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Chris
Outsider philosopher, game designer and author
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By the time you read this, I should already be on paternity leave – and if not, it’ll be happening imminently. With that in mind, I shall go ahead and take my Summer social media break now, so you shall... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2016 at Only a Game
Hi Yehuda, At the heart of my concerns here are the principles of authenticity I outlined in the first part of the serial. But a key point I make in this final part is that those principles belong to communities. So my position here is that I belong to a community for whom Star Trek was not merely a science fiction entertainment, but a moral commentary on contemporary life. This is true of all the TV franchises, although to varying degrees. It operates in a manner quite similar to religious megatexts in the morality tales. To resurrect Star Trek and excise this element is to utterly violate the spirit of the original megatext. It's not just the prime directive, it's the entire reason for telling stories in the mode invented by Roddenberry and developed by Berman. Without it, it's just playing with the same toys. When I first saw Abrams Star Trek I was entertained, but it seemed incredibly stupid. When I saw Into Darkness I suddenly realised that I couldn't continue to support what was going on. And that set me to work to try and understand why. You say: "You feel Abrams treated the ST franchise with such disrespect, that he undoubtedly did so as well with SW - and even if he didn't, he deserves no audience after what he did with ST." I would not claim he 'undoubtedly' disrespected Star Wars: I suspect his vacuously flamboyant style is better suited to it. And I wouldn't say he 'deserves no audience' because that would be to pre-empt other people's aesthetic and moral judgements. What he does not deserve is just my patronage, and presumably the patronage of anyone else belonging to the same community as me with respect to the authenticity of Star Trek. "I imagine that you give GL and his team a pass for SW, ESB, and RotJ, since a good deal of it was guided by the same artist." Not a fan of Return of the Jedi, which is the weakest of the bunch, but there's no need to give a 'pass' because it's clearly a single consistent megatext at this point. George's decision to alter the movies meets with my disapproval, though, which is not to suggest he was not in some sense 'within his creative rights' to do so. "Perhaps what GL did in the second trilogy was a murder to the original SW trilogy." There is a large community for whom this is the case, but I do not belong to it. "Perhaps ESB was a murder to ANH - new writers, new story, new morals and messages, new crew, new characters." I am not aware of any community that asserts this. There is clearly some refinement between Empire and Star Wars, but I think it would be odd to find a violation of authenticity in this instance. Possible but not plausible. But Empire cannot murder A New Hope since it was one year earlier (1980, versus 1981 for the first print of Star Wars with the subtitle added). Regarding "money grab" - did I ever use this term? It is the nature of media corporations to market media. I do not hold it against them. I am acutely aware, as a media-producer myself, than the flow of money is the lifeblood of a franchise. I am not inclined to see this aspect of media production as directly problematic, although it can be indirectly problematic in a number of ways, all of which go beyond the scope of our discussion! "Why do [people] get so upset when I change rules in a game to ones that are more to my liking: they cry "it's not the real game!" Some of them try to dissuade me and others from even trying my changes. Some of them tell me NOT TO PLAY THE GAME AT ALL rather than change the rules, which shocks me. Some of them become nasty on BGG about it. If I were a woman and the board game community were larger, I would have been the target of gamergate-like abuse dozens of times." This is something that is close to my heart, as I have the same tendency as you to 'hack' every boardgame that I play. My wife and I have only once played Settlers of Catan with the rules in the box since we both find the Robber too directly competitive, so we replace it with a different rule that makes us both happier, whereby rolling a seven still causes the loss of cards, but the player rolling gets to trade with a market of five cards that initially contains one of each material. This works well for us. My wife may support this 'hacking', but my friends are often less keen, and sometimes make jokes about it. These are intended both to make light of my tendency and to dissuade me from doing it, and usually entail the phrase 'tournament rules' (which, of course, would be nonsense for many of these games). I have found I have become more willing to accede to playing by the rules 'as written' (and supplemented by the house rules required to make any written rules work!) as I have got older, though, and I am less inclined to 'hack from the box' as I once was. But your point here is directly parallel to the cases I was talking about, because it is once again about communities of authenticity that are 'playing' the games in question. To a great many boardgamers, the 'tournament rules' (the rules as written, supplemented by the necessary house rules that are seldom if ever recognised) just are the game. I might say, equivalently, the authentic player practices are those of the game developers. Our desire to 'hack' the player practices to our satisfaction is therefore a deviation from the authentic version of the player practices upheld by this other community. That creates an aesthetic tension and - just as with the videogames civil war you mention - that puts people against each other in occasionally ugly ways. One final remark. One of the reasons I love boardgames is precisely because they are so easy to 'hack'. The effort required to 'fix' a videogame to my satisfaction is monumental, but a boardgame can so easily be tailored to one's aesthetic tastes that there is something truly liberating about playing them. This, for me, is why I still prefer tabletop games to videogames, and am slightly sad at never having had one published, although I came terribly close with my card game Star Fleet Officers that Task Force Games were allegedly going to publish, way back in 1990. You, on the other hand, have successfully published boardgames, and for that I am slightly envious! :) Well, I've said enough, and I'm out of time. I will be back in approximately two weeks. All the best, Chris.
Toggle Commented May 20, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (3): Faithfulness at Only a Game
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Hi Yehuda, You ask what principle drives my 'principled decision'. It is that corporations depend upon our money, and so we owe it to ourselves to deny them money when they act in ways inconsistent with our own ideals. I'm not seeking to persuade anyone else to join me, so I wouldn't call it a boycott, and similarly 'protest' seems to overstate the matter, although you could call it that I suppose. I view this as a matter of conscience. To pay to see the new movies would be to fail to act in good conscience. Even to see them could be; I am less convinced of this, although certainly participating in piracy to see them is not an acceptable way of resolving the tension, since it supports it indirectly. I'm certainly not making any claim that my childhood has been ruined by the new movies, or any such thing. That would be extremely puerile. Disney paid for the franchise, they should make new movies with it. Whether I see them or not makes very little difference here, at least to them. The question of whether I would find the latest movie entertaining seems to me to be irrelevant, since there are plenty of entertainments and participating in this one doesn't deprive me of entertainment in any meaningful sense. (I lack time, not things to do.) So I don't quite buy your argument that depriving myself of something entertaining would only make sense if it was balanced against something. But of course, it is balanced against something - what you might call my honour. I suppose I am claiming my honour is worth more than being entertained by yet another movie. You ask: "If a different director/studio had made the exact same Star Wars VII film, would you be able to enjoy it?" Well I'm not saying I wouldn't be able to enjoy this one. The thought that I might - as much as anything, to see the 'old gang' wheeled out one more time - was one of the reasons that I did, in fact, really want to go and see it. I expect I might have enjoyed it, if I could have got my expectations low enough, and may yet, who knows! But the moment I realised that it meant more to me than I originally realised that Abrams had 'murdered' Star Trek (excuse the dramatic license), the more I realised I couldn't possibly go and see a Star Wars movie the man had made. Nor any adaptation of anything else I care about. To do so would be to act dishonourably. It would be to patronise the work of someone that I find unworthy of my patronage. Now chances are you lean towards consequentialism i.e. you measure the value of actions by their outcomes, and all this talk of honour may seem quaintly distanced from contemporary life. So to put this in outcome terms I could say that paying to watch the new movie, given the circumstances of its creation, would have left me feeling lacking in self-worth, and that outcome could not possibly be weighed against the entertainment value of the movie. I hope that translation makes sense, and I am not overstepping the mark in providing this alternative exposition. "It is odd how a fan is not able to enjoy an adaptation that is not true to the original." Your discussion in this paragraph is spot on, and indeed thinking this way is what lead me to write the paper What are we playing with? Role-taking, role-play, and story-play with Tolkien's legendarium, which bears directly on this topic. That might be worth a read - I would certainly welcome your thoughts on it if you should give it a go. Thanks for continuing our discussion, and indeed for all our discussions, which I greatly value. However, I must also warn you that my Summer social media break begins after tomorrow so we might not get to finish this discussion now! My virtual doors, however, are always open. With great respect, Chris.
Toggle Commented May 19, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (3): Faithfulness at Only a Game
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Corporate Megatexts was a serial in three parts that ran here at Only a Game from May 3rd to 17th 2016. It considered the way that we ‘play’ with the fictional worlds of books, movies, and TV shows as if... Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2016 at Only a Game
The indefatigable Allen Wood recently sent me this reply to my piece Is Free Will Too Cheap? which I post here with his permission, and with its original US English spellings. Dear Chris, Very good post. Having just plowed through... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2016 at Only a Game
We’re always being pulled in two directions, one is the sort of utopian side that says ‘we could make a better world’ and the other is the side that says ‘the world is getting bad, we’d better defend the bit... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2016 at Only a Game
Hi Yehuda, Here are my 70 words or less: "I am not going to see the most recent Star Wars movie because Disney gave the Star Wars franchise to J.J. Abrams, whose custodianship of Star Trek (which Paramount gave him) violated my standards of authenticity in just about every conceivable way. This was thus a principled decision on my part that does not reflect in any way upon the purported entertainment value of the new film." Hope that clarifies! Always great to hear from you, Chris. PS: I always enjoy your capsule reviews of recent blockbuster movies! You have a knack for nailing their merits and their flaws.
Toggle Commented May 17, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (3): Faithfulness at Only a Game
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There are just three screenings of the new Star Wars-branded movie left in my city and I'll have survived the new release with my honour intact, and the film unseen. This is a small and entirely personal victory, a test... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2016 at Only a Game
Hi Michael, Your comparison between Wikipedia's 'clerical caste' and 'laity' was indeed what I was alluding to there, although it was a throwaway remark, really, meant only to emphasise that the Wikipedia's public philosophy makes it sound like an egalitarian enterprise, which is a claim that is hard to square with its practices. The tension you allude to between wiki users as 'consumers of products' and not 'active cultural agents' seems to me to relate to the Corporate Megatexts serial that I am running at the moment (and which will conclude in about 45 minutes time!). The consumer of products here is the end user of the values of custodianship. I wonder what it is that you allude to in the concept of an 'active cultural agent'... there's a slippery yet intriguing notion embedded in that phrase! Regarding the tension between human operated and automated, I am firmly on the side of the humans here. Trivia aggregation cannot and should not be robot operated; to do so is to give the cultural power currently hoarded by the Wikipedia Czars directly to Google and other search engine companies (although either way, the US culture machine is clearly 'in charge'!). As I draw out in Wikipedia Knows Nothing, I am in full support of wikis as tools: my problem comes with the masking of identities, which I assert as fundamentally immoral. If you are not swamped, you are welcome to get the draft manuscript from me: I would welcome your feedback! Many thanks for another thoughtful comment, Chris.
Toggle Commented May 17, 2016 on Deleted from the Wikipedia at Only a Game
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Pleased to announce a new talk by me as part of the “Futurism vs. Fatalism” event at London’s Red Gallery. In the 1980s, the literary science fiction movement known as cyberpunk explored the fractured cultures left in the wake of... Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2016 at Only a Game
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Late last week, one of my students asked me what had happened to my Wikipedia page. I said I didn’t know, but upon investigation found that I had been deleted. Nine days after I announced Wikipedia Knows Nothing, a Wikipedia... Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2016 at Only a Game
Hey Bart, I too am a proud owner of a first edition Star Fleet Technical Manual, although I was only three when it was published and am pretty sure I got mine second hand when I was about nine. I did not know about the other Franz Joseph ships appearing on monitors in the second and third movie - that's a really interesting oddity in itself! As for getting fan creations made into canon, something similar has happened with Doctor Who whereby secondary texts (primarily licensed books and audio plays) have gradually been incorporated into the megatext through inclusion or allusion, largely through the efforts of Russell Davies and Stephen Moffat (Davies, in fact, contributed a secondary text before becoming showrunner). So, for instance, "Night of the Doctor" made all of the Paul McGann audio plays canonical by name-checking all of his companions from the plays on-screen. The same can be said of the appearance of Absalom Daak: Dalek Killer (a personal favourite of mine from the Doctor Who comics) in "Time Heist". I find all of this movement towards conglomeration and incorporation particularly interesting because it is such a new phenomena. So we are indeed in a weird new situation whereby 'unofficial' contributions to a megatext can later be incorporated. But then, wasn't this always the way? That's how the Greek myths grew, and that's how the Arthurian mythos expanded. The media may change, but the methods remain the same! Thanks for a really interesting comment! Chris.
Toggle Commented May 15, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (2): Canonicity at Only a Game
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Here’s the abstract for the paper I’m presenting for DiGRA/FDG at Abertay University in Scotland in August. The paper is entitled ‘No-one Plays Alone’. Special thanks to Dan Cook for setting this one in motion with me – you are... Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2016 at ihobo
Here’s the abstract for the paper I’m presenting for DiGRA/FDG at Abertay University in Scotland in August. The paper is entitled ‘No-one Plays Alone’. Special thanks to Dan Cook for setting this one in motion with me – you are... Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2016 at Only a Game
Hi Ian, You slightly jumped the gun here... I was saving the parallels between contemporary megatexts and religious megatexts (like the Bible) for next week! :) I don't go into the detail you do here about the process of establishing the canon for the Bible, which has always fascinated me - especially because some of the books that were excluded held that Jesus advocated a disorganised religion, not an organised one (something close to my heart). It's interesting to place the animosity towards Lucas in the context of the remastered original trilogy and not the prequels too... I have to say, I was extremely happy to get copies of the original movie prints on DVD. I'm not wildly hostile to the remastered versions, which I enjoyed watching at the time, and which restored Biggs' role in Star Wars and removed the awful Ewok symphony from the end of Return of the Jedi. But it was all mixed blessings throughout. As I mention next week, my relationship with Lucas has always been love-hate. Cheers for the comment! Chris.
Toggle Commented May 11, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (2): Canonicity at Only a Game
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The reboot of a franchise has become so commonplace that seldom a second thought goes into pushing the button and burning continuity to the ground. However, for fans and lovers of any given megatext (i.e. fictional world with many contributing... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2016 at Only a Game
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While I primarily teach aspiring game designers in the UK for University of Bolton’s School of Creative Technologies, I also teach Game Narrative for the fantastic Art of Game Design MFA programme at Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD)... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2016 at Only a Game
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While I primarily teach aspiring game designers in the UK for University of Bolton’s School of Creative Technologies, I also teach Game Narrative for the fantastic Art of Game Design MFA programme at Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD)... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2016 at ihobo
Jose, From the standpoint of authenticity, we can demand that custodianship takes these issues into account, but from a pragmatic position we can only expect that minimal demands of authenticity be met. This indeed is the aesthetic and moral tension that this short serial explores. Looking forward to seeing you at DiGRA this year! Chris.
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This is a great tip, Jose, many thanks for this. Looking at them, I'm not sure whether their entertainment technology interests would stretch to the content of 'Wikipedia Knows Nothing', although they have common ground in digital humanities. The proposal is currently under consideration at an academic press... I'll wait and see how that turns out, but it's great to know I have something in my back pocket if I do decide to 'go free'. Thanks again! Chris.
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Hi Jose, Never heard of them! I'll check it out... thanks for the tip! Chris.
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Hi Jose, Interesting point: the Tsuei's authenticity argument moves to undermine the legitimacy of Paramount's custodianship... this is in some respects a stronger claim than (say) objecting to the specifics of how Peter Jackson put together The Hobbit. It seems certain Paramount can simply ignore such an objection - but it perhaps marks a different kind of narrative clash to those we are used to. All the best, Chris.
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Hi Nathan, Thanks for your two comments here - this game theoretical approach to peer review is interesting... I'm more neutral about whether double blind make sense for the sciences, although I'm sceptical and want to see this claim defended instead of just asserted - as these folks do! :) For the humanities, however, double blind peer review makes not a lick of sense. Anyway, I have submitted the proposal to MIT Books, whom I expect will reject it. When they do, I'll make a few quick edits and then submit to Open Humanities. If they reject it, I'll issue it as a free ebook. I'll probably post about this when I get back to blogging properly, but right now I'm snowed under with marking. The blog will not be idle, though, as I have a three part serial running to cover the interval. Now that's what I call obsessively organised! :) Best wishes, Chris.
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When Paramount announced that Scarlett Johansson had been cast as Major Kusanagi in the live action adaptation of Ghost In The Shell, it launched another outbreak of accusations about ‘whitewashing’ – the appointment of white actors and actresses into roles... Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2016 at Only a Game
Hey Nathan, Thanks for your comment! Even if you generally don't throw your hat into the comments, I always value readers - there would be no point to what I do without folks like you! All the best, Chris.
Toggle Commented May 3, 2016 on 1500 Shades of Nonsense at Only a Game
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