When I’ve done these little “anniversary of the blog” posts in the past, I’ve focused on quantifying everything I’ve posted over the past year. This year, however, I’m going to use the space for a couple of announcements relating to my day job that I have been putting off until things finally solidified.
My time at Ci3 has come to an end, and at the moment I am juggling multiple part-time positions, putting my gamut of skills to the test. As a grant writer, I am joining the team at Storycatchers Theatre, where I will be advancing their mission of using the theatrical arts to help youth dealing with trauma related to time spent in the juvenile justice system. I officially started at Storycatchers yesterday, and I am honored to join their team, and their mission.
In addition to my position at Storycatchers, I am also teaching again, at both DePaul and the University of Chicago. This is a welcome development for me, and for the blog it will probably mean the return of things like lesson plans and student work to the mix of things that gets posted. Expect to see more video work over the coming year (I have a series on detective games I’ve been working on that’s nearly ready to debut), as well as more course-related content.
Over the past couple of years I have embedded literally dozens of general-audience video essays I have made and posted on my YouTube page. I am very pleased to announce the online publication of my first peer-reviewed academic video essay at the [in]Transition Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies.
The appearance of this video at [in]Transition has been a long time coming. (I actually first obliquely referred to it way back in October 2018, when I began by “Let’s Study Horror Games” series.) This is actually the first time that [in]Transition has published a piece on videogames, and so it took them awhile to seek out appropriate peer reviewers. I couldn’t have asked for better ones: the reviewer comments, available online (as is [in]Transition‘s style), are thorough, thoughtful, and engaged. Despite the delay, I am seriously impressed by the journal’s dedication to expanding their horizons, and making good on that “and Moving Image Studies” bit of their title. I’m honored to have had a role in their expanding purview, and I hope it is a harbinger of things to come.
This video is densely packed with game examples, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the years’ worth of work I’ve done on these themes, with the help and input of too many people to count. If you are interested in written versions of the material leading to the creation of this video, which has evolved a lot throughout the years, I would recommend this conference paper (by the same title) I presented at the 2013 Philosophy of Computer Games conference, and this conference paper I presented at the 2015 Society for Phenomenology and Media conference.
The Moving Image vol. 18 no. 1 is designated the “Spring 2018” issue, but I didn’t receive my hard copy until this week. And, looking online, lo and behold, it’s up on JSTOR and Project Muse. So I guess it officially exists now, and it’s high time to announce it.
There was a flurry of activity I was involved with when Hannah Frank passed away in August 2017. Much of that culminated in the SCMS special event that I co-organized. But most of the contributors to that event also contributed to a special tribute in The Moving Image. Due to the general sluggishness of academic publishing, that’s just coming out now. The tribute contains short appreciations written by Mihaela Mihailova, Jen Bircher, Robert Bird, Mariana Johnson, Ryan Pierson, Alla Gadassik, Tim Palmer, and myself.
One year ago today, noting the 1-year anniversary of the blog portion of this site, I announced that I had posted 117 times over the course of that year, and said that I doubt I’d be able to keep up that rate over the course of this year.
This prediction was correct.
In the past 365 days, I posted 39 times on this blog. These posts break down as follows:
Basically, my predictions about what would happen to this blog after I started my job at Ci3 have held. Since I’m writing for the organization during my 9-5, then writing my own peer-reviewed academic stuff on the weekends, I no longer find writing blog posts on top of that as fun as I once did.
Over the next year, I think it’s likely that things will continue to shift, as my own personal and professional needs change. Writing up lesson plans provided a great excuse to grab movie clips and capture game footage, building up an archive of teaching materials. I extended that same basic process into the writing of blog posts, which I used as an excuse to return to games, capture some footage, and work through themes I’d eventually like to see fully expanded in my book.
But looking back at my old material, I’m finding myself very dissatisfied with the text-with-embedded-YouTube-video format. I find making video content to be much more gratifying. For one, it’s a much better substitute for standing in front of a classroom—something I’ve missed immensely over the past year—than the blog post format. I also like the way in which it forces me to think through arguments visually. It’s a useful exercise to really have to think through which arguments are better suited for prose, and which are better served through video. Keeping the formats separate actually allows them to complement each other properly, allowing me to think through the same material in different ways.
I suppose my plan for year three is to “pivot to video,” as they say. I want to get more serious about writing my book project, and so I think the best casual work for me to be doing is video content that complements, rather than distracts me from, my writing. Expect more videos in the future, clustered around a coherent set of themes.
I’ve prattled on about Minecraft multiple times on the blog here—for instance, when I’ve named it one of the games of the decade, or talked about the relationship between its Life in the Woods mod pack and simulations of Walden-esque simple living. But did you know that I also prattle on about Minecraft in print?
Well, I do! My article “What Were ‘Minecart Boosters’? Minecraft, Digital Distribution and Preservative Labor,” published in a special issue of Journal of Fandom Studies Fan Endings, Transitions, and Revivals, edited by Rebecca Williams, is now online.
In recent years, online digital distribution has drawn attention to the myriad ways in which games exist as a dynamic and transitory object. Previously, genres such as the massively multiplayer online game had carved out a unique space in game studies in which version numbers, expansions and changes in player behaviour over time had to be methodologically accounted for. However, today even the relative stability of the single-player game has begun to dissolve as a logic of constant becoming overtakes staid notions of games as singular, fixed historical texts. This article examines this increasing temporal instability of games by turning to bug-exploiting tactics within the player community of the massively popular building game Minecraft (Mojang, official release 2011). In a focused case study, I will analyse the fate of ‘minecart boosters’, an emergent bit of folk exploit-engineering that allowed players to create perpetual motion machines in the game, with help from widely circulated knowledge about a specific bug in the game’s simulated physics during its alpha and beta stages. Given that the effectiveness of Minecart boosters was abruptly put to rest when the game’s beta version 1.6 finally patched this physics bug, it presents an excellent opportunity to discuss how fans of digitally distributed and updated games navigate the volatility of the objects they are devoted to, especially when this volatility can lead to the sudden and unexpected endings of cherished practices and modes of engagement. Here, bolstered by a close examination of fan discourses on message boards, the official Minecraft Wiki, and YouTube comment sections of tutorial and ‘let’s play’ videos, I argue that Minecraft encourages a fan logic of ‘upkeep’ as communities struggle to maintain stability of practices even when attached to a fluid, transitory object.
DOI link for those with institutional access here. I’ll be uploading a post-print version after a “cooling off” period.
And, with that, the “slew of announcements” I teased back in March is completed. It’s back to work for me …
A quick heads-up: Awhile back, I announced the SCMS 2018 special event I co-coordinated devoted to the life and work of Hannah Frank. That event is now watchable for those who weren’t able to make it to the conference in March, thanks to the generous videographic assistance of Sean Batton. Please feel free to embed and distribute widely.
(I’d recommend playing this video on the actual YouTube page, rather than its embedded version here: if you look below the fold on the textual description over there, you’ll see that I’ve added bookmarks so that you can easily navigate to each speaker’s presentation, as well as links to a bunch of materials referred to in the presentations.)
I don’t post much about my day job on this blog, but I thought I’d give this a bump: Ci3 just published an article on the Hexacago Health Academy summer program in Journal of STEM Outreach. It’s the first article coming out of Ci3’s work that I’m listed as a co-author on, and the Hexacago Health Academy is a program that I’ve been involved with before, even before I was in my current position (although this paper specifically deals with the summer 2015 session, and not the summer 2016 session that I acted as a game design facilitator for).
It is a well-documented fact that women and minorities are currently underrepresented in STEM higher education degree programs and careers. As an outreach measure to these populations, we established the Hexacago Health Academy (HHA), an ongoing summer program. Structured as an informal learning environment with a strong youth initiated mentoring component, HHA uses game-based learning as both a means of health education and stimulating interest in careers in medicine among adolescents from underrepresented minority populations. In this article, we describe the 2015 session of the Hexacago Health Academy, which focused on the topic of sexual and reproductive health (SRH). The overall structure of HHA, with its dual focus on game design and enabling youth interaction with science and health professionals, is discussed. Qualitative data from the 24 youths that participated in the 2015 summer session was collected. Results indicated that the initial session of HHA succeeded in its goals of developing critical thinking skills among participants, encouraging teamwork, broadening understanding of the health sciences, and encouraging risk-taking in education. The overall potential efficacy of informal learning environments that use game design as a core component to stimulate interest in STEM fields is discussed.
Link is here. It’s open access. (Hooray!)
My article “Do(n’t) Hold Your Breath: Rules, Trust, and the Human at the Keyboard” was just recently published in a special issue of New Review of Film and Television Studies entitled Breath: Image and Sound, edited by Jean-Thomas Tremblay. Readers of the blog may recognize it as being built on the bones of this previous blog post. Hooray! Academic blogging acting as a stimulant for future writing, just as it is supposed to.
The maintenance of rules within the ‘black box’ of code, away from human eyes, constitutes a major difference between digital games and the social history of their analog counterparts. Meanwhile, the incorporation of new types of human behavior into digital games’ rulesets has placed games on the cutting edge of machine surveillance technologies. This article examines several digital games that stand in opposition to these trends, by opting out of monitoring certain aspects of player behavior, and opening social dynamics of trust and cheating that digital games have historically avoided or shut down. Chief among these examples are Asphyx (Droqen, circa 2012) and With Those We Love Alive (Porpentine, 2014), two games that incorporate player breathing into their mechanics, while forgoing any technical means of monitoring players’ respiration. In place of the usual command/output logic of human–machine interaction, these games map a more intimate alternative, in which players’ relationship to their avatars and in-game actions is built from a foundation of trust, shared truth, and consent between human bodies and software operations.
DOI link for those with institutional access here. I’ll be uploading a post-print version, suitable for those who don’t have institutional access to New Review, soon. [UPDATE: It’s here.]
Well, now that the “Heaven Is a Place” screening is over and done with (and what a screening it was! my hat goes off to all fellow filmmakers & artists), it’s on to the next announcement.
It’s that time of year again: the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. This year, I forwent presenting a paper myself, and instead opted to act as an organizer for a special event. The event in question is “Unlimited Animation: A Tribute to Hannah Frank,” a celebration of the life and scholarship of one of film studies’ most promising young scholars. It’s scheduled for 7:00 PM on the evening of the first night of the conference, Wednesday, March 14. If you find yourself in Toronto then, I invite you to come.
Full schedule and details below the fold.
So, this blog became something of a ghost town in February. The reason for that is that I’ve been hard at work on a number of projects, which means that the coming months will contain a slew of announcements.
To inaugurate these announcements: this Tuesday, The Nightingale Cinema is screening a program entitled “Heaven Is a Place,” curated by my friend Jesse Malmed. (It’s an offshoot of the exhibition of the same name he curated at Heaven Gallery.) Each of the filmmakers & video artists showing work in it have been commissioned to create work for another historical exhibition or screening—i.e., it’s a chance for them to finally be a part of Frank Stauffacher’s “Art in Cinema” film series, or Douglas Crimps’ “Pictures” show, or Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst,” or whatever catches their fancy.
I have a short video showing in this screening, entitled OREO NABISCO secret planet POISON january 2018 Concealed Information CONFIRMED!!!! The exhibition I’ve chosen to align myself with will remain a secret for now. If you’re in Chicago, and you are able, I invite you to show up—7:30 PM on Tuesday March 6, at The Nightingale. It promises to be a great show. (Indeed, I’m preemptively both honored and embarrassed to have something I put together more or less on a lark to be shown alongside the work of filmmakers I genuinely admire.)
I’ll eventually post the video on Vimeo, but not until after it’s premiered. [UPDATE: I’ve uploaded it onto my Vimeo page, here.]