Summer is perfect time to do whatever you want. At least in principle: I can just about still remember times when I spent long Northern summer nights reading or playing. Nowadays, other priorities take hold. Summer is perfect time to work; that is true for an academic. Winters are filled with dozens of projects, past, present, future: planning, reporting and administration work. And there is of course teaching and other things like DiGRA and other association work I am involved with. When summer comes, I am just desperate to do research: the work I actually want to do most of all. So, I just sit inside, read and write. Wonderful!
There has not been so much time for games of books. I did read some more from the Culture series by Banks. There was also some straightforward action, Top Spin (a tennis game) and PainKiller. Looking at the recent releases, I have not found so much originality, but then again – for a summer night of entertainment, even yet another tennis game, or first-person-shooter can do.
After some days of driving around Finland during my summer holidays, we ended up into Finncon, the national science fiction and fantasy convention in Jyvaskyla. The event was its usual pleasant mixture of talks, presentations and good company (this time the invasion of teenage Anime fans in their cosplay outfits brought more colour to the geeky mix).
The foreign special quests were Robin Hobb, John Clute and Gwyneth Jones, whose readings I especially enjoyed. It is really pity that her work is so hard to find, at least in our country. We had interesting discussions both at the science fiction researchers’ meeting in Friday, as well as in the SF Research panel in Sunday. My personal highlight, however was the Games as Fiction and Fantasy session we had organised with Jussi Holopainen (Nokia/NRC), Mikael Kasurinen (Remedy) and Mike Pohjola (the author of Myrskyn aika RPG). The topic was impossibly complex, and time was ridiculously short, which made it all great fun. Audience was active in making questions, and I hope we created some conceptual clarity, even if much was of course left unanswered.
(The cat with a question.)
Our Lab released the first course series to pilot game studies as online learning today. The phone has been ringing, and I have been busy (with my croaking voice, still in that summer flu) explaining various media people that yes, games are indeed researched, and that yes, there is need for education at this field, too. Later, while I was reading Jessica Mulligan’s Biting the Hand column series (1997-2003), I came across Raph Koster answering Jessica’s pro-entertainment piece with “The Case for Art“. There are other columns and discussions either openly or indirectly referring and linking in, and – rather than going to the debate itself – it got me thinking about the nature of column writing. This kind of blogs can be used, or perceived, as columns, too, but they can also be many other things. I enjoy reading several columns from traditional printed magazines, as well, but there is not similar kind of hypertextual openness in that medium. Some day, some way, I would like to be able to try and create a hybrid, a vehicle for truly polyphonic expression.
Deeper existential concerns aside for a moment, one of the main wishes of many people is that they would enjoy their life. “Having fun” seems to one way to express this goal, but enjoyment comes in so many guises. Amoeba, kaleidoscope and chameleon are among my favorite metaphors these days, trying to get a grasp at this mutable and polyphonic nature of ours.
My capacity of having fun has been hampered somewhat by the summer flu that got hold of me last week. These things just seem to last, at least a week or more. Damn thing! I had hopes for the Midsummer Day. Now I just got an unannounced early installation of the new network connection, and an ADSL box which of course declined to serve these pages to the web any more. Some expensive calls and three feverish days of debugging later, I finally got the new flash bios update for the ADSL box, which managed not only to fix the NAT routing error, but also installed a new firewall service. Nice.
Am I enjoying all this tech, or not?
Hard question to answer, really. When you are walking the road, do you enjoy the sand and stone under your feet?
Last couple of weeks have meant transfer into the summer mode: mostly focusing on writing the game studies stuff that I cannot get done during the academic year. I have also started to read (both work and pleasure) as much as I can find time for. Summer nights in Finland are great for this. Look Windward, the latest of Ian M. Banks Culture novels, I think, my latest treasure. Not much energy for games, just occasional glimpse of Halo, then some gameplay videos of future releases (curious form of media art, in its own right). Last week I was spending my evenings working on the gameplay experience laboratory specs for our Lab. Looks promising.
This weekend has meant some catching up with various game worlds. Tried (and got tired pretty fast) to play my way into the Middle-Earth with the EA’s Return of the King. As an interactive movie it works quite fine, but all that repetitive and linear action just is not for me. Just getting stuck and killed all the time, no fun. It might be that either much more experience in some beat-em-ups (Mortal Combat, anyone?) could have changed the situation. Or then just more save points along the way. Now the arduous process of repeatedly getting to the one really hard spot without any chance to save the game, then failing, and being forced to do the same thing dozens of times again is just painful and humiliating.
I was expecting more from the Eidos/Ion Storm Thief III. It is not yet released, but I downloaded and installed a demo version. The only problem was that there were some serious issues with the graphics. So no go there, too.
Most time I actually ended spending with the (now classic, for some) Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. It has very strong emphasis on exploration, but I just wonder what would be the right balance. This time, scenery is beautiful and world rich and detailed in various imaginary cultures, races and intrigues. The only problem is that classic adventure game one: you end up walking from other side of the world to the other again and again in some petty errands, getting confused and distracted on the road. But if you give a player enough freedom, the risk of loss of focus is the necessary counterpart, or isn’t it?
There are many sorts of ironies. E.g., it is sometimes hard to make people understand that one can simultaneously be a pacifist, and love games — or fantasy, horror and science fiction, for that. I even intensely dislike all forms of competition, and like to lose, just to make the point. How can I then like games? Well, I do not like all sorts of games, nor do I play the games that I do in particularly competitive ways (some fellow role-players of course might want to abandon the concept of “game” altogether). Nick Yee says that he has not find proof for Richard Bartle‘s “Explorer” type to be validated in his RPG study. Well, we might be a small minority, but we do exist. I am waiting for the Middle-Earth Online just for the opportunity to explore the land, see the places, to get another way of imagining “being there”. That is fun. That is life.
Btw, what is reality? Do you know it? Just remembered one neuroscientist explaining his thesis how our basic brain state is dreaming: our brain is actively generating reality, constructing it. We are not just receiving information from outside, we are actively projecting our own conceptions and gestalts of its character “from inside”. And that is why fantasy is our fundamental condition.
(Another piece of irony: MEO is advertised as the “first Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game based on The Lord of the Rings”. Now that is a slight miscalculation, if I ever saw one.)
While writing this, I found the tunes at RadioDarvish.com. Now this site rocks.