• "Modern creatives who want to work in good faith will have to fully disengage from the older generation’s mythos of phantoms, and masterfully grasp the genuine nature of their own creative tools and platforms. Otherwise, they will lack comprehension and command of what they are doing and creating, and they will remain reduced to the freak-show position of most twentieth century tech art. That’s what is at stake." Loads of good stuff in this Sterling essay, but this is the leaper-out for me: the reminder – as I fervently behave – about truly understanding the things you work in. And in this case: the reminder that all the old metaphors of computation are rarely true. Computers are not intelligent; they do not see or hear. But nor are they stupid, blind, or deaf. They are just other.
  • "No longer does the virtual simply enslave and deceive. Instead, it filters into the real—blurring any obvious, hierarchal distinction between the two worlds. The virtual in these films resembles more so the surreal life of our subconscious drives and desires, a mysterious source of power and revelation, than the programmed realm of illusion concocted by The Matrix. Perhaps we have come to spend more time on the computer than communicating face-to-face with other flesh-and-bone creatures, or smartphones have practically bent our bodies into question marks. But what I would argue has really shaped the virtual dimension in these films is the videogame, which has now come to nearly permeate our everyday imagination."
  • "One succeeds because it leverages the player's motivated, explorative, self-driven experience; the other fails because it relies on a hackneyed, disjointed "epic" plotting (told in 3 separate plot-lines via cutscenes) with incongruous settings and 2-dimensional characters. One succeeds because its formal systems directly feed the player's connection to the world and characters; the other fails because its formal systems bear no discernible relationship to the stories the game wants to tell." This is strong stuff from Michael; I am increasingly fed up of the focus on (poorly-told) stories in games.
  • "Know that there are no "accidents" in this game design. Everything you notice about the game, and every subtle interaction that you experience, is intentionally packed with meaning." (Gravitation, still, being my favourite of Rohrer's games, I think).
  • "Crucially, Goodrich entreats the public to note the following: "this change should not directly affect gamers, as it does not fundamentally alter the gameplay." This one statement should cause considerable distress, as it suggests a troubling conclusion about Medal of Honor as a work of public speech.<br />
    <br />
    To wit: it suggests that the Taliban never had any meaningful representation in the game anyway. If a historically, culturally, and geographically specific enemy can simply be recast in the generic cloth of "opposition," then why was it was called "Taliban" in the first place?<br />
    <br />
    And if the Afghan war in which the new Medal of Honor is set was one explicitly meant to drive the Taliban from their strongholds in Afghanistan, why should it matter that the game is set in that nation in the present day at all? In short, how was this Medal of Honor title meant to be a game about this war in particular?" This is a marvellous, critical piece of writing from Bogost.
  • Nice post on Awk basics – most of which I knew, but the examples are still great, especially those involving variables. The links out to the Hacker News and Reddit threads are also full of good stuff.

A map of the world the size of the world

24 October 2005

Matt addresses the issue of the philosophers of Lagado, with regards to Don Norman’s take on the “simplicity” of Google:

“it would be more convenient for all men to carry about them such things as were necessary to express a particular business they are to discourse on”

I refer to it as the “map of the world the size of the world” problem, but I forget where I obtained that concept – it might have been Gulliver, too. The most perfect map of anything is a 1:1 representation of it – you end up making a copy. The trade-off in any navigation aid – menu, sitemap, chart – is accuracy of representation versus accuracy of content (I think). You need a perfect representation – an outline – but you don’t need a perfect rendering of content, because you’ll get that at the destination.

I face this problem a lot in design and IA; you come up with a solution that will work with the current content – and then “current content” grows. And for a while, things scale, but then they stop scaling, and you end up cramming it all in at the top because, well, all the content is competing with one another. And so you end up with a map of the world the size of the world.

The next step is to stop, refactor, and start again – if you have that luxury. Google, by contrast, never let things grow: it’s still practically the same homepage they started with. They avoided the feature-bloat by never letting it happen, and instead, launched their other product by and large, seperately. They may have occasionally integrated them into the results screen, but never the home page. So then usability comes down to intuition (and why shouldn’t it? Even Norman argues that objects should be intuitively usable). mail.google.com – what do you know, it works. maps.google.com – it works. And in making people guess the subdomains, you’re creating better users – users who work out what they’re really looking for quicker. That makes them more adept at your product – because Google’s product is find, after all – and more adept consumers of the internet.

The map-of-the-world problem stems from that horrid, oh-so-web-1.0 site archetype: the portal. We tread a fine line now – at one extreme, a single search box as a gateway to content; at the other, comprehensive indexes and subindexes, homepages of horrendous complexity. I don’t think the “single search box” approach is valid for many, but people are moving that way, and it’s good – away from horrendous taxonomies and indexes and subpages and sitemaps and towards a more organic, find-orientated paradigm.

Don Norman doesn’t believe in find. He likes devices to be “their own instruction manual”, remember – you shouldn’t need to read the book, it should just be obvious. This leads to his crazy telephones with millions of discrete buttons for each function. He’s kind-of right, but he doesn’t like a middle-ground of adaptability, multi-purpose interfaces. Google riles him not because it’s the middle ground in his way of thinking, but the polar opposite.