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.

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.

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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.

On Ones (and Zeroes): A Tribute to Hannah Frank

Today, the friends, family, and colleagues of Hannah Frank held a special Chicago memorial for her, hosted at the University of Chicago. I already wrote quite a bit about Hannah in the past two weeks, so for my presentation at this memorial I decided to do something different: a short found-footage celebration of Hannah’s audiovisual interests.

As you might imagine, this compilation video includes things that Hannah wrote about. But it also includes things Hannah shared on social media that she liked. And things Hannah shared on social media that she made. It includes things Hannah and I shared a mutual love of. It includes things Hannah encouraged me to teach and/or write about. And it includes things I encouraged Hannah to teach and/or write about. I’ve arranged these clips to the tune of “Deeper into Movies,” by Hannah’s fellow Hobokeners Yo La Tengo.

Special thanks to Will Carroll, Chris Carloy, Sierra Wilson, Jordan Schonig, and James Rosenow.

If you’d like to explore Hannah’s own output as a video artist and animator, check out her Vimeo page here.

If you’re curious about the sources for all of the visual bits, a full list is below the fold.

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Job Change

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Ian here—

This week, I began a new job as a writer for the University of Chicago’s Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation. In that capacity, I will be writing grants and papers to help fund and publicize the work of its three constituent labs: the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, the Transmedia Storytelling Lab, and the Design Thinking Lab. I’ve worked with Game Changer before, but this full-time position will represent a fairly significant shift in my career focus.

This will inevitably bring some changes to this site. Originally, it served two purposes: as a way for students to post work for classes, and as an online extension of my teaching portfolio. Since I don’t have any plans to teach in the immediate future, nor to re-enter the academic job market in the fall of 2017, those functions are no longer a priority for me. I am not going to remove anything from the site, but I will likely be re-organizing it a bit, so that the parts of it that highlight my work as a faculty member (and as an academic job applicant) are less prominent.

I’ll also be posting somewhat less. This is my ninety-first post since I first decided to buff up the teaching portfolio aspect of this site and posted my first lesson plan last September. I’ve averaged just under one post every three days, which I am rather happy with. I can’t, however, keep up this pace once I subtract posts that reflect on my teaching. Without classroom experiences to reflect back on, I won’t be able to keep up the same volume.

We’ll see what this actually means in the coming months. If nothing else, I’m going to continue posting my silly little videogame cat of the week posts, to help stave off extended dry spells. Given that I’ll be spending 40 hours a week writing, I might also try to skew blog content further in the direction of video essays, as a way of giving myself some variety in my modes of expression. (I do have a couple planned for the summer.)

Thanks a bunch to everyone who has supported me over these past couple of years adjuncting, whether support has taken the form of reading my work, coming to conference presentations, attending mock job talks, or sharing content from this very site. (My practical pedagogical notes on games have gotten a fair amount of hits!) It’s been a wild ride, and I am happy to have shared it with you.

New Resource: Pedagogical Notes on Games

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Ian here—

I am very pleased to announce a new page I’ve added to the “Teaching” section of this site: Practical Pedagogical Notes on Games.”

Let’s assume, for a moment, that you are an educator. You’d like to introduce videogames into the class you’re teaching. Perhaps it’s a course on new media, or digital storytelling; perhaps you’d like to include a section on games in an Intro to Film course, or an Intro to Mass Communication course. Whatever the case, you find yourself faced with practical matters. What games should you assign, and how should you prepare students to play them as part of their coursework?

Perhaps the relevant scholarship on games you are familiar with all came out some time between 2004–2011. You’re not sure if the games discussed in those readings are still readily available, and if they’ll work on your students’ newly-purchased computers. Who has time to troubleshoot such things while lesson planning? Perhaps you’re looking for tips on games students can play for free, or games they can play without installing anything on their computers. Perhaps you’re looking for tips on how many games you can assign as a week’s worth of homework. Just how long do games take to play, anyway? Has anyone reliably timed such things? And what about content warnings? Everybody seems to want those, these days …

Well, fret no more! The “Practical Pedagogical Notes on Games” section of this site now provides my guide for answering such questions.

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