Dublin Diary Continued

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Okay, that was the more gamey part of my SHARP experience and it'll be a shame not to record the rest as being me, I managed to see videogames everywhere and even have deep conversations about gaming with people who seemed the unlikeliest interlocutors. Anyway, I was slightly miffed by the Early Modernists trying to mark the digital humanities for themselves in their very narrow fashion of creating electronic editions out of obscure (and not so obscure) Renaissance texts. Having seen the Digital Humanities (earlier called New Media Studies) emerge from their incunabular days, I see this recent trend for what it is: people who would shuddered, crossed themselves and shuttered their windows if you mentioned 'code' or 'internet' have now taken up cause with marking up text and xml. It's a good thing, if you ask me. I've spent enough of my life teaching luddite academics that someday they will need to check their emails not to welcome the digital Renaissance that these Early-Modern scholars are attempting to bring in. My beef is with the fact that they miss the woods for the trees. The digital umanista focus on printing and recreating texts like their counterparts in Renaissance Europe. As if that is the only area where digital technologies make a difference. The digital humanists for the most part need to move beyond the narrow confines of using their talents for xml  text-creation and also focus on the sweeping and deep cultural changes that your everyday facebook conversation, your tweets, Angry Birds games and iPad apps effect. We need our Aldine Press but we need the Da Vincis too.

Angry Birds, Da Vinci and Aldus Manutius : the Digital Humanities formula

So, thanks for the efforts with EEBO (Early English Books Online) and ECCO (18th century database - too lazy to check the full form) and with merging them. I totally appreciated the challenges of merging two different software systems having worked on databases myself. It was also heartening to hear that the Bodleian has invested substantial monies into digitising texts and researching around the area. The digital humanists also stressed on the importance of adding annotations to the text (a project they have been working on) and spoke about their 'commonplacer' tool which would allow undergraduates to potentially design their own commonplace book from the various sources available and to then print off such books.


What I did not find in the so-called digital humanists, I found elsewhere. Librarians willing to engage with the problems of digitisation and the subcultures growing around these; academics asking about game engines and  game IP; or even advising about archiving videogames and ephemeral textual experiences like gameplay - they all left me ever so thrilled. Then I went to a fascinating talk on whether children should be allowed to choose what they read. So the problems aren't restricted to videogames and the discussions that we have around the PEGI or other ratings (I remember a lovely talk by a BAFTA guy at GameCity a couple of years ago). Even now, libraries keep pondering issues related to whether children should be allowed to read Twilight or Hunger Games - if the so-called 'safe' nature of reading a book is not something we can be sure about, then obviously greater care needs to be taken before people brand videogames as the new evil toy for children. The presentation by Lynne McKechnie spanned discourses in this context from the United Nations Article Thirteen (freedom to seek, receive and impart information), IFLA, the Library Bill of Rights and other such organisations; she unpicked the problems and the inner tensions in the whole discourse. When I asked her what she thought about children being granted access to videogames, she said that the children she worked with were able to make judgments about the material for themselves, the same as they would with other kinds of stories. Kids are smart and making them play less videogames isn't going to make them smarter; perhaps the reverse - but that's another discussion.

                                                        'I'm never going to let this story end, Estella'

The other panel that I liked was one on the endings of Great Expectations. Now, this has been one of my stock examples for the multiplicity of texts and of stories in tradtional narrative media being 'reloaded' as it were. Mary Hammond's talk was revelatory in that it provided another look at the famous ending (the later one being suggested by Bulwyer-Lytton) in terms of the market and as a response to what readers wanted.  Kind of like the Sherlock Holmes revival? Hammond took issue with Ankhi Mukherjee's point about Dickens's endings breaking the 'habitual coherence of the cultural experience' by challenging any such coherence. She also went on  to examine the multiple adaptations of GE, one of Dickens's most adapted novels - including an Indian one by Tanika Gupta and a South Park adaptation. Even in Dickens's lifetime and shortly after, says Hammond, the quires of different editions were being interchanged and the book repackaged. My earlier (mis)conception that the multiple endings were solely due to the author's (and his chum's) intention was set right; like every multiple text in the story-assemblage, Great Expectations and its adaptability owe much to other factors. I was later able to engage the speaker in a discussion about the gamelike nature of GE and her take on it is that the novel is a very plural text and it also tells a simple story. Complex bits, such as Orlick's murder of Mrs Joe, can be taken out easily as it has in certain adaptations. After reloading Dickens yet again, I went to digital humanities panel - of which I have said enough.


I'm not going to leave out the Guinness, I'm not. Or the videogame-like Dublin tour that I made with my 'significant other' who was only there for a day. I'm only sad that I wasn't able to go visit England even if briefly - because of their prohibitive visa costs. They sell salt and vinegar crisps in Ireland so I bought some for my flight back and as the brown houses of Dublin disappeared when the plane rose into the clouds, I looked down wistfully at the lovely green of Ireland and then that other island that I had so grown to love over the seven years when I lived there.

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Dublin Diary: Another After-Action Report

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Back to the hot Delhi summer and temperatures that do not seem ever likely to drop. The peacock cries outside my Greater Noida home sound jarring after when I remember Temple Bar in Dublin from the last three or four days. I was at the SHARP 2012 conference in Dublin  - a brief respite from the heat and dust. Now, unusually jetlagged, I am wide-awake with the memories of the last few days floating in my head.Yes, I was speaking about after-action reports and other videogame paratexts; Dublin with its history of literary innovation was the best venue one could have asked for. After all, this is the place where the 'after-action report' of a day in the life of a certain Leopold Bloom is set...

I've long argued that the narrative element in videogames is of crucial importance for an understanding of how stories work. The burbling of Rushdie's 'sea of stories' with all its multiple potential stories developing all at once and yet with paradoxical difference is encountered in the medium of the videogame. So to Dublin and the 'Battle for Books' Conference organised by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing. My aim was to speak to a wider audience than just the community of game studies researchers and to reach out to literary critics, scholars, book historians, librarians and publishers with this message:

Videogames tell stories and they tell them interestingly; however, the stories are multiple, ephemeral and much of the storytelling occurs within the performance itself. It is, therefore, not easy to analyse these stories or even to recognise them as such using traditional methods of narrative analysis. To ignore them, however, would be to turn away from the complex ways in which storytelling occurs.

Difficult as it is to analyse such ephemeral texts, using Gerard Genette's framework of 'paratexts' it is possible to approach the textuality of the ephemeral videogame-stories and to freeze individual sessions of gameplay for analysis. Paratexts such as walkthroughs, after-action reports and 'let's play' are helpful in this. My paper was an attempt to establish these as serious objects of research and (may I be so bold) narrative analysis. 

What made it more interesting and easier was that I spoke as part of a panel on New Media forms of the book. Professor Alexis Weedon, the chair, had already established the strong links with older narrative media here : the other presentations were on  screen adaptations and the much-neglected importance of the practice; and on the transmedial textuality of the videogame Muddle Earth with the books and films telling the same story and with other texts across various media. The first by David Moorehead, a PhD scholar from the University of Bedfordshire, was key in setting the tone and showing how all adaptations link to each other and how the media-specificity of each should not be neglected. This was followed by Claudio Pires Franco's talk on tranmediality. Claudio is the gaming and research consultant at Dubit Limited and as a designer cum academic bridges some massive gaps between the two arenas. Claudio's was an interesting take on how important the story is in games and with a clear introduction to the game narrative, game engines and in-game limitations (such as the lack of slapstick humour due to budget constraints of the producers), he made it much easier for me to ground my presentation in the discourse around transmediality and take off from there.

Anyway, here's a preview for those interested. The slideshow's too big to upload but I'll work something out soon (a pdf maybe)

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