Friday, February 26, 2010

girl gamers

so, according to a recent essay, nearly 40% of american World of Warcraft players are women. while i've been aware that the gender gap has been shrinking in MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games), i found the numbers listed here (sadly without a proper citation) absolutely stunning. i'm not surprised that women want to play, only that they've adopted WoW in such numbers already.

in 2008, i joined WoW so that i could attend a conference hosted by bill bainbridge of the national science foundation and john bohannon of Science. my wife mocked me mercilessly until she saw me playing it, after which she promptly became interested in playing. indeed, during the months that i played, i found it fun principally when i had her to play with. the guild we joined was almost entirely composed of women and was a thoroughly enjoyable group with which to game (indeed, they were far more engaging than some of the gamers i'd known as a kid). given her interest, i'm not surprised that women in general would enjoy WoW, only that so many have already overcome whatever social prejudices we've placed before them.

prejudice remains strong among many of my students at manhattan college but i think this must change eventually. if post-college women are rapidly adopting all manner of video game platforms, it seems that their interest will encourage college-age women to engage such games with more interest. as for where that might go, charles stross in his book Halting State suggests we'll all be overlaying virtual reality games with our conventional lives. will we have quests to perform in the neighborhoods where we've gone to have a beer with our friends after work? perhaps.

what the article leads me to ask, however, is what role women have in the development of the games. if 40% of players are women, then surely the number of game developers ought to be significant as well. anecdotally, i understand that this is not the case but i have no real data to support such a claim. one of these days, i hope that we will have some researchers who can give us a meaningful look at how the games are developed and in what ways men and women might play different roles.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

the commercial apocalypse

so i dropped a little amazon widget over on the lefthand side there and it's supposed to offer relevant books that might interest someone who is reading this blog. so far, it isn't. the first book it's throwing onto the blog is so shockingly inappropriate, in fact, that i'm stunned. if the amazon AI can't get a little more on the ball, i'm afraid i'll  have to drop the widget.

what would be nice is for me to have a chance to select which books it advertised, then i could advertise things like wagner au's book on second life. i can add such things here in the postings but i'd rather just have them in the side bar.

can anyone help out here? drop me a line because i don't have any more time to dig into it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

twittering christianity

so a friend of mine was recently invited to spread a christian message through the "first church of twitter."

i have no idea how many people received this rather unconventional worship but certainly there were some who shared their concerns during the open prayers section, as is apparent from the blog link.

conveniently, this has happened just as i've spent the last 2 weeks reading essays on the nature of identity and community formation in online religion for my majors' seminar at manhattan college.

there's quite a debate over whether or not online communities are "real" communities and what, precisely, is necessary in order to define them so (steady membership, identity consistency, public forums, interactivity, etc.). some authors have, as yet, denied that online communities can be real and several of my students have voiced concern about whether or not the flexibility of identity online diminishes our ability to connect to one another and others are concerned that the elimination of physical contact does likewise. one person at a lecture i gave this past fall insisted that everyone involved in these kinds of communities is psychologically unbalanced, a position that i found patently silly.

for some folks, online religion provides communities that they simply cannot better in conventional religious practice. it seems to me that, yes, some folks online are unbalanced, but that many others are simply ordinary people who find that online religion meets profound human needs. for these folks, religious communities must be possible online...their claims and their actions repeat this daily.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

arts, religion & contemporary culture -- final installment

this is a consolidated post. after starting my blogging at amazon i quickly found that their set-up wasn't quite what i need. but i did blog there (now unavailable) about my recent adventure to join the society for arts, religion & contemporary culture and i'd like to put in one last post. so, i'm pasting my first two posts on the subject here below the new one (in case you missed them).

"jet-setting, pt 3"

so i'm cheerful to report that i mailed a check to the ARC today to make my membership official. it was a fantastic group with a lot of interesting insight and i'm grateful at the opportunity to hang around with them and, hopefully, work through some interesting stuff.

there were two other (as yet unmentioned) issues that came up in our meeting that fascinated me:

1. can digital art function to bring community together?
2. do changes in human culture change human nature?

this first question was problematized by an opera singer who no longer auditions but instead gets gigs through youtube and mp3s, a fact that seemed unanimously odd to us (her included) but there are unquestionably ways in which artists can spread their ideas digitally and, in fact, art forms impossible without computers. thus, our artistic relation to digital technology is mixed. i still maintain, though (perhaps just to persist as devil's advocate, though i think not) that pencils do as much to change our approach to art as computers do.

as for human culture reshaping human nature, i'm deeply suspicious of this. i really don't think that you can evolve the structures of our brains/minds/whatever just by throwing us into a new cultural matrix. rather, i suspect that old structures of thought will operate in different ways when faced with different cultures. but the instincts, the ways of establishing relationships, etc. are fundamentally the same (i recognize that this places me in opposition to a whole host of network theory 20th century philosophers ... but i have never repudiated my love of Plato!).

the ARC is a fascinating group of artists, authors, and thinkers and i'm enormously grateful to erling hope, the president, who invited me to join them and who was both a gracious moderator for the conversation and a great contributor. i'm happy to have joined the ARC and hope i'll be able to continue my involvement with them.

"jet-setting, pt 1"
so, a few weeks ago i received an invitation to attend a meeting of the Society for the Arts, Religion, and Contemporary Culture (ARC) downtown. having never heard of the society, i looked them up and found that the group had included such prestigious participants as paul tillich, mircea eliade, erich fromm, w.h. auden, phillip johnson, and more. more to the point, they planned an event (last night) to talk about religion and technology, including a brief presentation on the bauhaus. totally sounded like my kind of thing (though i confess i was so tired last night that i was having second thoughts).

i made my pilgrimage to whatever neighborhood NYU is in and--being myself--was a few minutes early so--being myself--i stopped in for a beer at a small local bar.

after my beer, i headed on over to the church where the event took place, found my way to the right room, and popped into the first conversation i found, asking for erling hope, ARC's president. he immediately introduced me to anne foerst, who's work i've been citing for the past 5 or 6 years and who is a leader in the study of religion and science (particularly with regard to robotics). later on, i found myself chatting with rachel wagner, who profs at ithaca college and shares many of my interests in video games and such (i butted into a conversation she was having with a "didn't i just hear you on a...a podcast?"). i also met an architect who studied with walter gropius at harvard, the editor of crosscurrents, an opera singer, students, artists, ministers, more architects, and other college professors. it was a really remarkable crowd across the board.

the conversation's leitmotif appeared to be the difference between pencils and computers in mediating human nature (naturally, i fought tooth and nail for the honor of the pencil). it was amusing, stimulating, and totally engrossing. we drank wine and probably would have spoken all night if the church didn't assign us a curfew.

i'll report more later.

"jet-setting, pt 2"

so, more on my meeting with the ARC folks last friday.

this post was wiped, by the way, by amazon's poor set-up (it required me to log in again and decided to eliminate the original post in doing so), which means i'm trying to recreate what i wrote the first time. i am _not_ happy. and i'm pretty sure the first post was a bit clearer. but it's late and i must away to bed so i have no time to continue my rewrite.

the opening talk was on the bauhaus, a german art movement of the weimar era (1920s) that sought to unify art and craft, rejecting the distinction between "high art" and other creative work. perhaps in keeping with the ideological position that all of life could be grasped as a single cosmic entity, many of the bauhaus artists integrated organic and mechanical elements into coherent wholes (e.g., mies van der rohe's barcelona pavilion, klee's "twittering machine," and kandinsky's later, 'biomorphic' pieces). now what interested me is the way in which the bauhaus sought to intentionally design the built environment and how it engaged our relationship with the built environment. the artists pretty much all sought ways to create an architecture (broadly defined, so as to include the objects of our daily life also) that met the spiritual needs of modern humanity (the influence of le corbusier's _towards a new architecture_ is decisive here).

the bauhaus was a concerted effort to create the built environment which generally arises 'accidentally,' or, at least, through the uncoordinated efforts of many people. of course, our built environment is increasingly digital and increasingly virtual and so i wonder whether the bauhaus project could have any meaning for us today. what are the possibilities afforded by digital and virtual technologies for the direction of our built environment? can the proliferation of pdas, laptops, cell phones, etc. fit within the bauhaus faith in a cosmic harmony or of the unity of life or has our technological progress disenfranchised an artistic movement that celebrated progress and sought a radically new way to live? should we reject virtual environments that preclude our creative construction (a position advocated by the famed game designer richard bartle) or does the environment of world of warcraft suffice for us? it would be interesting to see someone attempt to design a video game environment that accomplished what the bauhaus sought up until the nazis came knocking in 1933.

one last post on this meeting later this week, i think.

Monday, February 15, 2010

IEEE and the singularity in second life?

the IEEE (the institute of electrical and electronics engineers) is a very large and highly respected organization of folks that includes a bunch of people in artificial intelligence and robotics. over the past 2 years, i've been really fascinated by their forays into the apocalyptic AI world.

in 2008, the IEEE Spectrum published the "special report" on the singularity, which included a bunch of essays about the singularity, most of which were generally negative. the singularity is the hypothetical moment when exponential progress in robotics and AI leads to unimaginable progress in a very short time. the idea stems from hans moravec's calculations about the future of robotics intelligence and was articulated by vernor vinge in a well-publicized essay. ray kurzweil and others have cheerfully championed the idea that, in just a couple of decades, we'll see the equivalent of hundreds or thousands of years of progress (because progress itself is allegedly speeding up exponentially). thus, the near future is fundamentally beyond our power to predict: but it will be robotic and awesome!

anyway, it was a touch surprising that the IEEE was jumping on the singularity bandwagon. as one well-known roboticist i know put it to me back then: "i was a little disturbed that the Spectrum would put such stuff on its cover. better suited to [insert name of a layman's science magazine here] but i scanned some of the articles and they seemed pretty sensible." a fair summation of the report, which was generally though not universally skeptical of the singularity. the interesting thing, from my perspective, was simply that the Spectrum would even bother to engage ideas once considered to be very much on the fringe. faith in the singularity is rapidly become mainstream!

which is why i can't help but wonder if there's a connection between the singularity and another, tangentially related project: the IEEE's new AI island in Second Life. personally, i can't wait to see what they put together. while there's no clear relationship between pushing AI projects (or even AI projects in SL) and pushing the singularity, i just can't help but think there might be something other than my imagination linking the two.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

a new foundation

it has taken me somewhere around 5 days to become dissatisfied with my author's blog. so, i'm launching this one in its stead. hopefully, i'll rapidly sort out how to get the site feed working and it'll deliver content to amazon's blog page.

so, some content:

in my current religious studies seminar on online religion, i'm digging up some interesting websites, such as this one, a site where you can pay to have a computer say your prayers for you. the idea that you can pay someone for a prayer isn't new. my colleague drew bourn (the stanford medical library archivist) sent me a link years ago to a colors magazine that referenced a "monk machine" that chants mantras in japan. apparently, monks actually went on strike in frustration with the device, which held their employment in its robotic hands (it wasn't actually a robot, just a statue that recited the mantras for those who paid to have it do so).

what i love best about the information age prayers site is that, for the time being, you can get two free prayers and lower rates on all prayers.

of course, the site creators do not dispute that individuals should continue to pray in person but suggest that it might be nice to supplement one's prayer with that of their computer.

naturally, i'm really curious. is this empty ritual or meaningful ritual? i'd love to know how many people use the site and what percentage of visitors end up subscribing.