Update on Minecraft

I started playing Minecraft again when I was on vacation recently, on a server this time. I’m actually enjoying it, though my two main fears are definitely in effect when I play (the dark, and water). The first fear isn’t a big deal, especially since the dark is scary due to monsters spawning. The second is just weird, because a game with blocky, low-res graphics like Minecraft can still trigger the feeling of being underwater…which leads me to a small point: for me, the “graphics” or “visuals” of a game help me immerse myself in the game, but once I have done so by whatever means necessary, the game has strong affect. It’s not as simple as pretty art means I care more, or more pixels in the hair means I identify more with the protagonist. Rather, I can be put off by bad art, but if it doesn’t put me off, it is not the lens through which I engage with the game. (Disclaimer: it is the lens for some games. Only a Sith deals in absolutes.)

Another thing about Minecraft this time is that I’m playing with people I already know on a shared server. This is just another way of engaging with them, in addition to playing League or talking on various instant messaging services or using Snapchat (I like being able to write and draw on pictures I take, even if the quality takes a hit for it; also, note the recent lack-of-privacy discussions about Snapchat before running off to download it).

I’m still pretty bad at this game, though. I just make houses and put torches in them and like…that’s it. Oh well. I fell into lava once and lost a nearly-full inventory. That upset me quite a bit, and since then I’ve been either less invested or more careful. Perma-death mechanics are one of the few things I hate in games, mostly because I don’t actually like meaningful consequences for failure.

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The preponderance of “porn”

Today, I was just chilling on the internet and a friend pointed out that a trending subreddit was “things cut in half porn” (r/ThingsCutInHalfPorn). My mind instantly went to an old (2003) manga by Shintaro Kago: “The Desperate Sadness of a Cross-Section.” Yes, if you decide to look it up, you should know that Kago Shintaro is well known for his guro manga (guro = ero-guro = erotic grotesque, but guro also has a connotation of gore now in Western consumption of manga and anime and games) and it’s very absurdist and kinda freaky and okay so this one in particular involves a woman who is cut in half by some freak accident (space lasers?) and so no one loves her and she has to love herself. Yes, it’s porny.

Anyway. So this popped into my mind and I tried to find an appropriate image to reference and I thought about linking it to the aforementioned subreddit, only to find that they have an “NSFW posts are not allowed” rule. Which is kind of silly, if you think about it, because the subreddit title includes the word “porn.” It’s also part of a series of subreddits known as the “SFW Porn Network,” which presumably includes various high quality pictures of things that are safe for work. Because the internet is for porn, but apparently porn means “things that are nice to look at.”

But when did this happen? As is customary for English majors, even ex-English majors who are now in vaguely not-humanities fields (I’ll give you the humanities when you pry it from my cold dead hands), all roads lead to the OED. The OED has two definitions each for “porn” and “pornography,” and it is “porn” that I am interested in after all.

2. fig. As the second element in compounds: denoting written or visual material that emphasizes the sensuous or sensational aspects of a non-sexual subject, appealing to its audience in a manner likened to the titillating effect of pornography.

“porn, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 13 May 2014.

So. This usage dates back to 1973, apparently, when someone decided to use the phrasing “horror-porn” in the Journal of Popular Culture. “Pornography” itself only dates back to the early 19th century, and has, since the mid-20th, been used to indicate stimulating non-erotic material, though with a lower frequency than “porn.”

In my mind, I associate the full word “pornography” with a clinical or dismissive attitude, whereas “porn” connotes at least some sort of enthusiasm for the subject. I remember sharing the phrase “sky porn” with a friend like some sort of delicate chocolate; we still sometimes send each other pretty pictures of the sky. Still, something about that usage is vaguely titillating. As if we knew that the word was tainted by association, uncomfortably sensual.

I think I can’t be offended by the use of “porn” to describe things that are a treat to the senses. Even if it strikes me as funny when this usage explicitly excludes things that are often considered quintessentially pornographic.

Role-playing, interrupted

Can we construct the act of playing a MOBA as role-playing? The different construction of “role” as a set of game actions and expectations illuminates the variation in performative acts. We might argue that because most players don’t imagine themselves as a mermaid looking to save her homeland, or a man out to avenge his wife’s death, that playing a game like League of Legends does not involve role-playing. On the other hand, League explicitly constructs “role” as a set of actions, behaviors, and limitations: the “marksman” role stands out of the way of incoming damage and attempts to dole out damage to enemies, while the “tank” soaks up damage and attempts to disrupt the enemy team. A lead Riot designer, Morello, describes the working definition of role as corresponding to “the type of value they contribute to a team, or else communicates the fundamentals of their playstyle. It sets expectations for what a player’s experience will be like and what they can do for their team.”

These roles were formalized (and changed from earlier terms) in July 2013, coalescing into a set of six terms that relate to vernacular distinctions:

  • Assassin: a relatively squishy champion who focuses on eliminating a single target. Ex. Akali
  • Mage: a caster who uses spells to get ahead and mostly deals magic damage. Ex. Veigar
  • Tank: an unkillable monster who takes one for the team, repeatedly. Ex. Mundo (I love Mundo)
  • Support: a champion who can either make plays with good initiation, or make plays with disengage (and then there’s supports like Soraka who are sustain bots). Ex. Nami (I also love Nami)
  • Fighter: a champion with some brawling ability who can also deal damage. Ex. Renekton
  • Marksman: a champion still generally referred to as “AD Carry,” who deals lots of scaling damage through basic attacks. Ex. Caitlyn

See Morello’s post, linked above, for his descriptions of these roles. (I tried to summarize them in one sentence, partly to offer my own interpretation of these, but partly just because I need to practice that kind of synthesis of vernacular comments, “word of god,” and my own interpretations.)

In formalizing these terms, Riot has used them as champion filters throughout their site and the in-game client (e.g., the store, or when searching for available champions). To this end, Riot has assigned each champion a set of roles, usually a primary and a secondary role. For example, Leona is a Tank/Support. Riot has also used this set of roles as part of the new Team Builder queue, wherein players select a champion, a location, and a role, from this controlled vocabulary. In this queue, the champion and the role are not restricted in any way, although a role is suggested for the player based on the formal assignment of roles discussed above. For instance, selecting Caitlyn places a star next to the “Marksman” role in the drop-down menu, but a player may also elect to play Caitlyn as a tank.

The drop-down menu for selecting a role in Team Builder, listing all six roles.

The drop-down menu for selecting a role in Team Builder. Marksman is recommended for Caitlyn.

Now that we’ve established the general idea of roles in League of Legends, let’s talk about how players role-play (using my expanded definition of role-playing). To perform a role involves a combination of actions (verbs) and items (object nouns). Within the context of League, actions are things like casting spells, performing basic attacks, and moving around. Items refer mostly to the choice of items bought, but using my definition can also refer to the rune and mastery pages that add several small advantages like a small percentage of extra health, or a tiny bit of crowd-control reduction. These action and item sets also accompany an expected attitude: the marksman is supposed to be careful about positioning, build items that give massive physical damage, and take kills for themself. (Draven is perhaps the embodiment of the marksman attitude.) In contrast, a support is supposed to set up kills for the marksman, get them out of danger, and avoid taking champion or minion kills (more gold for the lane partner). Playing a support champion according to the role is often a thankless task, and Riot has attempted to rectify this: recognizing the competing actions expected of the role was step 1. Items, too, reflect the expected attitude: stacking items like Mejai’s Soulstealer reward kills but punish deaths heavily—the mage or marksman role. (n.b.: Before you say I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m not suggesting you go out and build a Mejai’s on Caitlyn. Maybe try it on Kog’maw, though.)

What I’ve been calling attitude, in the previous paragraph, is actually the performance of a role. The strange thing about games like League, perhaps, is that success in the game is tied to success in this performance—according to the current meta. The “current meta” is the informal understanding of roles that most players assimilate and contribute to, a kind of invisible script. This can be frustrating to try to accommodate to, as a role player.

Screenshot of Game Lobby with Two Players

Screenshot of game lobby with two players in selected roles.

What things like Team Builder attempt to do is to generate an ad hoc script in “conversation” with players. This conversation takes the form of showing one’s hand and selecting a desired champion, position, and role, in that order. Once a player has chosen these, they go on the market, and team captains can add desired players to the team. If a player doesn’t like their team, they can leave without penalty. In this way, Team Builder makes it possible to negotiate their own roles to perform in game, rather than attempting to fit into an existing, and perhaps restrictive, script.

Emulating reality

When we think of emulation, we usually think of the emulation of software that exists only as a digital artifact. But something recently brought to my attention challenges this predominant narrative of software and emulation. In the world of digital preservation, it’s a fairly obvious point that the digital is not any less real, any less material, and this example only highlights that.

So, the topic in question: I found an old blog post (from 2009) celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing. This post describes a project to emulate some of the original code from the command module and lunar module. It’s mostly really just something cool on the web, but more than that, there’s a reason why I’m writing a(n admittedly short) blog post about this: this is a clear case of emulation applied to something that was undeniably “real-world.” What could it even mean to emulate the code from the lunar module? What draws someone to do that? I guess you have to be fascinated with the Apollo Program, and also really into old code. Or something. But how can you emulate this code and forget that three people were inside the module that this code represents? How can you emulate this code and forget that two people used this code to set foot on the moon?

It’s a reminder that even when we are talking about emulation of games (link to a thought-provoking and vaguely relevant blog post), we’re talking about a constellation of things that real people played in real space. And sure, maybe emulation isn’t responsible for representing that aspect of the experience, but we are.

On friendship and technology; or, FRIEND COMPUTER!

I’ve been reading Nunberg’s edited volume, The Future of the Book, for class, and so have been wading through a fair bit of anti-techno-utopian rhetoric. Normally, that’s cool, because I’m no techno-utopian. But the way in which I am not techno-utopian is that I recognize the continuities and remediations (thanks, Bolter and Grusin) in new media forms. So I don’t like the rhetoric that relies on assuming that new media fundamentally alter the ways that we connect to one another.

So, that said. I appreciate when people put effort into exploring how people will be people through a variety of media forms. And recently, Maureen O’Connor, writing for NYMag’s The Cut blog, penned a great post about friendship in the digital age and group texting and dress rehearsing nudes.

I have to admit, I think The Cut does a consistently thorough and thoughtful treatment of elements of modern culture from the perspective of style and fashion. But this post in particular came at a good time for my mental universe, just as I was grappling with a rhetoric of rupture and social revolution. It’s about how a group of childhood (maybe young adulthood is better?) friends came together through texting. It’s about how two friends share their insecurities by texting pictures to one another. And it’s nothing utopian or too idealistic, but it shows how people manage to keep a sense of social interaction because that’s the point of all this.

My personal experiences certainly bear this argument out. I keep up with my best friend from college through a daily barrage (I mean this in the best way possible) of texts and gchats. Hell, I started my tumblr because I wanted to continue the casual ritual we had of sharing our outfits before going about our respective days (we had basically a suite situation with two separate rooms and a connecting bathroom). I know other people look at it now, occasionally, and I doubt she does so regularly, but she is still my audience for those posts. (Hi!)

I’ve had a blog of some sort or another since 2003. For me, writing on blogs is always a quasi-meditative task, with a nameless, faceless audience. I take pleasure in this distance, sometimes. I know that part of my process is just writing things out, and if people happen to comment and leave their thoughts on my writings, then I can incorporate those and be an even better writer. But this is different from friendship. Friendship requires a sense of reciprocity, or at least of mutual recognition. (Feel free to substitute any kind of positive human relationship for “friendship” there.) The faceless nonexistent audience that I imagine when writing a blog post, the echo chamber of my own metaphorical shower stall, that is emphatically not the kind of engagement that O’Connor is describing. And that’s kind of a great thing. All kinds of engagement are possible, we just have to make it so. Not our technologies, ourselves.

In closing, O’Connor offers an insightful (and hilarious) meditation on the freedoms of a child-like perspective:

Some may find the constant chatter and creep toward co-dependence childish — but the art of friendship has always been one that children perform more naturally than adults. (Other things children do better than adults: imagination, texting, wonderment, recovering from the shame of shitting in your pants.)

Maybe allowing ourselves to explore—new technologies, new forms, new social networks—brings us closer to that wonderment that makes magic happen.

Also, the “Friend computer” is a reference to Paranoia, a hilariously enjoyable role-playing game.

Connecting through porn, or just creeping?

Preface: since this is about porn games, any links should be assumed to be NSFW. The games linked also include a huge variety of fetishes, so. If there’s anything you know you don’t like, it’s honestly probably best to avoid the games. Besides like, hardcore gore, it’s mostly “anything goes.”

So I’m sitting here at my computer, and I get up to brush my teeth and as I’m getting up I pass my boyfriend at his computer. I ask what he’s up to, and he responds, “it’s in alpha,” and points to his screen where I can see a rudimentary interface and porny text.

It’s a text-based porn game, like Corruption of Champions (at the time of writing this post I don’t know the title of this particular one, or have a link to it; a day later, here’s a link to LEWD. As the boyfriend said, it’s in alpha, and moreover, I haven’t tried it. No guarantees. I have no idea about the content although I’ll assume there’s some transformation fetish going on).

As I was brushing my teeth, I got to thinking about how porn games work to realize this fantasy of sexual prowess and how it’s all about making your fantasy happen within the confines of the game world. I’ll be honest here, I think porn games have figured out a long time before mainstream games that your embodiment in an avatar is crucial to the experience (especially to the experience of virtual sexual pleasure) and that giving players the ability to customize *everything under the sun* is a huge part of this embodiment. But I digress.

So there’s this fantasy of being the one that is attractive to everyone in this world who you are attracted to. It’s been written about with respect to Dragon Age; that everyone in the game is Warden- or Hawke-sexual more than they are any other sexuality, and that real people’s sexual appetites are more subtle than that. But this is the guiding principle behind porn games. (It’s actually more nuanced than that because many of them, especially the text-based ones I’m thinking of, will have character preferences encoded into the NPCs. But I digress again.)

I was thinking, and this is where it gets weird: this is the same fantasy that real-life prostitution materializes. The idea that this person is here, completely sexually interested in you, and only you…for as long as you have scheduled together. And real-life prostitution has time limits and more importantly, you can’t barge in on a session if someone else is in the middle of their own private fantasy.

What if we take this and apply it to a multiplayer online porn game? The multiplayer aspect being completely invisible, except when you try to do a scene that someone else is in the middle of doing. Say you decide you want to try to fuck the bartender with the robotic horse dick (yeah that’s a real example), and you’re turned away because, hold up, he’s fucking someone else right now. I don’t think I’d go so far as to have the players contact one another in the game or see one another or anything, but just being aware of the presence of other real people engaging in their own sexual fantasies in the same imaginative landscape that you’re using for your own. I wonder what that would do to people.

ETA: There are a couple links I can’t not add…

Also I should also state explicitly here: I am not against sexuality. I really hope that didn’t actually need to be said.