E3: Putting Play in its Place Since 1995

e3-un

There’s so much wrong with the videogames industry, and there will always be important work to be done within it. But sometimes, in our attention to urgent matters, we can lose the forest for the trees. The entire enterprise deserves our critical attention. Events like #E32016 (and many other games conferences and events) should remind us that this business exists because it is lucrative to corporations and their subsidiaries & dependents — from media conglomerates to resource extraction firms to hardware manufacturers to startup dev teams and beyond.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, we should never forget that this industry, at almost every level, is fundamentally about capturing and holding our attention and playfulness so as to convert them into various forms of capital — and that the preponderance of that capital ends up in the hands of a relative few. Events like #E32016 continue the process of normalizing this kind of capture (and our willing surrender to it).

It’s a dark irony that this supposedly pro-play industry is ultimately about disciplining play, rather than liberating it, by putting play and players into their “proper place” as controllable and measurable commodities. It is about using play to turn a buck or build a brand. Sure, all play is transformative, and all play activities can be understood in one way or another through a lens of “use” — but not all transformation is for the better, and not all uses bear the same relations to justice and equity. If we really want to talk about play and democracy (and take action accordingly), we have to talk about what videogames are, and how, if at all, we might resist this uniquely subtle form of spectacle that seeks to chew up and “monetize” our will-to-play.

TL;DR – the Latin root of the word, “entertain” is “to hold.”

A summer filmmaking assignment for my students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts

The film is exactly 97 minutes long, including credits. All the dialogue adds up to a total of 109 words. The story is told in eighteen scenes. Each scene is a single uncut shot. The main character is a superhero. The superhero does not wear a costume. The superhero saves no one, solves no crimes, does not have a rival, does not engage in combat, and does not have a secret identity. There is no love interest. The superhero dies in the end. We learn nothing about how the superhero became the superhero. The superhero is not famous, nor are they known as a superhero, nor do they think of themselves as a hero of any kind. There is nothing special at all about the superhero. The superhero is neither rich nor poor, tall nor short, fat nor skinny, smart nor stupid. Four of the film’s eighteen scenes have no dialogue at all. One of the film’s eighteen scenes is in a different language than the rest of the film, for reasons that are never explained (the scene involves the superhero talking on a cell phone). Subtitles are allowed in this scene, but must be in a third language, and that language must not be referenced at any other point in the film. Any music used in the film must have been recorded no later than January 1, 1982, and no earlier than February 16, 1966. The music must not contain any lyrics unless they are in a language different from all of the other languages featured in the film. The superhero must have the most screen time of any of the characters in the film, but must also speak the second- or third-fewest lines. The dominant color of the film should be either mustard or mallard green. The film must have a main title and at least two “alternate” titles. At least one of the titles must include a number or symbol. The director credited for the film must be a made-up character/pseudonym, and the real name of the director of the film must be listed in the credits as “Volunteer Assistant Office Manager.” The film should cost no more than $500 to produce, and must be completed and uploaded to Vimeo or YouTube prior to August 15, 2016.

# Mar 19, 2016

“By its nature, thinking twists and turns, drifts and meanders. A hunter who followed a bee-line from a point of departure to a predetermined destination would never catch prey. To hunt you have to be alert for clues and ready to follow trails wherever they may lead. Thoughtful writers need to be good hunters.”

Tim Ingold, In Defense of Handwriting

Network Earth

Is it possible to predict when a complex system will collapse? Might network analysis enable us to identify the “tipping points” of economies and ecologies at a variety of scales? Could such analyses increase our odds of averting catastrophe? This data visualization by Mauro Martino and Jianxi Gao illustrates recent findings by Gao, Baruch Barzel, and Albert-László Barabási, published this week in Nature. Abstract here:

Resilience, a system’s ability to adjust its activity to retain its basic functionality when errors, failures and environmental changes occur, is a defining property of many complex systems. Despite widespread consequences for human health, the economy and the environment, events leading to loss of resilience—from cascading failures in technological systems to mass extinctions in ecological networks—are rarely predictable and are often irreversible. These limitations are rooted in a theoretical gap: the current analytical framework of resilience is designed to treat low-dimensional models with a few interacting components, and is unsuitable for multi-dimensional systems consisting of a large number of components that interact through a complex network. Here we bridge this theoretical gap by developing a set of analytical tools with which to identify the natural control and state parameters of a multi-dimensional complex system, helping us derive effective one-dimensional dynamics that accurately predict the system’s resilience. The proposed analytical framework allows us systematically to separate the roles of the system’s dynamics and topology, collapsing the behaviour of different networks onto a single universal resilience function. The analytical results unveil the network characteristics that can enhance or diminish resilience, offering ways to prevent the collapse of ecological, biological or economic systems, and guiding the design of technological systems resilient to both internal failures and environmental changes. (Nature)

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