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CHI Fellowship Program

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January 12, 2018

Tokyo: The Virtual City

January 12, 2018 | By | No Comments

In May of 2017 while in Tokyo I visited Meiji shrine in Shinjuku for the Spring Grand Festival, a series of traditional performances including dance, archery and theater. After returning home, I posted a few photos of the event to social media, as people of my generation tend to do. I soon received a comment from a friend. “Oh wow, I’m there right now!”

His comment took me by surprise. I had no idea my friend was in Japan, much less that they were at Meiji shrine that day. I quickly messaged him to see how long he would remain in the Shinjuku area and if he would like to get dinner that evening, or at the very least meet up later in the week.  “No, no!” my friend explained. “I’m at Meiji shrine in Persona 5. Your picture was so much like Meiji shrine in the game,” he went to on say, “that I knew exactly where you were.”

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Cody M

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December 14, 2017

The LGBTQ Video Game Archive and Visualizing Representation

December 14, 2017 | By | No Comments

The nascent field of queer game studies has expanded exponentially in recent years thanks to the work of scholars such as Adrienne Shaw, Bonnie Ruberg, and Edmond Chang. Yet, despite growing scholarly attention to queer characters and players, queer game studies faces a daunting issue: queer representation and gaming communities are recorded largely in ephemeral digital forms such as wikis, blogs, and fan-made websites, meaning they are in constant danger of becoming outdated or disappearing suddenly. A case in point is GayGamer.net, a website dedicated to game news, commentary, and community for LGBTQ gamers that went dark with little notice in May 2016. GayGamer.net was a valuable resource for documenting LGBTQ game characters and communities, and while parts of it were captured by the Internet Archive, much of the site is no longer accessible outside of an old Facebook page. While many digital objects face similar issues of compatibility and archiving, queer game artifacts and documentation are especially endangered because of the marginalized status of queer gamers and characters in gaming culture. With fewer individuals (almost all volunteers) and institutional resources to support them, these sources must be actively preserved now before they—and crucial LGBTQ cultural heritage with them—are lost.

The LGBTQ Video Game Archive is a great example of ongoing preservation efforts in response to these problems. The LGBTQ Video Game Archive was started by Adrienne Shaw at Temple University in order to collect all instances of LGBTQ representation in video games from the 1980s to the present, and to “offer a record of how characters are explicitly coded, what creators have said about these characters, as well as how fans have interpreted these characters” (Shaw). By focusing on developers and players in addition to the characters themselves, the archive aims to develop a complex picture of how each representation has functioned within queer gaming communities. The documentation of queer representation in games is ongoing, and the number of games to document increases each year.

In terms of my CHI work, I’m interested in the new types of analysis that the archive, combined with digital humanities tools and digital cultural heritage methodologies, enables. For example, Utsch et al. used the archive to create data visualizations of queer representation throughout video game history, and revealed several trends such as a predominance of gay men in LGBTQ representation and an exponential growth in overall number of representations. To date, however, an intersectional analysis of the archive that addresses sexuality alongside identity categories of race, class, or disability has not been attempted, and I intend to address these intersections using new interactive data visualizations. The visualizations will be interactive in order to make them more fluid and dynamic: in other words, to make them better representations of identity than the static categorizations that intersectionality has sometimes been accused of. This intersectional analysis of the archive is only the beginning of the archive’s potential, and it has a number of limitations. For example, it only includes games currently in the archive, and only what is observable and documented about each representation. Future work will add more games to the analysis, and could provide more granular analysis of other intersections.

These projects are so important because I believe digital humanities should become more responsive to the needs of marginalized communities such as queer gaming communities. As we build and make with our digital tools, we must constantly confront the question of who we are building and making for. Our digital research and projects should demonstrate the digital theories and practices of social justice, and should do the crucial work of engaging with communities and supporting their efforts to make and shape themselves. Representation in queer games and queer gaming communities provides some practical methods for doing so, and contributes to ongoing discourse of what digital humanities can be.

For an excellent collection of recent work on queer game studies, check out Queer Game Studies (edited by Shaw and Ruberg) if you haven’t already.

LGBTQ Video Game Archive

Utsch et al.’s Visualizations

dixonel7

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December 12, 2017

Queer (World) Making

December 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

In my previous posts, I’ve outlined some of the ways making and multimodal composing offer up spaces for people to make in order to make their worlds. In my last post, I articulated what I think are some differences between multimodal composing and making. In this post, I want to discuss the ways in which I see queer communities already engage in the “making as world making” I discussed in my last post.

Making as world-making is enacted daily in queer communities all the time, as exemplified in the work of Qwo-Li Driskill, Malea Powell, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherie Moraga, all people who claim queerness, all people who make worlds through their own makings. Thus, I don’t want to claim that anything that I am suggesting is new. My previous post was designed to provide some examples of the ways in which I see people of color enacting multimodal composing practices that resist straight, white, Western forms of knowledge, and without enacting the baggage of multimodality as a trendy buzzword used to describe something that everyone does everyday. It was also designed to show that thinking of multimodal composing as making in order to make worlds opens up space for us all to expand what we value when we discuss multimodal composing; it also puts more weight in multimodal composition’s possibility for supporting queer and feminist making, but also in supporting all of our lives. Indeed, in my first post, I quoted Stacy Waite, who said “if oppression is really going to change, it’s our civic duty to think in queerer ways, to come up with queer kinds of knowledge-making so that we might know truths that are non-normative, and contradictory, and strange” (64). I would argue that we already do think in queer ways, enact queer kinds of knowledge-making; they just aren’t always recognizable in my field (composition and rhetoric) as knowledge-making. However, they have always been world-building.

Two examples of this kind of world building enacted by queers are the Lesbian Avengers, an activist group that began in the 1990s, and the drag ballroom community. Both of these communities enact “multimodal” composing as world-making in their everyday action. For example, in the documentary film “The Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire,” a group of Avengers marched on Washington in 1993 to protest a hate crime committed against a lesbian woman and gay man, whose home was set on fire. At this protest, the avengers practiced fire-eating to show that fire had no power over them. In the film, as they take the fire into their mouths, they claim “We take the fire of action into our hearts and we take it into our bodies. . . our fear does not consume us.” This act of eating fire is a making, a making both of a protest and of a community but of a space, even if for a moment, in which fears of being killed for being queer are literally consumed.

Another example is the creation of drag balls, in which queer communities of color walk, dance, and perform in drag for trophies. Drag balls are not just spaces for queer self-expression, but for community and home-building, for making a world in which being a queer of color is celebrated and loved. In the film Paris is Burning, interviews with those who participate in the drag balls highlight that the balls are not simply pageants, but home spaces where people find and join their own chosen families in their “houses.” Drag balls, then, become more than just a making, but a home and a world that is more bearable for queers of color.

I want to be clear that I understand that queer communities are already engaged in making as world-making; I know I’m not discovering something queer people don’t already do. Just as Angela Haas is careful to acknowledge that she is not claiming that wampum is the origin of hypertext (in her piece “Wampum as Hypertext”), I want to acknowledge that I am not calling for queers to start making things and making worlds; I know we’re already doing this work. However, in both the cases of the Lesbian Avengers or in the drag balls, none of these communities are claiming to be doing multimodal work; they may not even choose to claim that they are “making” anything necessarily, certainly not for the means of world-making. These communities are just doing it (as Harjo writes, dancing it, being it) because it makes the world more bearable. What I am arguing is that a cultural rhetorics orientation to queer and feminist multimodality includes this story as a means “to make one absent story present in our discussions” of queer, feminist multimodal composing, “and the addition of this story may lead us to better understand the theory of discovery” (Haas 96).

Cody M

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December 12, 2017

Supporting Inclusive, Interdisciplinary Game Studies

December 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

It’s no secret that gaming cultures and communities—including game studies—have longstanding issues with inclusion, especially inclusion of marginalized and underrepresented peoples. The most apparent example of this is #GamerGate, the thinly veiled, ongoing harassment campaign against game critics, scholars, and developers who are women, people of color, or LGBTQ folk. Game studies has fared somewhat better in this regard, in that many game studies conferences and publications include some scholars from marginalized communities, and to some extent encourage academic criticism of games and gaming cultures. Yet even in game studies, the study of race, gender, sexuality, and other identity categories remains cordoned off from the rest of the field: they’re things that scholars of these topics engage in, but others can ignore. In other words, they’re viewed as specializations or special issues, but optional ones at that.

Yet if we as gamers and game scholars truly hope to create inclusive gaming communities and game studies, or to seize on the potential for games to “make us better” or “change the world” in Jane McGonigal’s words, then we have to stop compartmentalizing discussions of identity, community, and intersectionality. There is no sitting on the sidelines when it comes to race in games. There is no part of gaming or game studies where it is not an issue, so there is no place where it is possible to ignore it without doing harm. The same is true for gender, sexuality, disability, or class. To pretend they are separate issues is to perpetuate exclusion and marginalization by refusing to confront them. We can’t marginalize the discussion of marginalization and expect anything to change. If we want to change our culture and realize the potential of games, then we all have to actively cultivate practices of inclusion.

That sounds like a tall order, because it is. Creating inclusive communities requires a lot of listening to each other, educating ourselves, and respecting and navigating difference. But the good news is that none of us has to do this work alone. We can do it together, and together we can build the communities and programs that can sustain and empower us all. For example, the Inclusive Game Development Collaborative, hosted by Michigan State University and founded by Dr. Elizabeth LaPensée, is a cross-institutional program dedicated to supporting diversity of all forms in game development (http://gamedev.msu.edu/inclusive/). It provides a forum for sharing and discussing issues of representation and inclusion in games, and further organizes events at MSU that focus on topics such as concept art and representing cultures or indigenous game design. The Collaborative exemplifies how to bring people together from different backgrounds and experiences, and to especially support developers and scholars who have been marginalized or excluded in gaming culture.

As part of the Collaborative, I’ve had the honor this fall of working with Jonah Magar at MSU Libraries to develop the Game Studies Guild, a group of scholars, students, and gamers interested in games and game studies that reads current game studies texts, plays games together, and engages in critical discussion of them. There are so many amazing faculty and students doing work with games at MSU, but unfortunately they rarely get the opportunity to work together across programs, departments, or colleges. Even when they get to, the work they do rarely makes its way out to communities beyond the university. The main goals of the Game Studies Guild are to address this by fostering community and discussion across disciplines, supporting use of the Library’s developing gaming resources, and hosting critical gaming events that are open to the public and streamed on Twitch.tv (a popular platform for streaming gameplay). The group’s interdisciplinary and open nature is a reminder of another form of inclusion: the inclusion of different perspectives and forms of knowledge.

This year’s events are further dedicated to issues of representation and diversity in games, and our fall events focused on these issues in Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights At Freddy’s and Blizzard’s Overwatch. We would love to have you participate in person or via our live stream, and you can find out more at our website (https://libguides.lib.msu.edu/gsg). All are welcome, regardless of experience or knowledge with games.

There are so many ways to get involved with this work where you are: including readings and discussions of intersectionality and inclusion in your courses, forming a reading or working group dedicated to these topics, attending and supporting existing events related to them, starting a program at your institution that promotes them, or even just making them a topic of conversation in the gaming groups and communities you’re a part of. Whichever way you choose to get involved, the crucial thing is that you do.

Jack Biggs

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December 11, 2017

Digital Narratives of The Disappeared

December 11, 2017 | By | No Comments

Since I’m a returning CHI Fellow for this school year, I wanted to do something quite different compared to my project from last school year. That previous project is called J-Skel and it is an online juvenile skeletal age estimator. That project focused more on the scientific side of things and was intended to be useful in an instruction or classroom setting or to be used as a reference for those who are estimating the age-at-death of juvenile skeletons. Although this is a useful tool for those in the field of human osteology, it is not as applicable to people in everyday life. For this year’s project, I wanted to tackle something both technically and culturally disparate, but first, a quick backstory to explain the impetus behind this new project.

As a bioarchaeologist studying the ancient Maya at MSU, my advisor (Dr. Gabriel Wrobel) runs an ancient Maya Archaeology and Bioarchaeology Fieldschool every year called the Central Belize Archaeological Survey (or CBAS) in Central Belize, about 20 km south of the capital city of Belmopan. As a graduate student, I supervise excavations at the rockshelter sites we dig, as well as give lectures to the students and to the general public if they wish to attend. This year, I lectured over the final segment of Maya prehistory through the Colonial Period and ended with the Guatemalan Civil War that resulted in the genocide of Modern Maya people and the destruction of villages during the late 1970s and early 80s that resulted in the systematic targeting and death of over 200,000 indigenous Maya. As I gave this lecture, none of the students had ever heard of the Guatemalan genocide – also known as the Silent Holocaust. I found this to be somewhat of a disservice that none of them had ever been told about these events. It is because of this that I decided to do my project over the Silent Holocaust.

I want this year’s project to be targeting a much wider audience than my last project and to also take on a cultural and civic justice direction. The Guatemalan Army systematically targeted and eliminated poor indigenous communities in the Guatemalan Highlands, where most of the Modern Maya reside today. Because these peoples mostly speak their own regional variations of Mayan languages and because they have been without a voice since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, this ethnic cleansing has received far less attention than many others. Families were separated and murdered and entire villages were wiped off the map. It is because of this that I want to inform, or further inform, people about these atrocities that should not be silenced.

Victims and members of the ‘Disappeared’ from the Guatemalan Civil War, Image source: https://espressostalinist.com/genocide/guatemalan-genocide/

In order to make this a project with more of a cultural impact, I plan on creating an interactive map that will allow users to track different journeys concerning the genocide, such as personal journeys or testimonies about fleeing and/or surviving, villages that were attacked, villages that were completely razed, events of social outcry in the major cities, modern-day efforts to commemorate and remember, etc. Although this is not an as well known series of events as other genocides such, as the Holocaust or the Massacre at Srebrenica, it has been heavily researched and there are data out there. I plan on using resources that are publicly available to craft and guide my website so as to be as effective and accurate as possible.

Theoretically, this will not be as technically challenging as my last project (knock on wood) since at that time, I had little knowledge of how to code and interact with different coding languages. Though I’m still not an expert in any sense of the word on coding, I think this will be easier due to my gained knowledge from last year – a pleasantly challenging experience. However, I plan on using at least three new (for me) and different tools this year: Knight Lab StoryMap and Timeline as well as possibly Frappe in order to tell these narratives and help visualize the data. Part of this project isn’t just to inform the general public about events that should not be forgotten, but also to inform me as I will be adding in content as I discover it and I’m excited to go on that journey.

Jack Biggs

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December 8, 2017

Open data and 3D Printing

December 8, 2017 | By | No Comments

I’m a Teaching Assistant for an Intro to Physical Anthropology course and during their last week of classes before the final, we have a lab activity set up for them where we bring in fossil hominin casts and ask them to look at the variation between them, their similarities, why they may or may not be directly within our evolutionary lines, etc.  We do this by setting up stations around the lecture hall.  As I was watching the students pick up the casts and comment on their weird appearances compared to a modern human skull, how their teeth are different, how their face shape is so unlike us, I realized that I have completely taken experiences like this for granted.  Not all colleges or institutions have the funds to purchase these skull casts.  They are surprisingly expensive (at least compared to what grad students are paid!) and I have placed some of them on my Christmas list because I cannot afford them, unfortunately to no avail.

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Cody M

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December 6, 2017

HASTAC 2017, Twine, and Empowering Student Voices

December 6, 2017 | By | No Comments

The HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) 2017 conference is already starting to feel like a distant memory, but as always it was a fantastic opportunity to meet with many brilliant scholars, teachers, and activists who are committed to transforming pedagogy to meet the challenges of today’s digital world. If you weren’t able to attend, definitely take some time to look over the program: there were many fantastic panels and workshops, such as “Building a Feminist Future” (Savonick, Meade, Bosch, Sperrazza, Esten, Tran, & Woods), “Multi Lobes, Multi Modes: Fostering Student Engagement and Learning Through Multimodality” (Garrett Colón, MSU), and “The Half-Real Humanities: Hard Problems in Humanities Games” (Dewinter, Dombrowski, Fanfarelli, & Mcdaniel).

My own panel with Dan Cox, Kristopher Purzycki, and Howard Fooksman was titled “[[Enter Twine’d]]: Linking Teaching and Learning through Hypertext,” and focused on using Twine, a platform for authoring interactive fiction and games, in the classroom. When I first started using Twine in my courses, I had two goals: first, I thought Twine could be a great way to introduce students to game design and development, and second, I thought Twine could help teach narrative concepts and theories by showing them in action. To test these possibilities, I built Twine into “Games as Art, Narrative, and Culture,” my course at MSU that is part of the Integrative Studies in Arts and Humanities general education requirements for undergraduates.

As part of the course, I had students build their own Twine games as one of their major projects. I introduced students to Twine by having them play Twine games such as anna anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World, Zoë Quinn’s Depression Quest, and Squinky’s Quing’s Quest VII: The Death of Videogames! In addition to playing the games, we discussed Twine’s capabilities and how each game uses different mechanics to capture a different experience. Next students came up with their own game ideas, designing each idea around a particular experience they wanted to create for players. Finally, students put their ideas into action, and created basic games that used special effects and meaningful choices to deliver on their vision.

Beyond student projects, I also created Narrare (“to narrate” in Latin), a Twine game meant to teach narrative theory in games. The game draws attention to concepts such as branching narrative, limited choices, character types and roles, and narrative voice. The game is still an ongoing project, but the current version is available on my website/portfolio at cmejeur.com.

While I expected Twine would be helpful for meeting course objectives, I was surprised by how much students were excited and engaged by it. At first many students, particularly those with no coding experience or interest, found making their own game intimidating. However once they got into the design process, many of them reported becoming so immersed in their projects that they had to set limits for themselves to remember to work on other coursework.

I suspect that this happened because making Twine games gave my students the opportunity to engage in a type of creative authoring that they unfortunately don’t often get to do in higher education. It allowed students to use their own experiences, perspectives, and voices to make something that was truly their own, and then to share that with their classmates. My students used this opportunity to tell their stories, especially those that they don’t often get to tell. For example, one student created a Twine game that captured the experience of culture shock that came with studying in the United States as an international student. Another told a story of a childhood event that has always stuck with them as a strange and meaningful experience, but that they hadn’t ever shared or represented before.

What excites me so much about this is that Twine can do even more than teach introductory game design or narrative concepts and theories. It can provide a platform for telling stories that don’t get told, and for helping our students develop their own voices. Along the way they have to confront their own experiences, perspectives, and positions, and then think about how to share these things in meaningful ways. My hope is that this process will help students realize that their voices matter, and that they can use them in whatever education or career they pursue. Playing and designing with Twine reveals how the meaning we make with games reaches far beyond the ludic realm. I look forward to using these insights in my course design, and continuing to find better ways to support my students’ learning processes.

Some valuable Twine resources for interested persons:

Twine 2.0
Twine Tutorial videos by Dan Cox
“Games in the Classroom with The Twine Cookbook” by Anastasia Salter

Twine resources

Jack Biggs

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October 18, 2017

The Future of the Past

October 18, 2017 | By | One Comment

Archaeologists and anthropologist back in the day (say around the later Victorian era and the early 20th century) had it easy in terms of research and methodologies.  Study subjects and specimens were abundant while strict and standardized methodologies were not.  Researchers just went out and both literally and physically grabbed data. They weren’t data necessarily that they needed, but data they wanted.  Many times, collection techniques were…less than completely ethical, but as has been the long trend in human history, we learn from our mistakes.

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dixonel7

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October 18, 2017

Introducing Elise Dixon (CHI Fellow)

October 18, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Elise Dixon and I am a third-year PhD student in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures program. I am very excited to be a part of the 2017-2018 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship– it fits very well with my research interests. My research focuses on queer and feminist multimodal composing through a cultural rhetorics lens. In most of my work, I employ feminist, queer and cultural rhetorics orientations to think about the ways queer people, military wives, and writing centers “compose” themselves through writing and creating. These may seem to be disparate interests, and in some aspects, they are. However, in all of my research work, I am focusing in on how people and organizations express their identities through various composing practices.  Because of these interests, the CHI fellowship is a perfect fit.

I am working through my comprehensive exams currently and I have been ruminating quite a bit on what I plan for my dissertation. I was originally planning to make my CHI fellowship project my first foray into my diss. In my comprehensive exams, I am focusing on how multimodal composing can support queer and feminist rhetorics. What I am bumping up against is that the voices most amplified in queer and feminist rhetorics are often white voices. This does not mean that people of color aren’t doing queer and feminist multimodal composing; it means that the modes of composing discussed by scholars of color are undervalued by these disciplines that have been shaped by many multiple white people. I am trying to find ways to address this in my work, and hopefully I can integrate that into my CHI fellowship project.

 

My original plan for my CHI fellowship project was to examine some pieces of ephemera and zines from the MSU Queer Archive and Zine Archive and create a small digital archive of my own of them. I still intend to do this, but now I intend to be careful to look at the creation of these objects from a cultural rhetorics lens and foregrounding the work of people of color.  I look forward to exploring this project more through this CHI project. I think it will help me develop some direction for my dissertation and give me time to practice and learn how to code and make digital projects from scratch.

 

I’m so grateful to have this fellowship this year. Working alongside the other fellows is a highlight of my week, and I am looking forward to working hard on this project throughout the year.

Julia DeCook

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October 12, 2017

Cat memes and Identity – Archives and Digital Worlds

October 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

The reason why I wanted to do this fellowship was not only to expand my knowledge of computational/digital methods of approaching cultural heritage questions but also to have this methodological knowledge situated in appropriate theoretical and philosophical frameworks. Particularly, something I have noticed often in data-driven approaches to research within my own discipline is the lack of positioning – what does this data mean? How did it come to be, and what does it signify for larger historical, cultural, and social realms?

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