Cultural Consumption 2011

I dived into my log to make the yearly tally of what I did and saw. All in all 2011 has proven to be a good year.

It was a bit of a slow movie year though. I only saw 56, the best of which were: “Drive”, “Melancholia”, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, “Blue Valentine”, “Norwegian Wood”, “True Grit”, “Almanya”, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Kosmos”.

I went to 32 plays in 2011. The best ones:

I read 21 books in 2011. The most notable of those were:

I started tracking the games I played around halfway through the year, so this is not an exhaustive list, but five games I really enjoyed last year were: “Where is my Heart?”, “Nidhogg”, “Space Alert”, “The Binding of Isaac” and “The Resistance”.

Cultural Criticism Without Borders

When I just got into Germany we managed to pin point something I had noticed before. It is striking how conservative people in Germany are when it comes to the internet and especially people who work in cultural positions. Compared to that, the Netherlands of the past five years has gone through a rather tumultuous revolution.

This was prompted a bit by responses are to the new play “Edward II” directed by Ivo van Hove at the Schaubühne here. I am yet to see the play, but I hear it’s pretty good. Judging from the set pictures and the trailer it is one of the more modern pieces at this particular theater. It seems to have been rather poorly received in the papers, which have treated it not really on merit, but with thinly veneered hatchet jobs where critics employed their position to jab at this or that enemy in the German cultural landscape. One particular critic even projected his own frustrations and personal perversions onto the play in a national daily. Germany still seems to be that place where personal gripes are written down and nailed to a door somewhere.

The modern look of the play seemed to draw particular ire and especially the liberal use of video projections on the stage (a staple at Toneelgroep Amsterdam). It seems that German theater viewers cannot deal with mixed media and are either confused on where to look or too closed minded to accept projected images alongside the action happening live on the stage. This is one symptom of a lack in media literacy.

Ivory towered gentlemen with a strangle hold on culture may be one extreme, in the Netherlands we suffer from the other. Reviews of works of culture in the papers are oftentimes as thin as the paper they are printed on. Usually they superficially treat a work and tack on a bit of buyer’s advice. It is painfully obvious that they are written by people who have to write twenty such pieces a day lest they are fired. I write video game reviews in Dutch periodical nrc.next myself, but looking for my piece in the paper one day, I read a review for a movie I’d been to that was so bad, it brought tears to my eyes. Theater reviews have held their own, but they are hit and miss and you’re better off reading only those written by Simon van den Berg.

As I see it a piece in a newspaper treating a work of culture should be some parts of either a review or a critique and probably a bit of both. A review is a brief summary of a piece without giving much away, explaining how it will fulfill the expectations of a prospective audience so they can decide whether to go/buy/use it or not. A critique should be a deep diving treatment of that piece, how it compares to all other works and how it is relevant to society in any subset that the critic deems relevant. Such a critique should contain judicious amounts of post-modern literary theory, internet savvy remix, unit operational analysis and it should bridge clefts of continuity, medium, style and social stratum. Above all both reviews and critiques must be entertaining to read and they must bring something new to the table.

I get to write 80 words or so for the paper and in that little space I try to do the above because we want to further discourse around video games in the Netherlands. As we see it procedural media are busy upending the entire traditional cultural landscape and strict divisions of any kind in culture and art will not be tenable in the future. The institutions are crumbling and that is a good thing. This is unfortunately a radical notion even in the Netherlands, I have no clue how it will hold up in Germany where institutions are even more conservative and society is much more stratified.

In any case we cannot fill the entire newspaper by ourselves, nor should we want to. We can only strive to educate and elucidate by writing and talking about media in this particular way and hope that it catches on. I’m interested to see if my notions are at all true and if the German or Dutch discourse can be inched forward in the coming year with some choice interventions. Help to achieve that or explanations in how I am completely wrong are always welcome.

Week 226

Last week a bunch of visual progress was made on culiacán. Expect an August release on that.

Also a longer version of my review of Inside a Star-filled Sky was posted to Bashers. Seemingly any post that does not contain meta-criticism has a hard time attracting comments over there (maybe everywhere). More stuff was published also about Jason Rohrer, especially of note the Wired piece about Chain World.

Mid-week marked the first deployed iteration of guadalupe. If development on that goes the way we want it, expect private alpha invites to become available also in August.

End of the week we spent a bunch of time doing a submission to SxSWi to talk about the Heist Model. It’s an edgy philosophy and a fun way of working, which we look forward to expound in Austin accompanied by friends, margaritas and BBQ.

Friday there was Ball Invasion (with friends):
Ball Invasion with Alex and Peter

After which I managed to get stuck with a car and drive it up North to the Appsterdam HQ for the iOS Devcamp that was in progress.

iOS devcamp

The weekend was marked by rainy misery and a short piece of writing about open data becoming a normal practice of Amsterdam City-Center.

Why write about games?

Some of my own misgivings about whether to write about games and related phenomena or not are reflected in the critique of game criticism at Lost Garden.

I have done some effort to try to raise discourse about games in such publications as Bashers, nrc.next and VN with mixed results and many frustrations.

I have a (multi-media focused) computer science degree, I develop games at Hubbub, I have played games on and off for the past 20 years, I am a self-taught designer practicing interaction design and product management and I dabble in media philosophy/theory. In short I think I may be somewhat qualified to write about the subject.

This is also what Dan says:

We need writers who are more deeply educated in the art, craft and science of games.

I also think I have something to say about the relationship between reality and games, how games should draw more from reality (not the other way around), about the potential of games to become a more potent expressive medium than anything we have ever seen before and about society’s role to welcome and channel this development correctly.

Quoting Dan again:

Goal: Advance the art and science of games. Simply looking at what exists is not enough. Instead, we leverage what exists in order to to ask what is next and create the conceptual language and tools that get us there.

Dilemmas

My biggest dilemma in pursuing writing is that my time is limited and I may want to spend most of that time making games not writing about them. There is a large class of people (writers, journalists, academics) whose work actually is just writing but most of them have no experience with the craft which Dan identifies as a weakness. Whether it is because that lack of experience or because of the lowest common denominator approach dominant in Dutch publishing, most writing on games in the Netherlands makes me cringe.

My second dilemma is that any writing for a major periodical needs to dumb the content down to a level that it kills the possibility for any meaningful discourse. Some publications welcome pieces full of expletives to appeal to a younger audience, others reduce any thought to a sound byte to cater to the shortest of attention spans.

Another dilemma is that writing properly such that I myself would like to read it and doing the necessary contextual research for a piece takes an inordinate amount of time. Time (days upon days really) I could spend developing a game that has more substance, relevance and value than a piece of writing that will be in the litter the next day.

And finally there is the dilemma what kind of medium has the largest impact, whether to write in Dutch or English, to aim for print or online or forego writing for other ways of making a point such as debates and presentations.

Way forward

I talked about this with friends in media and publishing on and off to see whether writing has benefits that make it worth the effort. Everybody agrees that writing in and of itself is definitely not worth it, but reaching a wider audience can have benefits that make it worthwhile.

I am going to keep at it because that is the responsibility of an engaged developer: making sure that any work you produce falls upon fertile soil and that your future work is appreciated not only on its merits but also on its and your contributions to the wider discourse.

Now remains the task of seeing what it is I should write about first and where it will have the largest punch. Your suggestions welcome.