A Link to the Beast Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beast_(game)

A link to the Cloudmakers Page: http://www.cloudmakers.org/

 

We have, over the course of the last weeks, explored the complex relationships between archives as a physical construct, and the mediums contained within. I was reminded of a game that was mentioned in one of my previous classes several semesters ago, one which I thought would be  an unique example of these complexities. It is not a video or computer game in the traditional sense: it is played on the computer, over the internet, and yet the mechanics of the game exist entirely outside of the computer. This game is called, unofficially, “The Beast”.

The game originated as a marketing ploy for the 2001 film A.I.: an easter egg was hidden in the trailers and posters for the film, a reference to a Jeanine Salla, a “Sentient Machine Therapist”, and searching the web for this name brought up new articles, set in the film’s time period of 2145, regarding Jeanine Salla. The team producing the game created six hundred and sixty six web artifacts (hence the name “The Beast”), all interconnected by a series of hidden riddles. Each one subtly pointed to another, unraveling a mystery no one aside from the creators fully understood. This archive of fictional articles constitutes the space of the game.

Wherever there is a collective space, there will form groups to explore it together. The cloudmakers, the other link referenced at the top of the post, formed as a Yahoo group to collectively solve the puzzles presented to them by The Beast. In the process, they did something the creators of the game did not expect: they archived the game. Originally, this archive served as a check, a marker for progress in the completion of the puzzle. Once the final mystery was resolved, the Cloudmakers didn’t stop, rather they completed the tangential riddles, and completed an archives of pointers. Obsession is an apporpriate word for their approach. This raises a question: where does the trail actually end? If the space of a game is an existing archive, like the internet (in the loosest sense), where does that space end? You personally can follow the trail on the Cloudmakers web page, and you can see the scope of the game as they understand it, but because it exists in a malleable space, there is no way to know for sure, and no way to fully archive its contents.

– Garrett Stache

We have talked about how cultures use archives to preserve where they have come from in the forms of physical hard copies of photographs, books, tapes, and even video games. Before this class, the only archive that was relevant in my life was in the form of online storage of things I have actually used in the past – not others. The most common form of archiving for the average person at Georgia Tech is probably email archiving. When someone “deletes” an email, it is not really deleted – but archived until your email either automatically deletes if forever after a predetermined amount of time or you manually delete what is in the archives.

Podio, a product offered by Citrix, is often used for massive projects and data storage. Many companies, like my own, are in contact with many partners, customers, and potential partners every day. Simply listing them alphabetically does not always make things easier. Often times companies clear up the clutter by archiving data they have that they know they will not need in the future. Of course, it is still important to keep this data somewhere for auditing, record keeping, and milestone tracking purposes. Above is a screen shot of some partners of AIESEC United States. In the top left you can see that this was taken in the CRM work-space – and we are currently looking inside of the Partners application. With a recent update to Podio, there are multiple levels of archiving that can be done. There used to not be an archiving feature, but now an administrator can archive a data entry, an application, or even a whole work-space. Companies can make an application for a certain project and when it is 100% completed – they can archive it easily and come back to it when needed without it cluttering the work-space in the meantime .

Jill Duffy, an editor of PCmag, explains the flexibility of Podio as “flexible and open. It is whatever you want it to be.” She also tells a story of how a company called Vert Mobile quadrupled in size with the organizational help of Podio because it “acts as their hub for not only projects and tasks, but nearly every aspect of the business, including gathering job applications during the hiring process.”

I recommend Podio to all businesses for their day-to-day operations as well because when you have organizational efficiency in mind – Podio’s flexibility and archiving abilities is a must have.

 

Nothing Lasts Forever
Confronting the Problem of Video Game Preservation

This article, by Anthony John Agnello, addresses some current issues in game preservation brought on by digital distribution, changing technical specifications, and ageing practices.  I would like to focus on the following question:

What does Digital Distribution do to game preservation?

At first, digital download of games seems to enhance game preservation.  Classic video game cartridges that degrade over time and have limited life-span batteries are now downloadable.  Even modern games seem easier to access and, once lost, to restore.  Games requiring discs to run or install has been replaced with services that allow someone like me to download Unreal Tournament just by clicking the name in my Steam “Library” without having to rummage through my closet to find my old CD’s.  This also allows for someone to experience an otherwise lost (or expensive) rarity in gaming, in both modern and classic cases, with relative ease.  Earthbound (1995) for the Super Nintendo was recently released on the Wii U as a downloadable title for $10.00, whereas physical copies of the game run from $150+ used to $1,000+ new (an aside: currently on Amazon is a copy of Secret of Mana priced at $8,016.00 and that game is about $8.00 on the Wii eShop).

Going once…

So what could be bad about digital distribution?  It seems to resolve many of the issues we face with the ageing physicality of decades of video games.  The article mentions that one of the primary issues with modern game distribution occurs when physical games are released and then augmented with digital-only content.  Agnello even supposes a horror-story scenario of future rarities being Playstation or Xbox harddrives with particular game updates on them.  This problem is somewhat abated by the trendy “Game of the Year” editions and “Re-mastered HD Collections” that often pop up months after initial release and boasts the inclusion of all updates and special add-ons (which for Burnout Paradise was clearly not the case).  In fact, some of these remasters even alter the original content to the extent that the original release itself is valued more highly with the re-release considered a butchered mistake (see Silent Hill HD Collection).

The resemblance is uncanny!

As a game collector, I find myself struggling to achieve the same satisfaction that once came with buying a game, knowing that I owned a totality, having something that is preserved by the very fact that it was carefully completed before being mass produced.  What is interesting is that the lack of satisfaction doesn’t come from the digitalization of distribution, that I had once initially considered, but rather from the incompleteness of all game releases.  Both physical and digital releases of games come with some form of incompleteness, whether in the form of predestined downloadable content or perhaps platform exclusive content or even some post-release game-fixing patch.  It’s almost as if companies are deliberately making collecting (and therefore preserving) games difficult.

[Incoming Rant]
A perfect, modern example that comes to mind is the Mass Effect series.  The first two Mass Effect games are on Steam, but if you want the downloadable extras, those are not on Steam.  You have to get those through EA’s website (at one point) or through their own client, Origin.  So already, you are using two different distribution clients to play one series.  Now, the third and final game in the (current) trilogy was also not released on Steam.  This means that a lot of people had to suddenly shift over to Origin for the third release.  For a series that transfers save file progress over through each game, that is obnoxious.  A while later, the Mass Effect Trilogy was released that compiled all three games into one package.  This came out on the Xbox 360, PC, and Playstation 3.  With a release like this, wouldn’t it make sense to include all of the downloadable content across all three games in every single version?  It turns out each release has a different set of downloadable content included, while the remaining ones are left for you to buy, possibly again.  For a game that was released more than once and had physical copies more than once, this is unacceptably obfuscated, and it’s the very thing Gaynor was complaining about in the article.  Why isn’t there a convenient way for me to play the Mass Effect series in its entirety?  What about 30 years from now?  It shouldn’t even be this hard right now let alone decades into the future!  I guess in 30 years they’ll have already released another package that is actually complete for me to buy for the third time.  Thus, their plan is revealed.
[End Rant]

Too bad that planet’s DLC.

In any case, the article concedes that there are too many factors to account for at the moment to reliably future-proof games.  There are some games that can only exist in their original form through the internet such as Demon’s Souls, Journey (not sure about this one), or any multiplayer-only game.  In some of these cases, dedicated followings continue to keep servers running, an example is an old MMO such as Star Wars Galaxies that has private servers keeping its legacy alive.  In other cases, such an effort is basically impossible.  It will be interesting to see how game developers address this dynamic as it matures in the coming years.  I believe there is room for improvement.

The following discusses the novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/books/review/mr-penumbras-24-hour-bookstore-by-robin-sloan.html?_r=0

 

The week before our class visited the archives I was reading Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. At the time, I had no idea how relevant the novel would be to this class.

Caution: spoilers ahead.

 

In short, the novel is about a young guy named Clay Jannon who is recently unemployed and actively looking for something to pay the rent. When he walks into the 24-Hour Bookstore he isn’t expecting much, and still isn’t when he is offered the job. He has no idea, however, how strange of a job it will be. Strange clients start coming in during his night shift, and he is told by Mr. Penumbra that he not only must take a record of what they borrow if they do (no one purchases books, they just borrow them), but also what they were wearing, how they acted, and the temperature and atmosphere outside whenever that client arrives. Finally, Clay decides to peek into these books that people keep borrowing, and sees that they aren’t books, but really coded text that makes no sense to the naked eye. Upon further investigation and a questioning of Mr. Penumbra, Clay learns that the texts are clues to help discover the secret of immortality. This secret has been hidden for years and a “religious” cult called the Unbroken Spine has been trying to decode it for just as long. The novel spirals into a mystery of what these texts really hold and if there is a secret to immortality.

An interesting juxtaposition that the article mentioned above points out is that the novel sets its two protagonists, Clay Jannon and his sometime girlfriend Kat Potente, as technology-driven: Clay as a Web Designer and Kat as a Google employee. The author then puts these techno-geeks into a mystery filled with the allure of the printed word. The article mentions a quote that points this out well: “Kat bought a New York Times but couldn’t figure out how to operate it, so now she’s fiddling with her phone.” In one sentence, this shows how society is focused on technology and the importance of the printed word has been highly diminished. However, the book doesn’t stop there. Clay and Kat may be provided with the written word but they still find a way to make it digital. Within the Unbroken Spine is the idea that before you die, each member must create a codex vitae that details what they wish for it to detail; whenever they die, that is what remains of them, and when the secret to immortality is revealed, everyone who wrote a codex vitae will come back to life. Clay and Kat decide to try and decode the mystery by taking pictures of the Unbroken Spine’s founder’s codex vitae, which was believed to hold the secret of immortality. They digitized an elaborate text in order to let Google try its best to solve its immortality secret. Each page is scanned, and a huge team, led by Kat, use the entire internet and every resource at Google’s disposal to solve the mystery, and, in the end, they fail.

The author, Robin Sloan, brings up a very interesting point when he allows Google to fail to answer this mystery. We actually discussed this in last Thursday’s class- Google can’t give you everything, not always. When discussing the GT Archives, we all agreed that it was a wonderful experience to touch these artifacts and look at them in person, instead of just finding the information by typing what we wanted to know into the Google search bar. I believe by letting Google fail, Robin Sloan proved this point exactly. We may be a technology-driven world, but the importance of print will always be there, even if we make it digitized. For without print, we would not have digital archives in the first place. Will we ever completely go away from printed word, as many people are predicting? Honestly, I don’t think so. We may be completely technology-driven at some point, but there is always going to be that group of people that wants to hold that book, article, newspaper, and archive in their hands to experience it first-hand instead of on a computer screen.

 

From the Washington Post blog, The Switch:

For months, advocates of strong net neutrality have been whipping supporters into opposing large, incumbent corporations that stand to benefit from charging content firms for better, faster access to consumers. Some broadband companies have pushed back strongly against that impression, but that’s only served to highlight the bright line dividing commercial Internet providers from ordinary Americans.

Now, however, some who see it from the internet service providers’ perspective are taking a page out of the public interest groups’ playbook, with a bit of a David-and-Goliath story of their own. A market-minded think tank is making a play for Americans who object to heavier regulation of Internet service providers. The push began this week with a Web site, Don’t Break the Net, that urges the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission not to subject Internet providers to heavier regulation.

Relating to other posts about the seemingly free flow of information, the article summarizes a recently launched website meant to fight back against those lobbying for Net Neutrality, the idea that ISPs should provide free and equal access to all web content, without favoring or blocking certain sites- in particular, those belonging to their subsidiaries or their competitors.

Net Neutrality advocates for a free flow of information, rather than restriction. Don’t Break the Net, on the other hand, views the internet as a market place that should not be regulated, and that ISPs should determine access themselves.

This calls to mind the restrictions encountered by Edward and Margaret as they search for the Viage. Rather than being freely available for public consumption, Edward was forced to pay a seemingly exorbitant amount to even enter the archive that contained a Gervase. Similarly, the books encountered in the Bowmry library were all part of a private collection, and thus inaccessible to the public.

Should information be privatized, or should it be publicly available? This organization appears to think information is property, and this grassroots campaign wants to keep it that way.

As most will agree, the greatest archive of the Information Age is the World Wide Web.  Again, most will say that the web makes the information of the world more widely available and accessible to its users.  However, the web has also made more information obscured and has created more esoteric knowledge.

Who really controls the great archive of the Information Age?  Those who control the information available on the web must have technical skills.  These skills are learned through hard work, skill, and sometimes higher education.  They are not easily accessible or easy to obtain currently.

As for information itself being obscured, consider all of the ideas that bombard the web user daily.  Ideas that are never validated, do not argue for their truth value, and typically lack substance enter the minds of the average user unceasingly.  If the user is not equipped to challenge these ideas, good ideas are impossible to differentiate from bad ideas when everything on the web is archived and available.  Good ideas are obscured by the myriad of information available.

True, the web has made much of previously privileged information freely available to more people, but it has also created more privileged information in its existence.  More careers are dedicated just to maintaining the new archive of the web.  In addition, the information that the web is making available is being eroded by the ever-increasing size of the archive, and sorting the good from the bad ideas is no easy task.

I don’t think it will come as any surprise that I found Codex by Lev Grossman…. lacking. The characters were superficially developed and the plot raised more questions than it answered. It read sort of like a milk toast Dan Brown. However, I won’t be spending my entire blog post on the topic of Lev Grossman’s early writing style. I want to focus on the ideas presented in the novel of the world’s future and how the past can tie into it.

Edward is presented as a fast-paced wunderkind who is utterly consumed with his modern career. With the introduction of the library and the quest for the ancient text, we see a blending of both old and new worlds. This really made me question, when was the last time I was in a library and truly took advantage of the history and written texts that are there? The book again brings old and new face-to-face (literally) by introducing Margaret and Edward. One part of this book that I did truly enjoy was how it somewhat glorified the idea of appreciating the writing styles and literary merit of the past. This is something that I find is all too lost in our innovative world today as, especially at Georgia Tech, literature and its analysis seems pushed to the side.

Although I initially found it somewhat contrived, I like how the story had no clear-cut ending and how this impacted the main character. He was able see the bigger picture of what he had accomplished and his perspective on his life changed to include appreciation of things not as concrete and quantified as his previous job. It wraps up almost too nicely but it does spur on a sense of self-reflection. Coupled with the class trip to the archives last week, I couldn’t help but ask whether or not I miss the larger picture sometimes. Georgia Tech is filled with history and unique academic experiences that cannot be calculated into my GPA and I should take the time to explore these more often.

I can’t say I will read Codex again, but if you dig past the plot and basic development, there are some universal themes and it makes an interesting statement on the mixing of today and yesterday. The novel had more plot holes than a Facebook news feed, but along with the questions it raised about the story, it also raised some good questions related to our world today and what we are leaving behind as we speed into the Age of Technology.

Anne Gilliland, a UCLA professor of Information Studies wrote a book called, Conceptualizing 21st Century Archives , a book that claims “understanding the history of archival science is critical to understanding where the field is going.” In a recent interview Anne was asked by a current grad student at UCLA to describe the role of official archives in political and social control. Anne goes on to explain archives from an earlier sense of colonization as a form of enforced order on indigenous countries and further explains this act of control,is in response to the level of ignorance and lack of understanding the colonizing group had about local traditions. In my opinion, the way Anne responded to the question, she has a negative feeling toward early forms of archiving. Do you agree? or would you think that early forms where more interested in keeping the history of these indigenous cultures instead of trying to control it in archiving? 

Anne also brings up a great theory in her book about archives being a byproduct of economics and warfare. She references many examples from military conflict, technological advances,and record keeping to explain her theory. For example with the past National Security Agency (NSA) scare of people’s private information being hacked. Would you say there are some negative effects of archiving such data? What precautions or securities do you think we need to put in place to protect our “privacy” from the people who should be protecting us?

Link to the article:

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/the-challenges-facing-archivists-in-the-21st-century

I found myself a bit baffled by the last few chapters of Codex. Much of the book seems to identify with the traditional spy novel:

  • The ordinary Joe gets drawn out of his humdrum existence into an intrigue that he just so happens to have some innate calling/connection to.
  • Espionage of sorts – the book has mysterious information that he has to get. The Duke wants it, will do anything to get it and keep it out of Edward’s (and by extension the Duchess’s) hands.
  • There’s a sense that something larger than life is at stake in this struggle.
  • Edward cracks a sort of code that leads him to the codex.

And so on and so forth. As I was reading Codex as a sort of spy novel, I was watching Edward’s development of skills and reasoning progress throughout this affair, and then suddenly, he loses all competence when getting the “codex” back from Margaret. After all the build up of the novel and his transformation to being a burgeoning cryptographer in ancient aristocratic espionage, he doesn’t even check to see if the book is in the case?

Even after Laura was so very perturbed by the very fact that he just left what he had been searching for all this time at the apartment of some woman, he goes to pick it up and doesn’t even open it to look at the final product. Even if he wasn’t suspicious of Margaret, wouldn’t he at least want to look at what all his hard work did? As soon as he walked out of the apartment, even before reading the airport scene, my reader’s mind was screaming, “CHECK THE CASE!” It was like watching a horror movie and shouting, “DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!”

Obviously, the only way Grossman could arrive at the ending of betrayal and subsequent acceptance, was to make his protagonist Edward a fool. Although, even though this strategy makes Edward an incredibly incompetent (even in respect to pop culture knowledge, to have not seen so many movies in which black market dealers always check to make sure the shiny briefcase has the money in it) spy, it at least fulfills the cliche of having the spy brought down by the woman he trusted.

 

***EDIT: I realized this morning that I didn’t include a title, so I have added one.

A major theme of this book, one that especially reveals itself closer to the end of the story, is the concept of defined successes and resolutions in life. Edward wants there to be a clear finish line for every part of his life, but everyone and everything in the book warns him that he’ll never find one. The Artiste’s lecture on winning and losing may have been one of the greatest takeaways. He tells Edward “If you spend all of your time looking for something better you’ll only end up somewhere worse.” He’s clearly speaking from experience here, and knows that there’s never a defined finish line, as everything that resembles a defined ending only opens up new challenges. But this is an interesting point to take away. We don’t actually need any resolutions in life! The Artiste says “Why let yourself be trapped by conventional notions of ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’?” This sums up Edward’s entire experience in the story perfectly. He’s become so enthralled with the idea of finding the perfect ending to his story with the glorified book, that nothing else even matters. When he finds this holy artifact he’s desperately been searching for, all he can think about is finding his adventure’s resolution. Even when Edward learns of the book’s ending, he wishes that the protagonist had gotten to go home to have his perfect conclusion. And once again, as Edward comes closer to what seems like his flawless resolution, he still asks questions like “Had he won the game, or had he lost it?”, looking for his concrete closing to everything. But in the end, when everything seems to fall apart for Edward, he finds what he’s been looking for all along. Just as the knight unexpectedly found the Rose Chapel long after he stopped looking for it, Edward finds what he’s been looking for, ending his quest by sitting back and thinking about his journey. He thinks about how the constellations are about to rise, and how time will continue like usual, and he finally understands what everything in the story has been trying to tell him all along. Edward realizes that life doesn’t have any set endings, with time ceaselessly moving forward like always, and he finally finds a sense of peace regarding his journey.