Project Statement: Pixellated Culture

I went into this project thinking of all potentials for a video game blog. At first I hit some speed bumps when I tried to come up with an idea that was different enough, making reviews and videos quickly out of the question to avoid being called a copycat. Thus Pixellated Culture combined my penchant for all things history, literary, and video game.

One of the first things I noticed when creating this blog is how hard it really is to get out there. There are a lot of blogs just on Blogger, let alone getting WordPress and Omeka in the list. I was unsure how to get into this. Thankfully Blogger’s random button convinced me I’d get traffic and off I went.

Right now, Pixellated Culture, while not a booming success, is a success by my standards. I had wanted only 10 page views per post, and have averaged that and more. This surprised me as I’ve done little marketing of the blog outside my Twitter feed. I do regret not being able to market more, which is probably the only thing I would change if I had to do this again. This whole project has made me think about the status of video games as part of a scholarly agenda and what kind of audience wants this type of blog.

What surprised me the most was the google searches that led to my blog. Unfortunately, those who read my blog appear to be RSS -and- Follow-phobic, as my blog does not have any actual follows through these things, meaning those who do read the blog either follow my twitter links or go out of their way to type the address into the bar. These same people also don’t comment. I consider this a good and a bad thing. It’s bad because I would love my reader’s input into what I cover or if they think I’m crazy, but it’s good in a no trolls on my blog way. Perhaps no news is good news.

This project also made me realize the international application of the internet. Most of this class was spent focusing on American usage and ideas, with the potential for these ideas to go across the board. I’ve had many hits from across Europe. The U.S. is certainly my prime audience right now with a majority of my hits coming from within the U.S., but I have readers in Finland, Hungary, Denmark. Unfortunately, I can’t tell if I have multiple readers in these areas or if it’s just one, but I now have to keep an international base in mind since video game releases vary. This isn’t much of a problem with modern video games, as most developers prefer to release world wide on or around the same day, but they might not have access to all the online games I do.

This blog has also made me consider what is a game. Recently, I decided to do a post on flash games, with the flash games all being on one particular site that I frequent. Hopefully, I can gage the response from that so I know how soon and if my audience wants to talk about those type of games or if they are of a more “hardcore” sector.

One of the last things I noticed as a trend was that my literary posts tended to get more traffic than my historical posts. My post on Bioshock (second post) garnered more hits than my post on Fallout 3 (first post), which could be handwaved by saying it was order. But my post on Silent Hill (fourth post) garnered more hits than either Metal Gear Solid (third post) or Assassin’s Creed (fifth post). What this tells me is that while my audience is interested in the historical aspect (they still read those posts) they prefer looking at the literary aspect, the story aspect. I find all this to be an interesting look into the current gamers’ mind, but can in no way call this conclusive. I will maintain the project in the future, as this topic still remains in my interest and I feel like I can’t let my readers down now.

Rollout: The Project Gemini Chronicles

I am nearly finished with my digital project, The Project Gemini Chronicles. I am pleased with the outcome of this project, but of course, there is room for improvement.

Here’s what this project features:

  • Primary source documents, uploaded to Scribd by others
  • Slideshows for all but one of the missions (still working on obtaining photos for Gemini 9)
  • A YouTube video on each mission page
  • Curated links to other resources via Delicious

If I had more time and resources, here’s what the next steps would be:

  • Through FOIA, I would have searched for even more primary source documents, scanned them, and uploaded. This way this site would be a comprehensive destination for Project Gemini primary source documents.
  • More video content
  • More comprehensive copy

The site, in its current version, is complete and should be considered a framework for future expansion. Curating the content was very time-consuming, but it was a good experience.

This site accomplishes its intended goals, which I posted about in January:

This project will make accessible historical information that is difficult to find over the vast sprawl of the Internet. NASA’s work interests many people, and I feel this site would do a service to the general public by making this information easier for the public to find. Perhaps it could even be used as a teaching tool in classes.

I feel, as a result of my work, this does serve as an effective portal. Those interested in learning additional information that is beyond the scope of this site are able to find additional resources in the curated links.

I learned a lot as I went through this process, the biggest surprise being just how long a project like this takes to put together. But I can’t think of anything I would do differently. I am proud of this project, and I hope you enjoy it as well!

Medal of Honor: Frontline – June 6, 1944

“And when he gets to heaven, to Saint Peter he will tell: One more soldier reporting sir – I’ve served my time in hell.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
It’s June 6, 1944. I’m Lt. James “Jimmy” Patterson. The game throws me right in to the action as the camera zooms in to my boat, which is carrying me towards the beach. The beach destination: Omaha beach. Of the five beaches considered for the game’s first level, wide cited as the, “centerpiece of the game… it showcases the audio and visual presentation better than any other level” (Gamespot 2002), Omaha was chosen over Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword.
Before I am even granted control over my body, as I’m relegated to craning my neck to check my surroundings (breaking-edge for 2002), I’m witness to the soldiers in front of me praying, puking and everything in between in anxiety of what’s to come. As my Captain screams orders at us, “meet me on the beach,” a plane overhead shells the boat with a bomb. Everyone who is on the boat is either killed or thrown overboard in to the carnal, calm waters of Normandy Beach. I still haven’t been given controls over Patterson and am witness to several of my fellow soldiers being mowed down as I swim towards the surface. Speaking objectively, at this point in the game, I’m bored. I’m not allowed to do anything or kill those bastard Nazis but am instead watching as my avatar swims (slowly, at that) to the surface to try and meet up with the captain. Gee would cite this as my desire to engage in the Self-Knowledge Principle, stating that, “the virtual worls is constructed in such a way that learners learn not only about the domain but also about themselves and their current and potential capacities” (Gee 64). I want to know how hard this game is going to be, how dexterous I’ll be with a gun, how fragile my character will be and how easily I’ll be able to make sense of objectives.
I surface. The deafening quiet of the ocean is replaced with the whizzing sound of bullets and the yells of fellow soldiers attempting to progress onwards and upwards towards the Nazis. Before I’m cognizant of my first objective, meeting with the Captain, I hear a “thud” sound as a stray bullet tags me. Ow? I have a life bar and I’ve lost, at most 5%. I could only hope to fare as well should I ever personally be shot. Sense of invulnerability enabled, I casually stroll over to the Captain who informs me it’s my mission to provide cover fire for four injured men to escape the murderous sights of Nazi machine gunners. I loll over to the first, second, third and finally fourth man, providing lackadaisical cover fire. I’m hit a number of times but, even after rescuing my fourth prisoner, I’ve only just dipped in to my yellow health meter (0-20% = flashing red, 21-60% = yellow, 61%- 100% = green). I’m doing just fine and am not too concerned. My lazy self is caught unaware as I’m hit with a falling bomb. Little to no health is suddenly a concern. A few unfortunate machine gun shots later, I’m dead. I restart the level on hard mode, rather than easy – time to unleash my inner gamer. There is no thought to Jimmy Patterson’s mortality, his family, his friends, his highschool sweetheart, etc. There is, however, extended eye rolling at the long loading scenes, the tedious introduction and the repeating of the same cinematic and beginning objectives. Gee cites my attitude as the Psychosocial Moratorium Principle, stating that, “learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered” (222).
Hard mode is suddenly different. Each time I get shot, my health bar begins to drastically dip. I run and take cover. Gee states that, “playing through the invasion of Omaha Bach in medal of Honor gives one a whole new perspective of what the battle is like… [it] puts the player right in the midst of the action, pinned to the ground, surrounded by deafening noise and wounded, sometimes shell-shocked, soldiers, and facing the near certainty of a quick death if he/she makes one wrong move” (145). Soldiers rescued, despite my best efforts, I’m still at around half health. I stumble upon what I assume is a medical canteen, which gives me about 20% more life. Not too shabby. I escort an engineer who cuts the wire obscuring allied forward progress and sprint quickly to the cover of the Nazi Bunker’s wall. From that point, my Captain (somehow still alive) tells me it’s my job to take out the two machine gun nests rested on the hill above us. I run over to the nearest machine gun, shoot the six Nazis guarding it, commandeer the controls, take aim at the machine gun nests, take them out and then quickly turn to the four Nazi soldiers that were shooting me the entire time from a trench and quickly disperse with them. Nazis dealt with, I’m greeted with a loud banner across the screen that displays, “all Nazi soldiers eliminated” (if only). I run to the nearest door to access one of the bunkers and my invasion in to Normandy is over.
Reflecting, the experience can’t help but be portrayed to the likes of Captain America. I, Jimmy Patterson, just single-handedly saved all my fellow soldiers and eliminated just about every single Nazi on the dreaded beach. Gee supplements this, stating that, “ as in most shooter games, your character can take a great deal of damage before he dies. It takes a number of bullets to kill him, and he can find health kits throughout the game to replenish health. While he faces tough enemies, the fact that he can dish out a great deal of damage with special weapons and sustain a good deal of damage makes you, the player, feel like quite a superhero” (161).
Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman, with blanketing statements, assert that, “effects of exposure to violent media result primarily from the development, rehearsal and eventual automatization of aggressive knowledge structures such as perceptual schemata, social expectations and behavioral scripts” (Anderson and Bushman 356). The two also state that the average Youth between 8 and 18 spends more than 40 hours per week using some sort of media, alluding to the sway video games and electronics take over the young populace (354). Despite this, playing through Medal of Honor: Frontline, the only overwhelming feeling I got was of entertainment. Never at any time were the two worlds confused or meshed together. Frustrated with the second level, I even sought cheat codes to make my passing of the game a touch easier and more expedient (for purposes of writing this paper, I swear – cheaters never prosper). The detachment I felt from the inhuman crimes being committed was palpable. Never during my playing did I, despite entering in to the virtual world through a first-person shooter, entertain the notion of my historical setting.
This phenomenon was noted by Gee. In alluding to Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, Gee allowed a six-year old to play the game. While playing as Dark Sonic, presumably the evil version, the kid noted that, “the bad guy was the good guy” (145). Notably, this embodies the belief that video games measure themselves apart from the reality of situations. In Return to Castle Wolfenstein multiplayer, when characters are divided up in to Nazis and American soldiers, there is little to no remorse of sniping an American engineer placing a mine, etc (161). The feeling, I found, was best discovered through third-party witnessing, rather than interaction.

The Freer Gallery of Art: Adapting the Museum to the Virtual Space

Over the past five or so centuries, the art museum has undergone several adjustments in display technique, and ultimately the experience prescribed by that construction.  There has been a large amount of scholarship done on the theory behind museum design among which a focus has been placed on the experience of the museum as a ritual, even spiritual, practice. However, the external structure of the museum and the arrangement of the collection housed within have always remained integral to the ability to contemplate and appreciate the art as imposed by those in charge.

With the increased emphasis on technology in our world, it is not a surprise that art museums would want to follow the trend in display. While art museums have been digitizing their collections to their websites for some time now, they are beginning to take the next step towards complete virtual access. The Google Art Project, a collaborative initiative between Google and some of the most prestigious museums across the globe, is allowing site viewers to navigate through these same museums via the Internet. Using Street-View technology, visitors to the Google Art Project can virtually explore the museum’s galleries in high-resolution as if walking down the physical halls of the museum space. Not only that, but visitors can focus on specific pieces of interest, zoom in to see the most minute of details, and expand wall placards to learn more about the work itself. They also have the opportunity to save the views they like most in a personalized collection that can later be shared and commented on.

Although the Google Art Project is an amazing tool for the exploration of museums both at home and abroad, museums that may be too costly to visit in real life, the project may also create a substitute for the physical experience. With that in mind, the digitizing of museum space could potentially make museums themselves somewhat obsolete. Additionally, the tool seems to upset the sanctity of the museum experience where an individual can lose themselves in a place devoid of the pressures and haste of the real world. For centuries, the museum has been treated as an almost divine space in terms of architecture and purpose as it promotes quiet contemplation and worship of the art of masters. The plan and organization of an art museum is designed to initiate a sort of conversation between the viewer and the artwork. Viewing art online is the antithesis of that traditional experience; the Internet can be accessed nearly anywhere, at anytime. The vast space of quietude omitted from the experience, it is almost impossible to focus solely on the contemplation of the artwork at hand.

Since the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC is part of the project, I plan to visit the institution both physically and virtually. I will document the two experiences and compare the atmosphere in which the art is viewed, and how it impacts the reaction and connection made to the art. In writing this paper, I will then draw from the scholarship on museum theory and experience as a way to analyze the success of the Google Art Project when translating the exhibits into the virtual space of the website. Final Project Statement

The goals of my project are pretty straightforward and were outlined in my project proposal. First, is meant to be a tool in helping history grad students study for their comprehensive exams. This meant providing exactly those items that every grad student is constantly searching for: book lists and sample comp questions. Beyond simply providing these items, however, I wanted to open a cross-departmental dialogue to graduate students where they could provide their own answers to comp questions or their own book reviews, such that students across the country could learn from each other.

In creating this website, I definitely used a lot of the advice Trevor gave to make it a little easier on the eyes. I went ahead and stuck with a white background, such that comments could be more easily read. I simplified the drop-down menus, getting rid of the “complete list of books” drop-down. I actually didn’t realize I could make the homepage a static page until he explained it and I had to learn a little more about how WordPress works. I also just recently registered for the H-Grad list and am currently looking through its archives to see if I can find what grad students have written about comps in the past. I’ve been having trouble accessing the actual archive lists for some reason, but I’m not going to give up. I’m also going to create a new list on H-Grad to ask for other grad students to send me whatever comp questions, book lists they may have in other subjects (outside of US History). I’d like to have most of these sections completed with at least some book lists, comp questions, etc, before sending out invitations to grad departments and their students across the country. In other words, when other visit, I want them to actually have stuff on their that will be of use to them. Basically, there’s a lot more I hope to do with this website.

That said, I learned very quickly that this project is far more involved and time-consuming than I had previously assumed. I initially decided to limit my work to American history, though I had to limit my focus even more so that I could complete the sections on early American (pre-Civil War) history. Creating individual pages for every single book and comp question takes time. Plus, before spending this kind of time on projects, I realized how important it is to first solidify ideas regarding the site’s appearance, operation, etc. Every time I thought of something that would be better (in terms of efficiency in the site), I would have to go back through every page that I wanted to change. I probably should have listened more to Dan Brown’s suggestions in Communicating Design, though I must admit I was just a little too eager to get moving with the project to take the time necessary in planning.

Also, while my site allows for students to post their own book reviews and sample comp essays in the comments sections, it would be nice to enable the site such that students could log in and post their own .pdf files, add their own book titles, and post comp questions from their own schools. In this way, it might have been beneficial for me to have created this site using a wiki-type platform, like those we discussed in class (i.e. PBWorks). Of course, making it more open source also provides additional challenges, even if there are advantages (see also Rosenzweig, Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past).

As I continued working on the site in the last two or three weeks, I thought about other things I might add. I went ahead and added a list of links that might be beneficial for history grad students, since those studying for comp exams are often in their first couple years of grad school and could use these types of resources. I considered creating a Google Custom Search Engine which filtered through the web looking specifically for other comprehensive exam tools, though I figured that the whole point of my site was to try and create a one-stop shop for these types of tools.

Ultimately, I’m pleased with this project up to this point, and I hope you are too!

Let me know if you have any other suggestions or what you think about my project as a whole.