Tag Archives: Lev Manovich

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).

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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.


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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.

Space Race

The term database in itself always conjures one word in my head: Wikipedia. Used oftentimes everyday by NYU students, it’s one of the most extensive databases available and I find that in a since it is both a narrative and a database. Upon first entering the sight, one has the option of searching or clicking onto a variety of topics. But, once one has reached their topic, the data is always presented in a narrative style. If you wiki Beyonce, her page presents her life early childhood, to her breakthrough into music, a career with Destiny’s Child and keeps on listing data until we reach the present. Not only that, but at the bottom of most wiki entries, in keeping with a database format there are links to other pages of data, at the bottom of Beyonce’s one can access her discography or a little less related, one can access a roster of other Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover Models.

In addition, the Wikipedia database can be thought of as syntagm and paradigm as well. When one jumps to a particular page, what’s in front of you is the model or interface that has been prepared.We see a finished product that presents as much data based on a particular topic. Thus the web page is explict. But, if one chooses to, they can can manipulate the text or data on the web page, making the imaginary real, directly affecting what’s in front of their eyes. This is why many professors and authorities feel that Wikipedia is not a credible source, because anyone has the ability to manipulate it. Personally, I’ve conducted searches where the results have been spliced with naughty words or personal attacks, just to see it anyone notices.

Something else I find fascinating that connects to the Wiki database is Wiki Race. Wiki Race, is in a way someone trying to use a database to produce a narrative. On Wikirace.org, one can engage in a game where they can click through successive links in order to reach a new target-topic. One example is Curry-Michael Phelps. The two topics are very unrelated, but when playing wikirace, one starts at Curry and links to different pages until they reach Michael Phelps. What we are left with is a series of web pages, that while they aren’t narrative, they still lead from point A to Point B in the way a narrative explains things from point A to point B.

On another note, one thing I found especially intriguing from the two class videos was the music. The video for Catalog shows a series of John Witney’s analogue work, but as futuristic as the images may scene, one might expect something very uptempo or techno-like. On the contrary, the music was very somber and classical. This immediately made me think of a similar phenomenon in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the legendary opening features dramatic and out-of-this-world images set to Richard Srauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Stanley Kubric, the director of the film, is known for choosing nonverbal music for the film because he didn’t want to rely on the traditional techniques of narrative cinema. Which in a way was forming a database between the music and the film, two unrelated concepts, presented together. Here’s a link to the films opening scene.

The Desktop Interface and Teleaction

The way we choose to organize our world dictates our own place within it—in Gothic times the cathedral, for example, stood at the center of town, inherently helping us perceive what was important, where we stood in relation to it, and how we should and could interact with the rest of the space surrounding it.

The first generation of interface designers had to decide, then, how to organize the computer space. They had, essentially, an entire world at their fingertips, which they could mold and design and organize in any way possible—the space could look like anything. It was important, however, especially given he limitations of technology of the time, that the space was easy to represent.

In this week’s reading of Interface Culture, Johnson takes us through the creation and evolution of the desktop from its early stages to the interface we know today. Throughout his discussion in this chapter, he emphasizes consistently the idea of the “desktop metaphor.” Similar to the metaphor we discussed last class, it encompasses the way in which reality is represented and even simulated on the desktop interface and how those representations help us to understand the way we use and navigate it. Continue reading

Teleaction!

            Teleaction, according to Manovich, is a very different operation. This because it is a complicated operation used to access new media, representing a shift from representation to conceptual space with telecommunication.  Manovich argues that real-time communication technologies (telegraph, telephone, television, telepresence, etc.) became subsidiary to technologies of representation (film, digital storage, etc) because of a shift in aesthetic. He relates this to definitions by Roland Barthes and Nelson Goodman deeming only finite objects as “texts” that can be “read.” But doesn’t the Internet and the increase use other real-time communication change all of this?

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Characteristics of New Media

The reading for this week is “The Language of new media” by Lev Manovich is crucial for understanding of media evolution. From the first sight we might not even think about the complexity and the logic of new media structures. In his Book Manovich explores the phenomenon of new media vs. old media. He is stating that the logic behind new media, the laws of its structures are tremendously different from characteristics that were presented in old media. The author presents to the reader 5 main characteristics of new media which make it unique and very different from old media. Here are the main characteristics of new media: Continue reading