Perspectives on Information

INF 380E – iSchool, University of Texas @ Austin

10 February
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Skyrim and “Twisty Little Passages Almost All Alike”

I found article, “Twisty Little Passages Almost All Alike: Applying the FRBR Model to a Classic Computer Game,” by Jerome McDonough, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Doug Reside, Neil Fraistat, and Dennis Jerz, very interesting. The writers’ difficulties applying this descriptive practice to video games, is reminiscent of our discussion in class about the problems documenting memes. Because of the vast quantity and anonymous, viral nature of memes, they are inherently difficult to definitively quantify and index. Many video games that have come out in the last few years have similar attributes. While the writers discussed games such as ADVENTURE and Doom, newer games, such as the 2011 release, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, present even more complex problems when considered from through the FRBR Model.

Bethesda Game Studios

Bethesda Game Studios

Skyrim is a massive open world role-playing game that takes place in a faux-Medieval land with the typical fantastic cast of dragons, trolls, elves, and the like. With over 100 hours of quests and missions, and an amazingly vast world to explore, Skyrim is wildly popular and quite revolutionary. A consequence, however, is a staggering number of glitches, ranging from quests that become impossible to complete because the player performed them in the wrong order, to flying mammoths.

McDonough, Kirschenbaum, Reside, Fraistat, and Jerz discuss the problems of different versions of ADVENTURE being grouped under a single, “Work,” as “Expressions.” The creators of Skyrim, have released numerous versions of the game, in the form of software patches that console and PC owners download. Currently on patch 1.8, the Skyrim wikia keeps an archive of sorts explaining the many different versions and what they include (http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:Patch). While this is similar to the description of ADVENTURE, Skyrim has the added element of fan-made patches and mods. A number of skilled Skyrim enthusiasts got together and made their own ultimate patch that is continually updated based on player requests. How would a fan-made alteration to Skyrim be categorized, is it a completely different “Work” or merely an “Expression” of Bethesda’s vision?

In addition to the fan-made patch, there are also thousands of fan-made mods to Skyrim. The writers of the article described the “modding” culture surrounding Doom, mostly as proof that the version of the game that players were using was important to them. Skyrim, too, has a significant following of users that create modifications to the game, in this case that anyone else can download. Mods range from trivial changes such as replacing your traditional mount with a demonic skeleton steed to an extremely well-produced mod that adds cinematic lighting to the entire game.

Cinematic Lighting Mod by ENB

Cinematic Lighting Mod by ENB

The mods for Skyrim number in the thousands, and are rated and reviewed by a number of sources such as PC Gamer and UGO. This customization is a critical part of the Skyrim legacy, but, similarly to memes, they will prove to be difficult to archive and index in relation to the game itself. I would like to know what the legacy of video games will be, as the consoles and operating systems that they were created to run become obsolete.

27 January
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Conceptual elegance and ease of application

Classification should help us to understand the world and communicate clearly about it. Once the classification is established, must it be not only functional but also indisputable and infallible? Gould’s (1983) statement of wanting classification to be of “conceptual elegance and ease of application” made me wonder if  ”conceptual elegance” is more important than ”indisputable and infallible.”

Screen shot 2013-01-25 at 11.11.51 AM

Take a look at  this beauty.  Is it an  albino zebra? Looking at this picture, it seems that the answer is “yes;” it is the how I’d  picture an albino zebra. (It would be wrong to picture an albino zebra as completely white, right?) At first I thought, this is an albino zebra because, just by looking it, I have concluded what it is: white-ish and still a zebra.

Next, I consider biology and taxonomy and discover the following:

  • it is not albino but amelanistic (which is not specifically albinism).
  • In addition, it is not a zebra: “[zebras] exist in three species, all with black-and-white stripes” (Gould, 1983, p. 356).

It isn’t what I think I see, so it is time to do more research:

  • Bernnett claims that “there is no such thing as a zebra”  (p. 356) and zebras are, in fact, a disparate group of horse with some confusing similarities” (p. 359).
  • A horse with amelanism is classified as chestnut.

It is a horse and it is not a horse. This gold and white striped, gold maned, blue-eyed thing is an example of chaos because otherwise it would make sense.

Auster graphic novelThe first time I thought of classification as a way to make sense of the world was while reading Paul Auster’s ”City of Glass”.  This novel, turned graphic novel, turned play presents classification (in a world of chaos) as the only possible way to achieve clarity. Auster (the author) declares in it that the problem is that our language doesn’t create meaning: “Our words no longer correspond to the world. [The world has changed, yet] we have not adapted to the new reality.” Therefore, people need a unified way of understanding the world so that “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” If we can just classify everything correctly, then we can move on to significant achievements.

Can this theory help to make sense of the world? Explain away the chaos? One of Auster’s characters states that classification based on purpose eliminates chaos and is also without hidden implications or unclear messages:

 Consider a word that refers to a thing—‘umbrella,’ for example. When I say the word ‘umbrella,’ you see the [complete] object your mind. Not only is an umbrella a thing, it is a thing that performs a  function—in other words, expresses the will of man…What happens when a thing no longer performs its function? When you rip the cloth off the umbrella, is the umbrella still an umbrella? In general, people do [go on calling it an umbrella]. This is an error, the source of all our troubles. Because it can no longer perform its function, the umbrella has ceased to be an umbrella. It might resemble an umbrella, it might once have been an umbrella, but now it has changed into something else.  The word, however, has remained the same.  Therefore, it can no longer express the thing.  It is imprecise; it is false; it hides the thing it is suppose to reveal.”

Outside the world of this novel, however, Auster’s theory is quite limited, subjective and without conceptual elegance.

Classification should be adaptable. According to Gould, we should keep in mind  1) no one way of classification can be declared the best and 2) “We have rough guidelines, and some seat-of-the-pants feeling, but no unerring formulas” (p.359). Sifting through information we have available to understand and classify the world isn’t disheartening if we don’t look at it as rigid or exclusive.

So back to that darn zebra: the gold stripes we see are black (this is how its coat represents the darker coloring because of its amelanism), and thus it is a just a zebra, if zebras exist.