It is not merely enough to…read and understand language/systems/stories. It is also necessary to be able to play with them and subvert them through imitation. Real thought is mercury.Philip Sandifer, TARDIS Eruditorum, The Curse of Fenric, July 27th, 2012 http://tardiseruditorum.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/take-hitler-and-put-him-in-cupboard.html
The past is valued now not for the idea that it might recur but for the idea that there may have been other futures that could have extended from it.Philip Sandifer, TARDIS Eruditorum, Marvelman, July 9th 2012 http://tardiseruditorum.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/pop-between-realities-home-in-time-for.html
Aristotle describes a plot as a web of events that make each other likely or necessary. Much of reading a work of fiction is working out that web - trying to figure out what the future implications of something are, or trying to work out why something happened based on what happened previously…Understood this way, the problem with contradictions is that they are likely to be points in which the reader is led to make incorrect interpretive decisions for reasons having nothing to do with misdirection or surprise.Philip Sandifer, TARDIS Eruditorum - Star Wars, December 7th 2011
You really need to blog about your work. Anything good that has ever happened in my professional career has been because I blogged. It organises my thoughts, and has gotten me jobs, and got me connected with this amazing community online.Stijn Debrouwere, Hacks & Hackers, March 2013, as quoted in Martin Belam’s write up of the event
Most discussions of the ‘future of news’ tend to focus on the new technologies first, looking at ways in which they might be useful for existing journalistic practices. But few seem to examine what these practices, and indeed, what journalism consists of, first, before proceeding to investigate their equivalents and transformations within new media. So, here’s my first stab at breaking down the practice of journalism, and suggesting how they might be catered for in a new environment.
This is probably the first thing you think of when you see the word ‘news’, especially in the time of always ‘breaking’ news - telling audiences about events as they happen, as soon as possible. This can range from the (very generalised) spectrum of ‘break the news first, fill in the facts later’ to ‘wait for the facts, then tell everyone’. Even the latter will contain some of the former, at least internally. But in terms of journalism, it’s a pretty small part - just relaying on the message of ‘something’s happened’. In the structured data world, we’d model these as events - but wouldn’t spend too much time working on them, just have them as data points we can pick up and use later down the line.
As Michael points out, the majority of a news article tends to be placing an event in context - telling us what has led up to this moment. In order to do this, we’d take a selection (and it would have to be a selection) of all the possible events that had happened, and order them in a satisfying narrative sequence. This is where the main part of the Stories Ontology comes into play - making an ordered list of events, which it calls a Story. It could be argued that the events are just in chronological order, so no need to create a separate narrative list of events, but that’s not always the case - the storyteller may want to start in present day, then flashback, then come back to present day, etc - in which case the order is not chronological. Also note that by ordering the events, we’re not necessarily saying “who shot first”, but it’s more about the order in which the author chooses to tell the story - unless they’re able to reveal multiple events at the same time, there has to be some kind of ordering to it.
Here’s where we start getting to the meat of journalism. The recapping is a first step - putting selected events in an order - but the true value is in the links between those events. These are (almost always) completely subjective - they are a journalist, or an organisation’s ‘editorial line’ on how one event caused (or in some way influenced) another. If we were thinking about this in a linked data way, I’d say we’d use named graphs here - a set of claims of linkages between events, which can be traced back to a particular author (or organisation).
The Stories Ontology also had the idea of interpretations of events, which make assertions, backed up by sources. Worth noting that in the ontology, interpretations are created to store differing viewpoints on the same event (e.g. different accounts of what happened, or different judgement values about the importance of the event in the overall story) - it doesn’t directly address the idea of named graphs of causation claims - but we could extend it to do so. This is also where I think the Provenance Ontology (http://www.w3.org/TR/2012/WD-prov-primer-20121211/) can start to help us - because it talks about tracing claims in documents back to original authors.
…ironically, will be covered another time..
Also - worth talking about, at some point, the main frustration with journalism online - the lack of source citation. So much of the causal links are implied, made through juxtaposition and deliberate use of irrelevant details, to trigger opinions/connections in the reader’s mind. Contrast this with the practice of history, where a historian’s job is to record events and express opinions of causality and influence, but must, must, cite evidence for these links, if they want to be taken seriously.
We could say that journalism is a cool medium - in that it deliberately leaves gaps (lack of citations) for the reader to fill in - one misunderstanding is that by advocating ‘giving URLs to things’ we’re trying to erase those gaps. This isn’t correct - we’re trying to make those gaps addressable, to make them exist on the Web, so that everyone has a chance to share their version of how the gap might be filled. Without a presence on the Web, the only person who can control that gap is the journalist, and without citation, the risk is that they are unaccountable because no links can be followed.
Philip Sandifer, TARDIS Eruditorum - The Crusade, 28th February 2011
The tension of the cliffhanger is not - and never has been - whether the characters are going to be OK. Rather, the tension of the cliffhanger is how. That’s what the page gap in Superman comics, or the week-long gap between Doctor Who episodes is. A space in which the reader or viewer has to fill in their guesses as to what’s going to happen.
It’s why serialized media begets fans. The entire reason there are Star Wars fans is because Empire Strikes Back ends with Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Because serialized media encourages its viewers to compete against the writers - to try to see if they can come up with a better next move. Which is why the week long gap in Doctor Who matters. Because it is actually a beat of the story - one that gets erased when you can just hit “next episode” on the DVD and resolve the cliffhanger.
That’s the major point of a cliffhanger - the writerly moment whereby reading the text and constructing it become conflated.
The thing that you miss if you watch the show on DVD - the thing that is not intuitively reconstructed if you stop and think about this - is that in a given 168 hour week, Doctor Who is on for 25 minutes, and in the midst of a cliffhanger for 167 hours and 35 minutes. The bulk of the show is in fact the writerly moment - trying to figure out where the narrative is going.
The tension of Doctor Who is not whether the characters are going to survive or win. It’s not even when they’re going to win. It’s how. And it’s specifically a writerly sort of how. That is, you tune into Doctor Who next week having spent a week trying to guess where the story is going to go so as to check your answer. It’s a game of whether you can come up with something as good as the writers to get the Doctor to the next part of the story. Which, crucially, the audience knows full well what is. What makes a Doctor Who episode great is when every episode is a better solution for what to do next than the audience can come up with.Philip Sandifer, TARDIS Eruditorum - The Dalek Invasion of Earth, February 16th 2011
We have reached a similar point of data gathering when each stick of chewing gum we reach for is acutely noted by some computer that translates our least gesture into a new probability curve or some parameter of social science. Our private and corporate lives have become information processes just because we have put our central nervous systems outside us in electric technology.Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964
Most people who I’ve talked to online are probably aware of my love of the game ‘Red Dead Redemption’ (RDR). They probably wonder why. Yes, it’s won awards and had great reviews, but there’s plenty of other games which have done just as well, and yet don’t quite have the same place in my heart.
My game-playing history has been fairly experienced, growing up with a BBC Micro, a NES, N64 and so on, but I’d not call myself a hardcore gamer. I tried Grand Theft Auto III, kind of enjoyed it, but not enough to really get into the game. Same with Vice City, which was the last of ‘those’ types of games that I played for quite a while. So when I sat down to play RDR, it was quite a leap in terms of gameplay.
It took a while to grow into the game - one of the first challenges of racing horses around a farm, I found pretty difficult at first. But the moment I fell in love with the game was when I looked out on to the vast expanse of land, including the first proper town of Armadillo, from the cliff tops above. I can’t remember whether the sun was rising or setting, but it was, frankly, beautiful.
Having completed the main story, I, with fair regularity, still come back to wander the landscape, and generally live the life of the Wild West. Since then, I’ve bought a few other ‘open world’ games, in the hope that they could match the affection I have for RDR - Batman: Arkham City; Borderlands 2; Uncharted III; Assassin’s Creed III, Skyrim. And yet none of them have. Some I’ve started to grow to like (the latter two especially); Borderlands and Uncharted, I must say, I have no particular love for. And Batman’s somewhere in the middle.
Tonight, I was contemplating buying Far Cry 3, so I watched a couple of trailers and gameplay videos. And I think I’ve worked out why I love RDR so much. Yes, the in-game mission dialogue may be rather hokey, and the story is fairly generic - the middle section, in Mexico, outstays its’ welcome slightly, and stretches the credibility - but - but - there’s a key difference between it and the others I’ve mentioned above (apart from, arguably, Batman).
The hero of RDR, John Marston, is a man trying to escape his past, forced into confronting his former gang leaders, in order to return to a life of peace with his family. Although he knows he has to be violent to achieve his aims, his real mission is to be a normal man - start a new life as a farm owner, leave peacefully. He’s got the skills of a trained killer, but he’ll use those skills sparingly, reluctantly. And for me, that’s the key thing. Whenever I’m playing the game, that character trait shines through - this is a man who wants to escape the violence. This is why, between missions, I’ll take him wandering throughout the landscape, lost in his own solitude, a chance to blend in amongst the townfolk, to drink in the saloons, to play Poker and Liar’s Dice, to search for treasure.
This is why he’ll ride into the wilderness at sunset, look up to see the stars, and just live the life. He knows he’ll have to return to the main quest, to face his former friends - but he doesn’t want to. He wants to escape all that. All the other games (pretty much) are about normal people being turned into warriors, becoming tougher and more violent, with the enemies being annoying and fierce, just there to frighten you, not part of the true civilisation or community that lives in that world. And that’s what turns me off. You spend the whole game tense, frightened, or macho, revelling in the violence, feeling the awkward gun movements.
Whereas in RDR, the core of the game is peaceful, the combat feels like a sensible part of the world you’re inhabiting, the weaponry is smooth and suited, it’s not just fun to wander, it’s actually fun to ride into town and save the population from bandits. Yes, they’re shooting at you, but it’s a chance to be a hero, not being mercilessly pinned down as if the computer is sitting on top of you and punching you in the face, repeatedly, for daring to buy the game. RDR is a game which revels in the Wild West fantasy, and really gets under your skin. I yearn to spend more time under the stars, and would gladly pay a small fee for Rockstar to create more ‘Stranger’ side missions, so that you could spend years living out there (though ideally I’d prefer to play as John, rather than his whiny son Jack…).
So that is why I love RDR, and why, I think, none of the other more recent games, impressive though their graphics and open-world-ness are, have really hit the spot. We need more games where the hero(ine) isn’t turned into a killer - it’s something they want to avoid, but may have to be forced into it.