From a paper on Org Com and Facebook monitoring

For a course on Organizational Communication I took last semester, I engaged with the organizational structure of GameStop, the primary physical game sales organization in the United States. For this paper, I looked at both horizontal and vertical integration on their part, in terms of press ownership (in line with some gamergate arguments, I know), flash distribution ownership (on the site Kongregate.com, one of the two most prominent flash sites online), and Facebook page posts. I was interested in how game culture forms in these online sites, how that is tied to game culture and legitimization of exclusion in game spaces, and how economics plays into the establishment of control in the very Deleuzian-sense covered in the readings for this week.

Something I found, and something that I think is tied intimately to control in gaming culture, was a lack of editing on the Facebook posts. Moderation was lacking in both senses of the word. One image, which I can no longer find, was buried in a primary post by GameStop. It was a comic that showed a man killing a woman’s child, then taking her as a prize, as if he’d finished a “quest.” Now, this was a common type of posting, but I was more interested in the fact that it was not only not removed, but it was a prominent post, with likes and comments attached.

If control is about managing modulation based on the ability to predict it, then in this case, the lack of censorship by GameStop indicates both an ability to predict and a sense that this kind of posting is okay. When a major organization is able to control what is okay or not in a culture, even with this implicit acceptance of violence against women, the result has to be negative. This is despite the fact that I was not surprised, nor would I think anyone reading this would be surprised by that vein of conversation. We can see what will happen in these conversations before they start.

So what happens when these communities break from what is expected, when people deliver death threats to individuals like Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn? At this point, I would say such this are totally expected, but there was a point where they were not. The control structures we are discussing have to include the capacity to wrap up unintended consequences and treat them as intended, to recapture outbursts that, however negative, are by their nature trying to defy expectations.

So how do we actually do something productive? Do we break completely from the illusory online/offline dualist construction, such as in the case of the Arab Spring? If so, can we maintain the momentum, or will it lag and eventually be recaptured again? How do we promote these Deleuzian “satori moments,” the lines of flight that let us actually do something?

Bennett, Kittler, physics and video games

I’m back, and this time I want to take a trip down video game memory lane.

http://metro.co.uk/2015/11/08/the-legendary-nintendo-playstation-does-exist-and-it-was-bought-for-a-ridiculous-price-5487909/

This is a story about an early prototype developed between Sony and Nintendo, for a cd-drive add on to the SNES. Some estimates on the value of this little system put prices approaching $50,000, because of both its rarity and the role it played in the marketing decisions of Sony, Nintendo, Sega and Microsoft in dealing with their video game markets.

Nintendo and Sony had a falling out during its development, so Sony decided to develop the PlayStation and compete directly with Nintendo. Nintendo was turned off of the idea of using CDs after this project fell through, so they stuck with cartridges in building their next system, the N64. Microsoft smelled blood in the water after Sony “won” the subsequent generation, so they moved in with the Xbox. Sega did too, and moved to be a first actor in competition with their Dreamcast, which yielded both online multiplayer and the death of Sega as a console actor. All because of a dispute started in the early 90s, born from an attempt to make CDs the dominant medium.

Now, when Bennett talks about thing-power as a Spinozan concept, she is trying to break down some of the human-centric ideas we have about our positions in our day to day lives. I want to take this chance to talk about the cartridges used for the N64. The decision to keep carts was explained as a durability concern and as a consideration of the primary user base for video games, children. CDs are fragile, and carts would stand up to the wear and tear of daily use. Now, if one ventures to a hobby shop, you can see more carts still in circulation, while CDs from the PlayStation or the Sega Saturn are rarer. The carts have a longer life span. In the case of the Dreamcast, while the console itself died, an add on is currently used in chip tune production, even though similar add ons existed for different consoles at the time.

Nostalgia is an enormous factor in video game influence, both when they are living their first life and when they are in their “afterlives.” When Kittler talked about the divide between hardware and software as spurious, this is where my mind went immediately. The N64 had severe limitations graphically because of the cart platform, which simply could not hold as much information. Nintendo thus privileged that information, making their primary focus gameplay. Even now, the idea behind Nintendo development is gameplay and replayability, in contrast to the third-party development that characterizes the now-PS4 and Xbox One. While there were humans involved in the entire process, their conflicts and “poor” marketing decisions are wrapped up in the hidden unity between hardware and software characterized by carts versus a CD. These little things hold sway in rap sampling (see Wiz Kalifa’s “Never Been, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mEqpVQEV7zo), which leads to more questions about privilege and gaming history (also see the prevalence of fighting game cabinets south of the United States and its influence on the fighting game community).

Nostalgia and the thing-power of these platforms. Ownership and control over the data. Its use, reuse and recapture to produce, to influence and cause affect. No wonder that this relic of the early 90s would be worth so much. What can we expect to see in the “afterlife” of our current games?

Video Game AI and linearity

When Manovich brought up A.I. in looking at video games, especially in reference to Quake and Command & Conquer, I made a mental link to current “new media” practice in the realm of esports, namely the current League of Legends world championship.

For those who don’t follow the game, League of Legends is a MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena. While there is some computer play in the game even at this top level, it is subordinate to the play by humans. Each human player selects a champion, or avatar, and uses this champion in connection with A.I. based map structures and monsters in order to win map objectives. Each player selects a champion and  a role based on outside-game meta-analysis, then competes in the game alongside simple A.I. minions to defend A.I. turrets and take A.I. driven objectives. However, all of these concurrently-running constructs are filling the same roles suggested by Manovich, subordinate ones to the players in a competition about the players.

In contrast to this top-level play, introductory games are played by competing against A.I. controlled champions, in a callback to other games. Rule sets can be learned and practiced by playing “comp stomp” games, games where the A.I. is supposed to take it easy on players and not be too competitive. This was a hallmark of other strategy games, such as Starcraft, which means it is a hallmark of the origins of esports itself.

My point here is simple. These games are generally supporting the idea that an in-game A.I. is inherently subordinate to the role that human responsiveness, planning and skill plays in building games. This is critical to game construction, and frequently the most difficult versions of A.I. built in these games support it further (look no further than the “rubber band” effect seen in fighting games, or the advantages to computer players given in strategy games like Civilization that human players cannot enjoy). We build these structures to make us feel better at the games, because these digital things are still not as good at us at playing digital games. Even Deep Blue is at the point where people are learning how to beat it, how to ensure human dominance over our machines.

Isn’t this a contrast with how our search engines operate, with how our information is organized and stored? The Kittler piece alone demonstrates how much goes into our computing that we don’t know, that we have agreed we don’t need to know about the machines that we use daily. What better way to reify that divide than to “win” over our games on a regular basis.

Podcast and ham radio

I have to apologize for being late to post this week, though it’s for an oddly fitting reason. I’ve been wrapped up in listening to a podcast story, The Black Tapes Podcast, found at http://www.theblacktapespodcast.com

The best way to quickly describe this podcast is reality-grounded NPR style, used to tell a slightly Lovecraftian story with a healthy dash of Mulder and Scully. Of course, this was directly in my wheelhouse, but I think the way this story took hold of me, and the mysteriousness surrounding its construction, is of particular relevance when considering ether, as was discussed by Czitrom in The Etherial Hearth.

As he discussed, this ether concept was wrapped up in the development of radio broadcast technology, and the tying of the concept to the medium revealed to me something I had not considered before, that is, the cultural associations we have between radio and the mysterious or the not-quite-human, this idea that a vague other is connected to radio and its inherent power. In tracing the economic development of the radio, Czitrom suggests that this power was recognized and captured for advertising purposes, at the same time that ham radio enthusiasts resisted that pull.

I have to to wonder about the advent of podcasts like this one, which utilizes many of the tropes of radio drama in telling its story, and is produced by a small team which reminded me of those amateur groups. While the is backed by NPR, there was an evoking of this amateurism as used in the story itself, and the result is maybe more effective because of the big-brother ties.

Can amateur radio be an effective tool in this way? I know a good many podcasts tend toward the serious, but the user base is growing, and sponsorship through the apparatus that was taken by the federal government isn’t necessary for all of them. Thoughts?

Copyright and beta testing

It may be no surprise that even the title of this work, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” drew my focus this week. Benjamin was already of a particular interest, and one of the issues he discusses is one that modern media engagement focuses on more than he might have ever thought.

The song “Happy Birthday” has just entered public domain due to an early draft being discovered and verified. This lengthy ownership span is in fact due to the films that were in production at the time of Benjamin’s writing, which is something we all have some knowledge about. What Benjamin doesn’t here discuss is that control over reproducibility is one of the defining characteristics of 20th century artistic expression, and that control has bled through into business and medicine. Of course, resistance comes in the ability for us to, say, buy prescriptions from Canada or illegally download or stream digital content, but these require operation outside the law. The famous “you wouldn’t download a car” comes to mind, with the response I’ve heard many times, “if I could, I would.”

For me, the question is what does it look like when our ability to reproduce and remix the media we have comes to the forefront? In gaming contexts, Let’s Play recordings are a growing means of play, and the current League of Legends world championship wouldn’t be possible if not for players changing the rules in a modified Warcraft 3 or Starcraft game type, which resulted in the explosion of MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games. The impulse to express and create, then share, is strong enough that creative productive games are more popular than ever, and independent studios use new platforms like smartphones to generate game types that otherwise never would have existed. At the same time, new blockbuster games are released incomplete, with the understanding that the standard development cycle will extend well past initial release dates. Interaction with the user base has extend beyond a transaction, if a game is to be more than a flash in the pan. Is consumption now implicitly also a part of production for these games, and if so what will the impact be in the next generation of games?

McLuhan and the Internet

In rereading McLuhan here, a thought crossed my mind in connection with the reading we’re doing for 702 from Hayles.

If the medium is the message, what does the Internet say, and what does its use do to us, especially as we cross different platforms to use it? After all, our use changes when we go from computer platforms (browsers) to mobile ones (apps), despite that the content is frequently the same. In fact, our app use tends to be tied to microtransactions, which led me to think about video games.

Monetization across different platforms in video games has changed drastically as our capacity for faster data transmission built. Higher speeds yielded multiplayer focus, and new design and output platforms like Flash and Unity developed specifically for use in browsers, but were then excluded for mobile platforms. The differences we see crossing these platforms are even spelled out in the monetization available to them, as well as the larger organizations that can take advantage of that monetization (wireless carriers with GPS games, distribution platforms like Steam for independent games, and clearing houses for older game optimization like Good Old Games).

What does the medium of the Internet serve as, then, in this construction? Attention seems like one option, like the Internet serves to get us looking at different media as the mood takes us. I think access, and the monetization of that access, is another way to approach here.

What is the easiest way to reach a possible customer right now? An Internet advertisement. There is no guarantee that he or she will click an ad, but the Internet means that he or she suddenly becomes a potential customer, where before the Internet there were significant other boundaries to learning about a game or another product. I collected magazines for years to keep a database of games to play or try until the Internet took over that role. Years of “work” collapsed into a database generated by a range of users who were already doing the same thing as me. Suddenly, someone who had only played fighting games saw the crossover in different genres and maybe picked up a game like Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball.

Where before a captive consumer had to buy certain games without review or background, Internet access meant that a person could assume some semblance of control over his or her buying process. How many times have we heard or seen a player disappointed that this game a family member bought was awful, and now mom or dad can google the game instead?

What does this mean, though ? Maybe it means that parents can treat game research like they do now in many cases, as something that matters less because it’s easy to look up later, and kids get access to games like the Grand Theft Auto series. Maybe this is something like Joe Camel, an appeal by these games to youth when kids are supposedly not even supposed to care about these games meant for adults. Or maybe that old message, that kids will not care about adult things, gets to be redelivered even though we all know how bunk the message is.