Neither “Either/Or” nor “Both/And”

The other morning I was talking to one of our classes about complexity in congregations, in theories, in pretty much everything — and I birthed an idea that had hitherto only been toying with me, awaiting the occasion to pop out of my mouth. “We know that we can’t deal with people on an either/or basis,” I allowed; “there are always shades, nuances, hybrids, unanticipated subtleties. ‘Either/or’ is the mode of modern effectiveness: ‘Don’t bother me with the details, we have to get this thing moving.’ Modernity thrived on compartmentalization, on analysis, on deciding which differences made a differences and which didn’t (from a dominant-culture perspective, which operated as the natural or necessary or obvious way of thinking).
 
“But after decades of modernity, we see that lumping people together into categories based on dominant-culture thinking doesn’t pan out. The category ‘colored’ worked adequately for White cultures, for a while; but ‘colored’ people aren’t all the same, and — surprise, surprise — white is a color, too. Either/or logic fails us and effaces the differences that make us interesting, indeed that make us who we are.
 
“But ‘both/and’ doesn’t solve our problems. Although this is the easiest and most prominent alternative to either/or, both/and simply occludes the necessary distinction-making that constitutes real behavior in the real world. When leaders start talking both/and, I keep a close eye on what they’re trying to distract me from noticing: the exclusions and privileges that inevitably permeate jolly, inclusive, both/and thinking. At least when the system’s working on either/or logic, one can point out ways that particular cases disrupt, defeat, the system of categorization; when both/and rules the system, there’s no explicit categorization in place against which one could push.”
 
So if not either/or (on one hand) or both/and (on the other), what? I proposed an idea that had been flitting through my thoughts intermittently: “both/but.” (That’s “but,” not “butt.”) In other words — and I hope we’re not locked into using “both” and “but” in every example of this sort of thinking — we can operate from a principle of openness, but since we’re always about making distinctions all the time anyway, we’re practically distinction-making creatures, we follow our gesture of inclusion with explicit reservations about the distinctions we’ making. We begin by acknowledging that there’s probably something to be said on both sides of an apparent impasse — but since we can’t have all of both options, we’re going to have to work out some alternative that, ideally, derives strength from the best of both proposals.
 
It’s not a revolution, but it’s a way of resisting modern binary thinking, allegedly-postmodern indifferentism, in the name of working together toward something else. And if someone like Seth Godin or Rick Warren writes a best-selling self-help, business-guru book out of it, I’m claiming prior art right here.
 
DRMA: “Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads; “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” by Bruce Springsteen (Pippa used to think this was “Devil in the Freezer”); “Stop in the Name of Love” by the Supremes; “The Long And Winding Road” by the Beatles; “Penetration” by Tom Verlaine; “Souvenir From A Dream” by Tom Verlaine; “Wichita Sutra Vortex” by Philip Glass; “Plastic Man” by the Kinks; “Everything” by Ben Harper; “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley; “Nothing Is Easy” by Jethro Tull; “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” by Wilco.

Replacement Panic

I’ve run into replacement panic on a couple of occasions recently, and since I have grading to finish, a major article and a major sermon to prepare in the next two weeks, I figured I’d open up a major blog topic.

“Replacement panic” is the expression I started using back at the Digital Genres conference that Alex Golub arranged (by the way, Alex, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette thinks that PNG is a near-perfect place for a vacation). I use “replacement panic” to refer to the fear — frequently a spontaneous reaction to positive assessments of online technology — that digital media will supplant physical interactions.

I should agree at the outset that replacement panic doesn’t arise out of nowhere. Some of the techno-romantics have heralded the advent of a day when our memories will be downloadable to hard drives, our thoughts presumably assisted by sophisticated applications, our sensations provided by elaborate simulation algorithms. David Weinberger has made a small campaign against such illusions, but they nonetheless play loud in mass media and (hence) the popular imagination.

At the same time, physical interaction won’t just go away. The people I know who seem to spend the most time online (starting with Josiah, but think of David Weinberger, Meg Hourihan, Doc, Chris Pirillo, Denise Howell) also spend lots of time in physical interaction with people. If anything, the way that online interaction permits a vehicle for modulated, careful interaction permits increased sociality for introverted people who might otherwise not venture out at all.

Before we succumb to replacement panic, we ought to look closely at the characteristics of our physical interactions, and how they’ve changed over time. Would we suggest that the class-determined interactions of Upstairs, Downstairs-era Britain, the physical-world interactions of slave-owners and their chattel, were fully authentic, present, relationships? Of course not; but one problem with replacement panic lies in its appeal to an unarticulated, illusory ideal speech situation in which everyone is present, everyone is candid, everyone is unclothed with mediating signifiers or modifiers that might distort speech. That speech situation has never existed, can never exist, and rests on pernicious assumptions about truth and the authenticity of communication. Nonetheless, the sponsors of replacement panic argue as though we all know of a situation for communication that’s uncontaminated by mediations (such as digital media), social determination (nobody say “power laws”), or class-, race-, or gender-based privilege. We don’t know of any such place — but if we did, my guess is that it would look a lot like the internet.

The point of online interaction is not that it will replace physical interaction, but that the tenor of all our interactions will shift, has already shifted, and that unnerves some people as it exhilarates others. We’re all dealing with the change, though, in our physical presence as in our online [self]-representations, and neither online interaction nor physical interaction will go away.

That’s My TinyURL

Via BoingBoing: add your name/initials/other personal identifier after the address“http://tinyurl.com/” to see where it leads you. Mine (“/akma”) points to a hack for making the Philips DVDR-880 region-free.

TinyURL is one of the handiest and most under-used web tricks going. If you enter a long, unwieldy URL, they return to you a short, simple URL that directs to the site you initially chose.

Stiff Competition

Now I stand to administer not only David Weinberger’s immortal bytes, but now also Joi Ito’s. Now, I’m honored and all, and I promise to do my best by both these distinguished citizens of Blogaria and by the interests of posterity.

But just who decided that $30 a year would be the going rate for hosting large, high-volume sites like theirs? Not to mention “pruning the hedges and scrubbing the grafitti off”? Guys, I have to talk with your estates about changing the terms of these arrangements. I mean, I’m busy now; if this idea starts catching on, I won’t have time to do anything but tend memorial websites — which outdoes even theological teaching for low labor-to-remuneration ratios.

Regarding Church Web Sites

I’m writing some follow-up notes to the places we visited on our tour, so (of course) I’m curious to know what the postal mail addresses are for these locations.

Here are the sites for the various cathedrals we visited:

Rochester Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral
The American Cathedral in Paris

If you have a spare hour or so, see if you can find the mailing addresses for the Cathedral Chapter (or other central location) of each institution on its site. The American Cathedral gets bonus points for having the address on its main page, though that’s hidden behind a useless decorative introductory screen. Christ Church was next easiest, as its address is prominently displayed on the main page for Christ Church College. Rochester Cathedral is a non-starter, and St. Paul’s simply doesn’t seem to want to divulge where one can contact the chapter — especially frustrating on as large and elaborate a site as theirs, where so many pages might possibly list a mailing address.

I know there are other ways of getting that information; I’ve worked some of them out. My point is that it’s quite bizarre that so important and so small a bit of information is so difficult (in some cases, impossible) to find on the web sites of such prominent cultural institutions.

Posted by AKMA at August 25, 2003 10:10 AM | TrackBack
Comments
Its not just cultural institutions! For my job before seminary, I frequently had to call admissions departments and career centers at other universities – it sometimes took six or seven screens before I could an address or phone number!

Posted by: Susie at August 25, 2003 12:10 PM
This is not just a cathedral problem, nor just a postal address problem. Try finding out how to contact anybody at all at Lambeth Palace from www.archbishopofcanterbury.org for example.

I would suggest that not providing email addresses or telephone numbers is a greater sin of omission than not providing postal addresses.

Simon

Posted by: Simon at August 25, 2003 03:42 PM
What up, AKMA? No link to Westminster Cathedral?

Posted by: Dennis at August 27, 2003 05:31 PM
A common sin of the web-centric – forgetting that outside the net there is a real brick-and-mortar world with real people in it.

Posted by: Wes at August 28, 2003 03:50 PM

What Happened On What Wasn’t Exactly A Summer Vacation, Final Part

I know that some of you who read this blog can’t quite imagine spending three weeks cooped up in a bus coach with a male choir of forty ranging in age from ten to about sixty (that’s a guess). I myself would have had a hard time imagining what it would be like, and some of what boggles my imagination won’t be published here for all the world to read — but it was interesting in the fullest sense of the word.

So, I left off a week ago. (Is that really possible? Only a week ago I was in London, getting ready to meet Gary and Fiona and Cameron? Wow!) We were supposed to meet up with Gary at 12:30 in the Crypt of St. Paul’s (a cheery place, with lots of memorials I was too scrupulously conscientious to photograph, including Sir Arthur Sullivan, Florence Nightingale, Henry Moore, and of course Christopher Wren, along with Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and so many other military heroes that one of our friends referred to it as “St. Paul’s Cathedral and Armed Services Memorial” — if you click on the “About St. Paul’s” menu, you can see a layout of the Crypt that will show relevant memorials, and if you click on “cathedral floor” you can see QuickTimeVR panoramas of the cathedral, including the Quire, where the choir sang, and the centre of the cathedral, through which our procession entered the Quire). But traffic was bad, and the Turners were running late; we knew, because Gary kept calling to update us on where they were (“It’s ten after twelve, and we’ll be a little late”; “We’re about ten minutes away”; (ten minutes later) “We’re about five minutes away”), and finally we agreed to meet out in front of St. Paul’s. We didn’t care — we had to see Cameron, and if that meant waiting around for Gary and Fiona, well, that’s just the cost of the excitement.

So we ended up playing a game of “Where’s Gary?”

Were they Gary and Fiona?

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What about them?

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They might be Gary and Fiona.

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Or the occupants of this snazzy car?

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I don’t think they’re the Turners.

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Here they are!

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We wandered up and down Ludgate Hill looking for just the right place to eat lunch, and talking about Cameron (other topics emerged, but none so important). We knew Gary would be a delight, and we estimated that Fiona would be as congenial as she is beautiful (she turned out to be more so), but we longed to get to know Cameron better, and we must report that she was both lovely and fascinating. She evinced a strong interest in digital ID, for instance.

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That’s Margaret’s ID, with Cameron’s digits.

The time passed all too quickly. Gary was as funny and clever as you’d expect (and you have high expectations, I know); I like his use of “organic” as the characterization of what others sometimes refer to as “meatspace” or “real life” (although it does work as well for saying things like, “QuickTime VR is cool, but you have to see St. Paul’s organically”). Fiona was just spectacularly sweet and bright and breathtakingly lovely; Cameron had the exemplary good taste to bond quickly with Margaret, who has a very soft spot for infants. It was all we could do to resist the temptation to hop into the car with them as they pulled away from their parking space in Smithfield Market.

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Gary’s picture is better, I think (would you send me a full-size version, please, Gary?), but this was the photo of ours that I liked most.

Organic interaction enriches tremendously the pleasure of knowing people online, but it’s not fundamentally different. I miss Gary, but not as much as I miss Fiona and Cameron ’cos I can read Gary’s blog. ’Twould be great if we were closer neighbors, though, and not only because we might get to babysit sometimes. . . .

Now, back to choir events. The Saturday Evensong went exceptionally well; it would have been exciting to sing the Sunday mass, that wasn’t on our agenda. By the way, leading worship always evokes an indescribable awe, but doing so in the ancient, historic cathedrals of Rochester, Oxford, and especially St. Paul’s raises that feeling to an entirely different order. I will not soon forget the experience of hearing the choir’s harmonies reverberate for eight or nine seconds (down from the canonical eleven seconds because of the shroud of scaffolding surrounding parts of the nave), or of reading the lessons from in front of the high altar. Entirely humbling and amazing.

Sunday morning we got up early and boarded the coach in time to get to the Sunday mass at Canterbury Cathedral (our fourth cathedral in two weeks). I had an entirely incorrect notion of what it would look like; it was manifestly ancient and lovely, but it simply wasn’t the cathedral I had imagined. During the service, some seminarians studying in Canterbury for the summer stood up to sing, and to our surprise, one of the group was Seabury’s own Gwynne Wright. We visited the shrine of Thomas à Becket — simple and, again, overwhelming — then set out for Dover, where we embarked for the ferry ride across the Channel to France. (By the way, I want to put in a plug here for the intensely entertaining journal of Mike and Tex’s winter trip to Paris from 2000. It’s not strictly relevant to our tour, but it’s funny and reflects many experiences that St. Luke’s choir members may also have encountered. One of the martyrs in his pictures from the Louvre, of whose identity Mike wasn’t sure, are the same Peter Martyr whose image graces the Jerusalem chamber at St. Luke’s.)

John the Coach Driver made good time getting us to Saint-Denis, but unfortunately wasn’t clear on where in Saint-Denis our hotel could be found, so we spent a good while reconnoitering this suburb of Paris before we made our way to our lodgings. The hotel was right around the corner from the basilica, but our schedule wouldn’t allow for us to explore the lovely church until late afternoon, Tuesday. We were on a narrow street winding through the apartment complexes that housed many commuters; the bus coach could fit through the streets, but it was another of John’s impressive feats of driverosity that he got us where we needed to go without knocking over any signs, bollards, trees, or pedestrians.

Sometime during our stay in Oxford, where the staff at Lady Margaret Hall kindly provided us with cute little miniature toiletries kits, someone (whose name might sound like “Budzynski”) started a fad of seeking out shower caps and wearing them on the coach, identifying them by their French designation “bonnets de douche.” At varying points, tour participants adopted hair nets, rain bonnets, and several varieties of the genuine bonnet de douche. At the end of Monday’s travels, John gave Mr. Budzynski the ultimate refinement — the beret de douche — in a touching ceremony recorded on my photos page.

Monday went well; John gave us a ground tour of Paris (carefully avoiding making any commentary on what we saw, lest he transgress the law forbidding non-French guides using onboard intercoms for guided tours of the city), then we splintered into smaller touring groups to explore on our own. Margaret and I covered the exterior of the Louvre (we decided that rather than short-change that museum and miss everything else about Paris, we wouldn’t look in), thence to Notre Dame. After we explored Notre Dame, we stopped for lunch at a cafe on the Boulevard St. Germain which, as we discovered with some vexation, offered free wifi (“Bandwidth, bandwidth everywhere/and not a laptop to connect with”). Vegetarianism not being a prevalent way of life in France, so far as we can tell, Margaret and I had omelettes for lunch, then set out to see the Pantheon and make our way back to then Eiffel Tower, near where we’d meet the rest of the tour again to take a ride on one of the bateaux-mouches that ply the Seine.

Just after we docked, we rushed to the American Cathedral in Paris for rehearsal and Evensong. Margaret and I visited with our friend & Seabury alumna Sharon Gracen about her work as Canon Pastor at the cathedral, then slipped into the cathedral for the service. The choir was a little worn out by this time in the tour, but Evensong ended the worship schedule of the tour triumphantly. We returned to the hotel for dinner and collapsed into bed.

Tuesday — just five days ago as I write — we clambered aboard the coach to drive past Versailles (“don’t look too closely, we only have five minutes!”) on our way to Chartres, where we explored the amazing cathedral, had lunch, and played by the riverside (successfully losing one of the tour frisbees in the Eure), and returned to Saint-Denis, where we had the chance to look in at the basilica (unfortunately, the necropolis had closed by the time we got there). This was in many ways my favorite of the French churches we visited; it was airier than either Notre Dame de Paris or Chartres, and the necropolis — what we could see of it — was staggering (more than seventy-one French monarchs have been interred at Saint-Denis!).

We concluded the tour with a sumptuous dinner, a farewell ceremony, and on Wednesday flew back. No teenagers were lost, left behind on purpose, locked in the baggage portion of the coach, nor were any of the adults. Margaret’s already working on next year’s tour with the girl’ choir and Schola.

Photos of the last few days’ events here, and a collection of photos-of-participants here.

At Last!

Made it! I survived class today, after which Frank dropped me at the Apple Store, where I would meet Si for the grand opening. I walked to the door, followed the line to the corner of Huron and Michigan, turned east and walked the whole block to St. Clair. I turned south on St. Clair, again following the line, and beginning to wonder whether Si had gotten there at all, when a woman somewhat older than I called out, “Dad!”

As I gazed at her in bewilderment, she pointed to her feet, where Josiah sat eating the sub he had bought for dinner.

By 6:00, the time the store was scheduled to open, the line stretched all the way around the block and lapped over the whole length of the Huron St. side of the block. We spotted Aaron Swartz while we were standing in line, and Si introduced himself later on. Eventually we made our way in, look around, tried in vain to win an iSight (I was very, very impressed at the image quality they generated, much better than any other webcam I’ve seen), and picked up our free T-shirts. (Pictures at my dot-Mac address.)

I was going to come home, eat popcorn, watch a movie, post my pictures, and drift to sleep — but I didn’t really have time to watch the movie, and though I could have eaten popcorn while I typed and image-edited, I hastened through the process so that I could sleep all the sooner.

Reference Note

I don’t think the full lyrics of Washington Phillips’s “Denomination Blues” appear anywhere online; three or four sites have a version of Ry Cooder’s performance of it, but that leaves out a number of verses, and I disagree with some of the interpretations of Phillips’s lyrics. So I thought I’d list the lyrics here, and we can refine my hearing of them, and perhaps you can nominate a few more verses.

I want to tell you the natural facts
Every man don’t understand the Bible alike
But that’s all now, I tell you that’s all
But you better have Jesus, I tell you that’s all (repeat after each verse)

Well denominations have no right to fight
They ought to just treat each other right

The Primitive Baptists they believe
You can’t get to heaven less you wash your feet

The onliest Primitive that has any part
Is the one that does the washing with the pure heart

Now the Missionary Baptists they believe
Go under the water and not to wash his feet

Now the A.M.E. Methodists they believe
Sprinkle the head and not to wash the feet

Now the African Methodists they believe the same
Cause they know denominations ain’t a thing but a name

Now the Holiness people when they came in
They said “Boy you can make it by living above sin”

Now the Church of God has it in their mind
They can get to heaven without the sacramental wine

You’re fighting each other and you think you’re doing well
And the sinner’s on the outside and going to hell

Now the preachers is preaching and they think they’re doing well
But all they want is your money and you can go to hell

Now, another class of preachers they’re high in speech
They had to go to college to learn how to preach

But you can go to the college, and you can go to the school
But if you don’t have Jesus you’re an educated fool

That kind of a man’s hard to convince
A man can’t preach unless’n he sin

When people jump from church to church
You know the conversion don’t amount to much

When Jesus come on that Divining Day
Gonna call the sheep to enter, turn the goats away

It’s right to stand together, wrong to stand apart
Cause no one’s gonna enter but the pure in heart

The fact that I begin teaching my summer preaching course next week does not, of course, have anything to do with the fact that I was particularly interested in the lyrics to this song. Perish the thought! (If anyone helps with the Phillips lyrics, I’ll edit the text in the main entry; additional verses will stay in the comments, unless I can’t resist).

Eric and Doc on What Lies Between

Eric Norlin and Doc Searls are having at it about “the nature of the web” and so on. Doc is advocating the World of Ends, End-to-End side, and Eric is saying, “Get real, Doc; the web is going to change. If you love it, set it free.” Doc’s wary that the BigCo’s are likely do to the Web what they’re doing to broadcast media: Engulf and Devour. Eric’s comfortable with business tailoring some of the Web to suit its ends, and leaving “unfiltered” Web-water for the rest of us.

I’m going to butt in with a few quick points.

  • The time to fend off MegaCorps is earlier rather than later; if there’s anything important and worth saving about an end-to-end net, we can’t afford simply to stand back and see what they do first, then try to remedy the damage.
  • There’s a difference between digital ID and a Web whose protocols are regulated to suit the business interests of telcos and ISPs. I don’t read Doc as dismissing the notion of DigID; I do see him fighting to stave off the predations of corporate forces whose sole interest has to be maximizing the profits of their investors (investors like Eric! — and the bank where my fifty cents of checking account reside).
  • Part of the problem here involves the spatial metaphor, doesn’t it? If we were to think of the middle of the Web, the “between” of End-to-End, as capacity or a force of nature, some of the argumentative kinks would look a lot different. Ain’t no one going to stand still for corporations regulating the use of imagination, or the use of the air for propagating sound waves, or the gestures you can make with the fingers of your left hand. It’s that pesky space that people think they can regulate, as if it were property.
  • Eric, that’s not a satisfactorily nuanced characterization of churches and doctrine, and you know that. I know, it’s only an illustration.
  • Doc: “one answer is to find more ways to get more academic stuff on line as well as in libraries” (okay, it’s off-topic, but I wanted to squeeze it in here anyway) — That’s what we’re about at the Disseminary. Keep on demanding it — those of us trying to make it happen need the support.

Now, only two or three other topics for immediate blogging.

Digital Bodies, Part One

Part of my talk Friday morning involved the argument that the unfamiliarity of online interactions has fuddled us into thinking that there’s a sort of given, inescapable difference between ourselves as physical agents and ourselves as electronic agents. (I’m not guarding my language carefully enough, so I expect I’ll muff some technical terminology; apologies in advance.) I’m not denying the obvious: we can’t touch each other physically online, and even digigloves won’t equal touch. We justly prefer to spend time in physical proximity to our friends. This is good, and touch is important. So I’m not propagating such absurdities as the notion that everyone should seal him- or herself in a garret and never have physical contact with another person. Please, let’s leave banalities out of the discussion. (This whole meditation proceeds in part from discussions such as those David Weinberger summarizes in last month’s “JOHO-the-Newsletter.”)

I called the anxiety that online interaction will displace and supersede other modes of interaction “replacement panic.” It’s my term, and I’m sticking to it.

And the point of the argument is that we have always been digital — not in the sense that we’re merely binary digits in some vast Matrix, but in the sense that the characteristics that become obvious when we interact online also apply to our physical interactions (though in attenuated or infrequent ways).

So, for example, we usually do want other people to be part of our lives in physical ways. I’ve long wanted to meet Naomi Chana, Anne Galloway, Steve’s friend Sage, and one of the Tutor’s associates; the Digital Genres conference afforded a congenial opportunity to satisfy that interest. It was great to meet, physically, some people I had hitherto only read about. But there are people in the world I’d prefer not to meet. For instance, some readers of these words may dislike their bosses; might it not be preferable to interact with the Boss only online? Those who have been scarred by unwelcome physical interactions with others — should they welcome the possibility of touch? Of course, we enrich our friendships by knowing one another in a variety of settings (online, offline, at work, on vacation, in a game, in shared enjoyment of a movie, concert, whatever. That doesn’t imply that one of those contexts enjoys an ontological privilege, such that it’s real-er than others.

Now, I can just hear David Weinberger’s pointed and appropriate riposte to this argument (I can hear it because I have heard him say it several times in several different conversations): “My physical body is ontologically different because I care more about it, because if you cut it I bleed, because if this body dies, that’s it, I’m dead.” (I keep meaning to ask David if “care,” in this context, is an echo of Heidegger?) And David’s right. His physical body is different (and not his alone, I mean, although. . .). But I don’t think that “different” means “realer,” unless only living things are real. (And all this simply bypasses my theological commitments to calling into question the simplicity of death; we ought to be able to conduct a fruitful conversation about digital bodies without expecting that everyone adopt a Christian theology of life and spirit and bodies.)

If the physical is different-not-realer, though, then we’re in the position of giving an account of differences that respects our physicality without rendering it the index of our reality. Anne introduced the language of “flows” and “intensities” (from some of the theory — Foucault, Irigaray, Deleuze, Guattari, — that other DG participants roundly blasted), terms that help me point to the body as a distinctly intense locus of my identity — but not the only, the true, the real me.

That’s all on that topic for today.

DRMA: “I and I” by Bob Dylan; “Blue Spark” by X; “Lullabye” by the Judybats; “Never Let Me Down Again” by Depeche Mode; “Nature” by Prince Nico Mbarga and the Rocafil Jazz; “Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley; “Illumination” by Fatboy Slim; “It’s So Hard” by John Lennon; “No Language In Our Lungs” by XTC; “Divin’ Duck Blues” by Taj Mahal; “Why Not” by Dorothy Love Coates; “I Ain’t Got You” by the Yardbirds.

Digital Genres Keynote/Closer

Well, this makes the third or fourth formal occasion on which I’ve heard David Weinberger talk about weblogs, and I think (if he’s sick or indisposed, or double-commits himself) I’m getting the presentation down well enough to sub for him. But that catch is, he’s great, and the point of these presentations isn’t simply to find out something about weblogs — I mean, there were a bunch of people at the talk who have no particular reason to learn more about weblogs — but to listen to David, who is not only an ambassador from the tech world to the civilian establishment, but is also a magnificently gifted communicator. Jack Vinson blogged the talk, for which he had the benefit of having seen David talk when he came to Seabury.

Digital Genres Six

Greg Costikyan is talking to us about games and business. Development budgets are increasing rapidly; he thinks this is driven by Moore’s Law (pumping polygons). A Doom level took about a man-day to build; a Doom III level takes more than 2 man-weeks. Tools aren’t advancing as quickly as the hardware.

Manufacturers feel they have no choice. They feear that consumers demand the highest-level, coolest graphics. Games are sold on the basis of demos and looks. Marketing departments run on the basis of feature lists. The sales channel is narrow. “The Industry” believes that technology sells.

Sales have increased, but not as fast as costs. Sales growth is a linear curve; the average game loses more and more money. And all this will only get worse.

The field is more and more hit-driven. Publishers will consolidate and publish more and more titles. Publishers will try to standardize (“like sports games”) with statistical, minor tech updates.

They’re trying to cut costs; they’re trying to alleviate risks; all games must be eligible to be a hit (“AAA titles”).

Developers won’t sell a game unless a marketers already knows how to sell it. Innovation thus can grow only a the margins.

Margins are squeezed, advances don’t recoup, you live from contract to contract, and developers have a hard time. . . . Greg fears the comic-ization of game design. The plasticity of game design oughtn’t be stifled.

Next up is Edward Castronova, who’s already notorious as the man who figured out the GNP of Everquest. He refers to online worlds as “synthetic”; he doesn’t like calling them “virtual” worlds (the term “virtual” is passé, and problematic).

What conclusions does Edward draw from this situation? This raises all sorts of political questions. The amount of financial assets at stake implies significant political energy. He’s presently analyzing whether two completely similar avatars — but who differ only in gender —differ also in eBay price. He tracks commodity prices in Norrath on his website. He makes the provocative comparison between physical-world governments and the administrators of online games.

Jesper Juul is getting his laptop connected for his dpresentation, “On the affinity between computer and games.” He takes as his point of departure four big questions: Why play computer games? What is a game? Games as rules vs. games as worlds? What is relation between computer games and other contemporary media/other things?

Why play computer games? Well, we play games all the time; why not do it with computers? Different games, different reasons. Why do games fit computers so well?

Jesper goes over a classic game model. It involves rules, variable outcomes, values assigned to outcomes, player effort, outcome associated with player, and optional consequences. He’s now parsing modes of play into “games,” “not games,” and “borderline cases.”

He thinks that the classic game model was broken by 1970’s (perhaps by pen and paper role-playing); quanitfiable outcome doesn’t apply to Doom; value assigned to outcome changed with SimCity, and its siblings; player effort may not have changed; but MMRPG changes the effects of consequences.