I’ve begun a new series of “Let’s Study” videos on horror games, just in time for Halloween. This first episode explores the historical roots of the survival horror genre, which means that it’s a new manifestation of this lesson plan.
Over the summer, I was working on a peer-reviewed video essay that’s quite thematically dense. As a result, this video feels a little bit shaggy to me: loose, casual, searching for a central raison d’être. I constantly had to remind myself that this is for general audiences, and not every audiovisual argument needs to be an airtight assemblage of well-researched examples.
The unqualified good news? This video is a massive improvement on the previous blog post version of this lesson plan. The future videos in this series will be a mix of original material and “enhanced remakes” of previous lesson plans.
I have decided to re-post this lesson plan that I originally posted in December of last year. In re-posting it, I am forgoing the doom and gloom I offered in the introduction of the original post. A better attitude is needed. It is our duty as citizens to raise our voices in response to bad policy, so consider this my own humble contribution to the Internet-wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.
Well, it’s that time of the semester. Grades for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Spring 2017 semester were due Sunday, so it seems that it’s time to offer up a postmortem.
Last time around, I opted to do a postmortem on “Comedy and the Moving Image,” as I felt that it was my most successful course of the Fall 2016 semester. This time, I’m choosing to go with “Frames, Claims, and Videogames.” It must be said that this was not my most successful course of the Spring 2017 semester. That honor would go to “Avant-Garde Film and Video Art“—a fact that is of little surprise, given that it’s now the third time I have taught that class. “Frames, Claims, and Videogames,” by contrast, was a learning experience. It was the first time I’ve helmed a course solely focused on games, without any dependence on a cinema studies context, and it wasn’t taught under ideal circumstances. (As I have mentioned before, it was a late addition to the course roster, which meant that my students didn’t have a very good heads-up about what the course’s material would actually be before they set foot in the classroom.) One could say that it was a trial-by-fire situation, of sorts.
And, in this sense, it was quite effective. To start things off, here are four different lessons I learned over the course of the class:
Some of this material used to be over in the “Practical Pedagogical Notes on Games” section of the site. I’ve decided to migrate it to a blog post, however, for logistical reasons.
It’s an HTML5 world out there. The plug-ins that used to define the landscape of the internet—Flash, in particular—are a dying breed.
If those previous two sentences don’t mean anything to do: Congratulations! You are like most people. This guide is for you. It is a practical, logistical resource to take a peek at when a browser-based game doesn’t work.
Well, you can’t win ’em all. Over-ambition gets to the best of us, and sometimes a somewhat incoherent lesson is the result. Consider this post to be less of a how-to guide, and more of a postmortem on what is clearly still a work-in-progress.
Migration is a topic that, from the beginning, I knew I wanted to tackle in my Avant-Garde Film and Video Art course this term. US immigration reared its head quite explicitly in my week spent on Bill Brown’s The Other Side, but I also wanted to try out some more conceptually far-flung approaches to the topic. Key here were two texts: Hito Steyerl’s article “In Defense of the Poor Image,” which re-casts image quality as an image of global politics, turning a close eye on how media objects circulate around the world in the current neoliberal order, and Jacqueline Goss’ video Stranger Comes to Town (2007), which tells tales of entry into the US that have been metaphorized into World of Warcraft machinima.
I thought I could draw out some sort of grand theme from this material, about how the circulation of images maps on to the migration of people in our contemporary political regime. It turns out I wasn’t really up to this task. And it’s a shame, too, because I dearly love the videos I assembled for this week, and wish I could have done better by them.
[Update: I asked for feedback in the last day of class, and it turns out that several students actually really liked this class session. They thought its sketched-out argument left them room to think, and really appreciated having to fill in the blanks themselves. Apparently, for some students, it was perfect seminar material. Their only real complaint was that I could have expanded this material, and stretched it out over several weeks! So take the self-criticism in this post with a grain of salt, I guess.]
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m hesitating to call write-ups of classes in the section of “Avant-Garde Film and Video Art” I’m teaching this semester “lesson plans.” The course discussion I’m reporting back on often proceeds more from my students’ on-point engagement with the films than it does from any carefully-planned questions on my part. I still want to post some details on this blog, though, because I’m certainly learning a lot about how to tackle these subjects in the future, and would love to share.
Up today: two animated films, one of which unexpectedly became one of the most contentious things I’ve shown so far in any class.
Two weeks ago, I taught Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013) for my “Frames, Claims and Videogames” course. I hadn’t played the game in quite some time, so, in the run-up to the course, I re-played it, searching through the house exhaustively, reminding myself of where every last note and prop was, re-acquainting myself with the ins and outs of everyone’s story. Taking some notes, it occurred to me that it would be nice if there was a guide to it online. Not just a guide to picking up all of the items that give you achievements, or something like that—there are plenty of those online, already. Rather, a guide to the stories Gone Home tells, and where exactly you can find the environmental elements that move those stories forward, and flesh it out.
Well, I guess it falls to me to create what I’m looking for. Again.
My guide to Liz Ryerson’s Problem Attic (2013) was just a walkthrough. This is a bit more, as I have specifically designed it to aid in things like class prep and analysis. It isn’t, by itself, analysis, but tends closer to that direction than the Problem Attic one does. (I’d place it roughly in the realm of my Virginia videos.) Enjoy!
My teaching style for my “Avant-Garde Film and Video Art” first-year seminar course at the School of the Art Institute this semester has been relatively hands-off. I show students things in class, give a short 10-20 minute lecture, have students give presentations (you can see their handiwork here!), and then launch into discussion.
One way to conduct class discussion is to have a very specific set of interpretive moves you want to make, and to tailor your questions in order to guide your students through your own thought process. Sometimes I’ll do this type of in-class discussion. (My lesson plan on Bruce Conner’s A Movie details a lot of the points I like to hit up when discussing that film). I’m drifting away from that, though, in this particular class. I give students more work to do, in the form of blog posts and presentations. Likewise, I’m more fully embracing the seminar format in class discussions, allowing conversation to be guided by students’ interests, instead of carefully crafting questions to serve a particular road map.
This has lead to some really wonderful in-class moments that I wanted to report back on. I bristled at the thought of calling these “lesson plans,” given that such language gives me too much credit, and my students too little. Instead, they’re best thought of as the collaborative results of loosely-planned conversations, that hold within them the potential to become future, more strictly-planned lessons.
This post serves as a little mini-postmortem on two difficult class sessions in my “Frames, Claims, and Videogames” course. There are multiple overlapping reasons why these class sessions were difficult for me. One is that my lesson had to pivot strangely from seemingly-academic debates on the definition of games to a sudden dive into matters of harassment in game culture. Harassment itself is, needless to say, a difficult thing to discuss in class. It becomes exponentially more difficult when one is teaching a class with a high percentage of international students, many of whom (thanks to the registration realities of late-scheduled courses) have no particular interest in games, and who simply cannot fathom the cultural forces that align to drive a certain subset of American men to use things like changing conceptions of videogames (videogames!) as an opportunity to harass women online. I mean, how do you explain this, really—to anyone at all, let alone someone completely on the outside of American “gamer” culture?
The first half of my “Frames, Claims, and Videogames” course is devoted to five major debates that have hovered around games over the past couple of decades. Some of these are legal, some have occurred in the art world, some have occurred in the sphere of popular discourse, and others are academic. For the first academic debate, I pitted Janet Murray‘s ideas about the storytelling potentials of new media agains the hard-core ludologists.
When prepping for this lesson, I found re-reading the ludologists in 2017 to be an unpleasant experience. Looking back at the early-2000s era writing of folks like Espen Aarseth and Markku Eskelinen, it’s pretty clear that they were the academic precursors of the game police. And not the snarky, tongue-in-cheek Game Police parody twitter account that arose in 2013. I mean the angry young men, who would later become Gamergate, but who already, in 2012–2013, were barking back at “corrupt” journalists praising games they didn’t see as games: games that told stories, rather than let you shoot things. These young men took it upon themselves to politicize the term game, to define its boundaries and beef up its border security. A “videogame” became a medium you couldn’t freely pass into until you showed your papers, and proved that everything was in order. The most vigilant among these enforcement agents, the Joe Arpaios of gamer culture, enjoyed a wide jurisdiction and acted at their own discretion, with great impunity. (Is it really any wonder that this burgeoning culture of alt-right gamer trolls would evolve into one of Donald Trump’s key blocks of support?)
As I said, it is tough re-reading, let alone teaching, the ludologists in 2017. As a consolation, though, it is a delight teaching Janet Murray. Time has proved her to be an exceptionally good predictor of the future, meaning that reading her twenty-year old Hamlet on the Holodeck is a surprisingly exciting experience.