Teetering on the edge of the uncanny valley: Video games graphics and how far they have come.

A splicer in Bioshock during a fight.
A splicer in Bioshock during a fight.

We are all familiar with video games as they span all generations and those who are invested  in them even just a bit certainly know of the graphics race.  The graphics race is a race between the different gaming companies to develop games that have the best graphics. This race has lead to the beautiful environments,  characters, and effects that we see in video games today but it occurred to me that people often forget the odd adolescent period of video games. That’s right, I’m talking about the late 2000’s. This period of gaming history is riddled with odd looking characters, visual glitches,  and odd shadings. The weirdest aspect of games from this time was the uncanny  valley effect that the graphics cause.  Looking back one can truly see the uncanny valley effect in video games from this time.

While taking a break from work the other day I decided to play one of my older games and after a period of thought I chose Bioshock, a very well known game made in 2007. I sat down excited and begun to play the game but as I played I began to get an eerie feeling, not quite the same feeling you get from a survival horror game more of an “off” feeling. After playing for some time of having the feeling I discovered what the feeling was, it wasn’t the environment or the creepy music but rather it was the looks on the characters faces. Of course the creators of the game intended for the characters to be creepy but I believe that they benefited, perhaps unknowingly, from the graphics of the time.  The splicers, which are the main enemy of the game, are made to look like messed up humans but I believe the jagged features that are caused by the graphics give them an extremely uncanny look. We can see this uncanny effect take place in several other games from this time period such as heavy rain and Oblivion.

Luckily as time has progressed so has video game graphics giving us the gorgeous games we have today and while we enjoyed the games of the past and their endearing looks most would agree that we do not want to go back to video game’s odd years of puberty.

Reflecting on my Blog Posts

After reading over my blog posts from throughout the semester, I had a few different observations. First of all, I noticed that in virtually all of my posts, a reoccurring factor was that I often connected my own personal experience to the readings and works of electronic literature that we examined in class. Most of my posts consisted of a short summary of a work we looked at for the day’s class, followed by a deeper analysis linking the work to a class reading, a central theme, another work of electronic literature, or all three.

An observation I had about my blog posts that somewhat surprised me was that for all of my blog posts except my post about DAKOTA, where I embedded a YouTube video, the piece of illustrative media I used was either a screenshot or an image taken from Google, meaning that I never utilized a GIF or an audio file in my posts. This was a bit surprising because I knew that I was a visual learner, which probably explains my constant use of images as opposed to other forms of media, but I hadn’t taken the time to examine all my blog posts as a single entity before.

Overall, I think the blog posts were a helpful way to process the different works we examined over the course of the semester and tie them into both our class readings and our personal experiences. They were also a good way to get us thinking about the material in an academic manner, and helped me personally to move beyond the simple question of whether I liked or disliked a text.

Token: AR Textbooks

In class, we analyzed the work Between Page and Screen during our section on embodiment. This is a work that requires a degree of human interaction to be read. The book is a love story between the letters “P” and “S” and can be viewed as a form of art, as well as, a redefining work of literature. The user holds the book up to their webcam and the pages come to life on the screen!

Recently, an article was posted claiming that this technology could cross over into schools, as well. Augmented reality textbooks could soon be used in classrooms all over the world. The technology can be used to engage the user in what they are reading, so that the material may be better engrained. Not only that, but augmented reality textbooks can contain interactive games throughout the readings to make studying fun.

There has been some skepticism as to whether this technology could be implemented in the school systems, however. Apple has somewhat sabotaged themselves from being able to utilize iPads in the classroom, since textbooks would be purchased by individual Apple accounts and could, therefore, not be used from year to year. Not only that, but a lot of schools barely have enough money to upgrade a few desktops, so getting a class set of iPads would not be very plausible.

Stewart-Smith wrote that “changing an entire curriculum, an educational system, and retraining teachers is not something that could happen overnight. Companies like Apple innovating in educational technology is a step in the right direction, but there are any number of intermediate gadgets that could help ease the transition.”

Though expense may raise a concern for schools that need to account for every penny, augmented reality textbooks may be especially useful for those aiming to learn a new language. The book would not require as frequent changes as science ones and would help ease the frustration that can come with trying to learn a new language.

No matter what technology is used, I believe that embodiment is an excellent ideology that should be used in future teaching curriculums. From personal experience, I have retained more information that I have learned through interactive activities than through lectures. Children are being exposed to technology from a younger age each year, so implementing this into their learning is something that seems inevitable in my eyes. What are your thoughts?

Until next time,

Stay hungry, my friends

 

Final Reflective Blog

From the start to the finish, oh, what a journey it has been. After re-reading all my blog posts, I have realized that I tended to focus on broader themes rather than specific topics. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel that analyzing more specific topics is more meaningful than analyzing broader ones. Not only that, but I found myself commenting that I should have been more direct with my connections in each post. I tried to make my blogs encompass the themes that we were discussing in class, but I did not mention those themes explicitly. I did notice that I tried to add a bit of humor every now and then in my blogs, as well, but I think I focused too much on my style of writing in the beginning and lost a bit of focus on the actual content itself.

In my first blog post, I made a lot of personal references and there was a noticeable stretch to connect my writing with the photo I chose. Even in my second blog post, although I had used a better fitting photo, my writing ended up taking a completely different turn than what the photo initially made it seem like it was going to be about. I did become excited when I noticed my first use of a hyperlinked text in my second blog post because it was a clear sign of some sort of improvement. My second blog discussed social norms and how they impact the type of literature we read as we get older, which could have been a good topic to discuss later in the semester. This topic could have paired well with our analysis of the different mediums people use to display their works, such as, with the app, Pry. Completing our own “port” also helped to solidify the idea that all forms of literature are valid sources of information no matter what society tells you.

Overall, I felt that my writing had a lot of weird transitions and jumped all over the place in the beginning blogs. Though I was not completely satisfied with my progress, I will say that, as time passed and as I gained more referencing knowledge, my blogs had a better flow to them, which is still an achievement worth celebrating.

Until next time,

Stay hungry, my friends

Natural and Mathematical Sublime: An analysis of 20th century Western music

Music has such a powerful effect to people’s mind that it has become the source of sublime which we encounter most frequently. Compared to natural landscapes or chaotic natural forces, music is so much closer to our daily life that we can even get the feeling of sublime while we are on our way to work–through listening to sublime music.

In the history of Western music, a representative period of music sublimity is the 20th century during which all kinds of new music genres and styles were being tested and developed. In this period, many mathematically sublime music pieces were productively composed, while some of them are consonant, and some of them are dissonant. Within the mathematically sublime pieces, however, music can also be divided into the more naturally sublime ones and the more mathematically sublime ones. A representative work of the more naturally sublime piece is Copland’s Appalachian Spring composed in early 20th century. This piece, as is obvious in its descriptive title, is a symphony poem that depicts the spectacular landscape of Appalachian Mountains. The disjunct melodies in its main theme create such a vast visual scene of the Appalachian mountains that the sublime of this natural landscape is brought from its original place to the ears of the audience. This is the power of music. Some film musics also has such naturally mathematical sublime. A good example is John Williams’ Star Wars Main Theme. Similarly, John Williams also applies a disjunct melody to create a sense of vastness in the universe. While these two example pieces are consonant and tuneful, there are also pieces with naturally mathematical sublime that are not tuneful at all. For example, Stravinsky’s ballet the Rite of Spring is such a piece that suggests an overwhelming primitive culture while adopting an extremely untuneful melody–it is hard to say it has melody at all. This type of dissonant pieces are still sublime because they make us feel the immeasurable power of the nature, and their untuneful characteristic actually helps creates such sense of sublime. 

There are also some pieces that are more of experimental nature and create purely mathematical sublime (different from naturally mathematical sublime). Reich is such a representative composer in this category. One of his works, Piano Phase, only has one line of composition (three measures), while the whole piece lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. What actually happens is that the music is played repeatedly by two pianists together, at first synchronously, but slowly out of phase when one of them slightly speeds up. Such setup enables this music to have infinite possibilities and the audience can thus easily be overwhelmed by its endlessness. This is sublime.

Reich’s Piano Phase

There is one extremely controversial piece by John Cage called 4’33” that challenges our understanding of sublime, but is truly sublime. This piece does not have any notes or melodies or rhythms–it only has silence. The length of the silence is also freely decided by any performer of this piece. Although these facts sound ridiculous, in John Cage’s idea, everything we do is music. If we look at the audiences of almost all the performances of this piece, they all seem to seriously enjoy the performance. This fact shows that this “music” piece is sublime. It is the sublimity of this virtually meaningless silence that overwhelms the thousands of audiences in the auditorium and makes them quietly stay in their chairs and enjoy the ridiculous performance.

David Han

Reflections on the Digital World (3): How Cryptography challenged the theory of electronic literature

One fundamental problem faced by the Digital World is the security issue of data transportation. When we are entering password into a website, how can we be sure that no one else will see the password? When we are discussing sensitive business decisions with our partners online, how can we make sure that our conversation hasn’t been wiretapped and intentionally distorted by our enemies? When we’re making online transactions, how do we know that our money will go to the right place? To make sure every of these procedure works safely, cryptologists have designed all kinds of cryptosystems with which online data transmissions can be securely encrypted, and so that only entities that are authorized to share the data can understand what the data actually means.

Example of an RSA crytosystem featuring asymmetric keys

We have encountered tons of digital literature examples in the Digital World and have analyzed them in a theoretical way. However, when dealing with encrypted information, we cannot simply apply those rules in our analysis. Here, the fundamental question is “can encrypted literal works be considered as digital literature?” If they can, then how do we interpret their meaninglessness? Or in the first place, are they meaningful or meaningless? Actually, to the entities who know the key to the cryptosystem, the information are necessarily meaningful—its not different from an unencrypted plaintext digital literature; however, to those who do not know the decryption key, the information can be virtually meaningless. As we can see, same digital text generates contrastly different significance to different entities, and this discrepancy has not been addressed by any theoretical framework we’ve encountered so far. The procedural, encyclopedic, participatory and even spatial characteristics of digital space are only apparent to the authorized entities who know the key. For those unauthorized entities who do not know the key, the encrypted digital space only looks like some random generated data and therefore no such characteristics as described by Janet Murray can be discovered (probably except for spatial, because random and meaningless data can be trivially filled in a “spatial place”).

 

The small ratio between the number of authorized parties and that of unauthorized parties makes this issue even more important. Usually, only very limited amount of parties are authorized to understand some certain encrypted digital information. However, in most of such cases, there would be unlimited number of unauthorized parties (entities that are not related to the digital activity). This means that most of the entities, when dealing with some encrypted information, will find it meaningless. If existing theoretical frameworks can only be applied to the minority, then we will need some new frameworks, or at least some amendment over the existing frameworks to properly address this issue. For example, it might be useful to add that “Janet Murray’s Four Affordances only apply to unencrypted plaintext digital world.”

 

 

Final Reflective Blog Post

As I read through the blog posts I’ve written, I notice an evolution in my approach to the works and concepts we discussed this semester. In my very early posts, I often found connections between recurring themes and real-world events, while subsequent posts often were very nitty-gritty and detailed to demystify works, following an approach that  is more macroscopic and all-encompassing  in my writing. In my August 30 blog post, for instance, my observations were very much tied to the concepts introduced in the reading. Here I attempted to connect the digital presence in our daily lives, through dating apps like Tinder, and how that might have game-like features described in Jeanne-Marie Ryan’s properties of digital environments.

I continue to find links and connections between our readings and my experiences in the real world. On September 11, I wrote my post just as I was beginning to play with different ideas and concepts of “chance movement” for a dance piece that I wanted to choreograph. In the post, I wrote, “[t]here is something attractive about the peculiarity of an “anti poetic” form of art that is generated when art is left to the vagaries of chance,” and I believe that this series of thoughts and impulses led me to create the piece that I now have, and will be showcased at the Duke Family Performance Hall in the spring. Connecting the theme of “The Random” with art in general helped me better approach (and create) non-traditional forms of art and literature.

These observations and my impulse to connect recurring themes in class with real-world issues and experiences resulted in the fruit of my first Tracery project. My blog post from September 17 is my artist statement on Make America Grate Again. I intended this to be a comment on the randomness, unpredictability, and entertainment-factor of President Trump’s speeches by using Tracery to randomize the words “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” This was all to show that even computer-generated text can create the same randomness and entertainment of the most captivating Trump speech, without the damaging real-world consequences.

I notice a continued trend of comparative analysis, but also an increased shift from concept and theory to specifics about the works that we looked at in class. My post from September 20 compares the works Dakota and Abra and comments on the opposing views presented in two other blog posts of the day. I consider this a big step forward, in breaking out of my sheltered brainspace and reflective analogies between the digital and real worlds. Here too, I notice connections between the works and some of our readings—between Abra and Gysin’s “The Cut-Up Method”—but I begin to apply these concepts to already existing works, the cut-up method applied to Dakota). As I begin to find interconnections between recurring concepts and new works, the intention behind the “final port” starts making sense.

My October 2 post is very detail-oriented. Here I notice an increasing tendency to look for meaning in very specific details of the work. My post reads almost as if it is trying to decode the work through a single “fake website”. I clearly did not get close to decoding it, but I once again followed my impulse to connect the work to real-world, and addressed the work as a commentary on the ubiquity ad “uncanny” nature of surveillance in America.

What I find interesting about my October 16 post on The Network Effect is how I connect the specifics of the work with the big picture in addressing the creator’s desired effect through the work. I said, “This work is both overwhelming and empowering as it speaks in a unique voice which is composed of thousands of voices (Rodley 86).” Here too I find myself itching to decode and find a way (The Network Effect’s Instagram) to satiate my anxiety from running out of time each time I tried to watch it. I have a much more big-picture-approach here where I comment on the patterns that emerge out of the data swirling around us that enables us to see the behaviors and emotions that bind all humans.

In my Oct 25 post on Her Story I begin to pay greater emphasis on the rules of notice, and the reader/player’s role in the work. I begin to score my own active listening and engagement with the work in uncovering the mystery and procedure in the story to reach a satisfactory end. I begin to notice how different versions of truth could exist simultaneously for different players.

In my November 8 post on Between the Page and Screen, I comment on the “in-between” world that exists between the physical space of the book and the virtual space of the text. I comment on the presence of both the affordances of books as well as the properties of digital environments in this work and how one could not exist without the other in this work.

Overall, there has been an evolution in my understanding of concepts of digital work and how they may intersect with and comment on our lives. I notice a level of sophistication in my writing and understanding of concepts in the later blog posts that was missing in the earlier ones. I tend to elaborate less on the readings and explanations of concepts but more on their implication and intersection in the works.

 

How Stranger Things’ Uncanniness is Connected to the Setting

I recently started watching the new season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. I’ve been reflecting while watching it about why everyone’s so obsessed with it. I think some of it might be due to the fact that you can watch the whole 8 episode season back-to-back, combined with the all the plot twists and cryptic endings. But, something else that I think makes it stand out is the setting.

It is set in a small town in Indiana in 1983, a time where science fiction novels still captivated kids. It’s interesting that the time period was made so intentionally because that was the prime of science fiction and now because of the show, there is a resurgence to the genre. I think this show is so popular because science fiction hasn’t been popular in so long that it feels new to the younger audience. The setting is also new because not many movies or shows are set in the past, but instead in the present or future.  I actually read that they had the characters all watch the film “Stand By Me” in attempt to make their friendships as wholesome as the ones in the 80s classic. The film is not uncanny but the friendships do play a major part of the movie.

So where does this class’ themes come in? Stranger Things is uncanny but it is uncanny in a different way. There is a lot of suspense in the first season and fear of the unknown. I think bringing it back to the 80s theme makes it interesting for the viewers in a time where movies and tv shows all seem so similar. However, the 80s theme also makes it uncanny because it is unknown. Not only do we not known what is going on all the time, we are also watching a unfamiliar setting, which adds to the uncanny. There is also a decent amount of remediation, like what we saw in the Flat

An image visually showing how Stranger Things mimics the 80’s hit Stand By Me.

. It fits the setting, but it also fits the uncanny theme.

Questions about Form and a Love of Digital Literature

In examining my posts over the course of the semester, I found that I was particularly interested in the intersection between form and content in digital literature and how the affordances of digital environments contribute to storytelling.  Regardless of whether I felt that the environment helped or hindered the story, each new work of digital literature revealed something new and interesting about the potential for storytelling in a digital age.

In my posts on “Dakota” and Ice Bound, I lament the difficulty I had with experiencing those works due to elements of their digital environments.  Despite the difficulty in reading them, I think I unintentionally learned a lot about electronic literature with those two works.  On “Dakota,” I wrote, “‘Dakota,’ to me, called into question our entire practice of reading poetry.  ‘Dakota’ suggested that the way we’ve been taught to read – slowly, deliberately, and carefully – is limiting.  Not all works are meant to be experienced that way.  For ‘Dakota,’ the form is just as important as the content.  The stark contrast of the black flashing text and white background, the frenetic drum beat, the anxiety a reader feels when she can’t keep up with the text are all as integral to the experience of reading ‘Dakota’ as the text itself.”  Having trouble reading “Dakota,” while frustrating, was in fact very instructive and made me question poetry as a whole.  The tension between form and content of that work in particular invited me to adopt a more open-minded perspective on what qualifies as literature and how best to read it.

In reading “Dim O’Gauble” and “Perfect World,” I was also interested in how form and content intersected.  I felt that the glitchy interface of “Perfect World” and the unsettling imagery of “Dim O’Gauble” helped to tell a story and communicate a message far more effectively than they could’ve done solely in print.  In looking back over my posts, I find that I was almost always excited about the new storytelling potential of digital environments.  I loved how electronic literature provided more opportunities to render a tone, theme, or story than traditional print literature.  Discovering all the different ways digital environments could contribute to storytelling was one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of the semester.

Unsurprisingly, I was generally excited about digital environments and the Internet as a whole.  “I confess that I adore the Internet,” I wrote in my post on “Hana Feels.”  This love of the digital pervades most of my posts.  Whether expressing my appreciation of the Internet in telling untold stories such as “Hana Feels” or commenting on the sublime nature of Wikipedia, I noticed a constant excitement about the digital world.

In looking back over my posts, I found them to be overwhelmingly positive and excited about the opportunities provided by digital environments.  This class was in many ways a perfect fit for my interests.  In literature and art, I tend to be fascinated by the new, innovative, and unusual.  We certainly read a lot of works in all three of those categories over the course of the semester, and I think my excitement about them is quite evident from my blog posts.

Reflections

Some common themes in my blog post have been interactivity, which is one of the main affordances of electronic literature.  My pre-major advisor, a physics professor, asked me what electronic literature is.  And I basically described it as literature that is interactive with the reader; although this participatory element of e-lit is relative to the style of the work, in one way or another there is a participatory element, even if it’s using your mouse to navigate through a story, which is unlike physical literature which has different affordances such as the ones we talked about in the rare book room.

Upon reflection of my blog posts, one thing comes to mind.  Description.  I’ve noticed the blog posts have been good exercise for me to get stronger at describing class literature, making connections to other things that relate to course topics, as well as just think about the course readings in depth.  In essence, the blog posts forced me to think about readings in a way that I could create rhetoric that without the blogs, I might not have thought about.  For example, in my first blog post about Ice-Bound, I connected it to Rick and Morty.  Without the blog post, I don’t know if I would make that connection.  And as the class progressed I improved in my ability to do so because of practice.  For example, the sightings posts that I made about Happy Death Day being uncanny and music being sublimes expanded my mind to think about the meanings of the words uncanny and sublime in ways that I hadn’t done in the past.   I was also more comfortable, and therefore confident in my writing towards the end of blog post writing.  I think these blog posts in this way have helped me ultimately write better in a way that was stress free and almost fun!