Theology, cuneiform, blogs, and games: Impressions from the Digital Genres Conference

Exit the Digital Genres conference in Chicago: An amazingly diverse set of perspectives that fit together in strange ways.
The game perspective was obviously the most important one:
Greg Costikyan gave a slightly pessimistic talk about the future of the games industry – production costs rocketing, lack of an “indie” game format, risk-averse publishers, end of innovation, some potential lights at the end of the tunnel in the form of online distribution, shareware, mobile games – but it seemed that Greg didn’t have too much faith in those. A version of the discussion can be found at Greg’s blog with replies by Warren Spector and others.
Edward Castronova presented some of his well-known work on EverQuest. In case you don’t know, he has done an interesting economical analysis of EverQuest based on the price at which characters and items are sold on EBay. This gives the famous statistic of EverQuest being the 72nd largest economy in the world with characters working for an hourly wage of $3.50. I had always assumed that this evaluation was slightly problematic, but it turns out that it follows the standard economical idea of subjective pricing – the value of something is what people are willing to pay for it. My feeling was that the evaluation was way too high since there would be no way that all characters and things in EverQuest could be sold at the current EBay price. But in fact this is just like stock markets, antiques, and original James Joyce manuscripts – if all stocks in a company were sold at the same time, the price would fall radically, so the pricing of anything is based on the relation between, yes, supply and demand. EverQuest is no different. Castronova presented new research on the pricing of characters based on their traits including gender. Of a comparable male and female character, which sells at the highest price? My guess was female, based on the assumption that they are rarer and the fact that female characters get more free stuff and help from other characters. But no, females are generally 10% cheaper.
My presentation was basically a presentation of a game definition (which I’ll post another day). The core argument is that there is something I call the classical [transmedial] game model which has been surprisingly stable from perhaps 5000 bc to somewhere in the 1960’s, having only really been challenged with the advent of pen and paper role-playing games and computer games. The promised thing about GTA3 became rather brief. Probably a lot of stuff in 15 minutes, but I think it went well enough.

It hadn’t dawned on me that contemporary theologists would be thinking about spirituality online, but obviously they do. Some experience of being dumped into a discussion that had been going on for some time – do blessings require a physical component or are they pure signs? And another reason to be happy about researching computer games – glad not to be a monotheistic theologist worried about using binary distinctions. (Not to offend anyone, but this seems like a philosophical take on the Tom Lehrer joke about feeling like a Christian scientist with appendicitis.)

For no apparent reason I managed to become the grumpy conference guy who always doubted that there was really anything new about all this digital stuff: The alfabet is basically digital. Non-physical communities and identities, writing under pseudonyms etc. were all there in the theological community in medieval Europe, writing being their internet and (cheesily) Latin being their equivalent of blogs. And road signs and name tags are augmented reality.

I can’t really do the conference justice in this space, but there were also inspiring presentations on clay tablets, on phonetic vs. pictorial writing, the emergence of alphabetization as a way of structuring information, on blogs, “real” vs. “virtual” identities, Slash, IRC compared to Puerto Rican street talk. Since this is my first blog conference report, I am suddenly acutely aware of the kind of social importance that we attach to being mentioned in other people’s conference reports. Hmm.

David Weinberger gave a talk on the importance of blogs – the draft-like quality of the posts helps building networks because you let other people into your less edited thinking. Likewise, the power of the web often hinges on the fact that you get to hear other people’s unedited voices. The linking obviously builds social networks, and the “blogs” of big corporations give themself away by not linking off the company site.
Discussed the unfeasibility of the Semantic Web project with him. And the amazing thing that Tim Berners-Lee who designed the World Wide Web which really has changed the world and really works because it isn’t structured or categorized is now engaged in an unworkable project that aims to do all the things wrong that were right in the first place.

The violence of categories: This post should also be in the “meta” category of my blog.

This was the first time I’d met Edward Castronova, with whom I discussed the possibility of making money on blogs – I offered to do his blog (he doesn’t have one) and online networking for a modest fee, but he declined.

Chicago is a surprisingly pleasant city, lake, Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and all. Have failed to find that cool (deck?) caf? hangout with wireless and a dj playing minimal house all day though.

Digital Genres: An anthropological note

At the Digital Genres conference:
On an anthropological note, one of the interesting things about being in the U.S. is the fact that the academics I meet are completely different from what intellectual people in the rest of the world assume. Just about everybody I’ve talked to here is oppposed to the Bush administration, war on Iraq etc… and feels completely frustrated and powerless about it. Following Laura Trippi’s presentation, a long discussion on how to form a resistance against the current administration (in words). In case you weren’t aware, there is some disagreement over whether the U.S. administration is heavily inspired by Leo Strauss or not. Under that assumption that it is, it was suggested that the basic danger is that Leo Strauss was a neo-Platonist thinker (meaning: “the truth is out there”, I guess).
And this is the other interesting thing – a lot of people here seem to assume that being a poststructuralist (too broad a category!) is “progressive”, “political”, or at least makes the world a better place to be in. For my part, I really can’t ignore that at least philosophical & literary deconstruction was an apolitical reaction to the politicized 1970’s – it really was a shift from politics to culture and aesthetics, though this has somehow been lost in time. I completely agree that if we can make the world a better place by, for example, reconfiguring our notion of truth to be more localized and context-dependent, there is no reason to hesitate. But why is everybody so sure that it works? Isn’t this heaven-sent for anybody who wants to deny that some crime of humanity ever happened? What if it is just used by incompetent leaders as a reason not to take AIDS seriously? If we in a classical critical fashion assume for a moment that we should be wary of ways of thinking that have been used in problematic ways, how can we possibly not take this as a warning that poststructuralism isn’t everything it’s been cracked up to be? So why is most everybody here so damn sure that poststructuralism can save the world?

The perpetual fear of losing data

The blog now runs WordPress. To prove that I retain my techie sensibilities, I only wanted blog software in PHP since I understand that much in the way I don’t understand Perl. Trusting your valuable writing (i.e. data) to alien software always feels dangerous … though it’s an attitude that doesn’t always pay off in hours saved.

Become #1 on Google without even trying

There you go … the free trial of Radio Userland was as kind as to silently notify that I was creating a test site. At the time of writing, this test curiously scores as the #1 hit on Google if you search for “ludologist“.

For some reason, I have the largest Googleshare of the word ludology of anyone – 53.37% to be exact. As a random comparison, Gonzalo Frasca only has 10.34%. It doesn’t really make sense, but who am I to complain?
(Via Susana Tosca, Torill Mortensen and Nick Montfort.)

Welcome to blogdom

My name is Jesper Juul, and I am a ludologist.
This means that I study computer and video games for a living.

This is a blog about that, but I won’t hestitate to include whatever semiunrelated stuff is on my mind: From the top, the categories are games for thoughts, news, and commentaries on games, general for assorted observations and arguments; meta for general philosophical stuff, and tech for technology.