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Category Archives: Nathan’s section

Read in a tweet from Rob Horning earlier, “Facebook subverts consumer sovereignty while its rhetoric panders to it––but newsfeed engineered to create more scrolling, not satisfaction.” Exploiting my section leader’s email that posts can be super short and simple this week because of the assignment, and asking… is there absolute truth to the Horning tweet?

World of Warcraft is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) created by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004. It was received with critical acclaim and a large player base upon its release and its popularity has only increased. As of November 2014 it has over 10 million subscribers making it the most subscribed/popular game in history (as recognized by the Guinness book of world records). What makes World of Warcraft so popular?

I believe World of Warcraft has maintained its popularity over the decade for two main reasons:

  1. The re-playability and easy learning curve making it accessible to the masses.
  2. The heavy emphasis on community interaction within the game, which keeps it interesting and unique.

The way in which the character interacts with the digital world also plays a huge role in the success of World of Warcraft. The controls of the game are very simple yet the player is able to manipulate the window of the game. The player can zoom in or out of the game or can orientate the camera around the player or the environment. While physical objects in the game cannot be picked up various objects can be added to the character to customize their layout, equipment and skills and abilities. The simplicity makes it accessible to everyone in game. When you first start the game it introduces you to very basic gaming concepts and controls and gives you “quests” in which to partake. The way the game slowly introduces players to the concepts and more advanced controls and themes allow players to become comfortable. The artistic direction is also “easy-on-the-eyes” and isn’t overwhelming and too complex yet, there is an incredible sense of individuality with each character and city in which the player can visit which makes each new phase of the game engaging. It also promotes individuality in the digital realm; this notion that each character is unique to each player adds an overwhelming sense of control and pride in the player. It also adds to the sense of community within the game. The players of the game make World of Warcraft a great game to play and make it incredibly addicting. By players customizing their characters the digital world is richer and more enhanced. It also takes the strain of creating rich environments out of the developer’s hands and into the gamers, which again removes the stress, and potential dangers of review. The labor of love is very much in the player’s hands and is reflected in the characters they control and the quests they undertake. The role of the narrative plays a huge role in World of Warcraft as well.

In Henry Jenkins’ essay “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” he talks about the role of the narrative in game design and the relationship between games and story telling. In his Essay Jenkins makes the point that “The tension between performance (or game play) and exposition (or story) is far from unique to games.” (Pg. 7). In world of Warcraft the story is very open and completely up to the players discretion. Various factions can be chosen and this leads to unique quests and story lines. By doing this the creators have eliminated what Jenkins calls the “potential threat to narrative construction” through player participation. The game eliminates the “hard rails of plotting” (Pg. 7) and because of this promotes a strong sense of freedom and allows self-expression in the game world. There are also no “set-pieces” which set the game up for spectacular performances instead every little quest and moment feels hard fought and unique which provides the enjoyment. Through eliminating the narrative and not forcing individuals to follow a story line the game feels unique to every player and again, I believe this is a huge contributing factor to World of Warcraft’s success.

The digital nature of the game also allows digital distribution. This new form of distribution moving away from physical hard copies makes updates to the game that much easier to enact. This again keeps World of Warcraft at the top of its field in terms of distribution and up-to-date features. The digital form of the game allows it to be reproduced on many devices of varying capabilities due to the ability to edit the graphics of the game to custom tailor the experience to the capability of the machine it is being played on.

World of Warcraft is an incredibly successful MMORPG due to its simplicity, ease of access, and the strong community in which its players create and continually engage in the game.

As a final reflection of sorts, I’d like to briefly consider some of Florian Cramer’s postulations about the “post-digital.” Cramer’s definition of “post” does not imply a “historical beyondness” of digital or analog technologies so much as a complication. Particularly, I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap that “new media” suggests a sort of historical or technological progress in human civilization. To some extent, this is true. Moore’s law suggests that double the transistors can fit in the same circuit as each year passes due to technological advancement. These sorts of advents suggest a sort of truth to teleological progression.

Nevertheless, technology–as well as the culture and political atmospheres that surround it–tends towards cyclicality. We’ve been able to draw parallels between the 18th century idea of the Panopticon and new media technologies. Grinding and farming in World of Warcraft in some ways begins to parallel exploitation in industrial-era societies. The Allegory of the Cave takes on a new meaning. Technologies rely on familiar metaphors rather than innovation. (E.g. The desktop.) Etc.  Cramer himself notes that @rovingtypist of the ‘hipster typewriter meme’ “has effectively repurposed the typewriter from a prepress tool to a personalized small press, thus giving the ‘old’ technology a new function usually associated with ‘new media’, by exploiting specific qualities of the ‘old’ which make up for the limitations of the ‘new’. Meanwhile, he also applies a ‘new media’ sensibility to his use of ‘old media’: user-customized products, created in a social environment, with a ‘donate what you can’ payment model” (Cramer 709). Old technologies, thus, adopt (or rather, always had) new functionalities that current digital media cannot. “Digital” is not a category that defines a further progression or utility than “Analog.”

To close, if there’s anything we’ve learned about form, history and progress in this course, it’s that the structures of “new” media are perhaps not so “new” after all, just reframed; “Everything old is new again.”

“In fact, the glitch aesthetics advocated by Cascone as ‘post-digital’ are precisely the same kind of digital trash dismissed by ‘post-digital’ vinyl listeners.”

“What is commonly called ‘analog’ cinema film is actually a digital-analog hybrid: the film emulsion is analog, since its particles are undifferentiated blobs ordered organically and chaotically, and thus not reliably countable in the way that pixels are. The combined frames of the film strip, however, are digital since they are discrete, chopped up and unambiguously countable.”


After reading Cramer’s thoughts on the “post-digital” I am interested in the paradoxes within contemporary art fascinations with glitch aesthetics and the rejection of both the high-fidelity cleanness and the digital low quality. This reminded me of our conversations in section regarding film preservation and the choice of many conservators to maintain analog copies of films, as the physicality of the copy makes it easier to retrieve content than the fast paced changing digital formats and their corresponding playback devices. Whether this is a sign of the post-digital or a sign of the logics of preservation, it points to the fact that digitizing does not equate necessarily to preserving. As the manager of MoMA’s preservation center states, “despite every new wonder of electronics or digital format that comes along, the best source material for older works is still the film itself.” Perhaps, the hybridity within the concept of film itself makes the case for a hybrid approach to preservation. Could we characterize this as a form of post-digital preservation?

Cramer’s “What Is ‘Post-Digital’?” was a reading that I could relate to my own life and personal view of today’s digital media. The beginning sections that describe the phenomenon of hipster’s reversion back to the analog and “old media” and shows how this action has become more than a fad, but an actual historical transition. The section regarding the “Disenchantment with the ‘Digital'” was most interesting to me because the term “disenchantment” is the exact word I would use to describe my own feelings towards the internet and rise of New Media. The digital world is a space that I have never fully devoted myself to, but I still encounter it constantly everyday of my life. The overwhelming abundance of the digital in day-to-day living has made me enjoy the retro methods of hipsters and fans of old media who choose to revert back to past, analog devices. In our course, we have been learning about the transition from the analog to the digital and the importance digital media now has in society, but the up and coming mixture of old and new is another integral transition in media’s development. Cramer describes his term “post-digital” as “a contemporary disenchantment with digital information systems and media gadgets, or a period in which our fascination with these systems and gadgets has become historical,” (Cramer 701). The disenchantment that the introduction of digital media created is the realization that this new technology and method does not make what was once hard, easy, but rather adds a new level of complication and “is another thing to deal with,” (701).

I share the same idea Cramer has regarding the new “post digital” and find this topic very interesting. I myself reject the full emersion of digital media and devices in the everyday, and would say I’ve realized that the digital’s promise of simplicity and efficiency has been abandoned. Having said this, I do realize the necessity every citizen has to digital devices and a complete reversal back to the analog years would create complete chaos in our contemporary world. Or would it? Is our need for the digital actually dire because of how popular and influential it has become or is this notion of necessity simply imaginary and induced by the digital devices we use?

In, “What is Post-Digital?” Cramer brings up the ideal of digital being a lower quality medium. Cramer references vinyl as a better sound than CDs & MP3s and film as a more beautiful visual than digital recording … allegedly. The explanation of this, however, is not considered extensively, and the debate of what is the objectively better medium is not resolved. Instead, “glitch aesthetics” are called out as an answer. I would like to discuss this debate, and what causes it. I would also like to know what glitch aesthetics are, and if they exist in strictly digital and post-digital technologies.

The use of big data for predictive action is strongly tied to another field based heavily on probabilistic analysis and big data aggregation- machine learning, which is the study and construction of algorithms that don’t just follow static instructions but build models from training data and use continuous input of data to “learn” and make predictions and decisions. In many ways, today’s machine learning algorithms perhaps seems like an effort at implementing autonomic computing. Machine learning algorithms work by building an initial guess model of the world it’s concerned with using sample data. With use, the algorithm gains more data about it’s world and thus it’s model of the world becomes “better” and more “accurate”. Interestingly, machine learning algorithms often rely very heavily on probability and correlation and categorizing human action to be able to label and assign numeric probabilities to human actions and their future consequences, with no concern for the “why” that’s behind the identified correlations. Machine learning algorithms categorize human activity mathematically and with huge amounts of computational power (“big computing”, as it is called by some, is needed to process big data) and in doing so, capture and attempt to create a grammar of human action. This structured grammar of human action is linked to probabilities (both of the observed actions and of the results of these actions) which the algorithm uses to model the world, form predictions, and make decisions. These algorithms don’t care about causality but the correlations in it’s training and test data sets and thus cuts down on the agency and judgement of human bodies. Rouvroy argues that autonomic computing is still just an idea, but many advanced machine learning algorithms currently exist and are in use, and in many ways carry the traits she describes of autonomic computing.

Certainly big data fits underneath of the umbrella of “qualculation.” We might say that big data epitomizes the key concept of “numbers performing”—it accomplishes this en masse. And yet, I can’t help but feel that big data simultaneously undermines certain aspects of qualculation, specifically through the performance on defamiliarization. One example of qualculation we discussed in class was the idea of Google Maps giving an individual directions through their smart phone. Here, numbers perform to direct the individual to their desired location. This example exists in stark contrast with the performance of big data which replaces the individual with the majority, like Netflix’s obsession with user ratings. Here, numbers are still performing, but big data complicates the notion of “you.” Our previous understanding of qualculation included the ways in which qualculative new media targets you. And yet, big data includes and you, but in fact only really cares about us. I’m interested in the implications of big data’s effect on the individual and how this might complicate our previously held notions of you. 

Ranciere presents democracy as a paradoxical concept. He says that “democracy as a form of government is threatened by democracy as a form of social and political life and so the former must repress the latter.” This statement develops tensions between different elements associated with the concept. Democracy invokes a certain procedure for governance, but also a set of values like equality and individual agency/freedom. Political theorists have developed theories of democracy that highlight different elements. A deliberative theory of democracy, for example, suggests that democratic decisions should emerge from discourse and a consensus among responsible citizens with the concern for the public good. It may seem that the internet, as a free platform for discourse and content, can provide a space for this. The fact that it exists outside of the established political sphere avoids the oligarchical elements of the established governmental institutions. This, however, also undermines certain values of a democracy – including a concern for the general will/public good. The aggregate of individual opinions doesn’t necessarily represent their collective interests. Maybe this is a paternalistic premise.

It seems that something like Wikipedia represents a social or political manifestation of democracy outside of the concept as a form of governance, but which concepts specifically is it foregrounding? There isn’t an element of procedural democracy – edits to articles are not voted for or against. Instead, the website gives priority to the ‘newest’ edit. This allows for the persistent deliberation of the ‘truth’ without ever requiring a consensus. Wikipedia seems to prioritize dialogue, even if this is hidden from most users (who simply choose to use the source but not engage in editing the pages).

Last week’s technician strike at RISD illustrates many of the paradoxical qualities of democracy that we have ben discussing. Rancière argues that if democracy is being practiced properly, it is disruptive and becomes a constant ebb and flow of power between “subject” and “ruler” (but does the subject become the ruler when they hold the power?) We can look at an institution like RISD as a microcosm for democracy. We have a president, lower tier administration, technicians who function somewhat as public servants, and the students as citizens. Without the students/citizens, the whole institution is obsolete. Without the technicians/public servants, the institution doesn’t function. Without the president and administration, there presumably is chaos… (perhaps!) A large part of the entire strike discussion and activism took part over digital media. The student administration created a website that was supposedly to impartially lay out all of the information from both sides. Most of the emails we received were updates from the administration. They control the student body email lists and therefore most of the information we received via email. Over social media was where the real disruption occurred, with student groups for effective labor solutions canvasing and whipping up hashtags such as #negot8% #risdtechsupport and #peoplebeforeprojects. Despite general confusion over the information being shared from both sides, the strike ultimately became a trendy topic for students to care about. It guaranteed likes and shares and excused normally over-the-top posts in the name of democracy and justice. With over 900 students showing up to march at the administration building, the contract dispute was resolved before we even got there. You’d think all was right after the students and tech’s “won,” but this is where the hypocritical nature of democracy came into play. The power of the crowd had disbanded and classes resumed. Perfect timing for our president to send out a recap email chastising students for bad behavior and blaming the technicians for “unprecedented and unsettling” events that “reflect a long history of conflict in parts of the College.” Without accepting any blame for the situation, Ms. Somerson continues with this: “The relationship between the administration and some of our unions has been difficult and confrontational for far too long. This strike is just the latest and most disruptive example.”

How can we claim our institutions to be democratic without accepting disruption for the sake of an improved quality of human life?