Archive for October, 2006

Playing Both Sides

Career. At one end you have doing socially relevant projects (work that “matters” like helping the homeless) and at the other you have doing fun projects (like making videogames). As I’ve been struggling to find a happy medium between these two, a certain Woody Allen quote keeps coming back to me. On Studio 360 back in July he put it this way:

Sometimes I think to myself that there are two types of films: there’s the confrontational film that deals with life issues and existential issues or political issues and there’s the kind of film that’s escapist. And I always debate with myself which one makes the better contribution because you would think off the top of your head that the confrontational films are superior to the escapist films. But the truth of the matter is that the real issues of life — the real philosophical issues of life: religious issues and issues of mortality and issues of human suffering — are never resolved in any of these movies because you can’t resolve them. So, people just go and they commiserate masochistically and they come out of the theater, you know, moved in some way but the same. Whereas with an escapist film you at least give the audience a chance to get away from the horrors of reality for an hour and a half. It’s like going into air conditioning and just sitting down and watching Fred Astaire dance for an hour and a half and you come out at least refreshed so you can go on with your life a little bit. So I’m not sure that escapist films, comic films, are not more of a help in the long run even though the temptation is always to think and to want to do more substantive things.

Woody found his happy place working to entertain what he perceives as the pained masses. But those masses are rich. What about entertainment and respite for those who can’t afford a movie ticket? In the best of worlds, those who can afford movie tickets would be spending some portion of their time helping the underprivileged, but we know that doesn’t happen so much. That’s the tension he doesn’t quite touch on. Or does he?

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Karma 2.0

Being at the 5th Ave. Apple store during the Product Red launch was an experience. From the newly red Apple logo on the cube to the newly red employee shirts sporting the words “Pocket Karma” to the newly Red iPod Nano, everything was going according to plan. So much to plan, in fact, that they’d sold out all the Red iPods (folks were buying them 10 at a time).

Product Red, of course, is Bono and Bobby Shiver’s AIDS charity that focuses particularly on Africa. And their plan to get the tech-savvy to contribute a bit to their fund via Apple’s super sexy products couldn’t have come off better. But it also got me thinking.

My question is: If technology gets folks excited about a cause, how far can we take that? What other ways can we use these technology to make aiding the underprivileged cool? How can we use it to engage those who wouldn’t think of giving $10 to a charity but would buy a $200 iPod Red ($10 of which goes to charity)? What’s the magic switch to make taking a more active role in helping the underprivileged as likely as buying something branded Red?

One answer may be Web 2.0. After all, Web 2.0 has an allure that rivals the iPod these days. What would it mean to make Product Red Web 2.0 compliant? How do we encourage the development of super cool gotta-play-with-it web properties that just happen to be aiding the underprivileged?

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Emotionally Available

When I think about the games I love most, the thing that jumps out is not graphics or story or control mechanism, but emotion. Because that’s what it all adds up to when it’s done right. And that’s what I think a recent Atlantic article that focuses largely on Façade is getting at, too. It suggests the way forward for games lies in finding ways to connect with players on a more deeply emotional level, the claim being that this is when games will approach art. (I’d argue that a few games have already archived the status of art, but let’s not go there just now.)

It’s a beautiful notion and certainly, in the abstract, the sort of connection that all games should shoot for in their unique ways. The article discusses two approaches to eliciting emotion that show promise: making characters more emotionally intelligent (Façade) and creating an environment where players can experience the “magical delight of creation” (Spore).

But there’s more. What we are really talking about is no longer letting players take the easy way out. There’s no “You Win! Thanks for playing!” but rather lots of hard questions and no easy answers.

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The 8-Bit Effect

What does it mean to be the first generation to have grown up with videogames? How does it effect our view of the world? What does it mean for the art we create?

8 BIT, a new documentary that premiered at MoMA yesterday, aims to answer these questions with tons of interesting examples (and a few not so much) of games and home computers colliding with art. We see Treewave mic a dot matrix printer as part of a live concert (sounds great, honest). We hear Cory Arcangel hilariously describe the not-so-subtle differences between the Commodore 64, Atari 2600, and NES sound chips (NES sounds “happy”, C64 rivals a Moog, 2600 is so harsh you wouldn’t wish it on an enemy). Bubblyfish talks about teenage girls who aren’t interested in games getting into Game Boys as part of a music education program. And, of course, we hear Nullsleep, Bitshifter, and many others lay down the law, making wicked hot chiptunes with those very same Game Boys. (Can’t wait for the Blip Festival!)

Why obsessive music making with old school game gear? Ed Halter explains:

When you hear a certain kind of 8-bit sound for a certain generation of people, that will evoke childhood. And so when an artist uses that, now it has all that meaning invested in it.

Emotional resonance is part of it, but it’s clear that musicians also choose “obsolete” gaming devices because they are limiting, both in input capacity and sound production capability. And it’s those very limitations that force them to be creative in ways they never imagined before.

Continue reading ‘The 8-Bit Effect’

Lady Gets Religion

Christian Lady Liberty, Islamic Lady Liberty. Which is scarier? How about both! Well, save for the fact that Christ Liberty has actually been built in Memphis…

Even though they make equivalently disturbing statements about the encroachment of religion on government, somehow the former strikes me as patently offensive where the latter feels thoughtful. Maybe that’s because I hate freedom. Or maybe it’s that an Islamic takeover of US government is beyond unlikely while the Christian takeover is at our doorstep. All aboard for Jesus Camp!

For more on The Statue of Liberation Through Christ, visit the World Overcomers Ministry. New Liberty is part of the AES Islamic Project. And don’t miss Frontline’s Jesus Factor episode.

Shuteye

If The Science of Sleep proves one thing, it’s that Michel Gondry is second only to Terry Gilliam in producing manic dreamlike imagery. From the cardboard cutout city to a swim through the night sky to an unruly electric razor, the film does an intensely clever job of confusing real and fantasy. It does it so well, in fact, that one is left wondering if Gondry doesn’t suffer from that exact condition.

As with most Gilliam movies, the plot doesn’t always quite follow. But who cares? The often hysterical situations, fabulously lo-fi production design, and lovably off-kilter characters (Stéphane and Stéphanie!) make it real hard not to adore the world Gondry creates.

And with a flick that remakes Back to the Future, The Lion King, and Robocop (among others) next in line, it’s clear that he’s got a whole lot more off-kilter where that came from. For more on that one, see The Hollywood Reporter.

Update: Just found out about the Gondry show at Deitch last month. Man, am I bummed I missed that. :-(

Hold the Habeas

Overheard on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me this weekend…

When Democrats said that this bill, in stripping detainees of the right of Habeas Corpus, was potentially violating a legal principle that goes back 900 years to the Magna Carta, President Bush responded by saying he didn’t realize the United States was that old.

But here’s the bright side of the whole thing. The bill is a way of reaching out to our enemies. The president has said they hate us for our freedoms, so getting rid of them is sort of a peace offering.

Gotta laugh sometimes to keep from crying, eh?

Listen to the whole show at npr.org and, on a more serious note, don’t forget the fantastic Habeas Schmabeas episode of This American Life. So much for that whole right to a fair trial thing.





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