Thursday, 15 June 2017

Well, it's done: I am, at last, a Doctor of Philosophy =)

Do I feel proud? Relieved? To be honest, I do not know, yet. I didn't really, fully, realised that it is over, yet.
I feel happy, though, because it has been a wonderful journey that led me to travel across the World, to meet many amazing people and to discover a lot. I'm grateful for that.

curious about my dissertation? Check here!

Now, of course, the big step into academia awaits. It has been a while that I'm applying to post-doc positions and to research fellowships in Europe and beyond. I got some rather encouraging feedback, which is always welcome, but still no job offer. If you hear about any interesting vacancy, then, do not hesitate and let me know! =)

Now, I will try to get a couple of days at the sea, here in Turkey, but Kaunas and the World Congress of Semiotics are approaching and I better prepare some slides...
Hope to see many of you there!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

De Strijd der Robots, boardgame.
As promised I am back to SemioNerd to share some stuff about games. My dissertation is finished and will be defended bravely by me the 8th of June at my Alma Mater in Turin, Italy.
Today, however, I'll write a few lines about an interesting 1978 boardgame that I just unpacked. I can't say that I am a great fan of unboxing videos (or vicarious thrills from opening new gear). I like boxes as the next guy (I've a hidden folder full of pictures found on the Internet of my old Lego and Playmobil toys) I just do not care much about the unboxing. For this game, however, the situation was different. But let's proceed in order.

Few days ago I was in Copenhagen for the Boardgame Studies Colloquium, a rather nice event full of interesting people - scholars, game designers, collectors, game historians. In one of the sessions game designer Fred Horn dedicated his lecture to "Metropolis - Der Srtijd der Robots" a Dutch boardgame of 1978 by Jaap de Jager and R. Zielschot that Horn claims being the first real Sci-Fi boardgame ever made. The history of the design and publication of this game is complex and full of drama, truly fascinating - or so they tell me.
Yes, because (undoubtedly thanks to some Murphy's law) while Horn was giving his presentation in a room, I was in another room, giving my presentation. When I interrogated my fellow participants they gave me passionate, but vague and contradicting, reports about the game's story.
Nevertheless, even if I wasn't able to attend to the lecture I still got a copy of the game. Fred Horn got several of them from the game designer son (or something similar) and was so nice to give them away at the conference, so I got my very own.
In the next days I grew attached to the game, mainly because I has several days to spend abroad and no luggage to put it in. The game is rather large, 43x34x3 cm, and therefore I could not open the plastic wrap of the game to see what was inside, otherwise it would have been impossible to transport it around under my arm. For several days, then, I wandered in my Copenhagen hostel, in the city airport and then in Berlin and Potsdam and in the airport again all the way home with my sealed copy of Metropolis.
If my apparel indeed draw some curious looks at the check-in counters, still my curiosity of the content of the game was even stronger. So, once finally at home, first thing I did was unwrapping that damn game!

Inside it were a board with a printed map of land and see (10x10 squares of land and 5x10 squares of sea), a manual and 120 plastic figures depicting, in blue and red a set of land, air and sea vehicles with perfect 1970s style. 

The next day I decided to try it, in lack of better opponents, playing against myself. The rules of the game are rather straightforward: every player has 4 metropolises (3 on land and 1 on sea), the first one to capture two of the from the enemy wins.
The game starts by positioning all the figures on the map, that then appears rather crowded.

As the figures has different values, both in combat and for movements, I suppose that this first phase can decide much of the game and the fact that Red has to position all its figures before Blue might be an advantage for the latter. I'm still too new to the game to say it for certain, though.
Once the battlefield is filled with figures each turn players can move one figure on the board. This might seem slow, but in fact it's quite intriguing, as the players has to fight contemporarily on several fronts, without loosing track of their troops. As I played alone, I ended up resolving the sea battle first, and only when Red had an undisputed control of the eastern part of the map I proceeded to continue the battle on land.
The game, mutatis mutandis, often feels similar to chess: several situations of stale are formed, in which the first one to move one of its pieces will loose the confrontation. Protecting one most powerful units bu moving them cautiously and always protecting the square they are in, might be an unavoidable part of every winning strategy.
Several times I had the feeling that there were too many useless figures, too weak to confront the stronger ones, that were just occupying space or be destroyed in series by the artillery. Again, this might be a flaw of my playing and not of the game, only time will tell.
After more or less half an hour of play Red lost all its heavy tanks and was therefore unable to win the game. After keeping Blue in check for some time, its defence failed and two of its metropolises were occupied. 

The overall gameplay is rather smooth and fun, a part for some time spent checking the rulebook trying to figure out which figure moves in which way (there are 26 different types of them). It has a nice retro taste, without the poor rule design that was unfortunately pretty common at the time. The art is also pretty nice and goes well with the retro-sci-fi theme (maybe we need a word for that, like for steampunk? Or it already exist?).
Next objective: play with someone else than me, myself and I!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Dissertation & Co
It has been a while that I was not able to write anything, here, but it was for a good reason: I had to put up on paper my dissertation. I did my best, in the past year, to keep my research coherent, so to have a good map of the areas I wanted to touch in the final step of my PhD, but nonetheless it was an overwhelming work. It probably does not make much sense when someone else says it - many colleagues warned me, and I though I got it - but it is certainly the hardest piece of work I have done so far. Writing it in English wasn't much of a problem (even if here in Italy is still rather rare), what I struggled with the most was coherence.
I had several moment of wondering, where I was just trying to remember exactly what I wrote 150 pages before on a related topic. Thankfully technology is very helpful from this perspective: being able to search the whole text, to copy paste paragraphs in new positions, too look for keyword or systematically change some terminology are life savers. And with a good backup system you do not fear to lose all your writing if your PC breaks down (I know, it's 2017, but I still have colleagues that suffered this atrocious fate).

Anyway, my dissertation now is close to completion: I'm implementing the final changes thanks to the observations of several, wonderfully helpful, colleagues to whom I owe my gratitude. I will soon publish an abstract and the table of contents on these pages for anyone interested.

In the meantime, I linked in the video section my last lecture at Turin University (for Italian speakers only, I'm afraid) in which I bore the audience with an etymological map of aspectuality (am I the only one that find etymologies great?) and some considerations on the aspectual features of play. I also analyse some comics for one of the best strips ever: Calvin & Hobbes. I'll try to write a few lines on this on the blog one day.
By the way, this year Meeting on Meaning are particularly interesting: you can check all the full conference videos in HD on Lexia.
 Other than that, I updated the "papers" section with a few more articles available online. You will find my most complete overview on Lotman's semiotic of culture applied to games, a framework to analyse the implementation of history in digital games (written with Vincenzo Idone Cassone), some notes on narratology and board games, a paper on the semiotics of toys and an article dedicated to post-digital graphic regimes.

 It's all, for now, but I'll be back soon!