Archive for December, 2008

Avatars, part I of III: Caricature

This is the first in a three-part series of journal entries about my quest to create the perfect avatar. It will not be a perfect or academic analysis. In fact, it may be the least formal of the entries at Infinite Lives, simply because it treads some personal ground. In part I, we’ll examine what makes my own face distinctive. Then, and for the next three days, we’ll take a look at my subsequent attempts at avatar creation, gauging how they have succeeded or failed. The final piece will appear here this Friday.

During the NXE beta, someone sent a message to my Xbox. I didn’t recognize the handle, but he apparently knew me. “Your avatar looks so much like you!” he wrote. I frowned. “I hate my avatar,” I wrote back curtly. Then I clarified: “The hair is all wrong.”

He wrote back, confessing he hated his own NXE avatar. You know, the hair.

Later, at a Thanksgiving dinner among friends, I complimented someone on his NXE avatar. “I liked mine,” he agreed. “But yours was incredible.”

Was it? I wondered aloud. “I haven’t worn my hair that way in a year,” I reminded him. He seemed really startled, slowly realizing that I was right. I do not have short, shaggy hair. Not anymore.

The art of avatar creation is, at times, the same as the art of caricature. It could be said, too, that caricature is the equivalent and perfect polar opposite of vanity, that willful misrepresentation of yourself as someone more attractive than you really are (see also: Myspace angles). Caricature is here defined as not only an exaggeration, but as a “grotesque imitation or misrepresentation.” And because caricature is a deliberate misrepresentation, in a perfect parallel with the art of vanity, it willfully contradicts reality. Your identity on the Internet, as in the workplace and in virtual worlds, is probably a work of willful caricature.

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Gorgeous Dead Space custom action figure

Ready?

Absolutely stunning. It definitely took artist Chris Hooton longer to make this toy than to play through Dead Space.

Here’s the real kicker, though: what’s under all those layers of paint and epoxy? Why, according to Hooton himself, one of these.

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Crafty Tuesday: Making Yoshi out of potato salad

Remember Super Bento Bros? Guess what. The artist decided to start up her own blog last month, and Kotaku found it.

But that’s not all. She is writing how-to’s.

Personally, if I were the world’s greatest bento box artist, I would not tell anybody how I am working my magic. I would take those secrets straight to the grave.

Oh my God.

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Grim Fandango sugar cookies

Every time I re-blog one of Jocelyn’s spectacular game-related confections, I am seized with terrific guilt. Let’s face it: I am robbing this poor woman.

But seriously:

Love. Pure love. It’s my favorite cookie yet, and not just because Grim Fandango is a really neat computer game. Till now, I’d thought the cupcake renderings of 8- and 16- bit sprites were my favorites. After all, early game art—blocky pixel mosaics that represent more complicated imagery—is the nearest thing I can think of to painting in icing (cumbersome!).

But the stylized art of Grim Fandango, itself based on the stark iconography of the Day of the Dead, somehow suits these little pastries perfectly.

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The other 8-Bit Jesus

Let me stress that this is actually connected in no way to the earlier post about 8-Bit Christmas music.

But a quick google of “8-Bit Jesus” brought me to this CafePress store, heralding the apocalypse. Was it a joke? I had to find out.

The 8-Bit Jesus homepage clarifies:

These charming, respectful images are the ultimate attire for anyone who loves classic video games. 8-Bit Jesus is distinctive, but not preachy. Irony-compatible, too, if that’s your thing!

So there you have it. They’re earnest, but atheists officially have the makers’ permission to think they’re cool too.

Shirt designs include Godtris, Sign of the Cross Combo (up, down, left, right), and—this is kind of my favorite—Jesus Saves.

Right? It’s kind of Castlevania-ey. Jesus is all, “You don’t belong in this world!” And Satan’s all, “What is man?” Beautiful, beautiful.

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‘8-Bit Jesus’ is now my favorite thing about December

It’s nearly that time—and by “that time,” I mean Yule Time!—which means I am making my annual holiday mix CD. It’s a great way to save money on gifts.

And thanks to Brian Kent’s blog, I am about to fill my mix with the styling sounds of Doctor Octoroc’s 8-Bit Jesus, a half-finished chiptune album of traditional carols. Currently, nine complete tracks are available for download.

But here’s what is amazing: each carol has been reworked in the style of a treasured NES game’s music. So “The First Noël” is reconsidered as a moving Zelda theme. “Silent Night” inexplicably translates into a powerful Mega Man anthem.

And then there’s my favorite song—although at least five other tracks are competing for the title—the Christmassy ditty, “Little Drummer Nemo.”

What a perfect track! What was a sombre melody about wide-eyed wonderment is reenvisioned as snappy action music from my favorite game about childhood. So it’s unexpected, but it makes perfect sense.

8-Bit Jesus’ first nine tracks are available for download, whether one-at-a-time, or all together as one giant RAR/ZIP file, intending for unzipping/disRARing.

  • UPDATE: Download or stream 8-Bit Jesus here.

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The art and science of the Immersion Project

Recently, the Telegraph published an interesting article about Immersion, photojournalist Robbie Cooper’s artful anthropological project in which his preadolescent subjects are filmed as they play violent videogames.

The children are filmed from the neck up, straight-on and unwaveringly. The effect is startling: the children seem to stare right through you (there is a camera inside the television screen, the Telegraph explains), and you, in turn, are able to search the children’s faces in a distinctly creepy, voyeuristic way.

Some children are hauntingly dead-eyed, while others are more animated and emotive. And then there are the gigglers, those splendid sickos who can’t let themselves witness a head being blown off without tee-heeing to themselves.

It’s no understatement to say that what Cooper has committed to film is altogether disturbing. Cooper himself notes his fascination with people’s “absorption” of the “unreal,” and even at this early stage, his own footage is appropriately engaging and uncanny.

But I was quickly reminded of something I read in Everything Bad Is Good For You, about the horror of seeing your child sitting, slack-jawed and apparently unresponsive, in the television screen’s horrible glow. But what parents or critics are quick to misconstrue as the face of vegetative hypnosis, Steven Johnson countered, is actually the face of fierce concentration, of deliberate and active thought.

I worried, then, that the ultimate goal of Immersion could be one of fearmongering. So it seems valuable to note, for context’s sake, that Cooper identifies himself as a gamer. Maybe more surprisingly, though, the Telegraph article—which I myself read only after watching the video, twice—gets it right.

The Immersion Project is far from over. For the next 18 months, reports the Telegraph, kids’ facial responses to news footage, web videos, and movies will also be filmed and compared. It’s an interesting idea: how will children react, videotaped in the passive act of viewership, to simulated violence, or to news reports of real violence? In a culture of media supersaturation, in which we cope by emotionally disconnecting ‘reality’ from ‘the screen,’ what will our own faces tell?

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Living Game Worlds at Georgia Tech, Second Life

This is what I’m doing right now.

My Second Life avatar is sitting in my stead, attending the fourth-ever Living Game Worlds symposium, streaming live from Georgia Tech. And right now, Raph Koster is speaking. The symposium focuses on the interplay between, and I quote, “multiplayer games and virtual worlds.”

You too can attend Living Game Worlds via Second Life (fitting!), if only you click here. Of course, if you wouldn’t be caught dead in Second Life, you may also participate by opening the live streaming video in one window and keeping IRC open in the other.

I think I want to talk more about this soon, but right now I’m really just enjoying it.

edit: It’s over! Until tomorrow.

What’s really neat is, the IRC channel and the theater in Second Life are ‘bridged,’ so that everything the kids say in IRC pop into Second Life, and at the same time, Second Life users appear as users in the chat room. Neato.

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