Feminist Games

quo magis speculativa, magis practica

—-399: Intro to Critical Game Studies Syllabus

last spring i put all this time into drafting the syllabus for an experimental, small, upper-division course thematically oriented around the notion of ‘critical game studies’. while i would make changes to this syllabus given more time … why not share what i have now? if you find this useful or have comments, please share them. the only comment i’m not really interested in goes along the lines of: this looks like a lot of reading. …obviously.

[PDF: syllabus399]

dear auntie – updated

update 1: this post is regularly updated with new chapters as they develop. chapters do not develop in a sensible sequence due to the multithreading of conversations that can happen on facebook. chapter 1, however, was (what in retrospect) i will call ‘the beginning’—knowing, of course, all ‘beginnings’ are impure. 

update 2: as of publishing chapter 4, I have reflected more on what this post is supposed to be doing, and i have considered the potential harm it could be doing as a work that recontextualizes people’s words outside of their initial form and format. perhaps it is telling that i have decided not to discontinue the project and maintain this page as a repository for these observations (essentially, a kind of data collection). i am doing this because i think there is something about what’s going on in these posts, this project, that is of public interest. this is not the same thing as journalism, but there is something pedagogical in character to looking over people’s shoulders and listening in on how they conduct themselves in civil discourse on the internet in 2016. when most of the nations opinion leaders seem to be suggesting that politics should not be brought to the family dinner table around this Thanksgiving holiday, it seems of the utmost importance, then, to demonstrate other ways of weaving political discourse into the fabric of everyday life. this weaving is not inherently obvious in character or technique, and from conversations with my students in the classroom, there is a general demand for demonstrations of this rhetorical art form in practice. in sum, i see this project as a technological demonstration of sorts: a practical example of how i am using technology in everyday life to have conversations that seem impossible around the dinner table.

what is inherently technological about this practice of conversation is the ways in which Facebook affords a very different kind of conversation than what would normally happen at a family get-together. the space is differently-public, and time is differently-experienced; people speak and reflect in different ways when they write, compared to when they speak. the social pressure points and rhetorical subtexts are different. the process overall of engaging and disengaging from conversation is radically different. if my aunt or anyone else starts to express things that offend me, on Facebook i can walk away from the conversation for a few days, reflect on an appropriate response, type it up, review and revise, and then re-engage in the conversation. in the real world i don’t have those affordances, and the consequences are such that we don’t have political conversations at the table because when someone says something offensive, our instincts kick in and we start to act and behave in ways that both simultaneously shut down conversation and enact strategies for self preservation. in other words, we get defensive, and when we’re defensive, we’re not able to think strategically about the ways in which we can technically continue to engage with the offensive issue.  

attenuating to the form and format of technical engagement is increasingly an important aspect of my praxis. i am a white, cis-gendered, educated, employed, able-bodied person who comes from an upper middle-class (6-figure income) family who cares for me and accepts me. i am empowered in ways that help me cope with the ways in which i am not privileged as a queer, depressed, overweight woman. i can leverage that power to take risks, and engage in ways that others may not be able to afford—especially when it comes to having conversations with people in my kinship network. these conversations on Facebook, for example, take up a lot of the time i should be spending on my coursework or teaching, and taking this time to respond has definitely affected my ability to do good work on time for my supervisors. but—this is work that needs to happen. i am lucky enough to also be at an institution, working with generous scholars who know this. 

what i hope does not come of this project is the sense that i am doing this to make an example of the people in my family who voted for a fascist. i mean no ill will! this project is in many ways about being generous because generosity is a prerequisite for civil discourse. i am trying to model what generosity looks like in this particular socio-technological context. it is easy, after all, to talk in vague generalities. what i think people demand in a demonstration of civil discourse is a meaningful, concrete example of what an attempt at bridge-building looks like. again—an attempt. this might be a spectacular example of spinning wheels in mud, but i hold out hope that the process and the subsequent effort to document it has a longer-than-average-life in the context of Facebook comments. furthermore, bridge-building, once you have accepted the burden of first conceding time and effort into the project (remember, all beginnings are imperfect, but projects must start somewhere to nurture the phenomenon of duration), requires a strategic assessment of where common ground can be made. it must be a calculated and thoughtful process. generosity is aspirational, yes, and i cannot by myself say for certain if this project achieves its aims. 

another one of the many failings of this work as a censored blog post is that it does not characterize the subtexts that characterize power relationships in this kinship network. while i maintain the distinction between when i speak and my aunt speaks, i do so to underscore a very basic power relation that would have probably been self evident anyways from even a superficial assessment of writing styles. i also think this distinction helps make the work more relatable for some people, even if it does seem to compromise an expectation of privacy that may or may not exist for my aunt. this may be where this work transgresses ethical boundaries, but then again—i have many aunts. people who know what is going on in these posts are already privileged to this discourse if they were to read posts on my Timeline. if i am doing something that is transgressive, i hope this regrettable oversight (at the very least) inspires discussion on the unique situation of privacy on Facebook—especially in situations when their proprietary algorithms that govern notifications and ‘News Feed’ content selectively participate in opening up these conversations to people inside and outside my kinship network. this is to say, i think the politics of reblogging censored versions of these conversations differs from what would normally govern a research agenda or formal scholarly project. it is in this sense i feel obligated to characterize this project as an aspect of my work as a community activist.  

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Draft: NCA Presentation 2016

this morning i presented the following material for an NCA practice panel. the organization of what i have here will changed somewhat in the next two weeks, and i definitely need more visuals (thanks audience feedback!); but, i’m sharing this preemptively because i wanted to respond to this tweet. the tweet speaks to the larger relevance of the work i’m doing here, because while i’m talking about a television show, my focus here is on lessons that can be applied in other media production contexts. without further context…

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Thank you for your attention here today. My name is Iris and I am a PhD student with the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University within the Culture, Computing, and Society group. For the last several years I have concerned myself with questions of feminist praxis and industrial practice, and today I want to relay some initial conclusions I’ve come to following a year-longish analysis of an ambitious serial project that—like many similarly ‘risky’ shows—was prematurely cancelled. These conclusions follow from an analysis of possible shortcomings in existing scholarly projects that work to frame articulations of political practice in industrial media production settings. In particular, I’m interested in recovering value from aspects of producing a television show that are typically regarded as fluff or epistemologically suspect. These are moments that orient production workers in the position of explaining themselves in relation to their work, sometimes under the guise of ‘selling’ the show or themselves. What I take issue with is the derision of these moments; in particular because I think that they uniquely afford production workers an opportunity to ‘take back the mic’—to articulate interpersonal relationships and personal information that tends to complicate possible interpretations of what a project is and who a project is for. Thus, in thinking about what feminist praxis looks like in an industrial practice setting, I argue in this paper that it is by attenuating my analysis of the show to a study of mutually reinforcing discursive practices on both sides of the camera that I am better able to appreciate the many feminisms done in the production of Strange Empire.

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Strange Empire is or was a fantastically Canadian western television show, co-produced by CBC, that aired for a single season in late 2014-early 2015. It is now distributed via Netflix and it did see some circulation last year on the Lifetime Network. It stars 3 central women who are struggling on the Canadian Frontier and who, in different ways, are antagonized by 1 man. It was mostly written by Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik and Jackie May, but writing the show to begin with took a bit of selling to Laurie herself; she initially approached by The Johnson Group—Tim Johnson and Jeff Sagansky—to write a western drama and turned them down on at least one occasion. In the patchy narrative of how the show comes about, by the time she agrees to draft it, several women from within CBC leadership are involved in green lighting the project— Sally Catto, Katrina Onstad, Helen Asimakis, and (possibly) Heather Conway. So to some extent, Strange Empire—before it even has a name—is taken up by women to produce a show for women, about women. And in later literature about Sally Catto’s career as GM of programming for CBC, Strange Empire is conceived of as instrumental to the CBC rebranding/‘re-imagining’ effort underway in late 2013. Strange Empire one of the ‘risks’ CBC needs to take to diversify their audience and bring up viewership numbers. In this context ‘risk’ is a way of codifying sexual, violent, and otherwise ‘gritty’ representations, but it is also a way of affording space for feminist world-views.

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Within existing frameworks for studies of production culture, I would necessarily be in a evaluative position of policing articulations of feminist practice. In particular I am drawing on the work of John Caldwell and Anne Balsamo, who in different ways develop useful frameworks for studying both the design of media projects and the practice of industrial production with film and television. Caldwell legitimates my study of how workers self-reflexively theorize their work, while Balsamo contextualizes my study of television production within the domain of technological innovation. For Balsamo, the practice of innovation is made meaningful when it is cultural, and insofar as feminist discourse is a cultural orientation, their study of technocultural innovation is very fruitful for thinking about the how values and practices can become embodied and integrated into social productions with technology. It is in the exercise of ‘technological imagination’

“that people engage with the materiality of the world, creating the conditions for future world meaning. In the active engagement between human beings and technological elements, culture too is reworked through the development of new narratives, new myths, new rituals, new modes of expression, and new knowledges that make innovation meaningful. When people participate in the activities of producing ‘innovation,’ their technological imaginations are engaged in a complex process of meaning-making whereby both technology and culture are created anew. What gets reproduced is a particular and historically specific form of technoculture” (17, 2011).

In a practical sense, Balsamo’s articulation of the technological imagination is useful for thinking about the relationship between available elements and structural realities inherent to television production. And, in my paper I am more generous to their projects, but for today I want to stop short by saying: ultimately, both Caldwell and Balsamo situate the ethnographer in a position of being able to evaluate the validity of how a person thinks of themselves in relation to their work. This means that as a researcher I can deny the character of technological innovation in preference for an imagined ontological transformation that should be able to exist regardless of the material conditions that limit or constrain such an articulation.

What I believe feminist praxis to resemble, however, is more like an incorporated and managed assemblage of marginalized subjectivities. So my orientation to the study of Strange Empire does not assume the existence of a Feminism outside the production community; rather, it works to articulate how these production workers managed and produced multiple platforms, with varying affordances, for feminist articulation. Whether or not their work is capital-F Feminist is not a question I address in this paper, nor do I anticipate it to ever be one of my concern.

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Instead, I argue that we should consider how language and media practices codify reproducible elements that technological imaginations can play with. If I want to align my work within the bounds of either feminist or industry practice, for example, I need to think about how my practice reflects appropriate elements already ‘in play’. For me this helps to explain why Cara Gee, in talking about her character ‘Behind the Scenes’—in interviews and on Twitter—constantly refers to her character, Kat Loving, as a badass. It helps explain how and why Cara Gee relates her feminism within the rhetorical frameworks of Beyoncé’s feminism (because FYI Gee is a huge Beyoncé fan), but not necessarily to other more impossible feminisms that other people may map onto her character. By way of example, I want to introduce you all to my object of study by way of a clip—

 

On her own, Gee doesn’t relate to her character as ‘the embodiment of aboriginal history’.—probably for a number of obvious and inherent reasons. It doesn’t really make for good marketing discourse, and it’s obviously a really distorted representation if we’re to take the claim seriously. As a way of marketing Kat Loving, her aboriginal identity becomes tokenized…. Honestly, I could write a whole other paper on the epistemological ramifications of that turn of phrase. But by instead thinking about this moment for Laurie in a more generous way, as a researcher I’m able to appreciate how her articulation is meaningful insofar as it makes incrementally more ‘space’ than was once allowed in the telling of stories about non-white Canadians. At the same time, this is done in a way without antagonizing or threatening the constitution of the discursive field they know empowers them in the moment they choose to speak.

In thinking about the natural complexity inherent of discussion of identity in a screen context, I take a turn in the paper to talk about Susan Leigh Star’s work in technoscientific discourses and phenomenology. Star speaks of people who have ‘experience of a self unified only through action, work, and the patchwork of collective biography’; ‘that access to this unified self implies listening rather than talking on behalf of’; ‘that access to the many ways in which people are marginal requires refusing translation’—’resisting uncomfortably but content with that which is wild to us’ [paraphrased]. From Star’s discussion I argue that the analytical tendency to position subjects in space with particular roles and responsibilities has the power of obfuscating the invisible relationships that implicitly inform each speaking act.

So let’s take a look at a clip of some of the fluff I’ve been talking about more generally. This is an excerpt of an interview with Cara Gee that was performed at the same event we were privileged to see a clip of earlier; this time, though, we get a very different understanding of Kat Loving’s Metis identity. [02:05-03:35]

So, under the rubric of evaluating Gees epistemological claims, I might miss the imperative, for Gee, in that moment, to connect Strange Empire to popular discourses of historical dramatizations, feminist media, and Canadian nationalism; for, her survival to some extent (and the perpetuation of Metis representation on Canadian television) depends on the collective refiguring of popular or social networks—a very literal re-figuration of material living around the watching of this television program. This is not just a ‘used car salesman’ moment—this is, in the context of star interviews, a moment in which Gee is working to innovate our collective understanding of Kat Loving.

In the process of translating herself and the show, Gee enacts various rhetorical strategies for both articulating herself, Metis people, and Canadians in a modern context. In a sense, each moment in this assemblage of questions and answers is hyper dense…. It is an intricate weaving of what is said and not said that affords people access to different ways of relating to Kat Loving. There is this moment when we hear Grandma’s take on Kat Loving that we see feminist praxis in motion.

— fin —

MidweSTS 2016 || City-crafting for a Disaggregated Workforce: Defining Development in Terms of Access

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Introduction: Mediating the Emergence of the Future

For decades, researchers across different disciplines have studied the relationships between infrastructure, geography, and networking technologies, working to articulate moments of  rupture, revolution, and disruption—moments of instability for traditional material and symbolic regimes of power. For scholars like Henri Lefebvre, the practical implications of this research directly related to radical improvements in knowledge and pedagogy around the production and maintenance of social spatial practices that characterize urban life (cf. 1991). Networking technologies inevitably became a focus in contemporary studies of modernity because they allowed for the emergence of societies without conceivable centers, which has had a profound effect on human imagination of how ‘infrastructure’ emerges from the perceived landscape (cf. Katie King, 2012; Scott McQuire, 2008; Manuel Castells, 2004; Arjun Appadurai, 1996).

My overarching framework draws from Latour’s actor network theory and infrastructure studies, which allows for scholars like me to attenuate to the ways in which “time, ideologies, and discourses of modernism have helped define the purposes, goals, and characteristics of those infrastructures [that provide the foundation of modern social worlds]” (Edwards, 2003, pp. 191). An inherent optimism emerges from the situation between actants, as they both play a role in mutually recognizing and feeding back information to the other—of shaping the other. For scholars like Nick Couldry and Anne McCarthy, Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, Arjun Appadurai, and many others, the recognition of this co-productive experience is uniquely mediated in networked societies by electronic media technologies.

If there is an agreeable disambiguation between electronic media technologies and analogue media technologies, it is perhaps in the way objects uniquely engender the organizational principles of network design. Networks are flexible, scalable, and resilient (cf. Castells, 2004); to the degree electronic media technologies are capable of expressing those qualities, material objects themselves must be understood as inherently, interdependently connected to other networks. We might readily recognize the character of an Apple iPod or WiFi router in these terms, but why? What makes them flexible, scalable, and resilient doesn’t just relate to the materials with which they are made; what makes them flexible, scalable, and resilient as technologies is related to the ways in which they are ideologically and materially mass marketed, mass produced, and globally distributed. Parks and Starosielski situate the ideological and material aspects of technologies in analyses of media infrastructures, “situated sociotechnical systems that are designed and configured to support the distribution of audiovisual signal traffic” (2015, pp. 5). By foregrounding analysis in processes of distribution, they argue, their work can materialize regimes of power that are otherwise ignored or unseen in studies of production and consumption, encoding and decoding, and textual interpretation (Ibid). Most rewarding about this approach is the way a focus on distribution practices alters visions of empowerment, liberation, and disruption in social spatial practices. If traditional approaches to studying media technologies, design, and urban environments have tended towards the framing of social problems in terms that technology can or cannot ‘solve,’ the outcome has not been a better understanding of the complex relationships between humans, nonhumans, space, and technology. Rather, as Kentaro Toyama has observed, various epistemic communities have threatened to debate ad nauseum over (1) whether or not ‘throwing gadgets at social problems’ improves the human condition, or (2) whether or not technologies can be instrumentalized at all (cf. 2015). Regardless of whether or not debaters might be right about the challenges that characterize information technology development projects (what are sometimes referred to as ITC4D), there is still a persistent demand for guidance on how people in various positions of power should act on their obligations to innovate and maintain sociospatial conditions that underwrite the emergence of everyday urban society because not everyone is equally tasked with the responsibility of mediating that experience for others.

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Sites of urban development discourse ultimately evidence the outcomes of these impetuses; although, it is not yet common amongst media infrastructure scholars to politically interrogate how urban development projects are designed to manufacture and maintain certain distribution channels in lieu of others. Nor has there yet been a critical effort put into understanding the production culture practices that uniquely inform the rationalism that guides politicians and city planners to make decisions about how best to serve their communities. In particular I’m interested in the production cultural practices that underwrite this notion that you can measure cities in terms of “job creation, wage gains, and technology trends”—whatever those things are.

A notable exception to this observation is the work of Laura Forlano, whose studies of municipal wireless networks usefully demonstrated the problems of framing the politics of wireless access infrastructures in terms of ‘anywhere, anytime’ marketing discourse (cf. Forlano, 2008a). In many respects, this essay compliments Forlano’s research on wireless networking technologies and disaggregated, mobile workers (cf. 2008a, 2008b, 2013). Where Forlano provides general frameworks from which to think about these sociospatial relationships, I work to explore the ways in which the specificities of place and social context feed into urban development practices. In this way, my study attenuates to the complex, dynamic, and relational aspects of studying scale, a concept for me that negotiates aspects of what Lefebvre referred to as a ‘gap’ between representation and materialism—a gap where scholars traditionally commit a violence upon the complexities of real life (cf. 1991).

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My work and residence lies in Bloomington, Indiana, a modestly progressive, Midwestern University city. I moved here two years ago to pursue a doctoral degree at Indiana University, and I have been part of the Maple Heights Neighborhood Association during that time. I was only recently added to the association’s busy Facebook group, however, and so my attention to changes related to the city was only recently dramatized. In some ways, I’m between two subject positions; as a scholar and an artist, I can perceive the landscape in terms of where I have Internet access and where I do not. As a neighborhood association member (and as someone who wants to maintain friendly relationships with my neighbors), I can also perceive the landscape in terms of fragmented, socio-demographic topologies. There are ‘good’ neighborhoods and there are ‘bad’ neighborhoods. There are apartment complexes known for meth consumption, and others characterized as ‘student’ housing. There are economically and racially segregated neighborhoods. There are residential city blocks highly distinguished by social prestige. To the extent that these topologies are stable or fixed requires some attention to the ways in which they are designed and co-produced by different, ‘uncoordinated’ organizations (e.g., local government, state government, neighborhood associations, businesses, non-profit organizations, families, etc.)—organizations that become ‘coordinated’ following the emergence of aggregated bodies over time. …

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In 2013, the Bloomington (Indiana) City Council—in collaboration with local organizations such as Indiana University, the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, and the Small Business Development Center—published a redevelopment plan for the building of a Certified Technology Park in the northern quadrant of the downtown area. Tech parks, much like ‘science parks’ and ‘corporate villages,’ are a kind of networking technology. Existing first as a means of standardizing urban design and development projects for knowledge-economy focused businesses, and second as a tool to attract foreign investment, tech parks serve as a aggregation and distribution mechanism for both business and urban developers. In theory, tech parks aggregate human resources and economic investment, and tech parks distribute information and resources to tech park members, and we can see this theory play out in the way urban developers conceptualize the park in the 2013 ‘Master Plan’ report that outlines the project. The Master Plan makes explicit the City’s desire to convert that land into a concentrated collection of ‘advanced,’ ‘environmentally friendly,’ and attractive buildings and warehouses. If the City is successful in their redevelopment efforts, the State of Indiana will reward up to $5 million in local recapture of state and local tax revenue, and potentially upwards of $4 million in grant funding for use within the tech park itself. These mutual investments in the development of a Tech Park represent what the Environmental Protection Agency have dubbed ‘smart growth’ in urban environments, a phenomenon documented by Knapp and Talen (cf. 2005). ‘Smart growth’ has competing and contradictory definitions, they contend, but it is generally recognizable as a contemporary discourse that villainizes urban sprawl, emphasizes multi-stakeholder investments, and preserves ‘environmental’ areas (Knapp and Talen, 2005, pp. 108). The ‘Master Plan’ report also reflects new urbanist ideals, around which the physical forms of urban infrastructures are seen as vital mediators in the attraction of economic investments to an area; this much is evidenced by the extensive emphasis in the report on how ‘aesthetics’ and ‘culture’ serve as ‘Design Filters’ for unifying elements of the design plan (Office of Economic and Sustainable Development, 2013, pp. 32). Both paradigmatic approaches to citycraft, although not always complimentary in their goals, highlight the idealistically instrumentalist approach urban developers in Bloomington have adopted in contemporary practices of urban planning. This report can be also be utilized as a way of understanding how, through a concerted effort to brand ideas about people, places and things, city planners attenuate modern development projects to the specificities of each city space. In essence, how they instrumentalize the city as a medium for thinking about ‘the future.’

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Projects like the Bloomington Tech Park offer media scholars a way of thinking about the situated quality of traditional relationships between ideologies of urban development, brand books/’master plans,’ and enactments of ‘creativity’ and entrepreneurship. Increasingly—if it is not already the case most everywhere—tech parks and urban configurations like them play active roles in the gentrification of communities (Audirac, 2002, pp. 123). From the position of business and urban developers, the power inherent in materializing these spaces depends upon older and idealistic understandings of space in relation to humans whereby power is generated through or in the aggregation of resources. From this point of view, aggregation is a means by which to exercise certain efficiencies for particular distribution networks. However, the basis on which this principle holds true for people connected in a networked society is unclear, or worse, hopelessly ambiguous. It should be considered a priority for urban developers, then, to critically assess the bases on which they predicate their ideas about ‘development’ for local citizen populations. It should be vital to the work of critical media industry and critical media infrastructure theorists to interrogate the logic and lore that informs urban design practices. This is basically where I come in. I conceive of my work here as en exploratory case study that tries to understand how city representatives co-imagine and co-develop the ‘future of work’ in Bloomington, Indiana with burgeoning, tech-affiliated business.

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One such business that I hone in on is known as Cowork, a company that has been recently asked to consider relocating to the Tech Park following its completed construction. What I survey in this essay is the extent to which both organizations depend upon the cultivation and popularization of consumer citizens. In my conclusion I argue that by tailoring their efforts to the consumer citizen, both Cowork and Bloomington’s Office of Economic and Sustainable Development fail to manage infrastructures of distribution in ways that would benefit marginalized communities.

Consumer Citizenship

At the scale of ‘citycraft,’ tech parks function discursively to aggregate money, material resources, land values, and human resources for the production of regionally-situated jobs, prestige, and power.  Should the Bloomington Tech Park come about, it will be competing locally with five other tech parks distributed throughout the state; as the report demonstrates in its market survey assessment, each tech park is uniquely situated to accommodate differently configured communities of ‘hi-tech employees’ (Office of Economic and Sustainable Development, 2013, pp. 98). In this regard, Monroe County is a distinct locale for tech park development because of its command of employee populations in industries related to software publishing, biological manufacturing, surgical instrument manufacturing, and medical equipment wholesale trade (Ibid). It must also be pointed out that Monroe County harbors a relatively large population of ‘nonemployee’ businesses—the largest, actually, of the competing Certified Tech Park markets studied (Office of Economic and Sustainable Development, 2013, pp. 100; data is based off of figures from 2010). Nonemployee businesses are essentially self-employed individuals, who might otherwise be characterized as ‘disaggregated, mobile workers,’ ‘contractors,’ ‘freelancers,’ or ‘artists’ (cf. Forlano, 2008b). Although nonemployee businesses and mobile workers have been around for decades, their perceived social and economic utility in the navigation and location of ‘local talent’ has recently captured the attention of businesses like Cowork. If you don’t know anything about coworking places, the TLDR is that they are a particularly branded experience of workplace localization and community aggregation. For businesses who are capable of sustaining a community through membership fees paid by this varied workforce, it is perhaps more pragmatic to think of this workplace population is as an unstable, complex human resource for ambiguous ends and means. For urban developers, Cowork helps represent the material needs of this ‘community of practice’ engendered by visions of the tech park, and it provides developers with access to a fraction of the community stakeholders they hope to attract to other areas of tech park. 

The more practical aspects of the ‘Master Plan’ detail how the design of the Tech Park intends to cater to the perceived needs of these populations because the Tech Park implicitly relies upon local investment in the space following its construction in order to survive. In the report’s discussion of goals for the redevelopment project, the Planning and Design Team for the Office of Economic and Sustainable Development explicitly characterize these redevelopment efforts in terms of ‘nurturing’ the existing workforce and ‘attracting’ investors, employers, and visitors (2013, pp. 9). But to be clear, the practice of ‘attracting’ is not necessarily about the accumulation of successful businesses in the downtown area. As observed by Cumming and Johan, the success of tech parks is interdependent on the productivity and profitability of its internal population; tech parks are not necessarily stable homes for businesses, as they are often assessed on the basis of ‘entrepreneurial exits’ (2013). Tech parks, to some degree, need to be spaces where people flow with some amount of regularity. It is for this reason that the relationship between a tech park and its surrounding neighborhood should be conceived of in uneven, co-productive terms because of the ways in which entrepreneurs are unable to ensure the reciprocate exchange of value in terms of sociospatial practice.

… One of the arguments I’ve had to cut out for this presentation relates to the way ‘culture’ in this report is unavoidably entangled with consumer capitalism, and so the nuance of competing or contradictory regimes of power in cultures is lost in the perceptual calculus of investment of urban developers. I argue that one of the core features of this problem is the notion that the consumption of space ultimately engenders citizenship, and that, while this is a state-sponsored institution, private companies will be managing park use.

Unlike the Monroe County Public Library, the Tech Park is not designed for improving citizen access to commodity goods and services. Instead, market forces mitigate and manage the extent to which citizens are able to exercise their citizenship in this imagined place. As J. Harriss observes, the trouble with organizations of and for the ‘consumer citizen’ is that they do not scaffold ‘empowerment’ equally; instead, such urban design practices sustain and complexify forms of disciplinary control over the urban poor, who ‘struggle over rights to housing, livelihood and protection, and their self-realisation’ (2007, pp. 2722). Without public oversight of building use, and without the co-development of social programs intended to incorporate diverse populations into sociospatial practices, it’s difficult to imagine how the investment of a tech park in the community will positively impact marginalized populations.

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As Kentaro Toyama observed in his study of urban development technologies, by themselves, technologies tend to amplify existing social dynamics—not activate potential, nascent, and revolutionary social moments (cf. 2015). As much can be observed in the operative dynamics of community ‘inclusivity’ at the local coworking community. Because sociospatial practices are contingent on market force demands, the relative ‘inclusivity’ of the space is contingent on a member’s ability to pay rent. A similar dynamic exists in residential plans for the Tech Park, wherein developers have accounted for the implementation of building communities that will ‘match market demands.’ The language of ‘matching’ is a strategic means of avoiding questions of segregation and exclusivity; by couching market prices for housing in what can theoretically be matched ‘by the market,’ developers have avoided a much more pressing issue of whether or not the community should incorporate a diversity of economically situtated residents (e.g., through the provision of housing vouchers or Section 8 designations). Similarly, there do not exist countervailing forces or alternative opportunities for people to exist in the coworking community sphere independent of regular monetary contributions.

….The [neoliberal] logic and lore informing this ethos borrows heavily from techno-utopian imaginations of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship, and as Massey et al. explore in their survey of science parks in the UK, the uncritical acceptance of these ideas on the part of politicians, urban developers, and many others is really nothing new (cf. 1992). As with many other techno-utopian and technologically deterministic ideals of technology, the marketing of place as synonymous with innovation, disruption, progress, and development are principally founded on the belief that knowledge production and creative industry practices flow from mere ‘access’ to material forms of technology. And, again, from consumerist understandings of problem-solving and design, both tech parks and coworking communities emerge from the media industries landscape as concerted, cookie-cutter packages of space as community.

Conclusion

Urban developers and politicians might be quick to dismiss my critique on the basis that urban development projects do not need to always prescriptively manage sociospatial practices in order to improve upon or maintain equitable access to public space. What this assumption ignores, however, are the ways in which urban development projects always appropriate and recode sociospatial practices in ways that variably interact with different infrastructures of distribution. Even in practices related to the branding of cities and urban landscapes, urban developers rely on languages and literacies that cannot be easily controlled or predicted. …As urban developers labor to sell the city—specifically, development projects in its internal districts—as a place for outside investment, there should be some recognition paid to the fact that choosing to attract certain forms of investment will invariably seed urban growth with social values that are hostile to the existence of urban poverty. Considering the multifaceted, multidimensional and contentious struggles for the urban poor in places like San Francisco—the ‘heart’ of Silicon Valley—urban developers in Bloomington should be wary of the consequences of what similar developments might mean for the future of the urban poor already here. Frequent the Monroe County Public Library, and you’ll find many of the urban poor variously engaged with each other and the space. Already ‘empowered’ with access to high-end computer hardware and software technologies, trade-skill tutorials, cameras and audio recording equipment, in addition to a healthy catalogue of videos, CDs, and books—urban developers have an opportunity to study and respond to the ways in which residents are uniquely affected by disabled access to various mental and physical health care systems, professional/adult mentoring opportunities, and basic living needs (e.g., food, shelter, hygiene)—infrastructures that demonstrably affect one’s status as a working class citizen.

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This notion of disabled access is important in the context of studying distribution infrastructures because it calls attention to the ways in which people are variably included in society based on their ability to exist as consumer citizens. Disabled access, as a design feature of urban infrastructures, does not determine whether or not the poor live or use public goods and services, nor does disabling access reliably function to manage citizens as a human resource within and for the City. Disabling access typically functions as a means of diverting flows ‘elsewhere’—some imagined place where people in positions of power are legally abdicated of the responsibility of responding to the needs of others. Idealistically, this perceived ‘elsewhere’ is the consumer marketplace—a place that, by design, exacerbates the conditions of social inequality.

In navigating how utopian visions of the future might clash with the material conditions of urban poverty, I’ve explored here potential missteps in idealist imaginations of ‘future’ work in Bloomington. In the face of demand for guidance in the development of inclusive, sustainable, and innovative media infrastructures, I suggest that urban developers look to larger urban centers that have meaningfully managed urban poverty by either enabling access to distribution infrastructures, or establishing access to distribution infrastructures that didn’t used to exist. By reframing aspects of ‘development’ in terms of distribution infrastructure access to the poor, urban developers can better incorporate the costs of urban poverty already managed by the city into existing projects designed to improve urban life. Rather than relying on the transference of value through variously imagined means of consumer capitalism, urban developers should take an active role in assessing how their decisions related to development can enable existing access to distribution infrastructures that we already know impact the quality of everyday (working) life.

Bibliography

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity al large: cultural dimensions of globalization (Vol. 1). University of Minnesota Press.

Audirac, I. (2002). Information technology and urban form. Journal of Planning Literature17(2), 212-226.

Caldwell, J. T. (2008). Production culture: Industrial reflexivity and critical practice in film and television. Duke University Press.

Castells, M. (2004). “Informationalism, networks, and the network society: a theoretical blueprint.” In M. Castells (Ed.) The network society: A cross-cultural perspective (pp. 3-45). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Coonerty, R., & Neuner, J. (2013). The rise of the naked economy: How to benefit from the changing workplace. Macmillan.

Cumming, D. & Johan, S. (2013). Technology parks and entrepreneurial outcomes around the world. International Journal of Managerial Finance, 9(4), 279-293.

Edwards, P. N. (2003). “Infrastructure and modernity: Force, time, and social organization in the history of sociotechnical systems.” In T. Misa, P. Brey, & A. Feenberg (Eds.) Modernity and technology (pp. 185-225). MIT Press.

Forlano, L. (2013). Making waves: Urban technology and the co–production of place. First Monday18(11).

Forlano, L. (2008a). Anytime? anywhere?: Reframing debates around community and municipal wireless networking. The Journal of Community Informatics4(1).

Forlano, L. (2008b). Working on the move: the social and digital ecologies of mobile work places. In Donald Hislop (Ed.) Mobility and technology in the workplace (pp. 28-42). London: Routledge.

Harriss, J. (2007). Antinomies of Empowerment: Observations on Civil Society, Politics and Urban Governance in India. Economic and Political Weekly, 42(26), 2716-2724.

King, K. (2012). Networked reenactments: Stories transdisciplinary knowledges tell. Duke University Press.

Knaap, G., & Talen, E. (2005). New urbanism and smart growth: a few words from the academy. International Regional Science Review28(2), 107-118.

Latour, B. (1996). On actor-network theory: a few clarifications. Soziale welt, 369-381.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space (Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith). Wiley-Blackwell.

Malaby, T. M. (2011). Making virtual worlds: Linden lab and second life. Cornell University Press.

Massey, D., Quintas, P. & Wield, D. (1992). High-tech fantasies: Science parks in society, science and space. Routledge.

McQuire, S. (2008). The media city: Media, architecture and urban space. Sage.

Office of Economic and Sustainable Development. (Jul, 2013). Master Plan and Redevelopment Strategy | Certified Technology Park. Bloomington, Indiana. Last Accessed May 2016. Retrievable: http://bloomington.in.gov/media/media/application/pdf/15735.pdf

Sandvig, C. (2015). “The Internet as the anti-television: Distribution infrastructure as culture and power.” In L. Parks & N. Starosielski (Eds.) Signal traffic: Critical studies of media infrastructures (pp. 225-245). University of Illinois Press.

Spinuzzi, C. (2015). All edge: Inside the new workplace networks. University of Chicago Press.

Toyama, K. (2015). Geek heresy: Rescuing social change from the cult of technology. PublicAffairs.

Wang, J. (2001). Culture as leisure and culture as capital. positions: east asia cultures critique9(1), 69-104.

P335 Production as Criticism Syllabus & Course Schedule

posting this after our first class session. time will tell if i’ve scared anyone away, but i was also told “i’m so excited about this class” more times than i could count as people walked out the door.

let the semester begin.

P335 Course Schedule Fall 2016
P335 Syllabus Fall 2016

janeway57

old visions

Today Kentucky Route Zero released chapter 4 in a long-awaited installment of the series. This inspired me to think back on an analysis I wrote for class on the first chapter of this game 2 years ago. IIRC, the theme was to write about a game and apply J.P. Gee’s learning principles to design principles or aspects embodied in the game or gameplay experience. I’m still meditating about what I’ve written—definitely some style issues that I would like to think I’ve let go of over the years. Still, there’s some work here that I think others would enjoy, so I’m publishing the essay without revisions at this time. I may write more following my replay of the game.

Kentucky Route Zero

Bull | 2014
Game Analysis
P574 – Games & Learning

Games sew together contexts for playful simulation; in the case of Kentucky Route Zero (cf. Cardboard Computer, 2013) (henceforth referred to as KR0), designers Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy configure a strange and beautiful domain from which to draw conclusions about the characters, setting, and circumstances inscribed therein. The plot of KR0 is styled as a point-and-click adventure, and the story draws heavily from the visual aesthetic, musical and literary genre of Americana. Following around main characters Conway, Shannon Marquez, and Homer[1], players orchestrate gameplay that inscribes meaning between embedded and distributed narratological and ludological elements. Events are the consequence of particular configurations of space/time that represent the interactions between different textual and subtextual representations of language, space, and identity. Time is not just a mechanic or dimension in the game that players manipulate; time also exists as a separate context from which players organize their experience with the game interface. Herein, both the designers of KR0 and the player rely on two dimensions of time to help thread contexts together “meaningfully” in a networked organization of information that might resemble symbols, themes, and/or ideology. How anyone discursively talks about what they know as a consequence of playing is not a particularly well-developed facet of this essay, but knowing how to move through, with, and against this multidimensional system is not something that comes from intuition. KR0 scaffolds a player’s education by applying a number of learning principles that we can understand through J.P. Gee’s ontological framework for learning, generally (cf. 2003). In particular, I wish to highlight how KR0 stages learning for players through the application of four principles, numbered according to Gee’s organizational scheme:

8. Identity Principle
“Learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones. There is a tripartite play of identities as learners relate, and reflect on, their multiple real-world identities, a virtual identity, and a projective identity” (2003, pg. 208).

15. Probing Principle
“Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting in and on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; re-probing the world to test this hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis” (2003, pg. 209).

20. Multimodal Principle
“Meaning and knowledge are built up through various modalities (images, texts, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.), not just words” (2003, pg. 210).

28. Discovery Principle
“Overt telling is kept to a well-thought-out minimum, allowing ample opportunity for the learner to experiment and make discoveries” (2003, pg. 211).

The application of these learning principles is subtle, but distributed to help mediate the relationship players form with the game. To understand how, it’s useful to revisit Jenkins’s application of Kristen Thompson’s work on narrative, wherein plot and story are designed separately for a combined effect (cf. 2006). Jenkins describes the construction of narrative in videogames as “embedded narrative,” wherein players construct hypotheses about the context, and move through space and time in an process of acting upon the game to test their interpretation of the game as a context (2006, pg. 126). I argue that it is in a deconstruction of the relationship between story and plot that designers can understand KR0 as educational context.

From very early on in the game, KR0 reinforces a player’s agential relationship to the game by allowing players to make choices about the conversations they have with non-playable characters. The facilitation of communication with non-playable characters affects the content and context of the messages they exchange, which tends to reinforce a range of possible relationships non-playable characters form with the player character. Herein, Gee’s Identity Principle describes how the structure of KR0 encourages players to relate to their characters (cf. 2003). The Identity Principle is a premise for learning; by encouraging players/learners to organize and mediate their understanding of the virtual world through the process of making choices, player and non-player interactions sum the facets of a player’s identity in-game. Relating a player’s choices to a player’s relationship to non-playable characters encourages players to think about the text and subtext inherent to KR0, and it also facilitates a relationship between the kinds of questions a player asks and the information non-playable characters circulate back to the player. Naming Conway’s dog is the first instance wherein dialogue tree choices facilitate different outcomes that affect some facet of the game’s environment throughout the story. Exercising naming as a rhetorical tool at the very beginning of the game helps players recognize this mechanic almost immediately. This dynamic is also predominant when the player has a choice of facilitating interactions with a non-playable character with either Conway or Shannon; each character asks different kinds of questions, which open up different dialogue trees for the player. These dialogue trees may not serve as more than an aesthetic fixture, but they do serve to reinforce what kinds of words, phrases, questions, and interpretations serve as facets of Americana myth and folklore. These dialogue trees also reveal different kinds of information that describe facets of a character’s identity and history, while also articulating a subtextual commentary on class, economic instability, and corporate oppression. What subtext players recognize as a commentary on social issues or topics is reliant, to some degree, on a particularly configured player, someone who knows how to relate particular contexts together. Conway’s reflective commentary on alcohol might not come across to all players as a subtextual rhetoric indicative of a recovering alcoholic; and yet, for those players who would recognize the carefully patterned phrasing Conway relies on to avoid talking about addiction, that recognition comes from relating identities from the game world to the real world, across various time/space configurations. Herein, identities serve as tools for learners to understand a variety of contexts and how they might relate together. Further, utilizing identity as a tool compliments how players exercise probing as an exploratory process that confirms or denies how players understand KR0 as a singular context.

Gee describes the Probing Principle as a circulatory investigation of a context, as a process of doing, reflecting, and doing again to configure some facet of the world as a system (cf. 2003). Encouraging players to speculate about the world that circumscribes KR0 is one way Elliott and Kemenczy provoke players to relate what they know about the real world to this imaginary one. To do this, Elliott and Kemenczy predicate early gameplay on a player’s development of an exploratory ethic. After Conway arrives at the gas station, Equus Oils, in Act 1 and is asked to go into the basement in order to turn the power on at the station, the player is forced to navigate in the dark with a flashlight. Control of the flashlight precipitates the first clickable button that players see on their screen, and this symbol immediately suggests that the flashlight is a tool, not a rudimentary embellishment. After descending into the basement, Conway comes across a card table around which a handful of people are playing a game. The player is encouraged to try talking to the card table players, but engaging with them doesn’t produce the desired effect—no matter how many times Conway tries to directly communicate to the card table players, they don’t seem to notice. In trying to talk with the card table players, the player is instead forced to listen to their conversation, wherein the dialogue hints that the player is supposed to locate a missing piece of their puzzle. Herein, the player meets a dead-end barrier when they try to navigate to the right of the side-scrolling screen, and so the player navigates to the left. For people who have played side-scrolling platformer games before, the significance of having to navigate left is hopefully not lost on anyone: secrets, if any exist, always exist to the left of the screen—in the direction opposite that players should expect to travel. For players who haven’t played side-scrolling platformer games before, the same conclusion is reached by process of elimination. After traveling to the left, players descend down a stairwell into a dark space and quickly reach another dead-end. Here, the game cannot continue until players try turning off the flashlight, without being cued to do so. Turning off the light illuminates a small, lost game piece that sits hidden on the floor at Conway’s feet, and picking up the game piece substantiates the rhetorical possibility that players are responsible for exploring many possible ways to move forward; the “correct” way may not always be the most obvious. In retrospect, this series of events serves as an embodied metaphor through which the player can anticipate part of their experience producing gameplay, but this interpretation is not necessarily one that players need to immediately recognize in order to continue along in the plot. Rather, this series of tasks initially scaffolds an ethic for the player that will serve them throughout their time in the world that makes KR0 possible. By distributing a limited number of gameplay elements in the scene, and narrowly confining the space wherein players are asked to network contexts together, Elliott and Kemenczy scaffold for players an application of the Probing Principle that exemplifies how players should approach experimentation—as both a process of layering contexts, and as a mechanic inherent to exploration. Elliott and Kemenczy reward this behavior by inscribing a wide variety of strange contexts that may not obviously relate explicitly. This is to say, sometimes players are given explicit directions that guide their transition from place/event to place/event, but this style of communication doesn’t preclude all that players do or learn in KR0.

Players know that to progress through the story they have to eventually intersect their player character with a particular space at a particular time in order to progress through the plot; however, players also know that they are free to explore the space in a non-linear fashion in order to discover information about the story. Within this scheme, players may expose themselves to images, texts, symbols, interactions, or sounds that are only rendered as a consequence of tangential exploration. This information doesn’t necessarily inform how events inscribed in the story are told, but it does circumscribe the world in which the characters and events of KR0 are possible. In this way, Elliott and Kemenczy exercise the Multimodal Principle, by nesting a variety of patterned scenes and elements that reinforce particular subtexts (cf. Gee, 2003). The contextualization of Americana, for example, is evidenced by artifacts of the past—Conway’s job is to deliver antiques, the gas station is occupied by ghosts, and many interior settings are dirty, decrepit, or in disrepair. The dominant color palette is shadowy (blues, grays), but contrasted by dusty oranges and yellows—both are reminiscent of color schemes that defined the American West. The musical soundtrack blends together contemporary, ambient organ or synth music with somber, melancholy bluegrass tunes about home, endurance, or sacrifice. The repeated inscription of supernatural or unexplainable phenomena further evokes Americana myth and folklore, especially those stories predicated on the existence of ghosts or walking dead. Elliott and Kemenczy also contrast decrepit settings with corporate offices, staging the “corporate takeover” in what was (in-game, at one time) a popular and well-trafficked church. In one striking example of their resistance to “death of the west” rhetoric, Elliott and Kemenczy position an unclothed and seemingly homeless organ player on the roof of the church—well, on the roof of The Bureau, as circumstances would have it. From most vantage points, the organ player is completely obstructed from view. A player needs to journey outside of the explicit path in order to glimpse at the last surviving artifact of spiritual life still part of this spiritual place. To hear the organ player perform, the player needs to walk past a conference room full of non-playable characters who work for The Bureau and stand on an unassuming balcony. After correctly positioning the player character, a button appears: “Organ.” When you click, the camera swings away from the player character and focuses on the organ player, who slowly turns away from a miniature, smoking grill (presumably it keeps this person warm? or is this person grilling food?) and settles into a performance of “Work and Need,” a grim, tense and dissonant melody. By relating visual, spacial, audible elements in the simulation, this event contextualizes artifacts of Americana folklore with hallmarks of social value to reinforce feelings of grief and nostalgia. Here, players learn (if they didn’t already know) about a particular configuration of modalities that signify a relationship between Corporate America and the people who are sewn into the constitution of Kentucky. Elliott and Kemenczy don’t need to overtly communicate what they think the relationship is; that conclusion is one they hope players need no more help in determining for themselves.

To an extent, players are afforded liberty to self-determine activities and interpretations in ways that are meaningful to them. Unlike a labyrinth, routes between events in space time in KR0 are variable, and some events can be accessed irrespective of plot order. In this way, KR0 relies on the Discovery Principle to negotiate whether or not a player will experience various aspects of the story or context (cf. Gee, 2003). Elliott and Kemenczy scaffold this experience for players in a few ways to ensure that players don’t find themselves inextricably lost. First, if players find themselves without an idea of what they’re supposed to be doing or where they’re supposed be, players can access the option menu and navigate to the Notes section. Notes archives information that Conway needs to remember in order to experience the next plot event. This is especially helpful when driving because it is relatively easy to lose oneself driving around the backroads in Act 1. It is also incredibly easy to distract oneself with the driving aesthetic in Act 2, and therein it’s possible for Shannon to take over driving responsibilities as a chauffeur if the player loses their sense of direction. Driving around whimsically typically allows for players to come across eclectic road-side attractions that don’t relate significantly—if at all—to the plot, but that do inform various aspects of the story. In Act 1, for example, the player might find themselves at an airfield where they can get out of the truck and watch ghostly figures push an airplane along a runway—although the game is still currently in development, I have yet to understand the significance of this scene. In Act 2 there are several museums that the player can “visit,” although not overtly see—Conway and Shannon don’t ever get out of the car, but the player still learns something about them from choosing to stop the truck. The boundaries of discovery are almost explicitly in the narratological elements of the game—the player relies on the same point-and-click mechanic throughout, even when controlling the flight path of a giant bird. This is, perhaps, because the embedded narrative elements stand alone as rich elements for identification, manipulation, synthesis, and exchange. While KR0 is a single-player game, there is a substantive fan base of players online who maintain a wiki, and chat over social media platforms, and write blogs about their experiences in the game. Players online tend to share observations and walkthroughs of the game; a cursory survey of the discourse notes that at least some players are challenged by the by the task of textual interpretation, one noting:

“Playing this game makes me wish I had better reading comprehension skills. It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life, but this game in particular makes me wish I could process prose more completely. I’m absolutely certain that there are subtleties in the writing that I’m missing, but that doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable” (Freddicus 2014, Oct. 1).

Others hunger for amateur analyses of different in-game events, although few comments on the Steam Forum for KR0 provoked back-and-forth discussion about different interpretations of the setting, aesthetic, or characters. Although the Steam Forum for KR0 serves as an affinity space for players to learn from each other’s experiences, it does not appear to be the case that players are sufficiently puzzled enough to problem solve in a collaborative context (the significance of this practice surveyed and articulated in Duncan, 2013). Open-ended questions to the community—“What the flying fish? Help me understand the greatness of this game!” (himmatsj, 2014) for example—reveal differently-faceted KR0 players; some who readily struggle with reasoning through aspects of their play experience—“I honestly feel I played a completely empty, soulless game” (Ibid). Other members may dismiss various interpretations by predicating their critique on the vicious relativistic argument that, “art is entirely-subjective [sic] based upon intelligence [sic] and we ascribe the meaning” (Anonymous Bosch, 2014). Some players seem to benefit from the practice of textual analysis, sometimes writing long responses—which they commonly preface with an apology—in search for feedback or validation about their experience. And still, others exhibit minimal amounts of engagement with both the material inscribed in the game and the posts published, sometimes contributing comments along the lines of, “In short [sic] this is a game for some of the people who liked analysing [sic] the meanings of To kill [sic] a Mockingbird in highschool [sic] (I was one of them)” (Notaclue, 2013). These engagements seem to evidence that interpretations of KR0 are predicated on some existing familiarity with textual analysis, art critique, or Americana myth and folklore; from this we might infer that players are equipped with different strategies for interpreting contexts inscribed in the game, and may struggle to enjoy the game in a way that literature students might struggle with The Odyssey in a typical high-school classroom setting. The game itself does not scaffold different analytic strategies that would help to facilitate cross-cultural discursive practices. To better understand what players do discover from playing KR0, Duncan suggests interrogating how players contest notions of “well-played” in the affinity spaces they share (cf. 2013). In the case of KR0, it would seem that the game is well-received or hated for reasons that would be irreconcilable to someone who didn’t agree with some other player’s interpretation of the game. In particular, many players lauded KR0 for its methodological approach to storytelling, while others found the story to be frustratingly boring. Here, it’s likely that different identity-related contexts inform how players interface with relate to the simulation of setting, characters, and language—in particular, it might be difficult for people to relate to Conway or understand the setting of KR0 if they haven’t experienced facets of those contexts personally. At best, the simulacra networked in KR0 might serve as breadcrumbs that lead players to draw new or different conclusions about what they know about the world, but the game does not sufficiently model for players techniques for understanding radically new or different kinds of phenomena.

Games are hallmarked for their “ability” to teach players facets of an abstract concept and techniques for accomplishing rudimentary tasks. Good games provide feedback to players that allows for a discursive understanding of how and why to accomplish abstracted tasks. In this essay, I’ve related the design of KR0 to explain how the game scaffolds an education for players in an attempt to model aspects of the game that facilitate play. I’ve demonstrated how KR0 exemplifies the application of four of Gee’s learning principles—Identity Principle, Probing Principle, Multimodal Principle, and Discovery Principle—in the design of the game (cf. 2003). The ways in which these principles inform the production of gameplay is difficult to tease out; many of them functionally overlap with each other and reinforce particular strategies for contextualizing information. In particular, the prototypical KR0 player—if one exists—seems to be someone who has some familiarity with identifying American folklore and myth, or experience of interpreting textual and/or critical cultural analyses. Is this a facet of player subjectivity that designers should account for differently? I think this is where affinity spaces can make a significant impact on player experience. Scaffolding access of relevant contexts that relate to KR0 might serve as sufficient breadcrumb trail for players who want to understand the ideological functions and attributes of Americana. This kind of outer-shell would also rely on the Discovery Principle, but it’s a technique for facilitation that liberates players from the form and pacing instituted by a formal instructor. What’s particularly noteworthy about this approach, though, is that it does not readily compliment the structure of most classroom environments wherein time is strictly policed and mediated for learners. In a classroom, learning is kept to a strict schedule; with KR0, players can take breaks at their leisure, revisit the material ad nauseam, and experiment with different gameplay configurations. Here, educational contexts have something to learn from the constitutional framework of KR0—when learners are equipped with strategies for reconciling what they know with what they experience moment to moment, players find ways for themselves of expressing what they learned. Does KR0 try to appeal to a diverse set of players? Perhaps not, and therein classroom facilitators have a much more difficult time of modeling those information processing strategies for players.

Notes:

[1]  While Conway’s dog is a character that follows them throughout the story, the player character has the option, at the beginning of the game to name the dog Blue, Homer, or [nameless]. For the purposes of this essay, I’ll refer to the dog as Homer because that is how I named the dog in my playthrough of the game.

Bibliography

Anonymous Bosch. (2014, Mar. 6). [Steam Forum Comment]. Retrieved from http://steamcommunity.com/app/231200/discussions/0/558747287623132735/#c558749824491146832.

Cardboard Computer. (2013). Kentucky Route Zero [Videogame]. Online: Steam [Distribution Platform].

Duncan, S. C. (2013). Well-played and well-debated: Understanding perspective in contested affinity spaces. Well Played, 2(2), 37-58.

Freddicus. (2014, Oct. 1). Recommended [Steam Review]. Retrieved from http://steamcommunity.com/id/freddicus/recommended/231200/.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about literacy and learning. New York: Palgraw Macmillan.

Jenkins, H. (2003). Game Design as Narrative Architecture. In N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan (Eds.), First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game (118-130). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Notaclue (2013, Aug. 18). [Steam Forum Comment]. Retrieved from http://steamcommunity.com/app/231200/discussions/0/864969953442180123/#c864976115448551768

juglone

in the night arteries relax
hot blood flows quickly
to places of neglect
and the sorrow feeds back
into the system like a sap
a coagulant

sweet entropy save me
from the swift return of memory
that familiar ache, grief
my production of juglone

save me, histamine
provoke another transitional phase

today is a day to live

pathways into sts

regrets

i was supposed to be deep into helldivers, but the wireless card driver (i guess?) running on my bootcamp partition was acting up last night. in the middle of what was supposed to be fun time, i check twitter—like you do while windows decides to install ‘updates’ for 10 minutes instead of restarting like you asked. Read the rest of this entry »