Research Presentation

Did my presentation yesterday, we presented alphabetically, so I was second… I was not as formally prepared as some of my colleagues, but I was quite happy with how it went. My goal (and inner argument) was that I should not have to ‘prepare’ something formal to tell people what my research is. I have been working on different parts of the same research for the last four years. At first, there were a few puzzled looks, as I stated that identity (in my research world) is a process and not a thing (or label); that which is between interacting nodes of a network. For my colleagues, this defintion may have come off a bit strange considering that at the beginning of the semester,  we discussed the concept of identity as a box; a definition; a limitting label. I don’t disagree with this form of definition, it is just not how I am working with the term. I was asked why I continue to use the word identity, if that is not what I mean by it (exactly). Thanks to my undergraduate honours thesis which explored the various definitions of identity across several disciplines in relation to video games, I feel that it is ok to use a word even though it has an ‘ambiguous meaning. As iterated by a good friend last night, people have been using words outside their strict definitions for eons – and as long as I am able to iterate my context that will lend to my specialized version of meaning, then it should be ok.

Also, I want to thank my colleague Dominic for giving me a word that I am just itching to use – pentalectic. Isn’t it fabulous! One of my key theories is that identity construction and maintenance in mmorpg’s (as a case study to exemplify other types of digitally mediated identity) is a “5-point” relationship (msg me for details if interested heh) compared to the traditiona symbolic interactionist self-other ‘two-way’ relationship. I have always used “5-point” to describe what I am talking about – and just yesterday Dominic threw out the term pentalectic and I was elated. Then this morning, I found this great paper on terminology. Wish I could print it out – but ink is running low … anywho. All this to say that it was a good exercise, to be able to explain what it is I am doing without a formal presentation. I am trying to practice ‘riffing’ with direction and purpose. It is a skill indeed! It has also inspired me to work a bit on the direction I am heading. That, coupled with the 15 page methodology paper/presentation I have to give on my thesis topic for March 26th should help solidify my direction a but more.

Research Directions (or ramblings)

I have to give a short presentation (10-12 minutes) tomorrow morning explaining my doctoral research topic. Piece of cake I thought when it was assigned. Now, the day before I have to ‘share’, I am lost in a tangled ball of yarn. It is not that I do not know what I am working towards, but rather, each time I try to articulate it, I am unsure about how far back in my work do I have to go; how much contextualization and defining of terms do I have to do? I have practised to hard to get my research spiel down to 2 minutes or less, that to stretch it out to 10-12 minutes seems … well … harder than I thought!

The other day, in my joint seminar, we had to send our phd proposals to the visiting professor who was lecturing for three classes. Upon reading them, he had stated that despite the subject differences of our projects, as cinema students, the one thing that ties us all together is that we will all (at least) be doing film analysis within our thesis’. I felt like a fraud at that moment. I have no intention of doing a film analysis. My goal coming into a film studies department was to be exposed to (and immersed in) film literature. Theory that focuses on the visual, the fictional, the constructed, the spectator, the screen, the institution, etc. My intention is to take all of that fabulous film theory and view it through my sociologically trained eyes and look at identity and digital technology – and video games specifically for the case of my thesis.

Not only that, but I remember the fundamental issue in my MA thesis was “whose identity” was I talking about; the avatar’s or the player’s. In the end,  my conclusion was that identity is not a thing to be had per se – owned by any one either player or avatar, but that it was what existed between the player and the avatar (I am thinking power a la Foucault). I still like (and agree) with this argument, but I am still unsure how I will use the literature from film studies to further solidify this line of thinking… I had written my proposal ambiguous enough to allow flexibility … the topic is and always will be identity and technology; but how to I clearly iterate this to my classmates… in French!

Elasticity of Time: Films & Games

I am taking a course that is taught jointly with the Sorbonne Paris 3 (as I mentioned in an earlier post) and we have been given our (only) assignment for the course. There are four sections of the course covering different topics. We are to pick one of the four topics and write a paper (30pgs, 1.5 spacing heh) that interests us (in terms of position, method, theoretical framework etc.). As I am not directly interested in film, its analysis and construction, however, I had to think about what I could do that fits somewhat into my own work (as suggested by the course outline).

Without thinking of how this fits directly into my work on identity, the first three sessions, taught by Phillippe Dubois are on the ways in which ‘image stops’ (bad translation) and manipulation of time within film impacts the viewing experience (to be fair, there was alot more in his lectures than this, along with technical proceedures, the historical evolution of the use of time in film (and photogrammes – again,  translation issues here) etc.

So what I am thinking is, what time manipulations are carried over from film into video games, are the purposes the same or different – if so, how – and what (if anything) does gameplay bring to the equation in terms of elasticity of time. I would appreciate any reading suggestions to head in this direction in both film and game studies – I know that surely there has been a decent amount written around this topic.

In terms of identity, I know there is also much to be said regarding time-play and the development of both character and self [player]. But before I head in that direction, I need to clarify (to myself even!) my doctoral direction.

Rock Band

Perhaps a day late on this one, but we played Rock Band for a friend’s birthday party and it was a blast. I am happy to have not tried the drums – not actually singing into the mic (although I did not hesistate to be the loud singer in the crowd) but the game was so far my favorite party video game. The only criticism I would have is that this game DEFINITLY warrants a projector.

Call Me Crazy

But I love my four distinct seasons here in Montreal Canada… I have always thought that each season was about as long as it needed to be. Summer is nice, but hot is hot, and here in the city, the humidity can take your breath away; which is one of the reasons I spend my summers on the east coast. By the time I am getting fed up of hot days and humid, sleepless nights, fall rolls in with its fresh, crisp air, bright sunshine and crunchy fallen leaves. I like fall (or autumn) because it eases me into the cold weather of winter. I am always excited when the first snow falls (and stays) and as someone who does not drive a vehicle, and lives in a city with (decent) public transit, I love snow storms. I love the harsh sunshine reflecting off of the snow, and getting to wear scarves all day long (and not coming off as a bohemian wannabe). As winter goes on, I welcome the first warm days of spring. Again, a season that is designed (if it were) to ease us into the hot beaming sun. A season that feels like we are being awarded for what we just went through with the cold days and snowbanks. Spring brings us back to summer, the sun, the heat, air conditioning if you are lucky and bare minimum dress codes if you are not.

What I don’t like is; no snow for the holidays. Cold, wet afternoons in August and abnormally hot weather in January (10 degrees celcius is just plain exagerration for mid January if you ask me). I dislike thunder and lightning when it should be snowing, and I dislike hail in July. I hate not seeing the sun in what seems like forever in January and I hate seeing green grass in the middle of winter, just as much as I hate having to wear a full polar fleece and wool socks on the beach in July (yes, I have been so desperate for beach time while on holiday that I refused to give in to the bad weather that I have sat all day in blowing winds and +12 weather on the side of the ocean … have the pictures to prove it.)

What bothers me the most about all of these abnormal weather patterns is that is messes with the ebb and flow of seasonal change. I expect my summers to be hot and humid. I don’t usually complain until its been at least two months. I expect my winters to be full of snow and subzero weather – again, I don’t often complain until it has been at least a few months into winter. I expect spring to ease me into summer and I expect fall to ease me into winter. I dislike being reminded how cold it really is with flashes of warm weather in the middle of winter and vice versa with summer. I am reminded that our earth is changing, and by messing with my seasonal boundaries – it doesn’t feel like good change. Please, I just want my four seasons back.

Sound Distractions

While playing and researching video games has been my intellectual bread and butter over the last few years, I was taken a bit aback this morning how annoyingly repetitive game sounds are when you are not the one playing. No big secret really. But I really thought that since I had become accustomed to my partner’s late night gaming sessions (we have a set up in our bedroom for such sessions) that I would be unbothered by such things. Unfortunately, trying to work and trying to sleep are two different things. As I settled into my office this morning to work, my partner had already climbed into the daybed and had the xbox up and running (I swear he races me in there when he knows I have to work!). While normally, I can work with any amount of background noise (having two kids since the beginning of your academic career will do that to you) today’s game (Ninety-Nine Nights .. ) drove me batty with all the repetitive battle sounds. Nary an interesting cut-scene to happily distract me, instead its lots of grunts, groans and clanging swords. I suppose when you are not enveloped in the gameplay, everything sounds the same, looping over and over and over again… and all I have to say is ‘aaaarrgh’!

Mainstreaming WoW

As much as we all know that World of Warcraft has hit the mainstream gaming audience with a veneance given their record subscription numbers, over this holiday season (when I had a chance to watch way more television than a healthy adult should) I was a little taken aback (perhaps pleasantly, I am not sure) to see William Shatner and Mr. T. plug gameplay in WoW. The commercials are show Shatner talk about his shaman-ness and throwing lightning bolts; Mr. T. ‘s avatar sporting the same, signature mohawk…Heck, while looking for those two links, I noticed even Jean Claude Van Damme has a commercial for WoW in French promoting www.warcraft.fr.

Now, besides the wow factor (grr, I hate that WoW has infringed on the use of the word wow…), I was interested in the fact that the three actors in these commercials would appeal to a particular demographic. My daughters don’t even know who Shatner is beyond his commercial spots for All Bran … while I believe my mother would play World of Warcraft if Van Damme does (or urged her to). Each actor also [one could argue] represents a particular (potential) player type, letting us know that all types of people play this game and not just ‘gamers’. But what does that do to the culture of the game?

As someone who has been interested in player and game culture by way of my colleagues, I am always happy for a game’s success but fear some sort of ‘high culture / mass culture’ kind of dilution of game culture, as much as I hate to admit it. I keep thinking of the (proverbial) great indy band that kicked butt, played hard and struggled to ‘make it’. Only to find out that once they’ve ‘made it’, they had to alter their sound to something more pallateable to the larger mainstream audience. More often then not, it is usually the downfall of something that, in its niche, was great. As entertained as I am when watching the WoW commercials, I get an increasing sense of loss – a sense of cheapening of a rich experience for so many people who enjoy the game through the participation of its culture. I feel like I have been listening to that cool indy band no one ever heard of before they got famous and now everyone and their dog thinks they’ve just discovered them… childish, I know.. but I fear what it will do to future mmorpg’s and who they will cater to in their design. Not a new question or concern for many, but one that pops its head up when commercials like these get heavy airplay.