Links: Back from the Dead Edition

I’ve just completed my first year as an assistant professor, and now face my first real summer break in goodness knows how long. I’m really excited to have some time to work on research, prepare new classes, sleep eight hours a night, and, of course, do some more blogging. I figure I’ll get back into the swing of things with some links I thought were interesting, and try to work my way back up to my usual rambling essays again in time.

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Geek Studies in Philadelphia & St. Louis

No, I won’t be returning to my old stomping grounds in Philly this semester, but I’m there in spirit: Over at Technically Philly, Brian James Kirk offers a Q&A with me about my dissertation research. Thanks to Brian for making me sound significantly more coherent than I remember being on our phone call.

Later this month, however, I will be in St. Louis at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. I’ll be presenting a paper that originated as a loosely-connected series of posts here about “The Multiple Appeals of Gaming.” Let me know if you expect to be at the conference and feel like discussing geeky things, as I have a tendency to do that when given the chance.

The Failings of “Forced Failure”

By forcing a player to do unpleasant things, a video game can encourage a player to reflect critically on those actions. As I’ve written about on Geek Studies and elsewhere—and as others have put quite well too—”forced failure” scenarios in games allow for new avenues of meaning, new emotional responses from media that pure spectatorship can’t easily provide. In my paper “Seeking Truth in Video Game Ratings,” I offered this technique as evidence that the mere presence of violence in a game isn’t enough to qualify the content as inherently immoral (or even amoral). I stand by that perspective.

As this technique becomes more commonly understood as part of the vocabulary of game design, however, it’s worth noting that recent games appear to be showing how heavy handed and poorly conceived the application of “violent gameplay to discourage violence” can potentially be.

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A “Balanced” Media Diet

Over at Wired, Steven Leckart redoes the Food Pyramid for a “media diet” totaling nine hours daily. Click through for the full-size image. (Link via Dan.)

The proportions between different types of media were foreign to me (I guess I free up relatively more time for gaming by skipping Facebook), but the sum total kind of blew my mind. Perhaps the combination of research, writing, and teaching has thrown off my notions of how much free time normal people have. Do people—or even just the kind of geeks who’d be reading Wired—really spend that long consuming media for pleasure every day?

If Mating Were a Math Problem

Several people have made note of this to me today, so I figure I might as well post it. A Slashdot reader asks the community how to meet people, especially of the opposite sex.

I have a question for my fellow Slashdotters, and yes, I realize I am entering the lion’s den covered in tasty meat-flavored sauce. I have never been a very social person, preferring to throw myself into technology; therefore, I’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in developing any meaningful interpersonal relationships. Lately I have begun to feel that this situation is not tenable, and I would like to fix it. But I really don’t know how and haven’t the faintest idea where to start. I know that I am in the minority and that there are many different kinds of Slashdot readers, most of whom have more experience in this realm than I do. So please tell me: how, and more importantly, where do you meet fellow geeks — preferably including some of the opposite gender — in meatspace?

The asker acknowledges that s/he is going to get flamed (and eaten), which seems exacerbated by wording that seems to have been interpreted as genuinely detached rather than playfully self-mocking (e.g., using terms like “meatspace” and analytically concluding that having no friends “is not tenable”). I’m not sure which I find more interesting: the frankness of the asker in trying to find a solution to this dilemma, which is presumed to result in meeting one of our own kind (so to speak); or the variety of answers that Slashdotters offer, ranging from specific things to try to get geeky and non-geeky women alike. (Everyone assumes that the person posting is male, though I’m not sure that was ever stated outright which was eventually revealed later but omitted from the original post so as to be more useful for a wider range of future readers.)

I’m too far into the dissertation to really be incorporating new data, but this seems interesting enough to at least warrant a footnote. Maybe I’ll come back to this if I ever get around to writing a paper on the role of dating in shaping geek culture and identity, as has occurred to me repeatedly as I write this. And in that case, I’d like to also note that this post has directed me to Sex Tips for Geeks, and has reminded me of an Escapist article titled “My Big Fat Geek Marriage” and a potentially relevant xkcd cartoon.

And as for the original Slashdot post: As easy as it is to mock someone for asking this question, you’ve got to give this person credit for recognizing solitude as untenable, and taking the first step toward finding an alternative.

Playboy, Fanboys, and Olivia Munn

Kotaku has a post up about G4 television personality Olivia Munn’s recent Playboy shoot. Apparently Munn had agreed in advance that it would not be a nude shoot, but was pressured otherwise at the shoot itself. She did stick to her guns, though, and complete a clothed shoot as planned. Said Munn, “It ended with my publicist and the stylist screaming at each other.”

I was particularly interested in writing up a quick post about this piece because of the last few paragraphs:

Munn’s knows that part of why Playboy came calling, and was cool with her not doing nudity, is she has a fan base that’s highly coveted by advertisers. Gamers are easily separated from their dough, after all. But the positive response she’s gotten for not taking it off tells her that her fans do care. “They’re not going to say, ‘Oh, titty! Oh, that’s Olivia’s vagina, let’s go buy it!'” she said. “They’re supportive, not just because it gets them off.”

But she doesn’t worry about being typecast for the geek demographic. To the contrary, it gets her plenty of work. She’s just finished up a role in Iron Man II, and got an offer for another from producers who said they wanted someone who isn’t the kind of pedestalized-hot that Megan Fox represents.

“I love this world I am in,” Munn said. “If I could stay in this world forever, the nerd world, I’d be happy. I’ve been here for three years, and I can confidently say this is a world I feel comfortable and welcomed in.”

I thought it was really nice that she describes her fans as supportive and welcoming. Predictably, Kotaku’s comments on the article include many crude responses, though I was interested to see several people commenting that this makes them respect Munn even more. I’ll leave further commentary aside for now (must focus on more pressing writing tasks), but I thought this might be of interest to some readers here.

Heads or Tails: Calling it in the Air

The phrase “the long tail,” coined by Wired editor Chris Anderson, refers to the increasing viability of selling to a small niche of consumers rather than marketing to the masses. In the book of the same name, this concept is parlayed into business advice based on the assumption that the web has made it not only possible, but, in the long run, more profitable to make more money off smaller groups of the most dedicated consumers without risking more up-front to gamble on blockbuster hits. The phrase refers to the graph of how sales might look in this model, with the most mainstream hits still in the “head” (selling a lot to many people) and an increasingly long, flat “tail” of materials garnering smaller sales to few people (but still selling enough to get by). Favorite examples of this theory in action are Amazon and Netflix, systems which make it possible to offer a broad array of unique products in addition to the usual hits, even if each of the more obscure products only reaches a small audience.

I recall this now because of an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Should you invest in the long tail?” The author’s research indicates that attention to blockbusters may actually be increasing, rather than decreasing, online; she suggests, “the tail is likely to be extremely flat and populated by titles that are mostly a diversion for consumers whose appetite for true blockbusters continues to grow.”

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New, Renewed, and Brainy Blogs

I keep meaning to give a special mention to a few blogs featuring contributions by some of my talented friends and colleagues. Probably I should just break down and create a “links” page for this site at some point, but I have a really hard time keeping those at a manageable length. Also, I feel like just having a link to a page, while seemingly more permanent, doesn’t really pique my interest as a reader as much as a link offered with wholehearted endorsement in the context of a post. For now, then, let me tell you about a few of the blogs I’ve been meaning to mention.

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Links: A Few Notes During a Moment of Quiet

Things have been busy with non-web writing lately, and are about to get busier, so updates may be sparse (or, I suppose, absent) around here for at least another week or so. Tomorrow I’m headed to Montreal shortly for the International Communication Association 2008 conference, presenting a paper on experimental comics and the concept of visual language. In the meantime, here’s a few links I’m not sure what to do with, but which seemed interesting enough to post.

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