The Esoteric Beat: Ethnography, Art, Space Power

Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at ethnography, art games an...
Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at ethnography, art games and eight thousand dollars of space. Sexism In MMOs San Antonio's Trinity University's undergraduate ethnography class has been assigned a paper on Blizzard's World of Warcraft, and some of the papers have been published in PDF format on the university website. Here's a slice from the paper on sexism by Beth C: "The world of any Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game is often an intimidating one for women. The gaming industry is still viewed as a primarily 'male' environment, and women are thought by many to be out of place and even unwelcome in a MMO game. While the numbers of online gamers who are women are growing significantly, many players feel that the mindset of the industry as a whole has not caught up to the statistics, being that games are still designed and marketed almost entirely to men." Oh I don't know about that - World Of Warcraft seems to be almost entirely about shopping and dressing up... Sorry, I came over all 1950s there; cooking dragon spleens for dinner is, after all, a unisex activity these days. Art Game, Meet Game Art Kristine Ploug has written an introduction to 'art games', which while not quite a genre is certainly becoming an umbrella term used to describe a lot of the esoteric game experiments that turn up on places like this very column. Ploug surveys some current art games and concludes: "With games being the art form of the future, it is quite funny, though, that a lot of artists use the retro-aesthetics of the 70's and 80's games. The pixelated spaceship of Space Invaders is seen several places and so is Pac Man and Super Mario. It is quite rare to see an art game looking like a slick 3D photo - like Hitman. There might be several reasons for this. The nostalgic, iconic, retro-aesthetics might be what the artists are after, but it might also be because the 3D environment is simply not feasible. The computer industry spends years and lots of money on their production and resembling that on a artist budget might not be possible." Of course, it could also be that it's the independence of some of these games that means that they are unnecessarily tied into the retro-stream of contemporary culture. Games developers generally want to move forward, even if they are tied up with the endless string of franchise. You only have to look at Shadow Of The Colossus, Killer 7, or the Unreal Tournament mods Hollow Moon and Air Buccaneers to see that games can be both hi-tech and art-pieces. A dependence on retro iconography is, if anything, an aspect of the kind of nostalgia that doesn't want to accept that games are a constantly evolving medium and that in their speedy evolution, they mark the passage of times in a way that other media do not. What could be more terrifying than something which so inherently ephemeral? Eve Gets Macro-Industrial Moving swiftly on, and we have a final piece of esoterica from Mark Wallace's 'Walkerings' blog, where he talks about Eve Online's most recent financial revelations, or the player-made constructs known as 'outposts'. An in-game corporation known as ISS has recently built its own trading depot and opened it to the Eve public. Wallace explains: "ISS posted a remarkable business plan detailing the huge cost of building an outpost - about 36 billion InterStellar Kredits including labor costs, or something like a whopping $8,100 at current eBay rates of about 22-1/2 cents per million ISK. The business plan also shows projected revenues based on estimated traffic, and offers investors a projected return of something like 4.7 percent a month on each of the 3,600 shares to be sold, which cost 10 million ISK each." [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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