Last Tuesday: How to Make an Art House Video Game

Jonathan McCalmont @ 20-07-2011

0. Bending the Knee to the Silver Screen

There is something incredibly endearing about video gaming’s continued inferiority complex with regards to film. Indeed, despite some experts asserting that the gaming industry is now larger than the film industry and blockbusters such as Inception, Avatar and Sucker Punch lining up to replicate the ‘gaming experience’ on the big screen, video game designers repeatedly bend the knee to films whenever they want to be taken seriously. You can see it in their tendency to ‘borrow’ characters from films and you can see it in the way that their cut scenes desperately try to capture that ‘cinematic’ look and feel.  This inferiority complex also filters through into how the video games industry sees itself.   Continue reading “Last Tuesday: How to Make an Art House Video Game”


Form and function

Paul Raven @ 08-04-2011

As I progress into my thirties, I’m becoming more aware of my status as a demographic that is targeted with nostalgia-based marketing. In terms of pop culture ephemera, I’ve remained relatively immune – the mainstream music and fashion of the eighties repelled me at the time, and has not lost its power to do so – but there is no escape; the technology industry has matured to an extent which allows it to mine its own past for aesthetic triggers that hit us lifelong early adopters like a punch to the gut, even when the product itself is quite obviously pointless in practical terms.

Point in case: Commodore returning to the computer hardware market with Linux-powered PCs dolled up in the form factors of their classic consumer-level home computers. This is the C64x:

Commodore C64x

Hi-ho, atemporality; there’s no point whatsoever in buying one of those unless you’re jonesing for the “authenticity” of the near past (which is itself pretty close to mythological anyway). Though we’re not quite at the point where ubicomp is a reality, Commodore’s “new” products represent an interesting point in the commodification curve of computing. Function is so cheap and easy to produce that form no longer has to play second fiddle; there’s more computing juice in your smartphone than was used to run the entire Apollo moon landings program, and you can shoehorn a useable computer into pretty much any container you desire. (Worth noting that this was an enthusiast’s hobby long before the manufacturers jumped the bandwagon; casemodding has transcended its initial geeks-only cachet thanks to economies of scale.)

When computers first arrived, they looked like the vast, complex and aesthetically sterile engineering devices that they were. Now computing is sufficiently ubiquitous that they can look like whatever we want them to look like (which means that making them look like older and significantly less powerful machines is a momentary fillip of aesthetic irony; expect an imminent rash of computers that don’t look anything like what folk of my age-bracket think of when we hear the word “computer” – remember the Sandbenders custom computer from Bill Gibson’s Idoru?). The end-point of the curve will be the point where computers become effectively invisible; I hesitate to predict a solid time-scale for that, but I’d be surprised if it takes more than another decade.


Prosthetics porn

Paul Raven @ 06-10-2009

Hans Husklepp - Immaculate Arm prosthetic design conceptThere is an arc of progress with human technologies: first comes functionality, then gradual acceptance, and then the aesthetic overhaul. The transition from practicality to personality has always interested me, because it hinges on that point of acceptance, be it grudging or enthusiastic; only then do notions of art start to appear and entwine themselves with functional objects.

Some objects achieve that point of acceptance more quickly than others; these are usually the objects of power, objects that make someone more than human – swords and cars, for example. Slower to achieve acceptance and freedom from stigma are those objects designed to raise the disadvantaged to the same status as everyone else.

We appear to be on that cusp of acceptance with human prosthetics. Granted, there have probably been carved crutches, peg-legs and walking sticks for millennia, but they were only ever crude stand-ins (if you’ll excuse the pun) for a damaged or missing limb. But they represented a refusal to be stigmatised, a defiant embracing of the user’s condition – “This is me; this is my replacement limb. Deal with it.”

Now we can build prosthetic legs that are in some respects superior to the originals, and it surely won’t be long before artificial arms that can replicate (or exceed) the essential functions of their biological equivalents become available to the widening sphere of those who can afford them – and that defiance, that rejection of stigma, will become more prevalent. It’s a stage of great interest to transhumanist thinkers, naturally, but it’s also attracting the eyes of artists and designers who’ve noticed a new human space to colonise with the communication of ideas.

There’s a gallery of cybernetic design concepts – like Hans Huseklepp’s Immaculate Arm, pictured top right – and photo-portraiture over at New Scientist at the moment which will get you thinking about this sort of stuff (it’s what inspired the preceding paragraphs of waffle from me, at any rate), but consider it only a starting point. Sit back for five minutes and think about the ways we already customise the human body for aesthetic effect; then imagine what we’ll start doing when prosthetics are affordable and effective enough to become ubiquitous. It’s closer than you think. [image copyright Hans Huseklepp, reproduced here under Fair Use terms; please contact for take-down if required]

Here’s your starter for ten: when will we first hear of people choosing to replace undamaged natural limbs with prosthetics, be it for practical or artistic reasons? How will the general public react to that? How would you feel if your teenaged son came home with a cybernetic hand in place of the perfectly functional one he had before?


Gender differences in perception of beauty

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2009

This little bit of neurological research is all over the news outlets at the moment. Here in the UK, The Guardian leads their piece with the headline “Women appreciate beauty better than men, says study“.

Brain scans of people looking at paintings and photographs have revealed that beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder. When men and women see something they think is beautiful, their brains react differently, with the female brain showing more activity than the male, according to new research.

[snip]

The researchers believe the different responses are linked to the ways in which men and women process spatial information, but suggest that men may tend to look only at the picture as a whole, while women also pay attention to the smaller details.

We never seem to tire of these gender difference studies, do we? It’s as if we thought we were having something we’d always known proved to us, no matter what the actual meaning may be at a scientific level.

But it’s always interesting to watch how they’re reported by different media channels. So, for extra points, here’s Big Blog of Cheese running the comparisons – why not play along with headlines from your own country?

BBC: Art appreciation ‘a gender issue’

Science journal: Sex-related similarities and differences in the neural correlates of beauty

Daily Telegraph: Why women cannot read maps and men lose their keys

Headlines and links in the comments, please!