Sunday, 30 November 2008

Far Cry 2 southern map (Bowa-Seko)

Apologies for the indulgent post, but this post is mainly for people having problems locating diamonds in the game Far Cry 2. Very little else. There's a small, scaled-down version below but you find a bigger file after the break.

After looking around the web I couldn't find a complete map of the south section (Bowa-Seko) of Far Cry 2, showing the diamond locations, etc. I could find lots of small subsection based maps so I quickly chopped them up and edited them into a larger 3x3 map which can be found as an attachment on this page.

It's not great but it might be a useful guide for other players.
You can download a 1200x1200 jpeg version from here. The file is about 1.3mb in size.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Can women in games ever be more than 'tits and ass in a steel bikini'?

A provocative blog post title? It's inspired from a quote by Tom Farrer, the producer of the recent first person 'parkour' inspired video game, Mirror's Edge. Farrer was responding to an MTV interview which referred to the different designs of the game's central protagonist, Faith.

The initial design, by the Swedish developers D.I.C.E., had the Asian character Faith looking quite distinct and supposedly orientated around Western concepts of beauty - a little bit edgy with facial tattoos and an athletic physique. The end result was a Western conception of Oriental beauty - something which is frequently criticised by gamers from different geographic regions. A few sites have carried series of contrasting pictures dealing with the idealised notion of beauty (see Kotaku, Joystiq, etc).

A different version of Faith appeared on a message board, produced by a Korean gamer, which depicted what he thought was a more appealing depiction of Asian female beauty. As you should be able to see from the images, the amended picture loses the facial tattoo, has a narrower jaw-line, larger eyes, a smaller nose and significantly larger breasts. The story is timely given the recent release of the latest Lara Croft game in the successful Tomb Raider series (despite the review scandal), no stranger to having been edited by fans.

The MTV interview with Farrer was quite revealing. He wasn't exactly overjoyed that the character design his team had worked on in an attempt to make Faith seem 'human ... more real' was rejected in favour of the new version. The following extract is taken from the MTV interview with Farrer:
We really wanted to get away from the typical portrayal of women in games, that they’re all just kind of tits and ass in a steel bikini. We wanted her to look athletic and fit and strong [enough] that she could do the things that she’s doing.

“We wanted her to be attractive, but we didn’t want her to be a supermodel. We wanted her to be approachable and far more real. It was just kind of depressing that someone thinks it would be better if Faith was a 12-year-old with a boob job. That was kind of what that image looked to me.
What is interesting about Farrer's comment is the focus on the increased breast size - it seems to sidestep the more pressing issue about the rights and wrongs of pandering to stereotypical depictions of ethnicity within representational forms. Lots of blog discussions followed the initial posting of the comparisons last month in which questions over which of the images was 'more real'.

We have to ask whether or not this visual preference of one Korean gamer is significant? Does it merely pander to juvenile concerns (inflated breasts) or does it raise more intersecting issues about enforcing ideals of beauty onto ethnic 'others' (part of a process which Edward Said referred to as 'Orientalism')? Can Occidental designers ever transcend their geography?

What does this tell us about the perception of women in games? Is it symptomatic of what Dmitri Williams refers to as the 'consistent pattern of male technocratic privilege' typical of gaming culture? In a conversation I had about the issue with a colleague, Dr Vicky Ball, she noted that the images were interesting in that they pointed to how the inescapable codes of femininity appear regularly in media depictions of the female form. The amended image almost seems to want to bring about a retraditionalisation of gender codes, in terms of the established binary divisions which seem to exist between Eastern and Western conceptions of beauty.

This seems to be precisely the opposite intention of D.I.C.E.'s initial design, however, when one culture attempts to aestheticise another there is always going to be some contentious issues raised about the legitimacy of the output.

Monday, 24 November 2008

MAC301: GW2 and Al-Jazeera

This is a real quick post mainly to say that I've uploaded tomorrow's lecture slides to Slideshare and the VLE. They were pretty hefty at 7 mb due to the hi-res photos I used so some of the slides haven't processed properly, which is a shame. You should be able to see most of them below.

You might have to forgive the stupid type-o!

The advantage of Slideshare is that it forms a handy little repository of previous lectures I've written, some of which may be related to the current topic. I've also assembled a video playlist of related material over on YouTube which I will embed here too:

There's always a few quality control issues with public playlists, but, putting that aside, there should be an underlying logic in the selection. Most of it focusses on the ways in which Western media outlets were strategic pawns in a military managed game, with Arabic media outlets (and the blogosphere) offering useful alternates.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Ethnographic study into new media use amongst the young

I noticed a tweet by Howard Rheingold today which alerted me to a new study published by the MacArthur Foundation entitled 'Living and Learning with New Media'. The study was headed up by the cultural anthropologist Mizuku Ito, with a number of contributions from Heather Horst
Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, and more (28 in total!). boyd has a variant of her contribution hosted here entitled 'Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life'

The larger project was started back in 2005 with the goal being to gain an understanding of
youth new media practices in the U.S. by engaging in ethnographic research across a diverse range of youth populations, sites, and activities
The study looks at the different media ecologies young people negotiate with on an everyday basis, taking in themes such as intimacy, friendship online, families, gaming and more. It promises to be quite interesting and initial press response has been quite positive in claiming the report should placate worried parents obsessing over the amount of time kids seem to spend using technologies and going online.

The project will culminate in a book to be published by MIT Press (entitled Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media) later in the year, but for now there is plenty material to get to grips with.

A short two page summary of the findings can be located here

A 58 page summary white paper can be accessed here

The final report can be found here (handily divided into quick access subsections)

The MacArthur Foundation's press release material can be found here with some video interviews with Ito. I've embedded one below:

This clip below is from June 2007 when the project was in its second year:

The study aims to look at how teenagers are using technology from the perspective of the participants rather than some distanced, academic viewpoint. Any of my students on MAC201 wondering what kind of case studies they should be thinking about for assessment 2, then look no further.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

War reporting essay

I've been away a while... Work has been manic the past month but I thought I'd update the blog with some advice for those Journalism students taking MAC373: Media Ethics and Contexts, who plan on attempting the following question:
2. Habermas (2004) claimed ‘the critical state of a democracy can be measured by taking the pulse of the life of its political public sphere’. He also claimed ‘the public sphere serves those who have gained prominence as a stage for self-presentation’. How does the public’s right to participate in political life measure up against the journalist’s responsibility to serve the democratic process when considering sensitive stories?

A good answer is likely to consider the role and responsibilities of journalists in informing the democratic process. It may be advantageous to consider these issues against the backdrop of examples whereby the media appear complicit in preventing the public from accessing accurate information in a timely manner, for instance the news that Prince Harry was serving in Helmand, Afghanistan
Most of the material I have covered on the module to date has been informed by the core concern of democratic action within public life as informed by the media. Obviously, the work of Habermas on the 'public sphere' is important to this essay in that it serves as the theoretical basis for starting the investigation. Those students on MAC373 attempting this question will need to engage with Habermas' ideas in some form in order to complete the assignment.

I've posted copies of the slides used in the session on war reporting as a way of showing one way into the assignment:
Mac373 Reporting War 2008
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: war mac373)

You can find all of my presentations in the relevant folders in the MAC373 module space on WebCT Vista/Sunspace. I thought it might be useful for some of you to recap the ideas raised on MAC201 last year so I've included those slides here too:
News And The Public Sphere
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: mac201 news)

Tackling the essay

Some of the things that you are going to need to do in order to answer this question:
  1. Explain what is meant by 'democracy'
  2. Define the 'public sphere'
  3. Relate the 'public sphere' to the press/broadcasting (the role of 'public opinion'?)
  4. Consider some of the failings of the public sphere (is the press free from commercial concerns? do the public interact freely with news? do some voices/perspectives dominate the news agenda?)
  5. By this point in the essay, it should be possible to make some over-arching claims about the role the press plays in lubricating the cogs of democratic action
  6. The next stage of the essay should revolve around an example of your choosing - the only caveat is that the story or case study should be 'sensitive' in some way (ie politically or militarily dangerous, perhaps even concerned with privacy issues)
  7. You will need to engage with whether or not the public has a right to know or if the journalist/publisher/broadcaster has a right to withhold the information
  8. Is press freedom sacrosant?
The example you decide to touch on is up to you, but you might want to check with me first to ensure that it is substantial enough to suit the purpose. I have suggested that you might want to consider the example of the media blackout surrounding Prince Harry's 10 week tour of duty in Afghanistan, which leaked via the Internet. This is not the only example that you can use but it is an accessible one.

The story was thought to be subject to a DA-Notice in the British context as the mission was militarily sensitive, until the US-based Drudge Report picked up on an earlier Australian story and broke the news. At this point the British media opened up - there are lots of interesting newspaper accounts of whether the public had the right to know the whereabouts of the Prince, or whether or not it was prudent to not reveal his location for fear that it may endanger his fellow troops (see the links in the first slideshow above)

Was the Prince a likely target for the Taliban? Or was the stunt a PR exercise in order to raise troop morale? Did the media blackout even matter given the reports that the Taliban already knew Harry was there? Who really benefitted from the blackout? Prof. Roy Greenslade makes a few interesting observations in his Guardian blog piece here that you might want to check out.

You could also approach the question from a historical perspective. A famous example of when the British media dealt with a controversial story which might have been militarily sensitive can be seen in the This Week documentary entitled Death on the Rock. In 1988 the programme investigated an incident in which 3 members of the IRA were shot in Gibraltar by British special forces. Conflictual evidence led to public uncertainty about the legitimacy of the shootings. Did the public have the right to know?

You can watch the broadcast below:

Another famous example of a gag-order being served came in the Spycatcher case, when a former MI5 published sensitive information. The Times was carrying a story recently about a forthcoming book entitled Secrecy and the Media: The Official History of the D-Notice History by Rear-Admiral Nicholas John Wilkinson which was itself subject to D-Notice wranglings, and has been subsequently delayed by the publishers (Routledge). A couple of weeks back The Independent carried a story about palns to extend the powers of the DA Notice system, referring to a specific example

If you want to talk specifics then leave a comment or send me a plan or outline via email.