Category Archives: Section III

He has Connections… How can I get to know Him!!? Network.

The reading for this week, Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi disproves the idea of randomness in networks and champions the idea of hubs and connectors that function to bring together society. The idea behind linked and being connected to others is not new nor is it phenomenal: it is in our blood. This is our history and thus, inevitable. The Bible clears demonstrates this connection as in the beginning, there was Adam, then Eve, then Cain and Able. After that, humanity arises and creates towns to settle and we develop. Thus, we are all connected or linked in some way. If one is agnostic or believes in science, then think of evolution. People evolved as running from animals to hunting them in groups. Once in groups, they became nomads, and then quite surely, someone decided to settle down in a location, therefore forming a town. Thus a hub is created and with it, streets, other towns, etc…

It is divided into 3 chapters. I will discuss each chapter separately by its part and tie it together at the end. They are all connected; rather, they are components of a larger truth.

The Fifth Link: Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point notices an interesting phenomenon: “sprinkled among every walk of life…are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are connectors” (55). This brings in the idea of connectors as highly relevant components of our social lives. Another way to define connectors is by calling them hubs. These hubs have a large number of links. One can create the analogy of a large city, such as Los Angeles and the suburbs that surrounds it. Many highways enter and go out of Los Angeles, connecting many different cities along the way. This discovery has basically disproven Erdos-Renyi’s theory of random worldview and Watts and Strogatz’s simple circle network model. Social networks exhibit clusters and hubs, both points that demonstrate a worldly rule that applies.

We can also apply the theory of links and connectors/hubs to cyberspace. The World Wide Web is the ultimate space for freedom, an environment that represents and defines the meaning of space without limits, boundaries, nor rules. Anyone can publish their work online and allow anyone to see it. Problem is, there are billions of websites. The question that arises is visibility. On the Web, the “measure of visibility is the number of links. The more incoming links pointing to your Webpage, the more visible it is” (57). As such, only websites that become hubs are highly visible (Amazon, Google). These are hubs: connectors with enormous links to other nodes.

I can create a website, thus it becomes a node. Google has grown, thus it has become a hub. Without a link, both websites exist and move in different worlds, or just space. The internet is as big as the universe, each node moves on its own, until it makes contact. This is the link. My website can function in its own galaxy as networks tend to form a cluster. Clusters are “nodes that are linked only to nodes in their subculture or genre” (61).  As a cluster, it is easier to find a common connection to a hub. For example, if my website is about knee pains, then I would like to create some link to a popular website such as WebMD. This in turn, can allow me to link with Google. In two links, my website has escaped randomness and can be visible.

The Sixth Link: Vilfredo Pareto may be a well known Italian economist, but I feel that his thought process behind the 80/20 Rule is sheer brilliance. It is all around us, and yet, he is the first to notice that it applies to the world. This is Simple Genius: understanding a law within the world that is so visible, and yet, invisible to the eye. 80/20 Rule applies to many things, but is generally regarded as 20 own rest of the 80. This also applies to network as well. It can be proven through a mathematical expression called a power law. In contrast to a bell curve, which is a “distribution rather similar to the peaked distribution characterizing random networks,” (67) the power law is by definition a special kind of mathematical relationship between two quantities. The exact definition is as follows: if one quantity is the frequency of an event, the other is the size of the event, then the relationship has a power law distribution when the frequency of the event decreases at a greater rate than the size increases. In layman terms, think of 20% of the population ruling 80% of the world.

Power laws basically functions to prove mathematically the fact that in most “real networks the majority of nodes have only a few links and that these numerous tiny nodes coexist with a few big hubs, nodes with an anomalously high number of links” (70). Again, this relates to Gladwell’s idea of connectors, but proving quantitatively that it exists within the realm of the World Wide Web. It demonstrates that real networks are not random at all, but exist under the power law. The interesting idea that Barabasi proposes is that in the beginning, nodes tend to be chaotic and without any form or order. However, through time, this disorder turned into order through self-organization. Under the theory of phase transitions, real networks demonstrate self creation from disorder into the 80/20 Rule. Barabasi’s idea is highly compelling, as he demonstrates quantitative analysis and by using the Web, a blank space which is like a universe unto itself, to explain a simple law that applies to the world. Everyone is intricately linked, because we are social beings. Networking is only a function of humanity, which always existed, but has now been proven through the power law. A question that arises is why do hubs and links form and how does it form in such a manner that to the naked eye is so random and chaotic, and yet, has order.

The Seventh Link: Erdos and Renyi’s model of networks rely on two principles. First is the idea that all nodes are fixed and remains unchanged throughout the network’s life. Second is that all nodes are equivalent. However, this is obviously not the case as there exists hubs/connectors, links, and change from disorder to order through self-organization. To understand how it does this, we must understand that the web is constantly growing. It is changing and growing. This is quite self-explanatory. There has been exponential growth of websites on the World Wide Web. As there is growth, we can safely disprove the static nature of Erdos-Renyi’s model of networks. We also do not randomly decide on which websites to link. We choose based upon our knowledge and social upbringing. We prefer certain websites over others because we are comfortable and familiar with that certain product. Thus, rises the concept of hubs. Barabasi brings up the idea of preferential attachment: “when choosing between two pages, one with twice as many links as the other, about twice as many people link to the more connected page. While our individual choices are highly unpredictable, as a group we follow strict patterns” (85). In many sense, this is true. We are all sheep and follow the leader.

In truth, randomness does not really exist unless it is the role of a die. Linking between networks is not random. Though unmentioned as third criteria, I believe that popularity and attractiveness plays an important role in the addition of links and creation of hubs. Webpages that have more links are more likely to be “linked to again” (86). Thus, there exists first person advantage. Older nodes have greater chances to become bigger and eventually rise as a hub. As a senior member within a link, this node has greater links and more nodes want to be linked to that certain node. Barabasi has given compelling evidence that real networks are not random, but constantly evolving and growing, attracting more links through the legitimacy of the power law.

We are living in a complex world and yet, guided by the invisible hand or law that is, in my opinion, inexplicable. The idea of real networks applies not only to websites, but to humanity in large. I believe that Barabasi’s point is that humans are social beings and we are followers. There are different people: some are leaders and some are followers. This difference guides the principle of 80/20 Rule as well as the power law. Barabasi has done something quite remarkable: take a simple, obvious, and yet invisible rule, and proved it scientifically and gave it a name. Kudos.

Four Way Gameplay

In Chapter 1 of Gaming: “Gamic Action, Four Moments,” Alexander Galloway explores video games as a mass medium. He does this without delving specifically into the more creative comports of gaming or the social and specific significance of the playing of video games, but focusing on the semantic makeup of the video game design as a whole and play as medium-specific actions.

First, he explores the differences between video games and previous media. “If photographs are images, and films are moving images, then video games are actions” (2). This is not the same as “active audience” media, where an audience can apply their own subjectivities to media, such as an interpretation of a film. While films and images are passive in our intake of them, in that we cannot affect them directly in how they affect us, video games are an “action-based medium” which requires our input to engage us (3). This concept can be compared to children’s toys.

First, there is the image, the photograph—or in children’s toys, the action figure. Think specifically of the action figure that you are not supposed to play with, or one of the shoddier type you get in Happy Meals: the one that doesn’t have moveable bits, where you must invest your own interpretations into the toy. This could range from anything to fighting aliens to having a tea party, but the main point is that while the toy might look like Iron Man or Barbie, it doesn’t have to be played with in a certain way.

Next, there is the moving image, the film—or the active toy, like the Furby. Furbies were these toys from the early 2000s. If you don’t remember, here’s a commercial:

Continue reading

Paidia, Ludus, Ludology, OH MY!

Who would have ever thought that a time would come when kids would answer the age question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” by telling their parents, “Mom, Dad…when I grow up I want to study video games!” Thanks to Ludology and our present engulfment in new media, all of those kids that stay glued to their Xbox’s and Nintendo DS’s may actually have the chance to pursue their dreams of studying videogames by entering into the field of Ludology! Ludologists aim to study games, particularly video games, in terms of gaining an understanding of the underlying structure, elements, and rules of the game. Games should be understood not in the narrative sense, but in the simulation sense. While of course they possess many of the same qualities as the typically understood notion of “the narrative”, video games go a step further to offer a virtual world through this model that further simulates behaviors. Players have the chance to navigate this simulated space through game play and virtually interact with all aspects of the game (sometimes even having the ability to modify the simulation via meta rules).

Continue reading

Navigable Space

Space, or at least the navigation through it, is not usually considered a way of relaying a story in and of it’s self, yet Lev Manovich points out how new media, specifically computer games depict how Navigable space is in fact a form of narrative on it’s own.  Manovich highlights two games developed in 1993 as two key factors in furthering the notion of storytelling through Navigable space in computers. For anyone who was a child in the 1990’s, Doom and Myst are most likely games that they remember and Manovich speaks about how the extraordinary popularity of these games is an indicator of the power of narrative through Navigable space.

For anyone who has not played either Myst or Doom, they are notable not only for being some of the first of their kind but also for their very specific style of game play. For all the similarities that will be discussed in a moment they are quite different stylistically. Where Doom is fast paced in that the player must move as quickly as possible to move from one level to another in order to gain points, Myst is slow in that it is extremely detailed. Each world is built around the details that one must uncover and the clues that are pieced together because of that, many of which can be nuanced. The world of Doom is filled with monsters and demons that one must destroy to advance where as Myst is completely empty and it is the puzzle that must be unwrapped that is at the center. Doom follows the usual convention of computer games in that it contains many different worlds, where Myst contains only four worlds where each is extremely vast and a universe for itself. The worlds of Myst look completely different from each other, unlike many other games.

Continue reading

Ergo Pages, Ergo Perspective; Ergodic Literature

In “Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature”, Espen J. Aarseth defines and defends “ergodic literature”, named after the Greek words ergon and hodos (meaning “work and “path”) to be highly performative compared to typical readings of texts. He is careful not to compare it too closely with literature because he is not trying to prove that it fits the same constraints, but instead to investigate it for its own functional features. Though he admits this way of reading still must have some linear characteristics– “the act of reading must take place sequentially, word for word”– ergodic literature and cybertexts create active readers where as linear narratives do not (Aarseth 2). The two types of readers Aarseth describes are divided by their ways of experiencing the text. Readers of narratives are “voyeuristic”, “powerless”, merely looking at a book” (Aarseth 3). However, cybertext readers experience the “investment of personal improvization”, “a struggle not merely for interpretive insight but also for narrative control” and traverse the paths presented by texts with intent (Aarseth 3).

Typically, I expect research material such as this to first explain the topic and terms and then to hit me with the theory or counterarguments. However, it is not until page twelve that Aarseth starts a section entitled “What is Cybertext?”, in which he goes on to (finally) define text.  Not to mention, there are multiple times in the introduction where he notes which chapters will continue a discussion of which topics. Though that in itself may be “normal” protocol for an introduction, when paired with the links beside the text (which are obviously only functional when read digitally), it seems that Aarseth created this article with a bit of ergodic encoding. Afterall, as a reader, I could choose which, or how many of those links I would like to explore, if I would like to skip ahead to chapter 4 and if I would like to crush some of the linear functions at work with my “narrative control”. Ergodic texts are characterized by an “unlimited possibility for variation” and also a reminder of paths not taken– or links unexplored (Aarseth 9).

Continue reading

Meta-textual Ergodica

Quite possibly the quickest and easiest way to understand Aarseth’s ergodic literature genre is to quite simply look at the document itself.  If you decided to do the readings this week, you went online, checked the syllabus, clicked the link, and were brought to a website: Sample Chapter from: Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Given the nature of the medium, you then were given two choices: print out the reading as a hard copy on paper, or simply read it off the computer screen.  A simple choice usually dictated by personal preference (or sometimes even the economy of time) has the ability to change this reading from ergodic to unergodic literature. Continue reading

Layers of Reality

With the revolution of new media, it’s apparent that media forms have gotten much more complex.  There is rarely ever one choice, one path or one layer.  Digital images consist of “a number of separate layers, each layer containing particular elements” that each can be manipulated separately (229).  If one has ever used photoshop to edit an image before, you understand that you can create layers to add, remove or distort objects before pressing all the layers together to produce the final image.  Manovich explains that producers of films change the layers of films and delete backgrounds, blur objects, ect.

Manovich also focuses on two very important concepts: databases and narratives.  He describes databases as a “collection of individual items, with every item possessing the same significance as any other” (218).  Databases can be anything really such as flickr which stores millions of photos, or even imdb which stores pictures and biographical data.  Narratives, however “create a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly disordered items/events” (225).  This includes video games, where you are a character that follows a specific trajectory that holds different outcomes for different choices.  Narratives have an underlying algorithm, which is the hidden logic within the game or other medium.  In order to win a game, one must execute an algorithm.

It seems that these two concepts (narratives and databases) are polar opposites.  Is there a way to connect them into one object?  Through Tziga Vertov’s film, Man with the Movie Camera, the two concepts seem to gel together nicely.  The film is a straight hour of seemingly random images and footage with no characters or storyline, and, thus, a database.  However, the montage of images “reveal social structure among the multitude of observed phenomena” (240).  In a way, it creates a narrative by trying to make a story about the filming of such images and the complexity of everyday life.  I found something similar to this film, called video art.  The creator, Gary Hill combines vast quantities of random images (database) with a narrator and possible meaning that can be derived from the art.

Another example of database and narrative mixtures is the film, Mulholland Drive.  The film seems to start out like any other Hollywood film, with characters revolving around a storyline of a famous actress who no longer remembers who she is.  However, as the film progresses there appears to be many different layers and stories (a director being blackmailed into hiring an actress, a man who has nightmares about a hairy man in a parking lot).  The film is filled with many images, often times having nothing to do with the supposed storyline, distorting any sense of narrative the viewer originally started out with.

You can find the whole movie online if you’re ready to be confused out of your mind and experience a very intriguing mash of database, narratives, and layers that sometimes intersect.