Date Archives May 2008

On Gen Y Utopianism

There was another blog post on the future impact of Gen Y this week. It annoyed me.

I have to admit that I have an immediate and strong negative reaction whenever I read or hear someone talk about Digital Natives or how Gen Y is going to change everything. This is troubling because I fully agree with many of the basic assertions typically found in these arguments. I agree that the online experiences, media choices, and thousands of hours spent playing video games have a significant effect on the learning preferences and styles of the newest generation of college students. I agree that educators concerned with maximizing learning for these students need to be aware of their preferences and modify our pedagogies to suit our audiences. Given these areas of general agreement, why do articles like the one linked above annoy me so much?

"Hey you kids, get off of my lawn!"

Is it possible that I'm a just another reactionary curmudgeon? Am I just on the wrong side of the latest generation gap? I think I need to give this honest consideration, but I doubt this is the case. When Clay Shirky presents arguments of a somewhat related nature I tend to find them reasonable and compelling. When John Beck and Mitchell Wade make their arguments for the so-called "gaming generation" changing business practices I paid them respectful attention and was largely persuaded that their analysis was sound and based on solid methodology, even if their conclusions seem a bit overstated. When James Paul Gee writes about key learning principles found in good video games, I followed his argument with interest and understood that the quality of the learning was key, not the current media fad. So even though I tend to be grouchy and remain attached to my existing opinions, I believe I can dismiss reactionary grumpitude as my primary motivation for being annoyed with folks who apparently want adult professionals to start acting like children. Where then, does my dislike for certain optimistic visions of the future derive?

It can all be explained with Logan's Run

From the BBC Comedy series Spaced:
Tim: You'd be dead in four years' time, if this was Logan's Run.
Daisy: That'd be terrible.
Tim: I know. I'd look like a twat in a jumpsuit.
Daisy: Don't say that, Tim. That is a word which hates women.
Tim: What, twat?
Daisy: No, jumpsuit.

The answer, I think, can be found in Logan's Run and Jitterbug Perfume. I've somehow managed to grow up and now I'm afraid of death. In part, my reaction against youth-based utopias is founded in the fear that comes from realizing I am no longer young. Like Logan and Alobar, I find myself enjoying life after youth and I'm not willing to step aside and have my new point of view declared irrelevant. I'm not reacting to the assertion that the young have adapted to new media in ways the rest of us can learn from. I am reacting to an enthusiasm for those two ideas that implies childishness is an evolutionary step beyond maturity. I'm in favor of integrating new media studies, Web 2.0, and Generation Y information preferences into our library services, but not ready to immediately abandon all that is useful in the 1.0 world.

My main problem with Prensky and his ilk is that their praise of the information preferences of Generation Y seems to lump in too much that is childish with their salient observations about new media. Shirky, Beck and Wade, and Gee make related observations about communication, Web 2.0, video games, and information that recognize potential advantages in Generation Y without implying that childish behavior is progress. It is possible to be fully engaged with the new media and what they mean without completely neglecting the warnings of Marshall McLuhan or Jacques Ellul. The new is worth both exploring and understanding, but it is foolish to ask that it be adopted before we can come to a rational decision about whether or not it is an improvement.

I'm not even against optimism in general. The newly coined term Poptimistic seems to be significant as well. I admit that I prefer a bleak Blade Runner vision of a future dystopia to the "super-saturated richness, hyper-realism, brightly lit in even the furthest corners, up tempo, and generally positive" vision that is Poptimistic, but Poptimistic art is still cool. I hope that a fully connected and tuned in generation will revolutionize information culture and solve all our problems. I'm just not holding my breath. After all, I'm Generation X and I grew up hearing about how the Baby Boomer generation set out to change the world with peace, love, and idealism. Unfortunately, I'm also aware that the legacy they are leaving the rest of us with is environmental catastrophe and a broken social security system.

So by all means bring on the new. Let's have social networking, parallel processing, and community generated information. Let's just not forget how to evaluate these things or suspend our judgement in the race to keep up.

on great apologies…

This post has nothing to do with games and little to do with libraries. I was washing the dishes this weekend while the 2005 film version of Pride & Prejudice played on the television in the other room. (The version with Matthew MacFadyen as Darcy and Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth) As the end of the movie approached and Bingley proposed to Jane, I mentally added his apology to my list of great film apologies.

Bingley (to Jane): First, I must tell you I've been the most unmitigated and comprehensive ass.

It is a fantastic apology. Worth adding to any list of fine apologies, even if such a list did not previously exist. I didn't actually have a list of great film apologies until this one struck me and I added it to my favorite film apology of all time and now the two of them together form a list.

The greatest film apology of all time comes from The Man Who Would be King, John Huston's 1979 adaption of the Kipling short story.

Daniel Dravot (To Peachy Carnahan): Peachy, I'm heartily ashamed for gettin' you killed instead of going home rich like you deserved to, on account of me bein' so bleedin' high and bloody mighty. Can you forgive me?

It is worth noting that the apologies as quoted were both added by the screen writers and were either missing or in alternate form in Kipling and Austin's original texts. So they are contemporary (and in one case American!) takes on on previous generations' ideas of the proper conduct of a British Gentleman. Still, Dravot is no gentleman and Austin's male characters seem rather narrow to me, so it may not be the gentle phrasing that makes them stand out to me so much as the enthusiastic acknowledgment of the supplicant's shortcomings.

In any case, are their other apologies to add to my list?

links and thoughts on roleplaying and identinty, but mostly links

What are the connections between the roles we assume in games and our own?

Four writers from 1up talk about the roles they choose to play and what these choices may signify.

Stephen Tolito started the conversation by asking a question.

I don't have a full answer to this yet, but the question is worth thinking about. Certainly this is an excellent way to start mining gaming experiences for self-reflection and understanding. For example, when given a choice I tend to favor slighter, more physically frail characters rather than ones that resemble the governor of California or the former governor of Minnesota. Why is that? It might have something to do with the fact that I am a rather large man who colleagues on the job are roughly half my size. I stand out. So when I role play, I'll choose to be Locrian Ajax, rather than Telamonian Ajax.

In any case, this sort of character analysis is interesting and I'd like to return to it soon. Stay tuned.

Lord of the Rings Online

At least once a year from when I was around ten years old until some time after I went away to college, I read through J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I read as much of Tolkien's work as I could find in the local library. I loved the Silmarillian and delved happily into the history of Middle Earth, Valinor, and Westernesse. When Peter Jackson made his wonderful films, I was very happy, but the films didn't kindle the same love for Middle Earth I remember from childhood. I enjoyed the films tremendously, but my enjoyment stemmed more from nostalgia than from fresh affection.

Recently, I have been playing the Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), a computer game where thousands of players log into a computer-generated simulated Middle Earth and role play at being hobbits (or elves, dwarves or humans. I prefer hobbits.) I'm surprised by how much I enjoy immersing myself in Middle Earth. My enjoyment, both of the game play and returning to Tolkien's Middle Earth, is real, fresh, and first hand. I'd like to figure out why my experience playing a game feels so different from watching a film based on the same source material. Perhaps trying to answer this question will tell us something about the nature of games as media.

It can be easy to dismiss games as literature or texts since it is rather difficult structurally to tell a story with a game. Books are a linear media, we start in the upper right-hand corner of page one and read left to right through the pages sequentially until we reach the end of the last page. Films start on the first frame of reel one and continue frame by frame in sequence until the last reel has played. Writers and filmmakers have to work very hard to escape the linear constraints of their media. Not so with games (or digital video). There is nothing in the structure of the media that forces a game to start at the beginning and move through a series of events in sequence until the end is reached. At least, not necessarily so. Certainly many games are linear or they use linear devices and techniques to tell a story. Perhaps this is because writers and creative talent have polished their art creating for linear media. Perhaps this is what audiences have come to expect. Traditional rules for creating a plot involve linear motion: introduction, conflict, climax, denouement. Stories happen in a certain order. Games don't have to happen in a certain order. In fact, the interactive nature of games may make them a less-suitable vehicle for conveying a plot than traditional story-telling methods.

In many ways, this has been seen as a disadvantage for games. Creative minds have tried to tell stories with games and often when familiar stories have been re-told in games they have been less compelling than the books or movies that spawned them. If Peter Jackson had tried to make a game out of Frodo's quest to destroy the ring, I have no doubt it would have been beautiful and technically impressive, but I am not certain it would have been fun to play. Being locked into the choices made by Frodo or the other characters doesn't really take advantage of the freedom that interactive games offer. Game players have come to expect the ability to affect the outcome of their games. The story quite likely would have felt wooden and forced when it forces them to follow the pre-scripted plot.

This is where LOTRO shines and this is why I find the game version of Middle Earth so much more compelling than the film version. Instead of connecting me to Middle Earth by placing me inside of the story, the game allows me to create my own stories inside the world that Tolkien created. I can make choices and interact with an environment that feels true to the world I read about as a kid. Larger themes such as tragedy and loss from decline of civilization, the pleasures of rustic living, and moving forward by looking back come through much more clearly.

This is also where many points of contemporary art and thought converge. Textual critics have long asserted that literature and art are greater than the author's intent. MMORPGs are a new kind of literature that move away from being determined by a single author and empower the reader to actively participate in creating the text. Web 2.0 is changing the mass media from one-way transmissions to global conversations. Games scenarios played online with other people do not play out the same each time. The audience helps write the script. Perhaps games, especially massive online role-playing games, are part of the logical progression of literature. I'm not ready to make that claim just yet, especially since the things that I love most in LOTRO are echoes of what I read in Tolkien's books. I can say that interacting inside of a re-creation of Tolkien's world is a much more satisfying experience than watching someone's film recreation of the same world.