allow consumers to control the action with buttons and sticks, they do allow consumers to decide certain aspects of how the story unfolds: speed (all at once or piece by piece), time of day and environment (which could affect how the piece grips the consumer and emotion (how the consumer is feeling or thinking at the time he or she consumes the piece). Among these factors there is room for interpretation and variation across experiences with a single story. In this way, traditional stories and modern video games might not differ so strongly.

I also found interesting the idea that players of video games might play out the stories but not read the plots. There are arguments that work both to support and disprove this. Players of video games might play simply because it is fun or stimulating, paying little attention to how their actions relate to the broader plot. This might be because some early games had few detectable plot points; PAC-MAN, for instance, is about a yellow guy eating dots, but do players feel a connection, a responsibility to the plot?

On the other hand, the very act of playing a video game essentially requires some sort of connection or adherence to plot. Even playing PAC-MAN involves users assuming a similar mindset to that of the yellow guy, with eating the dots and avoiding the ghosts of critical importance.  A user might play more for fun than to provide impetus for the plot, but he or she still agrees to enter the fictional world and its conditions, which include plot. In this way, the act of playing is inseparable from the notion of plot.

Reflection on #1WkNoTech

Introduction

My reflection on #1WkNoTech is threefold. First, modern society’s dependence on and frequent use of technology tends to make us less happy. Second and in spite of No. 1, everything from work to play has so inscribed technology into our lives that it’s hard to pull away, even if we realize it would behoove us to do so. And third, the notion of technology is a nebulous one — it can be as wide as anything created or manipulated by humans or as narrow as anything with a screen and buttons — with new and powerful technology usually interpreted as more distracting, more destructive and more likely to compromise intrinsic human ideals such as innocence, imagination and togetherness.

Sometimes I inadvertently play a game of #1DayNoTech. During the summer, I spend a day in Canal Park and at the beach; during the winter, I build a snow fort with my much-younger cousins. OK, it’s not always a full day, but sometimes it’s close, and by the end of it, I feel satisfied in a way being in front of a screen all day isn’t able to replicate. During #1WkNoTech, people, albeit facetiously, tweeted about their newfound appreciation for the little things in life, the things overlooked and overshadowed in a world where technology seems to be everywhere. Putting the phone away and shutting down the computer tends to make us feel closer: closer to people, closer to nature, closer to ourselves. So why are we so reluctant or even unable to pull away?

What makes faithfully (not facetiously) executing a project like #1WkNoTech next to impossible is the degree to which technology has permeated our institutions, and as a result, seemingly every corner of our lives. A week without technology likely means a week without work, as sending emails, talking on the phone and using the computer are vital activities at most places of employment. A week without technology likely means a week without school, as email and Moodle are the forums in which information is shared, direction is given and business is handled; and as Google Docs is the medium through which many students submit work, discuss ideas and receive feedback. Finally, a week without technology is a week uninformed and disconnected from the rest of the world, as the Internet is our great library, our familiar meeting place, our answer to questions that used to be unanswered or put on hold.

But what is technology? A day building a slipshod-but-functional igloo with my cousins feels fun, rewarding and most importantly, distant from the cold, metallic glow of technology. Where would I have been, though, without that shovel in my hands? That hat on my head? Those boots on my feet. These were all inventions, new objects at one time or another. They were engineered, produced and then mass-produced, improved upon and commercialized. Unequivocally, they are technologies. And that’s where the rules governing #1WkNoTech become blurred. We associate our computers and phones with our increasingly impersonal, perhaps jaded world, but we don’t do the same with shovels and shoes. While these objects behave differently and serve varying purposes, the old are no less technological than the new. How long must an object exist before it ceases being technology, if ever? When it comes to eliminating objects from our lives during a project like #1WkNoTech, why do our brains immediately target some technologies but not others?

Benefits of pulling away

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A common theme during #1WkNoTech was the sense of relief, calm and happiness that accompanied time spent away from computers and other advanced technologies. Ashlyn said a man who appeared to be homeless was having more fun playing with a puppy than she has seen experienced by people playing on their phones. Her observation speaks on two levels. First, this man, who presumably has nothing — no phone, no laptop, no reliable ways to stay warm and keep from going hungry — was made happy by one of life’s simpler pleasures. He didn’t need expensive software or the latest game; he just needed another living thing. Second, Ashlyn took the time to observe this scene and make the connection between the man’s happiness and the lack thereof when it comes to people playing on their phones. Would she have made that observation if, in that moment, she had been one of them?

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A step beyond simply observing a scene in the physical world, this Twitter user and #1WkNoTech participant had lunch with an old friend. What’s more, Pressure Pusher, who I can only presume is a sleepy yellow dog, didn’t feel tempted to pick up his or her phone during lunch. For technology’s ability to connect people near and far — email, texting, phone, etc. — it is an equally if not stronger force of division. I’ve been in stimulating conversations with friends and, for a reason I can’t completely explain, I find myself reaching for my phone to check if Beyonce has left me a voicemail or something. Eradicating such habits can benefit our relationships and make us more desired and conscientious lunch partners.

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The world seems to hold less magic and fewer possibilities as we age. But aging coincides with the passage of time, which coincides with the evolution and increased potency of technology. Growing up, I had no brothers. And while my twin sister was a more than adequate playmate, at times she didn’t feel like engaging in my games. So I would head outside with a ball under my arm and play games like Amy’s. It was, surprisingly, fun. About 15 years later, I don’t even consider such games an option when I’m bored or unsatisfied with whatever is on TV. These games probably have more power over us when we’re young, when our imaginations are ripe and we’re catching a pop fly in the World Series instead of a ball off the wall. But Amy’s account suggests it’s not simply a matter of growing up; it might also be the fact we find other ways to entertain ourselves and don’t give such games a chance.

A complete reliance

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This Twitter user and #1WkNoTech participant was lost looking for a quality restaurant without assistance from the Internet. Her decision to stay home instead of walking into a restaurant blind — without reviews — not only illustrates our dependence on technology to give us the information necessary to make decisions but also indicates we have been programmed to distrust that which we do not know of, that which has not been documented online. Another student posed in a tweet the question whether a romantic relationship is real if the participants don’t post the relationship to Facebook. In our documentary society, we seem to have lost the ability to simply live; we look to technology, namely the Internet, to authenticate and make official the things we see, hear and feel. Without technology’s stamp of authenticity, we are less likely to trust what we observe and encounter in physical reality.

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Poor Paulina here had to ask another human being whether the USC football team won its game against Cal last Saturday. The Internet  and its arms have become in the last five, 10 years our encyclopedia and our newspaper. It can tell us whether it’s going to rain tomorrow, whether the snake over there is poisonous and whether our symptoms point to the common cold or something more serious. With the Internet, the answer to nearly every know-able question rests in our hands and on our laps. People today have little reason to memorize or inquire a stranger, as the information we seek can be obtained in a much more efficient, reliable and impersonal way.

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It’s really no wonder Granny didn’t roll the dice with an unknown restaurant and Paulina felt weird asking USC’s fate. Technology is inscribed into almost everything we do and consume. Some college professors chide students for having their laptop open or phone out during class, but their very classes would cease functioning without the benefit of technology. During #1WkNoTech alone, I turned in three assignments online and had more than 10 remote conversations integral to my responsibilities as a student. In elementary school, I used to get physical worksheets, which I would turn in to the teacher’s tray on his or her desk. In college, I receive prompts and assignment descriptions online, and I turn in my work remotely, as well. Our schools, our offices and our establishments have employed technology in such a way it is a muscle memory, an aspect that has infiltrated our private lives.

A matter of circumstance

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But where should we draw the line, and if we’re trying to tame our use of technology, with what should we draw it? Like a stylus that accompanies an iPad, a pencil is technology. Like a laptop on which we can stream music and podcasts, this Twitter user’s old radio is technology. By the letter of #1WkNoTech, her antique radio is a “no-no.” By the letter of #1WkNoTech, doors and stairs should be outlawed, as well. Technology is defined by its ability to solve problems and assist with tasks artificially, in way the natural world doesn’t afford. A door, like the latest computer, solves problems and assists with tasks that otherwise would go unaddressed by nature.

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It’s an ostensible argument that a computer is clearly a feat of technology and a paperback book isn’t. But why does that argument seem at least superficially true? Both objects were created through the use of elaborate machinery; both objects solve problems or assist with tasks; and both objects do not naturally occur in the world. The fact books (roughly as we know them today) came about with the advent of the printing press almost 600 years ago seems to tempter their identity as a technology as compared to computers, which didn’t begin evolving until the middle of the 20th century. But like sundials versus iPhones, there are only subjective ways to argue books are less a technology than computers. The time and order in which we invent things is largely determined by circumstance. If humans were to redo the last 10,000 years, it’s possible computers would be invented before the standardized paperback book, in which case computers might seem less a technology than books. Conventional wisdom tells us computers are much more complex and challenging to design than books, so computers surely would be developed first. But who’s to say, while we have computers, spaceships and TVs; there isn’t an incredibly simple invention we haven’t yet made that would ease a particular aspect of life? We can design an unmanned spacecraft capable of traveling millions of miles and landing on a distant planet, but we can’t (or chose not to) design and mass-produce a car that travels 100 miles to a gallon of gas.

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What’s interesting about #1WkNoTech is the discussion it inevitably triggers. Participants will have different opinions of what technology is and isn’t, and they will have different opinions of what constitutes a use of technology: Is passively watching a movie in a theater (as opposed to actively searching for and watching a movie online) a use of technology? What about elevators versus stairs? Stop signs versus stoplights? Not only does #1WkNoTech trigger a consideration of what technology is; it also causes us to consider the role technology plays in our lives, what technology adds and subtracts and how it can be used to maximize its benefits and minimize its drawbacks.

Conclusion

To sum up, technology seems to make us less happy. At the very least, pulling away from technology seems to improve our mood. Not only that, pulling away increases our capacity to soak in and appreciate the world around us. It can improve our relationships and help us reconnect with old friends. It can let us have more fun and make us more fun around which to be.

Regardless of the benefits, pulling away from technology is hard. Technology in all its iterations is so tightly woven into the fabric of modern society that we’re nearly helpless to work, learn and play without it. To function in today’s workplaces, today’s schools and today’s communities, technology is an ingredient that can’t be replaced. If we have access at home and in public to the powerful, highly addictive tools that propel or professional and academic worlds, we are almost helpless in efforts not to use them. They have become so inscribed into us, such a part of us that we’re essentially programmed to use our phones, computers and TVs, even if we don’t really want to.

Lastly, the objects we tend to regard as technology and those we tend to regard as “things” — as if they have always been around — are grouped largely by social and historical constructs. Participants in #1WkNoTech probably thought not to use their computers. But they probably didn’t consider not to read books. If technology is defined as manmade objects that solve problems and assist with tasks, then computers and books fall into the same basket. The conventional wisdom computers are technology and books aren’t is based largely on the fact books preceded computers, which is the result of circumstance, not one being less a technology than the other. Someone ducking a conversation with a stranger by burying his or her face in a book is hiding behind technology in precisely the same manner as someone burying his or her face in an iPad.

So while pulling away from technology seems to make us feel better and soak in more of the intrinsic properties of life, pulling away isn’t so easily don.e Our institutions use technology heavily; technology is the medium through which information is shared, decisions are made and business is handled. It seems unreasonable to expect people to pull away from technology in their private lives. What constitutes technology, though, is up for debate. Using a letter of the law approach, it seems objects that have existed for hundreds and even thousands of years are as much technology as objects being created in laboratories as I write. In that case, #1WkNoTech seems an even bigger ask.

 

 

Narrative fiction project reflection

This project was very different from projects I’ve done for other courses, in that I had to incorporate social media and technology elements into storytelling. I’ve taken fiction writing courses before. Developing characters and story lines is something I’m used to, if anyone can be used to that sort of thing. What was different was the integration of new media into my storytelling — a difference that made me think of fiction in new ways.

These ways included contemplating the most effective medium through which to tell my story. Normally when I write fiction, I think of my work as a straightforward text intended for the pages of a book. I didn’t stray too far from that medium with this project — my plan was to plug my text into a WordPress post. Still, the prospect of publishing a piece of fiction on a blog (instead of in a book), where anyone can read it and at any time, applies a new, accessible and nontraditional spin to storytelling.

Having quite a bit of experience writing fiction (and writing in general), I didn’t have difficulty conceiving ideas for my plot and characters. That’s not to say it isn’t a difficult process; when I sit down for what I think of as “serious writing,” I gruel over characters and very slowly construct plot around those characters. I didn’t approach this assignment with as much scrutiny and attention to detail. Although sometimes, I’ve found, writing quickly and less scrupulously is an effective tactic to develop ideas and identify a direction. The rough spots can always be smoothed over later.

Where I did have more difficulty was differentiating my work from traditional storytelling akin to the short story. I’m used to the short story; I’m comfortable with the short story. That’s why I wanted to write a blog post in which there isn’t a traditional plot/story arc. I heard some students planned their stories to unfold exclusively on Twitter or an email chain, which I think is interesting and inventive.

Our in-class discussions and lessons certainly influenced the way I went about this project. I tried to incorporate my favorite pieces of some of the fictions and social media projects we have been asked to read/watch. One of my favorites is “You Suck At Photoshop,” and I used “You Suck” as partial inspiration for my lead character and for tone/feel/mood ideas. I also drew inspiration from “The Onion,” which I enjoy reading in my free time.

I think this type of writing and this avenue of publication have advantages over traditional writing. Fiction writers can languish for years before they have a piece published, if they’re fortunate enough to have a piece published at all. The Internet, however, has created a forum in which writers, artists, musicians and all creators can self-publish. This, obviously, allows creators to increase exposure to their work, foster a following and receive satisfaction they might have not received had they gone the traditional publishing route.

This project and this course has stretched my understanding of what fiction can be and how it can unfold. I’m a traditionalist. I like to read books and newspapers, and some of the storytelling concepts we’ve discussed in class have seemed avant-garde. While I still prefer to sit down with a novel or work on a short story, I feel I have a greater appreciation for fiction as an open-ended concept that doesn’t necessarily need to adhere to tradition.

I don’t know whether this project will have any tangible effects on my writing. Perhaps I’ll be more likely to include elements of new media (Twitter, Facebook, email, blogging) into my preferred, traditional method of storytelling. I think the bigger impact will be seen in how and what I choose to read and watch. I’m now aware of different types and mediums of fiction, which greatly expands the catalog of pieces to which I have access.