Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bibliophile: Back in the Game at Vancouver Island U

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
― C.S. Lewis

This is Bibliophile.

I've skipped Bibliophile for two weeks now; in my defense, they really, really take a long time to do. And between Demon's Souls and Magical Diary, I've been way too busy going to Prom and fighting leech demons to bother. But familiarity with what's new in the academic world of books isn't going to create itself, so here we are.

For those new to the blog, the idea behind Bibliophile is that I peruse the new books acquired by a Canadian university, and comment on the ones that appeal to me.  It's a tough job, but no one really has to do it.  As always, a bold H marks the books that are also in my local university library system. Join me for a glimpse into Vancouver Island University, after the break.

The Vancouver Island University Library doesn't have a new book tab--thus my hardships continue--but it does at least allow filtering by year published. The results can't be sorted in terms of Library of Congress Call Number, which really does a number on my flow, but I'll take what I can get. Vancouver Island's library is mostly digital this year; I don't recall coming across a single title in this search that wasn't an ebook.

 microDomination: How to Leverage Social Media and Content Marketing to Build a Mini-Business Empire Around Your Personal Brand / Young, Trevor
Every now and then, I give in to the urge to look at a pop business type book, based purely on the relative outrageousness of its title. I guess that if you're judging on that criteria, the fact that the book convinced me to look at it means that it's already demonstrated its marketing potential, on one level at least.  Looking at Young's body of works at Amazon, we have "How to Be a Better Project Manager," "The Handbook of Project Management," "Planning Projects," and "Successful Project Management." So this is something of a departure for him, in terms of title at least. The book purports to be an instruction manual on how to turn your expertise into a small business and brand, using online marketing strategies. He also refers to such entrepreneurs as "micro mavens," which does not exactly endear him to me. I'll admit there's a certain canniness to his approach; he's tapping into existing ideas about how people conceive of the Internet as this potential cash cow, and combining it with the American ideal of self-sufficient independence. Granted, it's not exactly a new idea, since we're about a decade past the dot com boom at this point, but the emphasis on social media and branding gives it a new veneer.

The Nazi, the Painter and the Forgotten Story of the SS Road/ Bennett, G. H
 In 2006, a canister of film was found in a church in Devon, UK.  The film depicted German SS members building a road in Ukraine and Crimeria. Bennett has since researched the matter, and came up with an interesting story. The road-building project was led by a Nazi named Walter Gieseke, and was part of an effort to improve infrastructure in order to further the extermination of the Jewish people and other undesirables, and create a utopian Nazi haven in the Ukraine. He relies heavily on the testimony of Arnold Daghani, a Romanian artist who is also one of the few Jewish labourers who survived the project, and went on to try and bring the perpetrators to justice after the war. As a sort of "lost chapter" of the Holocaust, it's a sobering topic.  I have to admit, I usually think of the concentration camps when I think of Holocaust accounts, but it makes sense that the Nazis would use Jewish people in this manner as well.  Funny how many dominant groups are willing to build the backbones of their utopian visions on the literal backs of people they don't think are good enough to dwell there. H.

 Haven's Wake / Randolph, Ladette
When family patriarch Haven Grebel dies from a tractor accident, his Mennonite family bands together for the wake, including his estranged son's branch. I know someone who is working in Mennonite (albeit Canadian Mennonite) literature; he could probably explain the appeals the genre better than I can. But in its simplest form,  I think a fascination with Mennonite culture is rooted in our own culture's fascination with reflections of ourselves, that Mennonites are people like us (if for no other reason that we live in the same general areas) who have made a choice to pursue a certain lifestyle. They make an easy target for reflections on our own society, in terms of technology, urbanization, and so forth. And because their way of life--and I'm speaking very generally here, since I at least know that there are various types of Mennonite cultures, and that each subscribe to this issue in different ways--is close to our conception of how earlier North American settlers lived, they're also a sort of living past for us.  I'd imagine that since the description makes a big point of saying that the son (who isn't named in the description) receives knowledge of his father's death from an answering machine, the technological contrast is a big part of the main point here as well. (Of course, in this day and age, the use of an answering machine almost raises more questions. Who uses landlines these days? Is it a sign that the son has embraced some technologies but not others? Or just the writer speaking from a particular rural Nebraska place?)

 Firefly / Sarduy, Severo and Fried, Mark
 This is not, despite my hopes otherwise, a novel about Joss Whedon's short-lived cowboy sci-fi series. Rather, it is a translation of the original work by Severo Sarduy, a Spanish author. Set in Cuba, the book is centered around Firefly, a small boy  who goes through a series of adventures involving sinister doctors, bizarre aunts, and stifling bureaucracy.  It's a magic realism sort of thing, I think. Sarduy is familiar with Cuba, as he's an expatriate of the country who left in 1960, and the book is filled with both nostalgia and an awareness of its corruption. The review I read drew out this aspect;the Amazon review focused on two transvestites.  It's like they were describing two different books entirely.  Very strange.

 Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom / edited by Smoodin, Eric
 Published originally in 1994, what we have here is a collection of essays interrogating Disney in terms of its global cultural production. There's fourteen essays, and four sections: A Disney Archaeology, National Production, Global Reach, and Reception. Judging from the titles, it's less on individual Disney titles and more on the Disney corporation at large.  The first section focuses  on the early days, and Disney himself, with essays such as Paul Hollister's "Genius at Work; Walt Disney."  The next section expands to Disney's national significance, with essays on its business history, Disney after the death of the founder, and the EPCOT Center-- or rather, Alexander Wilson's "The Betrayal of the Future: Walt Disney's EPCOT Center."  Section 3 expands further to the global Disney, with examinations of Disney in Spain, Latin America, and Japan. And the last two chapters look at Consumerism and Childhood in Disney's animation, and at Fantasia. (Okay, there is a focus on one Disney title.)  Disney, I think, is one of those topics that can support an almost unlimited amount of studies, and should be interrogated at every opportunity, if for no other reason than its massive ongoing cultural influence--I mean, at this point, it owns Marvel AND Star Wars, in addition to the holdings it already had, including uncountable comic books, films, videogames, TV shows, figurines, theme park rides... Yeah, it's a big topic. The approach here isn't particularly revolutionary, but it's one that makes sense for the topic, Disney and consumerism.

 Marx and Wittgenstein: Knowledge, Morality and Politics / edited by Kitching, Gavin and Pleasants, Nigel
I'll be honest: I picked this book largely because I thought it might make an amusing sitcom. Or at least an amusing parody of a sitcom.  One--tireless crusader against the capitalist machinery !  The other--super genius school teacher! Together, they form a family based on sharing a finite set of similar characteristics! They are: the Ideological Couple!  Ahem. Originally published in 2002,(between this and the last book, I'm starting to suspect that the library search engine has a different definition of "published in 2013" than I do) this book argues that Marx's and Wittgenstein's respective arguments can bring about a mutual enrichment when brought into dialogue. For once, I'd like to see someone conclude, "and so, we see that taken jointly, these two authors have absolutely nothing to offer each other." The book is an anthology of 14 essays, divided into six parts. Essays include David Andrews' "Commodity fetishism as a form of life: language and value in Wittgenstein and Marx"; Terrel Carver's "Marx, Wittgenstein, and postmodernism"; Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's "Towards a Marxian use of Wittgenstein"; and "Marx and Wittgenstein on vampires and aprasites: a critique of capital and metaphysics" by Rupert Read, an essay which is almost guaranteed to have sadly few references to Dracula. H.

 Ctrl-Alt-Play: Essays on Control in Video Gaming / Wysocki, Matthew
Th is book is published by McFarland, and I thought I'd take a moment to comment on them, as a publishing house.  They straddle an odd line between an academic audience and a larger audience, especially in their pop culture books. That doesn't mean that the books don't contain useful, intelligent discussion, but it does mean that they  tend to have a different tone.  On the other hand, many game studies books have that "different" tone--see, for example, two books from leading scholars in the field, Jesper Juul's "Casual Revolution" and Ian Bogost's "How To Do Things With Videogames." Those books are published by MIT Press and U of Minnesota P, so it's a little unfair to single out McFarland on this score. And they deserve credit for publishing a lot of folk who wouldn't get  much exposure otherwise, at prices that aren't entirely insane.  (They average at around $35 or so, and for a vaguely academic book, that's practically giving them away.)

But I suppose I should also discuss the book at hand.  First, it claims very prominently to be edited, not written by Wysocki, yet neither the Amazon preview page (admittedly, for the Kindle edition) nor the actual publisher's site actually provides the list of who else has worked on this book, which is a bit annoying. I've had to combine the table of contents' list of essays with the information provided in the introduction. That rant aside, let's get to the book's content. The idea of the book is that the assembled essays concern the issue of control in videogames, a topic sufficiently broad enough to provide a variety of approaches, yet still present a unity of discussion.  Anyway, there's the usual break down into subsections, and there's three this time, on "Theories and Definitions of Control," "Control and Game Design/Play," and "Reading Control in Videogames." Section 1 has Gerald Vorhees' "Criticism and Control"; "The Psychology of Control and Video Games" by Paul Torpac; "Controller Controls" by Nadav Lipkin; and Thijs van den Berg's "Just One More Turn."  The second section starts with "Controlling a Sandbox," Nick Webber's essay on negotiated control in MMORPGs; "The Illusion of Agency and the Affect of Control within Video Games" by David Owen; Meagen Rothschild, Amanda Ochsner, and Jonathan Gray on game narrative and meaning in "It's All Part of the Game"; Shawn Edrei's "Press start to Continue" on the topic of narrative editorial control in games; Peter Donald takes a semiotic look at the controller in "On Coucches and Controllers"; and Alison Gazzard on the player's physical body in "Standing in the Way of Control." And the third and final section has six essays: Chris Pallant talks about Rockstar's control in Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and LA Noire in "Now I know I'm a Lowlife"; Brent Kice contrasts open world formats and FPS in Red Dead Redemption and Call of Duty: Black Ops in "Perceptions of Control"; In "The Good, the Bad, and the Neutral," Karl Babij looks at the morality systems presented in Dragon Age: Origin and Fallout ; Elisa Meléndez looks at gender encodement as control in Rock Band in "For Those About to Rock"; "Obey-Play" by M.-Niclas Heckner considers moments of player passivity in Grand Theft Auto IV and Call of Duty: Black Ops. And the book closes with an essay by Matthew Wysocki and Matthew Schandler called "Would You Kindly," examining control as it relates to Bioshock.
With this many essays, you're bound to get some good with the bad. To be honest, I haven't really heard of any of these scholars except Vorhees and Gazzard, and I'm not particularly enamored with what I've read from either of them. But I do like the topic, and I admire an essay collection that sticks to its proposed theme.  I'm definitely making a mental note to check this book out in the near future.

 It was at this point that I realized I could search specifically for the topic of videogame books that were published in 2013,rather than just newest to oldest. So I did that.

 Game On, Hollywood: Essays on the Intersection of Video Games and Cinema / edited by Gretchen Papazian and Joseph Michael Sommers
Look, it's another collection of videogame essays,also published by McFarland. Is it odd to be publishing two videogame-related essay collections within two week of each other? Is there a fear of flooding the market? Is this something McFarland cares about? Is this something anyone cares about? This book, I'll note, does a much better job on basic promotional description. The Amazon blurb explains that it is about the intersection between game and film, and theories of narrative and adaptation.  and then it lists the major games featured in the book, which is another highly useful thing to do. Again, though, there's no indication of author in the table of contents, which leads me to think it's a Kindle affectation.  The digital view of the non-digital version of the book does have a proper table of contents, with authors listed and everything. And again, it's fourteen essays, which leads me to think that someone has determined that's the magical number for a collection. I'll quickly note that the cover has a shot of Ramona Flowers from the Scott Pilgrim movie, so it at least gets points for skipping the usual videogame cover cliche of prominently displaying a controller. The book is divided into three sections: adaptation, ideology, and transmedia, roughly. Most essays seem to focus on a specific work, is I appreciate. In the first section, we have essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds on the subject of playing the gothic (one I should definitely check out before my own essay on the subject); westerns in videogames which almost certainly include Red Dead Redemption; Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and film adaptation; Torture Porn and Dead Rising; and an essay on adaption building in general. Section two has essays on Urban Disorder images in The Warriors; "When did Dante Become a Scythe-Wielding Badass?" (more academic papers should have "badass" in the title); Remaking Goldeneye 007 with Daniel Craig; and Racism and Sexism in games based on a discussion of zombie stripper geishas. The third section has narrative complexity and Alan Wake; Star Wars and digital games by Felan Parker (I think I was at a conference two years back where he gave a paper that this essay was based on); racial stereotypes and Afro Samurai; and Epic Nostalgia in Disney Epic Mickey.

I have to say, of the two, this book is more toward my interest; while I realize the potential danger in limiting scope that comes with an essay focused around a small number of games (or a single game), I think I prefer such clarity of discussion.  Too many game-related essays tackle such grandiose themes that they wind up being too general for any practical use. Mental note to check this one out too, especially for the Buffy and Dead Rising essays.

 Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games/ Schut, Kevin
Look, it's a book on videogames that is neither an essay collection nor a book published by McFarland. In fact, it's written by a media and communications professor at Trinity Western University, whose libraries we persused just a short while ago. What a small world. Or at least a small academic field, which bodes poorly for my future prospects. Putting aside how I'm ruining my future in a desperate market, Schut's book is an examination of game-related issues from a theological Christian discussion, in terms of violence, education, escapism, and gender.  The book starts with Schut's account of playing Sid Meier's Pirates as a kid, which as least an endearing beginning. And I appreciate his basic aim, to encourage Christians toward gaming and wider culture what a religious perspective can bring to game issues. Judging from the opening and the table of contents, though, it looks to be a rather general discussion of these issues, and I have to say that doesn't particularly interest me. Another mental note, but with a bit less urgency than the other two. H.

 Bug Wars / Bradman, Tom and Bradman, Tony
 Once you get past the clear matches, keyword searches tend to turn up matches that are less... obvious. This book came up under the "game" keyword. Growing up on a colony spaceship, young Luke enjoys gaming. But some alien bugs show up, confuse his "computer-whizz" game skills with actual skills, and demand that he become their warlord. "Does Luke have the skill it takes to beat the bugs and survive?".  So: boy with impressive skills, confusing war for games of war, and aliens that look like giant bugs.  This book is clearly borrowing very heavily from Ender's Game, right?  Not to mention the associations of naming your space book protagonist "Luke"...

Learning Privilege: Lessons of Power and Identity in Affluent Schooling / Howard, Adam
This too appeared under the keyword "game."  It's admittedly an issue I didn't have to deal with a lot growing up in rural Saskatchewan--although I was one of the only kids in my class who didn't have access to a family ski-doo.  Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad. But I do have a friend who grew up going to a fairly prestigious private school in his teenage years, so I have heard some stories about the general pecking orders that arise. Howard presents his experience as a teacher for one of those elite schools, in the form of an ethnographic account of private schooling. It's about what values such an education promotes, and how they reinforce privilege as a fundamental identity. This is probably a fairly interesting read--the first chapter contains an extended section wherein Howard's 7th grade students explain why homeless people are where they are because they make poor business decisions and are also lazy--but I'm not sure I'd classify it as formally ethnographic, unless there's more to the methodology than what's initially presented here.

This is where the game keyword petered out.  I still had one book left, so I started searching "media."

Global Media Ethics: Problems and Perspectives / Ward, Stephen J. A
I picked this book largely because it's touching on an issue I've been thinking about a lot recently.  And by "thinking about" I mean, I've had my preconceptions rubbed in my face recently on a few different fronts.  The basic debate is over what it's ethical to use for online research. My basic stance was originally that if you post in a public place, then you can't expect what you say to stay completely under your control; people should be able to respond to it. Granted, there's an onus on them to respond in a responsible manner, but once you've acted publicly (say, posted on Twitter or left a message on a blog available everywhere) then it's your own fault if what you've said comes to haunt you later. And I'm gradually, very, very gradually, coming around to the notion that this is a naive way of thinking about things in a lot of ways. Even the way I cast the discussion plays the responsibility on the poster. But the responder--especially the researcher--has responsibilities too. When you take a work out of its original context, you're performing an act of appropriation.  And when that's appropriating something from a member of an oppressed group, you need to think twice about what you're doing and why.  I'd give a detailed explanation of how this came up, but that might be violating the very principle I just espoused.  It's complicated.
 Ward is not talking about this.  Rather, he's presenting an anthology on responsible journalism.  Still, it was nice to get that off my chest.  The book has fifteen essays, over four sections. Section 1 is Media Ethics Worldwide, with essays on Journalism networks, global ethics, and international conflict reporting. Section II is more focused, looking at diverse public spheres: arab mass media, Colombian journalism, new democracies and South African journalism, and sovereignty and nation building in Liberia. Part II is global issues: ethics of global warming reporting, global disaster reporting, celebrity sourcing. And the final chapter considers some theoretical foundations.  It's a good discussion and I'm glad to see it happening, though it's rather outside my area. 

That it for now.  See you next time.

Later Days.

No comments: