Transtechnology Reader 2015-2017

Over the past few months, I have been diligently working through the quirks of InDesign in order to put together a collection of some of the work my colleagues and I from the Transtechnology Research group have presented as part of the past two seminar series’.

Designing a book, very loosely based off a previous template, is unsurprisingly a considerable undertaking. Even though the majority of it is text, being an academic publication meant having to deal with those pesky footnotes and to a lesser extent bibliographies; thankfully the style guide, for the most part, had already been applied. There is a considerable number of images, however, some included in the texts (my own piece had a few), most though came later with the inclusion of “Practice Portfolios” that demonstrated the wider depiction of people’s work; of course, these had to be positioned according to who the author/artist intended, as it is similar to displaying them in a gallery.

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I was surprised at how quickly they came back from the University printers, having naively assumed the process itself would take a little while. As unbeknown to myself there was a stack of freshly printed books available to browse through sitting there in the office. The first thing I did was check the images, as considerable effort went into the careful placement (some of the images bleed over the page), resizing, and greyscaling. It was gratifying to see that all of the images had printed exactly how I wanted them, many of which actually came out better. Of course, I had carefully gone over them through different types of print previews and test prints, but the process if printing still has that magical edge to it

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In addition to designing and putting together the book, I also have a paper included inside. Titled “Illusions of Choice in Digital Narratives” this is a followup to the seminar I co-presented for the 2016-17 Transtechnology Seminar Series “Tropes of Affect: Devices, Narrative and Illusion”. The original seminar paper, titled “Narratives of Illusion – Illusions of Narrative”, was itself a follow up to a report I wrote during my War Studies MA at King’s College London (which can be found here) but updated based on later research from an abandoned paper. It was acting as a response to a recent incendiary article by videogames academic Ian Bogost who wrote that “Video Games Are Better Without Stories”. Whilst I didn’t agree with him his piece did provide me with valuable questions to answer why I thought narrative mattered in videogames.

The subsequent paper dropped references to Baudrillard but went into further detail readdressing ludonarrative dissonance. I also used it to claim that videogames were now “post-Spec Ops”, having since gone beyond the uneasy, but at the time impactful, relationship between narrative and gameplay found in 2007s BioShock. Therefore recent videogames like 2017s Nier: Automata can be seen having taken the advancements made in 2012s Spec Ops: The Line that effectively used narrative to reinforce the gameplay to instead use gameplay to reinforce the narrative.

You can read the entire paper here and I will update this page when the PDF version of the whole book is live on the Transtechnology website.

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The Fallacy of Nostalgic Materiality – Research Seminar

For the 2017-18 Transtechnology Research Seminar Series the aim was to do something a little different. This time it would take the form of a slow conference. In other words, it would be like a conference but stretched out over the span of an academic year with each “seminar” acting as an individual part of a conference.

Before the main sessions began each participant in the slow conference was asked to provide their own “Liebig card“. These were small cards that were originally used to help market the Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company and its products; later known as Oxo. These cards contained stories as well as historical or geographical factoids and have since become very collectable. The research group has a small collection of these cards, so it seemed appropriate to replicate this mode of presenting information. The one I created (seen below) didn’t relate directly to the subject that I was planning to present, but it did tie to my wider project. Plus the idea I had for the card was one I didn’t want to pass over.

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Coinciding with the unusual approach was the unfamiliar focus of the seminar series; that being “Revisiting Ideoplasticity”. It was a term none of us were familiar with and one that we all struggled with. But it was a challenge, one which many of us benefited from, and resulted in productive research.

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Co-presenting with Becalelis Brodskis saw us brainstorming together, resulting in collaborative, yet distinct papers to present.

 

My interpretation of ideoplasticity, through the lens of my project, was to explore the implications of having a real city like London digitally remodelled as it would have been during the Victorian era and contextualised in a contemporary videogame; my case study being Ubisoft’s 2015 game Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Taking the physical and turning it into an idea, and conversely including different instances of memory made this a worthwhile instance worth further research.

It was during my research that I was able to expand the taxonomy of nostalgia via the inclusion of restorative and reflective nostalgia that will be present in my thesis, as well as unpacking the role of authenticity and how this differs from what is “real”. This also provided me with an opportunity to begin exploring the role of cultural memory and the role that media plays in how people engage with it.

For the presentation, I also captured some footage of Syndicate that ran in the background whilst other elements were being set up and people were taking their seats. This helped to give the audience a better visual idea of what it was I was referring to during my talk, plus it provided a gradual approach to starting my talk.

The paper that was presented for the seminar was written in a way that aimed to transition into a full paper later more easily. As a result, some parts were written with the aim of temporarily being cut, and others to be expanded upon further. This will feature in the Transtechnology Reader for 2017/18 which once again I will be designing.

Below is the abstract for the seminar:

This paper considers the interplay between digital materiality, representation of the past, and their connections to cultural memory and material evidence. It offers an exploration of the 2015 videogame Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (Ubisoft Quebec, 2015). Set in London in 1868 the game provides a digital recreation of the city for the player to explore. The videogame’s developers created an authentic, albeit inaccurate, representation of London and it is this distinction and what it means for those interacting with the videogame that I want to unpack in this paper.

The discussion explores the manifestation of the ‘ideoplastic’ where the semiotics of Victorian London have been digitally remodelled. Allowances have been made to make the digital world seem “authentic” focusing on recognisable landmarks, yet –arguably– memory lies in the smallest of details. Therefore have Ubisoft just created a ‘theme park’ version of London, recalling the description of Disneyland by Jean Baudrillard (1994)?

Digital recreations of the physical architecture are not the only issue of concern with this example, as it also contains digital depictions of London life from the time. While the focus of the game revolves around a secret order of assassins, the narrative is propped up by documented events of the time and urban legends. Yet the developers have considered modern sensibilities regarding women and the treatment of subjects from the British Empire. Does this weaken the depiction of the era it is trying to create by seemingly overlooking the detestable, but prevalent, views that existed at the time, consequently failing to properly address them by assuming society has moved forward?

Does the experience that one has interacting incite an authentic response or does it create or reinforce false memories? In order to ascertain the extent of this, the paper will apply approaches outlined by Shinji Matsunaga (2016) to recognise how those interacting with these digital spaces do so in relation to the fictional actions occurring on screen. Conversely, though, the paper will subsequently query Matsunaga’s failure to address non-fictional settings, asking whether the theories he has identified are suitable for understanding the connection between actions taken in the physical space and corresponding digital space and how these are then interpreted and understood.

Keywords: Software Studies, Digital Materialism, Memory, Nostalgia

Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Matsunaga, S. (2016) ‘Did You Really Get a Mushroom?: Players’ Fictional Actions in Videogame Playing’, Aesthics: The Journal of the Japanese Society for Aesthetics, (20), pp. 89–102. Available at: http://www.bigakukai.jp/aesthetics_online/aesthetics_20/text20/text20_matsunagashinji.pdf (Accessed: 30 September 2017).
Ubisoft Quebec (2015) ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’. [Video Game] Ubisoft.

 

Remediation of Digital Nostalgic Myths – Digital Memory Symposium

Whilst not the first time presenting in front of an audience, this was the first time presenting to an academic audience outside of my research group. It was also an instance where my subject (videogames) was not the focus.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, this is still often the case, but my aim is to inform people of the relevance of videogames in understanding different concepts; in this instance memory.

The focus of the talk centred around the work of Vladimir Propp and his book Morphology of the Folktale. I first came across his work via a research colleague and the way they described his work drew many connections to The Legend of Zelda series. So when I actually began to read the book I began unpacking these instances and began to highlight how these have since been remediated in another medium – film – but also how Zelda itself has remediated this already.

After the symposium I was asked to co-author with Dr Hannah Drayson a piece looking back at the talks presented during the day.

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A collection of some of the slides from the presentation depicting the remediation that has taken place

 

 

Freedom of Time and Space – Research Seminar

My first Research Seminar for Transtechnology Research as part of the 2015-16 “Objects of Affect and Affection” Seminar Series. Despite moving that month and dealing with the mercy of my ISP continually failing to connect me, I managed to create a talk that explored the evolution of handheld gaming. In addition I was able to make it a hands-on one as well, by making a couple of Game & Watch units (Snoopy Tennis and Mickey Mouse) available for people to interact with during the talk to help give people a better understanding of what was being discussed. This also later fed into the Q&A session afterwards.

I expanded upon this by building upon my recent experiences of how these handheld video game systems enabled me to escape the physical constraints that were put upon me at that time and instead explore digital landscapes.

A week later I attended EGX Rezzed, which I expected to have a healthy presence from the Virtual Reality (VR) community, therefore I finished off the seminar with a connection to the technology and its debt to Nintendo’s ill-fated Virtual Boy.

Around this time I wrote two articles for Thumbsticks that further explored aspects relating to this talk. Firstly how the handheld version of Digimon Story provided me with a digital escape and then my thoughts on VR after having spent more time hands-on with the technology at EGX Rezzed.

Below is the abstract of the seminar:

Affect and Affection Abstract

Freedom of Time and Space: Technological Affordances of Play

In 1979, Gunpei Yokoi, traveling on a bullet train, saw a bored businessman playing with an LCD calculator by pressing the buttons. Yokoi then thought of an idea for a watch that doubled as a miniature game machine for killing time.

Nintendo’s Game & Watch series of portable devices that played electronic games may not have been the first to do, but it helped influence the direction the company took as it transitioned into a defining element of the videogames medium.

The handheld videogame system is just one means of interacting within a digital space via a physical device, but it is the handheld that provides a greater element of freedom and one that transcends obstacles that can interfere with other means of play.

That is why the Game & Watch and subsequent handheld systems are so important for the process of play and how it affords its unique impact via its specific technological attributes.

This seminar will attempt to explore how the way in which players interact with these physical devices and how over just a short period of time the methods of play have changed and how upcoming technological changes might impact upon this.

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Off The Lip Conference 2015

Presented a poster based on the initial direction of my PhD project. This was my first time presenting an academic poster, as well as my first time working with InDesign. Given my past experience with Photoshop, it only took a quick refresher of Adobe’s software to create something adhering to my research groups colour scheme (Transtechnology Research) Not long after the conference took place my project moved in a different direction, but one informed by my initial research. This was subsequently explored in the text I provided for the Conference proceedings that was published as a book in February 2016.

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