Reading next week

After looking through No Speed Limit, here is my honest reaction: It’s very short, and not nearly as difficult as, say, the Berlant; the whole book is a scant 61 pages, and Shaviro is an admirably clear writer. Please do your best to finish both Accelerando and No Speed Limit. Meanwhile, the priority of what is in No Speed Limit cascades along the book itself: start at the beginning, and see how much you can get through.

Have a great weekend!

Also, this is finally my time to catch up to myself with grading, so expect updates from me across the weekend with marks and comments.

Neuromancer Topics

Today we’re going to break into discussion groups for the class. I’ll lecture just a little bit on historicity and the novel form, and why that matters. Gibson: “The future’s already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” But, here’s a list of topics/questions drawn from your blog posts for us to really dig into:

Directionality and/or reciprocity of connection (e.g., simstim). (Piper, James and Matt)

Labor and alienation. (James and Nicole and Connor)

Confusions (spatial and otherwise) between meatspace and cyberspace. (Connor and Mike and Matt)

Hallucinations and drugs. (Connor and Matt)

Final Projects: Next Post: Topic > Question > Problem

For your next final project post, you should pose a research question. It will be due on Friday, November 13. This is in advance of your (required) meeting with me the following weeks.

The following exercise is cribbed from Wayne Booth (et al.)’s The Craft of Research. There are two relevant chapters: “From Topics to Questions” and “From Questions to Problems.”

Your “Problem” posts should step through each of these steps in an explicit way, documenting your revisions and how you’re thinking about them. Show your work. This may seem tedious, but it won’t take very long, and I suspect it will help you get to a good question quickly and clearly. The goal in this exercise is a really pointed, very specific agenda to get you started on your research.

First: Good Topics

Let’s get a clearly, concisely specified topic. Booth tells us that if the topic can be stated in four or five words, it’s not specific enough (39). You’ve got to add some form of elaboration and specification. Their types are: conflictdescriptioncontribution, and developing.

So let’s say I’ve decided my topic is “sexuality in network games” (I think I’m not duplicating anybody’s research project). Note that we can restate this as a claim: “There is sexuality in network games.” That’s not very interesting.

To elaborate this, we should add language of conflict, description, etc. from above. To which I will add, also specify some actual sites of research. Here’s a better topic: “The development of sexuality in network games from text-based MUDs to 3D worlds like Second Life.”

A few things are good about this. First, you can state it as a claim: “Sexuality in network games has developed from text-based MUDs to 3D worlds like Second Life.” Notice, too, that there’s a subsidiary claim there, which is that a game’s interface affects the way sexuality is a problem for, or in, it. Second, it’s got a few obvious points of reference in our course: Neveldine + Taylor, Dibbel, Bersani, Cooper, Hodge.

Second: Topic/Question/Significance

We’re not done. Booth gives us a three-step sentence that will help enormously in figuring out what you’re working on and why. It goes like this: topic, question, significance.

Topic: “I am studying…,”

Question: “because I want to find out why/how/whether…,”

Significance: “in order to help my reader understand…”

A few notes:

Notice that there is a genuine question! This is not the same thing as a topic.

Notice also that the significance is about teaching the reader something. Presumably you’ll learn something, too, but it’s important to understand that all this work is targeted at readers—in this case: your classmates, me, your very dedicated friends and relatives, and the internet at large.

In the above example, we could parse this out a couple of ways:

Perhaps the most straightforward way is to keep the topic very specifically focused, and then to add layers of generalization from there: “I am working on sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life, because I want to find out how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, in order to help my reader understand how game design can have effects on networked sexuality.”

But you could also run this a bit more theoretico-historically (and more specifically): “I am working on changes in how sexuality works between early MUDs and Second Life, because I want to find out what online sexuality and fantasy teach about sexuality in general, in order to help my reader understand how differing mediations of virtual and physical involve transformations in sexuality.

In each case, notice that there are implicit questions that get us places: How do game interfaces affect sexuality in games? How does game design influence networked sexuality? What do online sexuality and fantasy teach us about sexuality in general? How do different mediations of virtual and physical life involve transformations in sexuality?

Each of these is, of course, also a claim—”Different mediations of virtual and physical life involve transformations in sexuality.” So you might think that your thesis is baked in, and that’s the thesis. But actually, that’s just the starting point, the communicative context, for your research. You’ll discover your thesis in the elaboration of the how question.

Third: Research Problem

This is a fairly radical redaction of what Booth (et al.) have to say, but it will help.

First, we’re dealing with conceptual problems: what we do or do not understand. So let’s get explicit with one of these topic/question/significance sentences. Neither of them is done yet.

Let’s make explicit the conceptual consequences embedded in one of these two sentences by specifying the entailments between these levels—in reverse.

“In order to understand how game design can have effects on networked sexuality, I have to (it helps to) understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games.” That’s not bad! And “In order to understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, I have to (it helps to) understand sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life.” This isn’t quite right. The scope of the problems doesn’t fit—and your intuition is probably exactly wrong. You could make the topic broader, but that’s exactly the wrong direction.

This is where we loop this back into specifying the topic even further. What you’re studying is not, then, sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life, but rather the consequences of textual vs. visual interfaces for sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life. “In order to understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, I have to (it helps to) understand the consequences of textual vs. visual interfaces for sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life.” That’s better, the scope matches.

We could get more specific than this, and will learn how to as our research progresses. But now we actually have some real agendas to start working on reading and research: textual mediations of sexuality in early MUDs, visual mediations of sexuality in Second Life. What we discover there will help us figure out how to connect the dots. And what we’ve arrived at is our goal: a really specific agenda as you start your research.

 

Final Projects, Part Three of Many: Research Considerations

Many of you may not, in fact, have been asked to do significant research before. Here are some ideas on how to get started doing research on the sorts of topics we are dealing with in class:

  • Google that shit. Seriously. If you’re working on a specific object (a video game, a person’s Instagram feed, whatever), then google away. I don’t mean googling for 10 minutes, I mean spend an hour or more just entering queries to see what you can find that’s interesting, unusual, bonkers, fucking weird.
  • Google-scholar that shit. If you’re interested in, say Lauren Berlant, you could do a whole lot worse than, for instance, putting her into scholar.google.com.
  • Academia.edu and personal websites. My personal website, as you probably know, is kredati.org. Such sites have useful information! For example, you can see all the things I’ve written and published there.
  • Follow footnotes. This is a very, very powerful way to do research, especially when you have a certain body of text under your belt. Let’s say you’re interested in what Jagoda has to say about network games and how they refract network form. Especially find the parts of the essay you find compelling, and see what he cites during those passages.
  • Talk to people. Me. Your fellow students. Your other professors. You may not actually even need to talk to them, but just use your bloggy-blogs to interact.
  • The library. I know! So retro! But Judith Arnold, who is the librarian for English, is perfectly wonderful, and has put together a really helpful research guide for English. Spend a long while looking through that website.
  • JSTOR, Project Muse, and others. In the research guide, you will find a good list of relevant databases.
  • Amazon.com. Amazon’s book recommendation algorithm is pretty good, at least sometimes. Punch in a book that you know you like (say, Post-Cinematic Affect), and the “People who bought this also bought” list isn’t a bad place to start to find books that are likely of interest. They might not be directly related, but they’ll be related-enough.

That should be enough for now. We’ll keep working on these together.

Final Projects, Part Two of Many: Nuts and Bolts

Here is the first batch of final project nuts and bolts:

  1. The final project must represent the same amount of work as a 12–15pp. paper. At minimum, it should comprise 4,000 words of writing. These 4,000 words need to belong to the same project, but they do not need to be a single piece of writing (i.e. eight 500 word posts will do).
  2. The final project must be complete by 8am on Tuesday, December 22nd.
  3. The final project must involve research of some kind. I expect both primary and secondary sources that are not on the class syllabus to be of some significance for you in your writing.
  4. You must have a clearly articulated research agenda—a question that orients your exploration. Your first attempts at this will almost certainly be too broad. I will help you narrow questions.
  5. In addition to the project itself, there will be a series of scaffolded blog posts that will guide you through a research process. (These will also be in addition to weekly blog posts.) These will be helpful, rather than busywork. I promise.
  6. The project itself can take many forms; this is part of what your project formulation will entail. The default format will be a blog: not the regular, weekly blog you’ve been posting on, but a second one, dedicated to the project itself.
  7. I hope you will consider group blogs among people who are working on resonant research projects. We can talk about methods of forming groups.
  8. Notionally, I was hoping to have people also present their final projects to the class. This, however, is not actually feasible with the number of students we have in the class. We will talk about alternative formats for talking and thinking together about other folks’ research.

Final Projects, Part One of Many: Meeting with Scott

As part of the final project process, you will all need to meet with me. Please sign up for a time using our little signup app. In this case, please do provide your phone number, just in case I am delayed, late, unable to be there, whatever. I will only use a phone as a last resort; otherwise I will use email. Please stay tuned for more final project details.

UPDATE: Please do not sign up for a slot less than 2 hours before it will take place. I would like to be able to schedule my life in a reasonable way.

Work for tomorrow

To my beloved students—

I said this in class, but for those of you who weren’t there (OMG, come to class!), I am cancelling all material due for tomorrow (Speculation and the commentary on it). I have overprogrammed this week, and we still need to get through Bogost, Jagoda, and Journey. Blog posts should be about that material.

Thanks for bearing with and keeping up.

Journey playthrough video

Beloved students,

If you cannot make it to games lab to play Journey tomorrow or Tuesday, please watch part or all of the playthrough video. It would be preferable indeed to actually play the game with your peers. I also suggest not watching the video until playing the game, if you are planning on doing that.

 

Please also stay tuned: we may have a venue change, since apparently we have our game time scheduled (ironically) in the same time and place as the Video Games Scholarly Interest Group. Whoops! (If it is not in SH 326, it will most likely be in the English Department, in room 10302.)

For background, especially if you are not playing, you may also want to check out the wikipedia article about it. Or, perhaps, you might read the (very New Yorker-ish) New Yorker story on it.

(To be frank, I find the question of whether video games can be art to be completely stupid. What does an answer to that do but tell you whether or not you’re allowed to take them seriously? Or whether you’re allowed to not feel bad about playing (or “playing”) them? Or, conversely, that you can continue to ignore them as being irrelevant or condemn them as dreck? Following on my minor conniption at the end of last class, I will say that I think the category of art and its definitions and inclusions and exclusions almost always ends up distracting from the real questions. [For more on this, refer to the opening moves of my “Vulgar Boredom essay.] But it is nevertheless how people talk about games. And so.)