Up in the clouds and down in the streets of Grand Theft Auto V

Posted on October 24th, 2013 by David Elliot

I’ve been endlessly driving through the streets of Los Santos née Los Angeles, trying to complete the main storyline of Grand Theft Auto V, the latest title in the “let’s print money” franchise by Rockstar Games (to the tune of a billion Washingtons in just three days after release). Players, too, can make it rain (virtually) at the Vanilla Unicorn, a strip club one eventually acquires. But in my experience of game play thus far (both stand-alone and online), the most vexing return on my investment has not been financial but existential.


Whether toggling among one of three playable personas in the stand-alone version—or waiting for glitches to resolve in the online game—players will spend a disconcerting amount of time disembodied, floating in the clouds above Los Santos (a visually stunning vantage point giving credence to the cliché that Los Angeles is most beautiful at a far remove). Eventually, the player falls back to Earth and into the waiting arms of a camera position behind one of three playable characters. Once re-embodied, beauty surrenders to the franchise’s beloved, street-level brutalities and a sandbox of crimes just begging to be committed. But glitches in the first two weeks of online play—and the fragmented nature of trying to control three different characters—makes playing-at-being in the world of Los Santos a spasmodic existence.

When not floating above the city in a literalized metaphor of cloud computing with a dodgy connection, players must endure the most earthbound feature of GTA this fifth time around: the cutscene scripting. Playing as Franklin, the sympathetic, “street” (aka, African American) avatar, one’s ears are thrashed with a torrent of hackneyed N-bombs delivered by Franklin’s childhood friend, Lamar, and his buddy, Stretch. These scenes stray into parody through repetition: perhaps the most transgressive and yet selectively re-appropriated word in modern American culture is hammered into meaninglessness by hyperbolic excess. If GTA V proves nothing else, it is almost possible to build an entire sentence out of N-word subjects, verbs, and objects.


Taking offense on racism grounds seems like an overkill response; it’s the sheer banality of Franklin’s discourse—whether parodic or sincere—that drags me down. (Online, players often adopt the slang of the game, thereby extending its diegesis into a performative register broadcast through their headsets. This is a curious—and sometimes irritating—form of harmonic resonance, a kind of sympathetic behavior. More pessimistically, it may also just be the way some people relate to each other IRL—a thought that makes Franklin’s reflexive N-bombing more creditable, I suppose.)

While Franklin struggles to escape the streets of digital Compton, the Franklin I play remains trapped by his characterization (caricature may be more precise). Coherent, cohesive play is already in peril in GTA V, whether by dint of technology or intent of design. And yet I’ve little choice but to pull the plug on Franklin preemptively whenever possible—and switch to Michael or Trevor, the other two playable characters—rather than endure the tired verbal spew he both gives and gets. But mostly, I pity the guy; Franklin’s poorly authored essence thwarts his very existence at my hands. My Franklin aspires to better than what the game designers have imposed upon him. If only we could transcend our respective positions–his on the street, mine in the clouds–GTA V would be as good as it looks from a distance.

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Colloquium on Games and Gamification

Posted on October 24th, 2013 by David Elliot

When: This Friday October 25th, 10:00am-6:00pm
Where: Young Research Library, UCLA
What: A colloquium about Games and Gamification, featuring Edward Castranova, Eddo Stern, Susan Lohman and more.


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Trace the USC Institute for Creative Technologies – Nov. 1

Posted on October 24th, 2013 by David Elliot

Please join Incendiary Traces as we tour, draw, and otherwise trace (literally and metaphorically) the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT). A post-tour discussion will follow.

Friday, November. 1, 2013

Established in 1999, the USC ICT is a University Affiliated Research Center working in collaboration with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. It specializes in artificial intelligence, graphics, virtual reality and narrative immersive techniques and technologies to address problems facing service members, students and society. It brings film and game industry artists together with computer and social scientists to study and develop immersive media for military training and other fields.

During our visit, we are scheduled to meet with ICT Director of Advanced Prototypes Todd Richmond and tour the facility. Included are about 2-3 hours drawing on site and an opportunity to get immersed in an interactive counter IED training environment. Modeled on southern Afghanistan, the game terrain plays a key role in training military personnel in detecting, assessing, and managing IED threat situations.

1:00-5:00 pm: Tour and drawing at ICT
5:00-6:00pm: Discussion at a location TBD

NOTE: There are limited spots available for this event. Please RSVP by October 25 to incendiarytraces@gmail.com. Further details will follow your response.

Incendiary Traces is a loosely collective exploration of the role of landscape imagery in international conflict through public on-site drawing events, research and publication of related materials by diverse contributors. It was initiated in 2011 by Los Angeles-based artist Hillary Mushkin. For more information visit incendiarytraces.org.

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Unity printing workshop in Silverlake Nov 2-3

Posted on October 21st, 2013 by David Elliot

A free workshop in hosted by my Friends at Somewhere Something. Its a great warehouse space divided into units located near Silverlake.

18 seats available  based on the space that we have available –  contact Jose Sanchez <jomasan@gmail.com> to rsvp

The workshop will cover introduction to Unity3D – a gaming platform, and how to create in-game objects and export them to 3D printing or fabrication.

Its a 2 day workshop; 2-3 November. 

See flyer below:


Screen shot 2013-10-21 at 8.56.54 AM

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Game Installation ‘Interference’ At Track 16 Gallery

Posted on October 2nd, 2013 by David Elliot

Interference is an immersive interactive game installation by architect Nathalie Pozzi and game designer Eric Zimmerman. Combining strategic and social elements, the game is played by stealing from other players. Five suspended, super-thin steel walls dotted with organic patterns resembling cell tissues act as vertical game boards. The twist is that each turn you must steal a piece from another game going on between other players. While each game takes place in a local area of one of the walls, the games themselves can move across the walls – and games even collide with each other as they drift across the walls’ surfaces. Interference encourages players to negotiate, argue, and scheme with and against each other, across physical space, social space, and the spaces between games.

Track 16 Gallery
3571 Hayden Avenue
Culver City, CA 90232
Opening Reception Wednesday, October 2, 8:30 – 10:30pm

Interference will be open to the public the following dates:
5 October, noon-4pm; 6 October, noon-6pm; 12 October, noon-6pm; 19 October, noon-6pm, 26 October noon-6pm. 

Official exhibition link

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Church of Play

Posted on October 1st, 2013 by David Elliot

The UCLA GameLab is pleased to announce a workshop series on Religion Design conducted by Adam Rafinski, open for all UCLA students.

The Church of Play (CoP) is an experiment in establishing a spiritual community of players and game designers that investigate the relationship between spirituality and play. This reality game offers you the possibility to develop, play and communicate your own rituals and spiritual ideology.

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CoP is a secret organization that worships play.  In contrast to other spiritual movements, members of CoP are highly skilled in reflecting upon their practice while enacting them. Also CoP strongly encourages its members to constantly iterate on the design of their beliefs and practices. Don’t miss out the unique opportunity to participate in the birth of this new global movement!


For the first time in LA, CoP is offering an intensive seminar. Students will develop and playtest prototypes of own rituals and spiritual practices. Ultimately they will learn how to initialize themselves.

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The workshop series consists of an open introduction and two closed sessions. The first session is focusing on Games of Chance and the second on Games of Ecstasy. Please note that the workshop itself is structured as a game, which involves elements such as role-playing. In order to prevent yourself from discrimination, we highly encourage you to not speak to anybody about your decision to participate in this workshop. To participate in the game, please come to the open Introduction, in disguise if you like, to learn more about CoP and the workshop. Participants that show themselves worthy through their playfulness and designs will be able to join CoP.


Introduction: Monday, 7th of October : 6-8pm – Broad Art Center 5240

Games of Chance: Wednesday, 9th of October : 6-9pm – Location is a secret

Games of Ecstasy: Friday, 11th of October : 6-9pm – Location is a secret


Participants that show themselves worthy through their playfulness and designs will be able to join CoP. To sign up, please send a short statement on why you wish to participate to be@churchofplay.org by Sunday, the 6th of October.

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Attention IndieCade participants:

CoP is also looking for volunteers to help designing and running a Manifestation at IndieCade on Friday, the 4th of October from 5:30-7:00pm in Culver City. This will involve at least one additional meet-up on Wednesday, the 2nd and/or Thursday, the 3rd of October.  If you would like to become a Guardian of Play for our Manifestation please email us: be@churchofplay.org


Adam Rafinski is a conceptual and performance artist, curator, educator and reality game designer from Germany. His work focuses on the aesthetics of digital culture, augmented play, spirituality and games, as well as playfulness in culture and art. He graduated from the University of Art and Design (HfG) Karlsruhe in Germany with a MA in Art Theory and Media Philosophy. After completing his degrees, Adam founded the GameLab Karlsruhe, a label for Art Games and Pervasive Games at the Institute for Postdigital Narratives in the HfG and curated diverse shows. He was also a research assistant at the ZKM (Center for Art and Media) Karlsruhe and developed the curatorial concept of “zkm_gameplay” for the Media Museum: the first exhibition platform dedicated to contemporary play culture and digital media. Currently he continues his work on reality games in the course of the Digital Media program at Georgia Tech, works as a research assistant for the department, and is the manager of the Experimental Game Lab and the Emergent Game Group.