Category: Game Studies

Dazzling FireBall: Space Junk, UFO or AI Swarm distribution coverup

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While we were in residence at Scientific Delirium Madness a large fireball was seen in the sky over Palo Alto. Actually it was seen from San Francisco down to Los Angeles at the same time and it made it to Nevada and Utah before breaking up. The standard news took a few days to debate what the slow, glowing, giant comet-mass was. Delta Aquarid Perseid Meteor Shower ice ball? Flaming commercial airliner death ball? Off track or off map space junk?

Two days afterwards, Jonathan McDowell, astronomer of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics tweeted, “Observation reports from Utah indicate the second stage from the first Chang Zheng 7 rocket, launched Jun 25, reentered at 0440 UTC.” So, officially we have an identified flying object, synopsis… Chinese space junk. It was 36 feet long, 10 cubic meters, about the size of a school bus. Yes it was a big mofo. It scared lots of folx into thinking it was armageddon, a missile attack or an alien invasion. Capt. Nick Mercurio from Joint Functional Component Command for Space at Vandenburg Air Force Base, said “Given the size of the rocket body, some pieces of it may have survived re-entry but it’s unlikely it posed any threat to people.”

I can tell you that there was some curious followings along the trajectory of our CZ-7 Rocket booster flame out. The skies had f-19s scrambling the first day and copters with surface to air missiles the second day. They seemed to be tracking the path of the Chinese space manufacturing drizzle. Perhaps looking for covert pico-cricket robot swarms, Zika glossolaia attenuators, silicon eating 味噌 tauco 豆醬 fungal strains or rapid prototyping AI bunker camoCNC Router malevolent machine superintelligence (see http://leonardo.info/blogs/djerassi-field-notes-asa-calow/ ).

Be aware that being from Woodstock NY allows for conspiracy theory to be wide and far fetched. When presented with a school bus sized surprise space junk sky show, it is not the worst independent maneuver to free associate worst case scenarios… international subversions, government cover-ups, even wildhair, keef brained kook theory. In my humble opinion 60% of X-files style panic nutball theory turns out to be closer to the actual than baseline liar-liar mass media CNNFOX whitewash.

Track yourself as space junk:

https://www.space-track.org/

Flight of the centiSperm

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Flight of the centiSperm
David Bowen
a collaboration with Adam Zaretsky

So David Bowen came up with this idea of using the centiSperm as a data set for flying his drone. He and Asa Calow shit talked some tech and David built a rotating four well conductivity meter dubbed the Jizalizer 3030.

Jizilizer 3030 - David Bowen

Jizilizer 3030 – David Bowen

centiSPerm (Human sperm combined with DNA from a centipede) was used as a data set. Relative electrical flow was measured over time from the centiSperm producing data as the cells containing it decayed. This data was scaled and correlated to Latitude, Longitude and Altitude respectively. The XYZ/time data plot is neither devoid of the potentially legible nor is it easy to find meaning in. However, a fabulous graphic plotting of the loci was produced and it a find piece of the Jizalizer 3010 centiSperm continuum.

XYZ/time Jizalizer 3010 centiSperm data plot drone conversion path - David Bowen

XYZ/time Jizalizer 3010 centiSperm data plot drone conversion path – David Bowen

The coordinates were uploaded to the drone and it flew autonomously based on the DNA instructions. Weidong Yang took a fabulous time-lapse photograph of the flight at night. The LEDs left a trail of four-dimensional semidata in the sky.

autonomous drone path based on centisperm data instructions - David Bowen Timelaspe Photo Credit: Weidong Yang

autonomous drone path based on centisperm data instructions – David Bowen
Timelaspe Photo Credit: Weidong Yang

autonomous drone path based on centisperm data instructions - David Bowen Timelaspe Photo Credit: Weidong Yang

autonomous drone path based on centisperm data instructions – David Bowen
Timelaspe Photo Credit: Weidong Yang

autonomous drone path based on centisperm data instructions - David Bowen Timelaspe Photo Credit: Weidong Yang

autonomous drone path based on centisperm data instructions – David Bowen
Timelaspe Photo Credit: Weidong Yang

The use of a drone for data point plotting made for some complex readings. As you can see there are distinct coordinates of chaos on the stability locus of the flight path. The pauses and directional flavor of the Flight of the centiSperm led to group quizzical guesses as to what the 4D trail might imply.

centiSperm DIY Protocol: Centipede DNA Isolation

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Centipede DNA Isolation

A – Kill Centipede
B – Mash with mortar and pestle

This was no easy feat. The night I scanned the centipede the other residents named him Keith! And Keith nearly escaped. I fed and housed him, changed her stream water and caught it bugs. I even found that he preferred raw meat but not fat. With a name and care, Keith felt more like a pet. Also, the skittering, curious and loungy attitude of Keith suggested a fine sentient personality. The antennas poking and wriggling in unison and independently spoke tomes. Even the fear of a venomous organism showing signs of extremely honed escape tactics gave me vast respect to the centipedes of this world.

There is no respectful death possible for an organism to be used for bioart. Still, a good death was considered. There is little written about insect euthanasia. We considered drug overdose but it was unknown if insects responded to diazepam derivatives. I was of the notion that fast, near instantaneous destruction was the best method. Its just a bit of that ultraviolence, smash and grind will do the trick. But, we did try out cryanesthesia (freezing) in the hopes that Keith would be numb. As usual with these death rituals, it is not easy.

Comix Version:  Matteo Farinella of http://www.neurocomic.org/

Comix Version:
Matteo Farinella of http://matteofarinella.com/

Ooops, lame research revealed belatedly:

“The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) Terrestrial Invertebrate Working Group (TIWG) reports on a survey conducted by Mark Bushell of BIAZA institutions. He found that refrigeration and freezing were the most common methods “of euthanasia of invertebrates although research has suggested that this is probably one of the least ethical options.” That said, freezing is a worst-case method if chemical or instantaneous physical destruction is not possible.”
- Sarah Pellett; Romain Pizzi; Steven Trim; Mark Bushell; Dave Clarke; Jamie Wood (Jun 2015). BIAZA Recommendations for Ethical Euthanasia of Invertebrates (2.6 ed.). British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Keith began to wake from his semi-frozen slumber as the brass mortar came down on her in the porcelain pestle. Keith was mashed in seconds and the interior looked a lot like blended shrimp meat and the only recognizable remnants were some legs that stuck to the side of the pestle and a long sheath of segmented centipedal chiton all covered in goo.

Keith, mortal, pestle Photo credit: David Bowen

Keith, mortal, pestle
Photo credit: David Bowen

centiMash Photo credit: David Bowen

centiMash
Photo credit: David Bowen

C – Mix mashed centipede with distilled water, salt and a tiny drop of soap
D – let centipede mash sit in hot water bath for 5-10 minutes

I had earlier determined that hypodermic syringes do melt in boiling water. So, I mixed the centipede mash in a tube that had contained a really nice SF styled joint with some remnant cannabis in the bottom.

 

 

Actually, the Cannabis Indica genome was isolated with the centipede genome and they both live on in the centiSperm to some extent.

 

 

 

float_centiSperm_4123

centiSperm_4120

I will resist calling this project centi-midnightToker-Sperm for lack of text space on the interwebs. I did make a tube floatation device for the hot water bath. I used plastic netting and corks. There are many corks at the Djerassi Residency, many!
E – Spin to make pellet
F – This time keep the supernatant and throw away the pellet
G – Move liquid to new tube
H – Mix 50/50 with high proof vodka or Everclear
I – Spin at high speed for 10+ minutes
J – Pour off the vodka super natant
K – let the pellet dry aerating until there is no alcohol left
L – Resuspend in 100 microliters of distilled water by pipetting up and down over and over until the DNA pellet is mixed in with the water.

For this step I used my hand held 20-200 microliter pipette but I had not remembered to bring sterile pipette tips. Well I cut some myself from disposable pipettes. I know they are not calibrated but they sure work well and the proportions were right!

DIY Pipette Tips Photo Credit: David Bowen

DIY Pipette Tips
Photo Credit: David Bowen of http://www.dwbowen.com/

Interview: Games in the Classroom and Society

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I had the opportunity to sit down with a guest and discuss the ways in which games affect both the behaviors of students, traditional teaching methods, and the ways in which games affect culture and society. Dr. Adam Brackin received his bachelors in English and Art from Hardin-Simmons University, a master’s of education in Gifted and Talented Studies, and his PhD in Humanities: Aesthetic Studies. Adam has written chapters for several game studies books, including Understanding Minecraft, Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy, and Cultural Perspectives of Video Games, and taught for several years at a family-owned and operated private school, where he frequently utilized games in one-on-one education. Dr. Brackin was kind enough to sit down with me and discuss how games like Minecraft – the cultural phenomenon – affect behavior and learning in the classroom, the role it plays in learning and society, and how he utilizes the game in his own work. His work is accessible at his personal website, as well as on YouTube, where he produces the LABventures series

Minecraftedu-1

Richard: So as you well know, the effects of games like Minecraft extend beyond the individual and into the social and cultural. As somebody who has taught in a wide variety of roles – middle school, university, one-on-one private school, et cetera, what would you say are the affordances that a game like Minecraft gives you over traditional teaching models? What does the “new media classroom” do better or worse?

Adam: Well Bridge Builder, my one-on-one school, was of course a different model, but when you’re talking about a traditional classroom, you’re talking about group communication theory. Any time you have three or more people it falls under group communication theory, and a traditional classroom nowadays is going to have 30 or more people in it. So the question becomes: how can you address an individual’s needs within the context of the group’s needs, without the group suffering?

A great way to do that is computer-aided instruction. The classic format for instruction is going to follow: guided practice, independent practice, and assessment. The cool thing about computer-aided instruction is that we can do a rapid-fire sequence for guided and independent practice, and assessment. The problem is that we allow it to become a crutch, and we forget that there is a human element of interaction that is fundamentally important in what you might think of as an apprenticeship system, where I can address your individual needs, have a conversation about what you need, and make sure that your individual needs are answered. There’s value in answering that in front of the whole class, but it can often become a distraction and a waste of time.

So to connect that back to Minecraft specifically: it transfers the tools of the level designer over to the player. I’ve written about this as being a form of authenticity, which allows you to make their own choices, in a real space, with consequences. What’s interesting about Minecraft is that it has very set rules. The thing about those rules is, let’s call them “comforting”, for certain students who would be uncomfortable in an open-ended social setting – especially students with autism and Asperger’s. This transfers over to any MMO environment because you’re questing and using those traditional game design models, which fits very well into the autistic mind, or even the ADD mind, in order to be able to accomplish tasks by breaking them down.

So for me, to sum it all up: it comes down to the ability to do guided practice in the context of shared space, then independent practice within that same shared space, allowing students to learn from one another as they witness the building occur, and then assessment, which can occur either in a group or individual format as needed. I would never say that teaching should be done in any one tool, but Minecraft is a very good tool.

Richard: With these traditional game design models, rules-driven systems, and structured play environments, how do these tools affect things like classroom engagement and behavior? Besides personalized and computer-mediated lessons, what tools does the new media classroom give you as an instructor?

Adam: Well there are a couple of things that games do very well. For example, they can track every footstep, and everything that is measurable in a game can be measured in output. So you can have an independent experience that I’m not a part of and vice versa, and then we can still compare our experiences with granular precision. We can do this in a mechanical way, or we can just have a discussion about it. The other things games do very well is gating, so you can set constraints. If I hand you a blank sheet of paper, that can almost be more terrifying than if I asked you to work through a series of quests. They aren’t teaching the same thing by any means, with that first example being more about assessment, but I think that the dangers that many teachers face is: if you have 40 kids in a classroom, how are you going to grade those 40 things fairly? How are you going to be able to spend the time that’s necessary to give each individual kid a response? The cool thing about a system is that if the goals are set, if they’re very measurable, the computer can do that and give a response to the student without the teacher being directly involved.

Richard: You mentioned when comparing the blank sheet of paper and the video game, one is more of an assessment of what you already know. Would you find that in a new media classroom, computer-assisted teaching is one thing, but traditional assessment is still required?

Adam: Absolutely, but there are multiple forms of assessment, which is why I’m happy you’ve been mentioning Minecraft specifically. Minecraft is a blank slate; it’s that blank piece of paper. We have a set amount of tools, but you can make the same argument for the English language. If you’re going to write an essay in English, there’s a specific format you are to follow if you’re an eighth grader, which is: 5 paragraphs, transitional sentences, opening paragraph that talks about your three points of support, each body paragraph is to be on one of those points of support, et cetera. Those are rules, just as Minecraft has rules. So when I say that I want you to show me, visually, that you understand the fundamental principles of design within the context of, say, a cathedral, you’re going to be able to visually demonstrate your understanding of what we studied in class if that is in fact what we studied in our art history class.

Richard: Interesting example! Ever since the “advent” of Minecraft, we’ve seen a huge social presence of using games to “make” things. Videos seemed to spring up every week where somebody used Minecraft to make a 3D printer, a Rube Goldberg machine, or some other interesting invention. The STEM to STEAM movement seems like a place where Minecraft fits perfectly, for example. Would you call Minecraft a big player in maker culture?

Adam: Well I think it’s really important to understand that, in terms of the community, Minecraft is all about the modifications. If I was teaching a lesson on bees or maybe on genetics and I wanted to get an object lesson across, I might install the beekeeping mod to Minecraft. I could load up the new world and have the students work through the process of genetically breeding their bees within that virtual environment. The nice thing about that is that it exists. It may seem niche and crazy, but there are groups out there creating tiny apps and self-contained games that are all about beekeeping, and that’s all it does. Now we could surf through all of the apps out there that do that, or we could surf through the thousands of mods to Minecraft and pick out the one that does that. This way we don’t have to learn the vocabulary of a new game, and we can find a good lesson within a space we’re already familiar with on whatever is contextually appropriate to what we’re learning in class.

Richard: So then would you classify Minecraft as a maker space?

Adam: Well I think it certainly is, but I think it’s also a maker template, if you will. It’s a platform that you can develop for. I think the unique philosophies of Mojang and Notch, from the beginning, created a game that anybody can create their own version of.

Richard: So then, would you say that Minecraft is not just a space for making within the context of other people; it’s about making objects and tools for others? I had always put the positive feedback from Minecraft as being in the realm of showing off your efforts.

Adam: Yes. Because when I first started playing Minecraft, I found it to be incredibly boring and I was pretty much done with it. That’s when a friend of mine contacted me and said “Hey, they’re working on this multiplayer thing for Minecraft”! Suddenly we were playing together, it was collaborative, and now I’ve played tens of thousands of hours of Minecraft, probably.

Richard: So then if Minecraft is all about its online nature, which I would certainly agree with, how would you say the Minecraft community has evolved through the game mechanics?

Adam: Consider Twitter. Twitter is all about subscribing to who you want to subscribe to and pushing out information that you think would be valuable to others. That’s what Minecraft is. It is engaging a community, whether that be your personal friends on a private server or complete strangers on the internet, in order to say “Look at me!” You could make the same argument for Facebook or any other social network.  Now I’m not picking on social media, the point is that there is no real “win state” of Minecraft within the game’s mechanics. Technically there is, with the addition of slaying the dragon, but it really exists as a sort of joke within the community. It’s more about setting a personal goal for yourself, whether that is to head into a mountain and carve out a space for yourself, or in my case to construct a replica of Hogwarts. Then you’re going to spend 2 years doing that, and you’ll finally be able to brag about it. It’s something to look at; it’s not intended to be a functional space, that’s for sure. If you’re looking for functional space within Minecraft, you can just hollow out a 10×10 space underground and you’re good to go. You’ve got everything you need to “survive” the game.

Richard: So then you would say that the primary motivating factor, the underlying behavior pushed by the design of Minecraft, is personal expression?

Adam: Absolutely! It’s individualization, personalization, and it’s the very real fact that my Minecraft experience is fundamentally unique from anyone else’s, anywhere else, for the rest of time. The same thing can be said for all social media outlets, and a select few other games, including most MMORPGs since sequencing becomes important.

Most video games, most linear, prescriptive games contain experiences that are “somewhat” different. Oh, I got shot or I didn’t get shot. Still, in order to beat the game, our experiences will be fundamentally so similar that we have a large amount of common ground. In Minecraft, it becomes “I need to show you this”. I can’t simply describe it to you; I have to show it to you.

There needs to be more games like Minecraft, but not in the way that it’s currently being imitated. Not the “let’s throw down a block” part, or even the toolset part, but instead the part that makes the individual believe that they’re having a unique experience, whether it’s true or not, because that’s what’s important. It’s also the future of games, in my opinion.

Richard: Well then, if you had the choice to create a curriculum around Minecraft, what sort of project would you want to implement?

Adam: Well that’s tough, since I’m not sure which subject we’re talking about, but let’s just say we’re teaching a high school level English class. Let’s say a 9th grade English class, because I think that age level is right where they’re still able to have fun in a class, but at the same time mature enough to be able to handle an out-of-the-box kind of project, though that is changing!

One of the things that’s in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills is to understand the elements of plot, and to create an understanding in the student of Freytag’s triangle, of conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. I would require my students to create a space, in which the individual player going through that space experiences the five stages of Freytag’s triangle.

Richard: So to essentially create a story space?

Adam: Yes, to create a story space, and I would want it to be very linear and very structured for that assignment and for those students. There are so many teachers on my Facebook stream that if you spend enough time there you’ll inevitably see some complaints about common core, but there is a fundamental misunderstanding about it. Keep in mind, here in Texas we don’t even use common core, we use the TEKS.

Common core is a set of standards. It says that you need to teach your first graders how to add single-digit numbers, that’s all it says. When you start getting down to the granular examples of these standards, that’s curriculum. That being said, Minecraft, as I said earlier, is just a tool. It’s
important that we identify the essential knowledge that we’re trying to achieve, and these tools are helpful in reaching that point.

Richard: That sounds like something I’d enjoy doing in a university setting, honestly. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me today.

Adam: Not a problem, thanks for having me!

MMO Ethnography: The Customs and Cultures of Online Gamers

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Ethnography is the field that turned my interest towards games in academia. As a lifelong veteran of MMORPGs, the concept of being a participant-researcher in this space was something I could really appreciate. One of the tenets of ethnography, as stated by Paul Dourish in Ways of Knowing in HCI, is that “ethnography directs our attention towards the importance of participation not just as a natural and unavoidable consequence of going somewhere, but as the fundamental point.”

Pictured above is one example of how online communities and cultures create their own rituals and mythoi. "RNGesus", a portmanteau of the Christian Jesus and the acronym for "random number generator", has become a deity for many players of ArcheAge, who erect shrines to him in their homes in the hopes that it will bring them luck.

Pictured above is one example of how online communities and cultures create their own rituals and mythoi. “RNGesus”, a portmanteau of the Christian Jesus and the acronym for “random number generator”, has become a deity for many players of ArcheAge, who erect shrines to him in their homes in the hopes that it will bring them luck.

Ethnographers subscribe to the belief that participating in an event reveals much more observable and notable events than pure, divorced observation can; this is a fact of which I am personally convinced, especially regarding online interactive environments. As in the image above, there are some unique and outlandish aspects of online culture that one would not understand without taking part in it themselves. In the case of ArcheAge’s “RNGesus”, a seemingly parodic interpretation of Jesus Christ, players actively conduct rituals in his name. In my initial weeks of studying the game for my master’s thesis, I laughed off elements of culture such as this, assuming it was purely in jest. However, it wasn’t long before I was joining in the ritual activity, whether that entailed throwing captured fish back into the oceans to garner his favor, or sacrificing members of the enemy faction at the foot of his effigy.

A number of prolific scholars in this field have noted their experiences in online communities in a similar fashion. Bonnie Nardi’s anthropological work in World of Warcraft came to be titled “My Life as a Night Elf Priest”, and T.L. Taylor’s seminal work “Play Between Worlds” contained numerous stories of her personal experiences in both virtual space and real life conventions. I have repeatedly heard ethnography defined as a field of scientific cultural storytelling, and I think that branding is right on the money, as it were.

Remaining distanced and purely observational in the study of online culture and game spaces fails to take advantage of the interactive element that is inherent in the medium. Ethnographers interact within a space, prompting events and observable situations through their actions, just as a player operates within the function of a game system. At the heart of ethnography is a desire to understand what its like to inhabit a space or culture, and video games allow one to do so with relative ease.

I consider ethnography to be a qualitative methodology that serves to aid in interpreting the knowledge acquired through quantitative means, especially with regard to the understanding of player behavior and motivation in these spaces. One could argue that every player is a potential ethnographer, or at least a participant-observer.

This sense of understanding and experiential learning is why I aim to incorporate ethnographic studies into the majority of my work. While quantitative measures are certainly critical in identifying and applying the psychology of the players, there is a narrative element to this data that can be most successfully expressed through ethnographic study.