I read a lot this year. In fact, I think I read more this year than I have in most years previous. In the light of the new year, despite being 4 days in, I thought i’d put up a quick retrospective on the books I read for 2010. As I tried to do in the last post about the new year, I am including books that weren’t first published in 2010 though some of the stuff I read was just released.
Because this is about 2010, i’ll put up 10 books that impacted me. I will put these in alphabetical order by author.
Throughout college, publically and personally, I struggle with acknowledging I am a fan of Japanese things and violently denying that fact. I am of two worlds. The shame of the Japanophile haunts me. The tag of Otaku continually follows me. As I have gone through my Masters, I began to realize that this label, this aversion to belonging to a community of people who are mostly denied a place in common society, is probably worth studying. Throughout the years, discussing various aspects of the Japanese culture with my old language and culture professor, I began a journey to understand what it was that I was all at once attracted and repulsed by.
At random, I came upon this book by Azuma. It is one of the first real attempts, I think, to bring the philosophs from Japan into an American scene. Who knew that the Japanese loved Hegel and, through Hegel, the Frankfurt folks? I certainly did not.
This book traces the development of the Otaku in Japanese popular culture and it does so with a sense of wonder that can only be called Japanese. By the end of this book I was so hopeful yet so depressed that I didn’t know if I could really bring myself to look through it again for references. The reaction I got from this book tells me that anyone who has ever wondered about Otaku, Anime, or just Japanese pop culture, really needs to read this book.
Early in the year, at the end of the Fall semester 2009, I began to really enjoy the use of Twitter. While I have made some mistakes in how I communicate through it, the amount of knowledge it has opened for me is somewhat staggering. Chris Lepine, a doctoral student in Edmunton, Alberta in Canada, recommended this book by Bachelard as a book that people interested in design might enjoy.
My initial thought was that I typically avoid psychological texts insomuch that blending them too much might be a problem later in my professional life. However, on a whim and during a particularly long bus ride to Austin from school, I made it through most of this book.
The most basic thing I took from this book is that we are all raised somewhere. The place where we are raised reflects a general sense of how we perceive the world later. As such, in application of these ideas, a designer will take from their childhood and development portions of this and place it in what they are making.
I am obsessed, continually, with this very idea. After all, design cannot happen without reference. To design is to critique. To anyone with time and to anyone who can stomach the stuffy, complicated, prose of an academic philosoph, I really recommend this book.
I learned a lot about the world through video games. As a child, health problems kept me out of social circles and made it difficult for me to form relationships as a normal child would. As such, I was given a heroic amount of video games and would often spend time going through them, noticing how different the ones made in this crazy Japan place were from the ones that came from America. With this thought in mind, I read Persuasive Games at the behest of a slew of people, most notably Simon Ferrari
, and I was extremely happy with what Bogost had to say.
The thing I took out of this book was that the narrative of a game in addition to the things we call rules form an argument about something. Namely, the narrative and the mechanics are inexorably linked and that link coincides with societal norms and values. In what may be my favorite example of how games reflect culture, Bogost discusses the rules for food that govern Grand Theft Auto San Andreas.
In this section, he outlines the negative connotations of fast food. Fast food is traditionally associated with the lower classes. As such, the lower classes have weight problems. Weight problems are associated with laziness and the lower classes are therefor associated with being lazy and fat. Now, Rockstar, whether meaning to or not, created a world for CJ that includes only fast food.
The interesting thing here is that this is a social critique. Basic sociological theory posits that we are all trapped by the conditions we were born into. Education levels, healthiness, work ethic, socioeconomic status. To make a long argument short, the lower classes (working classes) eat fast food because there is no other choice because that choice isn’t known. Fast food restaurants are traditionally associated with urban centers and the general socioeconomic conditions of urban areas are traditionally very low.
This is an oversimplification but the gravity of this appearing in a game like Grand Theft Auto does two things, 1). It reifies the idea that the poor only want fast food and 2). It calls to attention the fact that the poor only have access to fast food.
Bogost’s book, for that reason (even if i’m getting it wrong), was amazing.
One of my favorite faculty members I help is one Dr. Barbara Trepagnier. Her book, Silent Racism
, introduced me to a lot of concepts and ideas that would form the greater part of what I was interested in as a Graduate Student. One day, I went looking for more books about similar concepts. I was all at once interested in how race was portrayed online and how race came online.
On Amazon, I found the book mentioned above and posted it to Twitter. A little while later, I recieved a mention on Twitter from the author and so I started following her. A few replies, a brief presentation in the department, and a bunch of direct messages and emails later, I find myself writing a book chapter on race and video games with Dr. Daniels. This particular story is probably one that is found a lot on Twitter.
The book though, is a historical treatment of white supremacy and how it found its way online. It also discusses the idea of cloaked websites or, those websites out there that seem to be one thing while actually being a way to hurt an idea. For example, anti-abortion websites meant to feel like abortion communities or websites of people who love wal-mart that is actually run by wal-mart.
The ideas, treatment, theories, and data in this book really make it worth far more than an academic text about an idea. I try and push this book on most people I meet and hope to see it keep appearing in the various circles of people online I talk to.
I grew up with people who loved comic books. I love video games and digital media. Last year, thanks to the “Black Spider-Man” incident, I somehow ended up writing about and reading about comic books.
I was interested in how Spider-Man developed over time, through various writers all coming from mostly the same background, and how the sense of place that is Brooklyn changed given the amount of time that has gone by since the comic first appeared. This particular comic, a story about a hunter incapable of understanding or dealing with defeat, really hits a lot of points that resonate with the “whiteness” of comic books.
If you haven’t ever read this particular comic, I really recommend it. Defense of my statement will come as we get closer to my presentation on the subject in April.
So, Korea is one of the most interesting game designing places that isn’t Japan or America. At least, this is what I have heard. It is almost impossible to find good data or historical development texts anywhere. This book does an amazing job at what it says it will:
“This book examines the multiple causes of growth of the online game industry in Korea. First, this book explains why and how the Korean government adopted new economic and cultural policies to develop the online game sector as a cutting-edge business and cultural icon. Second, it examines the role of Korean and foreign-based transnational corporations in the online game industry…The relationship between international transnational coroporations and Korean-based transnational and national corporations will also be examined. In this light, the book discusses the impact of neoliberal globalization on the game industries and on government policy.” (page 9).
I really hope that more video game studies take the form that this book did. The impact of a video game, especially large games, is much more than most people realize.
This particular book has had an impact on a lot of the things that I do. It is perhaps the most clear and distinct example of what the work of Bruno Latour has to offer to the body politic as well as the language that surrounds many of the issues central to modernization, globalization and neoliberalism.
“Whatever follows modernism at least has the advantage of being clearer. There is no doubt that the war of the worlds is taking place; unity and multiplicity cannot be achieved unless they are progressively pieced together by delicate negotiations. Nobody can constitute the unity of the world for anybody else…by generously offering to let the others in, on condition that they leave at the door all that is dear to them…” (p.30).
This particular lesson is really difficult to swallow. However, it is a lesson that all of us need to swallow.
Video games reflect the nature of the systems we live in. No matter the game, the inequity present through who plays and how they play reflects a system that has had an impact throughout the world. I can only hope that the “punk” game makers in the indie scene will pick up on the old punk movement and produce work that actually escapes this system instead of adding to it. This book was heavily on my mind this year as I watched the indie game scene take its current shape.
Going along with the Latour book comes this book about death. It is a collection of essays from this philosopher and it actually blew my mind. It sets everything up through this passage:
“From the beginning, philosophical thought, unlike the wisdom of the sages of pre-Socratic Greece, India, Persia, and China, was linked to the cause of building community. The rational form of knowledge produces a common discourse that is intergrally one and a new kind of community, in principle, unlimited.
Rational science is not distinguishable from the empirical knowledge of the great sedentary civilizations of India, China, the Mayas, the Incas, or from that of the nomads who have surived for centuries in their often harsh environments by its content of observations…
…What the West calls science is not accumulations of observations but explanatory systems.” (p.1-2).
This particular introduction has been on my mind since I read it. I have tried to strive to understand what it means for society, what it means to two unlike groups meeting at a negotiating table. At its essence, I have tried to think about what it would be like to not be surrounded by a culture that exists through and because of science.
I began to get into comic books so that I could present a paper on Spider-Man. I wanted to get into comic books because, like video games, they are the new place for mythology as well as a cultural object that bridges cultures together.
It has taken me a long time to be able to really start down a path to understanding comics. In addition to being cultural objects, fan studies also has a healthy amount of data to use here. This particular book serves both of these purposes by providing a blue-print for how fans judge a comic as well as how authors write them.
In the copy I have (ISBN 9780060976255), page 74 is probably the most useful thing to me. It discusses 6 aspects of comic books.
- Moment to Moment
- Action to Action
- Subject to Subject
- Scene to Scene
- Aspect to Aspect
The author then goes through a variety of comic books and displays how each of them uses these 6 aspects. Cultural differences are especially noticeable here. The implications for things outside of comic books are stupendous. As such, this book should be read by all manner of people.
For this book, for all of Nakamura’s work, I can’t really put into words how useful it is. Instead, i’ll simply post the back of the book:
In the ninties, neoliberalism simultaneously provided the context for the Internet’s rapid uptake in the United States and discouraged public conversations about racial politics. At the same time many scholars lauded the widespread use of text-driven interfaces as a solution to the problem of racial intolerance. Today’s online world is witnessing text-driven interfaces giving way to far more visually intensive and commercially driven media forms that not only reeal but showcase people’s racial, ethnic, and gender identity. Lisa Nakamura refers to case studies of popular yet rarely evaluated uses of the Internet such as pregnancy Websites, intant messaging, and online petitions and quizzes to look at the emergence of race-, ethnic-, and gender-identified visual cultures.
What this book ends up doing is providing a context through which the emergence of particular racial stereotypes evolved online. Her later work focuses more on the nationality and stereotypes of gold farmers in Massively Multiplayer Games.
In the end
In the end, I realized while writing this, that I am currently obsessed with the impact of neoliberal policies and ideas on the perception of just about anything. 2010 has been sort of a depressing year academically, but I can also say that I feel great about what i’ve read.