Infamous 2: Mindless Fun and the Basis of Aesthetic Judgement

Jonathan McCalmont @ 17-08-2011

It rained on Saturday afternoon. It rained and it rained and it rained. It rained so much that I couldn’t go out, not even to the cinema, not even for a walk. I was trapped, so I decided to invest some serious time in a video game. I powered up the PS3, slid the armchair just that little bit closer to the TV and I dipped my toes into the world of Sucker Punch Productions’ superhero sandbox extravaganza Infamous 2.

A few hours later, I unfolded myself from the chair and looked up at the clock on the wall… I registered 5 pm but my joints were screaming. How long had I been here? In something of a daze, I headed upstairs to my computer where I checked my email. My computer’s clock read 7:30 pm. Surely this was a glitch. I googled the time: same problem. I headed downstairs and asked my girlfriend what time it was and she pointed to the clock… the one that I had checked only a few minutes earlier. It now read 7:35 pm. Continue reading “Infamous 2: Mindless Fun and the Basis of Aesthetic Judgement”


The Exhumation Factor: just when you thought reality TV couldn’t get any weirder…

Paul Raven @ 15-01-2010

… you find a story that says the UK’s Channel 4 is seeking terminally ill volunteers who are willing to undergo embalming and mummification, Ancient Egyptian style, after they’ve died. [image by broma]

Granted, the piece is in the Daily Mail, whose knee-jerk revulsion toward such unpatriotic and liberal notions as truth and objectivity is almost a legend in its own right, but the absence of any blame being pinned on asylum seekers, homosexuals, single parents or Muslims (or some unholy combination of the four) suggests they may actually have dug up (arf!) a real story here. Curtain-twitching outrage is a certainty, though I can’t really see it as being any different to leaving one’s body to medical research… and if the subject gets paid enough to ease the discomfort of their last days, I guess everyone’s a winner.

It does make you wonder where reality programming will run out of steam, though. This mummification idea at least has genuine novelty by comparison to much of the current crop… though I might hold out for the commisioning of Celebrity Mummies Come Dancing on Ice in the Jungle Idol Factor.


Fake Big Brother, bogus Balls of Steel: the *real* reality television

Paul Raven @ 11-09-2009

video cameraNow here’s an example of the serendipitous way that stories seem to glom together when you blog regularly. A few days ago I noticed a post at MetaFilter about Ikea Heights, a rather silly guerrilla drama show filmed entirely in a large Ikea store without the permission (or, apparently, the awareness) of the staff, and I felt a push on my “interesting” switch. [image by ZapTheDingbat]

I felt sure there was something to say about the eroding barrier between “official” television and amateur media, about the reappropriation of corporate spaces for unofficial purposes, and about the potential for a more genuine (if no more pleasant) form of reality television – namely, one not constrained by the laws and vetting processes that a real production company would have to obey to get clearance for their shows.

I kicked the post around a bit, but I just couldn’t find a decent hook to lead from Ikea Heights to where I wanted to go… until last night, when I noticed a story at The Guardian about a fake Big Brother-esque set-up in Turkey where someone convinced a bunch of young female models to move into a luxury villa full of cameras:

The women had responded to an ad seeking contestants for a reality show which would be aired on a major Turkish television station, Dogan said. The nine captives, including a teenager, were selected from other applicants following an interview.

They were made to sign a contract which stipulated that they could have no contact with their families or the outside world, and would have to pay a fine of 50,000 Turkish lira (£20,000) if they left the show in the first two months, the agency reported.

Dogan and HaberTurk newspaper both reported that the women realised they were being duped and asked to leave the villa. According to Dogan, they were told they could not leave unless they paid the fine. Those who insisted were threatened.

Thinking about it, I’m almost surprised that no one had done it before. But that story really highlights how much of an oxymoron “reality television” actually is… reality programming is in many senses less “real” than almost any other sort of television, thanks to the editing processes used to make the tedium of normal human interaction more interesting. The only way to make real reality shows would be to circumvent not just laws but customary production values… would the results be more popular than television or less? I rather suspect they would. Would the excitement of the best moments of totally unfiltered reality balance out the long stretches of mundanity that inevitably accompany the daily lives of real people? In other words – would people watch a house full of people who had no idea they were being watched?

I’ve also been wondering about “candid camera” shows, which appear to be making something of a comeback in a more edgy format – I’m thinking specifically of a show here in the UK called Balls of Steel, wherein the contestants go out into the world and do weird, shameful, embarrassing or provocative things in front of the unsuspecting public. [There are some clips on the Channel 4 website, if you’ve not seen it.]

Now, if I understand the law properly, these shows can’t be as completely guerrilla as they claim to be – at the very least, I’m sure they’d have to get permission from the victims to broadcast their humiliation or risk a lawsuit, and I imagine that financial recompense of some sort comes into the equation… and that’s charitably assuming that the things aren’t fakes from the ground upwards, with the “victims” being completely aware of what’s about to happen to them. While it’s never explicitly stated that the stunts are set-ups, every effort is spent on framing them as if they definitely aren’t – the jokes lose all force when you realise that the guy who just had a bag full of cheeseburgers lobbed at his head from a passing car knew they were coming.

But we now have the affordable technology (hand-held video cameras of passable picture quality) and the multicast infrastructure (YouTube, Vimeo and all the others) for genuinely anonymous and unsanctioned candid camera and reality programs. Remember the “happy slapping” fad? If the participants had taken more care over making themselves and their uploaded videos untraceable, and focussed on doing things that the victims would be too embarrassed to report to the authorities, you could have had a viral guerrilla video success on your hands.

Genuine discomfort, genuine humiliation; the television networks would do it if the law would let them, because they know how popular it would be, and how valuable the ads accompanying it. It won’t be long before a few smart people come to the same conclusion… and that will be the final death-knell for broadcast television, reality or otherwise.


On the grazing habits of the post-scarcity culture vulture

Paul Raven @ 29-04-2009

stacks of booksIn a world so full of entertainment choices that you could probably spend your entire life reading or listening or watching without ever having to repeat yourself, how do you choose what to enjoy next?

Favouring a single genre is one solution, of course, but even that’s a bit tricky nowadays, as pointed out by Jon Evans over at Tor.com. Just reading every science fiction novel published in a year would be quite a challenge if you wanted to hold down a job at the same time.

Evans thinks he’s identified two major coping strategies in our world of entertainment post-scarcity:

In my highly anecdotal experience, people tend to react to this overwhelming cornucopia in one of two ways: either they swear allegiance to one particular subfragment of genre, and deliberately steer clear of all else, or they try to sample a little bit of everything. I call this the buffet effect.

I used to be a specialist. Now I’m a sampler. Fifteen years ago, I felt like I had read most, if not all, of the good SF that had ever been published. Nowadays, I’m not sure that’s even possible; specialists have to focus on smaller subgenres, such as horror, or cyberpunk, or military SF.

As a sampler, I find myself reading one or two of an author’s books—and then moving on. I have read and really liked two Charles Stross novels, for instance, which once upon a time would have meant devouring everything he’s ever written. Instead I’ll have to overcome a certain reluctance to buy another book of his. I want to read them all, don’t get me wrong; but at the same time, I find myself subconsciously thinking of the “Charles Stross” box as already ticked, and wanting instead to try a brand-new dish from the endless buffet.

Interesting; I find myself kind of caught between the two states, personally, in that I go through brief periods of specialisation until I get distracted or derailed by some shiney new discovery, be it an author or style or subgenre; getting a commission to review a new title can provide an unexpected change of direction, too. [image by ginnerobot]

What about you – how do you decide what’s next in your to-be-read (or to-be-watched or listened-to) piles?


Can I borrow a feeling?

Tom James @ 23-03-2009

hapticsjacketWonderful haptic jacket being developed at Phillips Electronics, from Physorg:

Paul Lemmens, a Philips senior scientist, explains that the jacket isn’t meant to make viewers feel the actual punches and blows that the actors are receiving on the screen. Rather, the intentions are more subtle.

The jacket’s purpose is to make viewers feel anxiety and other emotions through signals such as sending a shiver up the viewer’s spine, creating tension in the limbs, and creating a pulse on the chest to simulate a rapid heartbeat.

Intense.

[image from PhysOrg]


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