Endgame for the Humanities?

The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it. Preliminary data suggest that hiring is at an all-time low. Entire subfields (modernism, Victorian poetry) have essentially ceased to exist. In some years, top-tier departments are failing to place a single student in a tenure-track job.

The Chronicle Review has released a free collection on Endgame: Can Literary Studies Survive (PDF) Endgame is a collection of short essays about the collapse of literary studies in the US. The same is probably true of the other fields in the interpretative humanities and social sciences. This collection gives a human face to the important (and depressing) article Benjamin Schmidt wrote in The Atlantic about the decline in humanities majors since 2008, The Humanities Are In Crisis.

Continue reading Endgame for the Humanities?

Codecademy vs. The BBC Micro

The Computer Literacy Project, on the other hand, is what a bunch of producers and civil servants at the BBC thought would be the best way to educate the nation about computing. I admit that it is a bit elitist to suggest we should laud this group of people for teaching the masses what they were incapable of seeking out on their own. But I can’t help but think they got it right. Lots of people first learned about computing using a BBC Micro, and many of these people went on to become successful software developers or game designers.

I’ve just discovered Two-Bit History (0b10), a series of long and thorough blog essays on the history of computing by Sinclair Target. One essay is on Codecademy vs. The BBC Micro. The essay gives the background of the BBC Computer Literacy Project that led the BBC to commission as suitable microcomputer, the BBC Micro. He uses this history to then compare the way the BBC literacy project taught a nation (the UK) computing to the way the Codeacademy does now. The BBC project comes out better as it doesn’t drop immediately into drop into programming without explaining, something the Codecademy does.

I should add that the early 1980s was a period when many constituencies developed their own computer systems, not just the BBC. In Ontario the Ministry of Education launched a process that led to the ICON which was used in Ontario schools in the mid to late 1980s.

50th Anniversary of the Internet

Page from notebook documenting connection on the 29th, Oct. 1969. From UCLA special collections via this article

50 years ago on October 29th, 1969 was when the first two nodes of the ARPANET are supposed to have connected. There are, of course, all sorts of caveats, but it seems to have been one of the first times someone remote log in from one location to another on what became the internet. Gizmodo has an interview with Bradley Fidler on the history that is worth reading.

Remote access was one of the reasons the internet was funded by the US government. They didn’t want to give everyone their own computer. Instead the internet (ARPANET) would let people use the computers of others remotely (See Hafner & Lyon 1996).

Interestingly, I also just read a story that the internet (or at least North America, has just run out of IP addresses. The IPv4 addresses have been exhausted and not everyone has switched to IPv6 that has many more available addresses. I blame the Internet of Things (IoT) for assigning addresses to every “smart” object.

Hafner, K., & Lyon, M. (1996). Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet. New York: Simon & Shuster.

HyperCard at the Internet Archive

Screen Shot of Internet Archive HyperCard Collection

The Internet Archive is now collecting HyperCard Stacks and has an emulator so they can be run in the browser. If you have old ones to contribute you can upload them to hypercardonline.tk (which has a nerdy HyperCard like interface.)

Like many, I learned to program multimedia in HyperCard. I even ended up teaching it to faculty and teachers at the University of Toronto. It was a great starting development environment with a mix of graphical tools, hypertext tools and a verbose programming language. It’s only (and major) flaw was that it wasn’t designed to create networked information. HyperCard Stacks has to be passed around on disks. The web made possible a networked hypertext environment that solved the distribution problems of the 1980s. One wonders why Apple (or someone else) doesn’t bring it back in an updated and networked form. I guess that is what the Internet Archive is doing.

For more on the history of HyperCard see the Ars Technica article by Matthew Lasar, 30-plus years of HyperCard, the missing link to the Web.

What is cool is that artists are using HyperCard to make art like Formality* discussed in the previous post.

Hutchinson: Japanese Culture Through Videogames

Examining a wide range of Japanese videogames, including arcade fighting games, PC-based strategy games and console JRPGs, this book assesses their cultural significance and shows how gameplay and context can be analyzed together to understand videogames…

I’ve been reading Rachael Hutchinson’s Japanese Culture Through Videogames and it is excellent. The book nicely does three things:

First, it is about important Japanese videogames like Katamari Damacy and Okami giving them a serious reading. Hutchinson treats them as art, but videogame art. She clearly plays the games and writes about the way the mechanics are important to the experience.

Second, she deals with the ways these games are interpreted by both Western and Japanese critics (and fans). This book could serve as a great introduction to Japanese game studies, weaving important Western and Japanese theory into a dialogue around individual games.

Third, and most importantly, she connects the games to reflections about Japanese culture, or I should say, she shows the different ways these games reflect Japanese culture. She deals from the beginning with the way some Japanese games are designed to be mukokuseki or “culturally odourless.” She also talks about how games can have the culture washed out of them in localizations. Above all, she shows how Japanese culture comes through games. This book, as the title suggests, introduces approaches to Japanese culture as seen through games by introducing larger discussions about space and time.

I particularly liked the generous footnotes that allow one to follow up on the critics and cultural theory she weaves in. This is an academic book at its best where every footnote promises a pleasurable exploration of some facet of game studies or Japanese culture.

I have taught a course on Japanese Game Culture a couple of times and always felt that I wasn’t well enough prepared for the potential of the course. This book strikes me as a perfect guide and text for such a course. It is clear that Hutchinson has taught Japanese games for some time and this book benefits from the experience. She talks about how students might interpret a game and contrasts that to more obscure interpretations in a way that hints at how one might teach Japanese games. One senses echoes of class discussions in the balanced way she handles questions about games and I can’t help feeling that she has a rich syllabus up her sleeve for teaching the subject.

In short, this book does what I’ve felt we needed for some time: it provides a serious and rich introduction to Japanese game studies suitable for scholars and useful as a textbook. (Full disclosure: I know Hutchinson from the Replaying Japan conference series and she thanks me in the Acknowledgements.)

Update August 25th, 2019: If you are interested in Hutchinson’s ideas about teaching Japanese games see the YouTube video she recorded, Teaching Japanese Videogames: Why, How and an Example of What. She describes her philosophy of teaching Japanese games, the issues around teaching games, the issues discussed, the “texts”, and she gives some in-depth examples.

Di GRA 2019 And Replaying Japan 2019

Read my conference notes on Di GRA 2019 And Replaying Japan 2019 here. The two conferences were held back to back (with a shared keynote) in Kyoto at Ritsumeikan.

Kieji Amano deserves a lot of credit for putting together the largest Replaying Japan programme ever. The folks at the Ritsumeikan Center for Games Studies should also be thanked for organizing the facilities for both conferences. They have established themselves as leaders in Japan in the field.

I gave two papers:

  • “The End of Pachinko” (given with Amano) looked at the decline of pachinko and traditional forms of gambling in the face of the legalization of casinos. It looked at different types of ends, like the ends of machines.
  • “Work Culture in Early Japanese Game Development” (with Amano, Okabe, Ly and Whistance-Smith) used text analysis of Szczepaniak’ series of interviews, the Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, as a starting point to look at themes like stress and gender.

The quality of the papers in both conferences was very high. I expect this of DiGRA, but it was great to see that Replaying Japan, which is more inclusive, it getting better and better. I was particularly impressed by some of the papers by our Japanese colleagues like a paper delivered by Kobayashi on the “Early History of Hobbyist Production Filed of Video Games and its Effect on Game Industries in Japan.” This was rich with historical evidence. Another great one was “Researching AI technologies in 80’s Japanese Game Industry” delivered by Miyake who is involved in some very interesting preservation projects.

Are Robots Competing for Your Job?

Are robots competing for your job?
Probably, but don’t count yourself out.

The New Yorker magazine has a great essay by Jill Lepore about whether Are Robots Competing for Your Job? (Feb. 25, 2019) The essay talks about the various predictions, including the prediction that R.I. (Remote Intelligence or global workers) will take your job too. The fear of robots is the other side of the coin of the fear of immigrants which raises questions about why we are panicking over jobs when unemployment is so low.

Misery likes a scapegoat: heads, blame machines; tails, foreigners. But is the present alarm warranted? Panic is not evidence of danger; it’s evidence of panic. Stoking fear of invading robots and of invading immigrants has been going on for a long time, and the predictions of disaster have, generally, been bananas. Oh, but this time it’s different, the robotomizers insist.

Lepore points out how many job categories have been lost only to be replaced by others which is why economists are apparently dismissive of the anxiety.

Some questions we should be asking include:

  • Who benefits from all these warnings about job loss?
  • How do these warnings function rhetorically? What else might they be saying? How are they interpretations of the past by futurists?
  • How is the panic about job losses tied to worries about immigration?

Skip the bus: this post-apocalyptic jaunt is the only New York tour you’ll ever need

Operation Jane Walk appropriates the hallmarks of an action roleplaying game – Tom Clancy’s The Division (2016), set in a barren New York City after a smallpox pandemic – for an intricately rendered tour that digs into the city’s history through virtual visits to some notable landmarks. Bouncing from Stuyvesant Town to the United Nations Headquarters and down the sewers, a dry-witted tour guide makes plain how NYC was shaped by the Second World War, an evolving economy and the ideological jousting between urban theorists such as Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Between stops, the guide segues into musical interludes and poetic musings, but doesn’t let us forget the need to brandish a weapon for self-defence. The result is a highly imaginative film that interrogates the increasingly thin lines between real and digital worlds – but it’s also just a damn good time.

Aeon has a great tour of New York using Tom Clancy’s The Division, Skip the bus: this post-apocalyptic jaunt is the only New York tour you’ll ever need. It looks like someone actually gives tours this way – a new form of urban tourism. What other cities could one do?

The oral history of the Hampsterdance: The twisted true story of one of the world’s first memes | CBC Arts

Th CBC has a nice (and long) oral history about Hampsterdance: The twisted true story of one of the world’s first memes. Deidre LaCarte created the original site on Geocities in 1998 as a challenge and it took off. As the CBC puts it, it was the original meme to take off. You can see the original here.

It becomes clear as one reads on that none of the assets of the site were original; they were all clipart or music taken from elsewhere. Nonetheless LaCarte and others were able to make some money on the success of the site.

I personally think the first viral internet meme was the Mrs. Fields (or Neiman Marcus) cookie recipe story that circulated by email. It was an urban legend about being billed $250 for a recipe by a Mrs. Fields store and then sharing that recipe. According to Snopes this legend has quite a history going back to a 1948 cookbook.

Russian Policy and the War in Ukraine’s Donbas – Options for the Future and Canadian Responses

Today I am attending a conference on Russian Policy and the War in Ukraine’s Donbas – Options for the Future and Canadian Responses. The Kule Institute for Advanced Study is a co-sponsor of the conference as is the Defence Engagement Program of the Department of National Defence. The conference is looking closely at what happened in Donbas how different sides have presented the conflict which has been woven into memorialization of WWW II and before. I was struck by how Russian propaganda continues to delegitimize Ukrainian independence by painting Ukrainian nationalism as an extension of the fascism they fought in WWW II. History is being used and reused on both sides.

Update: We have now put up a video archive of the talks of the conference. Enjoy!