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In waiting too long to write this post, some of the details may have faded a little bit for me, but I’ll do my best to run through some of the things I found most interesting about journalist Walter Pincus’s talk in RAJ last week.

What surprised me the most about the basic premise of his argument was this, and I hope I didn’t misinterpret it.  In giving a talk about how an industry under pressure like newspapers will survive, I thought it would sort of be like “here’s what newspapers need to do/change in order to survive”.  Instead, and I have no grounds to agree or disagree with this, it seemed like he was saying “if newspapers go on as they have been, with a few minor changes (most of them harkening back to the ‘good ol days’), the nature of the industry and its economics will allow them to survive without that much effort”.  This seemed to be founded on his belief, a bit out of touch in my opinion, that this whole ‘internet journalism’ thing is just a ‘fad’, and people only really buy into it because it’s ‘jazzy’ (his word, not mine).  And a lot of his argument hinged on the fact that people haven’t really found a good model for making money in online advertising yet.  But we are exceptionally good at figuring out how to make money out of just about anything, so I would guess that will come soon, don’t you think?

Mark did a good job summing up his ideas about newspapers ‘slimming down’, and I agree with him in that respect, so I won’t say too much about it.  But one of my favorite things about Pincus’ argument was a more general point he made, sort of about ‘slimming down’ in another respect.  He mentioned both the newspaper business and related it to the auto industry, but I think his point about businesses needing to return to a more sustainable business model, with lower expectations (maybe?) applies to many of our industries, especially in publishing — newspapers, record labels, film and tv studios, etc.  As in, they need to face the fact that they might not find a way to make the bucketloads of money they did in their heyday, and this seems to me to tie quite neatly back into some of the stuff Lessig talked about with the record industry refusing to find a compromised middle ground when it comes to digital music.  I couldn’t agree more with this, but I wonder if this shift in mentality is possible for the greed-fueled gears of capitalism.  It seems like this will have a large role in our country’s economic fate.

wow….WoW.

This post, and the forthcoming one about the Pincus lecture, are both concerning stuff that I should’ve posted last week, but with the ridiculous amounts of work I’ve had, I’m just now catching up with them.  That being said…

I’m glad we got a glimpse into WoW — there’s a lot that I didn’t know about it before, just on the very basic level of what spends most of one’s time doing in it, and I feel like Ian gave us a pretty good idea of what your average WoW devotee actually does in the game most of the time.

There were a lot of things that I liked about it — I’m impressed that they can make the graphics look that nice for such a huge world with so many people in it; it’s pretty much the anti-Second Life in that respect, probably because it’s all controlled by one entity, and people are paying that entity for access to that world, and with that price comes the expectation that things will run smoothly.  So the world is rich and pretty and complex, and the whole accumulation of abilities thing seems like that could get pretty addicting, but like Ian said, most people only ever use, say, four of their abilities.  All the “fighting against the game itself” stuff he told us was interesting too, in a sort of meta- way.  And though we didn’t get to see a raid, the idea behind it, with all the intensely planned strategy, sounded kinda cool.  In that respect, it almost seems more like a board game to me than a video game — of course, it’s much more visually stimulating than a board game, and you’re playing it on the internet with thousands of other people, but the fighting and such relies more on strategy than the usual finger-mashing dexterity that success in most video games demands.

But in the end, I felt no desire to ever try the game out.  I think the dullness of combat, like I just mentioned has something to do with that — fighting = clicking rapidly and repetitively on something.  Plus, the ‘grinding’ and all the other drudgery that you have to go through just to keep improving sounds pretty unbearable.  And lastly, I mentioned this in class, but it really bothers me that one of the, if not the driving force in the game is that masculine, typical-internet desire to brag, sling insults, fuck with people, and basically piss them off in any way you can think of, just because there’s no real life consequences — “internet assholism”, I think I called it.  It’s that sort of thing that really drives me away from, say, Halo online and that kind of thing.  And it seems like WoW contains the epitome (if not the birthplace) of that attitude.  So I’ll pass on WoW for now.

Video Gamez Project

I don’t want to preface this too much, but what I’m trying to show in this video is how, though The Sims 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV are similar in that they are ‘open and expressive’, they portray fundamentally different vision of ‘success’ and ‘the American Dream’.  I tried to bring out the humor in this.

UPDATE: WMG nabbed the audio in my video, so I guess I’ll have to upload it to MiddMedia, but currently it’s too big (850 MB) to fit on my MiddMedia account…so I’ll have to go back and export a new version that’ll fit on middmedia.

After reading Lessig and watching Rip!, I’m definitely thinking about some of my favorite examples of remix art in a different light.  These two are both examples that occurred to me in the past week…sort of old favorites that I’ve remembered and I think about in a new light now.

This first one is by an artist/YouTube user named “Kutiman”, who essentially makes mashups of musical YouTube videos that he’s found.  I think it’s interesting that his creativity exists entirely within the circle of YouTube — he finds videos people have uploaded to the site, mashes them up, and then posts them on his own YouTube account.  Plus, this song, called “I’m New” is just masterfully done; it’s a great song in itself, discounting the fact that it’s a mashup.  His songs don’t have that ‘aha!’ moment of musical recognition a la Girl Talk, because you’ve probably never watched any of the videos before, but you can still admire the craft of it.  Here’s the vid:

Also, HERE is his own weird site, which has all his songs listed in a playlist, plus a cool function where you can see the “credits” for his songs and link to all their original youtube videos.

This second example is very near and dear to my heart.  It’s called “in bflat” and it’s “a collaborative music/spoken word project”.  Here’s how the guy came up with the idea:

“I was making a site with embedded YouTube videos, when I realized that YouTube doesn’t stop the user from running more than one video at a time. I was curious to see if there was a musical way to explore that concept, so I recorded some instrumental videos and eventually came up with In Bb v1.”

Then, for version 2, he sent out some emails and posted an open call for submissions on the site, with a few instructions:

-”Sing or play an instrument, in Bb major. Simple, floating textures work best, with no tempo or groove. Leave lots of silence between phrases.  Total length should be between 1-2 minutes.”

He selected 20 of the best ones and compiled them into that page that I linked to above.  Basically, you can mix and match the videos, playing as many or as few at a time as you want, and because they are tempoless and in the same key, they all sound good together.  In fact, they sound downright magical together.  And that’s why I find this to be one of the more inspiring examples of collaborative internet creativity I’ve ever seen.  That something like this is possible never occurred to me, and it alerts me to the fact that there’s tons of undiscovered possibilities for stuff like this that the internet provides if people think about things a little differently.  It may take a little while to load, but I highly recommend checking in bflat out.

In class on…I think Monday?  We thought about whether we would consider ourselves “gamers”, and talked a bit about the role of video games in our lives.  Now my initial reaction was, no, I am not a gamer.  I have not spent a significant amount of time in college playing video games.  But thinking back, I noticed the thread of different video games over the course of my life, and they have always been present in some way or another.  One thing that struck me was how many different forms they have taken.  I think of “gaming” as playing ambitious, difficult solo games on the computer or on one of the main consoles, or perhaps playing some online multiplayer games like WoW.  But, obviously, there’s many other types of video games, and I’d like to trace my history with video games, or “digital games”, as we should perhaps call them.

I faintly remember the first computer our family had, some old beast whose monitor display consisted of a bunch of rectangles which could either be ‘on’ (yellow) or ‘off’ (black).  I don’t know what this computer even did, really…I don’t think it had Windows on it, so it probably had some way of doing word processing through DOS.  But it also had two games that I remember: Reader Rabbit, a simple educational game (I was probably about 5 or 6, I think), and a BITCHIN game called “Midnight Rescue”.  You had to use critical thinking skillz to figure out which of 5 janitorial robots was hiding the evil mastermind that was going to make the school disappear at midnight using invisible paint.  I think I played that quite a bit.

My parents never wanted us to have video game consoles, but soon we bought our next computer, a Gateway with Windows 95 on it and a whopping 1.6 GB hard drive!  On that particular Christmas day, we also got Myst, a cutting edge game to go with our new ‘cutting edge’ computer.  I like to think of Myst sort of as the Twin Peaks of computer games; an odd,  lovingly created and inscrutable game that came somewhat out of left field and opened up a lot of possibilities for what the medium could do artistically.  I think I was about 7 or 8 at this point, and my brother, dad and I (and sometimes my mom) played Myst as a family.  It would’ve been too difficult for my brother (a year and a half younger than me) and I to play on our own, but I think we learned a lot the way we did it.

I also remember playing a lot of games produced by the company “Humongous Entertainment” on that computer.  They were cartoony, puzzle-solving narrative games featuring fantastic characters like Pajama Sam and Spy Fox.  Those games were really fantastic…that probably went on through grade school, accompanied by games like Backyard Football and Backyard Soccer.  Man this is a nostalgia trip.

At some point we bought Riven, the completely-fucking-impossible sequel to Myst.  The interest of my dad and I waned, but over a course of about 5 years, playing off and on, my brother somehow beat that ludicrous game.  He’s continued playing the occasional computer game ever since.  He’s played most of the games released in the Myst series, as well as Black & White (which Jenkins talks about, I think), Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Fallout 3, all critically acclaimed games that seem really amazing when I’ve watched him play them.  I haven’t seen much of Bioshock and Fallout 3, because he played those after I left for college, but Half-Life 2 was a pretty incredible game.  He also told me about Portal (made by the same company as HL2), which is pretty short and which I played a couple of years ago (it’s really amazing), and plays some Team Fortress from time to time a fantastic online killing game, like Halo but much more fun, from what I can tell (because most people who play Halo online seem to be complete assholes about it).  I include this paragraph only because a lot of my knowledge about what’s going on in the mainstream, critically-acclaimed gaming world comes from my brother.

My gaming habits, before dwindling early in high school, branched off into the Age of Empires / The Sims phase that I had in middle school.  I played a shitload of Age of Empires 2: The Conquerors Edition, and learned mad medieval history from that shit whilst playing it.  I still remember some of the little archaic-foreign-language things that the units say when you tell them to do things.  The Sims was good, but like I said in an earlier post (as an analogy for my blog), I always liked designing the house way more than trying to keep my damned little characters happy.  I think internet games were starting to get big at this point, as well, but I never had a strong habit around those except for that game N, which I mentioned, and was mildly addicted to at some point in high school.  Check it out at yr own risk.  Oh also, freshman year of college I had a few weeks of unhealthy playing of “Bloons”, which is a fucking stupid, frustrating, horrible internet game.  Never play it.

As my computer game playing dropped off in high school, my diet shifted to the occasional playing of more socially-oriented games with friends, almost all on Nintendo 64 (which may be the most perfect gaming system yet invented).  Actually, mostly just the original Super Smash Bros. and Mario Tennis.  Fantastic games which we still play sometimes when we’re home.  Also, Mario Kart 64 was pretty big on my freshman hall.  Now I play the original Smash Bros. or Rock Band every once in a while…once every 2 or 3 weeks, I would say.

I’m not sure exactly what conclusions to draw from all this…I just know that it was fun to do, and I recommend tracing your video game history like that.  I guess what strikes me most, as I said at the beginning, is how diverse a set of experiences these different games provided for me: there’s the purely-educational, like Reader Rabbit.  Then there’s the more abstractly educational, like Myst (which I associate with a similar feeling to having books like The Golden Compass or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, slightly above my reading level at the time, read to me at bedtime) and the Pajama Sam/Spy Fox games.  These games taught ‘critical thinking’ but also gave me experience in consuming and enjoying narrative and visual art.  Then there’s the “god games” like Age of Empires and the Sims, which were also educational in a variety of ways.  And there’s internet games (which seem to me the least redeemable) and social, console games, which are somewhat associated with nostalgia because they’re almost all on N64.

They all have enriched me in different ways, but I don’t want to seem like I’m saying video games are only useful if they’re ‘enriching’/'educational’, because if all art was like that, it would be friggin obnoxious.  I think many of these games were both enlightening and artistically beautiful, which is what much of the best ‘art’ is.  So, games…they get a bad rep!  Makes me want to pick up one and play it, I just wish it was winter and not spring, because I would be much more inclined to pick up something like Bioshock, which I’ve been sort of interested in playing for a long time.  I guess I need to pick one soon for my project, I just haven’t quite figured that out yet.

Just saw the 3 oclock showing of the Rip movie.  Good stuff!  I was worried at the start; it seemed a bit like a less-nuanced version of a lot of the material we’ve covered already.  That “CopyRIGHT” and “CopyLEFT” business, for one, was pretty brazen and kinda oversimplified, I thought.  Basically, he boiled every problem with intellectual property in our culture down to corporate greed and oppression, which ignores the part we all play in these problems by supporting the established norms.

But I really got into the film as it went along, and I think it’s unsubtle flashiness was one of its strengths.  It did more or less cover stuff we’ve already talked about, w/ Lessig’s book and our related discussions, but it did it concisely and compellingly, and his knack for visual flare and seamless integration of bits and pieces of borrowed culture was really impressive.  I think the “culture crusader” tone that the film takes on is different than, say, Lessig’s reasoned and measured take, but one is not necessarily better or worse.  I think that tone in Rip might even be better suited to empowering and inspiring people to take charge of their own consumption of culture, which is what he was aiming to do.

I certainly felt inspired leaving the film, and even a little proud of the piece of electronic music I’ve been working on lately, which samples “Sycamore Trees” by Jimmy Scott, a song which I heard through its use in a Twin Peaks episode.  I had kind of taken the fact that I was essentially remixing this song for granted, probably because doing it for an obscure song like that feels different from remixing/’ripping off’ Lady Gaga or whoever — artists on the scale of the ones that Girl Talk uses in his remixes.  But watching this film reminded me that doing this can be a ‘culturally significant’ act…I think?  Since I’ve grown up with this kind of thing all around me, it doesn’t feel like this big ideological stand (unlike the M.L.F. guy’s actions, which were hilarious and badass), but I guess I should take pride in my little participation in R/W culture.

SPIEGEL: “…But why does Homer list all of those warriors and their ships if he knows that he can never name them all?… Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can’t be realistically completed?”

Eco: “We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.”

This very insightful (and relatively short) interview with Umberto Eco was conducted in the lead up to the opening of an exhibit that he curated at the Louvre, an exhibit studying the nature of lists, and the places that they show up in literature and the visual arts.  They cover a lot of concepts, and many of them are beyond the theoretical scope of our class, but it’s still very interesting.  First, he discusses how making lists is one of our fundamental cultural impulses — as with all art, it’s a way of trying to impose order upon infinity, or chaos.  He segues into that point which I included up top there, that we do it to try to escape our thought about death.  Whee!

But then, near the end, they move on to discuss lists as a form of filtering, which strikes closer to some of the issues we’ve discussed in this class.  We’ve talked about how our modern, networked culture provides us with access to more content than we can ever possibly process; the idea of “publish, then filter”.  And we talked about how we all rely on certain sources, whether they be websites or people or whatever, to help us choose what culture we want to consume.  And often, this comes down to listmaking, whether implicitly or explicitly.  We LOVE lists in our culture!  There’s countless lists of the “best ___s of the year” published at the end of every year.  Personally I have kind of a guilty feeling about this (I feel it sort of goes against the artistic spirit when I listen to music throughout the year thinking about where it will fall in my year-end list), but I also think there’s a necessity to it, now, and it’s also kind of fun.

And they even touch on Google in the Eco interview.  He thinks it might be a bit dangerous because it gives us the illusion that we don’t have to be discriminating when searching for information, that Google will do all of that for us.  Eco says, “…in school when dealing with the Internet, the teacher should say: ‘Choose any old subject, whether it be German history or the life of ants. Search 25 different Web pages and, by comparing them, try to figure out which one has good information.’ If 10 pages describe the same thing, it can be a sign that the information printed there is correct. But it can also be a sign that some sites merely copied the others’ mistakes.”

I absolutely agree with this sentiment, and that’s why it has always annoyed me when teachers preach against Wikipedia; one just has to learn to be a discerning reader of Wikipedia.  I think learning to be discerning should be more emphasized.  And it’s a subset of media literacy in general, which obviously needs to be more emphasized.

Finally, I’ll close with one of Eco’s little wisdoms that he says near the end of the interview.  In discussing his giant personal library, he says: “Culture isn’t knowing when Napoleon died. Culture means knowing how I can find out in two minutes.”

Second Life…

Reading everyone’s posts, I think it’s hilarious how uninterested in it we all are so far.  And I agree completely.  It was a relief to exit the world after having to mess around on it for a while last night.  Maybe my pictures will help to express my distaste.

sl2_001

So I went to hang out at the bookstore (whose fonts/banners look like they’re straight out of a Geocities page ca. 1996, btw), and I tried to sit in this chill lounge chair.  It automatically put me in this pose, which I thought was kinda funny.

sl3_001

Unfortunately, when I teleported to the orientation place, I remained stuck in this position.  Though I could still “walk around”, I could not stand up.

sl4_001

The same was true at the space flight center.  Even when I flew around.  Also, couldn’t really figure out what to do here, except……look at the rockets.

sl5_001

Eventually, I had to quit the program and reopen it so my avatar wouldn’t be trapped in that ridiculous position.  Flaws and glitches like this, at a very basic level of a game (or…virtual…thing), bother me quite a bit.  Why should I spend my time using a program that can even do such a simple thing right?  Anyway, when I came back, I went to the Middlebury island.  Was something supposed to be related to politics here?  I couldn’t figure it out.  So I watched the creepy movie.

sl6_001

IT WAS HILARIOUS

sl8_001

I checked out the Colorado Tech campus.  YEEHAW

sl7_001

Virtual Morocco!!  That’ll be cool!  Or, it won’t.  Maybe it’ll just look like this for 10 minutes until it loads…

sl10_001

Chillin in virtual Paris in a buggy.  I gave it some time to load until it was actually complete.  Still, just a bunch of fake buildings…many video games could plunge me into much more visually stimulating environments.  I dunno.  I’m trying to keep an open mind, and I’m ready to be convinced of the magic of Second Life, but I’m unimpressed as of now.

I think I covered most of my…revelations on this topic during class, and they were mostly just reaffirmations of things I more or less understood already, but I’ll recount them here anyway.

I was pretty late in jumping on the texting bandwagon, so I had gone through a pretty long period of time during which friends would send me texts and I would respond by calling them, or not at all if the matter wasn’t pressing.  However, since I started texting, I obviously send more, but I receive many more as well, and I thought that the incoming flow of texts would remain the same over break.  This was where I was wrong; as with facebook, the amount of correspondence I receive is pretty directly proportional to how much I put in, so as my outgoing texts decreased over break, so did my incoming.  Also, some people either knew that I had stopped texting, or realized when I didn’t respond/told them on the phone.  So that was an interesting discovery.

The thing that I had suspected, which was confirmed for me, was that often I use texting as sort of a buffer from social interaction, because I’ve never been one to have a lot of long conversations on the phone, and sometimes it’s easier to defer that obligation to actually use your voice, even if it means the conversation ends up taking, say, five times as long.  But I ended up enjoying having to talk to people more…whether this will change my laziness now that I’m using texts again is unsure.  So that’s more or less what I gathered from this…I suppose I could’ve shot for something a bit more ambitious, as many others in our class did (Hunter, props on no internet…I would not last.  Though last feb break my comp was broken so I was essentially pretty cut off from that…I ended up reading ACTUAL BOOKS a lot more than I would’ve).  Overall, I thought people voiced a lot of interesting discoveries in class, and I honestly think we came up with more insightful statements as a group than the documentary itself did.  Way to go team!

I finished Part II of Lessig’s book earlier today, and I figured I should probably post about this section before I read/post on the final chunk, because he covers so much in here.

So, right at the end of part one, after comparing the past/future of RW and RO cultures, he circles back around to the issue of piracy (mostly focusing on music because that seems to be where an industry has suffered the most damage).  Then he does what I had been waiting for him to do, which is propose an alternative to the model followed over the last decade which decriminalizes us downloaders and leaves the artists with more money.  He talks about a “compulsory license” system, but his description is brief and it doesn’t really seem like he thinks that would be the best system.  Side note, though: I did think it was interesting how he said this system wouldn’t give artists/labels as much as if everyone had bought their music, but they would’ve had more than they ended up with by trying to sell DRM-encrypted mp3s and force $20 CDs down people’s throats (am I alone in thinking that paying more than $15 for a CD is ridiculous?).

Anyway, I suppose Pt. II accounts for the tacked-on feeling of that bit at the end of Pt. I; this idea of “hybrid economies” are what he thinks are the real key for this kind of thing.  And I’m guessing he’ll connect these two ideas more in the final part (as he begins to in Chapter 8), which I’m about to read, but most of Chaps. 6 & 7 are spent giving us an idea of exactly what a hybrid economy is/can be.  We had some overlap with Shirky, especially when Lessig talks about Wikipedia and freeware/Linux, but we got plenty of new stuff too.  I especially liked the quote from Jimmy Wales where he compared Wikia to a bowling alley:  sure, they are profiting off people’s free time, but like a bowling alley, “people are given a context in which to do something they want to, and noone begrudges the owner of the alley his profits.”  This seems to exemplify a certain approach to a hybrid economy quite well.

So this just leaves the question of how Lessig will tie hybrid economies and copyright law together in Part III, which I’m quite interested to see, because he’s explained everything else so well in this book that I’m sure it’ll be enjoyable.

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