Saturday, April 5, 2014

Friday Link Thinks: Go Rub a Monkey's Tummy with Your Head

All right, so the luster has gone off the Friday Quotations. So it goes. But let's try a new weekly feature out for a spin .Welcome to Friday Link Thinks, in which I choose five links that have come my way, and briefly talk about them. Yes, it's yet another "list of things" type post.

A bit of background: back way back, I realized that the largest collection of information on new online articles I had was what people were tweeting on my twitter feed. The downside, though, is that the people who tweet the most useful links also tend to be the people who tweet a few dozen times a day, and sorting through the riveting stories of how their breakfast is going and baffling in-jokes for what I actually wanted was becoming more a time-commitment than I was willing to make. So I counted my self quite lucky to stumble onto, an online ... service, I guess... which lets you plug your feeds into it, and strips those feeds for links. You could, for example, set it for facebook feeds and blog feeds, but I set it to my twitter. (Since it's a free service, I imagine that means it's mining all the data I submit to it. With Facebook, that brings up an interesting question--do I have a moral obligation not to provide the information my friends post? They're posting on Facebook, which means that some level of privacy is intended, and yet, they're already opening themselves up to Facebook data mining. But do I have any right to give that information to yet another party? Complicated.) And now, I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to information. My bookmark pages are flooded, and so, I'm dealing with that flood a bit by posting some of them here. So without further ado, here's what's interesting yesterday (there's a day lag on creating the feed):

Gawker Bans Internet Slang by Andrew Beaujon. This piece grabbed my attention because, in the class I taught this term, the concept of internet linguistics, the words that we've created to communicate online, really got a lot of the students interested. And I've been on the look-out for articles with similar slants ever since. The issue here is obvious--by imposing strict grammar rules on the Gawker staff, editor Max Reed is drawing a firm line between his writers and the general internet public. Gawker-type sites get a lot of their readership from their projected persona, which is less a professional who keeps themselves separate, and more an enthused hobbyist of cool that the readership can relate to, so a memo like this is probably bad press, to say the least. It also points to the tension that exists between "proper" English and common netspeak.

The Guilt of Video-game Millionaires. by Simon Parkin. Obviously, the highest profile example of the indie "video-game millionaire" recently has been Dong Nguyen, the creator of Flappy Birds, which has been particularly interesting because he not only made a lot of money and ultimately removed the game from circulation, but also the subject of a lot of critiques that were basically centered around the idea that his game didn't deserve what it got, that it was derivative and deliberately addictive.  But I imagine Parkin would also be aware of this heartfelt post by Stanley Parable creator. Before I read this post, I'll admit I was a little callous to this issue; it feels a little "poor little rich boy." But Wreden does a great job in humanizing his position. All of this suggests that people are still very enthusiastic of the indie scene, but there's also a blowback against those some feel haven't "earned" their success. That the creators feel the same way maybe isn't surprising. As the original tweeter noted, one of the issues here is that they are all uneasy about attaching great monetary value to their labor. There's also a general awareness for some, I think, that their success is based a bit on luck, on their app trending at just the right moment. It must be a very uncomfortable position; if you're an established artist, you can rest on the idea that your skill has been affirmed. If you win the lottery, you can be grateful to whatever deity of choice that your chance came up. But the uncertainty under which held in your case--that must be very unsettling.

Selling Candy to Babies by Richard Stanton, Polygon. In-app purchases are "as of December 2013, responsible for 92% of App Store revenue." That's insane. More importantly, that means it's in Apple's own interest NOT to crunch down on unfair or unethical IAP practices. It's not just a kids-game issue, obviously, but it's interesting to see an article focus on that side. Granted, it's a bit of "youth culture panic" when you look at an issue from that perspective, but kids games in general don't get enough attention in mainstream game press (both because children games are generally on app-related stuff, which gets less coverage--at least, in the places I look--and because the game industry in general is focused on an older market these days). Issues like games that are deliberately avoiding being categorized as children's games to avoid following IAP children's games rules but still clearly marketed towards children are clearly exploitative. From one children's developer invested in IAP: "If IAP isn't allowed for kids' products then the economics are such that very few developers will... be able to make amazing entertainment for kids on mobile devices. That's a very sad scenario for all concerned." Oh, go rub a monkey's tummy with your head. As if developers are suddenly going to give up on the children's market as a profit maker if IAPs are more strictly enforced. Another case where internet law is lagging behind what's needed. I can't remember exactly where, but I think I read recently that the F2P industry is financed largely by 0.01% of its players--I wonder if that's a sustainable model?

THIS ARTIST IS PLAYING ‘CIVILIZATION’ OUTSIDE OF THE WHITNEY EVERY DAY by Rhett Jones, Animal. I was recently reading Grant Tavinor's The Art of Videogames, and one of the things he discusses near the end of the book is the claim that the avant-garde has gone too far, that art has moved too far from mass appeal, or anything relateable. I push back against that theory, because I don't think art should have to be popular to justify its existence. But something like this... I'll admit, it sets my teeth on edge. Granted, the point is that context defines art; if Diego Leclery was playing Civilization at home instead of on the street outside of a museum, it wouldn't be art at all. But that point was made very nicely by Duchamp 97 years ago, and it's going to take more than that to impress me in the here and now. Jones essentially acknowledges as much with his use of Ricard, but... eh. In a lot of ways, I'd accept this more easily if it was framed as philosophy instead of art, although I realize that on a certain level, that's hairsplitting. And there is a point to be made about the nature of videogames and creation too--when Jones notes that Ricard criticized artists getting too rich too fast, it's hard not to think back to that earlier Parkin piece. Who decides what activity with games should be valued? At the same time, though, the article's opening really rubs me the wrong way: "Art is easy." Again, rub the monkey's tummy. If art is easy, you're doing it wrong.

Is the Oculus Rift sexist? (plus response to criticism). by dana boyd. boyd is making some very complicated claims about sex and technology here. Of course, there's a clear sense of striking while iron's hot--the obvious reason to publish this article now is that news of the Rift's sale to Facebook is very much in the public eye at the moment (and boyd's profile isn't too low either, given the recent release of her book "It's Complicated."). I'll admit, I haven't been paying attention to the Rift. There's a part of me that's not quite of the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mindset, but it's certainly of the mindset that I don't want to do anything new until I've exhausted what I've already got. Which in media terms, translates into "why build something new when we're not using what we've got to its full potential?". Which is a silly way of looking at things, since we're never going to develop anything to its full potential, since "full potential" is an abstract ideal and we live in a real world. But if there's a device that works poorly with women on a physiological level that's getting a lot of attention, then, yeah, that's an issue that needs more attention in itself. And I'll wager Facebook is going to be very concerned if the big toy it just bought turns out to alienate a large percentage of its user base.

Well, that's a lot of words, so I'll call this an end, even though it is no longer Friday.

Later Days!

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