No hablan Español

In case you were under the mistaken impression that the videogame blogosphere proliferated solely under the purview of English-speaking users, let me disabuse you of that notion right now.

‘Ars Ludica’ is an Italian videogame website that has categories for news, reviews, thoughts and insights. I stumbled across it because someone in a comment linked to my Permanent Death novel – the only reason I would have found it as it would never have been linked to by a big news site, nor would it ever see a Kotaku “Weekend Reader” style reprint. The original article discusses the Ebert ‘games are not art’ position, and it can be read here. Google’s translation function does a passable job: “Normally, when you deny a possibility categorically, it is obvious fear that the same occurs or is already a fact.” A little broken, but you get the gist of it’s direction.

Another non-English language games blog, and one I’ve been aware of for a short while now, is ‘Botón B‘ (or Button B) a Spanish language blog by a Mexican student. If you’re a Chrome user like myself, when the browser detects a page is in a non-English language it offers you the option to auto-translate it into your native tongue. This is an important and useful thing because it speaks of an expectation that there will be pages out there that aren’t in English, and that they are worth being comprehensible. Whether the developers of Chrome meant for their software to be interpreted this way is irrelevant, the net result is one of convenience (not needing to leave the page to go and fetch a translation increases the chance that a non-native reader will stick around) and acceptance of non-English speakers and their webpages. Another example – Sun B Kim’s ‘Design and Play‘ blog is a Korean language videogame blog. Kim performed the  reverse function, manually translating Michael Clarkson’s GTA IV critical compilation from English into Korean in the hopes of helping out local Korean game developers.

Even more typically ‘Western’ non-English languages have a proliferation of videogame bloggers – The German videogame blog ‘Super Level‘ is a good aggregate curator of interesting videogame related stories, and I was personally interviewed by a German games magazine, GEEMag back in February. While browsing the incoming links at Critical Distance just now, I also happened upon the French language videogames blog run by Eric Viennot.

Jim Rossignol, always a man with his finger on the pulse of videogames and culture, wrote about his time in Korea exploring the StarCraft crazed gaming culture of that nation for PC Gamer UK, later republished at Rock Paper Shotgun, and which finally ended up as a basis for large sections of his book This Gaming Life. Rossignol’s got the right idea, and his awareness of the broader international games scene is anything but a liability – pro-level cheating in StarCraft recently came to the fore and Rossignol reported on it for RPS (sadly hampered as it was by a lack of translation!).

Are you beginning to doubt the prevailing narrative of Anglophone-centric videogame blogs as the centre of the blogosphere? The Kotaku’s and the IGN’s of the world are in Enligsh, which can’t even be said to be the most widely spoken language on the planet, and yet you would hardly infer from their coverage the existence of such a disapora of non-English sites (with the occasional exception of a link to some bizarre/exotic/weird/laughable Japanese site, invariably invoking a sense of exoticism and distant curiosity). Simply gaining entry into the network of non-English blogs proves difficult without a Chrome-like auto-translate – how can one know which link goes where?

All of this is to say that we aught not believe the unspoken assumption propagated by the big English news sites; that not everything good and worth reading about videogames has been said, or has to be said, in English. I’m glad I’ve got Chrome and it’s translate feature to explore the non-English corners of the web. There’s gold in them there hills.

For your consideration: Further proof of the nihilism of blogging & further evidence of the importance of boredom

If we consider twitter an extension or usurpation of the social space/function that blogs used to inhabit/perform, then this talk by Chris Weingarten can be read as further evidence of the ‘creative nihilism’ that blogging exhibits. If the “real time web”, as Weingarten calls it, completely destroyed the things which loss he is here lamenting and didn’t bring anything new with them (even if it doesn’t properly replace them) it might be valid to describe the process as pure nihilism. But since it is in fact bringing somethign new, what Geert Lovink calls a “dense cloud of impressions” around a topic, it’s useful to describe it as a creative nihilism. Weingarten is here just focussing on the destructive/negative aspects of that creative nihilism.

On a more positive unrelated note, I read this news article about an as yet unpublished study from the UK that found public servants who responded in the 80’s to a questionnaire by saying they were bored were more likely to be dead now than their non-bored colleagues. Not that I needed further convincing, but this seems like compelling evidence for Jim Rossignol’s thesis that boredom is a serious and important issue. Obviously, there’s a lot at play here – personal dispositions and temperaments for one, the kind of work one does, for another – but I see a lot of potential good that could come from the collision of games and the elimination of boredom.

At 2am yesterday I was in a 24hour internet café with a couple of friends, and putting aside the horrible quality of the PC’s, it was actually a pretty sweet experience. It was never boring – even the boring bits weren’t proper boring – because we had entered into a space with the express purpose of  playing videogames. It’s a special kind of thing the internet café – just make sure you pay the extra $1 to get the good computers, or you’ll end up spending all your time waiting for the games to load.

I guess this makes me a new media artist?

So I’ve got this thing going on over at Facebook. I’m calling it “A Week of Worthless” and here’s what I say about it on the event page:

Have you ever stopped to think about what you are doing when you post ‘links’ to your Facebook profile? Implicit in the act of sharing a link is the idea that a link is worth following; that it is worth one’s time and attention.

‘A Week without Worth’ is an online art performance that will challenge attendees to re-examine and re-think the default relationship with the internet hyperlink as employed by social networks like Facebook. By presenting a series of Facebook links during the first week of May that are completely unworthy of a viewer’s time or attention the artist hopes to spark thought and debate about the impact of the immanent function of the Facebook link, and the internet link in general. It further aims to make attendees consider how deeply entrenched the culture and practice of filtering and ‘ranking’ has become.

By allowing and inviting comments on these ‘worthless’ links the performance will also problematise the notion of ‘internet worthless’ links by potentially demonstrating that discussion can be initiated and directed towards any ‘worthless’ site, thereby revoking its ‘worthless’ status and disrupting the performance. In actuality, the only successful ‘worthless’ links will be ones that attract no comments, likes, re-links, or other attention whatsoever.

While posting links, the artist will also reflect on the difficult process of finding and even conceptualising the ‘worthless’ internet page, despite the fact that we may (and often do) encounter a multitude of ‘worthless’ pages in a single web browsing session, all of which disappear from our mind and memory as soon as we click onto the next hyperlink.

The performance should ideally be followed on Facebook at either:
http://www.facebook.com/ben.abraham or at http://www.facebook.com/posted.php?id=614825217

You will need to possess a Facebook account to view the performance, however you should not (I think) actually have to add Ben as a friend. The links and their comments shall be set so as to be visible to any Facebook user.

As a last resort, RSS can be used to follow the performance, however RSS will not reveal the success or failure of the art project as comments and ‘likes’ will not be visible over RSS.
http://www.facebook.com/feeds/share_posts.php?id=614825217&viewer=614825217&key=dd720f4f7f&format=rss20

Until the 1st of May, any links Ben posts may safely be assumed are not part of the performance.

It’s only been up for about 24 hours and it’s already been a pretty amazing experience. I initally invited only people who I thought would probably “get it”, in the sense that they wouldn’t hate me for experimenting with something different on Facebook. The response has been pretty positive so far, but some unexpected things have happened. I made it an open event, so anyone could invite friends, relatives, or anyone potentially interested in attending a Facebook art-show, and because it was open someone else invited pretty much all their friends to the event. So there’s now 150 or so people, many of whom I have never met, all invited to this weird online performance I’m giving in about a week’s time.

Some people are actually declining to attend. Some of these people will probably just be declining any and every event sent to them – I’ve declined enough events in my time to get that many people just decline them out of habit – but there’s also been at least one person comment (jokingly? seriously? I can’t tell!) that they’re annoyed at being invited. Some people (probably a lot) are also saying they don’t really get it, which was unexpected for me. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have included the passage about “succeeding” as worthless links. I see now that it might seem as thought the actual linking was the important part of this event. It probably shows my predilection towards conceptual art; my cultural eltism; etcetera, etcetera. The event is really meant as a practical demonstration of an idea. In that sense, this feels a bit like game design. And as I’m being a creator, it also feels kinda scary, having to let go of what this event means and let people have their own ideas about it. It’s scary, but pleasurable, to be on the other side of the creator/audience divide to usual.

I’ll be writing some more about it postmortem, about what seemed to work, what I got out of it and some of the reactions people had to it.

Facebook is a weird thing… or perhaps more accurately, the internet is a weird thing. But I kinda love it too, y’know.

Attention Deficit Posmodernity Disorder

In a widely cited and talked about study from last year Stanford University researchers found that “media multitaskers pay a mental price” for their ability to consume so much media concurrently (the Kaiser Family Foundation said that kids between 8 and 18 “manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes  worth of media content into…7½ hours”). This is generally seen as a negative, as best exemplified by the case of driving while talking on the phone and the potentially disastrous consequences for such divided attention.

However I’m interested in the potential upside of our increasingly fractured and non-structured engagement with media. I don’t think anyone would argue that the incidence of media multitasking has decreased since the 90’s and so I’ve been reading Sherry Turkle’s 1997 book ‘Life on the Screen’ with increasing interest for it’s relevance to this very topic.

Turkle’s thesis is that “technology [specifically computation] is bringing a set of ideas associated with postmodernism” to its users. One anecdote that Turkle uses to illustrate her point is the story of a student in the MIT computer lab who has the following to say about his simultaneous connection to several MUD’s (this was ’97 after all),

I split my mind. I’m getting better at it. I can see myself as being two or three or more. And I just turn on one part of my mind and then another when I go from window to window. I’m in some kind of argument in one window and trying to come on to a girl in a MUD in another, and another window might be running a spreadsheet program or some other technical thing for school… RL is just one more window, and it’s not usually my best one.

The aforementioned Stanford study would seem to say that the result of such multitasking is “a big mental price” and that they become “suckers for irrelevancy…everything distracts them.” Unfortunately, the study doesn’t seem to test for whether these distractible media users are more enlightened and open to postmodern ambiguity. Obviously, I’m biased in my opinion that adopting a postmodern perspective is inherently a good thing, but the researchers said, “We kept looking for what they’re better at, and we didn’t find it” – perhaps they were looking for the wrong thing entirely?