Tag Archives: video games

Real Social Influence: Machinima and tiltfactor


So I’m learning all sorts of things these days. The world, it turns out, is a much bigger and amazing place than I though. (Now, some of you might say “You live in Utah; duh.” I’d like to remind you that I spent over half of my life living in cities of several million: Los Angeles, Paris, and New York. So don’t gimme no flack.)

Anyhow, I’ve learned about (a) Machinima, or movies created with video game software, which allows for real-time animation; and (b) tiltfactor.org, a research/game lab at Dartmouth University (and formerly at Hunter College in NYC, where I taught). And then I learned that the two intersect, as seen above.

This led me to a conclusion recently about social influence. I’ve spent the last 22 years of my life in Psychology (Social Psychology, in particular), where social influence is a big topic of interest and where many people hope to influence people to do good things. (See, for example, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues – better known as SPSSI or “spissy” – which is all about psychological approaches to activism.) My conclusion is this: Psychology – and academic work in general – is probably not a very effective way of influencing people. Almost nobody reads our papers; I remember seeing an unverified factoid on Twitter (here’s the link) claiming that the average number of readers per academic article is five, leading one writer to refer to academic research as “write-only articles.” (A nice play on “read-only memory,” you know.)

No, I think the places where messages get out and possibly make a difference are in the popular media: movies, television, music, and video games. I don’t have any data to back this up at the moment, but I’m willing to bet on it. So, what this means, my dear academic colleagues, is that if we want to actually have an influence on what people think, feel, and do, then we probably would do well to follow tiltfactor’s example and get started on making movies and video games. Better yet, making movies with video games.

As my son, Quinn, would say: “I’m just sayin’….”

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New media and video game activism at the New Frontier exhibit

[Above: Stills from two critical video games by Molleindustria: “Oiligarchy” and “The McDonald’s game.”]

Woo hoo! The Sundance Film Festival is getting frisky! They’ve included non-film art — new media video work and video game art, to be particular — in this year’s festival and, Holy Moses, there’s some amazing things going on. The exhibit, entitled New Frontier, is on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art through May 19.

Excellent large scale data visualizations about wildlife encroachment, a participatory Kinect piece about a disaster at a Los Angeles food bank, a 3-D celebration (sort of) of aggression in Hollywood, people raging at their computers, and video games that you always lose no matter what. It’s all from what you might call “the art of discomfort” but it’s amazing.

I’m so glad to see this in Salt Lake City!

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Bart Discovers Machinima

[Above: Still from From “Dear Fairy” by Tom Jantol aka Madame Zhora. In this short film, Pinocchio wants to be a wooden toy again. See it on YouTube.]

Oh, my, it turns out that there’s yet another Brave New World out there. I just found out about “machinima” (a concatenation of “Machine” and “Cinema,” as you might have guessed), which is basically movies made with video game software. It’s a way to get 3D animation without actually having to be able to animate. Fascinating. While machinima apparently has its roots in first-person shooter games like Doom, where gamers would record the action to show how quickly they could get through a level, people soon found they could write their own scripts and action. The comic series “Red vs. Blue,” which uses characters from Halo, is a good example of such adaptation.

On the other hand, as far as I can tell, there are a couple of video games that seem almost created for machinima, the most familiar of which is Second Life. It looks like there are entire (online) film festivals dedicated to Second Life machinima, such as the Ma Machinima International Festival. Also, a quick Google search for “Second Life” Machinima reveals a number of tutorials and videos on how to get started.

But it’s even easier in the simulation game The Movies, which really was created for making movies. I even got a (miniscule) book on how to do this called Machinima: How you can use The Movies to produce your own animated films by David Mark. I’ve installed the game on both of our MacBooks so my son Quinn can hack-and-slash at it on one while I go through my overly-methodical, start-at-the-beginning approach on the other.

Anyhow, it’s a fascinating discovery for me. I can’t wait to see what I can do with it. I’ll let you know.

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Game Promotions Gone Wrong

In my Intro to Video Games class yesterday, there was a (very) brief discussion of the game Bioshock and the scary bunny faces that appear in it. This reminded me of some lovely cartoons that got sent my way a while ago. They depict a series of “unused game promotions” that coulda, shoulda, woulda been. Then again, maybe not….

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Back to School, Spring 2012 Edition

[Above: Happy Russian mining students displaying their school pride. The sign translates roughly to “We don’t need no stinkin’ Rose Bowl.” Or something like that.]

Whee! School started again today at the University of Utah. I’m taking two regular classes: Intro to Video Games (for real — you can see the syllabus right here at introtovideogames.com) and the Arts Technology Capstone course.

I’ve already had to start working on the video game class, where we were told to get cracking on Psychonauts (I have it on my Mac), Katamari Damacy (a very bizarre Japanese game that I have on my iPhone), and some version of Super Mario Bros. (my son Quinn has the brand new Super Mario 3D Land on his Nintendo 3DS, which he might let me play, but just in case I just ordered Super Mario Galaxy for our according-to-my-teacher-not-a-real-console Wii; it’ll be here Thursday and I’ll get right on it).

As for the Capstone course, I can’t say too much yet but it looks like it will be serious art and I’m very excited about that!

Otherwise, I’ll be doing four independent study courses: the first on Processing, the second on Arduino, the third on Max/MSP, and the fourth on the related Jitter. I’ll have more to say very soon.

That’s all for now. Nice to be back.

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Rhetoric: The Visual and the Procedural

I was out making the rounds to promote my class in Generative Art a few weeks ago and one of the advisors mentioned a class in the Writing Program called “Visual Rhetoric.” Interesting; not visual analysis or visual design or visual whatever, but “rhetoric.” I had to look it up. From the Oxford American Dictionary, rhetoric is “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, esp. the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.” Okay, now apply that to visual information. Anyhow, I spoke with the teacher, Natalie Stillman-Webb, who also sent me a copy of her syllabus. Very cool stuff. She even invited me to come and talk about data visualization later in the semester. Excellent.

And then, yesterday, I discovered an extension of the same idea. Ian Bogost teaches videogame design, theory, and criticism at Georgia Tech and has several books on Amazon. (Here’s his personal web page: bogost.com) One of his books is called “Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames” (here’s the link at Amazon) and in it he develops the idea of “Procedural Rhetoric,” or persuasive arguments based on behaviors or interactions as one finds in video games. (You can download the first chapter of the book here or see a small wiki entry on the topic.) Anyhow, I’ve ordered the book but haven’t read it yet. It’s a fascinating concept and I look forward to learning more about it.

And with that, I’m going to go do some homework for Monday. Whee!

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