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by Rob Horning

25 Feb 2009

I’ve mentioned here before that Twitter seems like the perfect advertising medium; it distills all communication to the level of the slogan, making advertising messages fit right in among the messages from our friends and “followers”. For Twitter to make any sense, one has to use it constantly—so it supplies the eyeballs advertisers are after. And since it is liable to be integrated with social media, the stream of ads can be hyperpersonalized so that we end up reading them rather than filtering them out. If you think ads are just useful and timely information about how to satisfy our wants, you are probably relishing this future; if you think that ads make up an insecurity-generating discourse designed to obscure our desires from ourselves, this future is somewhat less appealing.

Anyway, I was surprised to find how many people in the ad business hate it. (But then, any right-thinking person in the ad business generally hates themselves as well.) Consider this post, by ad consultant George Parker. Or this one, titled “Twitter This You Douchenozzles!”

And, via this AdPulp post, these posts by ad exec Bob Hoffman. They are full of extremely entertaining bile and skepticism regarding the transformational potential of Twitter (“It’s how the narcissistic keep in touch with the feckless”) and social media generally, which he recognizes are “inherently anti-social”. Noting the idiocy of Twestivals, at which the attendees “didn’t have the social skills to say hello and instead communicated with each other at the event via Twitter,” Hoffman argues that social media

are telesocial. The prefix ‘tele’ means ‘happening at a distance’—as in television, telegram, telecommunications. Social media are pseudo-personal interactions happening at a distance.

This seems a bit self-evident; really what he is saying is that social media is a form of telecommunication, not a superior replacement for it. The big innovation in this new mode of telecommunication is that it does away with real-time reciprocity.

Hoffman argues that Twitter allows you an ersatz sense of belonging:

I’ve always loved the promise implicit in the magazine Us.
Who is Us?
Brad and Jen and Angelique and Paris and Oprah and Brit and You. Yes, you! You are part of one big connected group of celebrities. Don’t think you’re special or important? Think you’re a pathetic loser? Nonsense! You’re one of Us! Come over here and let me give you a hug. Oh, and while you’re here, that’ll be 4 dollars, please.
Twitter is digital Us.

That seems right, and it fits in with the way online sociality has destroyed our sense of what makes for a realistic scale for our social being. We feel obliged to try to gain recognition on a global scale rather than a local one, and our expectations for that recognition need not be conditioned by any limitations inherent to our geographic community. That sounds like theoretical gobbledy-gook, so let me try to explain that a different way. The appeal of self-broacdasting identity online, of Twittering and being “followed,” is that we can feel like celebrities and imagine the natural audience for our high jinks is the entire world rather than, say, the people who share our household or work with us or live on our block or what have you. This initially seems like a good thing, because it holds out the promise that we can craft communities ideally suited to us online rather than deal with the one we were born into in the physical world. But dealing with the contingencies of that real world may be what allows us to grow into a mature self and set realistic goals and limits and put an end to chronic dissatisfaction and restless yearning for impossibilities. If there were some online/offline balance that was easy to strike, the aggrandizing tendencies of online sociality wouldn’t matter so much, only technological developments seem to be pushing in the direction of supplanting real-world socializing with online self-absorption, exploiting the desire for convenience (not having to deal with other people’s crap) that is perfectly natural when the local community sets inescapable limits on our selfishness, i.e. when we can’t escape a certain amount of dealing wiht other people, but becomes creepy when that limit has been eroded. It’s easier to manage friendships online and treat friends as our fans than it is to make the mundane efforts of actually being friends with them—scheduling time to spend with them and actually being present with them without multitasking.

by Sarah Zupko

24 Feb 2009

One of our favorite bands around these parts, the Avett Brothers, has recently moved over to Columbia Records from North Carolina indie Ramseur. Their new album will release this spring and they’ve got a pretty packed tour schedule coming up (dates below). The Avetts recently joined in the “Hangin’ Out on E Street” to celebrate Bruce Springsteen’s new record and covered the classic “Glory Days”.

TOUR DATES
3/18 Austin, TX Stubb’s Bar-B-Q: NPR SXSW Showcase
3/19 Austin, TX Radio Room – Paste Magazine/Brooklyn Vegan SXSW Party
4/16 Indianapolis, IN The Vogue
4/17 Danville, KY Centre College Carnival
4/18 Chattanooga, TN Tivoli Theatre
4/19 Orange Beach, AL The Warf w/ Widespread Panic
4/22 Raleigh, NC TWC Music Pavilion w/ Dave Matthews Band
4/24 Charlotte, NC Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre w/ Dave Matthews Band
4/25 Birmingham, AL Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark
4/26 New Orleans, LA New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival @ Fair Grounds Race Course
4/28 Alpharetta, GA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park w/ Dave Matthews Band
4/29 Alpharetta, GA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park w/ Dave Matthews Band
5/1 The Woodlands, TX The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion w/ Dave Matthews Band
5/2 Dallas, TX Superpages.com Center w/ Dave Matthews Band
5/5 Albuquerque, NM Journal Pavilion w/ Dave Matthews Band
5/6 Phoenix, AZ Cricket Wireless Pavilion w/ Dave Matthew Bands
5/7 Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatre
5/9 Los Angeles, CA Henry Fonda Theatre
5/10 Solana Beach, CA Belly Up Tavern
5/12 Hanford, CA Hanford Fox Theatre
5/14 Santa Cruz, CA Rio Theatre
5/15 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
5/16 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
5/22 Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom
5/23 Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom
5/24 George, WA Sasquatch! Music Festival
5/30 Philadelphia, PA Trocadero Theatre
9/4 Camp Mather, CA Strawberry Music Festival

by L.B. Jeffries

24 Feb 2009

One of the inevitabilities of doing critiques of video games is encountering a game that has an interesting design but dull story or good story but bad design. In the former’s case, it’s not really necessary to finish the game because after a few hours you’ll have learned the gist of the system. So I’m going to be frank and admit that I didn’t finish The Thing, but saw a lot of interesting ideas going on. I ended up quitting at about the same point as Alec Meer in his retrospective piece at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.  After the tenth time of doing the same 20 minute battle only to fall off a piece of scaffolding and start over, I’d had enough. A brutally distant save point system combined with too many awkward insta-kill puzzles resulted in a game that was too tedious. The plot itself is what would happen if you took the script of Aliens and swapped out all the words with ones from The Thing. Minus the interesting female lead, motherhood overtones, and space travel. But, beyond all of that, there is a very interesting squad game design along with an excellent illustration of misusing cutscenes.

Like any survival horror game, this is a system of managing finite resources. Going outside drains your stamina, meaning you can only be out for a certain period before you start to freeze to death. Ammo and health packs are often in short supply while enemies are in abundance. What gets added to this mix is squad mates who each have a specific job. One is a glorified key card (they’re the only ones who can fix certain electric panels), another is an unlimited source of health, and the third is an extra gun. What’s interesting is that your squads have both a trust and sanity bar. Most people you meet will think you’ve been infected by the alien (and thus under its control) so you have a variety of ways to earn their trust. What’s interesting is that all of these involve sacrificing resources. You can give them a gun, heal them, etc. This trust can also be lost if you accidentally shoot them, hide from a fight, or just ditch them. No trust means they don’t accept orders, and in the case of the medic or engineer you often need them to. The catch is that anyone you come in contact with may also be infected by the Thing. So when you’re handing over health kits to keep a squad mate alive, you might find out a few minutes later that the whole thing was a giant waste. This is a perfect example of a game design using two conflicting needs to create tension. On the one hand, you can always use an extra gunner and the medic is obviously handy. On the other hand, they are eventually going to get infected and turn on you. You can get your ammo and gun back from the corpse after you kill them, but the much rarer health kits will be long gone. Making that choice adds an unexpectedly unique kind of resource management to the game. The game does destroy the replayability of this feature by making the infections linear. The people in your party will either die or cross an invisible line and instantly become infected. There is no keeping them intact after a certain point, making it possible to maximize resources when such an ability shouldn’t exist.

 

Another interesting thing about the squad game design is the sanity meter. Whereas the average player may be quite desensitized to gore and swarms of aliens coming after them, the AI of your squadmates is not. Walk by a shredded corpse and someone on your team might vomit. Leave them in the blood filled room with human entrails and their fear will spike up. They typically tend to be less responsive to orders and less able to handle their weapons when they are frightened as well. If they get scared enough they’ll either curl into a ball crying or worse, shoot themselves. What’s remarkable about this is that the system forces the player to be aware of all the violence and gore. Most research into how games desensitize people is fairly suspect, but the more probable reason the player gets desensitized is that they are seeing the same death scenes and visuals repeatedly. To someone whose never played GTA IV, watching someone screw around with a rocket launcher might seem horrific. To that player, it’s just the same reaction they’ve seen dozens of times. Preventing that desensitization from happening, that tuning out of the game’s themes and focusing purely on victory, is a laudable goal. Every time the player notices a squad mate freaking out, looks around, and thinks “Hey, This is pretty gross”, that player is dragged back into the experience. Every time I’m getting swarmed by enemies and one of my squadmate wets their pants (this will happen) I’m reminded of how crazy the whole situation has become. Finding a new way for the game design to communicate what the plot is telling me is a remarkable accomplishment for any game.

The game suffers from a classic case of ‘I wish I was a movie’, and you get this sense from the constant barrage of cut scenes that aren’t induced by player input. Mixing cutscenes with a game is a tricky work because they always need to be voluntary, never an interruption. Given the intense difficulty the design creates, there’s no need to turn it into a cutscene every time I see someone that wants to talk. The player probably going to be willing to hear them out just to get their help. Since they don’t resemble any of the other enemies, you’re not going to accidentally shoot them like in a game full of humans. The trust meter will also deter this kind of conduct since accidentally shooting another person means they won’t take orders. If the game has to keep taking control away from the player because they don’t care what people are saying, that’s a foundational problem with the design, not an excuse to force something on the player. Any incentive to obey a game’s plot is always going to seem artificial when you look at it purely from the design perspective. You can’t let the engineer die because you need him to open a locked door. You need health so you need the medic. The motivation isn’t the much pleasanter “I can’t let him die because he’s a fellow human being” that the plot is conveying, but is that really a flaw? Every good story has basic rules of conduct and morality governing it. A system of rules is not going to generate an emotion by itself anymore than the Penal Code of your home country is going to make you love everyone because murder means going to jail. The rules establishe a mode of conduct that you cannot engage in without consequences, the people you meet and personally enjoy are what generates the higher emotions of concern. That’s how the plot/art/sound and game design interact, the design is the skeleton, the rest is the flesh & blood that gives it life. The cookie cutter plot, parade of grizzled soldiers, and the generic plot twists make The Thing do little for this idea of games. Its skeleton, however, is quite a remarkable piece of work.

by Mike Deane

24 Feb 2009

When I first head Secretly Canadian’s re-release of the second Zero Boys album, History Of I was not blown away.  I thought it was OK, but I’m no ‘80s hardcore completist, and for me it sounded like a mix of early Black Flag, DOA, and a less playful Descendents. That’s the problem with ‘80s hardcore and punk releases; a lot of the time they don’t stand up musically to the more popular bands of the time. 

For every Minor Threat there were a thousand lesser hardcore groups that have been forgotten, and for most of them it’s probably best that they’re not remembered. Though there’s the mind frame with record collectors and DIY historians that the forgotten are the most important, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the music is most important, but as historical artifacts there’s a lot to learn from these forgotten bands.

Craig Finn of the Hold Steady illustrates this point amazingly well in his article for the Guardian—where he talks about the importance that the Zero Boys held for him as a Midwestern hardcore fan in the ‘80s.

Taken from newsday.com

Taken from newsday.com

Finn really paints a picture of what it’s like to be an ‘80s Midwestern punk fan, and all the excitement that went along with the burgeoning hardcore scene.  Finn also clearly illustrates the necessary progression of punk fans and how it’s inevitably detrimental to the scene.

After reading Finn’s article, one can understand the cultural importance of the forgotten, even if it seems they’re a copy of the more popular bands of the time. Not to say Zero Boys fall into this category—they’re competent at what they do and the lyrics and intensity really shine a light on ‘80s Midwestern malaise. Though they’re not the best hardcore band of the time, they stand out as Midwestern trailblazers and Finn’s article will make you understand their importance. This article is a must read for all hardcore/punk fans, all that were raised in the middle of nowhere, all the punk fans that grew up and got disillusioned, and everyone that considered punk rock the only music as a teen but felt alienated by it as a young adult.

by Jason Gross

24 Feb 2009

As the hopeful monopoly of Ticketmaster/Live Nation approaches Washington for approval, Hitsville has gathered together a good list of questions that Congress should ask them.  Whether they do get grilled this way as they should is up to our Senate reps.  If you’d like to suggest that they do ask T/LN about these important issues, feel free to contact your reps right here (the upper right corner has a drop-down box that says “Find Your Senator”).

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