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Winning Isn’t Everything

I used to think that games would be the dominant medium of the 21st century. The reality? They’re too big, too complex, and too smart for that to be true.

It’s hard to turn around in video game circles without hearing someone proclaim that “games are the dominant medium of the 21st century.” Deus Ex and Epic Mickeydesigner Warren Spector has a lecture built around the idea. The author Tom Chatfield devoted the subtitle of his book Fun, Inc to the concept. Journey composer Austin Wintory’s uttered the quip in an interview. Film critics writing about recent documentaries about games have even let… read more

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You Are Mountain

A strange video game from the Her animator bests Spike Jonze's film at depicting what a relationship with an alien really would be like.

Near the start of his relationship with a computer operating system in Spike Jonze’s Academy Award-winning film Her, Samantha the OS (Scarlett Johansson) helps Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) play a videogame. Called “Alien Child” by the filmmakers, the game seems familiar enough to be plausible to viewers, yet foreign enough to induce estrangement. The same could be said of the film’s high-waisted… read more

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Shaka, When the Walls Fell

In one fascinating episode, Star Trek: The Next Generation traced the limits of human communication as we know it—and suggested a new, truer way of talking about the universe.

On stardate 45047.2, Jean-Luc Picard leads the crew of the Enterprise in pursuit of a transmission beacon from the El-Adrel system, where a Tamarian vessel has been broadcasting a mathematical signal for weeks. The aliens, also known as the Children of Tama, are an apparently peaceable and technologically advanced race with which the Federation nevertheless has failed to forge diplomatic relations.… read more

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The Blue Shell and its Discontents

“The Blue Shell is everything that’s wrong with America.” Ok, nobody said that, but you can imagine someone having done. The Blue Shell steals progress from a rightfully earned win on behalf of the lazy and the incompetent. The Blue Shell wrests spoils from leaders’ fingers just as they reach for the laurel. The Blue Shell is the cruel tax… read more

Tacos, Enchiladas, Burritos, Chiles, &c.

A Mexican Food Index to Alien Phenomenology

Here’s a complete list of all mentions of Mexican food in my book Alien Phenomenology, or What it’s Like To Be A Thing: They cover plates of enchiladas as shrubs cover the hundreds of square miles of their high desert home. (3) Tumbling in vented steel cylinders, chiles crackle over the open flame of roasting. (3) Reality is reaffirmed, and… read more

One Thing Materialism Hasn’t Ever Celebrated

Bruno Latour on the missing materials in materialism

Steven Shaviro pulled a delightful quote from Bruno Latour’s recent book Enquête sur les modes d’existence. Une anthropologie des Modernes, which will be published in English next month as An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. I haven’t yet read the book in either language, but I’m reposting this quote in a QFT sort of vein.… read more

Announcing Object Lessons

An essay and book series on the hidden lives of things

Earlier this week we launched Object Lessons, an essay and book series on the hidden lives of ordinary objects, published by The Atlantic and Bloomsbury and edited by me and Chris Schaberg. We’ve been working on getting this going for months, and I’m excited to finally be able to unleash it on you. Here’s how it works: Object Lessons invites… read more

Exploded Ontography

The photography of Todd McLellan

In Alien Phenomenology, I discuss exploded views as one example of ontography, the cataloguing of being. Most exploded views are technical diagrams rather than, but some are aesthetic compositions that can be quite striking. Now there’s a whole book full of the latter kind. The Canadian photographer Todd McLellan dismantles everyday objects, then carefully arranges and photographs them. He’s collected… read more

Google Zombie: The Glass Wearers of Tomorrow

The best metaphor for Google Glass? Not jerks or junkies, but the living dead.

Since the unveiling of Google Glass, the tech giant’s new wearable computing device, a common nickname for its wearers has arisen among skeptics and critics: Glassholes. It’s a charming portmanteau that satisfies an immediate desire to shun this weird new contraption. And the term fits, to some extent. As a strangely popular trend in books on assholes has helped us… read more

The Electronic Book, circa 1995

The past and future novelty of digital publishing

It’s easy to forget these things, so here’s the description for the electronic “hypertext edition” of rhetorician Richard Lanham’s collection of essays, The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts. As Publishers Weekly wrote, “And, yes, the book is available in electronic form; as the first in the Chicago Expanded Book series, there will be a hypertext edition, shipped on… read more