Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Video Games as Art/Zombies as Personal Tragedy

I am again forcing a shameless plug of The Escapist Magazine. This time, the article is from the week's issue about zombies in games. I thought this would be an appropriate post here because it discusses the movement of perception of video games from plaything to art, and through my favorite subject matter: ZOMBIES!!!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

degrees of "personality" in digital media

Back in the day, before all this digital technology changed film distribution, you'd have to go to the theater to see a film, or you'd have to own your own projection equipment and buy films to screen them privately.

Then of course they came out with VHS tapes, and later DVDs. What interested me was that after 376, I kind of equated these two technologies as both digital, both operating in similar ways. But I had a conversation with my girlfriend which changed the way I looked at it.

She said that she missed VHS. I asked why because I'd never thought about it-- I love DVDs and I think the technology has been a huge leap forward in a lot of ways for private viewing. But she said that she thought that VHS tapes had a personal touch that DVDs lacked. She mentioned that you could open a VHS tape or look in your VCR and you had a more personalized version of whatever you were watching. She said it was a more personal experience because it was like you had a "film" copy of the film you were watching, even if it was digitized on tape.

I considered this and kind of felt she was right. I do miss the days when I couldn't opt out of the advertisements at the beginning of a VHS tape, and I had to rewind it when I was done. It made me feel more involved with the technology. With a DVD, although I can pause and manipulate the film way easier and just watch the parts I want to watch, she had a point that it feels less personal.

Of course, all of this is kind of an illusion-- both of these are mass produced, digitized versions of what used to be an analog media form. But does anyone else feel the same way? I know the main complaint against VHS tapes vs. DVDs is that the visual quality is lower, but was anyone willing to forgive this flaw in light of the different experience VHS provided?

Another expression of this is with Vinyl vs. CDs (and going further, CDs vs. MP3 files). I'm not sure how many college students are really into vinyl anyway, but is the digital revolution depersonalizing the media experience? Or was it never really that personal to begin with? Or am I just splitting hairs here and all these digitized forms have relatively equivalent levels of "aura" or personal engagement? Thoughts?

Ryan Aliapoulios

iphones and big brother

Police are now using iphones to track people... the implications of this might be kind of wide. Not to be a total fanatic, I don't mean to use scare tactics here or anything, but I think this brings up some interesting questions about the ubiquity of technology and the disappearance of privacy. Here's the article, pretty interesting...


Is this ok? Should police be allowed to use iphones in this way? Going further, should Apple be limiting this location finding technology when they're distributing it on such a wide scale? Thoughts?

Ryan Aliapoulios

humor and the internet

Everyone appreciates comedy, and everyone knows that comedy has evolved over the years with various new forms. But I think digital technology has completely changed the way we process and understand comedy, in various ways. I noticed this when texting my mom the other day, and of course surfing the internet at various times.

When my mom first started texting, her messages were like mini-emails and they were just really awkward to read because she wasnt really conforming to the text message form, basically. And she was using the text message as a meaningful form of communication.

Now, people still use text messages in meaningful ways, but I think our generation recognizes the irony of how trivial these messages are despite how ubiquitous they've become. But then eventually my mom sent me this message that was something like this:

"just had a long day at work. going home to mix myself a strong drink and try to find my happy place"

And I realized my mom finally "got" text messaging. That was funny because it was consise, the grammar was stripped down, etc. etc. But I wonder what kinds of social codes are operating here, as in how do people figure out how to be funny in a text message? Text message jokes wouldn't really work in normal conversation all the time, but somehow they work when printed.

The other area is with the meme. The self-reflexivity and the complete lack of originality of meme repetition doesn't take away from the comedy-- it actually adds to it. Some examples of this are LOLcats, and one of my favorite memes, the keyboard cat. For some reason, you can take any stupid video clip and put the keyboard cat after it and it becomes funny. Yet somehow this doesn't work in real life when you repeat the same jokes over and over.

Why is it that in a digital form, repetition and banality becomes sublime humor? Any thoughts on this? I'd like to understand it because I think there's something kind of deep at work here.

Ryan Aliapoulios

ray kurzweil and singularity

Most of us have probably heard of new-age media futurist Ray Kurzweil and his ideas about how technology is transforming us, and how it will continue to transform us in the future. Check out this TED talk about technology and singularity:


Kurzweil's predictions about how technology will change us seem very utopian from his perspective-- he talks about how we might live forever by eventually consolidating with technology and possibly uploading our consciousness to computers and thereby living forever.

The flipside of this is a very dystopian popular reaction to some of his theories. What will it actually mean for our humanity for technology to reach a point where it changes what we think of as "human" forever? And have we already reached this point to some degree?

He considers that the economics of technology will follow an exponential curve from now on, meaning that technology and computing costs will be cheaper and cheaper as we move into the future. Because of this, technology and computing will be even more ubiquitous than it is now, assuming nothing cataclysmic happens which completely reverses this trend.

Although I personally think that adopting technology and "merging" with it in some ways is a very exciting idea, I'm also somewhat frightened by what that would mean for my humanity. What I'm interested in, though, is whether Kurzweil's predictions are really that accurate. Will we really be living in such a strange, sci-fi sounding future? Or will things not move as quickly as he says?

And finally, will we really one day shed our humanity to move into the technological realm? What do you guys think?

Ryan Aliapoulios

ludology and games as art

I was reading about Roger Ebert's stance on video games failing to be art and it made me think about the efforts to study video games on their own terms. The field of ludology has become more of a focus for media theorists recently, and we read an article introducing the field in class as well. What I'd like to ask or propose is that games might NOT actually be art-- once they're created, that is. I think that the "art" that video games have might be in the creation itself, and once the artifact is complete it is merely a game.

I was thinking about this because ludology studies the rules of a game-- these rules are fixed. Although games present a sense of freedom and "free reign" to the players that use them, the reality is that gamers can't really bring new rules to a game, they can only work within its confines. You could argue that there are games with more open-ended, flexible rules that allow players to "create" (in a game like Spore for example, or in games where the avatars are customizable... although these are more suspect because again, your choices for customization are limited). While video games are certainly valuable artifacts for study because we can glean things about society from them, they might not be "art" in a strict sense. After all, you don't often see arguments for areas of cultural studies as art when they examine cultural trends and logics of a certain time period.

However, the process by which games are created certainly are marked by a series of formal and artistic decisions on how the message is conveyed. It would be hard to argue that art and artistic decisions don't play a major role in how we perceive and interact with games, but in a way, our interaction with the artistic decisions of the creators is limited.

In other words, when we examine famous paintings, we can look at them, maybe touch them and smell them, etc., but we don't really bring anything new to the table by examining them-- the "art" of these things is in the production.

This reminded me of the idea of performance artists who strongly believe this, that they are true "artists" because their art is in the making and performance which an audience witnesses. After the performance is over, the "art" and aura is gone, and the consumers are left with just a memory. I'm not sure if all of this makes sense, but it seems like the definition of "art" might need to be reexamined in light of video games and new media culture. Thoughts?

Ryan Aliapoulios

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011

Funny Or Die

As late as this may be...

I only knew about Funny or Die when I attended the workshops. Before that, it was merely a website that some people I knew go on from time to time to take breaks. I never watched any of the videos or really heard anything about them. However, after attending their workshop on Thursday and watching some of their videos, I really enjoyed their work. I commend Mike and Chris for working in an area they enjoy and not simply giving up and settling once they realized how hard it would be breakthrough in the Hollywood industry. However, it made me realize that most of their success could be due to the fact that one of their co-founders is Will Ferrell. Because of their association with Will Ferrell and his long-standing career as a comedian, other actors and actresses naturally trust his taste in comedy. While I do admire the qualities and marketing strategies Funny or Die has implemented (Twitter, Facebook, etc), I believe it may have had it easy in terms of viral videos. Plenty of people on Youtube post many videos throughout their Youtube lifetime and still only a few amongst the millions become well-known. After Funny or Die's initial creation, it has become a great company in that those working there still have lots of creative freedom instead of the enormous companies that have many people with conflicting views. In addition to the creative freedom of writers, they have an abundance of actors willing to participate and scripts that can be filmed within a week or so. Basically, it seems like Funny or Die had the right timing, right people, and right idea. As the internet begins to potentially overtake television (with many shows being aired online), viral videos and companies such as Funny or Die may become more and more popular and perhaps eventually take over traditional forms of media.

YouTube and User Invention

As I sit in the SAC department reading YouTube: Digital Media and Society Series" by Jean Burgess and Joshua Green., I realize that most social networks, including the YouTube community, are designed and built by the users. We already discussed how users have become producers in the digital age, but I never realized that facebook, YouTube, flickr and MySpace are simply platforms where we represent our identities and invent new ways to create identity online. I actually am excited to write this paper now. Weird.