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Games, Life Writing

The Final Automedia Game Club Meeting

Last Thursday, our automedia game club met for our final meeting. For this meeting, we just decided to talk about anything related to automedia games or auto/biography theory, or anything that was not on our list. It was a really illuminating and great discussion.

The original schedule did have a specific game, of which we briefly discussed: Sean Han Tani’s All Our Asias. Although the game is not described as auto/biographical, it was described as a “deeply personal game” in a Waypoint interview with Sean Han Tani and Danielle Riendeau. So, we discussed how to analyze games that incorporate possible auto/biographical content in a fictional game. Or, specifically to All Our Asias, the role of memory in constructing a life narrative. But mostly we talked about the PS1 visuals that are used, that really communicated the abstract fuzzy content of memories and how these very abstract visuals resonated with the general title of “All Our Asias.” If the game is a “deeply personal game,” there was some creative distance in the abstraction and fictionalizing of the personal content so that it would connect to other Asian American experiences.

A group member then brought our attention to an article written by Kawika Guillermo called “Can You Live A Video Game? Autobiography and Living the Author in Video Games.” In that article, Kawika writes,

As Robert Yang said, “no one makes personal games,” and it’s not difficult to see why. First, the gaming player-base is international, so the political implications of telling “identity stories” would have totally different meanings to non-American players, and may cause the game to look provincial.

While not explicit, Kawika points out that “personal” or “identity” stories may not be accepted or be misconstrued by other players. They will be dismissed as “not a game.” Yeah, that bullshit. Or, in the case of That Dragon, Cancer, people criticized the creators for “profiting” off of the passing of the creators’ child.  Kawika goes on to describe that his experience playing automedia games is characterized by frustration.

The article made us think about the autobiographical pact for games. The pact, as it is understood in a/b studies, is an agreement between the reader and author that the name on the cover of the autobiography is the same as the character in the novel. It’s a pact that establishes it’s truth claims and that the life narrative is an auto/biographical narrative. Usually, the reader is the one that has to be convinced. But other than a few scandals (such as the James Frey A Million Little Pieces controversy) or some playful blurring what is real and not real in life narrative by the author, readers accept the truth claims “until proven guilty.” This is a wide generalization but it led us to this point: for games, the autobiographical pact is tricky and precarious because the toxic culture around games don’t want personal games or don’t believes games should be or can be personal. They refuse to accept the pact and might (but not always) refuse to play the game or acknowledge the games’ truth claims. Or the game becomes a target for hate campaigns. So although Robert Yang says “no one makes personal games,” people do. Yet, he points to the larger risk of making personal, auto/biographical games, especially for marginalized devs. The discussion made reconsider the autobiographical pact and how I understand it working in games.

We then looked at Lizzie Stark’s post “Designing Autobiographical Games.” Her focus was on designing auto/biographical LARPs (Live Action Role Playing). None of us have participated in LARPs, but we discussed the possibility of table-top RPGs and how tricky it is to tell a life narrative when players have so much more agency. We scrolled through the rules of the game, and it was a lot to absorb so we didn’t chat much about it other than sharing Stark’s rules for her auto/biographical games.

And that concluded our meeting and the summer club. It’s sad that it has to end, but with a looming defence date, two courses to teach, and some papers to work on, I’ve got my hands full for the next coming months. But it’s something I’d like to do again simply because it’s just good to chat out scholarly stuff in an informal non-academicy way/setting. Despite some academic talk, our conversations were mostly about our experiences playing the game and our thoughts on the life narratives and how they were told through the medium of games. And those conversations were highly informative for my thought processes and academic tinkering with automedia games.

 

The Dissertation

What? I took a vacation!?

I took some time off. A full 2 weeks. I did nothing. Well, I did things but completely non-academic things. It felt so scary, and during those whole two weeks I had moments of “maybe I’ll just do an hour or two of work.” My supervisor had to all-caps at me to take the time off for chrissakes. I thanked her for that. But the prompt to take the vacation (and what I had to keep telling myself throughout the two weeks): I submitted my dissertation!

Yup, dissertation is submitted and my defence is scheduled. Wednesday September 19th. I’m so excited and terrified all at the same time. I’m excited to complete the PhD, to reach this final milestone, but also terrified of what comes after.

And part of the reason of why it was so hard to take a break was because of being scared of what comes after. If I want to pursue an academic career (which I do), the publish or perish model haunts every minute that I take off. I have uncompleted essays, books to read, future research to plot out, courses to teach in the Fall, and like a dozen other things on my mind. Shouldn’t I be doing those things? was the question that haunted my mind when I found myself just figuring out what to do for the day or the afternoon.

But instead, I played Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and binged the fantastic podcast #SecretFeministAgenda. It was more of a Stay-cation, but still as effective. The podcast by Hannah McGregor was really crucial in reaffirming my choice to lay on the couch and do things for my self care. Although I recommend the whole podcast, these two episodes were great reminders for me during my vacation: Hufflepuff Self Care with Kaarina Mikalson and Slow Down!

I’ve returned to work this week, but it’s been going slow. And instead of panicking about it, I’m okay with it. I feel less worried about it, although I never stop worrying. I’m also trying to make more time for creative things (which I haven’t done in over a year, I think…) and for friends/family. Everything seems manageable. Those projects I have in mind still have hypothetical deadlines, but they no longer seem as urgent.

And on that note, I’m off. Here’s a picture of my dog, Bilbo, doing what he does best: enjoying the summer:

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Games, Life Writing

Automedia Club pt2: The Archive of Play

Last week, my local automedia game club met together and we discussed Nina Freeman’s Cibele and Davy Wreden’s The Beginner’s Guide. Both are very different automedia games, and whether or not the The Beginner’s Guide is an automedia is debatable (still, it employs biographical and autobiographical writing).

The “theme” that ties these games together is “the archive of play.” The concept comes from Anna Poleitti’s essay “Autobiography and Play: A Conversation with my 12-year old self.” She defines the “archive of play” as “the materials produced and left behind by the activity of playing” (113). She elaborates,

Of course, not all play produces a material trace. That play that does, however, results in material that is…a rich resource for self-representation and life narrative. Materials in the archive of play are diverse and can include: stories, hand-drawn and digitally produced illustrations, letters, videos, photographs, puppets, costumes, collage, and automatic writing…The materials, and the archive itself, may or may not be cherished by the autobiographer. The archive of play may not be valued or recognized as an archive. Many, one suspects, are thrown away during spring cleaning or the purges of objects that regularly occur in societies with high levels of consumption. Where such archives do persist, they may constitute the flotsam of a previous life that is stored in out of the way places and rarely accessed, or stored by members of one’s family or childhood friends. The value of the archive of play becomes apparent once an autobiographical project is initiated…In some cases, the archive itself demands remediation or engagement in the contemporary moment, as I will explore in the examples of “A Conversation With My 12 Year Old Self” and the auto/biographical film Tarnation (Caouette 2003). (113-14)

Poleitti’s focus is on film, and the “play” that she refers to seems to refer to childhood play or, as she puts it, materials produced by play. Cibele and The Beginner’s Guide are two games that I (and later, the group) felt really spoke to this concept, especially the line “The value of the archive of play becomes apparent once an autobiographical project is initiated.” Documents in Cibele are taken from Freeman’s hard drive, and the premise of The Beginner’s Guide is that Wreden is taking you, the player, through old games that were made by “Coda.”

While these games certainly contain a archive of sorts or an archive of play, as described by Poletti, the group discussed our play. In both cases, the archive is remediated, but it is also designed for players to play with it in a certain way.

We discussed how Cibele just kinda dropped you into the game and you let you play with the folders of fan art, chat logs, poetry, blog posts, and photos (majority of which are selfies). The archive is remediated but as an archive? (as opposed to The Beginner’s Guides guided narration; there is still a narrative throughout Cibele, but there is more player agency to explore). So, in Cibele, the autobiographical narrative is generated through the player’s play; the more the player plays with the files, the more of the narrative arc about Nina’s coming of age is disclosed. While Poleitti’s concept focuses on the author’s play (both in past and in present, I think), we discussed how the player’s play shaped the narrative of Cibele.

This play is not only in the exploration of documents, we noted, but also in the MMO game-within-the-game. We liked that the conversations between Nina and Blake didn’t occur/continue unless you fought with each other (although we also talked about how these conversations were awkward and cringe-y – that is, Blake’s come-ons were very cringe-y). It took some of us a little too long to figure this out, and how this may speak to our play styles in MMOs that doesn’t put the social as something primary but secondary. We also talked about the stripped down mechanics of the MMO. In a Designer Notes podcast that features Freeman, she mentions how she had much more mechanics in the MMO section of Cibele, but stripped these mechanics down to emphasize the social experiences of MMOs and how integral they were to her identity work. This decision, we found, further added upon making the social interactions of MMOs primary rather than secondary.

In The Beginner’s Guide, the player’s play doesn’t really shape the narrative. There is some exploration, but it is guided and there is not much additional narrative generated through playing around in these spaces. It becomes even more suspect when you find out that Wreden has been altering Coda’s games to fit the life narrative that he wants to write about Coda. (I will note that one group member noted that Cibele felt way more voyeuristic thank TBG, primarily because of the desktop and the selfies and the intimate photos that Nina shares with Blake, her romantic interest in the game).

But the ending of TBG seemed too fabricated. While there has been some controversy of the ethics of TBG since Wreden has compiled Coda’s games into this narrative without Coda’s consent, it is unclear who Coda might be and the group has some theories: 1) The Beginner’s Guide is mostly fictional, including Codaand the game might be a critique of fans and critics imposing meanings on Wreden’s games. 2) Wreden is Coda; or rather, Coda is a part of Wreden, and the games are made up: The narrator Wreden represents the part of Davy Wreden who enjoys success and wants to make his games public and wants to engage with the public; Coda represents  the part of Davy Wreden who does not enjoy the success, doesn’t want the public attention, or wants to make games for people but for himself. 3) Same as 2 theory but also adding that the games that we play through are actually from Davy Wreden’s own computer. 4) Coda is actually real and the game is about that toxic relationship, but perhaps the ending is a bit fabricated.

I think we all really liked 3) because it seemed to make the most sense. And it’s not unusual for an auto/biography to contain fictional elements or some kind of “fictional prop” to tell an autobiographical narrative. And perhaps there are elements of 1) and 4) in there: that the ethical implications of the game draws attention to the unethical engagements Davy Wreden has experienced?

We threw our hands up in there air and called it a day.

But wait! there was one more theme that emerged out of our conversations: games as a backdrop of or as a site for identity work. In Cibele, the MMO is integral not only to Nina’s identity formation but also the formation of her relationship with Blake. One member really enjoyed how the game communicates the importance of games in one’s life (there are also blog posts that refer to Final Fantasy X/X2 in this capacity). In TBG, games literally are seen not only as a place of identity work but as something that can be read to reveal a narrative of someone. Although the game questions and critiques this approach, it still uses games to communicate life experiences.

This theme that popped up also made us briefly talk about Path Out, how there is a subtle moment that draws attention to Abdullah’s attachment to games. While it may seem obvious that the choice of having an autobiographical narrative told within a game is motivated by the fact that the autobiographer has an attachment to games, it’s not like every literary autobiographer mentions their attachment to books. Rather, it becomes particularly significant in how the autobiographer representations this attachment to books or to games. So, it might be something to consider when other games include games-within-games or refer to games within their automedia game!

And that about wraps our discussion last week. While our discussions don’t directly speak to Poleitti’s concept of the “archive of play,” I think we talked about the concept in a way that builds upon it to include the play of the player in games. I really liked this concept, and I think it can be useful in games studies, especially in regard to automedia games.

 

The Dissertation

Weeding out the Theory Dump to Make a Garden U & I Can Move Thru: Figuring Out My Diss Introduction

At first, I thought dissertation introductions were a theory dumping ground, a heaping pile of “here’s all my theory so you don’t have to deal with it later on in the other chapters” served with a “this is what my dissertation is about, in a nutshell, but also here’s the theory of my dissertation.”

And at first, that’s what I wrote. It was only until last week, 4-6, revisions later (and these revisions were all pretty major), that I finally figured out what my introduction is supposed to be and does. Last week was also when my supervisor and I were both happy with the introduction. So, I thought to reflect on and share this process because dissertations are a strange thing that, typically, only get written once, and dissertation introductions are an even stranger thing (see Stranger Things 7) for this very reason.

The First Draft is the Worstest (but goes a long way). Despite all of my advice to undergrads, I wrote my introduction first before all other chapters (there are 4, not including the Conclusion). Despite this introduction being absolutely horrid and an absolute garbage dump of theory, it was actually kinda necessary for me to get a handle of the theory and be comfortable with it.

This first draft of the introduction is full of jargon, but I wrote it so I wouldn’t have to deal with the jargon later on and in the final edits of the new and final-ish introduction. From what I remember of this draft, it is largely organized into “Community Theory,” “Affect Theory,” and this weird category of “media studies and auto/biography theory” (perhaps it was the “automedia” category). In short, it was all show off-y theory ramblings. These were introduced with some context for my project, taken from my proposal introduction, and had the chapter summaries, also taken from my proposal.

So, basically, this first draft was my proposal as the buns, and the theory as my hamburger patties + ALL OF THE CONDIMENTS AND TOPPINGS + MORE PATTIES. Yeah, it was mess. But then, I just shoved it to the side and wrote comfortably about affect and community without worrying about explaining everything. The weight of “I have to explain x + y+ z of this theory and include all 10 theorists debating A” was off my shoulders, and I was getting an idea of what I found the most important aspects about whichever theory as I was working through the dissertation.

3rd times a charm…for a better direction. By the second or third draft, my supervisor made a list of all of the theoretical jargon or jargony words/key terms in my introduction.

I had over 30.

My task: define each of these words/key terms and argue why they are relevant to my dissertation. Then, remove the ones that aren’t important. Draw connections between certain terms, group related terms together, and figure out a way to introduce these terms up front and not near the end of the introduction or in a constant stream of never-ending new key terms.

My other task: Be more clear about your dissertation: Why this radio and internet comparison, why Stein and Wallace? Why these research creation projects? Is it research creation? Critical media projects? etc.

For my “other task,” I used a recent New Yorker article that was a comparative think piece on radio and recent internet controversies, especially around their so-called “democratic revolution” of the internet,  which was perfect for introducing my dissertation that narrows in on these debates. Yet, I half-committed to this, and despite having other sources that made the comparison between radio and the internet, those stayed in my notebook. And I still had trouble with my first task. Granted, it was great to get rid of some key terms, and to try introducing these earlier. But I struggled with making these two tasks work in concert: to define key terms alongside describing my dissertation.

But what was important for this draft was identifying the key terms of my dissertation, and to start really thinking of these terms in conjunction with my dissertation and the arguments of my dissertation. Basically, I was clearing out the rubble of the theory dump and started to see the introduction as part of my dissertation. Did I make all of the charts and tree graphs and define all of those thirty terms? Er, not entirely. I gave up midway through the process, but that’s because going through with this process immediately pointed to where I needed to go.

The 5th Element.  By the 5th or 6th revision, I think I figured it out. But I took major editorial risks that had me anxious AF when handing it over.  While the previous draft was in better shape, a shape that could’ve been “acceptable,” my supervisor pushed me to address the main problems of the previous drafts. By this draft, I no longer was thinking of the introduction as a theory dump. In fact, I didn’t really have theory in mind. I stripped away a lot of theory. I just wanted to introduce my dissertation.

The idea that drove these revisions was thinking of the introduction as setting up the context and being clear of situating the argument within that context. The theory was more contextual to my arguments and/or contextualized by my arguments; the key terms were more or less whittled down to under 10, and they were introduced within the 10 pages of my introduction by being pulled out from that New Yorker article I used to set up my introduction as a hook; the New Yorker article wasn’t alone, but was now joined by a bunch of articles that compare the internet and radio and similar rhetoric from early radio and early internet days; and I defined my approach as media archeological to justify my juggling of media, critical media projects, literature, and rhetoric. Here’s a snippet from introduction:

In my dissertation, I compare Modernist imaginations and applications of early radio with Late Postmodernist imaginations and applications of the early internet. My inclusion of literature is both a techno-cultural barometer and an intervention in debates about these media to ask questions of democratic participation, community, and identity formation. My method is media archeological, as my juxtapositions are archeological “cuts” to critique techno-determinist notions of technological progress and interrogate the shared protocols (cultural and technological) of radio and the internet (See Zielinski 7; Emerson xiii).

I quite enjoyed writing that sentence. And a whole lot of other sentences I enjoyed writing because my mindset is “I’m not explaining theory, I’m explaining my dissertation.” The major key terms driving the introduction is “democratic participation, community, and identity formation,” and I stuck closely to those throughout, these being mentioned right from the get-go. Affect comes in, but is importantly linked to community, the affect of community, and is less about affect theory. Auto/biography is there, but is connected to Stein’s and Wallace’s concepts of “democratic participation” and “identity formation” (and “community”). In short, if I threw in any other key terms that needed to be mentioned, they looped back to either all three of these terms or at least one of them.

Out of the dump, and into the garden. The first 9 pages introduces all of the key terms, and defines them in context of the dissertation’s topics. The remaining pages afterwards is expanding upon those terms and giving some further context, followed by the chapter summaries, which remained more or less untouched (yes, nearly untouched since the proposal days!). There’s still theory in there, but as noted above, it’s contextualized by my dissertation and its arguments.

Here’s my garden, now let’s move through it at a leisurely pace and take a closer look.

Or something like that.

By the end of writing this, I had a better sense of how to articulate my dissertation; I understood my dissertation in a different light. I know that is weird (“shouldn’t you know what your dissertation is?”), but it’s true: I understood my dissertation better. It’s a “oh, I was doing this all along!” Writing something for 2+ years, you can kinda lose focus of the whole dissertation – you understand the parts you worked on so closely throughout those years, but when you have to step back and introduce the whole thing, you have to really think of how all those parts work together.

And, to quote Ziggy Stardust, “it ain’t easy.”

But I had some help from my supervisor, who gave me her dissertation introduction to read. I don’t know if this will work for everyone because, eerily enough, our dissertation introductions do similar stuff, but looking at dissertation intros is a huge help. And a good place to start may be your supervisor’s!

So, now the dissertation is all in one document. I’ve sent it off to the committee to have them look it over one more time. The end is in sight. And I am confident that the re-writing of the introduction over and over again will better prepare me for the defence.

Fingers crossed!

 

 

 

Games, Life Writing

First Automedia Game Club Meet-up: Path Out and Dys4ia

For this summer, I have organized a local “game club” that focuses on autobiographical – or automedia, as I prefer – games: games that tells a life narrative or disclosure about the developer’s self and/or others. The organization of the club reflects my current interest in digital life writing and automedia games. The size of the group is about 7, although people will come and go as they please. We meet once a month, trying to play at least 2 games per month. Following each meeting, I will write a brief summary of our discussions here our blog. While the group is mostly composed of academics, the discussions won’t necessarily veer that way.

 Last week was our first meeting to discuss Path Out and Dys4ia. In the beginning of the meeting, we discussed the term automedia, as defined by Julie Rak, and how it is a useful term to characterize autobiographical texts that are composed of a range of media. The term is especially pertinent to Path Out, one member pointed out, because the game includes 16-bit graphics and live, Twitch stream-y video throughout the game play.

The highlights of our Path Out discussion was the game’s interruptions of live video and its critiques of Western games and game design. Path Out is described as a “autobiographical adventure game” and it tells a life narrative of a Syrian refugee, Abdullah Karam, and his escape from Syria. The game begins with you controlling a sprite navigating through a forest. Eventually, you are caught and are killed. At that moment, Karam appears in the upper left corner of the screen in a style that is reminiscent of Twitch streams (thanks to an acute observation from a group member) and says to you, the player, “if you did this in real life, you wouldn’t survive.” We really liked this reminder that despite the game allowing the player to retry certain areas, Karam never had that chance. It was a nice way to begin an automedia game, emphasizing that this game is trying to tell a life (in a similar but different manner than Dys4ia‘s opening disclaimer).

Throughout the rest of Path Out Karam interrupts the game to critique the design of the game. He comments that the city he grew up in doesn’t look like the one depicted in the game, that the game’s depictions are clearly very Western. There’s also a time where a camel is in the streets, and when the player goes up to the camel, Karam appears and says, “Guys, really?!”, comments how the game is caught up in Western ideology, and then the camel disappears when Karam requests it. We really found this subversion interesting, establishing since Karam is collaborating with a developer – Karam is only the writer of Path Out.

What transitioned our discussion from Path Out to Dys4ia is our realization that we experienced the game slightly differently. Turns out there are different paths out in Path Out. I had experienced a version where Karam comes onto the screen to say that what is currently happen didn’t happen to him but happen to others; another member didn’t get that section or any video of that kind. So, despite Path Out being a game about Karam’s experiences, it also seems to be aiming for telling the experiences of others (which is classic relationality in autobiography studies!).

In contrast, Dys4ia makes it clear that it is own the experiences of Anna Anthropy, the author of the game. Dys4ia is about Anthropy’s experiences with Hormone Replacement Therapy. Anathropy makes it very clear in the disclaimer at the beginning of the game that the experiences depicted in the game are “my experience” and “is not meant to be representative of every trans person.” We discussed how this, like the video used in Path Out, establishes the autobiographical pact, a term in autobiography studies that defines the moment when the reader “accepts” that the story being told is true (more or less). For us, we found it interesting that Anthropy makes it clear that the experiences expressed in the game are not representative of any other trans person, but Path Out seems to incorporate others’ experiences when telling Karam’s. There are definitely reasons behind these choices, but we didn’t get too much into detail – just discussing that making this choice is one to critically analyze.

Playing Dys4ia, we enjoyed the mechanics behind the game that were connected to communicating Anathropy’s experiences with Hormone Replacement therapy. With Path Out, which was like an RPG, we couldn’t quite see how the mechanics were connected to Karam’s experiences or exactly why an RPG (the game is admittedly only one chapter finished). One member pointed out that, despite being limited to the arrow keys, the movements in Dys4ia were sometimes disorienting, and felt that this disorientation was intentional, a point I really like. We were particularly surprised when we decided to play the game together and realized that near the end of the game this series of sequences happen in the final act: at one point, you play a mini game like Breakout (or Brick Breaker for you Blackberry fans) that ends once you make a hole through out the wall, and later on in the final act, right before the ending of the game, there is a quickly changing tetris shape that heads towards the hole that you made. The hole that the player can make can be different each time – we tried it, and it worked. So, really liked this ending because although the experiences in the game are Anthropy’s experiences, this ending gestures to players who may be going through similar experiences. Thus, we found the final act’s title, “It Gets Better?” to be fitting because it reflects the #ItGetsBetter  project that started in 2010 (Dys4ia came out in 2012).

And that sums up our first discussion! Most of this is from memory and few notes jotted down after the meeting, so I’ll try to be less rambling next time. Thanks for reading!

Research Creation/Critical Media

Reflecting on DH@GUELPH, “Making at the Intersection” workshop

Although DH@Guelph finished nearly two weeks ago, last week I was busy with career centre work, a committee meeting that led to a quick but intense couple of days revising, and a teaching application. So, despite my tardiness, I’d like to reflect and share some of things that we did in the workshop I attended, “Making at the Intersection,” because it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot!

“Making at the Intersection” was led by Kim Martin, John Fink, and Liviu Pop, and the workshop discussed various strategies of bringing intersectional feminism to maker culture, which is predominately masculine, is ableist, and not a safe space for women and people of colour. We discussed various readings that discussed these issues, not only in the present but as far back as the medieval ages. On the first day, we played with various maker tech available at Guelph’s THINC Lab like Makey Makeys, an Atari Punk Console, and conductive thread. Although I had no sewing experience whatsoever, it was nice being introduced to conductive thread. Over at the Critical Media Lab, we have worked lot with Arduino or I have worked on projects with arduino micro controllers, so playing with conductive thread opened up a lot of other ways of making. Here’s my sorry attempt at sewing with conductive thread:

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For the next couple of days, we worked on thinking through collaborative projects that we could do in the workshop. Since quite a few of us were interested in Sound, we started discussing how voice assistant devices (if that’s what they’re called?) like Siri and Alexa are typically coded as a subservient white woman. Although there are limited options to change this vocal setting (my partner and I enjoy the British male voice for our Siri setting), we noted how the white woman’s voice is always default. So, we decided to make a Siri/Alexa-like chatbot for the THINC Lab that would subvert those subservient notions of what chat bots are for. Our chat bot, #NotYerBot, is only chat-based (but I think there are plans to make this voice-automated as well), but was a fun exercise in creating a bot that didn’t respond to your questions, asked you questions, and gave feminist insight, even if you didn’t asked for it. Here’s a snapshot of some of the responses:

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That’s just testing out responses to “hello,” but here’s a couple of other responses from our draft:

+ why do feminist dh?
– Why not?
– Is there any other kind?
– O, I DON’T KNOW, BC PERPETUATING A WHITE SUPREMACIST, PATRIARCHAL HEGEMONY IS NOT CONDUCIVE TO GOOD, RIGOROUS, AND, FRANKLY, INTERESTING SCHOLARSHIP. BESIDES, HUMANS NOT ONLY SHAPE TECHNOLOGY BUT, UM HELLOOOO, TECHNOLOGY ITSELF IS DEF SUBJECT FORMING: SO WE BEST KEEP OUR EYES PEELED FOR HOW POWER OPERATES WITHIN THESE SHINY DOMAINS.


+ what is interdisciplinary?
– (long pause)
– It’s like playing Twister, but each space is a different academic field! It’s a lot of fun.
– [the wikipedia’s entry on the term]

Following these conversations about unseen labour, we decided to make something that would acknowledge the kinds of unseen labour of people working within the THINC Lab (and, if installed in other places, in workspaces in general). The end product: Accounts Re-see-vable: Receipts for your unseen labour. Using a Raspberry Pi, RFID cards, and a thermal printer, we made the thermal printer generate a receipt for the unseen labour card that a participant would use. Here are some photos to give a clearer picture:

 

From the board, the participant would take a card with an unseen labour written on it. Some of the examples include “Listened Generously,” “Emotional Labour,” “Advocated for Self/Others,” and “Fielded Microaggressions and plain old aggression.” Then, participants would tap the card against the box (the raspberry pi and RFID reader), and a receipt would be generated out of the printer. The receipt would have the title of the project, what unseen labour the participant did, and a mash-up text of Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” lyrics from Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Sara Ahmed’s blog post, “Confrontation,” and Dani Beckett’s blog post, “100 Easy Ways to Make Women’s Lives More Bearable.”  We included images, too (see above), but some images struggled with being printed out. The result is a whimsical text of feminist wisdom and playfulness to comfort and motivate.

I’m really glad and grateful for being able to contribute to these projects. As much as I love these kind of workshops, it’s rare to collaborate with the entire workshop and develop two fun and functional projects to share with the rest of the summer workshops. Also, since participating in events and workshops and projects at the CML, my time in this workshop have inspired me to approach maker projects (or critical media projects) from various other angles.  “Making at the Intersection” provided me with new theoretical approaches, as well as new applications of familiar tools and new tools to use in future projects!

 

Games, Life Writing

Upcoming: Autobiographical Game Club

In the fall term last year, I proposed an autobiographical game club (like a book club but with games). But because it was the fall term and because I hadn’t really given a list of what we’d be playing/reading, it never materialized.

However, this summer, I’ve decided to re-attempt the Autobiographical game club and I’ve gotten a lot of interest. The club will be starting in June just following my CGSA presentation in Regina on May 31st, and it will be a local one (in Kitchener-Waterloo). However, feel free to “follow along”: Below is our reading list and I’ll be writing blog posts about our discussions (usually in the first week of the month). Although this will be more laid back and fun, I am hoping that this group and the discussions will get me thinking of a postdoc project since I (and my committee) are planning for my defence to be some time in the summer.

Here’s the list: I’ve tried to group them thematically and/or with readings (I’ve removed the date and times because I want this group to be local):

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Teaching

Last term gave me a teaching high (and the course evaluations only sent me higher)

So it’s been almost a month since my Superhero class has ended, and, for the most part, I feel really good about it. The class discussions were always amazing, and the work that students produced floored me every time – they gave a whole new meaning to going “above and beyond.” I also challenged myself in other areas – by sharing my mental health and having discussions of mental health in classroom, interrupting the scheduled material. I also pushed for an intersectional composition of the course reading list and approaches to the reading list, while still being accessible to first year students (or upper year students new to these concepts). And while some students wanted more “mainstream superheroes” than I included (Superman, Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, Batman, and the deaf issue of Hawkeye) or more historically canonical explorations of the hero (like Gilgamesh) , a lot of students really appreciated the focus on comics and the diversity of the material. And the criticisms I received were rather constructive, giving me a better idea of how students, and in particular STEM students, understand Humanities-related assignments and rubrics.

So, I’d just like to share a few of the comments and then comment upon them, a sort of reflection on my teaching. Let’s start of with a couple that comment on diversity of the material taught:

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I’m not sure how exactly I “subverted traditional lecturing,” but perhaps it’s the combination of including “non-traditional” works and not solely lecturing the entire class. And while the one student, echoing a few others, would like some kind of traditional works included, the benefits of including the kinds of non-traditional/canonical works outweigh the wants of canonical texts. Nevertheless, if I were to teach this course again, I may consider including one or two mythical texts. The reason why I didn’t that term was simply the fact that I’m not familiar with Gilgamesh or Beowulf, and it’s been some time since I’ve read ancient mythical origins. But overall, I was floored by these comments and others liked it – to know that the efforts I put into composing this class were appreciated by the majority of the class because it introduced them to new perspectives and texts they never heard of was so awarding.

There a few that echoed “more structured guideline for assignments,” though. In the last two years, I’ve been trying hard to include a detailed rubric and guideline, especially keeping in mind that the majority of students I do teach at Waterloo are in STEM. While the Superhero course had a few humanities students, there were a lot of students in Science. So I found their feedback instructive. Most science students said that my feedback was very instructive and helped them become better writers, but the comments in the course evaluations wanted more clearer guidelines and/or expectations:

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Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve been editing and re-editing my rubric and similar assignments, looking over others to how they construct their rubrics and their guidelines. Although this year I did my best to tie my feedback to the language of the rubric, it seemed that students had issues with the language of the rubric. So, my attempts to point to the rubric wasn’t as effective. Going forward, I’ll continue to edit and re-edit my rubrics and assignment guidelines. While it’s difficult to reach out to all learners, it doesn’t hurt to keep trying to create an inclusive rubric/guidelines.

The rest of the feedback remained largely positive, with a lot of comments reflecting on how they were able to connect my lessons to real-world issues and to their own lives:

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With these comments, and considering the evaluations in total, I am seriously touched – I cried with joy, and was so happy that the labour and vulnerability I put into the entire course was acknowledged, appreciated, and had students take something away from it. I understand that I am in a more privileged position in taking these risks, so I don’t want to over-exaggerate these accomplishments. And I also want to acknowledge the labour of my students, and how they also exhibited courage and vulnerability in engaging with the excellent discussions we had. I feel that the class was a very serendipitous event that was so fruitful and instructive both for myself and for my students. I owe my students a lot of thanks for their comments and for the productive and inclusive space that they helped me create!

Research Creation/Critical Media

Reflecting on ‘A Chording to Chance’

On Friday night April 7th, Stephen Trothen and I exhibited our project, “A Chording to Chance” at the Critical Media Lab‘s XDM Exhibition. The project’s description can be read in my last post or under Research Creation on this site. But “A Chording to Chance” can be briefly described as a participatory project that invited participants to translate Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coup de Dés” into “dotsies” font, a font designed by Craig Muth to “optimize” the screen. Whereas Mallarmé’s poem experimented with the page, Muth’s font experimented with reading on the digital screen. So, “A Chording a Chance” playfully combines these two experimentations with page and screen.

But rather than have participants type out on a keyboard, Stephen and I used a “chorder keyboard” that we designed to work with and map the dotsies font. Below is the chorder keyboard (left is more or less put together; right is the keyboard disassembled):

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And here is the the dotsies mapped out on our instructional pamphlet:

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To put it one way, the chorder keyboard sequentially moved through the alphabet using a finger patten. “A” is thumb, “B” is Index, “C” is Middle, “D” is Ring, “E” is Pinky, “F” is Thumb+Index, “G” is Index+Middle, “H” is Middle+Ring,” and so on. We liked to have delete to be all five at once to kinda communicate the frustration when making a mistake. In order for people to see what they were translating, we projected a split screen: one in regular english font; the other in dotsies. Here’s the set up we had for the night (top) and split screen version of the final product of the night (bottom):

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But participants were allowed to make mistakes; the project, after all, was all up to chance. And, in the spirit of the original poem, participants could type into the next section (you can see that one line starts to cross into the dotsies section). Letting participants complete the project (rather than having us type out the poem in dotsies) was us taking a chance, rolling the dice, and seeing what we could get. It was a delight to see some people revel in their mistakes, having fun with the chorder keyboard and liking the visualization of the dotsies font, even though, if translated, was full of typos. Other participants strived for perfection: typing and editing, typing and editing over and over again. You could say we really encouraged a close and sllooooooww reading of the text. Whether participants strived for perfection or whether they let the mistakes be, participants experienced what Maurice Blanchot calls Mallarmé’s experience:

“Language has within itself the moment that hides it. It has within itself, through this power to hide itself, the force by which mediation (that which destroys immediacy) seems to have the spontaneity, the freshness, and the innocence of the origin” (Blanchot, “Mallarmé’s Experience,”40-1)

The chorder keyboard, in conjunction with the split screen fonts, was crucial in forcing attention to the mediation of language and destroying the immediacy of language. As a result, the typos and neologisms that appeared (re)introduced a spontaneity and freshness to the poem.

Overall, it was fantastic to have so many participate and have fun with the project. By the end of the night, the chorder keyboard was accidentally broken and the final word of the night was “concealing.” It was fitting, Stephen and I thought, that the project, very much about revealing the mediation of language, concealed itself by the end of the night.

And so here is the final product:

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Research Creation/Critical Media

A Chording to Chance

This Friday April 6th, Stephen Trothen and I will be showcasing our latest collaboration at the annual XDM exhibition. This year, Stephen and I have decided to take on Mallarmé’s “Un Coup de Dés.” The exhibition runs from 6-9pm, but we hope to showcase the project on this website. Here’s the description of our project:

“Language has within itself the moment that hides it. It has within itself, through this power to hide itself, the force by which mediation (that which destroys immediacy) seems to have the spontaneity, the freshness, and the innocence of the origin.”  – Blanchot, “Mallarmé’s Experience,” Space of Literature 40-1.

Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1897 poem, “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” or “A throw of the dice will never abolish chance” is notorious for its experimentation with typography and graphical layout, sprawling back and forth across pages and varying in fonts and font size. The poem defamiliarizes language use, exposing the mediation of language, and challenges the limits of how poetry can look by cascading down the page and spilling over and across margins. A largely influential poem, it has inspired a visual artistic tradition of translations that explore or highlight the layout and form of the poem while suppressing its content (See Marcel Broodthaer’s “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (1969) to Eric Zboya’s At the Heart of a Shipwreck (2013) and Derek Beulieu’s “Tattered Sails” (2018) and “Un Coup de Des” (2017)). Our work, entitled “A Chording to Chance” builds upon this tradition of transforming and translating Mallarmé’s poem but within a digital context that attempts to highlight the visual aspects of the poem while maintaining semantic meaning in a way that (potentially) both distorts and enhances meaning through translation into a digital typeface.  

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“A Chording to Chance” makes use of an original chorder keyboard that has been designed to work with the “Dotsie” font, a font designed by Craig Muth in 2012 to save space and optimize typeface for digital screens by rendering letters into blacked-out strips and, consequently, words into pixelated icons for faster reading time and a condensed use of the page. During exhibition, participants will be asked to use the keyboard to translate the poem into Dotsies. Our project plays with Mallarmé’s experientation with the page and Muth’s experimental optimization of the screen. As well, by having participants use a keyboard that is mapped directly to the visual output – e.g. a letter that requires two pixelated blocks is typed with a simultaneous press of the first two keys on the keyboard, etc – invites them to reflect on how interface design choices can overtake, or perhaps supersede, understanding in the act of transcribing. Moreover, participants’ interaction in constructing the poem will hit the “wall” of language’s mediation; no longer “immediate,” the veil of language’s mediation is lifted as participants work through writing the poem. Participants will not be instructed where to begin translation, but a marker will be placed in the book where the last participant finished. The end-product (after the exhibition closes) will be posted online, as well as a translation of the Dotsies poem back into English.

In this way, the intended understanding of the text, as well the rendered output, will be left to chance and placed in the hands of the translators.