Well, the first (that I’ve read anyway) of the Gen Z books is out. Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace are college faculty/administrators who have conducted surveys of their own and analyzed the Pew research data to come up with a first stab at generational characteristics of the generation born in the range of 1998-2015 (or so).
- I admire Seemiller and Grace for their data analysis, and for sticking their necks out a bit to make some attempts at characterization. Much like Strauss and Howe, they will get some stuff wrong, but these sorts of baseline studies are very useful.
- That said, there are lots of flaws in here, especially with the ways that the authors simply quote GenZers and take them at their words. As more studies come out that approach will look dated and naive, I’m guessing.
- The one generational feature they I identify that I’m really curious about is the fact that this generation (much like the Millennials before them) seems to really like their parents. I’m not sure that I trust the group that came up with this number (their website is here), but supposedly 88 percent of them are extremely close with their parents.
- That attitude seems to match what I see anecdotally, and I wonder about it. Admittedly, according to that same company my generation (the Xers) were pretty much polar opposite (29 percent of us described ourselves as close to our parents), but I still thought that an important part of becoming an adult is pushing away. That action seems nearly impossible if you are “extremely close.”
- If true, this look at their parents as mentors and friends rather than authoritarians to revolt against will have interesting implications for our social structures.
- This book is pretty rosy, so we know that the backlash will come. In that sense I admire Seemiller and Grace for starting out positive, a position that’s not always easy to take.
- I’m trying to get over my desire to rant every time I hear someone describe “kids these days” (of any generation as being technological). That’s such an easy, ridiculous label, one that ignores how much people know about what goes on under the hood, but I have to accept, I think, that it’s a label that people will use unthinkingly. To their credit, Seemiller and Grace don’t use it like that…
- Finally, I’m not sure how you write a book about this generation and never mention Snapchat.
At Romics there was an entire exhibition hall devoted to e-Sports. A League of Legends tournament had a big screen for all of us who wanted to watch, a FIFA scrum had broken out, and there was some kind of interactive, crowd-based game that my poor Italian wouldn’t let me get the gist of. Several game developers were there promoting their leagues, even if they didn’t have a tournament going on. There were clearly a lot of folks heavily engaged in a lot of gamer action.
I’ve written a bit about this before, but eSports is some interesting stuff, and to see it prevalent in Rome was pretty cool and also pretty interesting from a global marketing perspective.
It’s also a fascinating sport from the perspective of someone in my industry – eSports sells itself as at least as useful from a career development as traditional athletics, if not more so. I’ve heard a couple of folks talk about eSports in a very career prep sort of way, and that administrators and industry reps (I’m looking at you Twitch) talk about how much being an eSports player will enhance a student’s resume and give them experiences that will help them build useful skillsets.
As always, we will see…and of course I have questions…
- Will these sports force the NCAA to rethink its model? eSports are by definition connected intimately with corporate sponsors…
- Will this generation of students overcome (or more importantly, simply ignore) the scorn of boomers and gen xers?
- Will we try to think about emotional consequences, or will we just keep banging ahead, blindly, hoping that things work out for the best?
In order to be fully versed in what I plan to have as a series of podcasts this summer, I have been reading some of the research on Millenials. Twenge was recommended to me by someone who has several clients who are millenials, and that person thought that Twenge’s conclusions were supported by what they have seen. My thoughts are below:
- Twenge’s research method and her writing are a bit different. She bases the book (this is the second edition, and it’s had a chapter added) on some pretty interesting surveys done for dozens of years now on high school and college students. She and her grad students have compiled lots of these studies and have gone back through the questions they asked, enabling her to make some fairly broad statements with at least the backing of several surveys that have not changed the questions they have asked, enabling a solid set of responses.
- She also uses google’s word search features in interesting ways, looking to see the prevalence of key phrases in fiction over the years.
- She then pull anecdotal evidence from her classes, the classes of friends, her kids, and her kid’s friends, topped off with a heavy dose of pop culture.
- The anecdotes and pop culture bugged me occasionally because of their, well, anecdotal nature, but they also made her writing very lively. She’s funny as shit as well, and takes a fairly Gen X approach to kids these days.
- I kept wanting to know where she stands on this generation, and I kept feeling frustrated because I felt she wasn’t sympathetic enough. I also kept trying to check myself, because lots of what she has identified – again at fairly high levels – is spot on and very useful, and of course can’t be applied to everyone. She does note thought that she finds generational differences compelling because of the similarity of the culture that kids are raised in, whether that culture be pop or parenting.
- A clear limitation that I’m not sure she acknowledges enough are the disparities in income, ethnicity, and gender. She tries throughout, but the book does read as a snapshot of a very specific class, race, and gender perspective.
- She also has no problem noting where she thinks Generation Me is far beyond its predecessors, especially in the acceptance of LGBTQ folks.
- She finishes with a set of advice that she offers employers – my guess is that this is a solid consulting business for her.
- In combination with Malcolm Harris’s Kids These Days and danah boyd’s work for Microsoft, there is a solid body of research out there about this generation. I’m not sure where the whole ‘we know we are being observed factor comes in’…
I probably will not have time to finish Quadrilateral Cowboy, which makes me a bit sad, so I decided to post on it before my memories of the game fade. It was released in 2016 by Blendo Games, and feels like a beautiful blend of an alternate cyberpunk universe, the one that Gibson might have written post Pattern Recognition.
My thoughts on it follow:
- The game is 2D, sort of, and these screen shots show, and I have not played a game where my avatar looks so unusual. Blendo Games, which is really just Brendan Chung, has developed some off-the-wall shtuff, but this one has an aesthetic that is about as close to what I imagine the dataverse looked like to those of us who survived cyberpunk in the 1980s as is possible. The game goes out of his way to show the player-character when at least I was least suspecting it, through blocky shadows and sudden reflections in mirrors.
- The game’s landscape also felt very dataversian in its complete lack of other people, except for those in your hacker hangout. I robbed houses, stole courier packets from trains, and entered ventilation ducts, and all the time I saw no one. When I died, I was killed by a stationary sentry gun set in the ceiling, or by running out of air on one mission in space.
- Even the houses of the folks whose stuff I took were clean, corporately-sterile, with no sign of habitation aside from furniture that looked as if it could still be in its plastic wrap.
- Even though the player can die, there is no other violence. I was excited to get a gun, even if I couldn’t pick it up and shoot it like a hand cannon, only to find out that it shot bean bags that could be used to trip levers. Damn – no body count here.
- Chung has said in interviews (consult the wikipedia page for direct sources) that he wanted to make a game that helped people understand what it takes to be a hacker without having to code. I picked up on that, and I found that I had to think about the puzzles in very different ways than other games required me to think. I don’t usually enjoy puzzle solving games, but this one had me hooked because the puzzles were ingenious but somehow useful.
- Perhaps they felt useful because we as hackers got paid. By who was never made clear.
- I did feel a bit off put by the linearity of the narrative. The game is absolutely not a sandbox – there’s no place to go, a function I am guessing of both the lack of programmers to add more space and an adherence to the dataverse, full of heavily protected data in the cyberpunk ecosystem.
- This linearity reminded me a bit of the game I’m trying to finish now, What Remains of Edith Finch, which is just as linear from a narrative standpoint but restricted in different ways.
- At some point I will need to think about what these sorts of borderless boundaries mean for game worlds…
- As a fan of the Sprawl trilogy, I enjoyed how this game invoked the Gibsonian conception of cyberspace. It felt intensively machine-drawn, with clean shadows and no dirt whatsoever (even in the air ducts the player crawls around in).
- Again, it felt all very intentionally machine-drawn, a beautiful contrast to the nastiness of the outside world in Gibson’s Sprawl. It almost felt as if the machines that drew it were trying to either make humans feel comfortable or ignoring them completely.
- The only messy spaces were ones players share with their fellow hackers, all of whom look vaguely Japanese and none of whom really interacted with the player-character.
- And the player-character is definitely in the machine – you simply appear and disappear as if you hooked a ride in a Star Trek transporter.
- Unfortunately, there were no malevolent AIs. Even the corporations we rob didn’t seem evil, just sort of negligent for leaving all these holes in their security. I’m not sure what styles of security the game is designed to present for circumvention – it’s clearly set in 1980, as a banner tells us early on, but there are space stations that we have to hack as well.
- The aesthetic also felt vaguely as if I was an analog remnant of an increasingly digital world, but that might be other work of mine bleeding into this one.
Reading this article from Game Studies forced me to think about rules, and the game that I have played recently that seemed most obsessed with rules from a narrative standpoint is The Detail. I won’t go into all the caveats I already discussed about the game sort of sucks (just recall that it wasn’t finished because the developers lost funding), but I hope that one piece of the narrative that definitely would have changed was the ending, which was rushed beyond belief.
Perhaps the biggest impact that The Wire as a series had on me was its willingness to show how everyone is compromised – the police and city government and those who are supposed to be righteous as well as those who are taking advantage of the demand around them in order to improve their own socio-economic standing. The feeling of injustice that happens at the end of the first season when one Barksdale is given a reduced sentence and the police and city council get their pictures in the paper with news of a huge drug bust that we as viewers know was compromised and much less than it could have been felt devastating, as did the union boss’s death at the end of the second season. There is no true justice is an important part of the message of the best of these types of detective fictions.
The Crime Board – know your rules
Rules happen within games, too, and part of the dismay I felt about watching The Detail run off the rails happened when the detectives stumble upon a torture scene. That attempt to make the criminals look less than human was too obvious, too clearly set within a rule set that says that bad guys must do really bad things. This sort of easy moralizing was something that The Wire intentionally avoided.
Gaming Globally (edited by Nina B. Huntemann and Ben Aslinger) was recommended to me by a friend after I expressed interest in better understanding the increase in game developers in Latin America and Africa, and it was well worth the read. It will serve, I am guessing as a baseline for the kind of research and development that lots of game developers are interested in promulgating.
- The editors make clear that they do not assume that all readers believe that gaming is global – they argue that games are transnational as well as multi-platform, media, etc. Making the argument to me feels necessary, not just because game discussion is almost entirely north- and west-based, but also because making the argument in this fashion helps match the urgency that developers in countries outside of the U.S., Europe, and Japan feel.
- They note that Japanization is as powerful as Americanization in the global game market. I was reminded of this phenomenon this morning when a former student liked something I tweeted, and upon looking at his timeline I discovered that since graduation he has discovered anime.
- The format of this book is a bit different, as they offer the standard academic essays but add what they call snapshots, three-four page looks at very specific times or places based on themes.
- The amount of research in this is staggering. Once again I am reminded of my inability to speak another language, let alone read it an academic level.
- Among the many chapters one that struck me was one that talked about game development and programming under the old Iron Curtain. My fascination with 80s anti-fascist and anti-Soviet eastern Europeans and Latin Americans continues…
Moretti is a Cal Berkeley economist who studies the ways that labor markets develop (and move) across different geographical regions. The New Geography of Jobs is loaded with economic breakdowns of the forces that have caused American cities to either prosper or falter economically.
- Moretti is way smarter than I am, and is very comfortable with the macro-economic analyses that have a lot to say about the ways in which American labor markets move and grow. His holistic overviews make sense, and at a very high level his analysis says a lot about the ways that some communities have continued to attract talent.
- His emphasis on the power of innovation makes sense, especially as currently configured our economy cannot compete with cheaper manufacturing costs. He also makes a point of showing how these sorts of innovation industries (not his phrase, and not a great one) can support a lot of other folks, especially those who are not necessarily innovative themselves.
- He also speaks convincingly about how difficult making the transition for other cities might be – Detroit and Cleveland, for instance, might struggle with developing economies around innovation.
- I struggled throughout this though with the sense that he was making this all sound too easy. That’s not fair – he’s not working with details – but macroeconomic analyses to me often seem so bloodless…
- I am also not sure what to do about rural areas in this configuration. These tend to get relegated to resource extraction/farming areas anyway, and innovation definitely removes jobs.
- Discussions about this sort of look at the future seems especially odd when they do not odd take a larger look at how we pay for things. I struggled trying not to read this discussion through a very specific lens – guaranteed wage, keeping people interested and motivated, and so on…