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November 2008
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January 2009

Meticulous Seasonal Greetings


Bespoke Winter Blessings for everyone!

  • To the followers of the ancient European traditions: Happy Solstice, Merry Yule, and rejoice for the Sun King has returned!
  • To the followers of the ancient Indian traditions: an auspicious Makara Sankranti, and may your harvest be bountiful.
  • To the followers of Zarathustra: happy Yalda, and a solemn Zartosht no-diso.
  • To the followers of the Prophets of Israel: Happy Hannukah, and may your Festival of Lights be filled with delicious fried foods!
  • To the followers of the Buddha, those of the "Great Vehicle": I wish you happy Buddhist New Year!
  • To the followers of the Buddha, those of the "Ancient Teaching": may your life prosper in the four blessings of old age, beauty, happiness and strength.
  • To the followers of Jesus Christ: Merry Christmas, and a Happy Gregorian New Year!
  • To the followers of Muhammad, peace be upon him: Happy Islamic New Year, and may 1430 H bring you peace and joy.
  • To the followers of the ten gurus: may you have wonderful celebrations of the birth of the tenth Nanak!
  • To the followers of Bahá'u'lláh, may God be with you.
  • To those of African-American descent: Happy Kwanzaa, and blessings upon your family!
  • To the followers of Eris: Merry Swik, may your loot be overflowing, and your consciousness extinguished by a flood of intoxicants!
  • And to the followers of no-one: enjoy your time away from work!

Only a Game will return in January with yet more nonsense.

I Spy... Temporal Anomalies

Currently underway on The Minigame Court, I Spy... Temporal Anomalies - a multimedia blog game challenging you to spot time travel and temporal nonsense in videogames, television shows, books, comics and films. The game ends 24th December 2008. The winner will have their name (and a link of their choice) inscribed upon the Virtual Cup.

Start playing by clicking here!

(Come on players, don't let Bezman walk away with this one without giving him a run for his money!)

Winter Sales & Time Vortices

Over on ihobo today, there's a post looking at sales of videogames for the Winter Festival, entitled The Casual Players Aren't Coming To Your Party. The piece talks about Microsoft, Sony, Fable II, and Call of Duty: World at War, and you can find it here. Here's an extract:

Why can't Microsoft hit the casual market? Well there are two key reasons. The first is that the 360 has been designed to appeal to gamer hobbyists – and in doing so, it has allowed Microsoft to steal this audience from Sony in an impressive market coup. Its controller may seem adequate to players who spend a lot of their time playing videogames, but to the casual player it's a daunting device, something they don't generally want pick up, let alone buy. The second and more important reason is that vast droves of casual players have already bought Wii's and the mass market rarely spends money on two consoles in quick succession. Discounting the 360 may help Microsoft put the boot in with Sony, but the 360 just isn't a casual device, and probably never will be.

I Spy... Temporal Anomalies

And for something completely different, starting today on The Minigame Court, I Spy... Temporal Anomalies, a multimedia blog game challenging you to spot time travel and temporal nonsense in videogames, television shows, books, comics and films. The game starts now and ends 24th December 2008. The winner will have their name (and a link of their choice) inscribed upon the Virtual Cup.

Start playing by clicking here!

File Sharing and the Pony Express

Considerable effort is expended by media corporations to sell the story that “copyright violation is theft”, thus justifying the persecution of file sharers. However, although copyright violation is illegal, it is clearly not theft, and although there are grounds to question the morality of file sharing this issue is not as clear-cut as either side would like to present. But in order to explore the subject of file sharing, I want to begin by telling a story about something completely different.

Ponyexpress From April 1860 until October 1861, the only way that messages could be delivered across the United States was by the Pony Express – a network of horseback riders who operated a relay system through the rugged terrain of the Western states, allowing letters to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast in just ten days. It was the first time that a transcontinental messenger system had been operated since the time of the Mongols or the Roman Empire, and the tremendous risks that the riders assumed helped them achieve a legendary status in American mythology. But on 24th October 1861, the Transcontinental Telegraph – a network of wires carrying messages in Morse code – reached Salt Lake City, Utah. Two days later, the Pony Express announced it was closing down. There was a romance to the Pony Express which charmed many a person, and still does to this day, but when new technology came along, the business model upon which it was built became redundant.

Clayton Christensen coined the term disruptive technology to describe situations where a new technology permits a different business model to transform the nature of competition in a given market. There are many examples, such as the effect of the onset of steam power on the Dutch economy which had blossomed on the back of its abundant windmills, the transformation of the battlefield with the arrival of gunpowder in the West, or more recently the change to print publishing that was brought about by the arrival of desktop publishing. Disruptive technologies are threatening to the market leaders in a particular field because they have built an empire on a particular premise, and are unprepared to face new competition which comes from an unexpected direction.

File sharing – the process of the mass duplication of audio, video and other digital media via point-to-point clients such as those using the popular BitTorrent protocol – is a disruptive technology in the media sector. It represents a vast black library of media (since no money is exchanged for files that are shared, it is not a black market). This library is not exhaustive – it is only easy to acquire that which the internet geeks who operate as renegade librarians are interested in themselves – but for current film, TV and audio media it is certainly faster and arguably more convenient than the alternatives. Yet copying a file from the black library is not theft, since our notion of theft requires that the original owner be permanently denied what was taken. That doesn't happen in file sharing, no matter how many copies are made. It is still illegal – copyright laws are violated – but it is not illegal because it is theft, since it is not strictly theft.

The economic impact of file sharing is a disputed topic: sales of CDs have declined since the arrival of Napster in 1999, but a 2007 paper by Olberholzer-Gee and Strumpf tracked actual downloads on file-sharing networks and concluded its impact on CD sales was “statistically indistinguishable from zero”, adding “while downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing.” Yet CD sales have undoubtedly declined. If it's not necessarily internet file sharing that's the culprit, then what is?

It is important to appreciate that while file sharing is a disruptive technology, it is not necessarily the disruptive technology responsible for putting the cat among the pigeons in the media marketplace. It is perhaps not the capacity to share these files freely and easily on the black library that is the cause of the disruption, but rather the advent of digital media and access to vast volumes of storage space. Because in a world where digital files can be reproduced infinitely without loss of quality, and stored by individuals with relative impunity, digital media is no longer in the space of tradable commodities at all.

In order for a particular form of goods to be sold as a commodity, it must be in finite supply. Our very idea of the exchange of goods in the free market depends on the notion of supply and demand – but we've never before had to consider what happens when there is an infinite supply (at negligible cost of distribution) of something that remains in demand. That is precisely the situation we face with digital media – although costs are assumed in the creation of the media, once it has been created it is in infinite supply, and you cannot adequately commoditize something in infinite supply. That doesn't mean you can't monetize it, but any such revenue need to come from approaching the situation from the perspective of providing a service, and not as sale of goods.

To circumvent this problem, media corporations are trying to enforce DRM – digital rights management (although it's opponents prefer digital restrictions management) – in order to artificially maintain the ability to commoditize digital media. Many people (myself included) refuse to tolerate this, and some (myself excluded) have no moral qualms participating in piracy in order to covertly oppose DRM. I cannot sanction this myself (although I sympathise) since this issue isn't going to get resolved without collective action on the part of consumers, and as consumers we should be able to say to the media corporations flatly: we won't accept DRM, especially on conventional audio-visual media which can always be copied no matter how you protect it (because of what is termed the analogue hole).

The telegraph invalidated the business model of the Pony Express, and thus it died. The business model of most of the media corporations is similarly invalidated by the infinite reproducibility of digital media. They must change, or perish. Allowing the media companies to use DRM to cling to the commoditization of digital media would be akin to allowing the Pony Express to have somehow imposed limits on the number of telegrams that could be sent each day to artificially retain its relevance. When the technological conditions change, the marketplace changes – companies that cannot adapt to these changes should not be allowed to manipulate the market, at least in a free market economy: they must either adapt, or die.

But if infinite reproducibility destroys the commoditization of digital media, how will the money to create the digital media be secured? The answer is different according to the kind of media involved.

In the case of music, it is important to remember that the artists that make music were never making much money from record or CD sales – only the corporations (with their large portfolio of artists) were able to do this, although mega-artists like Michael Jackson or Madonna were exceptions. The vast majority of musicians make their money from live performance, and those that strike it big with a particularly popular song make money not from sales of recordings of the track so much as the licensing of that song to advertisers, or TV and film soundtracks. Money is also made from a flat-rate license scheme used in radio broadcasts (where royalties accrue per-play).

The futurist Gerd Leonhard has suggested that a flat-rate license for downloading music would be an effective way forward, stating: “The flat-rate-licensed usage of music on digital networks, be it for streaming or downloading, would quickly generate billions of dollars of revenue that could efficiently be distributed to the creators. These creators are now ill-served by the way their representatives refuse such licenses and deny the use of music more often than allowing it.” He suggests that many media corporations are going to lose interest in music because large companies look for big margins at low costs. That was possible when the sale of CDs (a commodity) was the primary means of distributing music, but digital media disrupts that business model.

Even without a flat-rate license for downloaded music, the black library is only an economic threat to artists who have enjoyed astronomical commercial success – and these will continue to make millions in endorsements and live performances. More obscure artists, who are already dependent upon live performance for their revenue, would be wise to give their albums away for free since anything that can grow their awareness (their brand, in the terms of the modern marketplace) should be seen as positive – many already do so. The cost of lost album sales is negligible when no-one knows who you are, and the potential benefits of growing your brand outstrip the small loss of revenue.

For artists that have already built up a strong brand, it may even be possible to continue to commoditize their music in the form of a boxed consumer product (even though the digital media might be available for free) – the story that “a true fan buys the box” can be a viable marketing tool here, preserving commoditization by selling a collectible item that includes the music but is also a desirable object in its own right. Not to mention the vast sums of money for other merchandise and endorsement deals that such artists will continue to profit from.

In the case of films, these are already being sold to consumers in cinemas as an experience, and hence on a service rather than a commodity business model. As long as consumers enjoy the experience of going out to watch a movie, this marketplace will remain viable. Loss of secondary income may impact the funding available, but since movie budgets have become insane in recent years, and are largely spent to prop up the extravagant lifestyles of the star names who draw people out to the cinema, the quality of films is unlikely to suffer. Meanwhile, independent films would do well to distribute freely in order to grow awareness, especially if a flat-rate license for file sharing becomes accepted. The black library has barely affected box office revenues, which continue to demonstrate record breaking revenues on nearly an annual basis.

In the case of TV, this is already distributed for free on the back of advertising revenue. File sharing doesn't circumvent advertising as a revenue stream, since those that use the black library do so via sites such as the Pirate Bay where they go to acquire the codes required to download digital media – and the Pirate Bay (and all equivalent gateways) generate revenue from advertising. It's not that advertising revenue has been destroyed by file sharing, it has simply moved. By not adapting to the market conditions created by the new technology, media companies are losing revenue by failing to compete.

Dr. David Price, who works in anti-piracy on behalf of content-providers, has stated categorically that most media companies have the wrong attitude to piracy. They should see it not as shrinkage (shop-lifting), but as competition. He sees the success of file sharing not simply as a consequence of the content being free (TV stations already give their content away for free) but because the black library provides material conveniently and rapidly (especially in countries like Australia at the butt-end of media distribution). He claims people flock to piracy because it offers better service, and cautions media corporations that “the best way of stopping piracy is to be the best provider of your content.”

Furthermore, some companies are recognising the value of what is currently considered piracy. Weeds is one of several shows to have intentionally leaked episodes onto the black library in order to gain promotional benefits, and when asked if BitTorrent had helped Heroes build a wider audience, Jesse Alexander (co-producer and writer on the show) responded with a categorical “yes”. Heroes enjoys TV audiences of around 14 million; compare this to the approximately 2.4 million people acquiring the show from the black library: not only a relatively small proportion of total viewers (one in seven), but to a significant degree the renegade librarians are contributing to the promotion of the shows they enjoy on the internet via blogs and so forth.

(I will brush over videogames for brevity, but since there is no analogue hole in this case it follows that as long as they are engineered for specialist equipment they can be sold as commodities, and whenever this is not plausible a service model – via subscription or advertising – is always viable).

Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, responding to this issue, has tried to voice the concerns of the content creator – acknowledging that file sharing is not theft, while suggesting that it is still unpleasant. He uses an analogy of someone borrowing your underpants, then washing and returning them, to suggest that something negative can occur without it being theft. He further suggests people are attempting to defend file sharing in order to lessen their cognitive dissonance. I don't disagree. But those who will lose out as a result of the disruptive technologies at issue here are equally trying to lessen their cognitive dissonance by defending invalidated market practices in the face of an entirely new media paradigm they have strong reasons to despise, but ultimately may have to accept – just as the Pony Express could not prevent the Transcontinental Telegraph from replacing it.

The fact of the matter is, the internet has opened up every kind of media – including print media – to a strange new world. It has invalidated distribution as a market paradigm for media by creating a space of infinite supply and finite demand. The problem, under these new conditions, isn't going to be how to distribute to your customers – this is now the easy part – the problem is how to earn and keep their loyalty (how to grow your brand) and how to get and hold their attention. And as Gerd Leonhard has suggested: “Attention is indeed the new distribution. And real money will be paid for real attention.”

Hacking Restaurants, Post It Design, and Black Swans

Here are where my comments went this week. I couldn't pick one to focus on, so here's the lot. (Extracts are from my comments, not the post itself):

  • Yehuda Berlinger posts on his endless desire to hack restaurant menus. I challenge some of his assumptions. Extract: "If you're running a cheap cafe, dealing with custom orders is too much of a risk: it increases the risk of getting the wrong orders, it increases the demands on the staff... and it increases the chances of disputes with customers."
  • Dan Cook posts about post-it note prototyping designs. Great stuff! But I poke a hole... Extract: "By testing what programmers and designers find fun, aren't you designing games for 10% of people and not 100%? How does the wider audience get a say in developing new kinds of fun by your method?"
  • Raph Koster posts about the ludic fallacy - the tendency to think that game models can be applied to real situations accurately. I get into tangential territory in my comment, as ever. Extract: "I appreciate any attempts to spread suspicion concerning induction (which is what the black swan story is about) - Hume was more than two centuries ago, how are we so slow to accept this idea? Perhaps because we don't want to give up our attachment to science, and science is almost entirely dependent upon induction."
  • Dmitri Williams posts about some newly published gender research in MMORPGs over on Terra Nova. I comment on why female players were "more hardcore" than the males. Extract: "I worry that you will be cited as having claimed that female game players are more intense about their play than male players - which is not what your study found at all."
  • Greg  Tannahil posts that Dead Space and Mirror's Edge will get sequels, claiming Mirror's Edge "possessed no real flaws that another six months in development couldn't have fixed". I point out that from EA's perspective, Mirror's Edge has a fatal flaw: a small potential audience. Extract: "First person platform games are unplayable by many, unpleasant for many, and enjoyable for just a few. Unless they give up first person, I suspect this franchise is commercially doomed."
  • And finally, liberal firebrand Maha posts about the discussions concerning the Bible and gay marriage. I'll be posting about this next year, but here's an extract from my comment: "What seems to be at issue is people in the middle ground... not because the people in question have any express issue towards the Gay community as a *separate* culture, but because they are wary of integrating it into what they see as *their* culture."

Hmmm... I spent much longer on comments this week than usual, and commenting on six different blogs in one day is a rarity when I'm already busy. What was I thinking? Now I have too many dialogues to have any hope of monitoring them all... Oh well, this is a new experiment for me, and I'm sure it'll settle down in time.

Have a great weekend everyone!

The Stories We Tell

Mark Hooper Our lives are shaped and guided by the stories we tell about ourselves. There are the stories you tell about yourself – your self-image – which dictate what you can bring yourself to do or attempt. There are the stories you tell about others – innocent gossip, news and chatter, or pernicious slander, prejudice and defamation. There are stories we tell of the interpretation of observations – which go by the misleading terms 'facts' and 'knowledge' – and stories we tell of what cannot be observed or tested, ineffable beliefs – which philosophers term metaphysics.

The metaphysical stories that we tell lie at the heart of who we are, both as individuals and as cultures. It is easy to make the mistake of believing you don't tell such stories, that they are a thing of the past and anyone who believes in untestable stories is somehow deficient – but even this is a metaphysical story that distorts our perspective. If we are to mock those who have faith in an immortal afterlife, or who believe in the power of a transcendent force to save us, must we not also mock those who have faith in science to grant them immortality, or who believe that technological progress will save us, even while our environment rots under under the resource gluttony facilitated by the equipment we have already engineered? The thing with glass houses is that they are hard to see, especially when you are focussed upon hefting your stones.

There is a malicious tendency that all humans possess to some degree which fools us into believing that the way to solve problems is to convince other people that their stories are wrong and our stories are right. But changing the stories we tell about ourselves transpires to be exceedingly difficult, except when a crisis awakens that potential within us. Effort exhausted on attempts at conversion – no matter the stories being sold – are counter-productive. They hurt the reputation of whichever culture the stories being forced upon others belong to, regardless of whether that culture is a traditional religion or a progressive liberalism.

Once we accept freedom of belief – the right of each and every one of us to be the sole determinant of which stories we tell – the problems facing the world become very different. The crises become far more tractable than if we insist on believing the demon that whispers “everything will be better when everyone tells the same stories as you”. Then the challenge becomes finding those stories that are compatible with the tales people already tell about themselves, those which allow us to agree upon the problems that need addressing, and thus apply solutions.

The stories we tell are fundamental to who we are, but they are also elemental to what we can achieve. One story, told in an appropriate fashion and couched in language viable to its audience, can change the world. Indeed, there are many such stories which have already changed the world – Zarathustra or Plato's stories of Good and Evil as absolutes, Buddha or Jesus' stories of universal love, Darwin's stories of descent with modification, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard's stories of reality as interpretation, Einstein's stories of relativity. The question we face, in trying to get to grips with our existence, appears to us all too often as “which stories are true?” Yet truth, in this sense, means little more than assessing compatibility with the stories you have already accepted. Instead, I suggest the question: “which stories shall we tell?”

The opening image is by Mark Cooper/Getty Images. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.

A Game Has Never Made You Cry

Over on the ihobo blog today you'll find this piece constructing an argument that a videogame has never made you cry. Here's an extract:

...a story can make you cry by empathising with the protagonist (or another character), but a game (when viewed as a formal system) cannot do this. It follows that the only way that a videogame can make you cry is by using narrative tools that have nothing to do with games as formal systems whatsoever. So even though, for instance, many people report that they cried when they played Final Fantasy VII at the fateful scene (and indeed, several other cRPGs also show up in player studies as having provoked tears) the moment that actually brought the player to tears was a non-interactive cut scene. It wasn't the game (in the systems view) that made them cry – it was the story – and there never was a question as to whether stories could make you cry.

South Park vs Boston Legal

Boston_Legal One show filled with toilet humour and cartoon ultra-violence, and one show about lecherous, morally-suspect lawyers... how is it that these are two of the most ethical programmes on television?

Because TV shows dealing with ethics in the strict philosophical sense would be so niche as to be essentially unwatchable for a majority audience, the only way that ethics can make it onto television is via the ethical element of narrative, which as discussed in the Michael Moorcock serial, is an unavoidable component of stories. Of course some modern writers decide to offer a nihilistic perspective as their ethical context (such as many of the Iain M. Banks novels) while the majority of modern storytelling is concerned with formulaic expressions of conventional ethical assumptions – a necessity when appealing to a mass market audience who in the main do not want to watch something that doesn't accord with their values.

Both South Park and Boston Legal are exceptions to this trend. Each in their own unique manner deals with ethical (and thus necessarily political) issues on a regular basis with both wit and intelligence.

South Park, the animated playground of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is almost certainly familiar to most readers of this blog. Peaking in the early second season at 6 million viewers, the audience has now settled to a comfortable 3 million, and the show has been a major boon to Comedy Central, which enjoyed massive uptake as a result of airing it. Although it began with episodes which primarily utilised shock value to generate humour, as the show has progressed Parker and Stone have shown themselves to be expert satirists who – between scatological jokes grosser than anything previously aired on television – produce genuine social commentary sadly lacking elsewhere in the world of conventional media.

Boston Legal enjoys a wider audience (roughly 10 million), probably as a consequence of being less outrageously shocking, but is perhaps less well known among the internet geek community since it is ostensibly a legal drama (conventionally a mass market format). The show is masterminded by David E. Kelly, perhaps best known for Chicago Hope and Ally McBeal, who effectively span the series out of his previous show, The Practice, by shuffling the cast in its final year. One of these experimental additions was James Spader as the nefarious and apparently amoral Alan Shore, and later experiments with William Shatner as the faltering yet brilliant Denny Crane provided the foundation for the new show. The later addition of Candice Bergen as Shirley Schmitt – a perfect foil for Shatner's character – completed the core cast. Unlike other TV programmes, Kelly has been relentlessly experimental with his cast, changing the line-up of supporting characters every season, often writing out those whose romantic arc has resolved in order to introduce new possibilities for romance in the next season.

Although the two shows are wildly different, there are considerable parallels. Neither show is suitable for a young audience. Both shows break the fourth wall regularly, or at least knock very loudly upon it. Both use outrageous storylines as their stock-in-trade – South Park has had Eric Cartman, its selfish antihero, lead Nazi-esque marches against the Jewish people and trade in dead foetuses (all in pursuit of both comedy and social commentary); Boston Legal has had cases concerning a the display of a dead man's alcohol-abused body, a homeless man resorting to cannibalism, and an attempt to secure a court-ordered abortion. Both shows have evolved towards a role as soapboxes for their respective creators, and it is in this sense that they express their ethical element.

In the case of Boston Legal, Kelly (who is the chief writer among other executive roles) uses Alan Shore as his mouthpiece in an unashamed fashion, delivering closings in court cases which are nothing more than ethical or political treatises, delivered eloquently by James Spader who excels in his role. In one instance, Shore literally climbs upon a box of soap at the beginning of a legal closing, parodying what the audience knows full-well is going on. (The character of Shore has become a more overt crusader for social justice with each passing season, while remaining lecherous and morally ambiguous). Kelly clearly holds extremely liberal beliefs, although he is perfectly willing to scorch both Republicans and Democrats with his ire; indeed, the extent of his liberalism is such that it has probably contributed to the shows struggle to remain on television, despite frequent awards at the Emmies. Counterpoint is often delivered via Denny Crane, generally played with masterly skill by Shatner, who delivers absurd (yet occasionally poignant) alternative viewpoints.

It is interesting to compare the perspectives presented in each show against each other. For instance, in a recent Boston Legal (Smoke Signals), a suit against the tobacco companies afforded Kelly the opportunity to catalogue the offences of “Big tobacco”, including increasing the nicotine content and including an ammonia-based compound to increase the absorption of the addictive chemical, and putting up a public front of telling kids not to smoke while covertly using movie placements and shop-floor tricks to lure in a younger consumer. The target here is the corporations that profit from smoking, yet Kelly (in the final scene of this episode) reluctantly exonerates tobacco itself – almost all episodes of this show end with Shore and Crane smoking a cigar on the balcony of the law offices, so some recognition of the social benefits of smoking perhaps had to be allowed.

Compare the South Park episode Butt Out, in which the satire focuses its barbs against anti-smoking campaigner Rob Reiner on a number of grounds, while presenting a rare positive image of the tobacco industry via a parody song, sung by the workers in a cigarette factory: “I like to have a cigarette every now and then/It makes me feel calmer when the day is at an end/And if it gives me cancer when I'm eighty I don't care/Who the hell wants to be ninety anyway?” In this, and many other episodes, Parker and Stone take a stance in defence of the habits, beliefs and autonomy of the US populace at large against prominent liberal celebrities who attempt to enforce their ethical and political beliefs on others.

(At this point it is perhaps also worth mentioning Mike Judge's King of the Hill, the only TV show I know of which uses comedy to explore ethical issues in a form accessible to viewers in the US with more traditional beliefs. In networks overrun with shows espousing extremely liberal viewpoints, King of the Hill is one-of-a-kind, offering conservative ethics with both insight and respect for the culture of the masses).

It seems likely that South Park will remain airing for many years to come – at least until Parker and Stone become irredeemably bored of it. But Boston Legal now hangs precariously in the balance. ABC, the channel upon which the show airs in the US, has announced its intention not to order additional episodes of the show, effectively cancelling it. The double episode which aired yesterday could mark its end. I urge anyone reading who is a fan of the show to write to ABC asking them to order new episodes before the cast and crew is disbanded.

There are few interesting explorations of modern ethical and political issues on TV, and those that exist are a precious commodity. While I suspect that anyone capable of enjoying South Park's ribald humour is already watching that show, Boston Legal's quirky hijinks may well appeal to many who have yet to watch it. Although the first season is largely concerned with managing the transition from The Practice to a new dramatic format, by the second season it has found its feet with great assurance. Although later seasons have lacked some of the stronger character-writing of the earlier years, it has remained fascinating and insightful in its ethical and political commentary, with a cast of regulars and guest stars that would be the envy of any other show. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Anyone interested in exploring the ethical and political arguments advanced via Alan Shore's closing arguments may be interested to learn that complete transcripts of Boston Legal are available online here. Don't forget to write to ABC to ask them to renew the show – thank you!

Is It I? (Terranova)

In my feeds this week was this piece by Greg L at the virtual worlds mega-blog Terranova. Here's an extract:

At a conference recently, I heard someone say that she had several avatars in several virtual worlds, including World of Warcraft and Second Life.  I was surprised, though, that she uniformly referred to her avatars in the third person.  She said things like: "It isn't a good fighter - it was exploring and it got killed by wolves."  This surprised me.  Though it is perfect logical to see your avatar as a separate thing, I still would have expected her to say "I was exploring and I got killed by wolves."  Does the usage of the third person here sound strange to you too? 

My comment (among the hundreds...):

For me personally, I use the third person to refer to videogame characters in games that give me multiple characters, such as turn-based strategy games which give me a team to deploy. In this situation, it is difficult to use "I" as you would have to pick one character to identify with. The immersion centres upon your management of the team, not on your identification with a single avatar. Perhaps players with multiple characters in multiple games would have the same perspective?

When I think back to my play of online virtual worlds, I struggle to remember how I referred to my avatar. But I imagine I said "I became a religious official and presided over several marriages after I retired from the Romulan Embassy" rather than "She retired from the Romulan Embassy". I really can't be sure though.

You can comment on Greg's post over at Terranova by clicking here. If you have any commentary solely concerned with my response, you can use the comments here as a sidebar since Terranova is so jam packed. But if you want to share your perspective on this issue, you should probably do it at Greg's original post so he can see what you think.

This is part of my new attempt to foster more dialogue with other blogs in my cluster, although since this is Terranova, I don't see it happening in this particular case.

Any Requests?

I apologise for the lack of substantial posts right now... life is busy, and I haven't quite recovered my mental faculties. I doubt the usual flow of the Game will resume in earnest before Gregorian New Year - there will only be two posting weeks before I break up for the Winter Festival.

I anticipate finishing watching Firefly very soon, however, so I can then run my "Religion in Science Fiction" serial, which I expect will be more interesting than it sounds! Beyond that, I have no serial plans right now. None of the books on my reading list are monster tomes that would require a full serial to address, so I'm not sure what might be covered in a future serial right now. Those of you who read enough of my nonsense to form a cogent opinion: is there anything you would like to see covered in a future serial?

The subject matter for such suggestions would need to be in or around one of the following categories:

  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Philosophy of Mind (haven't touched this one yet)
  • Metaphysics
  • Ethics
  • Political Philosophy
  • Religion (any individual religion,  comparative religion, or syncretic religion)
  • Experimental Theology
  • Science Fiction

Those are the areas I'm most interested in rambling about here. I'm certainly not guaranteeing to address any requests, but if there's something you know I have domain knowledge about that you'd be interested in reading, by all means give me some influence! Even if I don't feel up to a serial on your suggested topic, I might be up for an individual post.

Games posts will be over on ihobo, of course, and I expect I might have to effectively serialise some of those to make them manageable, but perhaps not formally.

So... any requests?