Just reiterating the fact that I know very little about PNG

Referring to this old post. I remember as a kid in the late 90s picking up the phrase ‘sandline’ and maybe ‘bouganville’ in the same place but having no idea what either of those words meant.

In this video an Australian reporter (from the ABC perhaps?) talks to a number of PNG soldiers and one in particular, who is in charge of flying helicopters etc. He’s remarkably aware of his predicament, as a soldier, as his wife if Bouganvillean and he talks about the issue of what he would do if he ever ran into one of her family members.

Also really interesting how well connected this aircraft guy is, very savvy.

Excerpts & commentary on Ian Bogost’s UX talk on ‘fun’

This is the lastest version of a talk that Ian once gave at Macquarie University in 2010 (I think?) talking about some really interesting ideas about what fun actually is, and what we mean and do when we talk about fun. It’s something of a shorthand, a way of telling a story without telling the story, he says.

The first excerpt is from his discussion of the murky origins of the term, and its roots in the practise (?) of ‘fools’ (as in, the satirists and court jesters of feudal times). Here’s Bogost on using ‘fun’ to refer to foolery in this sense:

Fun used to mean a particular kind of jocularity or diversion, and one meant for or done by fools, specifically done by fools.

…Imprudence may characterise one aspect of the fool or the jester, or the trickster, but the flipside of that is actually a kind of commitment. And that may sound strange at first, because we normally oppose indiscretion to commitment… But fools can have their own shrewdness, their own way of approaching things. Instead of toeing the line, instead of maintaining the standard way of things, the fool asks, “What else is possible?”… and then actually caries out that other thing that’s possible, even if it’s outlandish.

And the surprise of foolishness arises form this exploration, rather than being witless, from not knowing what you are doing. The fool finds something new in a familiar situation and then shares it with us.

That description really resonated with me, and with much of what I would call my ‘online practise’ in particular. The question ‘What else is possible?’ is an almost irresistible one for me – and it works itself out in lots of foolish ways: by advocating for revolution and overthrow of capitalism (which Brendan Keogh made fun of me for doing just today!), as well as in my trolling and ‘excessive’ practises on social media that Jason Wilson has talked about at the CSAA conference in Nov 2012, sadly the text to that talk has disappeared from the net along with Jason’s site). And there is a kind of ‘commitment’ to these practises that I keep getting in trouble for… like a foolish tweet/meme I made the other day insinuating that I would try and reclaim the term ‘gulag’ as a superlative (a patently foolish idea! but what else is possible? apparently this! look at the RT’s and fave’s. Why is this even possible, this is so bizzare and foolish…). The commitment is a kind of Zizekian ‘Laibach strategy‘ which is, yes, controversial. I worry about the responses I get for these foolish things, and so I should as a responsible fool, they sometimes cause me to lose sleep. But often I do tread the line between fool and witless, because I don’t often know what I’m doing. In a sense, I suppose that I do – I know that I’m tweeting something outlandish, or jeering something sombre or whathaveyou, but… often times I don’t know what I’m doing in a  kind of considered, conscious, or planned out way. I’m finding something new, but not always in a directed way. In a sense, this is perfectly natural since newness can’t always be ‘thought up’ and must be discovered. But there’s a price to pay for this, I think and it’s not always pleasant. Readers might be surprised to know but I am perpetually terrified of shaming myself, of saying something that is actually witless rather than foolish. Perhaps that’s part of the price of having (this kind of) fun?

Anyway, I thought that’s a fairly useful thing to help me (and others perhaps?) conceptualise my ‘work’ or practise or whatever. Fun is really important to me and what I do, clearly. I have a lot of fun with social media. But what actually is the ‘fun’? Here, again, I think Bogost provides a good account of what “fun” actually is, and why. Bizarrely, rather than the typical conception of fun as a byproduct of experience, he conceives of it as a material property of things:

So along with Merry Poppins, we assume that finding the fun is a task that comes from us, rather than from the thing itself, and we just have to encourage or support that activity… That we have to bring something to the table that makes intolerable things tolerable, or we have to somehow cover over those things so as to make the intolerable things tolerable…what if it’s just the opposite. What if we arrive at fun not by expanding the circumstances we are in, in order to make them less wretched… but by actually embracing the wretchedness of the circumstances themselves. What if, in a literal way, fun comes from impoverishment – from wretchedness.

Again, that makes sense to me, and a lot of the ‘fun’ of, a thing like Flafing on Facebook for instance, is from embracing the wretchedness of the whole thing, and as an activist from the impoverishment of trying to fight back against so much degenerate talk (sexism, homophobia, ignorance and bigotry) with more degenerate talk; more noise and fury and confusion and a further running-into-the-ground of the extremism and blurred lines that come with the ubiquity of Poe’s Law. Bogost goes on to talk about fun as engaging with a structure, and accepting the arbitrariness of things:

…when we’re playing a game, the question we ask is not how to overcome that structure, how to reject it and make it something it’s not, but what it feels like to subject ourselves to it… to take it seriously.

So play turns out not to be an act of diversion, but the work of working a system, or working with it, of interacting with the bits of logic that make it up. And fun is not the effect, it’s not the enjoyment that’s released by the interaction, it’s a kind of nickname for the feeling of operating it. Particularly of operating it in a way we haven’t done before…

I have long had, in the back of my mind at least, the vague notion of fun-as-novelty, I certainly prize that in the games I play and the experiences I have, and Bogost’s account is remarkably amenable to that. But here’s his remarkable conclusion that is a bit otherworldly:

So play is a material property of certain objects like steering columns and language and games. And fun is this sensual quality that emanates from it, when you kind of pet it, when you touch it in just the right way. Fun is like an admiration for the absurd arbitrariness of things. It’s a name for the feeling of deliberately operating a constrained system.

To illustrate that concept, he finishes with the story of Isner and Mahout’s truly epic 2010 tennis final, which went on for three days in a perpetual deadlock. He describes the situation thusly:

Isner and Mahout were there, they contributed to that outcome, they were implicated in it. But they didn’t exactly make it, they didn’t fashion it. And yet neither did the Victorian designers of modern game of lawn tennis, rather Isner and Mahout found something in tennis that nobody had ever found before. Something was preserved in it, sort of durable, even as it was incredibly fragile, it was like finding a fossil at Pompeii. And they coaxed tennis, slowly over 150 years almost, to give up this secret. Because they and those who came before treated it with such ridiculous, absurd respect that the game finally couldn’t help but release this secret. And that’s what fun looks like at its best, when the whole world watches an abstraction give up its secrets.

Videogame journalism and the values we hold

A couple weeks ago I gave a lecture on the history of videogame journalism, which I’ve now uploaded to YouTube for anyone interested in getting my understanding of the trajectory of the practise, mainly from an institutional or structural perspective.

The talk lays out some of the basic history of videogame journalism (in a very broad-strokes way) and attempts to explain some of the reasons why I think videogame culture is the way it is today – and how we’ve ended up with a culture that is so exclusionary. In this respect, I was touching on similar themes to what Steve Swift and Marigold Bartlett would talk about a couple weeks later at Freeplay 2013 (which should be no surprise, since they quote some of my more well known work arguing against these near-meaningless, exclusionary terms like “immersion” and “replayability”).

The first half explores many of the historic forces that shaped videogame magazines, from their roots in tech journalism to argue that videogame journalists have held an incredible amount of influence over the language and framing of how we engage with games. The second half looks at how these forces were shaken up by the internet, talks a bit about the faustian compact between the Press and the Publishers that got worse during this period, and concludes with the New Games Journalism (NGJ) movement which arrived alongside this shift to blogging and the alternative spaces and voices the internet afforded.

I didn’t get into making a really good case in the video for why NGJ is such a good approach, but in the tutorials I taught after giving the lecture, I did a really interesting exercise with my students that I think gets to the heart of why NGJ is so fantastic. I had my students attempt to explain to me what the terms “immersion”, “visceral”, “replayability” and “gameplay” meant as if I were their grandmother, or someone who has never played games before at all. In most cases, students began by trying to nail down an explanation that treated their term as some particular quality the game itself possessed. In my discussion with them, however, we almost invariable ended up concluding that each of the four terms was actually something relational – and a phenomenon created by the confluence of a player and the game.

If there is one thing that NGJ is still vastly better at than the mainstream ‘analytical’ approach (which I still take to be the dominant mode games journalism operates in, though the coordinates of acceptability around this are definitely changing) it is in the recognition that all these words are relational terms. Immersion happens for a player; Replayability is only ever calculable for a particular player; and so on and so forth.

What I didn’t get to mention in the lecture (mostly because I hadn’t quite figured it out myself) was that these terms expose the very values that hold, and establish hierarchies of “more and less replayable games” with (typically) multiplayer and twitch type games at the pinnacle of the “more replayable” (think of the corollary term: “replay value”  – it’s right there in the title). Here’s what Kieron Gillen said years ago in his chronically misread and misunderstood manifesto:

New Games Journalism rejects this, and argues that the worth of a videogame lies not in the game, but in the gamer. What a gamer feels and thinks as this alien construct takes over all their sensory inputs is what’s interesting here, not just the mechanics of how it got there.

The typical reader infers from that that confected emotion and experience is the goal, rather than a clear elucidation of the relational experience between player and game. That’s how I wish I ended the talk.