Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bibliophile: New Media, Stalkers, Girl Power, and Games at SFU

I've been playing Don't Starve. Still trying to figure out the ideal Pig King gold/red meat exchange ratio.

 This is Bibliophile.

 After the break, we'll checking up on what's new at Simon Fraser University. We've been there before, but that was about half a year ago, so I think it's due a repeat performance.

 And just as before, SFU has a number of different ways to sort through the new books.  I'll continue following in my own footsteps, and start with their games and media section.  As always, a bold H indicates that the book is owned by my home university's library as well.

They've really upped the game library: some highlights include Batman: Arkham City, Disgaea 4, Xenoblade Chronicles, Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster, (which I mention because I was really, really hoping that it was based on the Grover Monster at the End of the Book, which sadly does not seem to be the case), Skyrim, Binary Domain, the movie Up for some reason.. No actual books on game stuff, though.  So we move our attention elsewhere....

There's 5586 new books on their list, though it doesn't mention how new qualifies as new in this case. I'm going to skip to the game studies, because otherwise, I have a feeling I'll get bogged down in the early philosophy section.  

Jacked : the outlaw story of Grand theft auto/  Kushner, David 
Kushner, if I remember correctly, was the one behind the Masters of Doom book, which I discussed previously, a book detailing id Software, with particular attention to the personalities John Romero and John Carmack.  If that book is any indication, then Jacked will be a well-informed and entertaining piece of journalism.  It's a bit of a different ball of yarn, though.  Grand Theft Auto has certainly had as much an impact on the world of games as Doom, and it also had similar issues in the public eye in terms of discussions of violence.  But Grand Theft Auto doesn't have the same big name people behind it; Rockstar Studios is a great company, but their designers just don't have the same profile as the two Johns did. And the gaming community is radically different--GTA also inspires a lot of young white male play, but its mod scene was never a focus in the same way.  (With the exception of the infamous "Hot Coffee" moment.)   Judging from the description, it's exactly the creators and the controversies that Kushner is focusing on, so it would be interesting to see how he handles them.  To me, the most interesting part of a GTA game is how they envision a city space, so I hope there's a discussion of that in the book.  Either way, it's something that I want to read eventually, so I'll make a mental note to give it a look.

Before the Crash: Early Video Game History / edited by Mark J. P. Wolf
I'm kind of surprised that this book hasn't come across the Bibliophile way before; it's certainly been on my radar for a while.  The title explains the basic premise here: it's the history of videogames, before the 1983 crash.  That means a lot on arcade machines, text-based gaming, and the early console systems. I have to be honest; I don't have a lot of interest in this era.  Part of it is simply because it's before I started playing games (and before I was born, for that matter), and part of it is because I think it's the period after where things start to get interesting, and I think there isn't enough study of the post-1983 history, at least, not on a scholarly level.  Between Wolf, Bogost, and a few others, the Atari has been pretty well covered, yes?  But I won't deny that there's an interest in the period, and any well-thought out anthology enriches the field as a whole.  Counting the appendices and introduction, there's 15 chapters here, and some work by people I have a lot of respect for: Karen Collins, whose book Game Sound is THE scholarly source for the subject, has "One-Bit Wonders: Video Game Sound Before the Crash."  Sheila C. Murphy, who wrote the excellent How Television Invented New Media, has "Every Which Way But....: Reading the Atari Catalog," Brett Camper, who wrote an excellent essay on retro-gaming in the Video Game Theory Reader 2 has an essay on pixels and technical aesthetics in Defender and the Williams Arcade Platform.  Zach Whalen, co-editor of the book on games and nostalgia, Playing the Past, has an essay on Channel F, and Jessica Aldred, who is a friend of a friend sort of scholar for me, has an essay on early games licensed from movies.  And that's not a full list by any means. Basically, it's a who's who collection of game studies folk who specialize in the history of videogames.  I know I've sounded less than interested, but it's really a good collection.  I'm sure I'll read it at some point, and get something useful out of it.

I think I'll skip over to the Ps and the literature section next.

The discourse of text messaging : analysis of SMS communication / Tagg, Caroline
Nothing in linguistics was catching my eye (which isn't a total surprise, since it's not really my area), until I hit on this one.  Text messaging has proven an interesting development in English writing.  First, we've got a whole lexicon of new terms, from LOL to... um... LMAO.  (All right, I don't know a lot about text messaging.)  And it's changed when and how we communicate in terms of social etiquette.  It always drives me nuts, for example, when my brother completely ignores the people around him because he's too busy typing out something to people who aren't there.  How does that change our relationship to people around us?  (I'm sounding very Sherry Turkle here.)   Tagg's interest is on the claim that SMS creates bad writing habits, and her own stance is that the truth is more complicated than that, demonstrating how people adapt their communication to fit the constraints of the medium. It sounds like an interesting book from a digital media perspective, though my own interest is cautiously tempered--from experience, linguistic-based books can often get pretty technical from a layman's perspective. H.

What is media archaeology? / Jussi Parikka
I've read some Parikka before; his Insect Media argues that we could benefit from adopting a perspective that is less human and more insect-like.  (And yet, he's come out against Object Oriented Ontology.  Go figure.) According to this book's blurb, it's an introduction to the field of media archaeology, and "written with a steampunk attitude," and honestly, I can't think of a phrase more calculated to make me lose interest.  (I actually like steampunk; it's the casual attribution of it where it doesn't really apply that bothers me.  ...I just said "I liked steampunk before it was cool," didn't I?  I think I need to sit down.) Parikka contextualizes media archaeology in terms of other media studies issues, including software studies, German media theory, imaginary media research (?), new materialism, and digital humanities.  Hmmm.  Sounds like this book would make an interesting juxtaposition with the historical approach to game studies. The idea that it's an introduction to the subject is a little surprising; Parikka is a writer whose work I found very thought-provoking, but he's not exactly a writer I'd go to in order to gradually ease someone into a topic.  H.

The Media Studies Reader / edited by Laurie Ouellette
I was curious as to what would go into an anthology by this title.  Judging from her output, Ouellette has written a lot on reality television; that's a fun subject, at least. It's a reader, which means a mix of older and newer essays.  There's classics: Adorno and Horkheimer's "Culture Industry," Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Stuart Hall's "The Work of Representation," Terranova's "Free Labour," (okay, I'm stretching the definition of classic), bell hooks' "Oppositional Gaze."  And there's essays from people I've at least heard of, if I wouldn't quite call them classics: Mizuko Ito on Japanese media mixes,  Lisa Gitelman on music and race (Gitelman's got a pretty diverse portfolio, come to think of it), Anne McClintock on Racism and Imperial advertising, and Manovich on mass media production.  The book is divided into seven sections: Media/Culture, Media/Technology, Media/Representation, Media/Industry, Media/Identity, Media/Audience, Media/Citizenship.  And there's essays on Ugly Betty, makeover television, Austin Powers, the economy of television viewing, mobile phones, and more.  I could definitely see teaching a course based around this book. H.

Growing up with girl power : girlhood on screen and in everyday life / Hains, Rebecca C.
Another book added because I'm curious to see what texts Hains is playing with. The book is going pretty young--one of the movements looked, for example, is Take Our Daughters to Work Day.  The early chapters deal with the Spice Girls and the resulting fall-out, gender-wise; chapter three is called "Did the Spice Girls Kill Feminism? Young Feminists Speak."  The book's overall premise is that the term "girl power" and the related concepts have been a cultural barometer for some time now, and so it traces that, through the things mentioned above, as well as the Riot grrrls, Powerpuff Girls, and Reviving Ophelia.  (I have heard of two of those three.)  And on the way, it covers little thing like body image, gender identity, racisim, and sexism.  Not exactly my area, but I do like the idea of grounding a concept thoroughly in its material history.  H.

Frontiers in New Media Research / edited by Francis L. F. Lee, Louis Leung, Jack Linchuan Qui, Donna S. C. Chu
We seem to have wandered into a media theme this week. It`s a bit of a grab bag of differing approaches, but, from the title, that seems to be the point, to display the diversity of approaches currently at work in New Media Research. The Amazon blurb claims the book wants to "interrogate into the problematic" of the field, which is an odd bit of phrasing. The book is divided into three parts.  First is "Techno-Social Formations," with essays on the internet and the public sphere, the internet and democracy, surveillance technology, uncertainty in mediation of knowledge, and social mobility in China.  Part II is "Recurring Issues," with essays on online social networks and social capital; moral panic and the internet; online news ecology; audiences for online news; and third-person efect on support for restrictions of internet pornography among Shanghai and Hong Kong College students.  Part III is "Emerging Media," with discussion of the networked self, twitter and microblogging interpretation (by Jose Van Dijck, whom I'll admit is the only name I recognize here), Pro-Am interface, Fansubbing in China, and a survey of College Students' multiplatform video use.  As the blurb suggests, there's a big mix between general topics and very specific topics.  It's also got an impressive global range.  I'm gathering from the titles that the book is slanted toward the social sciences side of things, though.

Life after new media : mediation as a vital process / Kember, Sarah and Joanna Zylinska
The SFU listing, incidentally, doesn't have Zylinska listed as an author; I got that from the cover on the Amazon page.  That's the sort of cutting off that seems to happen a lot with online library listings; someday, perhaps, I'll look into the software a bit to see what's going there. Anyway, Zylinska and Kember argue that we need to move beyond our fascination with new media objects, and toward an examination of mediation in general, to interlocking technical, social, and biological processes. Mediation is their key phrase here, and they draw on Bergson and Derrida to examine various flows, and the ethics of "cutting" certain media processes to contain them. I often think new media studies (and especially game studies) goes too far in this direction, to be honest--they spend so much time lookng at either the big picture or the cutting edge new that the actual objects are ignored.  Something that integrates both is more my preference. Still, the ethical part looks like it could be interesting, as it's phrased within a study of Facebook.  And other topics, such as self-preservation, photographic medium online, smart phones, and digital creativity are all addressed, so it's probably a rather interesting book to read. H.

 Putting knowledge to work and letting information play / edited by Timothy W. Luke, Jeremy Hunsinger, 2nd ed
I made the argument in my dissertation recently that one of the differences with videogames is that its rhetoric, as a business, is permeated with the notion of creativity and play, in a way beyond that of even traditional entertainment media.  I suppose that argument could be extended, usefully, to other electronic media forms. Which is part of what's going on here.  More specifically, in celebration of the 10th year anniversary for the Center for Digital Discourse at Virginia Tech, this book is about looking at how discourse and culture inside and outside of academia has been transformed by rapid digitalization. Like Frontiers in New Media Research, that's a pretty broad mandate, but a workable one. The book consists of 16 essays, including the "big name" one, Mark Poster's "Culture, Media, and Globalization," which should win some sort (pun intended) of vagueness award for titles. Essay subjects include liquid books, technology and text, open culture learning systems, the evolution of electronic dissertations (a subject of importance to some of my colleagues, if less so to my traditionalist, stodgy self), the pleasure of collaboration, European research funding, Cute as a Dominant Aesthetic Category in Digital Culture (I expect LOLCats to make a big appearance here), the history of the center, digital research and tenure, and Barak Obama and Celebrity Spectacle.  So yes: it's a little all over the place, but some genuinely interesting subjects.

Self-mediation: New media, citizenship and civil selves / edited by Lilie Chouliaraki
More media anthologies!  More!  We shall blot the sun with the proliferation of our prose!  Ahem. Chouliarki's book looks at self-mediation, the way new media enables people to express themselves publicly, and whether or not this participation is wholly a good thing.  Namely, while it has the potential for greater democractic particpation, it also has the potential for subtler social control.  See: everything Facebook does. Only, often, without the "subtler" part.  Following Foucault, it considers the participatory culture in terms of "the democratization of technology" via freedom, and the technologization of democracy, via constraint.  And given the anthologies we've seen today, that's actually a pretty compelling organizing principle. I can't say I recognize any of the contributors (although there seems to be some overlap with the Luke and Hunsinger anthology), but the first half has essays on satire and Youtube focusing on the Fitna anti-Islam video; teenagers' use of social networking sites for privacy and self-expression; and taking stances in public discussion.  Part II has a content analysis of 260 blogs; communicative You Tube practices; self-representation in museums; and witnessing in post-television news.

That finally takes us out of the digital section of literature.  I think I'll finish off with one piece of fiction, and one return to philosophy. 

Roadside picnic / Arkady and Boris Strugatsky ; translated by Olena Bormashenko.
Oh, that's a good one.  This is the book that the film Stalker and the videogame series by the same name are based on. I haven't gotten around to the games, and I found the movie rather dull, though I'm willing to accept that it is more an issue on my part than the film's.  But I have a great respect for the plot: "Red Schuart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to  venture illegally into the zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around.  His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a 'full empty,' something goes wrong."  Yes, please.  I'll take that.  Full empty?  What's a full empty?  I want to know.  I want to read this.  Mental note to do that, someday. H.

Time and history in Deleuze and Serres /Bernd Herzogenrath.
Like I said, I could have spent the whole Bibliophile just perusing the new philosophy books.  But if I'm to limit myself to just one, I figured it would be this one, as a colleague of mine is currently reading up on Serres' view of history. And a philosophy section without Deleuze is like the Wizard of Oz without ruby slippers.  You could do it, but how would you get home? Both theorists have articulated rather precise definitions of time, and this anthology (I had no idea it was an anthology--library holding information, you've led me astray!) addresses how they work (or fail to work) together. Counting the introduction, we have twelve chapters of theories on history.  Essays include Bernd Herzogenrath on Heredity, Heresy and Henry Adams; Elizabeth Grosz on "the Crumpled Handkerchief" (Serres' favorite metaphor, and anything by Grosz is worth a look), Maria Assand on Serres' Topology and Time, and Paul Patton on Deleuze, Foucault, and History, among others. H.

That's it for this round.  See you next week.

Later Days.

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