The iPod Shuffle as a Database/Algorithm

The distinction between databases and algorithms in the digital world is often very defined — when we look at the music industry for example, we’re pretty much used to the first in its entirety. That wasn’t always the case.

I remember my first iPod Shuffle. The ability to listen to my music, on the go, and on my own device was an idea that mesmerized me. But I got a little greedy. I loved the iPod Shuffle, but its capabilities as a database were limited. I could load the songs I wanted, but those songs came up in a random order; I couldn’t listen to that “one song” unless I shuffled through the rest.

Photo courtesy of MacWorld

Fast forward almost 10 years, and we pretty much have everything we could ask for in terms of a music database. Now, for a relatively low monthly price, once can stream all the music desired from a giant online database — Spotify is an example. Again though, the power of this database seems to underwhelm after some time, and subsequently, we desire algorithms again.

We rely on the shuffle button to pick songs for us; the thing that used to be a burden is now an every day function that’s come to be desired. Not just that, but the music industry has created algorithms (like Pandora) that select new songs for us based on what we’ve listened to in the past. We no longer desire music as solely a giant collection of songs in which we have autonomy over what we hear; now, we want algorithms to make selections for us.

It’s odd to see this movement from a simple algorithm to a database and back to algorithms. Back when I had an iPod Shuffle, all I ever wanted was to choose my own song on the device; now, that’s something I take for granted.

Posted from Digital Studies 101 Blog by Grant L.

Women in the Game Development Industry

While the average person does not see the code that backs most of our technological choices every day, there are others whose lives are consumed by creating code. More specifically, there are people whose job it is to create the code that makes your favorite video game, for example, function so effortlessly.

As pointed out in Dr. Sample’s “Code” article, the reality above is one of the greatest features about code itself — that it is made by people (60). Now, another reality that Dr. Sample points out is the pay gap between male and female coders (the difference was at $9,000 in the article). What is the reality like for women in the game development industry today?

Catt Small, product designer and video game developer, gave a TEDTalk a couple of years ago on diversity in the game development industry (video above). At the time, she recalls that women made up roughly 22% of the workforce, with only 33% of the overall 24% being actual developers. Why is this number so low? She attributes these numbers to access to learning how to code and stereotypes about who can/cannot code.

For middle school and high school I was privileged to attend Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering, where engineering courses were mandatory for all students. While there, I was exposed to the world of code, an opportunity not afforded to most students attending public schools. While I do not plan on pursuing a career in code, I still valued the experience. The future of video games and code could lie in a middle school student, but if they are not exposed to learning how to code, then they won’t even know what they are capable of doing.

Ultimately, the questions become: How do we become advocates of diversity in video game development? How will diversity in this realm affect gaming experiences?

Posted from Digital Studies 101 by Rosalia P.

Code & Cheat Sheets

What we can say about code is that it is predictable. It does exactly what we tell it to do.Code is relatively static; once you write code into something and produce it, it is there to stay. With this being said it allows users of programs to predict the performances of software. Specifically, the predictability of code and there program functions allows for gamers to write cheat sheets to games. because they know the scenarios that will arise, they can produce manuals that explain how to successfully get through them.

Most notably for me are the cheats associated with the Pokemon Go game. Gamers have “cracked the code” so that other users can get specific Pokemon and receive bonus points. For example, when first starting up the game, if you want to avoid receiving one of the basic initial Pokemon you can perform certain actions so that you are presented with a Pikachu.Similarly, you can do certain things so that your Eevee evolve into your desired Pokemon. By naming your Eevee certain names, you ensure that when you evolve it evolves into what you want it to.

There are entire sites dedicated to provided users with cheats to the code of Pokemon Go and I am sure a plethora of other games. In fact these sites are regularly updated so that as code changes and users get further in the games, they can maintain cheats. The predictability of games allows for gamers to anticipate actions and mass distribute cheat sheets because they are confident in how they will work because of how static the code behind the game is. Code does what it is told and gamers use this to their advantage when developing cheats to games.

 

Posted from Course Blogs by Shayla B.

From Genetic Code to Dress Code: It’s Just Instructions

After reading the introduction to Dr. Sample’s essay “Code,” I saw a lot of parallels to Casey Reas article “What is Code?” which is a part of his book Form+Code: In Design, Art, and Architecture. And the reason it is clear there is a connection is because each article gets to the core of code: that code is a set of instructions. So this blog post is going to be pretty off of the topic of video games, but the purpose is to de-fetishize code, as Chun describes it in the article, and show how code at its basic level is not a cryptic mystery.

Casey Reas breaks down code pretty well, saying that there is genetic code, health code, building code, bar code, Morse code, dress code, area code, secret code – and that all of these types of code are used for communication and clarity. He establishes that there are four basic truths to code (also called algorithm):

          There are many ways to write each algorithm.
          An algorithm requires assumptions.
          A complex algorithms is often simplified into modular pieces.
          An algorithm often includes decisions.

Coding is a just a different way of thinking. An example that demonstrates this way of thinking is the conceptual art of Sol LeWitt, who in his wall drawings series encoded his ideas for artwork in a set of instructions that he would give to artists to produces the work. LeWitt is proof of the lesson that “it is a mistake to think about code as always and only instructions to a computer” (Sample 57). An example of his work is Wall Drawing 797. The instructions were: “The first drafter has a black marker and makes an irregular horizontal line near the top of the wall. Then the second drafter tries to copy it (without touching it) using a red marker. The third drafter does the same, using a yellow marker. The fourth drafter does the same using a blue marker. Then the second drafter followed by the third and fourth copies the last line drawn until the bottom of the wall is reached.”

Images of Sol Lewitt’s “Wall Drawing 797“.

To be clear, LeWitt does not make the wall drawings himself. He just writes the instruction and other artists work on it, often in teams. This art can be reproduced by anyone who can follow the instructions at any point in time. While the art is temporary (because exhibits change, walls must be repainted), the idea and instructions are permanent. Back to the idea of coding: code is a language, and just like writing an essay, a person can have their own style of writing code. As Reas said, there are many ways to write each algorithm. While LeWitt provides the frame and guidelines for the art, the wall drawing is still subject to the varieties of each artist. In “Wall Drawing 797,” four artists are involved which means four different artist hands. Each component of the artwork is subject to human inconsistency. As complicated and scary as code can seem, when it comes down to it, it is just a language to be interpreted.

Works Cited

LeWitt, Sol. “Wall Drawing 797.” Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. 1995.

Reas, Casey, and Chandler McWilliams. “What is Code?” Form Code : In Design, Art, and Architecture. Princeton Architecturel Press, 2011.

Sample, Mark. “Code.” Debugging Game History: A Critical Lexicon. The MIT Press2016. p. 53-61.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Lauren C.

Video Game Code Confuses Me

The way in which video games are coded has been a foreign concept to me since I started playing video games. While I started playing video games when I was about 8 or 9 (MVP Baseball 2004 was my first), I never really thought about how the discs somehow allowed me to play the games until I was in high school. The technology was astounding to me then and it still is now.

My First Video Game!

Upon first opening “The Naked Game”, I did not read the instructions, and immediately started to look at the game play as well as the lines of code below the game. The code that goes into video games is so foreign to me that it never crossed my mind that these lines could be altered. I immediately assumed that the code was just simply showing how the designers developed the game rather than offering a chance for the user to mess around with the game.

To me, the fact that I was completely oblivious to the fact that the code could be tampered with before reading the instructions demonstrates just how foreign the idea of video game code is. My interaction with the code in “The Naked Game” was entirely unique for me in my experience playing video games over the past decade plus. I came to the conclusion that while being able to mess what appears to be the code (Mark Sample’s “Code” in Debugging Game History shows that users playing “The Naked Game” are actually interacting with a proxy for the code that is updated depending on the users), I enjoy more not knowing what is going on underneath the hood. To me, it seems that playing video games and analyzing the code that goes into video games should be separate. I enjoy playing video games because of the gameplay itself, not because of the work the developers did to put it together.

Posted from Digital Studies 101 Blog by Patrick G.

The most modern form of art?

Going back to one of the first days of class, code is a word that was not created for technological purposes. Code as a word has been used since the 1300s! Today, code is a way of communicating between humans and computers. For someone completely unaware of how to code, I was surprised to learn how frail it is. “The Naked Game” highlights that even setting out to create code that doesn’t have a bias, i.e. isn’t programmed so that one player will win, the removal of even one line of code completely disrupts the intended action. The GIF below shows a loop of perfect pong where the ball never passes a player. However, “The Naked Game ” demonstrates code has a strong ability to interfere with this.

via GIPHY

One thing I really appreciated in “Criminal Code: The Procedural Logic of Crime in Videogames” was the explanation and emphasis that code was not only for those who could code. To me, coding and talking about code all seemed to be one incomprehensible entity. This article also refers back to the notion of coding being frail. Although it seems to be direct and does exactly what it says it will do, it also seems to say what it will not do.

A major aspect of ” The Naked Game” was the notion that  video games and by extension code could be art. One of the coolest class discussions I have had was a debate over what constituted art and what was too much of a stretch. While video games were never mentioned, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t be considered art, especially after seeing some fairly strange or simplistic pieces in modern art museums. In an article for Time Magazine, writer Chris Melissinos asserts that video games are not only art, but one of the most important forms for all of history. The reason for this being that video games are a combination of science and art. One line that was emphasized and really stuck out on its own was the notion that video games are the only art medium that allow the user to personalize it. For some reason, this distinctly reminds me of an episode of “The Office” in which Dwight creates a virtual world where he lives the exact same life but is able to fly. The only question that remains is if the majority of people using an art form don’t recognize it as art, is it always art or only in certain contexts?

Posted from Blog by Ashley W.

Angry Bird: Cloning this Generation’s “Viral Game”

Tap the screen to fly. Do nothing and quickly feel the effects of gravity. Send the poor animal through as many Mario-like pipes before you will inevitably fail and see its death. This was the basis for the most viral video game that had ever been seen. Flappy Bird, originally released in 2013 by Nguyen Dong, swelled in popularity near the end of the the year. The simplistic gameplay, addicting nature, and easiness of attainability allowed it to reach #1 on Apple’s free app rankings. Unfortunately, Dong removed the game from the App Store in February of 2014, since all the attention he obtained from its success “ruined his simple life”. As a result, since the game was already so popular, other people began to clone the game and put countless other versions of the same thing on the App Store and the Internet, including a variation where you are a sperm. See for yourself in this video.

As Dr. Sample points out in his work regarding code in video games, we see that “code” does not just refer to the lines of gibberish typed down by pizza-eating millennials. It  also concerns the text, visuals, sounds, and other elements. As Sample put it, “it is a mistake to think about code as always and only instructions to a computer”. The “code” for the majority of the Flappy Bird clones employs the same flying-like controls for each game, with similar variations of shape, color, and presentation. Should doing this be fair, or is it like cheating? Rockstar Games, for example, frowns upon players when they “prepare derivative works” on GTA, which is kind of like what is going on here.  In my opinion, people should not really be allowed to copy a game and earn money off of it like what many “smart” developers did with this sensation. If you do this, you are quite literally “stealing” the code and efforts of one’s original work to make yourself successful , which is what unfortunately happened way too often in the age of Flappy Bird.

 

Sources:

Griffiths, Sarah. “Flappy Bird Is ‘Gone Forever’.” DailyMail.com, Associated Newspapers, Ltd., 11 Feb. 2014, www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2556818/Flappy-Bird-gone-forever-Games-creator-pulled-app-addictive-product.html.

Sample, Mark. “Code.” Debugging Game History: A Critical Lexicon, MIT Press, 2016, pp. 53–62. Dropbox, www.dropbox.com/s/70m9jnr0oztb78p/Sample%20-%20Code%20(2016).pdf?dl=0.

“The MANY Clones of Flappy Bird.” YouTube, Google, 21 Feb. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdXnvmuB23Y&t=21s.

Posted from My blog by Wes K.

Coding in Video Games

Code is a huge part of everyday life to do both simple and complicated activities, most technology we use is made up of code. Video games, as we have read, are no exception. To play a video game, everything in the realm of the game must be hard coded and modified to change as the player chooses, and how the games objectives flow. However, with this being said, there are ways to modify games and alter the code of particular games to create a different user experience then the producers or coders intended.

One example of this it the famous game, Super Smash Bros. The third version of the game, Super Smash Bros Brawl, came out in 2008, but this version in particular, has been modified more than any other version. More specifically, programmers created an alternate version to the game that is called Project M. This version of the game has all the same characters, music, and overall setup as the original Brawl, however is different in some very key ways. Programmers made a way for there to be customization in choosing a costume for your character. For example, a character in Brawl is Samus. The Project M programmers programmed Samus to have costumes that resemble iron man, and the terminator, so users can use these costumes while they play Brawl.

Project M programmers used code in this case to enhance the user experience of brawl, however this is not always the case. Some hackers or programmers hack games to exploit their shortcomings and take advantage of it, and make the game either unfair or not enjoyable. An example of this is a hack in Call of Duty. One Call of Duty hack, ”  Our Call of Duty Black Ops Hack allows you to win every round, unlock all your weapons and shred the competition with our instant kill aimbot.” As we can see these hackers completely destroyed the game and took away from the overall user experience.

As we have seen, code is the backbone of a video game, however, it’s how programmers and hackers use this code that can either contribute or undermine the user experience of the game.

Bibliography:

https://www.iwantcheats.net/call-of-duty-black-ops-hack/

https://smashboards.com/threads/all-official-project-m-builds-available-for-download.424919/

 

Posted from Nile's Blog Dig 101 by Nile

Decoding Code

SimCityBox
This photo depicts the game, SimCity, created by Will Wright, which allows users to create different cities to their liking.

Most likely, if you live in a country where you are privileged enough to have internet access, you have probably played some sort of online game at least once in your lifetime. I remember when I was a little kid, I would spend hours on the Disney Channel website playing all sorts of show related games! Have you ever thought about the behind the scenes part of those games though?

In a blog post by Mark Sample, he analyzes the various meanings certain codes can contain. When playing a game, chances are, you’re focused on the tangible, what you can see, but Sample points out that “a player’s success in a simulation hinges upon discovering the algorithm underlying the game”, such as in the game SimCity. With this game, players construct their own cities. If the user wishes to lessen the crime in their cities, however, the only way to do so is to add more police stations into their city, even though, in real life, increasing policing hardly ever reduces the amount of crime in area.

This made me think about the implicit ideas being ingrained into our minds as we expose ourselves to different things, such as online games.

As technology advances, people are being exposed to online games as young three years old, if not, even younger.

Hopefully the games that these youngsters are playing are strictly educational, but even certain educational tools can hold implicit biases. When analyzing code, one may notice that a game meant to teach children emotions may always have the minority characters appear angry or sad, while the Caucasian characters are designed to always appear happy or excited. A detail like that may go completely unnoticed to the designers and even to certain users of the game, but a minute detail such as that has the power to influence that child’s self-esteem and how they interact with others in the future.

You might think that only programmers can decode or translate code, but, anyone can as long as they are patient enough. You might not understand everything going on within the code, but doing this can help you understand the creators purpose for doing certain things within the code and may even help you to question whether or not you want to continue supporting the game based on certain coding decisions the creator made.

Just some food for thought,

Stir Fry

Posted from Stir Fry Education by Nicky E.

The Dangers of Algorithms

In his article The 10 Algorithms that Dominate Our Lives George Dvorsky details the numerous avenues in which algorithms dominate our everyday lives. Whether it be using from using a google search or seeing targeted advertisements on Facebook these computerized instructions permeate almost all aspects of our digital lives. While these algorithms are usually helpful Dvorsky draws attention to one application of algorithms that seems to have dangerous potential.  Recently these algorithms have infiltrated the financials sphere and are being utilized to execute what is referred to as high frequency stock trading.

And while this raises the usual ethical concerns around the replacement of human labor with automation, the dangers of automatic financial actions are more serious. Relative to humans these algorithms operate at hyperspeed and thus the sheer number of transactions is exponentially increased. Unchecked they can form a predator-prey ecosystem that can result in a downward spiral. In 2010 this culminated in a “micro-crash” where the market fell 1000 points in a matter of minutes before quickly rising again. These malfunctions are more or less harmless when talking about algorithms that fail to censor an offensive comment or an advertisement for something we would never buy but when dealing with finance the consequences are graver. These financial instruments are tied to real world assets that determine people’s livelihood. Mistakes could cost a pension or a savings fund. While there are undoubtedly countless realms where the efficiency and processing power of algorithms are invaluable and improve user experience, lack of regulation around novel financial instruments has put our country in hot water in the very recent past. I feel we should take caution in applying them to the most sensitive aspects of our lives where the risks are far greater.

 

Works Consulted

https://datasaurus-rex.com/uncategorized/high-frequency-trading-visualised

https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-10-algorithms-that-dominate-our-world-1580110464

https://io9.gizmodo.com/a-new-digital-world-is-emerging-thats-too-fast-for-us-1286428447

Posted from DIG 101 by Ellis C