Tag Archives: Narrative

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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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.