Gamers and Namers

This week, I have repeatedly found myself wondering about the modes of self-identification that games and other stereotypically “nerdy” pursuits can evoke or hinder in their participants.  Jane McGonigal’s “Growing Up Gamer” is intriguing to me because of the fervency with which she feels compelled to defend the type of self that she chooses to describe with the word “gamer.”  I’m not sufficiently steeped in Althusserian theory to give a full analysis of hailing “gamers,” but I do find it curious that the appellation seems such a slippery one.  Patrick Jagoda’s essay “The Dark Side of the Digital Humanities — Part 3″ includes the statement that there “approximately 183 million American ‘active gamers’ (that is, people who claim to play digital games an average of 13 hours a week).”  Who has determined that this is the threshold for claiming the identity of “active gamer”?  By treating the term as one that needs further explanation, Jagoda implicitly acknowledges that  the definition he is using is not necessarily self-evident.  I am now pondering these questions alongside my experience at the GEO conference this past weekend.  During the “Cyber-Realities” panel, Kevin Kilroy began his presentation “Kurzweil, the Cyberman” by asking the audience whether they knew what “cybermen” are.  The audience (including me) were silent, so he explained that they were monsters from the British television show Doctor Who.  At this, several audience members (including me) gave a murmur of recognition.  Actually, Doctor Who is among my favorite shows and I did immediately think of it when I heard his title.  Why, then, did I assume he was talking about something else — something with which I was unfamiliar?  Perhaps because I was in a session of presentations that was prominently labelable as being about Digital Humanities (capital D, capital H) and I therefore assumed that the presenters held deeper knowledge of the field than I (digital immigrant that I am) possessed?  All I can say for certain is that Kilroy hailed “people who know what cybermen are” and I did not think he was talking to me.

Also during that session, I was fascinated by Nigel’s brilliant presentation.  He raised questions about the implications of achievements in games that had never occurred to me, but about which I now can’t not think.  What surprised me most was that I was able to follow what he was talking about, even though I went into the session thinking that my only reason for being there was as moral support to my friends.  In other words, since I have frequently felt bewildered or wrong-footed as I try to forge onward into new realms of digital existence (a phrase which here means “I had never before heard of most of the things we have talked about in this class before it began”), I assumed that any research project in a Digital Humanities topic would be mostly over my head (at least, if it involved stuff we haven’t gone over in class).  Nigel’s presentation used World of Warcraft as a focal point in discussing how achievement systems work.  I started playing it a few months ago, so I was familiar with the system and can now contemplate how my own game-playing behavior is affected by or reflected in the achievement log.  However, I don’t consider myself a “gamer.”  I don’t play every day (or even every week) and I certainly fall short of the 13-hour-per-week threshold for “active” gamership according to Jagoda.  However, I enjoy playing often enough that I consider it worthwhile to subscribe; Blizzard Entertainment is quite happy to consider me an “active” player in that I have a valid credit card and fork over their monthly fee (which would be the same whether I played for one hour per month or 24/7).  When I tried to determine why I, a player of this game, do not call myself a “gamer,” I came up with two possible reasons:  1) I haven’t been doing it for very long, so I don’t have the lifetime of social memories that McGonigal connects with her gamership and I could therefore imagine myself ceasing to play with no emotional trauma, and 2) I’m not very good yet, so I don’t have the warm aura of accomplishment that I could imagine feeling if I was actually really awesome at smacking monsters with a giant virtual hammer (though it has been ages since I died by falling off of buildings, thank you very much).

So, fellow DH-ers, my question is this:  How do you identify yourselves in the digital world?  Are you a gamer, a game-playing non-gamer, a nonplussed non-gamer, a digital native, digital immigrant, “active” [blogger, tweeter, Facebooker, instagrammer, etc.], conscientious objector, or none of the above?  Why?  How do we decide what to call ourselves, and how (if at all) does that decision impact the reality of of our digital lives?

A DH Round-up. Yeehaw!

I will admit it, none of these things has anything to do with each other, except for the fact that they are all things we have discussed in class and I found interesting enough to want to share because I thought you all might enjoy them.

QR Codes

As I said in my posting when we created a QR code, mine was in a rather prominent position–right out there on the poster for the Portrait Gallery along 7th Street at Gallery Place.  I thought my intellectual vandalism would surely be removed by now, but as I work nearby, I wandered by just to check if it was still there.  And it was!  This is when I really regretted not having registered my QR code just to see how many people have checked it out in the ensuing weeks since I taped it up there on a cold, rainy day.  Since then, the sun has come out & spring breakers have descended on DC like the 17-year cicadas that are about to take over in a few weeks.  Surely somebody has been curious enough to scan it.

Interactive Books

Is it a book?  Is it an app?  Is it a film?  Well, it’s all three.  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was the winner of the Best Short Film of 2011 at the 84th Academy Awards.  But it was simultaneously released as an iPad app that was a book.  But wait, there’s also an actual book.  So which is it?  There’s no simple answer really, other than that’s it’s all three.  All I can tell you is, it’s worth checking out.  You’ll be amazed at the ways the reader/viewer/iPad user becomes part of the book/film/app.


Talk about making your mark on the world and making Google Maps go crazy!  An Australian couple recently saw the Google Street View Car about to drive by and decided they wanted to make mapping history.  What better way than to simulate sex on the hood of the car while chugging a Corona?  Now when you check out Duke’s Highway, you’ll also get the sight of this “inventive” couple.

More fun with topic modeling

While most of you have moved on to newer and perhaps more exciting challenges (I can imagine that hypertext authoring tools like Twine might be a good deal more interesting to people enrolled in a graduate literature program than Paper Machines was), I’m still plugging away at topic modeling. In response to Matt’s tweet earlier this week, here’s a very preliminary update.

The text I’m working with is Gratian’s Decretum, a 12th c. textbook of canon law. The Decretum is not a literary text. Anyone matriculating in the faculty of canon law at any university in Medieval Europe spent their first year sitting through lectures from the Decretum. The Decretum is a composite text, made up of excerpts from authorities like Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome; from canons of church councils; and from papal letters (real or forged). Gratian wrapped all of this in his own first-person commentary (the so-called dicta) that were supposed to carry the thread of his argument. So we’re not dealing with the monolithic work of a single author.

In the late 1990s, the Decretum was discovered to have been composed in two distinct stages, the First Recension and the Second Recension. The immediate goal of my topic modeling exercise is to determine whether I can detect topics that were only added in the Second Recension. I know that at least one such topic exists. My doctoral advisor discovered (the old-fashioned way) that all of the texts in the Decretum relating to the legal status of Jews were added in the Second Recension. If I can get topic modelling working on the text, the goal would be to topic model an electronic text of the standard edition of the Decretum (more or less corresponding to the Second Recension), then to topic model an electronic text that can be thought of as a proxy for the First Recension, and finally to look at the differences to try to detect topics that were added between the First and Second Recensions.

I’m using command-line MALLET (rather than Paper Machines), which gives me the ability to manipulate things like the number of topics to model and the number of iterations at the expense of being a little clunky. Here’s an example of how you run it:

# bin/mallet import-dir –input data/gratian –output gratian-input.mallet –keep-sequence-bigrams –stoplist-file stoplists/mgh.txt

# bin/mallet train-topics –input gratian-input.mallet –num-topics 20 –output-state gratian-state.gz –num-iterations 10000 –output-topic-keys gratian-topic-keys.txt

This test of 10,000 iterations took 12 minutes, 18 seconds to run. I’ve gone up to 100,000 iterations (2 hours, 19 minutes). I won’t show you all 20 lines of output, but here’s the first few to give you an idea:

0 2.5 legis primo presumpserit ordinis rem humana tenere honoris cunctis quarta operis publica celebrare respondetur infirmitate diximus grauius conceditur dignitate
1 2.5 populo facere proprio boni multi ualeat sacerdotium uenia romani malorum clerum tradidit electus dat digna probare possessiones peruenire ordinationis
2 2.5 populi uoluntatem pertinet sentencia uideatur possumus obicitur unitatem dicta urbanus sinodum prohibet permanere sacerdotali decretum matrimonio corpore archiepiscopo dimissa

At this point, there are at least two things happening that I didn’t expect. First, the topic keys aren’t converging. My understanding was that at some point the output of the N+1th iteration wasn’t going to be very different from the output of the Nth iteration. One of the interesting feature of command-line MALLET is that it spits out the list of topic keys every 50 iterations, so you can watch it (try) to converge. So far, I’m seeing the words jump around a lot more than I expected. Second, the topics keys I’m getting look a lot more like the topic keys from Lisa Rhody’s ekphrastic poetry corpus than I’d expect for a non-literary text.

There are many issues that I still have to resolve. Probably the two most important are the number of topics to model, and whether or not stemming the Latin words will make a substantive difference.



I….I cannot stop laughing. Maybe it’s because I’m a fucking queer. Maybe it’s because I’m a sci-fi nerd. Maybe it’s because you tell me to write a Twine story and my first thought is, “Ooh…queer space opera.”

“Hunt for the Gay Planet” made me laugh hard. Like, not even making sounds anymore, but love-handles-jiggling, rib-aching, noiseless, laughter. Every time I stop to think about it or go back to get another screen cap, I start laughing, which is why it’s taken me so long to write this.

Ok ok ok ok ok, but seriously, the story’s not great. It might even be cheesily anti-climactic (which is not to say there’s not plenty of sexy bits).


Or rather, I should rephrase: the story’s great, but the links not so much. For example, if you’re a queer, like me, your first thought is that the gay planet is the “strange-looking purple world.” Obvi. But I thought this was so obvious that it couldn’t be my first choice, so I saved it for my last choice. Satisfaction! The Gay Planet is the strange purple one. [On the other hand, maybe it makes more sense that the planet spinning on its side in the void is the queer one....Hmmmmm.....]

On replaying, I was seriously pissed that clicking that choice first resulted in the same path through the story as my original one. This is silly. If you choose a path, you accept the consequences. [That's why Borges called them forking paths.] Would the story be as funny if the author didn’t make you experience all of their amazing jokes first? Of course not! But would you have the satisfaction of making the “right” choices on the first go round? Yes. Would it be like real life? …Well, no. But yes, because when we make choices we don’t get to go back! That’s the fun thing about games–you should want to play them over and over, just like a good book, to find all the secret things and release that dopamine into your system incrementally.

So, if I don’t get the “right” answer the first time, I think I should have to experience just how poorly my choices could turn out, but “Hunt for the Gay Planet” doesn’t let you do this. Instead, it doesn’t really matter whether I choose a Binary Sunrise on the rocks or a Socket Bomb. The story suggests that the Socket Bomb makes you significantly drunker, so why don’t your choices change to reflect the narrow set of poor decisions available to drunk people? Yes, it would take you a hell of a lot longer to get to Lesbionica that way. But so would getting drunk.


I love the message this story sends. There’s something really poetic, hilarious, and fucking accurate about figuring heteronormativity first as an ancient hieroglyph depicting a man and a woman holding hands, then as a “psychic maelstrom” asking you if you have a boyfriend. And there’s something tragically true about searching for Lesbionica only to find a bar full of gay men who don’t want to be your friend, even though everyone there is an alien anyway. And there’s something really, really, painfully poignant about getting to the end and seeing those white words on a black screen after saving the world from the tyrannical lesbian who’s sold her soul for weapons. All we need is some sexploitative imagery of space-dykes drawn by some artist Dungeons and Dragons hired twenty years ago.

But the truth is, not everyone makes it to the queer planet to inherit the stars. That’s why the “It Gets Better” campaign sucks. I think the potential of game-stories like this one is in showing us the alternate endings–what happens when you screw it up, or when someone screws it up for you? Our futures are ultimately not in our control. And that’s not funny. But it’s real. And it’s part of why we play games and read stories.

Bethany Nowviskie famously asked, “What do girls dig?”


The answer: other girls.

PS, spoilers ha!


There’s no “there” there…

I couldn’t resist the Hunt for the Gay Planet, and while I appreciated the author’s sense of humor, in the end I think he/she must’ve lost interest in the project.  I don’t think I need to worry about spoiling it for anyone else, because there’s nothing to spoil.  The hunt consists of poking around on four different planets, three of which appear to be exactly the same.  As far as I can tell, there is no gay planet to be found (was that the point?), and in fact there’s no resolution to the story at all.  Really, there’s not much of anything to be found on any of the planets, other than an occasional mildly amusing turn of phrase.  All of this left me wondering if there isn’t some sort of puzzle that I’ve simply failed to crack, and I guess the joke will be on me if I’ve somehow missed the point completely.  Up until now, I’ve purposefully avoided reading anyone else’s posts for fear of spoiling the surprise.  Now I’m curious to see if anyone else managed to get anything more out of the Hunt than I did…

Questions on Electronic Literature

As Susie noted in her first post, reading electronic literature presents a completely different experience to reading “regular” literature.  Here’s some things we might think about and discuss:

Questions to consider:

What is it like to read this?

What is it like to read this in comparison to “The Garden of Forking Paths”?  How does the description of the labyrinth-novel match up with your experience of hypertext and interactive fiction?

How much control do you feel you have as a reader?  How do you feel about the amount of control you have?

How does hypertext/interactive fiction complicate our ideas of reading and writing?  How are our usual methods of analysis inadequate for dealing with hypertext/interactive fiction? What new methods can we imagine?

Are authors more likely to adopt this format now that there are standards for buying/selling eBooks?


Questions specific to stories:


How did you feel about the characterization “forced” upon you by the use of 2nd person?

Did anyone get to the “ending”?


First Draft of the Revolution

How did you feel about being “forced” to sympathize with the aristocratic magic users?

Hypertexts and rhythm

When I was reading the “electronic” stories I was wondering which were the genres of this literature, the predilections. I was feeling too much uncertainty… I think that the fact that they are so related to games make this literature so adventurous, but also the fact that they are not in codex format, that it is impossible for the reader to skim the text, or to know how much text follows, makes it suitable for these kinds of sensations: blindness, lost of memory, etc. There are different ways of reading this electronic literature. I think that someone accostumed to games is going to be more expert in moving ahead through the story, meanwhile in hypertexts it is more obvious how to “unfold” the story.

I found December 11, 2012 very interesting in the use of hypertext and how hypertext brings more texts and redesign the blank “page”. I liked how the parts of the story, as chapters, are accumulated in the page, how the text grows. The story itself is sad, and the end, with the picture of the cat, was very sensationalist. I did not like that. The tone is very naïve, and the story was rather simple. But it drew my attention because of the use of the accumulation of texts and its titles as “headers”. I liked that effect, but I know it depends a lot on the reader (I think Courtney thought the opposite). I also liked the background color and the typography, I find it very difficult to read when the background is black (and when typography is small!).

I found it interesting and gripping when I do not have to read a lot of text and that the text changes the page somehow. I found it awesome to see how the text was appearing and accumulating, organizing and disorganizing the events.  The story was finally created through all these pieces that were below. It is like cutting a text and copying it in other places. Fragments of story that peel off and accumulate. I liked the way those titles organize the page, as poems, as headlines, as something not to be forgotten. As a to-do list, as any list about a life, as recollections of the past. I found it just brilliant. I think that it is possible to create other texts using this technique. For example, it is possible to create simultaneous stories using the hipertexts. It’s in the accumulation of different parts, in the opening of new text, new words, new dispositions for the written, that the author creates the story. Regardless the story itself, I considered the display very interesting to experimentation.

Another example of the use of hypertext in Twine that I really liked (in this case, I liked the story as well) was the story with the suggestive title “All I want is for all my friends to become insanely powerful”. I liked it when I clicked in some words and they changed into other words and in that changing they tell a story. It has a very peculiar and interesting inner rhythm. These texts (electronic literature as far as I red, and these two texts in particular) have a particular breath given by the speed of the reader and its mouse, but also by its colors, pictures or music.

I simply loved this exercise. I can’t wait to create something in this incredible program!

weird tape in the mail

I read, if that’s the right way to describe it, “weird tape in the mail.” To be honest, my first reaction was annoyance at the punctuation anomalies (“uncles” when “uncle’s” was meant; “it;s” when “it’s” was meant). My second reaction was that the art was repellant, especially the first appearance of the uncle. It reminded me a bit of George Grosz. The repellant art is, I think, a positive feature of the story-telling experience, as it fits the tone of the story quite well. On a broader level, I found the story at least somewhat engaging, although I agree that the attack on utopian consumerism was a little heavy-handed. I’m witholding judgement until next week, though, because I suspect it’s harder to write in this mode than it looks, and subtlety may be one of the things that goes by the wayside in a shorter piece.

There seems to be a strong affinity between this kind of writing and gaming, and in that regard I may be somewhat at a disadvantage, since I have no experience in that realm. (I really felt that strongly with my very short-lived attempt to interact with SHADE). I’m looking forward to the Twine assignment, since my sense is that this may be one of those things where there’s just no substitute for learning by doing.