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.

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

 

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.”

 

 

Sightings Post: Can Art Be Sublime?

Something that really can capture the sublime that we did not talk about in class is art. The sheer size of art can sometimes have an awe-inspiring effect on you, which is something I experienced a lot. For example, when I went to the Louvre in Paris for the first time I was really struck by the size of the museum, it was huge. I once read something about how it would take someone a whole week to see every piece there, if they looked at each for ten seconds. Not only did the size of the museum shock me, but the size of some of the pieces did, too. The Winged Victory of Samothrace is huge, pictures from my art history class in high school definitely did not do it justice. Even though the sculptor is missing its head, arms and the other wing, it is overwhelming beautiful. The size and the details of it is what makes me think it fits into the category of the sublime. Another example of this, maybe on a larger degree, is Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel Ceiling in Vatican City. The images are very detailed and the colors are so vibrant, it is truly the closest you’ll ever get to knowing what heaven looks like. The scenes go across the entire chapel’s ceiling and there are details in every square inch so you could likely spend hours studying it and still not get every last detail. Some of the details you don’t even realize are significant until someone (for me it was my teacher on the trip with me) pointed out the biblical references.

Some people might disagree with me, but I think these amazing pieces of art do leave you with a sense of awe. This sense might not be the same as if you were looking at the Grand Canyon because you’re amazed at the size of it and the fact that it was created naturally. On the other hand, these masterpieces leave you with a sense of awe because someone actually made them.

 

 

This is an image of The Winged Victory statue on display at the Louvre Muse in Paris.
Here is an image of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. I picked this picture to show the vastness of the ceiling and how overwhelming it is from the angle spectators look at it.

Life of FLY

On Alan Bigelow’s site for electronic works of literature I decided to check out his work, “Life of FLY.” This is definitely one of my favorites from the works of his I have seen.  Similar to many of Bigelow’s other works, the user must press the arrow keys to move from page to page. However, at some pages the work requires more interactivity from the user. One page reminded me of the brail reading in “Pry”, as the user had to scroll across the screen multiple times to get the actual message. The main narrative is a radio interviewer named Susan who interviews a not so ordinary housefly named FLY who has apparently written music, books, along with a plethora of other accomplishments. The humor of the work stood out to me the most, as the ridicuslousness of a housefly being harassed by cats and giving interviews as if he were some celebrity had me chuckling throughout the work. Throughout the interview, the housefly describes everyday life of a fly, including the pros and cons. Additionally, FLY shows off his artistic projects from a strange game called “Tic Tac Fly,” to his songs he wrote and produced. During the interview, FLY claims that the songs are supposed to to represent the fly working class. The interview has to stop at multiple occasions as FLY often must evade cats that are around the house. With the exception of FLY’s distinguished works, the majority of the work has no background noise. The lack of sound makes the user read simple text for a large portion of the work. Alan Bigelow adds to the absurdity of the work when FLY begins to hit on Susan, the interviewer. I highly recommend this humorous piece, if anyone has five minutes of spare time then this is definitely worth it.

One of FLY’s works, “Tic Tac Fly”

Predictive Text Poetry

I know this mechanism has been around for a while, but I just recently turned on my iPhone’s predictive text keyboard for the first time and couldn’t help but think about this class. It seems to suit multiple categories that we’ve discussed over the course of the semester, but I am primarily interested in how it can be considered random and dysfunctional.

As far as randomness goes, I understand that whatever algorithm Apple used to assemble the predictive text bars are meant to be based on our past conversations and word usage. However, there’s something really… unintelligent (for lack of a better word) about the way the phone seems to group words together. Often, words linked are not grammatically correct in sequence, and are typically independent from each individual word that came before it. Because of this, sentences often end up being quite repetitive and the repetition seems to never end.

For example, I wanted to see how far I could get through a story or poem by simply spamming my first predictive text box and got the following:

Screenshot taken from my phone.

(In case you were wondering what my friend Quincy and I were discussing before I used her text box for this post, we were arguing about Jason Momoa’s beard).

Now it’s reasonable to say that my particular texting patterns aren’t written in the most beautiful prose, but this still seems to me like a really unsatisfying result. I am curious about what my predictive text might look like if I were a poet. This sort of example is why I think this method sort of fits into the dysfunctional: if you’re trying to construct a narrative/poem based off this form alone, you’re going to end up going in circles. I realize that this isn’t exactly the purpose of predictive text, but the idea that you would be able to text a friend something understandable was definitely a goal of Apple’s when implementing this feature, so I wonder how well they as a company feel it worked out.

I looked around the internet a bit after thinking about this for a while because I wanted to see if others had attempted what I did with greater success, and found this article that explores constructing iOS8 randomized poetry. It seems like the author of the article seems to generally agree that you can’t get too far with this method. I also like that he describes these sentences as “versatile, quippy, random — everything the internet loves”, because I think that’s completely true and explains some of my interest in tinkering with the form a bit (being an internet lover myself). He also proposes some interesting ways to go about it that I hadn’t thought of: for example, writing a poem in which each line begins with the same word. After attempting to do this with one of my favorite words, “elemental” I came up with this:

Screenshot taken from my phone.

Still doesn’t make much sense, but I suppose it’s fair since I don’t often use the word “elemental”. Either way, I just found that this was a fun thing to play around with for a bit and thought I would make a post about it.

If anyone’s interested in proving me wrong and posting a mind-blowing iPhone generated poem, please feel free!

Coco: A Sublime Experience of Mexican Culture.

One of my personal favorite songs from Coco. It opens with the classic “grito” that one would find in plenty of songs by Mexican artists and bands.

 

When I first saw a trailer for Pixar’s Coco I was happy that an animated film that revolved around Mexican culture but I was also skeptical. I wanted my cultural background to be properly represented and was worried that Pixar would not do the necessary research and consulting to accurately and respectfully represent it. As I continued to follow updates and trailers that were released I was ecstatic at how many tiny details were jam-packed into the film. I decided to read about the steps Pixar was taking to ensure they did not misrepresent Mexican culture.How does this film fit in with what we have studied in this course? In creating Coco, Pixar meshed together aspects of the sublime to tell a story that beautifully depicts an important Mexican holiday, Dia de Los Muertos.

From a more mathematical sublime standpoint, director Lee Unkrich and his team spent an incredible amount of time visiting Mexico, putting together a group of dozens of cultural consultants, and working with dozens of musicians/musical groups to ensure they compiled enough data/contextual information in order to incorporate every minute detail necessary to properly depict the colors and architecture of Mexico as a nation and the everyday life of Mexican families all across the country. They sifted through hundreds of hours of notes, reference videos, pictures, and dialogues with cultural consultants to create this film. The dynamic sublime is evoked more in the scenes where Miguel, the main character, is shown running through the streets of his town. From an outsider perspective while watching the movie, navigating the seemingly chaotic and bustling street life of an unfamiliar environment is intimidating but we come to understanding that there is no real danger and instead, get to appreciate the beauty of the detailed environments Miguel navigates.

Reflections on the Digital World (2): the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

A first glance of this title will unsurprisingly yield question about the relevance between this post and the Digital Literature: “How on earth does this test relate to those fancy games we’ve encountered in DIG 220?” My answer: the GMAT test, similar to those fancy games, is a PERFECT example of a Digital Literature. I’ll explain why.

Screenshot of GMAT Reading Comprehension Question

First of all, it is Digital. The GMAT is a computer based exam that takes about four hours to complete (perfect for a self-scheduled final!!). There are four sections: Analytical Writing, Integrated Reasoning, Math, and Verbal. All test materials will be shown on the computer screen in front of the test taker, who also needs to tell the computer which answers to choose.

Secondly, it is FULL of literature. Designed to help business schools to evaluate the language ability of potential applicants, the Verbal section of GMAT contains three types of questions: Sentence Correction, Reading Comprehension, and Critical Reasoning, all of which require intensive readings in very limited time periods. Those so-called Digital Literature games are not nearly as literary as the GMAT.

Thirdly, it is VERY interactive. Basically, the test will not proceed unless the test taker chooses his or her answers. In the Analytical Writing section, the test taker even needs to write a 500 words paragraph analysing an argument provided by the test materials. What’s more, the computer program can automatically evaluate the paragraph written by the test taker and then generate a score from 1 to 6. The idea here is interesting: rather than functioning as a writer, the automation process inside the GMAT functions as a reviewer. This is different from all other automatic examples we’ve encountered, but both of them share similar core characteristics. To evaluate what the test takers write, the GMAT program needs certain rules and databases to function properly—it cannot just randomly generate a score. In this sense, it is quite similar to other automatic examples. The difference is also obvious: the roles of input and output have been switched. In GMAT, the input is a literature, and the output is an index (a score); whereas in other automatic examples, the input is an index (length, number of words, etc.), and the output is a literature.

The discovery of GMAT as an example of Digital Literature inspires myself. There must be a lot of other computer related objects in our daily life that can fit in this category and can be analysed with theories and ideas of Digital Literature. We should free our imagination and discover more.

P.S.  Again, I strongly suggest that the Digital Literature course in Davidson should use the GMAT test as the final exam!

 

Nazi Bots: Twitter’s plague of automated hate

 

A Nazi "Bot" representing the flood of racist bots on twitter in our day and age.
A Nazi “Bot” representing the flood of racist bots on twitter in our day and age.

Social media has grew rapidly in the past ten years and has become a major part of peoples lives. We have the ability to check our accounts as we please at almost any time. This availability plays into the importance of social media as  it is a powerful tool in the sharing of information and data which can have large effects on the real world. Twitter is one of the largest platforms of social media and we can regularly see people campaigning for different causes     such as marriage equality back in 2015 and these campaigns can have a large impact as they do spread rapidly on twitter.  While twitter can be a great platform for quick sharing of ideas and change we also see a darker side to the social media site in the form of automated hate, bots.

Bots have become a very popular staple on the internet; perhaps you’ve seen them promote a product or maybe you’ve been followed by one of the more “saucy” bots.  Nevertheless, they are everywhere now and if you haven’t interacted with them yet you certainly will at some point. While  scrolling through my twitter feed as I usually do I came across a tweet that Carol Quillen had re-tweeted regarding the recent White supremacist demonstration in Poland during their Independence day.  Being me I decided to read the comments and enjoy the “twitter fights” that would certainly ensue and came across something a bit odd, there were bots in the comments posting racist and inflammatory comments. People would generally go to argue with the Bot thinking that it was a real person only to be shocked when they visited the page and saw a reoccurring pattern of tweets indicating that the page was automated.

When I went back hours later to try and view some of the bots I found that all of the bot tweets had been deleted and their various accounts deactivated, part of twitter’s bot defense no doubt. The fact that these bots are so easily implemented though is quite disturbing because if there is enough of them they can manipulate the conversation on twitter and change what is trending. This ability to control the conversation then changes the information that people are receiving and can have a drastic impact on the real world, as seen during the election with the Russian bots (another story for another day).  The best that we can do to fight against these bots is report them whenever we encounter them and hope that twitters defense system improves even more, until then enjoy more whimsical bots such as @StealthMountain which corrects any tweet that has “sneak peak” in it to “sneak peek”