Oct 072011

[Cross Posted from Culture Digitally]

My Cow Clicks

My Cow Clicks

I’ve clicked a cow. Twice. One Kotaku article and a game designer’s reflections on that article got me to thinking about Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker, again.

I first clicked a cow when I added Cow Clicker as a Facebook application. I’m sure Ian could even tell me the day that occurred. That’s the strange thing about Facebook applications and the kinds of access they provide their developers. But that isn’t the point here. I clicked my cow for a second time during the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) in 2011. This was an interesting moment for Cow Clicker and for Ian I suspect. Its a moment that isn’t mentioned in either of those articles. It was the time of Cow Clicktivism. Ian partnered with Molleindustria and Oxfam to ostensibly turn cow clicks into real cows. It was hard to tell if, or where the irony ended and seriousness began.

Perhaps it was a first volley in what eventually landed in a pile of bull-shit. I’m not sure. There are certainly enough allusions to broken realities, Gamification and tongue-in-cheek revolutionary game designers. But this wasn’t the first time a struggle was being waged between ironic accounts of shit and sincerity about shit. It was the subject of his GDC talk, “Shit Crayons,” because he was also taking it seriously. The subject of Wole Soyinka haunts the entire thing, much like I suspect prison haunts anyone who’s had to partake.

So why cows and cyborgs then? Because I see, in all of this, parallels to Donna Haraway’s cyborgs. As I read about Cow Clicker and reflect on players and the designer’s intention, I see an old problem. The tension for the academic working in an ironic mode isn’t just that someone might not “get it.” But that in making that ironic turn, we’re also making a playful commitment to the very object we critique. It enters one into a game of cat’s cradle with another player or group of players that are going to take up and read / re-read / interpret it in ways that are unpredictable. Of course Haraway jettisoned her cyborgs for dogs and companion species.

The ironic mode is seductive, playful and fun… at first. But there is also a commitment that one makes in good irony that demands something in return, almost a blood oath. Indeed, if Cow Clicker, like A Slow Year, is a meditation, then it demands commitment to think deeply and carefully about something even if one’s conclusion is to jettison Cows to heaven. Of course I wonder, if Cows are Cyborgs, what is Ian’s companion species?

In the end, it is the Cow’s creator and rapturer that summarizes it best:

Or, it’s both. Or all of them.

I do think this account is a particularly generous, designer-oriented reading. It’s not wrong. It’s beautiful. I see it like that sometimes. But it’s not the whole story either. Like so many things.

Jul 292009
Siochan Leat

Siochan Leat

Its taken me a long time to sit down and digest all that I’ve read about Train and Siochan Leat (aka “The Irish Game”) as well as my own experiences playing the games and watching them get played. I know, a good academic like me ought to be able to come up with something worthwhile in under a day or so and a blogger within hours, right? I suppose, but occasionally something gets me thinking enough and my inner game developer moving in a way that becomes very difficult to put into words, though in my conversations with Brenda, and her recent blog post on the topic, I agree: the pleasure of pacing or more slow design. Sometimes speed encourages me to miss a better articulation of what I am thinking of. I have also been thinking about it in a more Foucauldian kind of way, as an ethic of discomfort, for I will never be quite comfortable thinking about these particular games and certainly writing about them, but the respect for that discomfort is part of what hopefully makes this more digested post productive:

…never to consent to being completely comfortable with one’s won presuppositions. Never to let them fall peacefully asleep, but also never to believe that a new fact will suffice to overturn them; never to imagine that one can change them like arbitrary axioms…

What Train and Siochan Leat left me thinking about was more of a focus on “The Mechanic is the Message,” embodiment, and social play. Continue reading »

Nov 072008

What was perhaps most interesting about this panel was actually what was not said. The panel in many respects represented the (dis)connect between departments and disciplines surrounding (video)game development. One presenter seemed to even embody the kind of (inter)disciplinary divide. One panelist actually said they didn’t understand why they were even on this particular panel, though I thought it was abundantly clear why they were. The (dis)connect between code/engineering, design, and art, which are so prevalent in the videogame industry was perfectly represented between the presenters.

Continue reading »

Oct 272008

Perhaps I’ve simply listened to too much Sting as of late. But my meditation has, as it often has of late, settled on the game, the geometry of chance.

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart