Filtering by Category: circulation

Flawed "trends" circulation

Just saw this intriguing link called "5 Digital Trends Shaping the Consumer Experience" sent by @iamdanw and I found it fascinating.

The post lists so-called "trends" (a term commonly employed by consultants and marketing persons to refer to a particular form of culture that emerged at a certain moment in time) that can be relevant for "consumers".

What struck me as curious here is simply the way certain concepts that appeared in different fields are defined and eventually understood by the author, whom I expect to be representative of a marketing crowd. See definition examples:

"Calm technology refers to applications that cut down on the digital noise of high-volume data to show the user only enough information so that he or she is able to focus on a task. Mark Weiser is considered to be the father of “ubiquitous computing,” a synonym for calm technology."

The "one-liner" approach to define things makes the concept so basic that it's only vaguely connected to what the persons behind it wanted to express. For people who read Weiser's take on calm computing, this is only a pale version of the research papers.

Nothing new under the sun here, this kind of problems happen all the time. And I don't wanna play the grumpy academic being sad about this. However, what I find fascinating is that it enables to see the various process at stake when concepts circulate.

There's also simplication and confusion, as "game theory" seems to equal "gamification":

"Game theory is one of the key components in the theoretical research surrounding singularity. Marketers can make the argument that by having multiple people taking the same action at once, in ways that are deemed safe by them, they can drive massive change. According to Gartner’s 2011 study of Gamification,"

But the best part comes when the marketing person tries to grasp a concept that is elusive and only meant to spark debate in a community of practitioners or researchers:

"Currently, the new aesthetic remains fragmented and extremely hard to put into a coherent example that would allow a marketer to grasp its full potential. But, because the subject matter of aesthetics relates to how beauty is perceived and valued by us as humans, retailers are making strides to test it via digital consumer experiences."

Why do I blog this? Being interested in digital culture and the circulation of concepts in this context, this kind of blogpost is curious as it reveals various underlying assumptions: the necessity for some people to turn any concepts or novelties into something that help selling or communicating (while some notions are not intended to go beyond pure speculations) or the over-simplication of the world.

Of course this happens a million times everyday and I don't know if it's important to pay attention to it... but analyzing the arguments and the simplifications at stake seems important to me. That's perhaps something I'll add in my course next year.

Reverse-engineer science-fiction from the past / imagine sci-fi of the past

An interesting quote from William Gibson in this interview in Wired UK:

"When I was a kid in the late fifties and the late sixties reading a lot of science fiction from the 1940s, I used to simultaneously reverse-engineer the history of the world from whatever version of it that science fiction writers were implying in their imaginary futures, and I was patching bits in my own imagination to not have the story spoiled by some ludicrous anachronism. So I sometimes imagine children doing that to Neuromancer. If you wanted to do an interesting thought experiment, try to imagine writing a science fiction novel in 1981 that would have had a representation of the cell phone in society in exactly the way we use it today.

If I could have got that word from the future to my unconscious somehow, I don’t think it would have worked, I don’t think I would have been able to sell it. I would have been writing a novel in 1981 in which everyone talked to each other constantly on little pocket radios and sent each other messages through the telephone system. I can’t imagine that being the stuff of a sensible narrative. It would have seemed so bizarre and incredibly indulgent on the writer’s part."

Why do I blog this? I like this kind of thought experiment, perhaps I should try it with design students in my course about the evolution of interfaces.

Feedback viz in public space

There seems to be growing and conspicuous increase of feedback indicator in public space, based (or not) on PPT metaphor. Seen in London last week.

Why do I blog this? documenting the circulation of artifacts from one space to another, and how public space is influence by this. It's funny to see how this kind of visual metaphor (sometimes very poor, like pie chart) finds it way in the streets.

Book proposal about joypad evolution

Game controller project The game controller book project moves slowly but we tentatively wrote a draft of the book proposal that we intend to use. The provisional title is "The Joypad Continuum: tracing the evolution of game pad design" (by Nicolas Nova and Laurent Bolli).

For the record, there's already some interest here and there but we thought it would be good to confront the book ideas with potential readers. The poster above is one of the artifacts that reflect the work we're doing to analyze the game pads. And yes it's a book entirely focused on joypads. Joysticks will be mentioned of course, but we zero in the evolution of pads.

Feel free to comment on this, we already collected lots of feedback, which is very refreshing and insightful (thanks for those who sent comments and emails). The outline is almost there and we have lots of material for the different parts of the book. We'll post stuff later on.

photoshooting photoshooting

Project description

This book describes the evolution of joypad designs over the short history of video games. It systematically tracks the process of change and how it happened in order to reach two goals. On the one hand, the book sets off to discuss the design decisions behind key interface attributes featured by this apparently banal class of artifact. It primarily focuses on joypad shapes, direction and action buttons as well as various other features that have enriched video game controllers. On the other hand, the book discusses the circulation and modification of such design attributes over time and between joypad models. Doing so, this work exemplifies general principles about patterns of change and highlights the specificities of this class of technical objects.

Among contemporary objects, joypads are peculiar given their existence both as physical artifacts and as interfaces to control characters in digital environments. Unlike joysticks, they correspond to a type of game controller held in the hand where fingers interact with buttons, sliders and tiny sticks. Therefore, observing this unique device enables to highlight critical implications about human-computer interaction and innovation in the field of new media: the intricate relationship between joypads and video game design, the evolution of game interfaces (and upcoming changes) as well as the evolution of technical objects in general.

In terms of theoretical framework, the book adopts an evolutionary perspective (Simondon, 1980; Deforge, 1985; Basalla, 1988) to describe the different paths taken by joypad design and to give the reader a critical overview of the underlying trends that shaped the various iterations of this artifact. However, the evolutionary analogy serves here as an organizing principles to track the iterative changes of objects and does not reflect any teleological assumption of progress. From a methodological perspective, this book is based on the ethnographical analysis of technical objects (Star, 1999), interviews with controller designers or the gathering of second-hand material about the design decisions that led to certain joypads (interviews, books, patents). Instead of adopting the common approach focused on studying usage and people, this work is based on the examination of artifacts. The systematic analysis of artifactual iterations enabled to build genealogies and to foster insights about patterns of changes (e.g. evolution of the number of buttons, evolution of the button/surface ratio). Furthermore, the evolutionary angle posits that objects are not explored independently but as being part of various lineages, which shares common design attributes such as controller shapes or navigation interface.

Such book targets mainly academic researchers in the field of Science and Technology Studies, New Media or Human-Computer Interaction as well as practitioners in the field of interaction design. However, the book is also meant to be relevant for video game fans who are interested in a deeper perspective about game controllers. It is intended to be short (140-180 pages) and illustrated by black and white joypad drawings and diagrams (genealogy trees, histograms as carried out by Deforge, 1985).

Fields of discourse: The fields of discourse adopted in this project are a combination of: - Science and technology studies (Simondon, 1980; Basalla, 1988; Akrich, 1992) for the analysis of technical objects and the description about how mundane artifacts are the product of various forces. More specifically, the work of Zimmermann (2010) about the circulation of cultural elements is informative for the analysis of how design choices about game pads spread and evolve. The book also relies on the work of Star (1999) concerning how ethnography can be applied to physical artifacts. - Human-Computer Interaction (Gibson, 1977; Norman, 1990; Gaver, 1991; Gaver, 1996) for the focus on interfaces and the notion of affordance. At first this term corresponded to the action possibilities present in the environment. This notion evolved in the field of HCI to refer to "the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used." (Norman, 1990). - New media studies and more specifically Platform Studies (Monfort and Bogost, 2009) because of the renewal of interest in platforms/technical objects.

Reasons for writing this book: The first reason to write this book stemmed from the personal collection of joypad we collected in the previous months. This material enabled to analyze and discuss the evolution of these technical objects and serve as the starting point for interaction and game design research in different contexts (workshops with students, seminar with practitioners).

A second reason is that the large majority of books about game interfaces are non-academic and take a descriptive approach with plenty of pictures but a limited analysis of their evolution (see for example Forster, W. and Freundorfer, S., 2003 or Miller et al., 2009). Our interested lies in providing an analytical perspective about joypads instead of a description of all the existing artifacts.

In addition, there is currently a renewed interest in studying artifacts (beyond their usage) in new media studies, as attested by the Platform Studies collection at the MIT press. We therefore believe the analysis of joypads is relevant both from the video game analysis standpoint and also as an introduction to the analysis of technical objects. Compared to other research foci (such as video game analysis or media usage), the joypad is a less-explored element that is paradoxical compared to its iconic nature as a powerful metaphor for video games. Because of the potential appeal of joypad to readers, the book is also an opportunity to exemplify general lessons about the history of technical objects (which generally draws upon artifacts that are less common for todays' readers such as washing machines or car engines).

Finally, from a video game standpoint, looking back at the evolution of game controllers is important given that the console manufacturers are transferring hardware cycle to the peripherals rather than console platforms. Furthermore, the disappearance of the controller in Microsoft Natal's project and its recombination in the case of the Wii and Sony's Motion Controller makes the joypad an interesting object to investigate.

References: Akrich, M. (1992), "The description of technical objects", in Bijker, W.E., Law, J. (Eds),Shaping Technology/Building Society, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp.205-24.

Basalla, G. (1988). The Evolution of Technology. Cambridge University Press.

Deforge, Y. (1985). Technologie et génétique de l'objet industriel. Paris: Maloine.

Forster, W. and Freundorfer, S. (2003). Joysticks. Gameplan; Auflage.

Gaver, W. (1996). Affordances for interaction: The social is material for design. Ecological Psychology, 8(2).

Gaver, W. (1991). Technology affordances. Proceedings of CHI, 1991 (New Orleans, Lousiana, USA, April 28 - May 2, 1991) ACM, New York.

Miller, F., Vandome, A.F., McBrewster, J. (2009). Game Controller. Alphascript Publishing.

Montfort, N. & Bogost, I. (2009). Racing the Beam The Atari Video Computer System. MIT press.

Norman, D. A. (1990). The design of everyday things. New York: Doubleday.

Simondon, G. (1980), trans. Ninian Mellamphy, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. London: University of Western Ontario, 1980 [1958].

Star, S.L. (1999). “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” American Behavioral . Scientist, 43: 377-391

Tulathimutte, T. (2005). Controller Mediation in Human-Computer Play. Honors Thesis, Stanford University.

Zimmermann, B. (2010). Redesigning Culture: Chinese Characters in Alphabet-Encoded Networks, Design and Culture, Berg Publishers.

Petroski's "The Evolution of Useful Things"

Reading about technical objects evolution for the game controller project led me to The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are by Henry Petroski. Focused on forks, paper clips or spoons, the book asks this basic-but-interesting question: "how did these convenient implements come to be, and why are they now so second-nature to us?". It basically try to seek answers to "provide insight in the nature of technological development", and by approaching it with an evolutionary lense:

"Putting implements such as the common knife and fork and chopsticks into an evolutionary perspective, tentative as it necessarily must be, gives a new slant to the concept of their design, for they do not spring fully-formed from the mind of some maker but, rather, become shaped and reshaped through the (principally negative) experiences of their users within the social, cultural, and technological contexts in which they are embedded. The formal evolution of artifacts in turn has profound influences on how we use them."

Based on a wide array of illustrative examples, he debunks the "Form Follows Function" myth:

"Imagining how the form of things as seemingly simple as eating utensils might have evolved demonstrates the inadequacy of a “form follows function” argument to serve as a guiding principle for understanding how artifacts have come to look the way they do. Reflecting on how the form of the knife and fork has developed, let alone how vastly divergent are the ways in which Eastern and Western cultures have solved the identical design problem of conveying food to mouth, really demolishes any overly deterministic argument, for clearly there is no unique solution to the elementary problem of eating.

What form does follow is the real and perceived failure of things as they are used to do what they are supposed to do. Clever people in the past, whom we today might call inventors, designers, or engineers, observed the failure of existing things to function as well as might be imagined. By focusing on the shortcomings of things, innovators altered those items to remove the imperfections, thus producing new, improved objects. Different innovators in different places, starting with rudimentary solutions to the same basic problem, focused on different faults at different times, and so we have inherited culture-specific artifacts that are daily reminders that implements used to effect it. (...) The form, nature, and use of all artifacts are influenced by politics, manners, and personal preferences as by that nebulous entity, technology, manners and social intercourse. (...) it is really want rather than need that drives the process of technological evolution"

Although I found the argument a bit too mono-causal, it's highly interesting to read this kind of assertion from an engineer. While I agree that form may follow failure (and my interest in design failure is certainly related to this opinion), it is as if Petroski was too quick to dismiss other kinds of influence. There are *other" divers of innovation.

It's also relevant to see him acknowledging, after G. Basalla, that the existence of continuity in technical objects "implies that novel artifacts can only arise from antecedent artifacts - that new kinds of made things are never pure creations of theory, ingenuity and fancy". This is a favorite topic of mine, that I already addressed here. Petroski illustrates it with the example of the paper clip:

"the invention of a new paper clip will not occur in some amorphous dream world devoid of all artifacts save imaginative shapes and styles of bent wire or formed plastic. Rather, any new clip will come out of the crowded past of reality."

Another aspect of the book I was interested in is the vocabulary employed to refer to evolution of technical objects. The evolutionary metaphor is exemplified using the following terms extracted from geography, genealogy or biology:

"a route, detours, layovers, wrong-turns, retracings and accidents, paths... antecedents, ancestors... variations, new models... a vestigial trait/feature, a survival form... precursor... the idea of XXX long survived in such diverse applications"

Why do I blog this? Some interesting insights here about the evolutionary metaphor in the design of technical objects. The book gives plenty of details about interesting examples and is a bit short on theories. That said, given its origin (Petroski is not an STS researcher), there are some good points and pertinent elements we can re-use in the game controller project.

Object evolution

A recurring topic on this weblog is the evolution of technical objects. The game controller project is of course one of the reason for this interest but it goes beyond this category of artifacts. Some examples of genealogy trees we are inspired of in the project below. They come from a book by Yves Deforge, a french researcher, who produced lot of material about this topic. His book "Technologie et génétique de l'objet industriel offers an interesting introduction to theoretical constructs (based on Gilbert Simondon's work) and a good series of examples:Technologie et génétique de l'objet industriel (Yves Deforge)

Technologie et génétique de l'objet industriel (Yves Deforge)

Technologie et génétique de l'objet industriel (Yves Deforge)

Technologie et génétique de l'objet industriel (Yves Deforge)

Technologie et génétique de l'objet industriel (Yves Deforge)

Charting circulation

"Charting the Beatles" is a project that I find highly intriguing. One of the visualization that I find highly interesting for that matter is the "Self Reference" representation. As described by the authors: "The lyrics of the Beatles include a number of references to their own previous songs. This diagram explores these connections, noting the exact referencing lyrics and at what point in each song they can be found."

This is surely a recurring topic on Pasta and Vinegar. Perhaps because of the ongoing discussion I have with my neighbor who works on this the circulation of cultural elements and will surely appreciate (and re-use) this example.

Why do I blog this? looking for inspiration mostly, this chart provides a good example of the circulation of "designed elements" that may prove useful in out gamepad evolution project. The point would then be to map how certain elements (such as the direction-pad on the Game&Watch electronic games) have circulated over time to be adapted in different joypad iterations.

The link granularity (explicit/implicit reference, reference with melodic parallels) is very relevant because it shows the different granularities in how an element can circulate from one data point (a song in this case, a joypad model in the case of our project) to another.

Natural beings evolution versus object evolution

Technical objects evolution An interesting figure that I've found in a book by Bruno Jacomy, which depicts two drawings by A.L. Kroeber. They represent the evolution of beings on the left, and man-made artifacts on the right.

Why do I blog this? Working on my notes about the gamepads genealogy projects. More to follow about the use of evolutionary metaphor for artifacts. There is a lot to dig and there's a considerable amount of problems when using this analogy.

'Nothing is original'

An interesting quote by Jim Jarmusch (taken from The Golden Rules of Filming) that I ran across yesterday after seeing The Limits of Control:

"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.”

Why do I blog this? collecting quotes about circulation of ideas in different cultural spheres is an interesting exercise (and somewhat related to the discussion about the very existence of "breakthrough/disruptive" innovation).

Platform studies: Atari 2600

As part of our project about gamepad design evolution, we collect plenty of material concerning game interfaces (mostly joypad but still) and historical pointers about these devices. Which is why we've paid close attention to the recent "Platform Studies collection at MIT press, which "investigates the relationships between the hardware and software design of computing systems and the creative works produced on those systems".

Although it does not deal with gamepad per se, the first book in this series is highly relevant to us. Called "Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System", it's written by Nick Montfort & Ian Bogost. The point of this book is to show that the physical hardware design of the Atari VCS influenced the design of some games, and that those design decisions themselves gave birth to conventions still apparent in modern video game design. In terms of methodology, Montfort and Bogost details that their approach is "mainly informed by the history of material texts, programming, and computing systems".

The whole book was a great read (both from a personal and project-oriented perspective). The introductory chapter set the issues at stake and gave a good perspective on the decisions that lead to the Atari 2600. Each of the other chapter presents different cartridge-based games as case studies to highlight design issues (such as space scrolling for example). The descriptions are quite detailed, which makes the book a good reference. Some excerpts that I found important to my work:

About the importance of "platform studies", p.3

"Studies in computer science and engineering have addressed the question of how platforms are best developed and what is best encapsulated in the platform. Studies in digital media have addressed the cultural relevance of particular software that runs on platforms. But little work has been done on how the hardware and software of platforms influences, facilitates, or constrains particular forms of computational expression. (...) work that is built for a platform is supported and constrained by what the chosen platform can do. Sometimes the influence is obvious: a mono- chrome platform can’t display color, for instance, and a videogame console without a keyboard can’t accept typed input. But there are more subtle ways that platforms influence creative production, due to the idioms of programming that a language supports or due to transistor-level deci- sions made in video and audio hardware. (...) platforms also function in more subtle ways to encourage and discourage different sorts of computer expression."

This is important for our project because we want to observe a different sort of platform: the gamepad, how it has been created (based on earlier lineage such as joysticks), how it evolved and what is the relationship between the joypad hardware and game control schemes.

The Atari Video Computer System

The design of the Atari VCS itself is based on a different set of decisions that are grounded in earlier platforms, as shown on p.11 and 12:

"The tremendous success of Pong and the home Pong units suggested that Atari should produce a machine capable of playing many games that were similar to Pong. The additional success of Tank by Kee Games suggested another similar game (...) along with projectiles that bounced off walls. The computational model and basic game form were almost identical to those of Pong, and became the essence of Combat, the title that was included with the original VCS package. The simple elements present in these early games would be the basis for the console’s capabilities from that point on. (...) The engineers developing the Atari VCS needed to account for two goals— the ability to imitate existing successful games and some amount of versatility —as they designed the circuitry for a special-purpose microcomputer for video games (...) Material factors certainly influenced the design. (...) The Atari VCS would need to navigate between the Scylla of powerful but expensive processors and the Charybdis of a cut-rate but inflexible set of hardwired games."

The Atari Video Computer System

The part about controllers is of course relevant for our project, p.22-23:

"although joysticks were already in use in arcades by 1977, the introduction of the VCS joystick into the context of the home undoubtedly did much popularize the controller (...) the game joysticks are connected by cords to the console, where they are plugged in. This means that they can be unplugged and different controllers can be swapped in for different games: it also means that players can sit back away from the video-game unit as they play" (...) "there arose the issue in the difference between the controller scheme of the inspirational arcade game and the available VCS controllers. The VCS controllers were simpler than those in many contemporary arcade games. Although it was possible to develop new controller, the cost and difficulty of doing so precluded it in almost every case. It also wasn't tenable to produce arcade-style controls of greater durability, higher quality, and higher cost for the home market."

About the "lineage" and path-dependence between the VCS games and recent games, p.5:

"Gradually, conventions of different sorts began to emerge and various genres became evident. Some of the development of today’s videogame genres arose thanks to computer games and arcade games, but games for the Atari VCS made important contributions as well. (...) In studying the Atari VCS from the perspective of the platform, several things stand out about the system and its influence on the future of video games.

  1. The strong relationship between the console and the television. (...) The focus on the production of images for display on the TV helps explain why games running on circuits and later computers became known as “video games,
  2. Its controllers and peripherals were fashioned for use on the floor or the couch. The games made for the platform are likewise oriented toward home use—either for enjoying the arcade experience at home or for playing in different ways with friends and family.
  3. The powerful influence of earlier games.
  4. The tremendous representational flexibility of the machine and the less-than-obvious reason for this flexibility. (...) The breadth of the system’s software library becomes even more striking when one considers that two simple arcade games were the major inspirations for its hardware design—and that no one fathomed how successful and long-lived the console would be."

Why do I blog this? The "platform studies" rationale seems to be an interesting approach for our gamepad project. We'll try to ground our discussion in such type of work, although we do not know yet whether ours should be as academic as this piece.

The "0" of Peugeot cars

205 Mundane things always hide elements that are not obvious when you see them for the first time. Peugeot cars names have always been curious to me with their "x0x" nomenclatural label. A sunday in a small village in France enabled me to document this more thoroughly and wonder about it. There is a indeed a curious reason for this convention with a mid "O": at the time when Peugeot brothers invented their car models, starting the engine was done by turning a handle/crank. Drivers needed to turn a crank that they had to put in a hole in the front of the car. The "O" of the Peugeot car name is thus a remnant from this time.




Why do I blog this? Nothing really digital here, curious observation though. It's yet another interesting example of a process that I am trying to follow and document: the circulation of cultural elements as theorized by Basile in this paper. Hope that can be useful for him.