People like to say “slsa”

Found out yesterday that my panel has been accepted to the Society for Literature, Science, and Arts [SLSA] conference. Here is the description of the panel we submitted:

Rethinking the Intermediated Experience through Literature and Gaming

Considering recent work in new media theory, technoculture studies, and the philosophy of technology, this panel explores some possibilities for how to approach the creative potential of intermediation. In particular, each panelist considers alternatives to theories that are rooted in information theory and asks what a theory of intermediated experience might look like. Focusing not only on print texts, such as Danielewski’s House of Leaves, but also computer role-playing games, such as Morrowind, and electronic literature by Shelley Jackson, the panelists unpack affect, embodiment, and materiality, in particular, in order to articulate how experience unfolds during particular intermediated events. Questions raised by the panelists include: When stressing experience over, say, quantitative data analysis, how does the notion of medium function? Or the subject-object dichotomy? Or the very idea of interactivity? Motivated by differences in both methodology and archives, the panelists understand this panel as an opportunity to work through a theory of intermediated experience as a problematic—why such a theory matters in the first place, what problems emerge, and how those problems allow for certain modes of knowledge-making.


Jentery Sayers, PhD Candidate, University of Washington, Seattle, Dept. of English

Terry Schenold, PhD Candidate, University of Washington, Seattle, Dept. of English

Timothy Welsh, PhD Candidate, University of Washington, Seattle, Dept. of English

We didn’t have to send in our individual abstracts, which was nice. I am writing about immersion and interactivity using In Cold Blood, .hack, and House of Leaves. Still working out this idea from my exams through these three examples, which I argue resist a concept of media engagement characterized as a plunge into a different reality.

Games As Art, But At What Cost?

Douglas Edric Stanley’s Invaders!, which was just unplugged at the Leipzig Games Conference

As for Invaders!, I think the discussion about this game speaks to a fundamental stumbling block for digital media art. First problem, as far as I can tell from what I have read about it, is that the piece itself is not interesting. I believe Stanley in his statement after taking down the piece that he was never going for shock value; I also believe he is right that the piece isn’t getting its message across. It just seems somewhat silly and obvious, the specific play element having only a symbolic relationship to the subject matter.

Which feeds into the second problem, the response to works like these seem almost uniformly to object to the portrayal of a “tragedy” through a video game. Its the kind of response that allows leads to calling Bully a school-violence trainer or Mass Effect a sex-simulator. While these characterizations couldn’t be further from the truth, I believe they reflect concern, not about the specific games, Bully and Mass Effect, but about gaming in general. That you can play these topics, school violence or sex, seems to be the big concern. So when you have a game, like 9/11 Survivor, the game itself, how it treats the events, doesn’t even matter; simply by virtue of being a game it is insensitive.

Same thing happened with Super Columbine Massacre, a game I found to be brilliant in concept. In that case, gaming had been explicitly linked to tragedy, making the portrayal of the events in a game part of the piece’s self-referentiality; even so, the discussion was still about whether it was appropriate to treat the subject so irreverently. Then, when stunts like V-Tech Massacre attempt to cash-in by copycatting SCM, but without the reflection and aesthetic concern, validate those claims of insensitivity.

In sum, I don’t think art in the medium of video games work until engagement with the work itself takes the forefront. As long as gaming is used largely as a reference to gaming, it will have a really hard time overcoming all the baggage that goes along with the public’s love-hate fascination with the medium. This is where a game like Braid shows so much promise, for it looks for expression in the manipulation of a gaming mechanic rather than simply in content.

Transmission over content

David Brooks’s column today might prove extremely useful for my work. He writes about a cultural shift in oneupsmanship. Up until the 1960s, he claims, cultural status was in knowing high art. After that, it was in recognizing marginalized culture production. This trend was dominant until June 29, 2007, the date the iPhone was released. Brooks suggests that the new marker of cultural is no longer art, but “the means of transmission” which has “replaced the content of culture as the center of historical excitement and as the marker of social status.” In short, “media displaced culture.”

Now the global thought-leader is defined less by what culture he enjoys than by the smartphone, social bookmarking site, social network and e-mail provider he uses to store and transmit it. (In this era, MySpace is the new leisure suit and an AOL e-mail address is a scarlet letter of techno-shame.)
Today, Kindle can change the world, but nobody expects much from a mere novel. The brain overshadows the mind. Design overshadows art.

Media taking presidence over the cultural artifact makes art processing more important than art appreciation. It is a confirmation of Manovich’s point [i think its manovich] that this generation information organization will be the most important artform [i swear i read something like that somwhere]. It is a McLuhanite proclamation, the media is the message, although not exactly in the way he meant it.

For my work, the important idea is here: “Maximum status goes to the Gladwellian heroes who occupy the convergence points of the Internet infosystem.” The work of culture is convergence, aggregation, etc. the medium at the center. This idea allows me to focus on technology as the indifferentiator of culture, that which renders the disperate forms equivalent, terms in process, thereby removing them from attention. Something to think about anyway.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was one of my first favorite books and began my love of Russian literature. What I remember most about the book was the evenness of tone, a sustained tenor through the whole story, that gave a sense of the banal to the drama of survival in Denisovich’s Siberian labor camp. It was that everydayness about the novel that I found really fascinating.

NYTimes Obituary: Solzhenitsyn, Who Defied Soviets, Dies at 89