CEDAR: After-action report

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Report on CEDAR. So much to say. Not sure how to say it best and what to leave out.

I'll start with Sonia Fizek's presentation. This was the first time I saw Sonia present - I missed her paper in the last Under the Mask. She spoke on how Second Life can work as an academic platform and after introducing us to virtual worlds via a preliminary typology, she pointed out how these, through their reliance on user experience, could be used to host lectures and seminars. I was much impressed with the Second Life Poly University Campus from which Sonia showed us snippets of her experience. Looking forward to experiencing this for myself. In my own practice as Technology Learning and Development Adviser at NTU, I think her videos can prove a very useful introduction for  potential  online learning and teaching. Sonia also introduced us to Tom Boellstoeff's Coming of Age in Second Life and it looks like a very promising read.

From Second Life to ship life. Avast ye landlubbers - did you know how many words in your day-to-day speech are borrowed from maritime jargon? Simon Isserlis enlightened us on this in his presentation.  Words and phrases like 'skyscraper' and 'loose cannon' are some of the examples that he discussed. Simon is building corpora  of maritime language that has made its way into English usage. In his talk he spoke about various repositories that he uses, such as Project Gutenberg for out-of-copyright  texts, the mudcatcafe.com for traditional English songs, Hansard for British Parliamentary Proceedings' records dating back to 1640 and so on. He also gave us an overview of corpora building software such as Wordsmith tools.

Claire Warwick of UCL described her idea of Digital Humanities in her keynote presentation. The impetus of digital humanities is collaboration instead of the individual research that is sometimes the norm in Humanities research, she said. She insisted on the importance of interaction and consultation between Humanities and Computing researchers and also on the move towards project-based work as favoured by scientists.  For those in their early academic careers, the good news is that the REF 2012 (this is a British research evaluation process - gives universities their money and academics their jobs) will also consider digital research as valid submissions.

After Claire's presentation, the unexpected happened. Lorenzo (my netbook) ran out of battery so I was left to jot down pen and paper notes, rather reluctantly. Can't be sure now if the new version of Jolicloud (my OS) is all that good. Anyway, the rest of the report will be rather short.

Anastasija Ropa described how she has built a google site to supplement her project on a comparative study of the Holy Grail motif where she compares L'Morte d'Arthur (Malory) with 20th c. Grail fiction (she did assure us that The Da Vinci Code is not in her list).  Anastasija pointed out the pros and cons of using Google sites as well as the perennial problem that academic websites have of getting inputs from academia. She has also created a Renpy game to provide an easy access to her research. Renpy is a visual novel building software. An idea for us all to consider?

Following our Grail quest on Google, we had Isamar Carillo Masso and Lyle Skains presenting their separate versions of research toolkits. Isamar described how she would think using The Brain (the mind map tool), plan further using Mindomo and present using Prezi. I used a Prezi for my own presentation but am still dubious about how effectively I can use it for my purposes. In fact, most presenters at the sessions stayed with powerpoint - still Prezi's a tool to explore. Lyle's presentation was a virtual one - recorded rather than live (although maybe a quick skype appearance to take the questions would be great - blended learning at its best). She spoke about various websites for sharing your creative writing and critiques as well as tools like google docs and prezi. The presentation was on a video clip so maybe we'll get it on youtube Lyle?

The other presentation in this session was Maggie Parke's presentation on how fan websites affect the reception and development of films based on books such as Twilight, Harry Potter books etc. She described how her participation on blogs and fansites raised her 'fan capital'. Simon made an interesting comparison with the fansites for games and this linked back quite well to my own talk on walkthroughs and after-action reports.

After that, a five-hour journey back to Nottingham and eventually, bed. CEDAR is officially over but then all good things come to an end much too soon. I'm sure, however, that we will carry on talking about using web 2.0 tools for research. Finally, I hope my university (at least for a few months longer) will follow this course and make research easier and more fun.

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Of Bangor and the CEDAR mash

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Back at CEDAR. This time in beautiful Bangor. I've arrived a day early because it takes aeons to get here from Nottingham (four changes on the train and an easy four and a half hours journey). I'm sitting in a hotel room and writing this while trying to focus on my presentation tomorrow and to forget about my day job. Research time is a luxury nowadays and I'm thoroughly grateful that I've been allowed this time by NTU.

So back to de-stressing and chillaxing. Also back to videogame theory - rusty as I am. The programme, however, encompasses the full breadth of web 2.0 and recent social media technology. Here's what it looks like:

Registration and coffee
Participant presentations (10-15 minutes for presentation; 5-10
minutes for questions):

Sonia Fizek
Second Life as an Academic Platform: Experiencing Virtual Conferences.

Souvik Mukherjee
Writing the Disappearing Story: Wikis, Walkthroughs and the Digital Narrative.

Simon Isserlis
The MariTime Text Corpus (MariTeC): The construction of a specialised digital
text corpus of Maritime English.

Short coffee break

Guest lecture (Claire Warwick)

Lunch buffet

Participant presentations:

Anastasija Ropa
Bridging the Gap Between Medieval and Post-Modern Audiences of the Grail
Quest Literature with the Aid of Google Sites.

Isamar Carillo
Three Stages of a Research Project: Advantages of Using The Brain, Mindomo
and Prezi.

Maggie Parke

Lyle Skains (video presentation)
Exploring Multimodal Creativity: Writing Stories for the Printed Page and the
Digital Screen.

'Jam session' / hands-on activities (exchanging and test-running
software/online tools for humanities research)

Discussions over afternoon coffee

All of these topics are extremely interesting for me. Google sites and the Grail (Did Sir Galahad google?) and using Prezi and the Brain - fantastic.  Even relates to my present job. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. As for my presentation, here's the abstract:

Writing the Disappearing Story: Wikis, Walkthroughs and the Digital Narrative

Do videogames tell stories?’ Although it might be possible now, after almost ten years of academic debate, to answer the question with a resounding ‘yes’, a seemingly innocuous query is bound to bring back the doubts: ‘so where’s the story?’. Digital narratives, especially some videogames, disrupt traditional expectations of the narrative. Operating in complex temporal planes, these digital stories do not lend themselves to standard endings or structures and their plurality makes it next to impossible for researchers to analyse the ephemeral narrative(s). Where older narratology (in the sense applied to the work of Gerard Genette and others) struggles to fathom such phenomena, philosophies of the multiple and the affective such as that of Gilles Deleuze engage quite well with the plurality of digital narratives viewing them as actualisations within a mesh of potentialities.

What might be otherwise construed as abstract philosophy can, however, be experienced in more accessible ways: player themselves have developed ways of recording and analysing the otherwise ephemeral narrative actualisations. The ‘walkthrough’, albeit mostly neglected by game research, has nevertheless established a niche for itself as a form of ludic ‘paratext’ that captures individual actualisations of the game narrative. However, walkthroughs can hardly exist as individual accounts: as they are created mainly as guides to resolving in-game difficulties, the need for player-collaboration and multiple responses is quite plain.

Players have therefore tapped into Web 2.0 and the transition from walkthroughs to rapidly growing and rhizomatic wikis has now begun. Player observations are now being recorded down to the minutiae of character description, narrative, quests, maps and individual experiences. These are constantly updated by the player community but at the same time they give us a narrative to analyse culled from various recorded actualisations. This paper will study the beginnings of this new type of response to videogames using the examples of ‘The Vault’ (the wiki on Fallout 3) and the ‘Call of Duty Wiki’.

In relation to this, it will also analyse a specific genre of game-related blogs which has been named ‘after-action report’ by fans. In these blogs, gamers keep a diary of their in-game experiences often making them resemble literary or historical accounts. ‘The Rise and Fall of the House of Jimius’, an after-action report blog created as a record of the gameplay of Rome:Total War by a player who calls himself Jim. Again the blog format allows more player responses that supplement the narrative created from Jim’s individual actualisations of the gameplay events.

These new types of digital responses to videogames indicate that the idea that videogames cannot tell stories is a myth. This paper will examine how they tell stories differently and how Web 2.0 technologies influence the way in which the stories are read/played.
And here's my presentation.

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Interview published on the Theory, Culture & Society Blog
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I've been involved with TCS for over three years now. For those who don't know TCS , it is one of the leading journals in social theory, cultural studies , media studies and philosophy, with names like Baudrillard, Stiegler  and Deleuze in its contributors' list. Besides the printed journal, TCS now offers a wealth of supplementary texts, interviews, podcasts and discussions on its website, blog and Facebook group. Over the last three years, I have been involved with redesigning the TCS website and setting up the blog. Now we welcome more input from the readers of TCS and people who are generally interested in the areas it covers.

Given the array of famous names who have interviewed by TCS, I felt extremely happy at being asked for an interview. On videogame theory, of course. I've always maintained the need for game studies to make stronger inroads into mainstream theory - so far, it's been the other way round. The TCS interview was, therefore, a very welcome opportunity.

Simon Dawes, editor of TCS webs, and I have a mini discussion on whether (for me it is 'why') game theorists should have some experience of playing videogames before theorising. This has been something I've maintained for a long time and Simon got me proselytising yet again on my pet topic. I also speak about how game studies has 'grown up' and how useful it is to see videogames as being a multiplicity rather than , essentially, just one entity. I also speak briefly about my thesis and how I find a Deleuzian framework useful in analysing games.

If you find any of this interesting, here's the full interview.

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