Taggames

Mutation Vectors: A Fantastic Death Abyss

David Bowie Outside

Status Update

Just finished recording an episode of Mindful Cyborgs with Arran James and Michael Pyska of the “post-nihilist” website Syntheticzero.

It was a great episode, and I can’t wait for it to be online, but it’s left me in a weirder than usual headspace.

Browsing

So what is post-nihilism? I should probably tell you to wait til the podcast is out. But in the meantime, here’s a bit from an article Arran and Michael wrote in the Occupied Times:

After nihilism, then, are embodied realisations of and exposures to vibrant ecologies of being offering an ultimately untameable wilderness which we participate in on an equal footing with all other bodies, even if we have an unequal ecological effect. In order to cope-with and cope-within the wilderness of being we must abandon the charnel-house of meaning and its theological tyrannies once and for all. As coping-beings we must leave our reifications behind in order to engage in post-nihilist praxis: an ecologistics of tracing these rhythms and activities, their multiple couplings and decouplings, and taking responsibility for our way of cohabiting in, with and alongside other bodies.

Playing

Finally getting around to playing A Dark Room, a text-based game I’ve mentioned before. It’s like Oregon Trail meets The Road. Dark stuff indeed.

Listening

I’ve been listening to David Bowie’s Outside a lot this week. It was the first Bowie album I ever heard, back when I was a teenage rivethead, but I hadn’t listened to it in a good 14 years. Back then I knew it was supposed to be a concept album, and that Bowie had worked with Brian Eno on it, but that was about it. From Wikipedia:

Bowie and Eno visited the Gugging psychiatric hospital near Vienna, Austria in early 1994 and interviewed and photographed its patients who were famous for their “Outsider Art.”[1] Bowie and Eno brought some of that art back with them into the studio[1] as they worked together in March 1994, coming up with a three-hour piece that was mostly dialog. Late in 1994, Q magazine asked Bowie to write a diary for 10 days (to later be published in the magazine), but Bowie, fearful his diary would be boring (“…going to a studio, coming home and going to bed”), instead wrote a diary for one of the fictional characters (Nathan Adler) from his earlier improvisation with Eno. Bowie said “Rather than 10 days, it became 15 years in his life!” This became the basis for the story of Outside.

Here’s the Adler diary.

I was never able to follow the narrative of Outside, but this page tries to unpack the songs and stitch the story together.

BTW, there were also some fantastic moments on the Outside tour, like Bowie singing “Scary Monsters,” “Reptile” and “Hurt” and others with Nine Inch Nails.

Technoccult: The Game

technoccult-screenshot

Eliot Gardepe has released a computer game called Technoccult: Covenant. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with this site, and no I haven’t been in touch with the developer. I found it on Twitter.

I downloaded it, but haven’t had time to play it much, but it appears to be an interactive fiction/adventure game in the Maniac Mansion/Ultima/DejaVu style. (Oddly enough I’ve been thinking it would be fun to work in this medium myself). Oh, and it’s got a drum ‘n bass soundtrack.

The Rise of Dark Gaming (A Dark Room, The Long Dark)

The Long Dark

Ever since Warren Ellis posted about the “extinction aesthetic” I’ve been seeing it everywhere. For example, the new game The Long Dark. From Wired‘s review:

As in Eric Kripke’s Revolution, The Long Dark imagines a world in which a “geomagnetic event” turns out the lights forever, ending humanity’s reign and repositioning nature for a comeback tour. But instead of the collapse happening while you’re traipsing through a balmy, subtropical clime replete with fruit trees, fishable waters and swinging hammocks, you’re somewhere in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle. And winter isn’t coming, it’s a bone-cracking fact.

The game wraps a biometric data cube around that nihilistic narrative, monitoring, in real-time, things like thirst, hunger, body temperature, fatigue, calories consumed, injuries (sprains, broken bones) and illness. It’s also keeping tabs on environmental metrics like ambient air temperature (inside or out) relative to variables like wind and weather, the time of day, and whether you’re in shadow or sunlight. If you find better clothes, you stay a little warmer. If you find water-purification tablets, you can render polluted water potable. If you find wood, matches and a sheaf of newspapers, you can build a fire.

That sounds an awful lot like a graphical version of A Dark Room, the strange game that Ellis called the “Extinction Aesthetic equiv of Minecraft.”

From the New Yorker‘s profile of the game:

The game’s ever-expanding scope and regular demands for micro-managing resources create an enthralling parallax effect that can keep devoted players dosed, for hours, on the pleasurable sense of immersion that the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow.” The longer you play, the more complicated the game’s gathering and building tools become, with each incremental addition widening the game’s scope, while introducing unsettling hints about what it all could mean. Why do you sometimes find cloth caught in your traps? And why does the game suddenly start calling the few workers who’ve come to help you slaves?

Is this the beginning of a trend? Are there other examples I don’t know about?

Why Minecraft is the Future of Code Literacy

LearnToMod, Tetris

New from me at Wired:

Minecraft is incredibly open-ended. It’s entirely up you whether you as a player whether spend your time building elaborate castles, fighting monsters, or exploring the the game world. What’s more, using mods, you can quickly create things that would otherwise take a long time to build in the game, such as mountains or massive dungeons, or create custom types of blocks. You can also create special rules that enable you to do things like build your own games within Minecraft, such as capture the flag or Tetris.

Once the kids have crafted their code in LearnToMod, the application connects to their Minecraft account to make the mods available to the kids in the game. By teaching kids to build their own Minecraft mods, the ThoughSTEM team is hoping to keep students motivated to learn some of the trickier parts of coding.

TeacherGaming founder Joel Levin is fond of the idea. “Kids are passionate about the game and they quickly understand that they can extend and enhance their Minecraft experience by learning some basic programming,” he says. “And that’s really what we want, isn’t it? To have kids realize that with code, they can improve their life in a way that’s relevant to them.”

In fact, Levin says TeacherGaming is working on its own mod building education program called ComputerCraftEdu, which will eventually be offered both online and in-person. And there are already a few other classes that teach students to create mods, such as MakersFactory’s class in Santa Cruz and YouthDigital’s online class.

Full Story: Wired: New Minecraft Mod Teaches You Code as You Play

On for adults looking to learn to program, there’s Switch, which is looking to become like “OK Cupid” for code bootcamps.

ANTVR: A Virtual Reality Gadget That Anyone Can Hack

ANTVR virtual reality headset

In March 2012 I wrote:

We’ve had steampunk and dieselpunk and atompunk, so now it’s pixelpunk. We’re about to hit full circle and have retro-cyberpunk complete with VR headsets and Power Gloves.

Later that year Oculus did a Kickstarter for their virtual reality headset, which also happened to kickstart a new wave of VR kit. I just wrote about the latest one for Wired:

The designs for the ANTVR headset itself and its nifty convertible game controller are proprietary technology. But the designs and firmware for the wireless receiver–which sits between the headset, the controller, and the gaming console–are open source. That opens up a range of possibilities, such as creating custom controllers or using the ANTVR controller to control other devices.

For example, ANTVR co-founder Qin Zheng says you could write software for using ANTVR to control a Roomba vacuum cleaner robot, perhaps using the headset to watch the feed from the bot’s on-board camera. You could also make your own version of the receiver specifically designed to work with a game console or device not officially supported by ANTVR. “You can use the signal straight from the USB port,” Zheng says. “We will give the developer all the documentation and libraries.”

Full Story: Wired: A Virtual Reality Gadget That Anyone Can Hack

Still no Power Gloves, though…

How to Destroy a Community

Tim Maly reports on Alex Gianturco, an EVE Online World of Warcraft player who uses espionage and psychological warfare to destroy rival guilds:

An aggressor, he says, can untie the binds of community by putting pressure on the group until individuals stop thinking of themselves as part of the larger collective. Power blocs in Eve are made up of alliances, which are made up of corporations, which are made up of individual people. In a strong alliance, individuals think of themselves as part of the greater whole. As an alliance weakens, individuals experience a shift in identity. They think differently about who they are.

“Pressure and not having any fun in the game makes pilots blame the alliance for their failures — ‘my alliance sucks, but my corp is great’?“ Gianturco says. “Enough people shift identity from ‘I’m a member of Band of Brothers’ [an alliance] to ‘I’m a member of Reikoku’ [a corporation], and it’s just a matter of time before those corps blame one another for the alliance’s failures.”

When it comes to putting pressure on your enemies, not all adversity is created equal, he says. Dramatic wins or losses, though exciting, do little to turn the tide of war. Humans are quite adept as rationalizing these sorts of events. If you lose one big battle, you can tell yourself that the other guys cheated, or that it was server lag.

Instead, Gianturco suggests a campaign of sustained low-level misery. “The trick is to find what the enemy hates the most and feed it to them nonstop. You listen to their discourse and find the core of their identity and then step on it as hard as you can.”

Figuring out what part to step on is the job of Gianturco’s spies. With access to the private communications of his enemies, Gianturco can figure out what parts of the game they hate and then force them to live only that.

Full Story: The New Inquiry: How to Destroy a Community

Another Fake Kidding Napping Service A La The Game

Kidnapped

A couple weeks ago I linked to Odyssey Works and Videogames Adventure Services, two services that promise to provide interesting and/or exciting experiencing, including kidnapping. Here’s another company:

I had to fly all the way to Detroit to get kidnapped. Extreme Kidnapping is a company operated by Adam Thick, an entrepreneur and convicted counterfeiter from Oakland County, Michigan. Thick founded Extreme Kidnapping in 2002 after being inspired by the old David Fincher movie The Game. (SPOILER: It was all a game!) For $500, Adam and his crew will abduct you at gunpoint and hold you hostage for four hours. A thousand bucks gets you ten hours, along with a bit of customized sadism. GQ was curious to see what $1,500 would buy me.

If it strikes you as obscene that people would pay to be kidnapped at a time when it happens routinely to other people for real, the fact is that we live in an age when a normal life simply isn’t enough for many Americans. If you watch enough movies and TV (as I do), you end up yearning for a life that is more cinematic than blissful. Experiences are the newest, hottest luxury items. I looked at it like I was paying for a memory implant, Total Recall-style. But the one thing that didn’t make sense to me was how Adam could pull off the trick of making a kidnapping feel real when his client knows it’s not.

Full Story: GQ: What It’s Like To Be Kidnapped

Like That Movie The Game, But Real: Odyssey Works

Odyssey Works

Odyssey Works is like a real life version of the movie The Game. From The New York Times:

IT all looked so normal: a dozen diners chatting over coffee and hash browns at an outdoor cafe near the waterfront here on an August morning. The cook flipped eggs, a dog sniffed for scraps, and the young woman in the black sweater suspected nothing of the spies and confederates sprinkled throughout. They’d been studying her life for four months and were finally preparing to pull it through the looking glass they’d constructed. Within 36 hours there would be confusion, euphoria, tears, even an abduction.

It was all in the service of art. For more than a decade a loose-knit, multidisciplinary collective called Odyssey Works has been quietly inverting art’s longstanding arrangement with its audience. Rather than a single artist creating for a general population, it directs many artists at a deeply researched population of one. The intricate creations that converge in the group members’ weekend-long performances — sound installations, films, performance art and more — exist only for their chosen subject, whom they’ve come to know very well. Then it all vanishes. The idea is a beautiful inefficiency: a tiny but infinitely more affected audience.

Full Story: The New York Times: A Waking Dream Made Just for You

(via Tim Maly)

Oh, and they’re accepting applications until April 15.

See also:

Videogames Adventure Services

The Strange and Exciting World Of Nordic Larping

ImagiNation: An RPG For People Suffering From Depression

A personal game about depression and its effects intended to help people with invisible illnesses broach the subject and explore it in a way they can have power over it.

ImagiNation is set after the fall of mainland Britain to a strange reality breakdown. The barriers between imagination and reality, dreams and nightmares have shattered and strange things dreamed up by people caught in the event teem across the land.

Only those who are already ‘broken’ can hope to cope with exploring, understanding and combatting this strangeness for the sake of the huddled refugees that sit and wait and watch from the smaller islands around the coast.

A game of mental illness and art using The Description System (Neverwhere).

This game is available FREE so please promote, download, host and spread as far and wide as you can.

Full Story: ImagiNation

See also:

The Strange And Exciting World Of Nordic Larping

Study: Table Top Role Players Are More Creative

The Strange And Exciting World Of Nordic Larping

I’ve been meaning to learn more about the serious “unfun” games known as “Nordic Larping” ever since I learned about the activity from Eleanor Saitta at WeirdShitCon. Lucky for me, Paul Graham Raven just happened to finish a three part series of articles for Rhizome on the topic:

First played in 1998, Ground Zero has a good claim to ur-game status, and is a great example of the ‘un-fun’ ideas that Nordic larp plays with: its players sat in a room standing in for an Ohio nuclear shelter circa the Cuban Missile Crisis, listening to mocked-up radio reports of a blossoming bout of Mutually Assured Destruction, then spent the rest of the game having their characters come to terms with the annihilation of the world outside. Far from being an outlier, the deep emotional implications of Ground Zero are indicative of the psychological spaces that Nordic larp would go on to explore.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be following Stark’s lead and using ‘Nordic larp’ to refer specifically to the avant-garde school of gameplay rather than the geographically-defined set of players. As Stark is careful to point out, larp in the Nordic countries is not a monolith so much as a collection of localised scenes, and the Knudepunkt circuit — despite its greater visibility to outsiders — is a marginal part of the greater whole.

Marginal it may be, but Nordic larp is a teeming ecosystem of styles and approaches which, again, mirrors the confusion of subgenres and styles to be found in the contemporary genre fiction scene.

Full Story: Rhizome: This Is a Game: A (very) Brief History of Larp

Part 2: This is More Than a Game

Part 3: Everything is a Game

I also just read Adi Robertson’s experience playing perhaps the first Nordic Larp in North America:

Other larps build a more open-ended world. The White War, a larp about military occupation, is one; Mad About the Boy is another: it has a few scripted events, but the outcomes have been vastly different over its three runs. In one Norwegian run, the Last Man’s arrival was met with tea and blankets. In our version, the game ended with a convoluted quadruple-cross and a lot of brandished prop guns — although, while our organizers feared Americans might be trigger-happy, none were actually fired. The forty of us were given a place to live and people to be; what we did with that was up to us.

Giving players this control tends to lead to unexpected results. “I don’t think I’ve ever organized a larp where at one point I haven’t said the following words: He did what? She did what?” Raaum says. In one of her larps, the World War II-based 1942, a group of soldiers was meant to execute a prisoner, but the plan was derailed. “They were meant to feel what it was like to look her in the eye and shoot her.” Their commander, however, “wanted to spare his soldiers their feelings, so he did it himself. That’s bullshit,” she adds.

In some cases, though, this turns out well, even if it started with a failure on the organizers’ part. Finnish war larp Valokaari was meant to feel cramped and filled with interpersonal conflict, but due to a misunderstanding, participants decided to play it as a hyper-realistic military enactment. “The characters who we expected to get on each others’ nerves never did,” the organizers wrote in larp anthology States of Play, “because most of them spent all their time either patrolling, eating or sleeping.” At the end, the players considered the game a success, even if the game hadn’t worked out remotely how the organizers intended.

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