Game Changer: The Citizen Kane of Video Games

I’d hate for it to seem like all of us at RPI are in a large game of one-upmanship for this past month’s BoRT, but my game changer, what I would dedicate a museum exhibit to, would not be from the seventh generation of console gaming and not even from the medium of videogames itself. My game changer is Citizen Kane.

I’d like to start by just trying to break down what the Citizen Kane of videogames (CKoVG) means for the gaming community right now. First of all, we need to understand that by no means are we looking for a game that emulates Citizen Kane, instead we are looking for the similar cultural acceptance that film received when Orson Welles’ classic was released. I’m sure someone could make a biographical game of a newspaper magnate’s life interesting, but it would be old since we have already seen it (in fucking Citizen Kane). It might even come across as stupid and moronic to so closely adapt another medium’s keystone.

Instead, the CKoVG would have to open up the medium to a wider cultural acceptance and would lead to major media producers taking on the understanding that videogames are essential cultural objects with significant impacts. We might be there already, but we still don’t have the New York Times producing videogame reviews on a regular basis and there is not yet the Roger Ebert of gaming. Film Studies is a strong and plentiful discipline in academia while game studies is slowly coming around in that area.

While we haven’t achieved this yet, we must realize that this concept has had significant impact on the way we view games, especially in the seventh generation. Instead of games being ‘just games,’ the idea of a bounded text has completely died off with this sort of discourse. Games cannot be viewed just for their own narrative or ludic innovations, but must be able to impact the media ecology of contemporary culture (even if some want to keep a certain level of medium separation). There is a requirement now for videogames to not only add to their own medium’s history, but they have to be compared with the milestones of other mediums as well. With this, audience expectations expand as well, taking in the high points of gaming along with those of film, television and radio.

This discourse has also affected how Citizen Kane is viewed, as it is not seen as an individual film any longer. We don’t remember Welles’ performance or camera work any more, but we solely remember it as a benchmark of the medium. The long shots and incredible mise-en-scene is forgotten in favor of privileging the cultural impacts of the movie.

Yes, I’m sure it seems like I’m only responding to a current (and past and future) fad in gaming criticism and journalism (we’ll see if I’m wrong in a year or two), mainly brought about within the last 18 months or so, but imagine the museum exhibit that this could look like in a few decades. It’s 2025-2035 and video games passed the Citizen Kane moment a while back. The walls of the exhibit hall are lined with televisions, newspapers and consoles all showing the similarities between the aftermath of Citizen Kane and the aftermath of the Citizen Kane of videogames, timelines and histories of two mediums’ progression towards cultural legitimacy. The first film reviews of Citizen Kane are placed right along side those of the games that have been pivotal in the medium’s cultural acceptance. Clips of Citizen Kane are shown alongside games that made strides to equalize games with other mediums. Roger Ebert on At the Movies next to the Roger Ebert of gaming on On the Couch (my made-up gaming review TV show).

Now, I realize the implications of this and it’s a mixed bag. The discourse has created a teleology that lays the paving to legitimacy for games in the same ways as film and keeps it within that cultural paradigm. It suggests that only major media producers (network television/national newspapers) can bring about full acceptance. Do we want that? Do we want something different? I’m sure some people would like it and some wouldn’t. However, I can’t really argue against a larger spotlight on games from all arenas of society.

There are many game changers that I thought about writing on. The indie/AAA divide. Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. The standardization of controllers. These are all important things that came with or were highlighted in the seventh generation, but they didn’t control the discourse around the present and future of gaming like that of the Citizen Kane of videogames. They didn’t expand beyond the walls of the medium like this phrase has. It’s difficult to project what gaming will look like in five or ten years, but it is even more difficult to understand how people will view the objects of the seventh generation at that time.

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This post was written for Critical Distance’s Blogs of the Round Table discussion of October/November 2013.

BoRTlg

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How do I do 9/11?

I’m not a big fan of reading about 9/11 anymore. I enjoyed the discourse when I first entered grad school, but it gets old when you’re reading at least three articles/chapters/books a year on the issue. It gets old. Yeah, it was important. What’s that? Another rhetoric article about Colin Powell’s speech to the UN? That was important too? Thanks RSQ! (No, seriously. They just published one in their fall issue) So, I’m sorry, but I’m going to write about it and not read what I wrote, because even I’m tired of the subject.

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We really have no idea what we’re doing at this point do we? Sure, the President is most likely in NYC or DC or Pennsylvania at a site of attack, but the more common person? The company? The franchise? The worker? The student? I’ve now been alive for longer in ‘Post-9/11’ world than the good old days before the attacks and I have no idea what to do, but at least I know that this probably isn’t a good idea (according to the current social barometer of memorialization):

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Probably not this way either:

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But I don’t know if moments of silence, Facebook posts, or tweets are any better. What was so wrong about the golf course offering 9 holes for $9.11? I think the American public is in a bit of a crisis over how to DO 9/11, not just what to think about it, but what this date means for everyday life. I’m not advocating for some hegemonic moments of silence and reflection as was so common in the few years after the event, but there is still obviously still some right and wrong with how to go about your day. There are boundaries that we can and cannot cross. What’s wrong with mini-muffins as a memorial? Maybe Marriott wanted them to be some sort of food for thought embodied in actual food! Probably not, but who the fuck cares? I don’t usually see vegetarians getting all pissed off when meat-eaters want to cook a pig on July 4th in memory of 18th century revolutionaries. And I can guarantee you that there are no hidden thoughtful intentions there.

When the attacks happened, I remember Jon Stewart and many other comedians asking when it was going to be alright for them to make jokes again and others wondered when it was going to be alright to joke about the actual events. I’m guessing that we’ve passed that point, but now we have this new question.

When will it be OK to monetize/trivialize the memorial date? When will 9/11 be a state holiday that we can go and buy cars on? When can we roast some weenies and burgers on the grill on the second or third Monday of every September?

It probably won’t ever happen. I say this mainly because we already have one state-sanctioned holiday, Labor Day (What a fucking shitbag of a May Day we Americans have) in September. Adding another one would mean that businesses wouldn’t be happy with workers having too much time off.

Besides this more pragmatic problem, can the event be separated from work? The attacks fell upon places of work, not pleasure, and fell upon a weekday, ensuring that most people remember the events as told through televisions in their break room. The attacks began near the beginning of the workday. The American public was told after the attacks that it was necessary to keep on without heir everyday lives, which included work and, more importantly, the buying power that comes through employment. Work and purchase were so heavily tied in the weeks afterward. Well, those and fear really. We can’t forget our old friend fear.

I don’t know. Have a muffin and play a round of golf. As long as we’re spending cash and working, aren’t we really fulfilling the wishes of American officials in the days after 9/11? Isn’t that how we’re supposed to do 9/11?

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Progressive Shaming: The Newsroom and Rhetoric without a Vector

That title gives me a headache, but I think it works. Well, it probably doesn’t work. Instead it’s probably just a self-aggrandizing load of bullshit, but I’m a grad student. I’ve been wading through loads of self-aggrandizing bullshit for a little over two years now and don’t intend to stop. You get used to the smell. Really. Or just numb….hard to tell. That was cathartic.

Will McAvoy’s bodyguard says at one point in the sixth episode of The Newsroom, “I see you thinking about it. Do not do it.” Someone should have told me that before I started writing this thing.

I have a problem with The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s latest progressive show which airs on HBO. That’s actually not true. I have several issues with Sorkin’s show, but I think the overall issue that I have with the show is where it leaves the audience after viewing. I know there are many issues with the show, as well as with most of Sorkin’s writing in general, and, more specifically, his female characters being usually bad. I’m leaving those to the side for the moment.

The problem that I have with Sorkin’s show is that we’re left without anything to do after we see it and this is a problem that is new for Sorkin. All the other things were there in The West Wing or SportsNight (That’s right. I’ve watched SportsNight extensively and it’s a piece of crap, but I like sports. Sports, sports, sports.), but they were off in their own little fantasy lands. When we were dealing with Bush2, there was always Jed Bartlett to satisfy our liberal fantasies. When the MLB wasn’t doing jack shit about steroids in the late 1990’s, we had Dan Rydell and Casey McCall delving into steroid use in major league sports. In both we had the dreamy Joshua Malina doing cool things. These were all fantasy worlds where we could deal with things away from the here and now. People need those arenas, but there’s a reason that we call them fantasies.

The thing about fantasies is that they’re supposed to have some sort of impetus. They have causes, but they also have solutions. Fantasies are entire stories with beginnings, middles, and ends and those ends are the things that are supposed to eventually be taken into the real world. I’m supposed to be able to do something with these stories. And this is what is infuriating about The Newsroom. I’m left with nothing to do except feel ashamed for going along with certain pieces of information or listening to certain sources for news.

So here’s what we have. We have a giant pile of progressive shame that works both within the show and projects outward from the characters and the subjects that they discuss. We should start with how the shaming starts. First it’s wholly within the show, but that lasts all of three or so minutes, until we are the subject of that shame. Jeff Daniels’ character is shamed into answering a question, but he is allowed a way out of his shaming. This way out for him is the move from apathy. Is this the central idea of The Newsroom, that the American public must move out of apathy on the issues facing the day? If it is, we might be getting somewhere, but we do not have the power of the characters within this show. The character of Will McAvoy has the ability to move out of apathy and move toward actual action.

This isn’t the shaming of one side of the political spectrum or another, but the entirety of the American populace. Is this really the best way to try bringing about change? I don’t know how I feel about shaming, but I do know that when we shame without possible solutions to where that shame comes from, we’re left with nothing to do. Actually, we’re not even left with the possibility of empowerment to change things as we might be able to get from some types of shaming.

The idea of fantasy that I’m using here is one that is more specifically located within a certain method of rhetorical analysis called fantasy theme analysis (FTA). For people who do FTA, fantasy is any part of discourse which uses narrative elements to describe events that are not currently occurring. However, we must realize that the word ‘fantasy’ can never totally stay within the realm of a methodology in the humanities. Fantasy soon conflates with fantasy, and we leave the real world.

The thing is that this is what has happened with The Newsroom’s fantasies. They are no longer fantasies in relation to the methodology, but fantasies in the same way that we talk about unicorns and Grimm fairy tales. I understand that Sorkin is trying to create a certain history in the face of events that have occurred in the past two years, but this sort of history does nothing more for us than offering a counter to, what I assume, is in the unabashedly conservative textbooks written for Texas public schools. Sorkin constantly writes about the need to change the tone of American journalism in order to move away from the polarization of American political life in the last five years, but we know the history that he is creating is one that is at least understood as polarizing. Maybe these are all facts. Sam Waterson’s character at one point states that “Facts are centrist.” Maybe that is the case, but audiences don’t see centrism. We see progressive and regressive facts, and we certainly know which side Sorkin is putting forward.

Yeah, those are a ton of different thoughts that might not really make any sense together except for the fact that they’re all about The Newsroom. Not the best way to write, but here I am. Good stories don’t stay as stories. They don’t stay as fantasies, but they move outwards from their narrative elements and expand in the world at large. I used the word “vector” in my title because there needs to be movement to big cultural pieces like The Newsroom, and not this shitty ideological movement, but movement on the surface. We need more explicit rhetorical moves, especially when we’re dealing with histories that exist so close to our present. For someone like Sorkin, who isn’t the best at subtlety, I’m surprised that’s such a hard thing to get.

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Narrativized Ludology: Sports Film and Rule-Based Climax

EDIT: HAH! This has barely anything to do with the narratology vs. ludology debate other than the name, but you’re interested, aren’t you?! I thought up the title after I had written most of the post and I like the idea, but I don’t know what it means. Here’s some stuff about rules and sports films. SPORTS!

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Yeah. It’s a Thursday and I’m talking about something completely different than what I thought I would be talking about, but fuck it. I’ve got something in the mind mill about stats and Moneyball and Nate Silver’s existence, but I’ve been thinking a ton about sports films the past few days and wanted to get some words down.

This topic is coming from my current viewing of Major League, which I am watching because of this awesome ‘oral history’ piece that’s been floating around sports blogs this past week about the 1989 Cleveland Indians. It’s worth a read, but if you know the plot of Major League as well as I do, it’s a bit of a bore that just makes you want to watch the actual movie. It doesn’t have Bob Uecker’s voice or Wesley Snipes ridiculously small car, so it’s lacking to say the least.

Rules and strategies of games are usually relegated to the players of those games and their fans. These codes have been agreed upon and have disseminated through their use by pro teams throughout the country. Leagues have rule books that are understood, for the most part, by those playing or coaching the games. I say mostly because of a poll that went around a few weeks back about obscure baseball rules and how there were a few announcers and coaches that did remarkably bad. This is a poor way to start. “Rules” and “strategy” are fucking horrible, ill-defined words that can mean almost anything in any situation. How about I actually try to do that instead of keeping up the shit tradition of not defining anything.

I guess I should define what I mean by a “rule.” To be honest, I don’t really know how to define that term well. For the purpose of sports, I’m taking rules as written statements which designate allowed actions, describe the flow of play and dimensions of the play space, and set up parameters for how winners and losers are established. On the other hand, strategies entail direct responses to those rules which have also become institutionalized, but not in written ways. The sports strategy becomes systemic, in that it infiltrates certain teams or coaches or players. Often, strategy isn’t looked at as strategy, but labeled as ‘philosophies.’ In baseball, certain teams will play ‘small ball,’ bunting, stealing and sacrificing runners ahead to increase the probability that they can score a few runs. Football has a long-standing tradition of having certain strategic philosophies originate in college-level ball and making their way up to the majors through new coaches. The wildcat system and the West Coast offense being two of the more famous of examples. Well, there are some definitions. They aren’t going to work for everything, but they’re there. This is me patting myself on the back.

These are all codes that sports fans come to pick up on from various places, be they family members, telecast announcers, magazines, websites, so on and so forth. They’re mutually-agreed upon symbols. Well, they aren’t mutually agreed upon. They have been agreed upon and you better learn them or you’re not as welcome in the environment as those who do. This is trending towards symbolic convergence theory, a term coined by Ernest Bormann, but I know that theory is specific to rhetoric and doesn’t necessarily work well. Maybe social semiotics or something else would work, but I don’t know what would be best. Communities create and are endowed with symbols that they take on, understand, and keep up. It doesn’t always work like that, nor is it necessarily the norm, but I’m not trying to make a lengthy argument about symbol and meaning-making for various groups.

But what happens to rules when we move from sports as a part of the games medium to sports as topic for another medium, particularly the sports film. With a shift in audience, and a shift in the relationship between audience and game, there has to be a shift in the ways that rules are understood and displayed.

There’s a particular trope of overtime being used as a rule that is exploited by film to heighten the audience’s intensity. I watched Invictus the other day and it uses extra time in the same way that The Mighty Ducks 2 uses the shootout. These allowances within the actual sport are not brought up until the climax of the film in order to put an extra bit of umph into the suspense of the moment. Now that I think about it, the first Mighty Ducks movie does the same thing with the penalty shot that Charlie Conway takes at the end of the climactic battle with the Hawks foe. Yes, I do remember all of the intricate details of the Mighty Ducks franchise and it’s sad, but I’ll deal with it.

The rules of the game are not laid out for the audience when we deal with the game in film. In Friday Night Lights, they choose to go the entirety of the film without mentioning the role of penalties in football, but in the last scene, where the multicultural, rural Panthers are up against the all black, urban Dallas Carter team (seriously, go watch that again. It’s disgusting how much they build up this black, urban, male team as the ultimate enemy. Can’t we have more cases where the Aryan Icelandic team is the disgusting foe like in MD2? Not perfect, but definitely different.), the Panthers are called for a holding penalty in the last minute which brings back a go-ahead touchdown. Why is this the first time that penalties, events that occur frequently within a single football game, are brought up in only one game where the entire season is on display.

****Note: I thought about that some more. That isn’t the first penalty that is brought up in the game, but that game is the only one where penalty flags fly. Earlier in the game a penalty is given to a Dallas Carter (read: black) players kicks the dislodged helmet into the face of a white Permian player. The penalty isn’t used as a plot twist, but it is definitely used in order to further the idea that Dallas Carter are the ‘baddies’ here. That they’re disgusting and unsportsmanlike and that you should hate them. It’s fucked.

Sports films operate under such a different understanding of the role of rules than that of the games (and their audiences) themselves. Their ludological power as rules, as the things that define the games and the way that those games can be played by players, is stripped when being forced into a narrative role. This is understandable, if we understand that the audience for the film is much larger than that of the game. However, who is the audience mostly of the sports film, and how do we deal with large overlays of that audience and smaller overlapping audiences? Invictus was a big budget movie that garnered over $100 million worldwide and around $37 million US. Unlike a movie like Major League, where we’re dealing with a popular American sport, we have a more untrained audience with the sport of rugby. This is probably why there isn’t as much focus on in-game play in the first 75% of the film. The only extended gameplay (can I call it that even in a scripted, biographical environment?) comes in the last half hour. It’s obvious that the writers tried to account for a more ignorant audience by showing the scoreboard every time that there was a score, constantly reminding them of the score and how the game worked. More emphasis is placed on the referee and what he said throughout the game in order to keep the audience up to speed.

This post also comes through the games readings that I have been doing, and I think that it’s ultimately an interesting thing that happens to rules when games move from games as medium to games as topic. Rules can no longer stand on their own because they don’t directly affect the audience, but they still play an incredibly important role in films about different sports.

I feel like I should say something about unwritten rules. For the most part I have been talking about rules that have been institutionalized in certain ways, mainly by being in the league’s actual rulebook in ACTUAL words. I haven’t been talking about hockey’s fighting ‘code’ (such as, always stop hitting when the other guy hits the ice) or baseball’s unwritten rules about running up the score late in games (no sacrifice bunts or suicide squeezes allowed). I’m sure there are some in football or basketball, but I don’t know those cultures as well.

Let’s first be honest: these aren’t technically “rules,” but social norms within certain subcultures of sport. However, they still come up in certain places in sports film. If we take Friday Night Lights again, we see the unwritten rule of being honest and open about medical conditions. The Permian star running back gets hurt in the first game and goes out just to get hurt more. Thus we get this moralistic understanding of how players are supposed to act. Same thing can be said for Varsity Blues on the coach’s side, forcing injections and more playing time on already injured players.

There are code words that are used as well within these films, but they offer a bit of a different feeling than the emphasis on rules. As I’m watching Major League, I noticed something. Bob Uecker is famous for his “Just a bit outside” comment, but after the first game of the regular season, Uecker calls the 9-0 thumping the Indians took as a “heartbreaker.” Those who know the sports code would recognize that as, at best, optimistic hyperbole. Heartbreakers in baseball refer to one-run games or blown saves that lead to losses in the last inning. These aren’t relied upon as much as rules, particularly in high tension moments, because of the acknowledgment that the entire audience won’t understand or get the joke.

You know what? I don’t know what the purpose of this blog post is. It’s mostly just me rambling about how rules are used differently when the audience is placed further and further away from their implementation and use. Rules are important for the player for their ability to play the game, for fans to understand the ways that the player is playing, but they are important for the sports film audience in order to understand the flow of the story that is being put forth. They are used to create the climax, or at least to heighten a particular moment within the resolution of a problem. They are markers of narrative points, unlike their persistent existence within the actual game. I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing or a good thing. I don’t know if it’s really even a thing.

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Sports and Identity: The Stat Against the Body

Shitty human…shitty blog. I know that I was saying that I was going to be doing this every Monday and Friday, but it’s been sweltering and this greasy, sweaty body doesn’t like typing when large amounts of residue builds up under my palms on my laptop. I’m a day late, but here is what I started writing Friday night and finished today.

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According to White House Down, this isn’t called a blog anymore. I don’t know what it is, but the fantasy creation of some screenwriter has told me so and I take that as dogma. Well, let’s just put that to the side because I don’t want to talk about film stuff or how much I expect directors to have military coherence across films and across decades (I know…ridiculous expectations).

For the rest of the month I’m going to be discussing several different things in the wide world of sports, but I want to start out with a bit of a diatribe about identity. It is a topic that has consistently permeated almost everything that I have thought about in the past year or so and, while I hate my brain for consistently going there, I think there might be something to this that is particularly important for sports.

I have difficulty believing in any sort of identity that is empowering to the individual or allow for self-determination. It’s not that I think they don’t exist. I’m sure that people are finding ways to identify themselves and empower themselves everywhere, but I’m not sure that those ways of creating identity matter when they come up against the forces of identity formation by established powers. We have to realize going forward that there are significant power differentials in the creation and formation of identities and we cannot flatten these together. For the rest of this post, I will be using identity creation to signify the self-determined, individual move to establish an identity and identity formation refers to processes which aim to stabilize and authorize an identity for an individual. I use this argument often when I look to various new media applications (wide open field, I know, but I think it works most places). In the storing of cookies and the instantaneous analysis of that data when users access various websites, we are not in control of the identity that is created. Instead, the algorithms and hierarchization of data allow for identities to be created that are most helpful for the individual sites. Amazon might privilege your purchase or viewing of one book over the same actions taken with another. Google might move physical location above other identity markers in certain circumstances. These are actions that the world outside of these companies does not control. These are certainly operations that do not allow for identity creation, but call upon instantaneous, single-use identities to be formed in order for a greater rhetorical effect.

In the move from whatever ‘new media applications’ means to sports, I want to first focus on the professional athlete. This month of sports talk will be focusing largely on the professional athlete because I’m not good with fan culture. In addition to that, I have some issues with how I have been seeing identity used in my small readings of sports studies as of right now. Identity gets attached so quickly to an adjective, that it seems like the word has little or no meaning. National, cultural, and social are some of the adjectives attached more often as I’ve seen, with the idea of sport or a specific game being given certain influence over those things. I think this takes so much out of identity and it puts the individual sport or the idea of sports in a place of less power than the individual. While I will acknowledge that the individual first has the power over whether or not to watch sports or enjoy them, the social, national and cultural pressures creates a power struggle that this view of identity doesn’t account for. We aren’t starting with sport as a given, which might be more apt in a country that does not have as multitudinous of a sports scene, but with identity as the given, and as the individual having a full arsenal to take on cultural and social practices in order to determine their own identities.

I’m somewhat repeating an argument that Grant Jarvie makes in his overview of sports studies entitled Sport, Culture, and Society: An Introduction. It is here, in reference to the mix of the social and the political with rugby in South Africa, that he writes, “Identity within the above mentioned book, as in many others, has a prominence as an answer to many questions. Here it features not as an explicit theory but as a magical incantation as a password into the story of South African sport that is expected to illuminate explanations of such areas as identity behaviour and the ways in which sporting ceremonies in South Africa have helped to generate identities among white South Africans (Nauright, 1997:21)” (285). Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Nick, you know absolutely nothing about the role of sport, particularly rugby, in a post-apartheid South Africa other than the movie Invictus [Almost wrote Invincible, that other one where Matt Damon-twin Mark Whalberg plays football instead of rugby…I need to watch those two together].” 

Well, you are definitely correct. I cannot speak to the role of rugby within South Africa, but I really enjoy the phrase “not as an explicit theory but as a magical incantation” when we’re talking about identity. This is really what I’ve been trying to say for the past several hundred words and am now just getting to. Many of us who are talking about identity these days have little understanding of what that might mean. Based on my work in cultural studies, I can tell that we have an entire field in the humanities that hasn’t seemed to actually question what the word ‘identity’ is defined as since Stuart Hall and Judith Butler. I know they’re alive and probably still writing. I don’t care. We really need to update that.

Identity is a very powerful term or me that we seem to always muddle by adding in extra shitty adjectives that limit what it can be instead of going for what it might actually be in a certain situation. The first way that we need to start understanding identity is that it is not wholly inherent to the individual. They do not have the power to fully define it and, because of this lack of power, the individual has an identity that must travel and change within different contexts. In an interesting little article entitled “Sport as Symbolic Dialogue,” C.E. Ashworth writes about identity as sport and that the creation of identity must be seen as a game in which symbols are exchanged and represented in different ways according to different rule sets.

He writes, “Life is thus a game whether rules are agreed upon or not because cognition is unavoidably governed by rules – those rules which establish identity in a continual state of becoming and ambiguity – but it is not an idealised game because the mutuality of rules is not necessarily guaranteed so that outcomes can be mutual and not individual.” Well there are a lot of problems here, but I’m going to talk about a few (But seriously, is he calling for a normalized cognition, what a butt!). I think he takes an interesting exit off the highway of thought here, but where he turns right at the end of the ramp, we’re going to take a left and look at what could (should?) have been. He takes sport as a metaphor and I want to take it as an example. So let’s do that? Or not. You can totally stop reading whenever you want.

Maybe instead it should read, “Identities are formed when rules are agreed upon for the individual, causing  definitively unequal power levels between individual and game, in order for identities to be formed more efficiently for the sake of the sport.” Are you rolling your eyes yet?

I’m not trying to say that identity is always like this. Yes, we are always staring into the abyss of language in order to pull together an identity, but choice and difference in that situation can possibly be liberating. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it, but maybe you should. But when I started this sort of project I kept running into a conceptualization of identity that was AT BEST magical and at worst unable to overcome other areas of research. This is also a continued response to how we need to start viewing identity in the age of informatics and the further move to the individual being nothing more than an aggregate of stats. Yeah. This suggests that that’s all we are, but that’s why I’m looking at sports. I’m not going to have as good of an example if I were looking at off-the-grid communes, you know?

So, here’s the deal. When we look to the professional athlete, and to their identity (not their celebrity, which seems to be a big thing for sports studies), we see identities that are being set up and created through their particular sport. Sport is an arena where the body can be discounted and abstracted from even thought sports studies also seems t have a total fascination with that. When we look to stats, it is the individual athlete split up and rearranged in order to provide some sort of meaning. Baseball is obviously the best thing to look at here, since it has been taken over by stats and is mired in what someone will probably call the ‘sabermetric wars’ in years to come, if not already something that Billy Beane says in his sleep.

I want to leave baseball for a bit later. I have a few days left where I will talk about stats and baseball in particular will be of such great help to that. Maybe it’s time to think about hockey. The sport just embarked on their free agency period which started Friday (one of the reasons I wasn’t writing was because I was waiting for contracts to be announced…there weren’t enough announcements by the Bruins). The thing that is great about hockey is that I think we can still see an older way of looking at prospects. “Older” probably isn’t the best way, but we are dealing with a new (statistics-based) and old (body/skill-based) understanding of things right now. They haven’t totally embraced the stat, but often focus on the body. Hockey players will be described as having great hands, heavy shots, and a willingness to play in the ‘dirty areas.’ They will be understood more for their body than the baseball player is today.

But just when you think that you are focusing on the body, a sportscaster or article will drop in the stats. Goals scored, assists, plus/minus. They sneak in there. We must realize that how identity is represented is based both on the sport that is being talked about AND the form/medium/otherthing in which that representation is taking place. If I’m looking at TSN’s main hockey page at an article listing the top free agents, I am bound to see more statistics than in-depth statements about the way the player skates or shoots. Now, when a player is signed and the local beat writer puts out a blog post on the new guy, they’ll talk about those things. They have the space and the rhetorical exigency to do so that the list does not.

I know that these seem like silly distinctions, but these changes alter the way that we understand the world around us and vastly change the ways that we can talk about other people, particularly athletes. These identities are formed by actions in-game which are allowed to be created because of the rules of those games. This is a bit procedural, I know. Hmm…maybe it’s time that I write something about procedural identity. Have people done that? Who cares?

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I’m going to go ahead and stop there for now. I am probably going to talk about these issues again at some point through this month, but I don’t know when. As I said, identity bleeds through into everything that I talk about, so it’s bound to happen again. Maybe this stuff is boring, but whatever. I think it’s fun knowing that your existence is mediated in so many fucking ways that we don’t often think about.

SPORTS!

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Sports Month at MoMF: The Worst Theme Party

It’s like being at a fraternity’s theme party where there’s just one dude in football pads talking to himself in a dark room alone, muttering “Go team” over and over again. I’ve decided that I haven’t been writing enough, so I’m going to just plunge into an area of research and theory that I haven’t ever really looked at close-up. What follows is anecdotal and probably unsubstantiated at points. It’s how I feel about sports, and I hate talking about feelings. I’m saving how other people discuss and research sports for other posts this month.

I have felt conflicted about my role in academia for a while. Other than adjunct-to-be, I’m not sure where I’m heading or moving into, but I’ve been feeling a slight aversion to many people and procedures at work within academia. I think sports might be a way that I can reconcile that with myself.

While I consider myself a sports fan and have cared about certain teams for a long time, I am looking now to sports as an object because of the potential I think they hold. I think they are incredibly potent examples that permeate a very large portion of the population. It’s very clear that sport is one of the most popular sections of American culture, carrying a very large amount of actual and cultural capital throughout the world. I think it’s an important topic for the culture at-large and, more specifically, for my future students. But I’ll talk about that in a bit.

It’s difficult to avoid sports growing up only half an hour away from Boston. You get sucked in quick when Fenway Park is so close and the Patriots play even closer. I’m sure it’s quite similar for children who grow up all around the U.S. near different cities with various teams. But they don’t all go to grad school and work within disciplines that seem to respond to that child-like passion with displeasure and calls for greater legitimacy. I even did it right there, calling it a child-like passion, invoking that there is something wrong or immature about sport fandom. That was fucking stupid of me.

I don’t know anything about the niche of sports research in the humanities other than it is a niche. I’m not entirely sure what isn’t a niche at this point in time when disciplines and fields are so fragmented and we’re all emanating out from a loose center in order to find a space that isn’t already overly-inhabited. Maybe social media or the internet at large, but those are fucking huge, so why wouldn’t they permeate a bunch of disciplines in a meaningful way? I can make that statement without question, but the idea/object of sport is also an area which could definitely penetrate multiple disciplines on a regular basis. But if that is the case, why don’t I see an article about sport events once a year in the journal of Cultural Studies or Rhetoric Society Quarterly or Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies? Why are these topics instead relegated to minor journals of little readership? Let’s not even go that big. Why didn’t I have a single class period in any one of my courses that dealt with sports in particular. It wasn’t like I was in classes that were nothing more than homogenous pools of the stereotypical nerd, all wheezing, taping their glasses and solving math proofs in their spare time. I was in a department of Media and Communication Studies, which I’m fairly certain sports falls into, but it was a topic that was only ever brought up by students and never by professors.

You can probably tell that it’s a pet peeve of mine that something like the topic of sports, an arena that many students find interesting and engage with regularly, seems like it is a periphery topic at best. Isn’t part of the work of a professor to meet the student halfway with their interests? Or am I just some crazy idealist with a love of sports?

Well, it is probable that I am speaking out of my ass. Maybe I just haven’t had the privilege of professors who care about sports in the same way that I do and, thus, haven’t been privy to the world of the sports academic and that discourse. I’m going to try to fix that a bit this month. I’ve been reading quite a bit about video games recently, so that will be a constant tie-in here as well. In addition to that, I only root for Boston teams because I totally wanted to be cool and fit in as an elementary schooler and those teams have taken up a large part of my memory of sports from those days into today. Many of the examples that I will be using are probably from Boston sports. At some point later in the month, when my focus turns to a few phenomena in Boston sports culture, I’m going to try to talk a bit more about the culture and my growing up in it and becoming a fan. You shouldn’t necessarily care, but I needed an extra issue to fill an entire post and Boston is a strange place.

This month is largely an experiment to see if the topic of sports is somewhere that I see myself entering. Well, that and to see if I can produce a few posts a week for an extended period of time. I’ll be posting every Monday and Friday for this month. It’s only 9 entries, but I haven’t written regularly since my sporadic, yet often, writings on Occupy back in the summer/fall of 2011. Uh…oops?

Below is a schedule of topics that I will be discussing and the dates:

5 – Sports and Identity

8 – Stats Science vs. The “Human Element” of Games: Contradictions Abound

12 – Nate Silver’s Odd Existence: Politics, Sports, and Statistics

15 – Sports Video Games and the Move to the Individual

19 – “Bet You Like that Hand on Your Ass”: Growing up with Boston Sports

22 -Fan Victimization and the Aaron Hernandez Case

26 – “Pink Hats” and Sports Elitism

29 – Underperforming and Clutch Players: Myth and Context

 

This isn’t really set in stone, but that’s a taste of things that I have thought of at this moment. Things might change as I read more and more within this weird academic subfield. As always, I would absolutely love any suggestions that people have of important texts in sports studies. I’ve searched high and low, but I still can’t put my finger on what the central texts or authors of this field/topic are.

July is the heart of baseball season. Seems like this is the perfect time to start this project.

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Zombies, Medium, and Metaphor: How Do I Deal with The Last of Us?

This blog post could most likely also be named “How to Break Your Brain in Just One Weekend,” but the more academic title trope of “triptych + personal subtitle = piece of shit article” won out because I’m a sell out.

This weekend I did three things that have totally fucked my brain. I read the first five trade paperbacks (TPBs) of Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (I would suggest pretty much anything that he has written, but this is seriously one of my favorite comics ever) before going to see World War Z (WWZ). In between and after I experienced these things, I watched a supercut of the latest videogame from Naughty Dogs, The Last of Us (TLoU). Two of those have to do with zombies in particular (WWZ & TLoU), but all of them are set in post-apocalyptic settings. They don’t really talk across each other all that well, and I’m largely including Sweet Tooth here because I want you all to read it and love it and comic books are interesting things that I’m just starting to deal with critically.

Anyway, I’m just going to start with World War Z. It’s a piece of shit movie that completely kills any hope you had that the book could be turned into an adequate movie/television show. I have my doubts that anyone will want to touch that source material for quite a while simply because it bears the same name as Brad Pitt’s Pepsi-induced fuckfest. I’m going to go ahead and skip most of the movie and just talk about the zombies.

Zombies have always been very important for American pop culture, but I think this is mainly because of their ability to be a metaphor, particularly in film. It’s obvious that we have moved past the days when zombies were stand-ins for consumerism/capitalism (Night of the Living Dead, original Dawn of the Dead). More people have written on this and a google scholar search will probably give you so many better words than I will have here. I don’t know what the zombies of the remake of Dawn of the Dead are, or what they represent in 28 Days Later. 28 Weeks Later gives us the heavy handedness of the Iraq war and zombies being the insurgency. I felt really fucking stupid going most of the way through the movie and not figuring out what this particular representation of zombies meant.

Zombies aren’t just the insurgency in Iraq anymore, but they are terrorism as an entirety. Well, at least a common understanding of what the West views as terrorism. In the film, zombies are fast, but they are the most reckless zombies of any movie depiction yet. They throw their bodies at anything that makes a sound, looking solely to feed. The zombie’s main enemy, Brad Pitt, works for what’s left of the United Nations. One of the first places that is truly attacked by zombies in a coordinated way is Israel (after that clue, I was pretty sure). One of the UN investigators that works with Pitt refers to the zombie affliction as being serial killers. I could go on if I had watched it a few more times. I’m sure there are more clues that point to zombies being a stand-in for terrorism.

And then I watched The Last of Us and since it has ended I haven’t been able to figure out what zombies in that could even fucking possibly stand for. What is the metaphor here? It’s the story of a man, his dead daughter, and a girl that looks like Ellen Page trying to survive, but the metaphor just isn’t coming through to me.

But what do zombies stand in for in any fucking zombie videogame? I’ve been wracking my brain for the past few hours to try to figure it out, and they just aren’t there. Left 4 Dead (2)Day Z, even the Call of Duty – Zombies modes or the simple (but pretty solid) turn-based strategy mobile game Rebuild. I can’t think of the metaphor in any of these? In these cases, zombies are just enemies, but they can’t be abstracted out so easily into metaphors like their filmic counterparts. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? Why does metaphor die when we change mediums? Is it the switch from spectating to (inter)acting? I hate myself for even putting part of a word in parentheses, so you should know how much I want to know.

I can’t think of any triple-A game where metaphor even exists on a large scale. I will admit that I haven’t played an incredibly large amount of games, but I don’t think that I have run across metaphor existing in the same way that it exists in films. Is it an experiential thing? Are we so caught up in surviving the horde that we give up the desire to abstract, or is metaphor something that just isn’t there? I need some answers. Mainly because I don’t want to answer the question:

Am I getting too attached to polygons to understand what the larger messages are in games? 

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