Saturday, 18 July 2009

Ian Bogost on serious games

In the ABC Fora podcast Serious Gaming , Ian Bogost commented about the role of video games.

He claims that video games are the one form of modern media that embraces complexity rather than shying away from it. The key characteristics of video games are modelling, role playing and world building.

I found his comments on role playing to be the most insightful. He says that an important aspect is to experience what it is like to be constrained by the rules that the role implies. I can see that as a useful dynamic in my 12-year old son's life. As he plays various computer games, he is forced to work within tight boundaries to reach some pre-specified goal. In doing so, he is hopefully building an ability to empathise. He is brought up will such affluence and power that he could easily be blind to the constraints most people experience. Short of an immersive cross-cultural experience, a role-playing computer game may be his best chance to appreciate what its like to maintain a will to succeed and avoid despair in the face of limited choices.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

"Glut" by Alex Wright

The Sydney UX Book Club is going to discuss Glut at the next meeting so I've been reading it. Here's a few comments and quotes:

It immediately seems a more balanced book than Everything is Miscellaneous, giving more credence to the value of hierarchical information structures.
  • "The fundamental tension between networks and hierarchies has been percolating for eons. Today, we are simply witnessing the latest instalment in a long evolutionary drama." (p. 7)
  • Taking this tension back to genetics and cultural evolution, however, seems to be stretching the idea too far.
"Population density appears to determine the velocity of technological change." (p. 17)
  • The Ice Age 40,000 years ago forced people to live closer together and gave the impetus for a whole range of new symbolic behaviours. Social proximity lead to more complex forms of communication and that in turn supported more complex social structures. (40)
  • Early forms of art at the same time act as a counter-example to the normal view that art arises as a luxury in the easy time. In fact, art is a necessity when a society experiences hardship. (45)
The Sumerian city of Uruk (very close to Abraham's Ur) was perhaps the first "city". The population density in about 5000 BC lead to trade and specialisation.

The first known bibliography was a list of documents kept in the Hittite government archives (from another source I think that was around 1300 BC, around the time of Judges in the Bible).

Great Library at Alexandria (70):
  • Established 300BC
  • 700,000 works
  • Initially had no catalog
  • A later catalog had two major divisions -- poetry and prose -- within which authors were listed alphabetically.
  • No one knows when the library was destroyed
Monastic copying of the Bible during the Dark Ages originated in Ireland with a clearly missionary intent. The books were not to be kept in the monastery but distributed by missionaries. (84)

Protestantism is left-brained whereas Catholicism is right-brained. Protestantism, right from Luther's reliance on the printing press, emphasises the written word over the image. (118)

Thomas Jefferson contributed quite a bit to naturalism and was an early supporter of the Linnaean classification system. He considered it a higher honour to be president of the American Philosophical Society than president of the USA. (161)

Wright makes an impressive connection between the stigmergy in the insect world and links in the WWW. Even prior to the Internet, Bush and Otlet saw the meta-data of links being central to the web of knowledge. As people establish and navigate the associative trails between knowledge chunks, the trails themselves become an interesting item to study (199). I don't think Wright mentions it, but Google's PageRank is doing just that: analysing the stigmergy of hyperlinks.

Criticisms of the WWW:
  • Hyperlinks are uni-directional. It didn't have to be that way, and some predecessors of the Web had naturally bi-directional links. (218, 220)
  • Web browsers are limited to viewing, whereas other proposals would have more naturally balanced viewing and editing (consuming and producing). (228 and earlier) [This editing ability is of course now being retro-fitted via Wikis, blog comments, Google Wave etc.]
  • The Web still carries the legacy of the printed page (229), a woefully inadequate 2-dimensional concept.
Interesting comments on the relationship between post-modernism in literary criticism with Internet publishing (221ff).

On pages 223 and 228, Wright describes modern computing and the Web as profoundly humanist. I don't know what he means by that.

"Twenty years after Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press, a bare handful of people in Germany and France had ever seen a printed boook. Less than 20 years after its invention, the World Wide Web has touched billions." (229)

Like previous advances in information technology, the Internet has triggered a conflict between literacy and orality (231). The Internet is evolving into a mechanism that allows people to express themselves informally and without the constraints of institutions. The result is far more like an oral culture than a written one. That's an important and fascinating idea. I should not only re-read the final chapter a few times, but hunt down Wright's primary source: Ong, W. J., Orality and Literacy, Methuen, 1982.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

A few good YouTube's

Differences in modern media

In a podcast from TED, Clay Shirky makes some interesting points about the distinguishing characteristics of modern media...

"The moment we are living through ... is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history"

Four media revolutions in the past 500 years:
  • Printing press
  • Telegraph and telephone
  • Recorded media other than print: photos, sound, movies
  • Radio and television, in which electromagnetic techniques were harnessed allowing to be sent through the air
In each of these, individual communication is separated from group communication. You either get to communicate 1:1 or 1:M. The Internet is the first media that facilitates M:M.

On the Internet, all forms of media exist side-by-side.

The former "audience" can now use the same medium to publish themselves.

Media is now global, social, ubiquitous and cheap.

The "really crazy change" is not that the former audience can speak back to the publishers, but that they can interact with each other.

The key role of this new media is to convene rather than to control communication.

Clay also discusses a great example of how technology usage in Nigeria inspired similar usage in the USA.