The Persistence of the Wasteland

I thought I’d give an update on my project.  You will recall that I’ve been using the Fallout series as a benchmark for examining changes in American nuclear culture from 1945-2011.  It is striking how prevalent the image of the high desert is in current American concepts of a post-nuclear world.  Below are just a few of the photographs from games and movies.  It is simply impossible to display a post-nuclear world without reference to what Jeffrey Womack calls “The Landscape of Death.”  Yet, significantly there is little to no use of this landscape trope prior to the early 1970s.  My argument is that this is the result of the environmental movement, a reinvigorated anti-nuclear/disarmament movement, and most importantly the release and wide dissemination of films and images from the New Mexico and Nevada above ground nuclear tests, which permanently associated the high desert and the mushroom cloud together in American minds.  There is, in fact an almost total switch of thematic focus.  Most of the books of the mid to late 50s feature a decimated or extinct humanity in a pristine world, a world wiped clean by bombs.  The latter movies, books and games feature a resilient, surviving and tenacious humanity in a world utterly devoid of nature.  This changing focus speaks to larger fears about the affect of technology on our environment which simply was not a part of the zeitgeist prior to 1970.

 

Also, notice the theme of the barren road, and the loan traveler.  I’m not sure how to interpret why that image is so striking, and used so repeatedly.  Anyone have any ideas?

Project Started!

Hey guys!

Here is the link to my video game blog : http://pixellatedculture.blogspot.com/

The first post is about Fallout 3 for those interested in the Fallout-verse, but knowledge of the game is not entirely necessary.

I chose Blogger as it is part of Google and links up to a bunch of other services. Blogger also gave me a bunch of tools to put on my blog, as in links to Twitter and Facebook, putting my own Twitter on the site, a page view tracker, an RSS button for subscribers and more! There’s even an option for Ad Sense, which I opted out of. Blogger also has a variety of templates and great customization. I wasn’t feeling to creative, so I just tweaked one of the basic ones. It was super easy to set up and get started. Blogger also has a button at the top for “Next Blog” so if you’re feeling random it takes you to another blog, thus potentially increasing my traffic. The only trouble I has was hyperlinks. Oh, they work and it’s fairly intuitive to get them in there, it’s just the field won’t let you copy the link in so you have to type it yourself. There is a “test the link” feature so you know if you typed it in right, but it’s still mildly annoying.

It’s a little early to tell how successful this will be, but I have hope. I didn’t realize Blogger has so many features when I signed up so that was a pleasant surprise. Anyway, check it out and leave comments telling me what you think, either here or at the blog itself.

Edit:

So now I have two posts up. The second is on Bioshock. So far, I haven’t gotten any comments, but I have gotten plenty of views. For the rest of the process for the project time limit, I do have the list of games I want to speak about. I do plan to keep the alternating schedule of history week vs lit week.

However, I do desire comments as I want this blog to be an interactive experience. I want people to leave suggestions and give me ideas. I’m hoping that I can encourage people to leave a comment and this is just new blog jitters or something like that. I also recently redesigned by template to look a little more classy and the background isn’t so distracting.

I’m also having trouble deciding format. I’m thinking my blog looks a little bland because the it doesn’t have pictures. However, I’m afraid that putting too many pictures would disrupt the flow. Right now I have hyperlinks for aspects of the game which are important. What’s the best way to go about the picture issue?

Database as a Genre of New Media

Lev Manovich is an accomplished thinker in the field of new media.  In his short piece, “Database as a Genre of New Media,” he makes the case that databases represent a fundamental paradigm shift in the way that people think about the organization and presentation of information.  Databases as a non-narrative, not necessarily linear way of organizing data did not originate with the digital age – they were found previously in, say, encyclopedias or photo archives – but they have experienced a renaissance in that time.  Video games, your hard drive, and the Internet are all databases, and they all represent a way to present data free of the constraints of logic and coherence imposed by the narrative form.

As Manovich puts it, “As a cultural form, database represents the world as a list of items and it refuses to order this list. In contrast, a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events). Therefore, database and narrative are natural enemies.”  He argues that the very term “narrative” is abused in the interactive databases of the Internet and video games, where users may respond to preprogrammed variables, whether they are hyperlinks or Koopa Troopas.  A narrative is something carefully constructed by its author constituting “a series of connected events caused or experienced by actors.”  It is careless to assume that a user will automatically derive this experience from a database without considered input from its author – narrative is  “used as all-inclusive term, to cover up the fact that we have not yet developed a language to describe these new strange objects.”

Manovich argues that since databases are free of the “cause-and-effect trajectory” of the narrative form, they can, through ever-increasingly complex organizational forms come to represent a more complete simulacrum of reality.  The implication of his vision seems to be that databases will mimic real-life systems in incredible detail – a city, a historical figure, or even a whole historical society – and users will be able to interact with these simulacrums in apparently natural, non-narrative ways.

Imagine – if, instead of writing an exhaustive three volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris had programmed the entirety of his research into an algorithm which imitated Teddy himself.  Students of history wouldn’t need to read about Teddy – they could go bear hunting with a database that simulates his appearance, his behavior, his patterns of speech in virtual reality.  In this way, they could experience the man as he was – Teddy 2.0 would not shoot that simulated bear cub either.  Am I getting this right?

Each method – narrative and database – has its own merits to recommend it, but as the genre of database evolves into ever more sophisticated forms, narrative as a construct is likely to fall more and more by the wayside in favor of organizational techniques better suited to their unique matter.

A little help – am I overstating his argument?  Missing it completely?

 

TIME Magazine Corpus Practical Practicum

Mike Davies’ TIME Magazine Corpus of American English is a search tool of the online archives of TIME Magazine from the 1920’s through the 2000’s.  The tool is free and can be found here.  Once you have played around on the site it will ask you to create a free username so that BYU can keep track of how the site is being used.

On the front page of the website, Davies claims, “You can see how words, phrases and grammatical constructions have increased or decreased in frequency and see how words have changed meaning over time”.  The website certainly meets the challenge of the mission statement, however, it can be a little complicated to navigate the site.  The examples on the first page are good to play around with for beginners.  One of the examples given is –gate, and how the use of it changed in the 1990s (e.g. Monicagate).  Click on –gate and the top box will show words that use –gate.  Scroll down to Monicagate (number 5 on the right), this will pop up the year and magazine articles which you can click for further context.

Another useful feature is the option to compare multiple features in the search.  For example, you can compare two words like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and then you can further limit the search by adding the collocate ‘divorce,’ this can be even further restricted by choosing a time range in which to search.  Once you pick an actual article, TIME Magazine Corpus directs you to the TIME Magazine website where you can email the document to yourself, print it, or share it via blog, twitter, facebook, etc.

You have to be familiar with the specific ways to search the site in order to really be able to use it.  There are plenty of ways to find help on the site, take a look at the information that pops up when you click the question marks by the search boxes.

 

Even with this help, the site takes some getting used to and can be rather time consuming to use.  It is certainly easier to use than to try and go through the texts yourself to see how words have changed over time.

As far as complexity, TIME Magazine Corpus is similar to Voyeur.  It is also reminiscent of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website, though I find Chronicling America much easier to use.  The example page is great but perhaps some sort of short instructional video to go along with the example would be helpful.  At least a tutorial would be great.

Though the site is limited to TIME Magazine, the amount of material is huge, ‘100 million words,’ and still growing as TIME keeps releasing publishing.  A researcher could use this site to study almost anything, I conducted random searches in gender studies, film media, parts of speech, phrases, etc. and very rarely did the search conclude with less than three examples to pick from.  In fact, the amount of information that normally pops up can be overwhelming.

Please play around on the site and let me know if you think that it is a useful site.  Do you find it a bit difficult to navigate?

The Google Custom Engine: Refining Searching in a Few Steps

Sometimes it is a frustrating experience to search for a topic through the internet, only to have the search engine turn up results that are not related to what you are looking for. This problem is similar to what the Bing commercials looked to address with “search overload” during internet searches.

The Google Custom Search Engine provides its users with a search engine to put on their website; the main feature is that it is customizable to refine its search results based upon parameters set by the user.

This makes it easy to find information because the search engine will only look through the user-set websites and pages, and not through other places that are not topic-related.

Setting up a Google Custom Search Engine is an easy three-part step. The first step has the user setting the parameters of the search engine, listing the websites the search engine will use. The second step is only a setup of how the engine will appear on the website, and the third step provides the code to paste into the user’s website.

There are tons of smaller options that allow the search engine to be customized even further, from choosing sites to emphasize during the search, to making money from Google’s AdSense program.

One problem I could see with the search engine is that its usefulness is only as good as the sites that the user lists for the engine to use; if they do not know enough sites to put on the list, the search results may not be as complete.

One solution is that the search engine allows collaboration with invited users with limited access, letting them add sites and labels to the list as needed. The search engine can also choose instead to search through all pages, but emphasize the list of websites provided by the user.

The Google Custom Search Engine is basic in what it is used for, but can be further customized for advanced use in user interaction and how results are shown. Easy to set up, this search engine is one way for websites to ensure that their users are finding search results that are topic-related.

External Link to Example Search Engine
Smithsonian and DC Museums