Latest Blog Posts

by tjmHolden

14 Jun 2008



As you may recall, my last post took up the matter of lifestyle. For those of you who didn’t read it, can’t recall what it said, or are always looking for the easy way out, let’s review . . . lifestyle was held out to be akin to culture, only with more attitude. That’s because it isn’t something we simply assume and let wash over us; it has to be recognized, contemplated, and intentionality engaged. Like culture, though, lifestyle can be located anywhere and comes in multiple manifestations—often in the same place. In the last post, a list of Southern California possibilities was provided, but homed in on the beach. That was fun—at least for me; refreshing, and it put a little color on my cheeks, too. I don’t know how it was for you, but that really doesn’t matter now because I am about to touch upon a second lifestyle pursuit. Unless you are a porpoise (or even if you are since they are purportedly smarter than the average human being) you can probably infer what I’m going to talk about, based on the pictures above.

Yup: baseball.

Maybe that word alone carries clout sufficient to induce half of you to immediately stop reading, but wait, take heart: this post isn’t really about baseball, at all. It is actually about existence (and not just because for some, the latter is predicated on the former). So now I know you’ll want to keep reading; for who among (the non-suicidal of) us isn’t interested in existence. Right?


by Jason Gross

13 Jun 2008

“The Pied Piper of R&B” is off the hook in his trial but Jim DeRogatis has good reason to fear for his own freedom in the trial, as detailed well in this Chicago Reader story about the case and his involvement.  It turns out that despite the court’s assurances, taking the 5th was a wise move in the murky waters of the legal matters involved.  Other writers/reporters, and not just in the music field, can rest easy for now that he handled things so deftly.  Rest assured, when another high profile case comes up and some high-paid lawyers grill another writer, the outcome might not be so peachy-creamy.

by Rob Horning

13 Jun 2008

At Cato Unbound (an internet publication of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank), Rasmus Fleischer presents what seems to me some irrefutable facts about the troubled future for intellectual property rights in this essay and presents libertarianism in what seems to me to be its most favorable light—arguing against the consolidation of state and corporate power in favor of the creative use of technology by individuals. The sort of freedom to which the internet accustoms us—of access and association—seems to mesh well with libertarian concerns. A platform built not on gun love, tax hatred, and Ayn Randian überselfishness, but rather on a commitment to an agnostic internet, protecting individuals’ ability to use technology (the means of production in the information age), and enabling spontaneous organizations to meet needs as they emerge seems to have great potential appeal to a new generation of voters who think in terms of always being online, and always networking at several levels of intimacy at once with a variety of privacy needs to protect.

Anyway, detailing the technological arms race between the copyright industries and pirates, Fleischer foresees “an escalation of technology regulations running out of control and ruining civil liberties” as governments try to control the use and distribution of digital content. “Every broken regulation brings a cry for at least one new regulation even more sweepingly worded than the last.” The culture industries want to preserve economic advantage by maintaining an artificial scarcity of their goods enforced by the intervening power of the state. But as Fleischer points out,

We already have access to more film, music, text and images than we can possibly incorporate into our lives. Retreating from this paradigm of abundance to the old paradigm of scarcity is simply not an alternative. Adding more “content” will strictly speaking produce no value — whether culturally or economically. What’s valuable is supplying a context where people can come together to create meaning out of abundance.

No matter how draconian efforts to protect content on the internet become, no matter how onerous the burden placed on ISPs to regulate users’ activity, they are futile in the face of the “sneakernet”—the ability of someone to walk over to your place with, say, a hard drive containing all the recorded music from a decade.

Within 10-15 years a cheap pocket-size media player will probably be able to store all recorded music that has ever been released — ready for direct copying to another person’s device.
In other words: The sneakernet will come back if needed. “I believe this is a ‘wild card’ that most people in the music industry are not seeing at all,” writes Swedish filesharing researcher Daniel Johansson. “When music fans can say, ‘I have all the music from 1950-2010, do you want a copy?’ — what kind of business models will be viable in such a reality?”

It seems to me the model is to figure out a way to sell the limitations the copyright industries are trying to impose by fiat. When confronted with overwhelming options, people need them edited down. The personal entertainment budget was once the filter, but that is rapidly becoming negligible. Fleischman’s conclusion, though, is apt:

Creative practices, with some exceptions, thrive in economies where digital abundance is connected to scarce qualities in space and time. But there can never be a question of finding one universal business model for a world without copyright. The more urgent question regards what price we will have to pay for upholding the phantasm of universal copyright.

by L.B. Jeffries

12 Jun 2008

You call yourself free? I want to hear your ruling thought, and not that you have escaped from a yoke.

Are you one of those entitled to escape from a yoke? There are many who cast away their final worth when they cast away their servitude.

Free from what? What does that matter! But your eye should clearly show me: free for what?
      - Thus Spoke Zarathustra

I. Introduction and Basic Concepts
What makes a video game different from a movie or a book? Player input. What controls the player input? The game design. What gives meaning to the player input? The plot or backstory. All three need to adjust to a game’s purpose and be judged by their relationship together, not just one or the other.

II. Evaluating Game Design
The most objective gauge of depth in game design would be the number of options it gives a player. A deep game takes a lot more work and can end up only being enjoyed by an elite few. A shallow game needs either a deep story or friends over to pick up the slack. Deep game design should not be considered an inherently good or bad attribute of a game in a proper critical assessment.

III. Evaluating Game Plot
The plot of a game is the part of it you cannot change: backstory, who you’re friends with, etc. Judging a game’s plot boils down to assessing what the designer’s force you to experience and its overall merits. If you cut a player totally free, the game experience will lead towards self-fulfillment. If you shove too many awful experiences on the gamer, the game might be too dark and unpleasant to justify the experience. In either case, it depends on the game.

IV. Evaluating Player-Input
The player input is your connection with the game, your means of interaction, and this piece focuses on the silent protagonist method. A connection with a game requires two elements: you interacting and the game giving you feedback. You’re both actor and audience in a video game. Judging the player input is judging how well a video game establishes and maintains this two-way connection.

V. Four Forms of Video Games
It’s becoming nonsensical to identify a game solely by its design. We should instead identify them by which element is dominate in the game experience. The other two elements still exist in varying degrees, but one factor controls the others.

First Person - The Player Input is dominant. You control both plot and how you play the game. These generally tend to be RPG’s like Mass Effect.

Second Person - The Game Design is dominant. You win the game according to its rules and not by what you or the plot dictate. Peggle is a better example than the one I used in the essay.

Third Person - The Plot is dominant. All of your actions and choices are based on the story and have meaning within it. Zelda and countless others are good examples.

Fourth Person - The three elements balance out. No one element has complete control. A lot of RTS games and some open world games develop this out, like Starcraft.

VI. Exceptions to the Four Forms
These are in no way inferior to any other type of game, we’re just distinguishing their elements and what they consist of.

Simulation - A game without a plot. A game doesn’t have a plot if it doesn’t have an ending. Think Sim City.

Interactive Ficton - A game without any game design. A game doesn’t have a game design if there are zero options for the player besides the one that progresses it.

VII. Application of the New Approach
Three examples of how to approach a game in terms of the experience rather than one individual aspect. The key is to see what kind of experience the game is attempting to create and how all of the elements work towards that goal.

VIII. Factions of Gaming
The terms casual, hardcore, or ex-core are not really consumer groups, they’re philosophies about the purpose of video games. Casual players think a game should be fun. Hardcore think a game should be replayable and ex-core think the experience is what’s important. All 3 views have serious flaws. I probably would’ve been better off calling them something else, a lot of interesting stuff happens in the comments on this one. The point was to criticize the philosophies, not the groups.

IX. Flaws in Criticism Today
The culture of reviews is not the same thing as critically analyzing a game. Making jokes is fine but try to remember they still need to make a point. Most importantly of all, don’t create a bunch of pre-defined rules that inhibit people from experimenting or discovering new games. We need to give good feedback and proper explanations to reviewers so that games can get better.

X. Evaluating Game Experiences
Looking at a game experience means evaluating how the game allows you to express yourself in an experience. We have to ask ourselves what that experience is for and how can it best be used.

by Bill Gibron

12 Jun 2008

Feel that heat? Summer is really starting to fire up. For 13 June, here are the films in focus:

The Incredible Hulk [rating: 7]

It has to be said that one of the most “incredible” things about this so-called reinvention of the Hulk is how close it is to Ang Lee’s vision.

When Marvel made the decision to take over the “creative direction” of the big screen adaptations of their characters, geek nation remained skeptical. After all, just because the company knows comic books doesn’t mean it understands the cinematic translations of same. Luckily, Iron Man has quelled a great many of those fears. It stands as Summer 2008’s greatest surprise. Now, hot on the heels of that success comes the reboot of the Incredible Hulk. Yes, Ang Lee already made this movie five years ago, but none except a few clued in critics enjoyed its psychologically-oriented narrative. No, what devotees wanted was a big green giant (and accompanying action “smashing”) they could comprehend and champion. This time around, they more or less got their wish. read full review…

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* [rating: 9]

...if anyone wants to have a serious discussion about the entire supplement situation, this excellent film is a good place to start.

Steroids - the word alone strikes fear in the hearts of sports fans and athletes alike. Thirty years ago, the anabolic hormone replacement therapy was a common, under the counter practice. Everyone from bodybuilders to professional football players hit the ‘juice’ as a means of getting bigger, training harder, and repairing physical damage faster. Such notable superstars as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan admitted to using the substance to gain that all important competitive advantage over others. But somewhere along the last three decades, steroids stopped being subterranean cool. They went from an accepted unspoken supplement to international pariah. In his masterful, sly documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, former power lifter Chris Bell discusses when he thinks the perception changed, and how little change such renewed awareness has actually brought about. read full review…

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired [rating: 9]

Roman Polanski deserves his badge of dishonor, no question about it. This amazing documentary argues that others need to start sporting one as well.

Ask any casual film fan about Roman Polanski, the brilliant Polish moviemaker responsible for ‘70s classics like Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, and you’re likely to get the following response: “Wasn’t he the guy who raped that girl and then ran off to Europe to avoid prosecution?” Indeed, eight years to the day that his beautiful wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in the Helter Skelter rampage of Charlie Manson and his family, the director was to be placed on trial for the seduction, drugging, and ‘he said/she said’ sexual encounter with a 13 year old girl. At the time, it was a true tabloid sensation, a circus wrapped inside the most sizzling of scandals. Today, it’s a story relegated to the above-mentioned gross overgeneralization. Thanks to Marina Zenovich’s brilliant new documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, the closest thing to the truth finally gets a much needed airing. read full review…

Other Releases—In Brief

The Happening [rating: 2]

Newsweek Magazine must still be smarting. Back in 2002, as Signs was gearing up for its box office assault, the publication called M. Night Shyamalan “The Next Spielberg”. Aside from the bald audacity of such a claim, the Indian born filmmaker had only made three films previous. Sure, The Sixth Sense was very good, and Unbreakable perhaps even better, but even the writer/director dismissed his first feature film, Wide Awake, as a failure. Still, many found the periodical’s claim to have some minor merit. With what he had accomplished in such a short time, Shyamalan looked like the real deal. Now he looks like garbage.The Happeningis destined to go down as either the kitschiest camp trick ever played on an audience by a former A-list filmmaker, or the last gasp in a career downward spiral so massive that Trent Reznor would be jealous. It takes a bad b-movie ideal, dresses it up in fancy framing and composition, and asks us to believe in its Bert I. Gordon goofiness. Even worse, it doesn’t appear that Shyamalan is simply having a laugh. Pre-publicity has commented on how the director is excited to give fans his first “R-rated” horror film. In interviews, he seems to genuinely believe that this will be a solid scarefest. Clearly, Lady in the Water wasn’t the only delusion this non-autuer suffered from.

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