Sunday, June 25, 2006
Art for the computer age...
I was originally planning on doing a movie review while our gentle web-master is away, but a topic has come up too many times in the past few weeks for me not to write about it. First it came up in the tag map of Kaedrin, when I noticed that some people were writing pages just to create appealing tag-maps. Then it came up in Illinois and Louisiana. They've passed laws regulating the sale and distribution of "violent games" to minors. This, of course, has led to lawsuits and claims that the law violates free speech. After that, it was the guys at Penny Arcade. They posted links to We Feel Fine and Listening Post.. Those projects search the internet for blogs (maybe this one?) and pull text from them about feelings, and present those feelings to an audience in different ways. Very interesting. Finally, it came up when I opened up the July issue of Game Informer, and read Hideo Kojima's quote:
I believe that games are not art, and will never be art. Let me explain � games will only match their era, meaning what the people of that age want reflects the outcome of the game at that time. So, if you bring a game from 20 years ago out today, no one will say �wow.� There will be some essence where it�s fun, but there won�t be any wows or touching moments. Like a car, for example. If you bring a car from 20 years ago to the modern day, it will be appealing in a classic sense, but how much gasoline it uses, or the lack of air conditioning will simply not be appreciated in that era. So games will always be a kind of mass entertainment form rather than art. Of course, there will be artistic ways of representing games in that era, but it will still be entertainment. However, I believe that games can be a culture that represent their time. If it�s a light era, or a dark era, I always try to implement that era in my works. In the end, when we look back on the projects, we can say �Oh, it was that era.� So overall, when you look back, it becomes a culture.�Every time I reread that quote, I cringe. Here's a man who is one of the most significant forces in video games today, the creator of Metal Gear, and he's saying "No, they're not art, and never will be." I find his distinction between mass entertaintment and art troubling, and his comparison to a car flawed.
It's true that games will always be a reflection of their times- just like anything else is. The limitations of the time and the attitudes of the culture at the time are going to have an effect on everything coming out of that time. A car made in the 60s is going to show the style of the 60s, and is going to have the tech of the 60s. That makes sense. Of course, a painting made in the 1700s is going to show the limits and is going to reflect the feelings of that time, too. The paints, brushes, and canvas used then aren't necessarily going to be the same as the ones used now, especially with the popular use of computers in painting. The fact that something is a reflection of the times isn't going to stop people from appreciating the artistic worth of that thing. The fact that the Egyptians hadn't mastered perspective doesn't stop anyone from wanting to see their statues.
What does that really tell us, though? Nothing. A car from the 80s may not be appreciated as much as a new model car as a means of transport, but Kojima seems to be completely forgetting that there are many cars that are appreciated as special. Nobody buys a 60s era muscle car because they think it's a good car for driving around in- they buy it because they think it's special, because some people view older cars as collectable. Some people do see them as more than a mere means of transportation. People are very much "wowed" by old cars. Is there any reason why this can't be true of games?
I am 8 Bit seems to suggest that there are people who are still wowed by those games. Kojima may be partially correct, though. Maybe most of those early games won't hold up in the long run. That shouldn't be a surprise. They're the first generation of games. The 8-Bit era was the begining of the new wave of games, though. For the first time, creators could start to tell real stories, beyond simple high-score pursuit. Game makers were just getting their wings, and starting to see what games were really capable of. Maybe early games aren't art. Does that mean that games aren't art?
The problem mostly seems to be that we're asking the wrong questions. We shouldn't be asking "are video games art" any more than we'd ask "are movies art." It's a loaded question and you'll never come to any real answer, because the answer is going to depend completely on what movie you're looking at, and who you're asking. The same holds true with games. The question shouldn't be whether all games are art, but whether a particular game has some artistic merrit. How we decide what counts as art is constantly up for debate, but there are games that raise such significant moral or philosophical questions, or have such an amazing sense of style, or tell such an amazing story, that it seems hard to argue that they have no artistic merrit.
All of this really is leading somewhere. Computers have changed everything. I know that seems obvious, but I think it's taking some people- people like Kojima- a little longer to realize it. Computers have opened up a level of interactivity and access to information that we've never really had before. I can update Kaedrin from Michigan, and can send a message to a friend in Germany, all while buying videos from Japan and playing chess with a man in Alaska (not that I'm actually doing those things... but I could). These changes are going to be reflected in the art our culture produces. There's going to be backlash and criticism, and we're going to find that some people just don't "get it" or don't want to. We've gone through the same thing countless times before. Nobody thought movies would be seen as art when they came on the scene, and they were sure that the talkies wouldn't. When Andy Warhol came out, there were plenty of nay-sayers. Soup cans? As art? Computers have generally been accepted as a tool for making art, but I think we're still seeing the limits pushed. We've barely scratched the surface. The interaction between art, artist, and viewer is blurring, and I, for one, can't wait to see what happens.
Friday, June 23, 2006
I'll be travelling this weekend and thus won't have much time to blog. However, long time Kaedrin compatriot Samael will be posting in my absence (at least once on Sunday, as per the schedule). Astute readers may recognize the name from his Super Mario Mega Marathon of Madness and his comments on Pre-NES games. I don't know what he'll be writing about, but he assures me it will be something geeky. Have a good weekend!
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
In an effort to exhaust the novelty of my current favorite author, Neal Stephenson, I've been reading his first novel, The Big U (I think I've covered everything else but his pseudonymous work). Stephenson himself describes this as "a juvenile work," but I'm greatly enjoying myself. Filled with geeks pursuing... geeky pursuits, I'm reminded of the latter day portions of Cryptonomicon (though when you compare those two, I can see why The Big U would be called juvenile). It's quite entertaining so far, though there does seem to be a lack of traditional plot points and I'm not expecting a particularly revelatory ending. The book is probably best described by it's setting (American Megaversity) and characters (geeks). Some choice quotes are below:
Most of the facilities of the Big U are contained within a group of buildings refered to as the Plex:
The Plex's environmental control system was designed so that anyone could spend four years wearing only a jockstrap and a pair of welding goggles and yet never feel chilly or find the place too dimly lit.Sounds like a fun place, and it seems that Stephenson's humor was fully in place when he started his writing career. I've also noticed that he seems to have a fascination with how smart people find one another in the throngs of normal people. For instance, two of the characters get lost in the Plex's labyrinthine stairway system and end up exiting at the back of the building:
Later I was to think it remarkable that Casimir and I should emerge from those fire doors at nearly the same moment, and meet. On reflection, I have changed my mind. The Big U was an unnatural environment, a work of the human mind, not of God or plate tectonics. If two strangers met in the rarely used stairways, it was not unreasonable that they should turn out to be similar, and become friends. I thought of it as an immense vending machine, cautiously crafted so that any denomination too ancient or foreign or irregular would rattle about randomly for a while, find its way into the stairway system, and inevitably be deposited in the reject tray on the barren back side. Meanwhile, brightly colored graduates with attractively packaged degrees were dispensed out front every June, swept up by traffic on the Parkway and carried away for leisurly consumption...Much the same situation brought Daniel Waterhouse and Isaac Newton together in Quicksilver. Other similar scenarios populate his various other books as well.
The book is obviously a satire, but I still can't help but find a grain of truth in some of the absurdly bureaucratic obstacles that pop up for various students.
"I'm an English major. I know this stuff. Why are you putting me in Freshman English?"Nothing that bad has ever happened to me, but there was that time the university lost my enrollment (in which I had very carefully picked what classes and professors I wanted) and, for my convienience, enrolled me in the remaining open courses that fulfilled my needs (at this point, though, everyone else had already registered, so the only classes that were open were the ones no one wanted to take). That was a fun semester.
It turns out that Freshmen English is being taught by a lunatic The student from the above excerpt gets a bad grade and decides to speak with the professor because other barely literate students got a better grade than her:
He took a long draw on his pipe. "What is a grade? That is the question." He chuckled, but apparently she didn't get it. "Some teachers grade on curves. You have to be a math major to understand the grade! But forget those fake excuses. A grade is actually a form of poetry. It is a subjective reaction to a learner's work, distilled and reduced down to its purest essence-not a sonnet, not a haiku, but a single letter. That's remarkable, isn't it?"Oh, but he's not done yet. He actually goes on to describe how the barely readible grammar of a competing paper is better than Sarah's:
"You aren't necessarily a better writer. You called some of them functional illiterates. Well those illiterates, as you called them, happen to have very expressive prose voices. Remember that in each person's own dialect he or she is perfectly literate. So in the sense of having escaped orthodoxy to be truly creative, they are highly advanced wordsmiths, while you are still struggling to break free of grammatical rules systems. They express themselves to me and I react with little one-letter poems of my own - the essence of grading! Poetry! And being a poet I'm particularly well suited for it. Your idea of tearing down these little proto-artists because they aren't just like you smacks of a kind of absolutism which is very disturbing in a temple of academic freedom."I think he perfectly captured the futility of Sarah's quest in this scene. It's masterful, really. The book was published in 1984, so it seems that this sort of PC lit-crit babbled newspeak was just as common and annoying then as it is now. It's kind of reassuring, in a dejected way. When I hear about crazy professors going on about this or that these days, it's always tempting to assume that the sky is falling and that we're all doomed. But it appears that this has been going on for quite some time now, and while I don't like it and it may be harmful, it probably doesn't mean the end of the world either. Anyway, I'm only halfway through the book, but I thought I'd share my impressions, because I was expecting a lot worse...
Sunday, June 18, 2006
David Wong's article on the coming video game crash seems to have inspired Steven Den Beste, who agrees with Wong that there will be a gaming crash and also thinks that the same problems affect other forms of entertainment. The crux of the problem appears to be novelty. Part of the problem appears to be evolutionary as well. As humans, we are conditioned for certain things, and it seems that two of our insticts are conflicting.
The first instinct is the human tendency to rely on induction. Correlation does not imply causation, but most of the time, we act like it does. We develop a complex set of heuristics and guidelines that we have extrapolated from past experiences. We do so because circumstances require us to make all sorts of decisions without posessing the knowledge or understanding necessary to provide a correct answer. Induction allows us to to operate in situations which we do not uderstand. Psychologist B. F. Skinner famously explored and exploited this trait in his experiments. Den Beste notes this in his post:
What you do is to reward the animal (usually by giving it a small amount of food) for progressively behaving in ways which is closer to what you want. The reason Skinner studied it was because he (correctly) thought he was empirically studying the way that higher thought in animals worked. Basically, they're wired to believe that "correlation often implies causation". Which is true, by the way. So when an animal does something and gets a reward it likes (e.g. food) it will try it again, and maybe try it a little bit differently just to see if that might increase the chance or quantity of the reward.So we're hard wired to create these heuristics. This has many implications, from Cargo Cults to Superstition and Security Beliefs.
The second instinct is the human drive to seek novelty, also noted by Den Beste:
The problem is that humans are wired to seek novelty. I think it's a result of our dietary needs. Lions can eat zebra meat exclusively their entire lives without trouble; zebras can eat grass exclusively their entire lives. They don't need novelty, but we do. Primates require a quite varied diet in order to stay healthy, and if we eat the same thing meal after meal we'll get sick. Individuals who became restless and bored with such a diet, and who sought out other things to eat, were more likely to survive. And when you found something new, you were probably deficient in something that it provided nutritionally, so it made sense to like it for a while -- until boredom set in, and you again sought out something new.The drive for diversity affects more than just our diet. Genetic diversity has been shown to impart broader immunity to disease. Children from diverse parentage tend to develop a blend of each parent's defenses (this has other implications, particularly for the tendency for human beings to work together in groups). The biological benefits of diversity are not limited to humans either. Hybrid strains of many crops have been developed over the years because by selectively mixing the best crops to replant the next year, farmers were promoting the best qualities in the species. The simple act of crossing different strains resulted in higher yields and stronger plants.
The problem here is that evolution has made the biological need for diversity and novelty dependent on our inductive reasoning instincts. As such, what we find is that those we rely upon for new entertainment, like Hollywood or the video game industry, are constantly trying to find a simple formula for a big hit.
It's hard to come up with something completely new. It's scary to even make the attempt. If you get it wrong you can flush amazingly large amounts of money down the drain. It's a long-shot gamble. Every once in a while something new comes along, when someone takes that risk, and the audience gets interested...Indeed, the majority of big films made today appear to be remakes, sequels or adaptations. One interesting thing I've noticed is that something new and exciting often fails at the box office. Such films usually gain a following on video or television though. Sometimes this is difficult to believe. For instance, The Shawshank Redemption is a very popular film. In fact, it occupies the #2 spot (just behind The Godfather) on IMDB's top rated films. And yet, the film only made $28 million dollars (ranked 52 in 1994) in theaters. To be sure, that's not a modest chunk of change, but given the universal love for this film, you'd expect that number to be much higher. I think part of the reason this movie failed at the box office was that marketers are just as susceptible to these novelty problems as everyone else. I mean, how do you market a period prison drama that has an awkward title an no big stars? It doesn't sound like a movie that would be popular, even though everyone seems to love it.
Which brings up another point. Not only is it difficult to create novelty, it can also be difficult to find novelty. This is the crux of the problem: we require novelty, but we're programmed to seek out new things via correllation. There is no place to go for perfect recommendations and novelty for the sake of novelty isn't necessarily enjoyable. I can seek out some bizarre musical style and listen to it, but the simple fact that it is novel does not guarantee that it will be enjoyable. I can't rely upon how a film is marketed because that is often misleading or, at least, not really representative of the movie (or whatever). Once we do find something we like, our instinct is often to exhaust that author or director or artist's catalog. Usually, by the end of that process, the artist's work begins to seem a little stale, for obvious reasons.
Seeking out something that is both novel and enjoyable is more difficult than it sounds. It can even be a little scary. Many times, things we think will be new actually turn out to be retreads. Other times, something may actually be novel, but unenjoyable. This leads to another phenomenon that Den Beste mentions: the "Unwatched pile." Den Beste is talking about Anime, and at this point, he's begun to accumulate a bunch of anime DVDs which he's bought but never watched. I've had similar things happen with books and movies. In fact, I have several books on my shelf, just waiting to be read, but for some of them, I'm not sure I'm willing to put in the time and effort to read them. Why? Because, for whatever reason, I've begun to experience some set of diminishing returns when it comes to certain types of books. These are similar to other books I've read, and thus I probably won't enjoy these as much (even if they are good books).
The problem is that we know something novel is out there, it's just a matter of finding it. At this point, I've gotten sick of most of the mass consumption entertainment, and have moved on to more niche forms of entertainment. This is really a signal versus noise, traversal of the long tail problem. An analysis problem. What's more, with globalization and the internet, the world is getting smaller... access to new forms of entertainment are popping up (for example, here in the US, anime was around 20 years ago, but it was nowhere near as common as it is today). This is essentially a subset of a larger information aggregation and analysis problem that we're facing. We're adrift in a sea of information, and must find better ways to navigate.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
It's been a while since I've gotten really into an album, but Tool's new 10,000 Days seems to have broken that trend. I've been listening to it almost nonstop for about a month now, and I'm still picking it apart. As I mentioned the other day, I have some odd musical tastes:
...I usually only listen to the music (as opposed to paying attention to the lyrics). When the music is interesting enough to me, I'll eventually get around to the lyrics. Sometimes, I'm pleased, other times I find out I'm listening to German anarchists. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.As such, I think I generally approach music in a different way than most people. One other thing to note is that when it comes to music, I have next to no technical knowledge. Tune, chords, notes, I have a general idea of what these things are, but I'm no musician. I treat music much more subjectively than I treat movies or books; I just know what I like to hear, and that's about it. So here are my thoughts for each song on this album:
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Julenka posts the first 50 songs in her current playlist. When it comes to music, I seem to be on a completely different wavelength than most people. Part of this has to do with the fact that I usually only listen to the music (as opposed to paying attention to the lyrics). When the music is interesting enough to me, I'll eventually get around to the lyrics. Sometimes, I'm pleased, other times I find out I'm listening to German anarchists. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Anyway, that might be worth keeping in mind as you read this list of 30 songs which I got by putting my iPod on shuffle. Also, it seems that the practice of simply ripping a lot of CDs and putting them on the iPod have given me a quite a few songs that I would probably skip if they came up, so I'll make some notes for each song too...
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Time is short this week, so just a few links I found interesting...
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Offbeat Movie Corner 2
I like to check out movies that are off the beaten path, and I'm usually pretty happy with the experience. Here are some recent viewings:
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Tag Map of Kaedrin
Via lots of people, here is a graph of the underlying HTML structure of the Kaedrin Weblog:
What do the colors mean?So what are we looking at in my graph? (One note, I generated this graph last night before I posted, so this graph reflects a page that has changed.) Well, the big clump of orange and blue on the left side of the graph is obviously my side navigation, filled with links and line breaks (i.e. the blogroll and archive links). The other big clump of orange and blue (bottom right) is the main area of posts on the page. Because I've recently gone on a spree of posts with lots of images, there is also a bunch of violent in that area. The image filled posts are also the cause of the offshoots from this area, as I've foolishly used some tag-soup to get the layout right. I believe the remaining offshoot, in the middle of the graph, is the masthead (the top of the page with the Kaedrin logo and main navigation links).
It's not as pretty as those nifty XHTML/CSS pages, but it gets the job done (and it validates!) One of these days I'll get around to actually converting this layout to XHTML and CSS, but don't hold your breath. I tried to exactly replicate this layout once and just got frustrated, so when it happens, it will probably be accompanied by a minor design overhaul.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in June 2006.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.