Last week I was at the DIGRA 2018 Conference in Turin, Italy. The conference was well organized and the quality of papers was high. As always, I kept conference notes here.
I was struck how game studies is less and less about games. Of course, games are the subject of research, but game studies is less about the appreciation of games and more and more about what we can learn about other things through games. Games, like literature, have become a lens for looking at other things making the field richer and better aligned with other fields like media studies or literary criticism.
Next year the conference will be held in Japan and linked up with Replaying Japan. I look forward to the encounter between these different game studies cultures.
“…it’s like writing with a deranged but very well-read parrot on your shoulder.”
Robin Sloan of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore fame, has been talking about Writing with the machine. He was inspired by presentations like Adrej Karpathy’s blog post on The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks and Bowman et al’s Generating Sentences from a Continuous Space to try developing a neural net that could generate text. He used as a training corpus a collection of early science-fiction from the Internet Archive and created different text generation tools like the short video of that which you can see above and hear explained in this Eyeo video.
One of the points he emphasizes is that he didn’t do this just for the fun of seeing strange phrases generated, but wants to use it seriously as a writing aide.
I can’t help wondering if this could be used philosophically. Could we generate philosophical or ethical phrases in response to questions?
I’ve been meaning to write for while about Kompu Gacha (or Complete Gacha), a game mechanic that was popular in Japanese mobile games until it was banned in 2012 (see this story too). Kompu gacha is an extreme (or complete) form of the gacha game mechanic which was in turn inspired by the ubiquitous gachapon vending machines you find in Japan where for a couple of coins you get a small loot box (sphere) with a random gift in some theme or series. Children collect items by buying the loot boxes with the hopes of getting new trinkets in series that they collect and trade. Mobile games in Japan borrowed this well known play mode and began to include virtual loot boxes that you could buy in-game. Developers fine tuned the system to the point where millions of yen were being spent on vanishingly rare items. This led to a public controversy after there were cases of youth spending thousands of dollars that then led to banning the loot boxes.
There are a number of reasons why this mechanic and its banning are interesting:
- It is an example of the grey area between gaming and gambling. In fact, Belgium has also outlawed video game loot boxes as gambling.
- Gacha mechanics in general are economically important to Japanese mobile/social game design.
- They are an interesting mechanic in and of themselves and show how an element of randomness that has consequences can be fun. Philosophers and historians of gambling have noted the importance of the element of real risk to the intesity of gambling. It gives everyone a chance to be heroic.
I should mention that it was Mark Johnson and Tom Brock who drew my attention to loot boxes. They have been doing important research on loot boxes and giving papers on the subject.
Torn Apart is a curation and visualization of publicly available data concerning ICE, CBP facilities, and usages. Also lists of allied and pro-immigrant facilities.
At DH 2018 I heard Roopika Risam speak about the impressive critical digital humanities Torn Apart / Separados project she is part of. (See my conference notes here.) The project is rightly getting attention. For example, the Inside Higher Ed has a story on Digital Humanities for Social Good. This story presents Torn Apart / Separados as an answer to critiques about the digital humanities that they are not critical enough and/or lack interpretative value. (See Stanley Fish’s Stop Trying to Sell the Humanities.) The Inside Higher Ed article rightly points out that there have been socially engaged digital humanities projects for some time.
What I find impressive and think is truly important is how nimble the project is. This project was imagined and implemented in “real” time – ie. it was developed in response to events unfolding in the news. It was also developed without a grant and by a distributed team of volunteers. Thats what computing in the humanities should be – a way to think through issues critically not a way to get funding.
Recently the World Health Organization included “gaming disorder” in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 11.
Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.
Needless to say, this has raised hackles in the gaming world. One balanced article in The Truth About ‘Video Game Addiction’ in Kotaku.
Digital Humanities 2018 is coming to a close. This conference was the first in the Global South and had two women keynotes. It was an example of a conference that really supported multilingualism. For the keynotes they had simultaneous translation. They had a mix of English and Spanish talks and many who spoke in one language had slides in the other.
As I often do, I kept conference notes here. These hardly capture the richness of a conference with parallel sessions.
Last week I was at the conference of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI 2018) at the University of Virginia. I kept conference notes here. Before the conference proper, we had a day for the Public Engagement network. We heard about Humanities Festivals like the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival. Another neat example is the Dwell in Other Futures festival held in St. Louis.
We also heard about graduate education and community engagement. One example was the Humanities Without Walls summer workshop at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.
Finally we talked about the need for ways of assessing public engagement work. How can academics get credit for public engagement? Is is scholarship?
This year we had busy CSDH and CGSA meetings at Congress 2018 in Regina. My conference notes are here. Some of the papers I was involved in include:
- “Code Notebooks: New Tools for Digital Humanists” was presented by Kynan Ly and made the case for notebook-style programming in the digital humanities.
- “Absorbing DiRT: Tool Discovery in the Digital Age” was presented by Kaitlyn Grant. The paper made the case for tool discovery registries and explained the merger of DiRT and TAPoR.
- “Splendid Isolation: Big Data, Correspondence Analysis and Visualization in France” was presented by me. The paper talked about FRANTEXT and correspondence analysis in France in the 1970s and 1980s. I made the case that the French were doing big data and text mining long before we were in the Anglophone world.
- “TATR: Using Content Analysis to Study Twitter Data” was a poster presented by Kynan Ly, Robert Budac, Jason Bradshaw and Anthony Owino. It showed IPython notebooks for analyzing Twitter data.
- “Climate Change and Academia – Joint Panel with ESAC” was a panel I was on that focused on alternatives to flying for academics.
- “Archiving an Untold History” was presented by Greg Whistance-Smith. He talked about our project to archive John Szczepaniak’s collection of interviews with Japanese game designers.
- “Using Salience to Study Twitter Corpora” was presented by Robert Budac who talked about different algorithms for finding salient words in a Twitter corpus.
- “Political Mobilization in the GG Community” was presented by ZP who talked about a study of a Twitter corpus that looked at the politics of the community.
Also, a PhD student I’m supervising, Sonja Sapach, won the CSDH-SCHN (Canadian Society for Digital Humanities) Ian Lancashire Award for Graduate Student Promise at CSDHSCHN18 at Congress. The Award “recognizes an outstanding presentation at our annual conference of original research in DH by a graduate student.” She won the award for a paper on “Tagging my Tears and Fears: Text-Mining the Autoethnography.” She is completing an interdisciplinary PhD in Sociology and Digital Humanities. Bravo Sonja!
Four decades ago, Tomohiro Nishikado created the title that became shorthand for video games themselves. He recalls how he wanted to tap into players’ competitive instincts
The Guardian has a story on Space Invaders at 40: ‘I tried soldiers, but shooting people was frowned upon’. Space Invaders is now four decades old having been released by Taito in 1978.
Space Invaders was created by Tomohiro Nishikado, who I met when he the opening keynote for Replaying Japan 2014. He brought some of his notebooks and showed the images he drew of aliens and how he bitmapped them.
Coincidentally I also just got in the mail and started reading, the book by Florent Gorges on Nishikado, Space Invaders: Comment Tomohiro Nishikado a donné naissance au jeu vidéo japonais! (in French) The book has lots of illustrations but the print is small and hard to read. Like other books by Gorges, it is good on the history, but not that critical.
On May 25th I had a chance to attend a gem of a conference organized the Philosophy of Education (POE) committee at George Brown. They organized a conference with different modalities from conversations to formal talks to group work. The topic was Re-Imagining Education in An Automating World (see my conference notes here) and this conference is a seed for a larger one next year.
I gave a talk on Digital Citizenship at the end of the day where I tried to convince people that:
- Data analytics are now a matter of citizenship (we all need to understand how we are being manipulated).
- We therefore need to teach data literacy in the arts and humanities, so that
- Students are prepared to contribute to and critique the ways analytics are used deployed.
- This can be done by integrating data and analytical components in any course using field-appropriate data.