Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Art of Video Games

When I was teaching my class on video games, we ended up in an interesting discussion one day that I had not foreseen or put on my syllabus-- whether or not video games could count as art.  To be honest, I hadn't even thought of this as a topic, and now I can't say whether it was because I assumed they did, assumed they didn't, or hadn't really thought about it.

My students mentioned an interesting editorial Roger Ebert wrote last spring, where he declared that "Video Games Can Never Be Art".  It was an interesting statement to make, considering that he later admit that the last video game he played, and which he didn't have the patience for, was Myst, released in 1993.  Ebert later issued another blog post, after further thought and after reading the very extensive comments left on his first post, saying, "I may be wrong, but if I'm not willing to play a video game to find that out, I should say so. I have books to read and movies to see. I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place."  Personally, I think this was the only way for him to get out of the conversation gracefully, and I respect him for being willing to admit that his first post was a mistake, although the post title "Ok, kids, play on my lawn" does still have a bit of a crotchety ring to it.

I don't critique film because I don't know film, and Ebert's attempt to critique video games when he hadn't played one in over fifteen years was poorly thought out.  Especially because it now appears that The Smithsonian American Art Museum disagrees.  They are currently putting together an exhibition that will air in March 2012 on "The Art of Video Games" and, even better, they are looking for fans to vote on the artwork they think should be included in the exhibit.  I'd definitely encourage all of you to go check it out!  You can vote for up to 80 games, separated into 5 eras by the Smithsonian organizers.  They only ask for games that demonstrate "a focus on striking visual effects, the creative use of new technologies, and the most influential artists and designers... Remember, this is an art exhibition, so be sure to vote for games that you think are visually spectacular or boast innovative design!"

Personally, I can't wait for this to open and will definitely try to see it sometime next year.  I really love that the museum isn't focusing solely on the games themselves but also on the people behind them-- the artists and designers-- and on the relationships between video games and other aspects of culture like film and television.  I can only hope that the exhibition meets the high hopes I'm sure gamers will have for it, although if it's up to the Smithsonian's normal standards, I'm not too worried.

Monday, February 14, 2011

History of Valentine's Day

Late again, I know, but on purpose this time.  I held off from yesterday until today in honor of today's holiday. Although not my favorite, I find the history of the holiday to be interesting.  Did you know that there are in fact at least fourteen different Saint Valentines?  Or that the holiday is no longer a religious holiday in any way?  It's true!

The collective Saints Valentine were a number of Christian martyrs put to death in ancient Rome.  Whether the holiday was made to celebrate a certain one of the Valentines or if it was a collective holiday has never been determined, although it is certain that the holiday did not evolve until many years later.

Valentine's Day in its modern form, as a celebration of romantic love, originated in the Middle Ages, specifically in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.  His poem "Parlement of Foules" presented  Valentine's Day as if it was a historical holiday, but no evidence exists to show that this is in fact the case.  There is a great deal of evidence to show that recognition was paid to Saint Valentine(s), with the actual saint's day established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD, but no association with love occurs before Chaucer.

For those of you who like to complain that Valentine's Day is a Hallmark holiday, meant only for the greeting card and chocolate companies, you can now support your argument further with the fact that it is no longer a religious holiday at all.  Pope Paul VI deleted it from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969.

For those of you who like this holiday, I would still encourage you to escape from Hallmark anyways-- traditional valentines were hand-made and often quite elaborate.  A great gallery of some can be found here.

Regardless of which side you're on, enjoy the day.  I'll definitely argue that more love in the world, even commercialized love, is never a bad thing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gotta Catch Em All?

Ok, ok, I know I'm late.  I have clearly not been doing well with keeping on top of this lately.  It's been a busy term, and I'll make it up to you by talking about something everyone likes-- Pokemon.

For some odd reason, the topic of Pokemon has been popping up everywhere this week.  I'm not really sure why.  Well, part of it was voluntary-- I generally always have a GameBoy Color in my bag, so when I had to take my cat to the vet this week, I ended up playing Pokemon Red while waiting.  So that was a deliberate exposure to Pokemon.

On top of that though, I accidentally stumbled upon this post from the fantastic "Things 90s Kids Realize" blog, which argues that 150 Pokemon was more than enough.  I suppose 151 is also acceptable, as it's a major point of debate how many qualify as first generation, but they have a point.  I don't even know how many there are now.  In my mind, it stops at Mew.  How well do you remember them all?

The last thing that reminded me of Pokemon this week were these two images that were sent to me by friends, questioning some very important assumptions regarding old Pokemon games.  

Certainly puts things in a new perspective for you.  I felt kind of like a terrible person after reading that first one.

I realize that most of this is not original material, and for that, I apologize.  But hey, I'm supposed to remind you of things you knew at one point and you have to admit-- Pokemon were always pretty awesome.  perhaps after I play a bit more I'll give you some better tips on catching Pokemon in the Safari Zone.  So frustrating!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Mean World Syndrome

Most of my time recently has been spent grading papers turned in by my students, detailing their analysis of media effects in television shows they viewed.  When I do take a break, I've gotten hooked on the TV show "Castle".  Collectively, these two inspired today's blog post.

"Castle", if you haven't seen it, is a pretty excellent show.  I'd highly recommend it as a series with interesting characters, well-written dialogue and some clever plots.  Nathan Fillion stars as mystery writer Richard Castle, who teams up with the NYPD when a serial killer starts imitating the way his victims were killed in his books.  After solving that crime, he stays with the NYPD as an assistant/observer, using the main detective Kate Beckett as his inspiration for the main character in a new book series.  The reason watching this show connects to my students' papers is because it reminds me of a Media Studies theory, Mean World Syndrome.

The central premise of Mean World Syndrome is that exposure to violent media leads viewers to believe that the world is more dangerous, or "meaner", than it actually is.  For instance, the tendency of news shows to focus on crime, while understandable, is thought to increase this by making viewers believe crime is more common than it actually is.

While I haven't studied this syndrome in awhile and don't know what the contemporary assessment of its accuracy is, I do occasionally have to wonder if it's affecting me.  Living by myself and having a very active imagination, I have already spent a few nights waking up from a dream convinced that someone is in my apartment.  Rather scary at three in the morning.  Now I'm curious if occurrences like these might be partially influenced by what I'm watching on TV.  Guess we'll find out if watching "Castle" has an impact!  It's a relatively non-violent show (while containing dead people, it rarely shows them getting killed or even a lot of blood), but I'll definitely be keeping my eyes out.  What do you think?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Cuba and the US

Ack, Wednesday already!  I have a ton of work to do and about 350 papers to grade still, so unfortunately, no original material from me today.

Instead, I'm doing another shout-out to my little brother, who is now the Editor of the Marketplace segment of the Boston College newspaper, The Heights.  Now, you might be wondering, what the heck is the Marketplace section?  I thought it was financial info.  My friends all guessed the classifieds.  Turns out, it's actually the world news and politics section.  Who knew?

I know the main focus in the news recently has been the Egypt protests, but my little brother's last article was on another interesting world situation-- the lifting of travel restrictions between the US and Cuba, for the first time in almost 50 years.  The article gives some really great history on the issue and some of the arguments for and against the changes.  Check it out!  Definitely could be an interesting change in US/Cuba relations.