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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
The average professor spends the summer revising syllabi and maybe teaching a class or two. Kenneth Goldsmith spent his printing out the Internet.

The average professor spends the summer revising syllabi, planning future courses, maybe teaching a summer class or two. With some luck, there‚Äôs time for a vacation. Artist and MOMA poet laureate Kenneth Goldsmith most recently spent his carrying out a conceptual art piece that entailed printing out the entire Internet—or as much of it that fans and admirers mailed from around the world to his 500 square-meter art space in Mexico City. That includes everything that appears, or has appeared, anywhere on the Internet—Facebook photos, news articles, pornography, dating profiles, and literally anything else.


Several months ago, we spoke with Goldsmith via email about the impetus for the entirely unprecedented exhibit and how it looked in practice.


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Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Bit.Trip Runner and other downloadable games are creating aesthetically novel experiences that defy the stereotype of the unoriginal casual game.

Over the past sixty years, poetry has developed a reputation among high school students for stodginess, complexity, and mechanical twists and turns that only the most hallowed of literary minds could hope to understand, much less care about. I have learned this not only from my own experiences as a high school student long, long ago but from my current students, who I teach in my life outside of blog writing. Poetry is boring and laden with an air of inaccessible mystery, they tell me. This, I tell them in return, is how much of the populace views World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. Video games, like poetry, are often inaccessible to the lay person unfamiliar with a sixteen-button controller. Their power and novelty are lost behind an iron curtain composed of technical skills and erudite understandings beyond the grasp of the outsider.


When I teach poetry, then, I try not to get caught up in the mechanics—at least not at first. I try to imbue the reading of poetry with a sense of novelty, with the idea that these are not incomprehensible puzzles created by some Kafka-esque madman to drive fourteen year olds insane. More, they are bits of thought and feeling, slivers of experience and reflection, carefully arranged to create in the reader a sensation, to translate feelings from person to person. We watch YouTube videos and short scenes from My Neighbor Totoro and I ask them, is this not a poem as well? A small bit of emotion that is here to convey to you some undefined—yet clearly felt—experience.


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Tuesday, Apr 17, 2012
Casual games are supposed to be fun, but do they actually produce more anxiety than pleasure?

I just deleted Temple Run from my phone. Not because the game is bad—far from it. Rather, I deleted it because it is perhaps the most maddeningly addictive piece of software that I have ever encountered. I would walk down the street staring into the screen, in the process bumping into people, stepping on cats, falling down stairwells, and yet still continuing to play. The premise of Temple Run is that you are an Indiana Jones-like character speeding away from what looks to be a pack of wild apes through a maze of ancient temple ruins. Along the way, you tilt the phone to collect coins and swipe left, right, or up to turn and jump.


While Temple Run is a “casual game,” it’s not a terribly casual experience to play it. Every moment requires your absolute attention. There are turns every second or so, and you must angle the character just so in order to collect coins. One second of inattention and – BAM – you’ve run off track and into a tree. After a month or so of non-stop temple running, I started to realize that the game was taking over my life in subtle and problematic ways. I would take a break from work and come back more stressed than when I had started. I would fire up the game every time I had a free 30 seconds, playing on the elevator, while cooking, while walking to the bathroom. As the anxiety and addiction melded and became more obvious, I started to question why I was even playing at all.


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Tuesday, Apr 3, 2012
"Is this a sequel to Braid? Or that other game with the kid in the dark?"

“Is this a sequel to Braid? Or that other game with the kid in the dark?” As I fired up Eyebrow Interactive’s new PSN side-scroller Closure  the other day, my girlfriend was a bit confused and with good reason. Despite coming from a new developer, it borrows aesthetically from Limbo, and it plays at least a bit like Braid. To give some background: Closure  is a 2D, black and white platformer with a philosophical twist—the only part of the world that exists is the part that you can see—and most of this world is covered in darkness. You move through the game world via small lamps and spotlights that you must manipulate in order to get beyond the clever puzzles.


From my initial impressions of it, it is clear that the folks who made Closure[ have a lot of talent and ambition, both in terms of artistic style and level design. What gets to me a bit, however, is the feeling of utter familiarity. To play Closure is to feel the sensation of playing a thousand games converging on each other simultaneously.  It’s not just this one game though. The problems of Closure are emblematic of the stagnant state of 2D indie platformers as a whole.


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Tuesday, Mar 20, 2012
Journey is a significant milestone for video games, and I suspect that I’m not alone in celebrating it as a success and maybe even as a paradigm for video game artistry.

When I was a kid, I would dream about driving around an endless road map of streets paved like Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart. Just cruise around on rainbow turnpikes, drive under rainbow overpasses, cross over rainbow bridges. Not for any real purpose, just for the experience. Rainbow Road really was a fantastic course, wasn’t it? If not for all of the turtle shell battling and frantic tingy-tangy Nintendo music, it would be like some wonderful surrealist dream. Since I was a kid, I wanted a video game like that. Cruis’n Rainbow Road or maybe just The Game Where You Soar Through Space on a Go-Kart. I wanted to travel without purpose, to have the experience. Just to have the experience.


Twenty years later, I think I may have found a contender. It’s not a driving game, but it still gets the feeling right. I’m talking about thatgamecompany’s Journey. I’m not going to go into detail about the content of the game or tell you to go buy it right away. There are plenty of reviews that already do  that. And besides, this isn’t a review. I’d like to discuss why I think Journey is so important as a game and as a work of art.


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