Xbox 360 Avatar Experiment with Xeni Jardin and Barack Obama

31 03 2009

Thanks to everyone who saw my portrait work on-set with Boing Boing TV during the 2009 Game Developer’s Conference.  As requested, I’ve posted videos of some of the pieces.

The videos document an ongoing conceptual portraiture experiment using video games available on the Xbox 360.  There was no use of hacking, programing, or other methods beyond the options provided within each game used to make each piece.  The limitations of each game create a challenge when trying to make a compelling portrait, and our virtual identities are distinctively shaped by these limitations.

Games include Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’08, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six VEGAS, FaceBeaker, Fallout 3, World Series of Poker, Saints Row and more.





Avatar Identity Theft: On Set With Boing Boing TV’s Xeni Jardin at the Game Developer’s Conference

27 03 2009

 

Xeni Jardin in Fallout 3

Xeni Jardin in Fallout 3

I just had the pleasure of spending 3 days with Xeni Jardin, Matty Kirsch and the whole Boing Boing TV crew as a part their live video coverage from the 2009 Game Developer’s Conference.  I got to put my art all over their set and had several on-air interviews with both Xeni and Matty.  We discuss avatar identity theft, video games, avatars, robots, and Fallout 3 as economic model.  Very cool.     

But what was even cooler was getting to be a fly on the wall for their webcast conversations with an incredible selection of guests, including John Gaeta (Matrix Bullet time guy) and Jane McGonigal – one of the smartest game theorists out there – plus live demos from a bunch of really cool indie game developers.  

Click here to see the archived clips from all three days.  My interview with Xeni starts at 10:05  in the clip titled “Lots of stuff.” Thanks Xeni!





Fallout 3 as Economic Stimulus Model

22 03 2009

Can Fallout 3 help fix America’s economy?

The New Wasteland

I like Fallout 3.  I’ve played the shit out of this game and I still can’t get enough.  After a brisk run through the main story as a ‘good’ guy, I decided to replay the game again, focusing this time around on all the side missions and alternatives.  Just to make sure I got the full range of experiences, my character is now an ‘evil’ girl.   I also consulted an amazing online guide, wikia.com, to insure that I left no stone unturned.  I’ve lost track of the hours I’ve got in it so far, but it’s a considerable number.

To cover everything, this second pass required considerably more time and energy committed to scavenging, trading and resource management.  I’ve never been a huge fan of RPG’s in the past (too many swords, spells and orcs), so this is the first game that I’ve really gotten into the leveling and grinding required to hone my character just so.

Nuka-cola

Nuka-Cola

One result of the hours of dedication is that I have now amassed quite a few Nuka-Cola caps (the in- game currency to you non-Wastelanders out there).   I’m so rich by the game’s standards that the primary reason for me to trade is not to earn money, like I needed in the early stage of the game, but to simply get rid of all the weight of the accumulated guns, ammo, meds, scrap metal, and other loot acquired during quests. I am in possession of so much of the circulating currency that the other traders in the game are usually broke from buying from me. But if the other traders are all already tapped out, how can they continue to buy the loot that I continue to amass?  

This question reflects the second reason I trade; Pumping cash back into the economy.  Since I seem to be the only person in the wasteland with spare caps, I feel a responsibility to free up some capital, so I have been buying up luxury items and expensive weapon blueprints every chance I get.  My home now sports a pristine antique Nuka-Cola machine, jukebox, infirmary, laboratory, workbench, a cabinet full of exotic weapons and a pretty cool retro theme throughout, plus a wide range of other unique and expensive items.  And I STILL have all the money.

Home upgrade

Home upgrade

So I continue pumping cash into the game’s economy.  True, it doesn’t seem to be having a huge effect upon the citizenry – they are still largely humans and ghouls scratching out a meager living in the nuclear wasteland – but it does allow them the chance to give that money right back to me in exchange for the weapons, drugs and other supplies that I have continually for sale. 

After a while of this economic cycle, the pattern started to look familiar to my cynical eye (My other eye, the non-cynical one, was busy shopping for a new household theme). 

Suddenly the Capitol Wasteland was a striking analogy for our whole nation – nobody has money, unemployment and homelessness are commonplace, the government is powerless, everyone’s got radiation sickness and huge mutated crabs attack at night.  Playing Fallout 3 is like America looking in a cracked, dirty mirror.  I start to think “Hey, maybe I AM an evil teenage girl with a gun that shoots nuclear bombs…”   The fact that the game allows me to steal Abe Lincoln’s top hat, rifle, beard and voice(?) and actually don them during my adventures adds another, somewhat twisted layer of meaning to this grimy doppleganger America – I’m just now sure what that meaning is anymore…

Wasteland Cutie

Does my character, with her wealth, power, winning smile and cute arsenal represent the Fed?  Or does she represent corporate America with her responsibility – or lack thereof – over the economic health of the wasteland?  Maybe she’s representative of American consumers, for whom shopping has become a patriotic duty?  Perhaps she is representative of all three, a symbol of the responsibility that we all collectively share. 

I don’t know.   I’m not a RL economic expert, and these days I’m often lost trying to keep pace with the news.  But I do know that in the world of Fallout 3, the economic health of the wasteland seems to hinge on my ability to continually feed a dribble of cash to a violent, hungry populous, simply so that they can buy my supply of guns and drugs.   Success in this activity encourages me to go out and rob, kill and plunder even more supplies from all the people, Mirelurks and Super Mutants I encounter.

I’ve recently noticed that over time, the other traders slowly acquire caps, presumably as a result of their other dealings, but in reality, the software itself is acting like the Fed by “printing” and distributing more cash to these NPC’s.  But even these cash injections are too small to ignite any real fiscal activity – I can still force them to spend every last cap they have on my sweet, sweet, meds and ammo.  The more money the game pumps into consumer’s hands, the quicker it ends up in my pocket.

This cycle, which essentially forces the fiscal growth of my character, is the cornerstone of the game economy, but it seems to me that it can not be sustained for long and will eventually collapse as my character amasses literally all of the liquid capital over the course of her adventures.

Mirelurks:  Wont you please help?

Mirelurks: Won't you please help?

It begs the question:  Is constant growth a good thing?  Is long-term unrestricted growth beneficial to society?  And if so, who really benefits?  Government? Corporations? The citizenry?  

At the very least, shouldn’t some of the money go to curing radiation sickness and establishing basic healthcare and job training for Mirelurks and Super Mutants, or does that very suggestion make me some kind of Wasteland socialist?

More thoughts on Fallout 3 and the value of bathrooms in video games.





Why I Hate Facebook, The Anti-Social Network

4 02 2009

Like the Borg, resistance to Facebook seems futile.

In the early days, it was easy to ignore. After all, Facebook was only one of a growing crowd of 2.0 websites and services.  There was MySpace, Friendster LinkedIn and other emerging technologies competing for my limited bandwidth, not to mention IM, texting and even a seldom-used email listserve for my Burning Man campmates.  With so many options for communicating to my tribe, Facebook was the least interesting of the bunch.  But somewhere along the way, many of these other technologies either lost their relevance or settled into a specific functional niche and seemingly out of nowhere, Facebook took the lead as THE social network to join.  This digital Darwinism, coupled with the ever-growing number of requests to join in my inbox finally worn me down.

So join I did, figuring Facebook was now a required card in the online poker hand that is my professional career.  A few months ago I registered, uploaded a profile picture and started exploring the features.  Since then I have friended a mix of about 125 people – current friends, younger family members, old school chums, ex-girlfriends and a few professional contacts.  I launched a Facebook fan club for Gomi Style, my online DIY video series, as well as a second group, dedicated to robots and telepresence.   I joined groups too, with shared interests like video art, Sarah Palin bashing and DIY.  I uploaded videos of my new projects and links, I wrote pithy and frequent status updates, and commented on a very small number of daily friends updates – Its hard to reply to every flake when one is buried in snow – and tried to give Facebook an sincere spin by migrating the bulk of my online networking to this (alleged) network.   I had to draw the line at playing Mob Wars, trading green patches, and otherwise embracing the hundreds of 3rd party applications that promised to suck away every last bit of my attention.  Games and widgets aside though, I committed, installing the Facebook App on my iPhone, and methodically checking and updating my status many times a day in an effort to master this social network and gain a realtime pipeline to some of the most relevant people in my life.  What I experienced was the opposite of what I expected. 

A technological lifetime ago, sometime around 2007, prior to the convenience of Facebook and social networks in general; people had a natural buffer of time and space between themselves and their larger circle of friends and family.   Sure, we complained that keeping in touch was a chore, but most of us secretly relied on these hurdles to afford us some measure of control over our personal interactions.  Over the last decade, these barriers have slowly been eroding as we become more accustomed to the ease of social contact via the web – and Facebook has emerged as the leader of the bunch, recently estimated to have one out of every 50 people on earth as a member.  How could anyone not find Facebook a stunning example of technology’s ability to flatten the world and allow that old friend currently working in Shanghai and the guy in the cubicle next to you to both be a single democratizing click away?

Given these facts, why do I consider Facebook the antisocial network?  For one, I can see the updates, comments and activities of far too many friends and acquaintances.  By any measure, do I really need to know that some guy who I was in the Boy Scouts with 25 years ago is considering gum surgery, or look at yet another photo album of drunken partiers I don’t recognize? Sure, the onslaught of updates can be funny, informative, surreal, or heart-felt.  Or just plain self-indulgent.  How quickly the novelty of always-on knowledge wears thin.

Often these updates, notices and invites beg a response, or at least an acknowledgement.  While it is pretty straight forward, even on Facebook, to wish someone a happy birthday, it gets murkier knowing the correct response to an old classmate’s daily expression of ennui.  Worse, I now find myself updating my status, posting videos and roommate notices with the wide-eyed hope and expectation that my stream of personal activities will get the attention of my network and inspire enthusiastic replies. 

One reason this always disappoints me is a result of what I refer to as the Facebook Effect:  More than ever before, we are becoming comfortable NOT responding to the heartfelt announcements, confessions and daily updates from our friends and loved ones.  While glancing at, and essentially ignoring the chaos of daily life can be a healthy defense mechanism in real-life, having those traits on Facebook has a hardening quality that I don’t like, especially in myself.

The problem lies in the numbing effects of so much data from so many people.  Everyone knows that we all experience daily ups and downs, birthdays, professional milestones, etc… and we increasingly share these things on Facebook.  But in some ways, seeing the gigs of ex-classmates and birth announcements of old friends only reminds me that I am not really in touch with them any more with Facebook than I was before I joined. 

In fact, where previously it was easy to let old acquaintances fade away naturally, Facebook now serves as a daily reminder of just how far those relationships have faded from view.  But instead of inspiring me to get more active and involved with the 125+ people in my list, it has the opposite effect of turning up the heat on the guilt gumbo that I already had simmering on the back burner. 

Facebook makes me feel less connected, not more, yet I still check it throughout the day; looking, lurking, updating and occasionally commenting.   I can’t seem to stop, hoping I will start to click with it, not wanting to lose the zeitgeist.  I guess resistance really IS futile.  Maybe a Twitter account will help cure me…





Mediasapien Censored at Vimeo.com Over Fair Use – What Do You Think?

16 01 2009

Reprinted from the Journal of Visual Culture, Volume 10, Issue 1

Mediasapien recieved this brief email earlier today from a rep at vimeo.com, a video sharing site:

Dear Media Sapien:

Your video ‘Grand Theft Auto 4 Law Abider – A GTA 4 Performance Art Project (1455312)’ has been removed from Vimeo because it violates our Terms of Service.

Vimeo does not allow game walk-throughs, game strategy videos, depictions of player vs player battles, raids, or any other video gaming video that simply depicts individuals playing a video game. 

If you believe this was an error, please send a civil response to this email and we will work with you, assuming you are correct.

It was regarding this video:

Mediasapien promptly emailed them back with this reply:

To Whom It May Concern at rights@vimeo.com

Hi.  Thanks for the email informing me that a video clip of my artwork,  “Grand Theft Auto 4 Law Abider – A GTA Performance Art Project” was removed from vimeo.com.  I would like to discuss the validity of this decision.  

If it was removed at the request of the copyright holder or the source material, then please let me know and that will be sufficient for me.  However, if no complaint was issued, then I would like to defend the use of this source material in my video.  By the standards you reference, many other clips on vimeo.com are actively violating your Terms of Service ( a quick search for “videogames” or “machinima” or “gta” pulls up hundreds of questionable clips).  However I do not consider my artwork created with videogames to be within your definition, however vague.  Quoted:

Vimeo does not allow game walk-throughs, game strategy videos, depictions of player vs player battles, raids, or any other video gaming video that simply depicts individuals playing a video game. 

My video does not show a game walk-through, strategy guide, depiction of battles, raids or other video that “simply depicts individuals playing a video game.”  My video shows a documentation of a long-form performance art project, produced and documented within a game world.

The conceptual work I produce relies on unaltered video-game engines as the basic tool for creating interactive performance art.  These performances occur in realtime, in a wide range of single-player and multiplayer environments.  Almost all of these performances get recorded for later exhibition in real-life and online galleries and museums.  Having worked in this field for years and written extensively on the subject, it is my opinion that my use of these various game engines constitutes fair use.  It is within these games that the activity of crafting identity has become a personally compelling conceptual activity. Almost like a treasure hunt, one can explore these games searching for inconsistencies or “holes” in the game world, looking for ways to exploit and subvert the game designer’s intent and make social commentary or cultural critiques without relying on programming, hacking or modifying the game. By working within the limitations provided by each game design and style -by restricting oneself to the rules of the game as opposed to working in a 3d development environment that allows unlimited modification – one is faced with severe restrictions and limitations of expression that have become highly representative of the challenges faced when one begins to create online identities and have digitally-mediated relationships.

Based on the 4-part criteria established by the US Copyright office for determining fair use, my artwork does not significantly suggest copyright violation.  My artwork uses a small portion of GTA 4 compared to the source material.  It is safe to say that my artwork will not significantly affect the retail market for GTA 4.  And my use of the game is significantly altered from the original source material.  In fact, the goal of my artwork is to specifically “break” the player’s and programmer’s expectations of the game experience by intentionally behaving in a way that forces the game to do something it wasn’t meant to do.  In this artwork, by refusing to fight, kill or break any rules at all, I effectively subvert the original source material’s meaning and change the game’s context on a fundamental level.  The game subsequently behaves in “broken” and unexpected ways, creating a new experience, one that was entirely unplanned by the game developers, and is conceptually unique.

To me, these qualities clearly define this artwork as fair use.  Thank you for your consideration. 

Rights@vimeo.com never replied to my message, and my work remains banned on the their site (However, it can still be viewed on YouTube and several other sites).

Who owns virtual space and who is responsible for policing it?  Are multi-user games a territory or a tool? Can a creative act transform a videogame from private property into a public art site?  And perhaps most appropriate in my situation – Can a copyright censor distinguish their personal criticism of an artwork from that work’s legal status?  Unfortunately the lack of a response from anyone at Vimeo.com only furthered the unanswered questions regarding the nature this work and Vimeo.com’s screening process, as well as the legal boundries of virtual territory.

Because of the rapid transference of our daily interactions and activities into digital forms via social networking and multi-user territories, many traditional views regarding space, place and location are becoming obsolete.  To an ever-growing demographic, the tangibility of virtual space is rapidly approaching that of real space, and subsequently more personal and intimate moments are shared among friends and lovers whose only connection to each other is through a computer simulation, video game or website.  These virtual places, in WoW or Second Life, or Grand Theft Auto’s Liberty City, have become woven into the tapestry of memories for millions or people, and are rapidly becoming tangible sites that rival any physical location in meat space.  While traditional legal definitions regarding intellectual property are easily employed to make a copyright infringement claim against people who create works of art within these virtual spaces, a viable argument can be made that these digital locations are rapidly becoming domains of the public and a broader definition of “fair use” should be applied to them.

Artists immediately identified the unique creative possibilities of using videogames as virtual sites, and the artworks produced using these videogame spaces quickly emerged into a distinct genre called Machinima.  After a brief period of uncertainty and confusion, most game publishers eventually saw the  benefit of supporting Machinima as a source of free promotion instead of trying to suppress it as copyright infringement.  Many game makers routinely include free tools for both making new things within the game, as well as to allow players to document and share video clips of their creations – or simply record and share game-play videos.

Developers realize that art, music videos, movies and strategy walkthrough’s created with the their videogame offer much more than free promotion and economic longevity for their work, these creative re-uses help to define the broader cultural relevancy of their games, and reaffirm the legitimacy of the fundamental technologies that power them.   In the age of mash-ups and remix culture, reusing the work of others has become more than tolerated, it’s encouraged and supported – provided the borrower doesn’t get too successful or make significant money.  As witnessed with the legal fight over audio sampling in the music industry, fair use takes a subordinate role to copyright once economics enter the picture.

Vimeo.com, which has demonstrated an inconsistent policy of policing their inventory of videos for clips which they feel might infringe upon the rights of copyright holders, chose my work from among the multitude of uploaded videos produced within GTA to censor, while leaving thousands of other clips in place.  While this pro-active self-censorship is not unusual, it is also common for sites like vimeo.com to wait until a cease-and-desist complaint is made by a third party before presuming legal status of a given work – especially considering all uploads are accompanied by a mandatory click-thru signature verifying the uploader’s rights to the material in the clip.  As far as I know, no cease-and-desist request was ever issued regarding my work.  Neither I, nor my lawyers, ever received any communication at all from the GTA’s developer or publisher, and since vimeo.com declined to share their reasoning for the ban, I have no idea why my work was removed while so many other clips were not.

I admit that the conceptual nature and subtlety of the performance may be challenging for some people to recognize it as such, therefore I went to great pains to explain the work and it’s relevance in detail when I posted the video online.  However, with no other communication from the representatives at Vimeo.com, I am left with one of two possibilities for why my work was removed.

Either A) My work was banned as part of some impersonal, automated “flushing” process and there was no real consideration of my work by an actual human being, or B) There was a person who looked at my work and rejected it specifically.

As an artist this second choice is a far worse option, but one I’m forced to consider…  Did an actual person at vimeo.com see my video’s title, take the time to view the clip, read the descriptive text, and still decide that is was not a work of art?  That level of rejection goes much deeper than if a simple game-play video clip is banned.

But why should I accept this decision from vimeo.com?  Ultimately even the harshest and least forgiving critique of an artwork can only be used to gauge its quality, not it’s legitimacy.  The critic does not get to determine whether the work qualifies as art – the artist gets that luxury.  The critic can pan a work, but only the artist’s intent defines it as art.

Assuming that the rep from vimeo.com hated my performance, the video documenting it and everything it represented, their opinion does not grant them the right to determine whether or not it’s defined as art with a capital “A.”  By banning my work while ignoring thousands of video clips that blatantly infringe on copyright, they are effectively substituting censorship for criticism – a familiar reaction that historically goes hand-in-hand with artistic or cultural innovation.  The banning of my clip is a rejection of its validity as art and everything it represents conceptually.

Machinima as an art form is among the most recent to join the seemingly endless queue of genres and technologies that each had to fight for legitimacy within the fine art world.  Most recently biological, digital and device arts each had to establish their rightful positions as valid artistic genres, joining older forms that are readily accepted today but faced similar struggles in their early years, such as film and photography.  There is no evidence or support for the idea that Machinma might fail the test of artistic legitimacy, so it is reasonable to experience frustration at the resistance to the genre’s ability to enjoy the full legal status and respect equal to the rest of visual culture.   As more people support artistic remixing and reuse, the capitalistic restraints that have stifled creative innovation will erode, and the resulting availability of tools and technologies like Machinima will establish a new paradigm of what it means to be a creator when the very fabric of culture becomes the canvas upon which art is created.

And maybe vimeo.com will repost my clip.





Drinking Radioactive Toilet Water – The Importance of Bathrooms in Video Games

29 11 2008

tiki11tradervicsstatlerhilt

Trader Vic's at the Plaza

To anyone who has ever accidentally wandered into a bathroom while tripping on psychedelics, the power of that room to act as a conduit for deeper understanding of one’s self is undeniable. Looking into a bathroom mirror while tripping can trap you like a deer in headlights.  Suddenly you’re caught, unable to move, think, or even pee.   My own tale involves wandering into the Trader Vic’s tiki bar bathroom in the Plaza Hotel after a long, sweaty (and oddly bloody) day of tripping balls and playing Frisbee in Central Park.  My bowel was telling me I needed a pit stop, but once I entered that cool, quiet room with fancy marble and big, unblinking mirrors – plus the octogenarian attendant eyeing me with well-placed suspicion – there was no way I was capable of producing anything more than conspiracy theories and a dusty dribble of pee.  After a few minutes pretending that I was busy and trying not to completely melt into the toilet, I hastily scurried out of the bathroom and back out onto Central Park South where my inner monologue could be directed at others, and not on myself.  Phew… That was a close call.

Life in DC

Life in Fallout's DC

Recently I was scavenging supplies in Megaton, a shantytown just outside of Washington, DC, taking a fetid drink of radiated water from of a filthy toilet, when I suddenly came down off of both Jet and Psycho, two drugs to which I’m currently addicted, and had to take a moment and just reflect on my life.  And it my dawned on me…  This is just like that other time at trader Vic’s when I was tripping and bloody.  The only difference is that Trader Vic’s bathroom was in a fancy New York restaurant, and this one was an outhouse in post-apocalyptic DC, in the game Fallout 3 on the Xbox 360.  But in both cases, it’s the experience of facing myself in the isolation and solitude of a bathroom that I begin to see both myself, and the world, in brutal and unflinching clarity.

Duke enjoying the view

I realized that depictions of bathrooms in videogames offer an interesting perspective into the evolution of interactivity, realism and meaning within games.  Who can forget the thrill the first time you saw your character reflected in a bathroom mirror, or the ‘magic’ of the first actual time a toilet flushed?  The first game to turn the bathroom into more than just textures for me was Duke Nukem 3D, a pioneering FPS game that tried to make as much of the game world interactive as possible.  The bathrooms offered working lightswitches and sinks, as well as urinals and toilets that flushed (along with a satisfied grunt from Duke himself).  Duke was also capable of getting a good long look at himself in the mirror – then still a unique opportunity for an FPS game.

Bride cleaning the toilet in The Sims

Bride cleaning the toilet in The Sims

Game bathrooms have become more commonplace and useful since then, evolving into a zone where spare ammo and health packs can usually be found, as well as the requisite hidden-enemy-in-toilet.  Sometimes bathrooms offer a secret passage or escape.  That’s why you have to open every stall door – every time (it’s same equation in horror movies).  On the other end of the spectrum are games like the Sims, which effectively turn the bathroom, and all basic bodily functions, into core components of game play.  While this might make for a less-than-thrilling game mechanic, it nonetheless is an interesting effort to inject realism into a game about the minutae of daily life. 

Preys next-gen facilities

Prey's next-gen facilities

One interesting aspect of game bathrooms is how they can be used to gauge a game’s art, design and graphical detail.  Things like running water, flickering lights, reflections on metal, tile and glass can all be challenging to realistically render, especially when they interact – like in a bathroom.  Over the years, checking out a game’s bathroom was an easy way to quickly determine a game’s visual quality and style.  The opening scene of Prey, one of the earliest “next gen” titles on 360 takes place entirely within the bathroom of Jen’s bar, a dusty joint on an Indian reservation.  The first thing the player sees is a reflection of his character in the dirty mirror.  A quick investigation of the rest of the bathroom shows a new level of interactivity and detail – water flows into sinks realistically, air dryers work when pressed.  Even the condom machines have turning coin mechanisms.  Outside, the bar contains a working TV, juke box, Pac-Man coin-op clone and poker machines. 

Odd Sculptures in a Ruined Rapture Bathroom

Another recent standout of beauty, functionality and design are the gorgeously decaying bathrooms in Bioshock’s Rapture.  With their retro art deco styling, rotten walls dripping with water and submerged floors, you could practically smell the mold growing in them.  

In Fallout 3, the functionality of the bathroom is taken a step further by providing a resource needed to live – health-boosting water.  But it does so in a double-edged form – the water is radioactive.  Individual small doses are not too bad, but drink too much and the radiation accumulates in your body over time, forcing you to consume anti-radiation meds to which you will undoubtedly become addicted.  So every time you look at a bathroom or toilet in Fallout, you ask yourself  “How badly do I need that drink of water?”  Health management forces you to consider what kind of player you want to be: Methodical and patient, or quick and dirty?  Clean or addicted? Unexpectedly, the Fallout 3 bathroom has become the location where self-reflection and moral choices are faced – just like that time in the bathroom at Trader Vic’s on Central Park South.





Why Won’t Mirror’s Edge Make Me Vomit? I Wanna Be Sick Too.

25 11 2008

After reading the mostly stellar reviews of Mirror’s Edge, I was intrigued by a unique theme popping up around the interwebs.  Something about ME was different – and people were getting sick because of it.  It was not the seisure-inducing  flashing epilepsy lights associated with anime of years past.  No, this was something different, affecting videogame reviewers and bloggers with remorseless consistency. Although fimiliar, something in the game’s first-person perspective was screwing with people’s sense of self.

The subtle but distinct visual style of ME, which adopts the  conventions of FPS games, now includes seeing your limbs onscreen.  Seen mostly in glimpses while jumping, sprinting and rolling, but nonetheless ever-present, these limbs of yours convey far more information than the static gun-in-hand perspective seen in almost every previous first person game.

Until recently most games dealt with embodiment issues by largely ignoring them. Subtleties, such as a player’s sense of self, were secondary to game-play mechanics, therefore most first and third-person characters usually have the agility of a Roomba – able to navigate a proscribed area with ease, but stumped by a seemingly innocuous curb or pile of rubble.

Over the years, and especially in the recent console generation, the sense of embodiment and locomotion have been addressed by a number of games with great success.  Assassin’s Creed and  Crackdown both left me with a new perspective on architecture, feeling like I could ably scale any building in RL (currently untested).  But these games are played from the third person perspective.  Mirror’s Edge offers similar locomotive freedom, but seen from the first person perspective – from the eyes of your character, Faith.

When combined with the frantic rooftop chases, dizzying heights and leaps of faith (clever, or coincidence?) the unique visual perspective creates one of the most intense and visceral game experiences in a long time.  So intense that many reviewers focus on the nausea, vertigo and yes, even vomiting.

*It’s worth noting briefly that I have a fair amount of experience with issues of video games, embodiment and identity, having just received an MFA in conceptual art with a thesis  titled “The Emergence of the Mediasapien.”

So down I sit with Mirror’s Edge, ready for the salivating, the queasiness, the vertigo.  In short – ready for an EXPERIENCE.  I turned down the lights, cranked up the audio, sat a little too close to the 36″ LCD and played the shit out of that game.  I partied too hard, ate too much junk food – anything to give an edge to the sickness.  But it never came.  I played and played, but never got sick, never threw up. Never even burped.

What a letdown.  Here I was, a game-thrill otaku playing what is arguably a paradigm-shifting title, doing everything short of downing Mentos and Diet Coke trying to experience the bleeding edge of digital embodiment.  And yet here I am, with a bout of rock-solid intestinal fortitude not seen since the Counterstrike era.  What gives?  Was I trying too hard?  Am I too game savvy, too experienced in the ways of the pixel?  Did that childhood problem with my inner ear leave me immune to dizzy spells? I don’t know.  I only know that this game, while great in every other way, simply won’t make me sick.