Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Thursday, Sep 30, 2010
Paradoxically, the same dissociating effect of observing the real world through a camera's lens tends to envelop and immerse players in a game world.

There is a curious and complex relationship between film and photography. Film theorist Peter Wollen describes the two arts respectively as fire and ice. While films are “all light and shadow, incessant motion, transience, flicker,” photographs freeze their subjects in place (“Fire and Ice”, Photographies 4, April 1984).  As Wollen describes them, “photographs appear as devices for stopping time and preserving fragments of the past, like flies in amber.” Within film, the depiction of photographs creates a bizarre linkage between stillness and movement. Video games that use cameras as a core mechanic also create a strange paradox that alters the relationship between player and game world.


For a photographer gazing through a viewfinder, reality is mediated by the camera. Some describe a distancing sensation, one in which the photographer is disengaged from a situation. For many, this phenomenon raises ethical concerns. The oft cited case of Marc Halevi, who captured on film a woman being swept out to sea while merely observing a failed rescue attempt, is a prime example. Paradoxically, the same dissociating effect of observing the real world through a camera envelops and immerses players in a game world.


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Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010
Which is she, empowered teen or soiled dove? What image does Bristol want to sell and why sell one at all?

I know that I usually just talk about video games in this blog, but I feel compelled to address Dancing With the Stars here anyway. Largely, this is due to the game-like qualities of the show, which is obviously a competition of sorts leaning more towards sport, perhaps, than the kind of games that I usually address. However, it seems to me that there are so many odd intersections of sport, performance (of several sorts, physical as well as more intellectual or emotive forms of performance), aesthetics, and even narrative that I feel that I need to unpack the odd mildly interactive experience that is the Dancing With the Stars phenomenon.


Additionally, Dancing With the Stars feels like a kind of game within a game, since what motivates its “players” seems a game only tangentially related to the competition that they are a part of. As Dancing With the Stars draws its competitors from a pool of “celebrities” (of varying qualities of fame, leaning often enough more towards a leaner form of notability than not), there seems some interest on the part of the performers in using the show as a means of playing at something else that at least resembles a game, public relations and marketing (especially of the self in this instance).


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Tuesday, Sep 28, 2010
People may not listen when they feel like they're being preached at, but raw data has a voice all its own.

My time with the Wii Fit may be the longest period that I’ve ever played one video game. As of this writing, I’ve been using the game for over 860 days. There was a month here or there that I took a break, but I always ended up coming back to it. I’ve written about the device extensively, first making fun of it and then comparing it to the competition. I’ve consistently considered the Wii Fit to be the superior program despite the fact that in many ways it is not. It is not the most effective work out regime and it’s not even an accurate representation of BMI. I’m also going to hazard a guess and say it will still be superior to the Kinect and the Sony Move’s offerings. The reason for this is fairly simple: it goes far beyond exercise by tracking your weight and commenting on your progress.


For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to be talking about Wii Fit Plus, which adds a couple of key features that are essential to turning the Wii Fit into an effective weight loss tool. Some things still aren’t perfect. The game swaps out your trainer without asking, and it still finds bizarre ways to insult you intermittently. Sometimes I wonder if the developers intentionally made that little white board into a hateful little shit just as an extra motivator. What they added to the game was the ability to string together a series of exercises to make a private work out routine. The diet planner and tracker is decent, but you can get a more portable and accessible one on your I-phone or DS. I find that it’s best to write down what I eat right when it happens rather than force myself to remember it. The push ups and ab work outs on it aren’t half bad and you can string them into an effective 20 minute regime. After that, about ten minutes of hula hooping makes it a decent routine. This isn’t enough to actually lose weight. I’ve also had to do 30 minutes of cardio in the morning and diet heavily. In this regard, the Wii Fit is not actually a good exercise game, but it is a good weight loss game.


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Monday, Sep 27, 2010
Henry Jenkins's ideas of transmedia and convergence culture may have huge implications for what it means to be a "gamer" in a media generation in which play is optional.

Over the period of September 11th through the 15th, a group of friends—far from the light and sound show of Bungie’s Times Square launch party—gathered together in a suburban basement in the Midwest for their own miniature Halo: Reach convention.


For most, this was their first hands-on Halo experience. Though a handful had played the previous games (one because of her work—she’s a Microsoft support technician), most had come at the series through ancilliary media: the expanded universe of the comics, the novels, and to some extent the excessively detailed Halopedia. All but one or two had gotten into it through Red vs Blue, a machinima webseries using Halo multiplayer as a way of animating the show (especially the later seasons that shift toward a more serious tone). For this group of college-aged, female* fans, Halo was more an extension of the fan driven webseries—not the other way around.


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Monday, Sep 27, 2010
The Moving Pixels Podcast considers the changing face of death in video games as well as what kinds of roles death serves in games.

Death happens in games.  A lot.


Well, or at least it used to.  This episode of the Moving Pixels Podcast considers the changing face of death in video games as well as what kinds of roles death serves in games. 


Is death about punishment, pleasure, pedagogy, or is it merely an immersion breaking illusion?  We play around with a number of possibilities.


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