november 2001


home: jill/txt

version 1.1d4

painful typing

Typing hurts. Even holding up a book hurts. I'm officially on sick leave till my tendonitis clears up. About two weeks, probably. No typing means no blogging. Dear blog, I'll miss you.

posted: 23/11/01 11:09

do everything in the wrong order

Remember I signed up for the SMS - experiment - Surrender Control? I've been getting SMSes all week. I'm trying to work out what I think about it. Let me show you the kinds of messages I've been getting. I've put in the date and time each message was received, but since I'm in a different time zone to Britain, if I received a message at midnight Norwegian time it was sent at eleven pm British time.

28. Write the word SORRY on your hand and leave it there until it fades. (21/11, 00:01)

29. Look at the stars. (21/11, 00:59)

30. Think about an ex-lover, naked and tied to a bed. (21/11, 10:00)

31. Call someone. Tell a lie. (21/11, 13:15)

32. Call them back. Admit that you lied but do not tell the truth about why. (21/11, 13:30)

My phone is usually off at night, or forgotten in a jacket pocket inside a cupboard or something, so I haven't been getting the nighttime messages at nighttime - when I fished out my phone this morning there were lots of messages. The frequency seems to be increasing, and the kind of instructions are changing. It's becoming more erotic and more intimate. As if we're approaching a climax.

39. Touch your skin in three places where another has touched you recently. (21/11, 21:45)

40. Pinch your skin. Hard. Are you dreaming? (22/11, 00:00)

41. Are you dreaming? (22/11, 01:01)

42. Are you in love? (22/11, 02:00)

43. Do you love me? (22/11, 03.00)

44. Are you scared? (22/11, 04:00)

45. Are you awake? (22/11, 05:45)

We have a history together now - a message like "Fingers in mouth" instantly recalls the first morning's message "Put your fingers in your mouth" and the messages sent around then.

At first I felt as though something was lacking. Motivation, I think. Why would I want to follow these instructions? I wanted more of a story, reasons, causality, a role to fill, perhaps? Who was supposed to be sending these messages? I can easily imagine a messaging sequence like this with a clear narrative frame.

That's not what this is about though. This is participatory concept art. I can enjoy the idea of following these commands, or I can actually do them. (I've been doing some of them. Not all of them. And imagining seeing someone else doing them. But I haven't yet.)

And yet there is some narrative here. It's like a very loosely woven net that I slip through easily, but if I'm careful to stay inside it I can pull at threads and find the connections, feel someone else pulling threads pulling me towards them, imagine from the rhythm of the pulling and the messages who that other person might be.

Do everything in the wrong order, was my latest instruction. Shall I? Hmm...

47. Reminder: Do things in the wrong order. (22/11, 11:00)

How? Mm..

posted: 22/11/01 11:01

obesity or long fingernails

Of course, obesity, long fingernails and doublejointedness are also a worry.

posted: 21/11/01 20:15

mouse designed for men

Did you know many times more women than men suffer from RSI and tendonitis and other computer-related problems? And did you know that your mouse and your keyboard were specifically designed for men? (of course, my tendonitis is not in my mouse hand and I use a trackpad, but still...)

posted: 21/11/01 20:11


My hand hurts. And my arm and my thumb and my elbow. "Tendonitis", the doctor said, giving me a prescription for something and telling me not to worry, just take the tablets, I'll be fine. No physiotherapy or preventative exercises. Being an incurable information-addict, I went online. If your doctor sends you home with nothing but anti-inflammatories she's a bad doctor, says someone in Wired. Ultrasound saved me, says Lisbeth. Squeezy balls, Torill recomends. Rest! says the university physiotherapist. And do you keep your wrists flat when you type? And of course, searching the web, I found the horror stories of people who can't eat unassisted or brush their teeth - all due to RSI. Better get offline, huh?

posted: 21/11/01 19:59


Se p dette forslaget til den nasjonale kunnskapsbase som ikke stoff, men ogs lar deg finne kunnskapen som fins p bibliotekene, i tidsskriftene og i lokalmiljet ditt. Da er det virkelig poeng i legge kunnskapsbasen p nettet!

posted: 20/11/01 15:11

where are the quick comments?

"I miss those quick little remarks", said Thomas over lunch. "What happened?" Ah. I do write differently in Ceres. Something about the size of the writing space which invites more words. And something about the feel of it being a serious place where each post takes space on my screen. And something about the immediacy of Blogger where a button on my browser instantly lets me "blog this" - I miss that button. I always have Ceres open so writing is quick but still not quite as "chatty" as the "blog this" button in my browser.

OK, so I'll just let myself write quick little comments. Here's to the return of the one-liner (or the one-linker)!

posted: 20/11/01 14:52

sentence: be a woman

Searching for "feminist blog" on google unsurprisingly turns up feministblog.com. As Adrian notes, web sites come with pretty generic labels. Feministblog.com has some good angry stuff. Had you heard that being made to dress up as a woman for an hour is an equivalent punishment to 60 days in jail? Colleen writes:

Seriously, does the judge have any idea how fucking insulting this is? Do you think if he had given them the choice to wear blackface and "dress up as black people" that it would have been so well received? It's so nice to know that my sex is being used as a punishment for others. That makes me feel great.

posted: 19/11/01 13:00

emergent narrative in reality TV

I've often heard The Sims compared with reality TV shows, but I've not seen a sustained discussion of that relationship anywhere. Marie-Laure Ryan doesn't talk about The Sims but about Survivor as artificial life in an essay she recently published, "From The Truman Show to Survivor: Narrative versus Reality in Fake and Real Reality TV" . Without quite mentioning simulations, she shows how Survivor is a system in which emergent narratives can blossom. Once the stage is set (and it's very carefully set), the participants and their interactions determine the course of what happens. Obviously it's edited and has a lot of constraints, but Ryan still sees it as related to AI. Or perhaps rather AL, artificial life.

Ramona, the chemist who was voted out in the early weeks of the show, aptly described the situation when she called it "a Petri dish for conflict." The stage may have been designed to maximise the chances of interpersonal friction, since audiences want drama, and drama needs conflict, but once they entered the closed world of the island, the participants wrote their own character by interacting with their social and natural environment. Survivor can be compared in this respect to an experiment in artificial life - with the emphasis on life rather than on artificiality. As N. Katherine Hayles describes it, artificial life is the name given to computer programs that create a complex self-organizing system by placing a number of digital objects, each endowed with specific behaviors, in a closed environment. The dynamics of the interaction between these silicon-based creatures causes them to evolve and to develop new behaviors that werent scripted in the original software. They are alive in the sense that they achieve autonomy with respect to their creator. As in all artificial life environments, the evolution of Survivor depended on the initial conditions of the system.

Big Brother, on the other hand, had a lot of scripting along the way. So did most (all?) Norwegian reality TV shows, I think.

posted: 19/11/01 11:47

flickwerk: anja's new blog!

Anja Rau, sharpwitted German hypertext critic and web developer, has started a blog! Flickwerk (flick means girl, right? or is that just in Swedish?) is the name. [update: in an email Kris writes that Flickwerk means patchwork. Thank you. My German is really bad...]

posted: 19/11/01 9:36


I've talked Ceres into generating an RSS file with the last two days worth of headlines from jill/txt - fascinatingly simple. All it means is that a little XML file called jilltxt_latest.rss is automatically generated along with my blog, and other sites can use that file to make

posted: 19/11/01 9:30

baudrillard on sep 11

Here's Baudrillard's article "The Spirit of Terrorism" in the original (Le Monde, 2/11) and in English translation.

posted: 18/11/01 13:19

meteor storms

Tonight we should be able to see the Leonids, what will look like meteor rain or falling stars, because the Earth is passing through dust trails from a comet. [English]

posted: 18/11/01 12:43


Random generated cut-ups of news in your chosen region: Dodonews by Gisle Frysland, Bergen boy. The sort of thing I'd nearly get a data projector and extra computer for so I could have it on my office wall while I work.

posted: 16/11/01 16:14

tale of the future

A world split between The Allies and The Independents? Where Indies wear black bands to commemorate the Great Betrayal. The day the old U.S. sold out to Microsoft. And where weblogs save the day :)

We might die. We're taught you have obligations -- to the community, to the planet, to the Net. Tom ... we've got to start a weblog."

"Now, Bequi. That's something your grandmother would say. And we aren't that bad off."

"If something more went wrong, there mightn't be time. And that's the worst thing you can do. The very worst. To be, well, closed." To her, the word is obscene.

[Mark Bernstein: Tom and Bequi: The web journal that brought down the wall]

posted: 16/11/01 12:05


I'm evaluating websites that have been nominated for rets Kunstnettsteder [Norwegian art websites of the year] and I'm dumbstruck by Utsmykkingsfondets project of the month - an art piece in a jail which to me makes the rather ugly meeting hall of this jail look like a dungeon complete with chains and torture equipment. According to the artist statement it connotes an alterpiece and incorporates a working climbing wall. Written into the wall are words composed by the minister of justice (!), some of the criminals and some victims of violence. I'm not sure I could handle all that symbolism if I were one of the inmates. I struggle eating in our university canteen, where the wall hangings show terrifying giants devouring hundreds of tiny people and a burning village. What were they thinking! Perhaps my problem is simply that I still identify myself with the helpless little eaten-up people. When I'm a professor perhaps I'll feel differently.

posted: 15/11/01 16:58

sloppy programming --> bad literature?

Anja Rau has written a brutally honest review of Caitlin Fisher's These Waves of Girls, the hypertext fiction that won the $10000 ELO award earlier this year. She slaughters the piece for its poor interface, sloppy programming and bad use of flash, frames and sound. I'd add the spelling mistakes to that. I love lots of bits of Waves, and yet I agree with many of Anja's criticisms. I want more professional looking web writing. I want to feel that the people who've made it have cared enough to iron out bugs, proof-read it and beta-test it. There are problems with that though. Professionally polished vessels for writing are as Anja writes something that print has trained us to expect. The web might not ever produce that. Perhaps it shouldn't? Or shouldn't only? Polished interfaces aren't necessary to good art - often the broken or buggy interface is a major point. But please - make it properly broken if it's supposed to be broken, don't just be careless. I think Waves could have done with some more editing and beta-testing and maybe some advice from a designer, but as Adrian pointed out to me, you can read its flaws as intentional - the design could suit a young girl's web project with trashy, overladen aesthetics. (though most young girls' websites seem to feature exquisite manga design and look very professional) Would sort of fit in with the theme of the narrative. If it was more thoroughly done ("worse") it would be easier to interpret it that way.

(I read about Anja's review at Mark's blog and became aware of the problems of expecting bug-free writing while talking with Adrian)

posted: 14/11/01 12:42


I want to make archives for themes in my blog. I've already done it, but I'm hesitating to publish it because once I put it online I should leave it put. If someone links to a topic archive and I change the way I do them or move them, the links will break. I do see Ted Nelson's point about giving everything a unique name rather than an URL that is likely to change. It'd be hard to implement though.

posted: 14/11/01 12:24

surrendering to a narrative

I've surrendered control to a "narrative experiment". It feels strange, punching in the word "surrender" and sending it to a stranger. What will the messages be? Will I like it? Will I hate it? Will 75 SMSs in 5 days drive me crazy?

You can now surrender control. SMS the keyword SURRENDER to 07870 679048 to subscribe (+447870 679048 outside the UK) before the 18th November. The subscription keyword will be disabled after this point.

You will receive 75 instructions over 5 days, starting 19th November. To unsubscribe at any point, send the message CONTROL to the same number. The messages will stop soon afterwards, and you will be able to return to your normal life.

I got a confirmation SMS so it seems to work fine from Norway.

posted: 12/11/01 21:02

and i've moved to ceres

It's official. I now blog in Ceres, not in Blogger. The old archives are still the blogger versions, but this month is totally Ceresized. The layout's a bit wonky - I'm not quite sure what I want it to look like, so I guess it'll be variable for a while at least. And there are some details I haven't quite figured out yet, like how to get Ceres to show the time I've posted something as well as the date - and I would love for Ceres to figure out that the 12th of November is a Monday for instance.

Ceres can do a lot of cool stuff. It can be a bit overwhelming to learn it all though. Using it for note-taking is a breeze, pure fun - it's a great tool for writing and thinking. It's also really good for publishing some of those notes, in a blog, for instance, but it takes a little work to set it up. I tried to set up Ceres to publish my blog from scratch, using the manual, but it just became something I dreaded working on. Last night I instead just cut and pasted my notes into a template provided with Ceres that was sort of close to what I wanted, and hey presto I was up and publishing within the hour. It took a couple more hours to change things (layout, nifty stuff in the templates, and especially making the archives and permanent links work the way I wanted) but that's not bad. I should know by now that I learn best by taking something already there and adjusting it for my own purposes - not by reading the manual and starting from scratch.

posted: 12/11/01 13:02

banner ads for a blog

You may have come across banner ads for Adnan's blog reading blogs hosted by blogspot. They're among the few banner ads I actually feel like clicking. He changes his front page graphics a lot too, and they're invariably poignant. Adnan's an American Arab and illustrates his feelings and opinions about the war so expressively.

posted: 9/11/01 14:56

new hypertexty articles

The current issue of Currents in Electronic Literacy Fall 2001 (No. 5) focuses on e-poetics, e-criticism and accessibility. Articles by hypertexty people like M. D. Coverly, Deena Larsen, Adrian Miles, John Slatin, etc.

posted: 9/11/01 14:23

i'd like to live here too!

So, This Is Heaven: Norway Three-year maternity leaves, broad part-time opportunities and creative application of telecommuting help keep women in the work force. So do the generous benefits for both men and women of eight weeks' vacation, liberal sick leave and day care that is reliable and inexpensive.

Well, we don't quite have three years maternity leave or eight weeks holiday (10 months parental leave + 26 months extra unpaid leave and five weeks holiday isn't bad though). Much more important is the fact that legislation ensures that fathers take their share of that leave - if not, it disappears. I hate listening to non-Scandinavians, like these, discussing "mothers in the workforce" as though fathers don't exist. Norwegian fathers, and our society's expectations of them, are in my view the best thing about this country. I would not enjoy living in a place where it is assumed that kids are going to affect a mother's career more than a father's. Btw, how come I find this article in the LA Times and not in local press? I guess I'm not mediasaturated enough. Ha. Oh, and look!

State assistance to single mothers is so generous that there is no need for a father's income. Half the children here are now born out of wedlock.

Isn't that shocking? A Malaysian man I sat next to flying home once had heard of Norway. "Norway not good. Your prince marry single mother! Not good!"

On the up side, "sales of home spas have risen 20% in each of the past few years." That's so comforting :) Oh, and hey, where are my coffee and pastries? "At the office, there is a continuous supply of coffee and pastries, and workaholics are objects of pity among their peers."

posted: 9/11/01 13:34

writing differently

I wrote the last entry in Ceres, offline and relaxed. I write differently in Ceres than in Blogger, I think.

  • I often write longer posts in Ceres, perhaps because I'm not constrained by the small box Blogger provides. I can scroll and write long long posts in Blogger, but usually I don't - the size of the writing space seems to make me think in smaller chunks. In Ceres I can stretch the window to fill more of my screen, and I don't worry about the server crashing or time spent online or anything like that.

  • In Blogger I think and write towards a reader, whereas Ceres feels like a more private space. In Ceres, I'm quite likely to start a post I intend for my blog and then decide to keep it private, because it's too personal or because I'm not sure about it or because it's about something in my research that needs to sit and draw for a while, like a pot of tea, before it's ready. In Blogger I would probably just not write the private post, or I'd delete it - I think that in Ceres, these not-quite-ready posts, and the too-private ones, actually get written and kept for later, whereas using Blogger they never exist.

  • In Ceres I link much less. I don't like that. I love how Blogger encourages me to link to other sites. Partly that's because I'm obviously online when I use Blogger, but I don't link much in Ceres when I'm online-all-the-time at work either. It's an aesthetical thing mostly, I think. Blogger shows me the "clean" version of my post with links looking the way they will on the website, whereas links in Ceres notes are really ugly. I hate having to look at the code for links all the time. Mind you, Ceres does a great job of internal links (between my own posts, for instance) but most of my links in my blog are external. Update, Jan 2002: Tinderbox (used to be called Ceres), now has elegant links that look clean in the writing space.

posted: 9/11/01 10:45

reading the newspaper

Warm coffee, yellow flowers on the kitchen table, cold snow outside and a fresh newspaper spread out in front of me. I'm reading it leisurely, delighting in the morning calm and the empty house. A review of Agns Varda's documentary:

Ikke et yeblikk finnes det tvil om at Varda har brukt kamera som om det var en penn. Aldri kommer den en snikende fornemmelsen av at kamera har fungert som et slags forlenget ye for en ureflektert regissr. [There's not a moments doubt that Varda has used the camera as a pen. I never have that sneaking feeling that the camera is a kind of extended eye for an unreflected/unreflexive/uncritical director.]

The camera should be a pen, not an eye? A pen, to this reviewer, connotes a thoughtful, critical, self-reflexive approach to reality. Eyes, and perhaps visuality in general, is a nave way of looking at the world. This is an ancient bias - remember the iconoclasts who hated images and banned them from churches, thinking they would distract us from true religion. It reminds me of the woman who came up to me after a talk I gave on electronic literature to tell me she didn't like literature on a screen because it robbed her of her imagination, just like film and television.

But why these metaphors? Pen, writing, thought vs. camera, eye, uncritical. Is the idea of writing as aware and deliberate the flip side of the idea that cameras and images speak the truth? Yet Varda's strength in this paragraph is that she collapses the opposition between writing and image: Varda's uses her camera like a pen. Perhaps it's the deliberateness of writing that is the main point here. Mind you, pens draw as well as write, don't they. So is it distance that's the point, then? Distance between hand and brain, the tool of the pen, and the distance in time between seeing and capturing?

Near the review of Varda's documentary there's an article about a Munch exhibition opening today: Munch and Woman. If you've seen many Munch paintings, you'll know that Munch had a weird relationship to women, at least in his paintings. The article quotes him thus

Jeg har altid sat min kunst foran alt, og jeg flte ofte kvinden som en hindring for mit arbeide. [I have always put my art before everything else, and I often felt woman as a hindrance to my work]

Interesting that Munch writes "woman" and not "women" or a specific woman. What is woman? Someone who shaves her legs and has a shower every morning, as Hilde discusses? Someone or something who hinders work?

On a morning like this, I agree with Munch. Woman hinders my work too. If, that is, woman is understood as that which constantly insists I worry about whether I'm a good enough mother, whether my floors are clean enough, whether the neighbours will be upset that I didn't mow my lawn to the correct winter length before snowfall, whether my hair looks daggy, whether I'm loved, whether people will still like me if I don't put on makeup one morning, whether I'll be taken more seriously if I wear a skirt or trousers or a suit and what kind of trousers. The list is endless and I'm sure you can add to it.

You know, women often complain about "men" (though rarely about "man"), but I've still not heard a woman complain that "I felt man as a hindrance to my work." Of course they are, but we never say it that way. We're more likely to complain, as I did, that being a woman (whatever that means) makes total devotion to work hard. The problem is really, of course, that if you insist on seeing the world like this, being human (loving, caring, parenting, having friends) is a hindrance to work.

The best solution to this state of mind is often to sit down in an empty house, ignoring the mess and seeing only the fresh flowers and the milky coffee and the spread-out newspaper. Then go and blog it all out of your system. Works a treat.

posted: 9/11/01 10:28

links in newspapers

Dagbladet, one of Norway's biggest tabloids and probably the best net newspaper in the country, has started using lots of links in articles. Look at this article - Terrormistenkte risikerer tortur i USA - there are links here to older news stories giving background information, but there are also external links, to Amnesty's web site, and to articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post. This isn't quite amazoning the news yet but it's certainly bringing net newspapers closer to the way real people use the web. (Yes, by real people I mean bloggers) I know this isn't new on a world wide basis but I recently was lectured about how newspapers can't have external links because under Norwegian law the editor would then be responsible for all content at the external site and every site it linked to ad infinitum. Amazing idea, isn't it? I guess the lawyers changed their mind.

posted: 8/11/01 14:00


Metafilter discusses a site seemingly created by a furious jilted mistress with access to surveillance cameras and soem quicktime skills: icanstilltellyourwifebill.com. Gotta love the internet, one of the discussers had found that the people who registered the domain also had a casting call out for an "internet short film series" that fits this description. They obviously spent more money on paying the actress for "tasteful partial nudity" than on a server with decent bandwidth - it's slow. Kind of cool idea though, and certainly a wonderful premise for structuring a narrative! [Update: today (thursday) the site's almost dismantled: most links are gone. However, if you clicked all the way through the links and images the other day, apparently you got to a page stating that "The data you have just viewed was discovered when YarnBird purchased several computer servers from a bankrupt hosting company." You can buy it on DVD and the logo says YarnBird: interactive storytelling. Weirdly, the word yarnbird doesn't exist on the internet at all, according to google. Two casting calls that are cached but no longer on the web. There's a story in itself, there - this is like the levels of story and sleuthwork to find that story in the game made to advertise A.I.]

posted: 6/11/01 12:00

dedicated weblogger

Did I answer the quiz honestly or just cunningly? "You are a dedicated weblogger. You post frequently because you enjoy weblogging a lot, yet you still manage to have a social life. You're the best kind of weblogger. Way to go!"

posted: 6/11/01 10:40

computer's back!

My computer's back! And working perfectly, and now I've put my my own preferences into the newly installed system, it's just the way I want it to be. Now I'm going to back up all my most precious things. And hunt down the person I think should be paying the bill...

posted: 5/11/01 11:34

home again

Home again. Yesterday was the "research seminar", which turned out not to be a research seminar at all but a handful of PhD students working on digital media along with a pile of journalists, video producers, undergraduate music students and other passers-by who thought this interactivity thing sounded really cool and would like to learn about it. I'd expected to hear about other researchers' projects and have some good discussions, but instead we were given undergraduate lectures on basic communication and literary theory, the origins of drama in ritual and on definitions of narration. There are times when it's great mixing people who've been in the field for a while with newcomers, but that was not how this was advertised. After three solid days of listening to people give lectures it was more than I could take and I left. Yesterday was not a great day, all in all. Though I did have a few good conversations with people, and I did find some wonderful chairs to read in in a secluded rest area at Copenhagen Airport. It's good to be home again.

posted: 4/11/01 9:55

reinventing the story?

Reinventing the story. Narratives for the 21st century. That was the title of the panel I moderated today. Strange being the moderator. I kept wanting to butt in but I decided that wasn't really my job - and there were more than enough audience questions and discussion on the panel as it was. It was a pretty good panel I think, in a packed auditorium - clearly a lot of people are interested in narrative and interactive media. Everyone on the panel was a maker, and they were all interested in stuff from older media - drama, mainly, though also cinema and oral story-telling - and seemed unaware of research on digital media. Ingolf Gabold, head of Danmark Radio's (the public broadcasting company in Denmark) TV division, said we need to put the whole Western drama into interactive media. (ugh!) Maureen Thomas, answering a question about the relevance of games, argued that new development in games won't happen in the games industry, because they have too much pressure on commercial success and not enough money (!) and that innovation will come from people "like us" doing research on interactive narrative. I was quite surprised at that - games are developing fast. And she said that a play, you know, in a theatre, is a game between the audience and the actors. That's making the word "game" do a bit too much work, in my opinion. All the panellists did have interesting experiences with practical work and certainly older forms of story-telling can be really useful to thinking about the kinds of stories that are told in digital media. sa Harvard had interesting thoughts about the ways kids use toys for story-telling, and Christian Fonnesbech considered using Stanislavski's theories of acting and motivating actors to act realistically to develop ways of motivating the audience to be actors themselves. He has interesting projects on the way, too. Stories are clearly one of the things many people enjoy in/on computers.

Mika Tuomola talked about something I've wondered about for a while - why do we use a rectangular screen on computers? And why is digitalised video on the net always presented in that same rectangular format? Mika pinpointed the start of the rectangle to the coming of the proscenium stage in the 17-1800s (I think), pointing out that that was when we started differentiating strictly between the fictional world of the play and the real world of the observers. Rectangles aren't necessary even in cinema, says Mika, after all the camera lense is round, and the first TVs were rounded too - it's easier to make a screen with round edges than a perfect square. Or it was when screens had electrons shooting around in them. Mika argued that the proscenium stage and the rectangular frame of cinema, theatre and almost everything we use on a computer is about separating the story and the audience, making stories non-interactive, in constrast to oral story-telling or commedia dell'arte theatre which had a much more inclusive relationship between the audience and the story-tellers or actors. I want to think about this some more - it might fit art too. Early art was mural or sculptural, wasn't it, not framed. Then there were medieval triptychs (not rectangular, often arched, but framed), and so perhaps framed paintings weren't common till the renaissance? About the same time as the proscenium stage. Perhaps the current fad for pervasive computing and interfaces other than mouse, keyboards and screens is a movement away from the rectangle and the screen between fiction and reality? Mmm.

posted: 2/11/01 14:52

games and sex

Mark Bernstein challenges people who think about games. "tell me everything we learn about, say, sexuality" from games - hm... Not much. Not yet. Or not in the games I've played. I certainly haven't played every game there is, far from it - I'm not one of those generalising I know everything about games researchers. Torill and other MUD and multi-user gamers may have learnt a lot more? Perhaps commercial games are aimed at teenage audiences and therefore dont want that sort of "adult" theme? Violence, of course, is fine. The Sims teaches a bit about sexuality. Weird stuff, mind you. Life rules - you need to download a special heart-shaped vibrating bed to actually make love, for instance.

I'm not sure that learning things from games is a criteria for importance though. I do like engaging with media/entertainment/whatever that makes me think about things. Some games probably do that. But learn? I'm not sure. Anyway, it's lunch time. See you!

posted: 2/11/01 11:56

wish you were here

Torill's wishing she were here and thinking about interactive vs. participatory - I wish there wasn't a queue for the net "caf" so I could read it properly. Torill, we wish you were here too!

posted: 2/11/01 11:50

power and narrative

"No, no, you have to move more agressively. It thinks you're submitting to it. You have to move fast, and take as much space as possible. Try cracking the whip, that might do it." Bino & Cool's Masterclass, an exhibit at the art gallery here (which does have a good web site if you know where to click), turns our attempts to control our computers into role-playing rituals of dominance and submission. Cool crept up towards the screen, head bowed, and the screen image cracked a whip at him, ordering him to obey her. "He likes taking the submissive role", Bino explained. Cool himself was silent. Bino was glorious in her leather corset, high heels, long latticed finger gloves and the theatrical whip with its loud cracks. She strode confidently up to the machine and made the dom on the screen change into a crouching submissive slave, begging for her approval. It was hard work though. Even Bino had to struggle to keep dominating the machine she'd created. "That camera tracks the speed of your movements, and your height and where in the room you are", she explained. Of course I tried, wanting to be dominant as all the audience seemed to want, or at least to think they wanted - except Cool. The screen flickered between submitting and dominating personas - "It can't make up its mind whether you're a sub or a dom", Bino remarked.

Submitting to the machine, trying to dominate it. Both give us pleasure, I think. Most computer entertainment is mostly about the pleasure (and sometimes frustration) of submission. Taking one of those roles in a power game with our machines is a form of role-playing, mimicry that in itself can be pleasurable. Watching people play with Bino and Cool's role-playing machine I noticed that though almost everyone wanted to try and dominate the machine, hardly anyone could sustain that domination for more than instants in between being dominated. Perhaps that's descriptive of our relationship with computers in general?

Last night we went to a debate on "Computers and Narrative" at a pub. It was packed, standing room only. The speakers were an installation artist who uses some digital stuff in her work and a computer game designer. Neither of them really spoke about narrative - they just presented their stuff. Noone really spoke much about narrative at all, not in the hour of questions after the presentations either. At the end I asked them whether they saw themselves as storytellers or as something else - neither quite answered the question, but they certainly seemed to feel that storytelling was sort of part of it but not at all the most important part of their work. I wonder why narrative is being used as such a - ah, pervasive label? Why are a visual and installation artist and a game designer asked to talk about narrative? Why is a panel with dramaturgs and toy designers suddenly about stories? I do think narrative is important in our world - I love stories, and I think there are stories in a lot of digital entertainment, including some games. But pretending stories are the most important thing in "interactivity" occludes the field, I think. I guess stories are seen as stable, trustworthy and something that will make us feel safe with new technology. But you know, in pedagogy, playing and problem-solving are the current trends (I'm not primarily a pedagogue, so I base that assertion on conversations with friends who are teachers and pay attention to this stuff) - narrative doesn't seem to be the main thing there. So why is it here?

John Thackera's keynote this morning was good - he's an excellent speaker. He's a designer and the director of the fascinating Dutch conference series called Doors of Perception - he had good thoughts about values and questions to ask about technology design. Since then I've been wandering round the expo and the art gallery - the last parallell sessions didn't tickle my fancy, but I've played a relaxation game trying to send a ball across a table top to my opponent by relaxing as a band around my forehead scans my brainwaves. I only won when we reversed the game and tried to be the most stressed instead ;) More about the artwork tomorrow perhaps. I'm going to be a tourist in Copenhagen this afternoon. Tomorrow is Maureen Thomas's research seminar on Interactivity and Narrativity - I'm not sure what we're supposed to be doing, but it's a full day affair.

posted: 2/11/01 11:48

NIC 2001, day 2

Yesterday's second keynote was by Maureen Thomas, billed as a leading expert on interactive narrative. She gave a very entertaining talk, talking to nearly 50 minutes of video clips - she argued that cinematic editing and camerawork has moved from a 2D representation of the world with the audience as distanced viewers through using the screen as a window to a 3D world to pulling spectators into the 3D world using subjective camera angles, surround sound etc. Of course all this leads up to showing how 3D environments in computer games also use this kind of perspective but would do much better using more advanced cinematic techniques and better image quality. I don't agree with all her arguments - for instance, I think Ang Lee's camera angles and cutting in Crouching Tiger are probably much more inspired by Hong Kong cinema than by computer games. And if I understood her correctly, she thinks that cut scene narrative segments that interrupt gameplay are not only invented by recent games like Final Fantasy but are also a wonderful development. She didn't really speak much about what interactive narrative might be, but it seems she's more interested really in creating environments you'd enjoy experiencing rather than "interacting" in. Mind you, I may have misunderstood this. I spoke with her a bit at the reception last night (as always, the Danes put on a wonderful "light" buffet that was ample, filling and delicious and with good beer too. No wine of course.) and she's friendly and has definite opinions - a good combination, I think.

Maureen likes "interactivity". Refusing to use the word is like denying evolution and Darwin, she reckons. She differentiates between "participator" and Janet Murray's "interactor", she said, and explained to me that participator is a well-established term from visual and installation art - I didn't know that. Participatory art is art which needs the audience to push a button or turn up or something for the art to "happen" but the art isn't otherwise affected by the individuals who see/experience it. Participate in it, I suppose. Interactive art, on the other hand, is somehow changed by the interactor - and Maureen agrees that it's extremely rare. Her example of interactive art was a German piece (sorry, I don't remember the artist), a projection of a detail of a classic painting into a picture frame. It looks like a classic painting, but tracks your eye movements when you look at it, and dissolves as you look at it. So when you move your eyes across it, you create (?) a trail of dissolution. I'm not quite sure why that's interactive and not partipatory. Might have to ask her again.

This morning Norbert Streitz is speaking about disappearing computers and buildings "as interfaces to cooperation and information". He's provided me with more words for my collection of what my field(s) might be: ambient agora, ubiquitous interfaces, pervasive information spaces.

It was much easier getting to know a few people at the reception last night than at lunch. Maybe people are friendlier when they know there's an easy out - "I just need to get some more beer, see you!" The first guy I spoke with just walked up with a slightly manic look on his face and said "Hi, are you in virtual reality?" He's a web designer but wants to be in virtual reality so he can build a golf simulator that'll make him as good as Tiger Woods. I wonder if he found the virtual reality mentor he was searching for.

posted: 2/11/01 10:18


I think I'll go listen to this debate tomorrow night. "What are we doing when we talk to a thing?" I've wondered about that too.

posted: 31/10/01 15:19