Where in the World?

That's sport and me up in a balloon over the Mesilla Valley. Oh yeah...that's my mom.

It was her idea.

We got to 10,000 feet and I didn't scream... much



The Little Things

Another nice thing about Fargo--free wireless internet access at the airport. As in, that's what enabled this almost-contentless post.


Interesting "Take"

A group of friends and I went to see a local theater company's production of Charles Mee's Wintertime. It was a pretty high-quality production (especially for a local blackbox theater). I just stumbled upon this interesting backstage blog one of the actors is using to document her journey to the local stage.

I wonder what Kenneth Burke would make of blogs...


Puts Me to Shame

Surfn' Poetry? These guys live it (New York Times. Free Registration Req'd).


Conversation in one of my Grad Classes

student: I think a lot of things depend upon the suspension of disbelief.
me: Wow! I just blogged about that yesterday.
student: I don't read your blog. Sorry.
me: Oh.


Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman has a great take on some of the connections between contemporary sports publicity and hip-hop culture at ESPN. Klosterman (who penned the bestseller, Fargo Rock City) meditates on these connections and whether or not the iconic Muhammad Ali invented rap. Klosterman's column takes an interesting turn when he describes the critics of both music and sport.

Sports columnists and rock critics have a lot of qualities in common (more than most readers realize, I suspect). Chief among these similarities is a sense of arbitrary righteousness: Sportswriters and music writers are appalled anytime they get what they once pretended to want. In the '80s, tennis writers complained John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were obnoxious and undignified; today, tennis writers3 inevitably insist men's tennis is boring and that we need a new Super Brat. Whenever musical acts become obsessed with import and authenticity (i.e., U2 during the "Rattle and Hum" era), pop critics find them egocentric and ridiculous; the moment those same musical acts embrace artifice and grandiosity (i.e., U2 on the 1997 "Popmart" tour), those same critics question their integrity. Whenever you deliver anything to a sports columnist or a rock critic, they will want its opposite. And this is especially true when the (mainly) white media covers the (mainly) black worlds of football, basketball and mainstream hip-hop.4 In both instances, journalists remain simultaneously fixated on two paradoxical positions:

(1.) Most athletes/artists are boring because all they do is repeat safe, meaningless clichés.
(2.) The few individuals within these idioms who do say provocative, controversial things are ill-informed media whores who should be more grateful that they are rich.

da*n straight, Chuck.


Is a Game an Argument?

Tiny asks a good question in a comment to my last post. (Go ahead and read the comment. I'll wait).

Ready? O.K. I suppose if a novelist's only argument is "buy my book," then yes, that is the main argument for a game designer (and I think that, at some level, that is part of the thinking. Otherwise, they would probably stick to drawing on their walls, or something more obscure). I don't really accept that reason in toto, though, because there are much more lucerative things talented creative people can do. Moreover, the aspersion that if "filthy lucre" is involved it taints the artifice/argument would have to be applied across the board. Rhetors and artists are involved in things that generate money. Richard Lanham calls this the "fluff" necessarily attached to "stuff" in his book The Economics of Attention. Rhetors/artists create attention-capturing configurations of words/images/textiles/sounds/etc. in order to generate particular creative changes in larger contexts. Art may be for sale, and may even generate sales, but they also change things in the larger culture not immediately connected to points of sale.

Beyond this argument that has been made by other, far more articulate, scholars and theorists, I think that game designers and artists involve themselves in two important, and different aspects of the gaming complex.

1.) These designers are materially interested in continuing, and extending, extant aesthetic regiemes. The recent release of the PS3 and the Wii exemplify the two dominant sides of the debate. The PS3 appeals to those who want to extend the realism/naturalism paradigm further--the same regieme that was extended by Halo 3 (if you haven't seen the new commercial for Halo 3, I would recommend watching it for a quick synopsis of the realist/naturalist theme. It really captures the flavor of the "evil is inevitable, so we should give in and immerse ourselves in its aesthetic (all the while, removed from it as a representational cyborg). The other regieme is represented by the more optimistically ludic Wii. The non-photorealistic representation of the game offerings, as well as the embodied sociability (with all of the ridiculous movements you have to make in a social setting) emphasize a particular optimism. Because we are basically "good," it's O.K. to be ridiculous. Whearas the realism/naturalism isolates the individual in a mythic-heroic figuration, the optimistic/embodied-sociable emphasizes connection through silliness.

So, when game designers and artists give nods to particular game precedents, they are at least acknowledging who pays the bills. Moreover, they are acknowledging that they at least "buy in" to the culture they are building upon--the culture of lan parties, couches, sleepovers, online death matches, finals week steam-blowing tournaments, etc. Many of these designers met significant others and friends this way, so I would be surprised if many of them did NOT believe in game culture in some deep and significant way.

The "suspension of disbelief" genre conventions reinforce and reify cultural conventions about sociability (much the same way detective novels still reinforces Edgar Allen Poe's "following the trail" narrator sifts through narratological details to "reveal" [create, really] individual responsibility).

2.) One of the rhetor's main tasks is to reinforce cultural conventions through reification. The epideictic rhetor praises and blames in order to craft the public role of hero or villain ("Helen is not to be blamed for the Trojan war" reinforces the heroism of those who would launch the ships as more than "silly boys"). The forensic lawyer struggles to find the point of argumentation in order to reify his defendant as a not guilty person. Long after each game is sold, hours and hours are spent with each game copy constituting and arranging groups of people around the roles that are allowed within and around the game. As Q-Olin notes, the social configurations these games allow, reinforce, and reify are bleeding into other genres, like talk shows and mashups.


Genre Theory

Clive Thompson, over at Wired Magazine has a reasonably good discussion of the importance of genre embedded in his review of the new first-person shooter video game Gears of War. Thompson has an instrumentalist ham-fistedness with passages like this:
Consider the sonnet. It's been around ever since Italian poets invented it in the 13th century, and it's deeply formulaic. But it's never gotten boring, because poets keep on finding surprising new ways to hack it. The Earl of Surrey remixed the sonnet's 14 lines into a new stanzaic structure, turning it into a four-part argument and spurring Shakespeare into an orgy of creativity. Then e e cummings tore the sonnet into tiny shreds, splaying the words across the page while using the rhyming structure to hold each poem together.
Still, he is on to something important about Ciceronian eloquence residing in the familiar. While New Media practitioners and theorists stretch to find the theoretical increments that matter (the mode? the medium? the metaphor?), the rhetors who manage to convince large numbers of people that THEY have something different will end up being the ones who define the important conventions and variations. Game designers are some of the most important rhetors of our time, IMHO.


Weird, Magical Ride

The Bison basketball team is continuing its magic carpet ride. Even though they cannot go to the NCAA tournament for a few years, this mostly sophomore team fearlessly enters lions' dens and wrestles these beasts to the ground. This same group did the same thing to a ranked Wisconsin team last year, almost took town Texas Tech in Lubbock, and came back on Princeton two days ago.

I would say that I'm surprised, but every time I move to a school, this same scene unfolds.
-My first year of High School, the football team goes to the State Championship Game.
-My first year of Undergraduate school, the football team makes the playoffs for the first time in memory. My tennis team also starts its ascent back to the NCAAs.
-I started going to Penn State in 1994 (Not unprecedented, but I have yet to see as good of an offense in college football).
-The year I started the University of New Mexico, Dennis Francione took UNM football to a bowl game--the first since the 1960s.
-When I started teaching at Bowling Green State University, Urban Meyer had just turned around what used to be one of the worst football teams in the country. I got to see them go to a bowl game.

Frankly, I'm a bigger basketball fan than I am a football fan (I played organized football in high school and tennis in high school and college, but I always loved playground basketball the best), so I'm enjoying the scrappy Bison roundballers most of all.

Nice work gentlemen.


Marcel Marceau of Memes

Scott Eric Kaufman is conducting an experiment on the propagation of memes, the results of which will be part of his talk at said panel. He's asking people to post entries about his entry, link back to the original entry, and then ping Technorati (if your blogging platform doesn't already do so automatically). That's all. And to make it easy, all you really need do is to copy and paste this very paragraph, formatting in the links to Scott's entry and to Technorati, then visit Technorati and enter the URL for your own entry. That sounds like more work than it actually is. And the reward is that you'll be contributing to Science™.

From Wired Magazine

Absolutely chilling:

The bill, SB1666, was written by state Sen. Debra Bowen, and would have barred investigators from making "false, fictitious or fraudulent" statements or representations to obtain private information about an individual, including telephone calling records, Social Security numbers and financial information. Victims would have had the right to sue for damages.

The bill won approval in three committees and sailed through the state Senate with a 30-0 vote. Then, according to Lenny Goldberg, a lobbyist for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the measure encountered unexpected, last-minute resistance from the Motion Picture Association of America.

"The MPAA has a tremendous amount of clout and they told legislators, 'We need to pose as someone other than who we are to stop illegal downloading,'" Goldberg said.