You are a freshman at Occidental College. You chose the school for the beautiful campus, the small class size, and the feeling of wonder you got wandering through the stacks of the library after you got lost on the first tour.
An alien spaceship of Feminist Game Studies scholars has landed - who are they and where do they come from?
One of the original members of WRT, Christy Dena, has come out with a unique iPad experience entitled, Authentic in All Caps. (Just under a week to help with the funding.)
At WRT, we’ve had lots of conversations about using the Internet as a kind of palette. But Christy and her collaborators have taken the idea further. She’s not only imagined a kind of walking tour around the Web, she’s imagined an entire alternate universe that one can navigate as they’re navigating the Internet. Authentic in All Caps could never be an AAA game. It would simply explode out of the game box and shower you with game art.
Since her days on WRT, Christy has become a world-renowned scholar on transmedia narratives. Her theories have been cited by the likes of Henry Jenkins and have become required reading in many courses. Well-respected in academia and business, she’s worked as a consult and creator on many gaming experiences, and has quite the track record of success. The trophies and badges cram her virtual shelves.
Authentic in All Caps is a master work, a story about woman and sidekick facing ridiculous obstacles to being herself. The story is complex and yet playful. In this project, as she explains, Christy is harnessing the rich narration that audio drama creates, her deep understanding of an ARG aesthetic combined with a wildly imaginative carnivalesque inversion of the cultural hierarchies. Here is a satirical world where artists are assassins and quantum physicists run the underworld. A world I’d love to romp in.
When I asked Christy about this recently, she said,
Christy:Remember when we started WRT?! Good times. :) Back then I was very keen on the use of chatbots in storytelling (and still am). But I was really excited by IF and all the possibilities there. I also got into alternate reality games, created a few of those and worked on big branded entertainment projects. I’ve also been lucky to have worked as a writing and design consultant on digital extensions to theatre, film, and gaming projects. So over the years I’ve been through the process of having huge external constraints being put on ideas, as well as the constraints of limited budgets and constraints I put on myself to facilitate the creative process.
Christy:So now I’m putting more time and effort on playing with digital technologies for my own wacky stories and ideas. I recently launched a playful story for the phone at a pervasive gaming festival in Melbourne (and this will be released worldwide soon). But the big personal project I’m working on is a web audio adventure. The idea for this unusual storytelling approach came about from my work on alternate reality games, and my love of audio, comedy, and digital technology. I’m combining radio drama with web navigation and online storytelling to create a web audio adventure. It hasn’t been done before and so I’ve spent the past year refining experience design issues and of course honing the script.
Christy:I’m really excited about trying out new things to stretch myself. I love trying to figure out what techniques to draw on to make something work - IF techniques, game techniques, radio drama techniques, and so on. We often find that these sort of projects are either assisted in some way through university programs (ha!), or arts funding. But mostly we have to experiment with our own funds and time to show people it can be done. If this project just needed me, I would keep doing the work. But this project needs a team of people to work on it, including an ensemble cast. A great crew of people have done a lot of work already either for free, for mates rates, or deferred payments. I’m now at the point where we need the final funds to complete.
Christy:So I’m experimenting with crowdfunding. I’m one of those people who doesn’t like doing marketing. Like most of us, I’d much rather be working on the project. But we have a world now that is more welcoming of people marketing their own projects. I don’t want to use a publisher or brand or distributor to get this project out. I want it to be truly independent. But all that means is you shift who you’re dependent on. Rather than spending all my efforts on funding bodies, publishers, brands, or philanthropists, I’m going direct to my audience. It is a fascinating process, and I’ve learned a lot about how these things work along the way.
Christy:The best part without doubt is the excited praise from colleagues around the world. They really want to see this happen, and so they’re sharing the news and pledging when they can. I love it when people get excited about the artistic techniques we’ve using. I love that backers from 14 countries are behind it, and we’ve even managed to get press in places in like Polygon and Wired - which is a delightful surprise! Truly different projects are hard to support when they’re not complete. Innovation (whatever that means) is weird when it is young. So I’m really interested to see if there is a way we can fund these kinds of experiments in storytelling.
We certainly wish Christy well in her venture, and look forward to playing along! Help bring this project to reality. Listen to the pitch and pitch in!
Learn about how early books were made, and try your hand at folding a folio to make a copy of the first Shakespeare folio. Engage in the ultimate blind date with a book, trying to identify books while blindfolded. And be sure to take a look at the rare books and manuscripts on display, all focusing on elements of love, romance, and heartbreak, from medieval through contemporary times.
The Special Collections Research Center is located on the first floor of Regenstein Library. Anyone needing an accommodation to attend this event should contact Julia Gardner 773-834-0627.
(originally posted at #HIST3812, my course blog for this term’s History3812: Gaming and Simulations for Historians, at Carleton University).
I play because I enjoy video games, obviously, but I also get something else out of it. Games are a ‘lively art’; they are an expressive art, and the artistry lies in encoding rules (descriptions) about how the world works at some microlevel: and then watching how this artistry is further expressed in the unintended consequences of those rules, their intersections, their cancellations, causing new phenomena to emerge.
This strikes me as the most profound use of humanities computation out there. Physicists tell us that the world is made of itty bitty things that interact in particular ways. In which case, everything else is emergent: including history. I’m not saying that there are ‘laws’ of human action; but we do live in this universe. So, if I can understand some small part of the way life was lived in the past, I can model that understanding, and explore the unintended outcomes of that understanding… and go back to the beginning and model those.
I grew up with the video game industry. Adventure? I played that. We had a vic-20 . If you wanted to play a game, you had to type it in yourself. There used to be a magaine (Compute!) that would have all of the code printed within, along with screenshots. Snake, Tank Wars – yep. My older brother would type, and I would read the individual letters (and spaces, and characters) out. After about a week, we’d have a game.
And there would be bugs. O lord, there were bugs.
When we could afford games, we’d buy text adventures from Infocom. In high school, my older brother programmed a quiz game as his history project for the year. Gosh, we were cool. But it was! Here we were, making the machine do things.
As the years went on, I stopped programming my own games. Graphics & technology had moved too fast. In college, we used to play Doom (in a darkened room, with the computer wired to the stereo. Beer often figured). We played SimCity. We played the original Civilization.
These are the games that framed my interactions with computers. Then, after I finished my PhD, I returned to programming when I realized that I could use the incredible artificial intelligences, the simulation engines, of modern games, to do research. To enhance my teaching.
I got into Agent Based Modeling, using the Netlogo platform. This turned my career around: I ceased to be a run-of-the-mill materials specialist (Roman archaeology), and became this new thing, a ‘digital humanist’. Turns out, I’m now an expert on simulation and history.
And it’s all down to the fact that I’m a crappy player of games. I get more out of opening the hood, looking at how the thing works. Civilization IV and V are incredible simulation engines. So: what kinds of history are appropriate to simulate? What kinds of questions can we ask? That’s what I’m looking forward to exploring with you (and of course, seeing what you come up with in your final projects).
But maybe a more fruitful question to start with, in the context of the final project of this course, is, ‘what is the strangest game you’ve ever played?’
What made it strange? Was it the content, the mechanics, the interface?
I played one once where you had to draw the platform with crayons, and then the physics engine would take over. The point was to try to get a ball to roll up to a star. Draw a teeter-totter under the star, and perhaps the ball would fall on it, shooting the star up to fall down on the ball, for instance. A neat way of interacting with the underlying physics of game engines.
I’d encourage everyone to think differently about what the games might be. For instance, I could imagine a game that shows real-time documents (grabbed from a database), and you have to dive into it, following the connected discourses (procedurally generated using topic models and network graphing software to find these – and if this makes no sense to you, take a quick peek at the Programming Historian) within it to free the voices trapped within…
This is why I play. Because it makes me think differently about the materials I encounter.
Tomorrow in my HIST3812 I want to get students thinking about the kinds of history that might be appropriate to embody in a game or simulation, and the experience of such games. Inspired by something we did at THATCamp Great Lakes, I’ve taken a deck of cards and divided it into ‘historiography (hearts)’, ‘genre (spades)’, and ‘aesthetic (clubs)’. Here’s the prompt for the exercise:
“I will give you cards from three different decks:
- historiography (Hearts)
- genre (Spades)
- aesthetic (Clubs)
Look at your cards. In your groups, brainstorm a quick idea for a game using those cards. If, after five minutes, you’ve hit a blank, you may exchange one card, and one card only. Note that nothing is being said about mechanics…
(what you come up with today is not necessarily what you have to go with for the term. This is just meant to get you thinking.)
|Historiography (Hearts)||Genre (Spades)||Aesthetics (Clubs)|
|1 – Comparative||1 – ARG||1 or A – sensation|
|2 – Cultural||2 – Platformer||2 or K – fantasy|
|3 – Oral||3 – Shooter||3 or Q – narrative|
|4 – Economic||4 – Action-adventure||4 or J – challenge|
|5 – Environmental||5 or 10 – Adventure||5 or 10 – fellowship|
|6 – World||6 or J – RPG||6 or 9 – discovery|
|7 – Family||7 or Q – Simulation||7 – submission|
|8 – Gender||8 or K – Strategy||8 – expression|
|9 – Religious||9 – Casual|
|10 – Intellectual||A – Serious|
|J – Labour|
|Q – Marxist|
|K – Microhistory|
|A – Public|
I’ve been in New York for just over a year now.
And it turns out that America is an endlessly fascinating, strange, land. Being away from Australia, it is much clearer to see how well Australia has fared economically – and how comparatively high Australian wages are.
And being the end of the year and there not being a pause in regular posting, here’s a brief dump for the sake of timeliness rather than completeness.
In the museum world, New York has two things going for it. Density of population (and tourism), and of capital. Context is everything, and many museums in New York rely on these two specifics – along with the sheer scale of their collections – more than any superiority or progressive-ness in museum practices. As I’ve told many people now, museums in Australia, New Zealand and even the UK are hungrier and more determined to be ‘relevant’ – out of necessity.
How can that be? Surely, New York museums are world-leading?
I’ve been thinking about this for the past little while and there seem to be some possible reasons.
The primary funding model (private philanthropists, foundations and big endowments) isn’t conducive to broad collaboration or ‘national-scale‘ efforts. Instead it entrenches institutional competition and counterproductive secrecy. A lot of wheels get reinvented unnecessarily.
The project-based nature of digital (and exhibitions) also tends to mean a much higher volume of outsourced creative work than in Australia. The heavy tilt towards outsourced digital work allows many museums over here to roll out impressive sites and apps (at unspoken high costs), but those same digital projects rarely have the chance to have significant institutional impact on the core. The ‘creative agency’ gets all the learnings from the project – and the museum acts in a ‘commissioning’ role. In some ways it shouldn’t be unexpected for art museums to operate like this as they’ve long had artist commissions, but it certainly isn’t helping them adapt rapidly to the future. The ‘cliffs’ that Diane Ragsdale wrote of recently are much closer to a reality in the USA.
If you’ve been following my team at Cooper-Hewitt’s Labs blog you’ll know that we’ve been forging ahead with some rapid change – using the time that the museum is rebuilding itself, physically – to rethink a lot of the basics, roll out a large number of ‘fail fast’ public experiments, and in the process establish some new paradigms. Aaron, Micah and Katie are forcing us to be ‘of the web‘ (not just ‘on the web‘), Pam is upturning the tables on museum publishing, and Shamus is reconsidering video in all of it – and our awesome interns and ‘residents‘ are reconstructing foundations and experimenting at the edges. (Want to be an intern or resident in 2013? Then make contact!)
It has been quite a shift moving in to a smaller museum and the race has been to establish new systems and create an environment of experimentation and rapid change – while we have the opportunity as our main campus is redesigned and rethought by Diller, Scofidio & Renfro and Local Projects. It has been a delight to have the opportunity to work alongside these firms – each with their own specialities and approaches. But the reality of inventing a new type of museum whilst also building one is exhausting – and I feel the limitations/realities of the architectures of meatspace daily.
It has also been a year where I’ve made the most of being closer to the ‘rest of the world’. I’ve joined numerous advisory committees and assessment panels, and much of the international work has continued with the second phase of Culture 24′s Lets Get Real digital engagement metrics project happening in the UK. There’s also been a steady run of keynotes and lectures and a fantastic week at Salzburg Global Seminar – the first half of 2013 is already booked up too! And plenty of trips down to Washington to the Smithsonian mothership.
2012 was the year I slimmed down my mobile gaming. In fact I can’t think of any game that has stayed on my iPhone from 2012 except for Triple Town. On the flip, though, was a reengaging with the longer form commitments required by desktop/laptop gaming. Probably the Kickstarter-mania around Double Fine Adventure and then Wasteland 2 started rekindling interest for me, and then Diablo 3 dropped (pretty disappointingly really). Notably Steam on the Mac has really started to deliver the titles that Mac users generally missed out on – so its been nice to catch up with the last five years all in one hit.
The kids went very deep into Minecraft after two years of casual play and I’m happy to say they understand and enjoy it far more than I do. That’s how it is supposed to be. I’ve enjoyed reading about the possibilities and then seeing my kids begin to enact them, and I am super happy that the Powerhouse has expanded their Minecraft workshops.
Mid-year I ended up talking on a panel at MOMA on art and videogames. I was probably the least interesting person there as I’m quite wedded to the idea of non-art games, and I do enjoy a FPS and old-school arcade shooter a little more than most art people (or parents!) are willing to admit. Whilst I’m impressed with MOMA’s recent acquisitions – games as examples of interaction design – I do find the art/not-art distinctions that others often raise as very dubious.
I knew I was going to be downscaling my musical activities upon moving to NYC. That’s been true in terms of performing and going to gigs but if anything, 2013 has been a bumper year for listening.
My Last.fm profile continues to track what I listen to in almost precise detail and 2012 was a busy year for revisiting a lot of music that I’m now physically located far way from.
And, after being prompted each week to log my ‘tune of the moment’, ThisIsMyJam captured a good snapshot of some of the tunes I had on ‘high rotation’ each week. Even better, ThisIsMyJam partnered with EchoNest to auto-generate ’2012 jams’ for its users and here’s mine [see/listen!].
After seeing what is possible with EchoNest the idea of Art.sy’s Art Genome is even more seductive. Can you imagine a ThisIsMyJam-style mashup of the objects you’ve loved in all your museum visits throughout the year? MONA v2?
Although I’m probably the right in the crosshairs of Spotify’s ‘premium customer’, their service didn’t really click for me. I’m already so drowning in music, thanks to two decades of being on DJ promotional lists, and generally feeding a hardcore music habit – that Spotify’s sizeable jukebox doesn’t have a deep appeal especially for the niches in which I like to inhabit the most. (But I was never the one to listen to DJ mixes either though.)
On the other hand, Bandcamp has proven to be an occasional wallet-opener (alongside Boomkat, Bleep and the rest) as more friends start to make available their back catalogues there, and I’m gently nudged towards emerging bands by those younger than me.
I expect that there’s some lessons in that for museum content locked up in old publications and catalogues.
Happy new year, and maybe I’ll see you at one of my upcoming talks.
It all started a number of years ago when studying in Cairo and travelling through Egypt. In the need of recognizing essential signs along the street in sometimes hastily circumstances we merely memorized the outline of the script on the sign and only later tried to understand the composition of the individual characters. – And it worked! After applying this approach only a few times we were able to recognize essential signs such as ‘bank’ or ‘restaurant’ easily. So we thought, why not connect these terms with images?
Finally, with a bit of space to breathe, I am turning to getting my HIST3812 Gaming and Simulation for Historians course put together. In response to student queries about what this course will explore, I’ve put together a wee comic book (to capture the aesthetic of playfulness about history that games & simulations naturally contain). I’m not a particularly good maker of comic books, but it does the trick, more or less.
See it on Issuu here