Hoodiez Launch!

My colleague and friend David Fiorito’s toy company (DreamLand Toyworks) is having an official launch party for a line of excellent collectible toys called Hoodiez, designed by Carl Jones, the artist behind Boondocks.

Check out the site, but if you’re in town, definitely go by the gallery, because even after the party Jones’ work will be on display until sometime in May.

Launch Party Poster

Vegas Lingers

This is Vegas

It’s easy to overlook them. The Skinner-box button-pushers, watching the wheels roll and roll. Surrounded by a ‘paradise’ that still leaves them wanting — and thinking they’ll find it like this.

Vegas was a mixed bag. I guess I’d always seen so many glamorous photos and film shots, even the ones that tried to be ‘gritty’ still managed to put a sort of mythic gleam over everything.

But it’s not mythic. It’s plastic. It’s the progeny of a one-night stand between the Magic Kingdom and TGI Friday’s. Inescapable throngs of flip-flopped, booze-soaked denizens, eyes bugged wide by the promise of … what? I’m not even sure. Entertainment, certainly, but another flavor invades the way saccharine crowds and leaves a film over any other flavor. Luxury, perhaps. Richness of the kind that first comes to mind when someone says “rich”: Trumpism mixed with Hollywood ersatz.

I don’t mean to be so down on it. Really. I’m a big fan of decadent, crazy, outrageous kitsch. But this somehow was so overwhelming, it wasn’t even kitsch. (Definitely not camp.) Now I understand why U2 filmed the video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” here so many years ago — and that was before it was injected with virtual-reality steroids.

The conference was terrific (except for having trouble escaping the waves of noise and humanity to have a decent conversation). I’m amazed the team made it come together as well as they did given the circumstances.

Fortunately, most of the time was much happier than I’m letting on here. Check out my iasummit2007 Flickr stream.

For the record: I know plenty of people enjoy Vegas a great deal, and they have fun gambling and seeing shows and everything, and I think that’s actually really great. Some of my family enjoy doing it from time to time, and they seem to always come back smiling. I think it just hit me in a strange way on this trip — but I’m always like that; if there’s a silver lining I’ll find a cloud. I just can’t help noticing the souls that seem to be a little lost, a little vacant behind the marquee-reflecting eyes. But hey, that’s just me.

Piracy & Participation

Two remarkable things get said in the recent Boing-Boing post Disney exec: Piracy is just a business model

First, Disney’s co-exec chair admits they’ve had an enlightened paradigm shift on piracy:

We understand now that piracy is a business model,” said Sweeney, twice voted Hollywood’s most powerful woman by the Hollywood Reporter. “It exists to serve a need in the market for consumers who want TV content on demand. Pirates compete the same way we do – through quality, price and availability. We we don’t like the model but we realise it’s competitive enough to make it a major competitor going forward

Pretty amazing that. The fact that they realize this isn’t so much criminal activity as it is the collective effort of its customers emerging as a competitive entity that routes around the impediments of traditional media delivery.

But evidently she also said Disney’s strategy is primarily about content because “content drives everything else.” And Cory Doctorow (who posted this at BB) makes a stellar point:

Content isn’t king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you’d choose your friends — if you chose the movies, we’d call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.

I love that… he nails it.

For example, American Idol’s content isn’t what makes it a sensation — it’s the fact that it inspires conversations among people. It’s set up as a participatory exercise — regular people competing, and regular people voting. The same with sports, serial drama television and even video games. Content can be engineered to be more or less conducive to conversation — and I guess in that way it ‘drives everything else’ — but that has as much to do with the nuances of delivery (the ‘architecture’ of the content, if you will) as it does with the content itself.

And in that sense, you could see piracy as not only a business model, but another form of discourse. Piracy is a sort of conversation — people share things because they’re seeking social capital, influence, validation, or even just shared communal experience.

World of Warcraft: Is It a Game?

Steven Levy, author of the fabulous book Hackers, writes this excellent column about WoW.
World of Warcraft: Is It a Game? – Newsweek Technology – MSNBC.com

What distinguishes Warcraft from previous blockbuster games is its immersive nature and compelling social dynamics. It’s a rich, persistent alternative world, a medieval Matrix with lush graphics and even a seductive soundtrack (Blizzard has two full-time in-house composers). Blizzard improved on previous MMOs like Sony’s Everquest by cleverly crafting its game so that newbies could build up characters at their own pace, shielded from predators who would casually “gank” them—while experienced players continually face more and more daunting challenges. The company mantra, says lead designer Rob Pardo, is “easy to learn, difficult to master.” After months of play, when you reach the ultimate level (60), you join with other players for intricately planned raids on dungeons, or engage in massive rumbles against other guilds.

“Ninety percent of what I do is never finished—parenting, teaching, doing the laundry,” says Elizabeth Lawley (Level 60, Troll Priest), a Rochester, N.Y., college professor. “In WOW, I can cross things off a list—I’ve finished a quest, I’ve reached a new level.”

For the record, I tried WoW and just didn’t find it to my liking. The ‘grind’ to level up was to much work for me and not enough entertainment payoff — that and the lack of creative leeway. But I do see the appeal … if I had a group of friends to play with on a regular basis, and maybe a little more patience, I would probably be donig it every night. Possibly it’s a good thing it didn’t work out 😉

Still, I think Levy’s column does a great job of exploring the deeper social issues that make something like WoW work for upwards of over 6 million people all over the (real) world.

Anyway, the column ends with this: “Yes, it’s just a game,” says Joi Ito. “The way that the real world is a game.”

I don’t have the presence of mind to go into my issues with this statement at the moment, but I’ll just say that I do think there are things about games that, especially with the increasing digitization of all human experience, are making the physical world more and more gamelike. But I don’t think that’s what Ito means. Or maybe it is?