Published: What Were ‘Minecart Boosters’? Minecraft, Digital Distribution and Preservative Labor

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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.

Abstract:

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 …

Unlimited Animation: A Tribute to Hannah Frank – video recording now available

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.)

Published: “Game-based Health Education: The Case of Hexacago Health Academy”

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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).

Abstract:

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!)

Published: “Do(n’t) Hold Your Breath: Rules, Trust, and the Human at the Keyboard”

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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.

Abstract:

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.]

Wednesday, March 14: Unlimited Animation: A Tribute to Hannah Frank

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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.

Continue reading

Tuesday, March 6: Heaven Is a Place

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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.]

1-Year Anniversary of the Blog

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I first established Intermittent Mechanism in 2015. At the time, I conceived of it purely as a blog for hosting my classes’ student projects. I have gradually added to it since then, beefing it up a bit every academic job market cycle. It wasn’t until September 17, 2016, though, that I posted my first lesson plan.

In the past year, I have transformed the site into a proper blog. We’re now at the 1-year anniversary of this transition, so I wanted to take a look back at some milestones. If you’re a newcomer to Intermittent Mechanism, consider this your beginner’s guide.

In the past year, I posted 29 lesson plans, syllabi, and discussion notes from courses I taught during the 2016–2017 academic year. I also posted an additional 16 “greatest hits” lesson plans from courses I have taught in the past. Some hand-picked highlights from the lesson plans and pedagogical materials posted in the past year:

I created a practical pedagogical guide for teaching games, filled with syllabus-ready game recommendations. I continue to update this, sporadically.

I started posting a bunch of film and game criticism on the blog. I serially explored some central areas of interest. My series “The Process Genre in Videogames” considers labor in games. My series “A Hodology of Videogames” examines movement and path-making in game space. I wrote a series of reviews for the “Troubling the Image” screenings of experimental cinema curated by Patrick Friel and Julia Gibbs. I made some video essays.

I started to write a silly history of the representation of cats in videogames. This project concluded with me having to eulogize one of my best friends. Life is shitty, sometimes.

My blogging attracted some recognition. My blog posts “The Process Genre in Videogames: Sunset” and “Double Blind” both got promoted on Critical Distance, an aggregator of serious game criticism online. My post “Personal Puzzles” got a Twitter shout-out from Liz Ryerson, the creator of Problem Attic.

All and all, I wrote approximately 100,000 words of videogame criticism in the past year, if one includes the scripts for video essays. I suppose I could have finished my book, instead. (Oops?)

What’s in store for year 2? Well, I have something massive brewing for late-September/early-October. Aside from that, I’m just going to keep writing, and keep producing video criticism. This is my 117th post on the Intermittent Mechanism blog section. I doubt I’ll be able to keep up with that rate over the next year, but I will also do my part to keep things fresh and updated.