April 23rd, 2006

Critical Mass

Wow . . . once you get to a certain critical mass of not-posting, the return to semi-regular posting is shockingly hard.

In my defense, midterms ran straight into the beginning of Passover which then is running into conference deadlines which will run straight into finals.

Still, I remember the long-ago days when I was a regular blogger with great fondness.  Perhaps the days of our greatness shall come again.

Digital Stories, So What?

I’m always a little skeptical about what’s sometimes called “digital storytelling.” Most of the digital storytelling programs I’ve seen have the participants make mini-movies from their own experience, or paste together photos into a slide-show, and then tell a story in audio over it. (For example: The Center for Digital Storytelling.) Sometimes it’s building a web-site, sometimes it’s teaching them Flash, but it’s very much in the model of traditional authorship - a solitary, product-oriented, revisable activity.

What’s interesting to me is how much effort seems to go into controlling and “school-ifying” these practices. The same kids who need hand-holding through the Center’s programs are the same kids who are probably writing fan-fic about their favorite games, or participating in online communities, or role-playing in World of Warcraft, or making movies of them doing stupid stunts, or taking part in a hundred different other social, collaborative, improvisational forms of story-making. But because these forms aren’t recognized, the participants are having their voices shoehorned into forms that funders and school-thinkers do recognize.

I bet that if you looked at the stories coming out of this center, they’d be moving, and powerful, and probably even authentic - but also that many of them would be the same. The Center for Digital Storytelling gives their kids the tools to make these movies, but it’s not clear from their materials that they actually give them tools to make stories.

I’m not interested in teaching kids how to use Premiere. Let’s forget the technology and worry about what they’re trying to say with it. How do we help people tell stories that they don’t already know that they have to tell? That’s the question that’s bugging me, and I’m not sure that the Center for Digital Storytelling can really help with that.

Not that the digital storytelling movement hasn’t done a hell of a lot of great stuff. For example, Fray is a fantastic storytelling community, and one that takes advantage of the technology in meaningful ways. It provides community support, story-starting discussion topics, and access to previous works. All of those things are meaningful ways of supporting the story part of the equation, not just the medium through which the stories happen to be expressed.

Despite my critic-head kvetching at me about all this, their list of links is highly worth mining, and I’m also wondering if the Digital Storytelling Association is active and might be a good resource for working on collaborative, improvisational story stuff.

Signup Reminder

Administrivia ping: don’t forget to sign up as a user on the site if you want to comment.  Due to excessive spammage, I’ve got it set up to hold comments from users that aren’t registered.  Thanks!

Decade Update

I almost forgot to post this here, despite being remarkably excited: Decade made it to the top eight of the Game Chef contest.  While I have no illusions that I’ll take first place (there are too many outstanding problems with the game), it seems that the top eight are going to be published, which would be quite exciting.  While I’ve worked on published games before, this will be the first solo-authored effort to get distribution!

I think I need to revise the rules, though, and organize some play-tests.  Perhaps I’ll show up to Origins or GenCon with some cheap photocopies and make people take them home, willy nilly.

What’s particularly neat about this is that it’s inspired me to start working on my (very long) backlog of interesting game projects, plus some newly acquired ones.  Right now, I’m torn between starting Tabula Rasa back up, finally writing a first draft of the Sex and the City-inspired game I’ve been working on with the boy, or building a short Gormenghast homage game.  Maybe when I get through finals I’ll have a chance to work on them all!

Reading List: Pledged

Read: Pledged, Alexandra Robbins.

And I’m officially three months behind in my reviews! (I really enjoy writing these. I just enjoy reading new books more!)

I picked up Pledged expecting it to be a guilty pleasure. What could a “behind-the-scenes look at sorority life” be except a chronicle of sexual excess, drinking, drugs and other pastimes of the American college girl? I was pleasantly surprised (oh, okay, and a teeny bit disappointed) to find this book a well-written, thoughtful and even-handed discussion of the benefits and difficulties of the Greek system.  Robbins followed four girls for a year, and wrote about their experiences in a series of chapters which link their individual experiences to larger essays about the Greek system. For example, when the girls go through rush season (where new members are recruited - or rejected), Robbins talked about the girls’ personal experiences of rush, but also looked at rush as a larger sociological phenomenon.

The writing was good and the reporting well-done, but what really interested me about the book was the chance to get a glimpse of a life so very, very unlike mine. I spent my college years writing code, playing games, reading books and wearing ratty t-shirts every day; I met the man I love a year in and haven’t been able to look at anyone else since then. For these girls, though, getting dressed is a competitive sport - let alone finding dates, going to parties, drinking and playing at sorority politics. (The ongoing social games were hideously Machiavellian!) It was really hard to put myself in a mindset where I could understand why these girls value the things that they do. But the book makes it clear just how high the stakes can be in Greek life: when good looks and guys are the only currency that matters, the girl who goes without is just as poor as I would have been without my own, very different, college community.

Being a dreamer, a thinker, a maker and a scholar is at the heart of my own identity.  Pledged reminded me just how lucky I am to be comfortable with all those things as a woman, instead of sitting around waiting for Mr. Right to validate my social standing.  Even if you’ve never wondered what you might be like if you cared about matching your shoes to your handbag, though, this book will help you get into the heads of people from a community that you may never have much experience with - at least not if you’re an empowered geek like me.

Game Music

Game music is great to listen to while working, because it’s designed so that you can listen to it over, and over, and over again while you’re playing the damn game without getting bored or even really hearing it after a while.  This means that finding Game Music Radio has stopped me from obsessively listening to the CDs that Beth sent me (at least for a few days).  More music-inclined folks (Gus, I’m looking at you!) may even want to use it as a guide for what to play next.