Thursday, October 31, 2013

Monuments of our Age: Foundations of Civilization in the Digital World

 Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share-Alike 2.0
By Greg Bayles, graphic remixed from Mary Harrsch
Last week, I posted a bunch of my curation findings as to digital civilizations specifically. This week, however, I've been working to flesh out my research in terms of the requirements for civilization to exist, and I've had some pretty good success through both social and more traditional modes of inquiry. On Monday, I posted to my Facebook and Google+ profiles asking for people's insights as to the foundational elements of civilization. Google+ didn't yield a ton--just a post from my sister--but I was able to start up a rather healthy conversation on Facebook and got a lot of insights from friends, especially those studying political science, history, and anthropology.

You can check out the conversation below if you prefer to just read through the responses (I personally like the one about chocolate-covered almonds), but to sum up the arguments, my friends gravitated toward five or six main points:
1. Social surplus (extra resources)
2. Unified sense of culture
3. Code of law
4. Cohesive economic system
5. Territory (according to the UN)
6. A population (a more obvious but nonetheless essential component)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Modding: Games' Remix Culture

One of the major aspects of remix culture that Dr. Burton touched on but didn't have much time to get into is modding. Essentially, modding is digging into the code of an existing game to alter it in some way. Mods range from basic "unofficial patches" that just fix a few bugs that annoy players to complete overhauls that change nearly every aspect of the game such that it's unrecognizable from the original.

Interestingly, modders haven't faced much trouble with copyright issues, and many of the best mods have been adopted by the games' original developers and released as official content. The main reason for this is good mods sell games, and bad mods get ignored. If a mod is good enough, people will buy the original game just to play the mod, so it's in the developers'/publishers' interests to just let the modders do their thing. On the modders' end, it's good for them because it's an easy way to show their coding skills and get it out to a lot of people quickly without having to build a game from scratch.

Just like music remixes, however, mods have produced an entire subculture, and many of the world's most successful games actually began as mods. I'll show you three quick examples: Counter Strike, League of Legends/DOTA 2, and DayZ.

Copyright Culture of Pinterest

Since I am using Pinterest as my curation tool, I wanted to look into the issue of Pinterest's copyrights. It's kind of a mess, not going to lie.
Courtesy of Pinterest-Anti-Christ from

Just looking at the terms of service this is what the user agrees to when they pin their own stuff:
How Pinterest and other users can use your content
You grant Pinterest and its users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using the Pinterest Products. 
So, if you put it up for use on your own Pinterest account, just know it has a pretty open creative commons license. Not bad, right?

Waiting Out the Copyright Crisis

Creative Commons License, by AJ Cann
My argument is that the solution to the copyright crisis is in allowing copyright law to drown in its own obsolescence as we move on in creating meaningful, integrative, world-changing content that is connected, open, and free. It's taken me a little while to really come to that stance, but in any case, the Copyright Law Panel at BYU on the 25th of October gave me the chance to deliberately think about copyright and thus helped me to come to this conclusion. I think that with time, we will build up a large enough creative commons base that we won't any longer need to lean on copyrighted materials as a primary foundation for modern media arts and digital studies.

Well, to start off, do copyrights have a place in society? Yes. Absolutely, in my book. While I most certainly agree that there are other ways of making money than by copyrighting material, I think there are some really good justifications for short-term content ownership and capitalization. Whether that means five years or ten or even fifteen, I'm not really sure, but what I do know is that if copyright law does end up getting a makeover, it's still probably going to be a pretty ugly beast.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Curating with Storify: First Result

Working with Storify and reading Ian Bogost's How to Do Things With Videogames, I've finished my first round of curating.

As a curation tool, Storify has its strengths and weaknesses. It's best for smaller curation projects, that perhaps together build up into a larger body of collected work. Each "story" is best focused and tight, however, with a clear concept combining the elements. I did a merger of a story and more traditional curation by writing a story following the "video games as art" debate since Roger Ebert's famous denunciation of the medium, then provided a (very) long list of links at the bottom for further discussion.

One cool thing about using Storify is because it's a fairly new tool, I'm in the top three results when you search for videogames on the service.

I found it really easy to use and really kind of fun. I hope it catches on.

Here's my first Storify story for you to peruse:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

We the People: Digital Civilizations

Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic
By Greg Bayles, graphic remixed from Luc Legay
I've been getting more and more interested in the idea of digital civilizations, so I wanted to throw out some of the thoughts that I've had over the past couple of days. Earlier in the week, I completed a book preview on Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken, and while I found a lot of really useful information, I think the most influential for me has been just a couple lines from a NYT book review. William Saletan remarks, "The Internet isn’t heaven. It isn’t hell, either. It’s just another new world. Like other worlds, it can be civilized." Now obviously my interest in digital civilizations predisposed me to be way more excited about this than perhaps the average person, but for me, Saletan's words came as a powerful reminder about a concept that I've held dear for years: we are the creators of our realities.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Girl Wide Web 2.0: A Look into Digital Identity

I want to continuing exploring identity, so for my book I chose Girl Wide Web 2.0: Revisiting Girls, the Internet, and the Negotiation of Identity. I'm hoping this book can explain more about how digital identity varies from different cultures and locations.


Through the preview of the book, it looks like the book does spend some time defining the differences in which girls determine their digital identities, but it also looks like it spends some time with some of the methods that are used online, such as MySpace and fangirl websites. It seems to spend a lot of time on the online communities that girls participate in, which is helpful for defining their identities.

Early Social Proof

No one responded to my update on Twitter. I was unsuccessful doing searching for conversations about the book as well. I'm going to try to reach out to one of the contributors of the book, because it looks like several of them are on Twitter. We'll see how that goes.

Similar Books

Instant Identity (Mediated Youth) by Shayla Thiel Stern
Growing Up Girls: Popular Culture by Sharon R Mazzarella
Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott

It looks like these books are pretty similar in their intent except for the last one Grown Up Digital. This one's intent lies more along the lines of how digital culture is changing and how the "net generation" is changing it.

Understanding the Digital Exodus with Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken

As somewhat of a social critic and one who at various times has been thoroughly involved in video games, I couldn't resist Jane McGonigal's title: Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. It seems like McGonigal has a lot of great videos online about video games and virtual reality, so I see her work as key in understanding the 'exodus' to digital worlds.

Book Preview

After spending ten minutes previewing McGonigal's book, it looks like McGonigal's central question is this: "What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what’s wrong with reality?" In addressing this topic, it looks like McGonigal will cover how video games can help us to be happier, more successful, and more productive. I really found her reference to Heroditus's concept of games to be compelling and grounding in a sense, and I think I'd like to look more at the sociological and historical foundations of video games.

Meaning in Video Games: Ian Bogost's How to Do Things With Videogames

I'm interested in establishing some ground work for talking about and exploring the ways video games create meaning. Ian Bogost is someone who's been on my radar for awhile but I haven't yet taken the time to dig into his work. This will be a good opportunity to expand on my knowledge and explore new ideas.

After an initial view of the first couple pages of the intro and the about the author section, I found some interesting stuff in the back. For one, this book comes from a series called "Electronic Mediations," and the rest of the books of the series are listed in the back, and they all sound amazing. Also, rather than just a list of sources, he has a separate, multi-page "Gameography." It looks like this book is exactly the kind of stuff I've been looking for.

Early social proof:
No one responded on Google+ or Twitter, but I've been talking with my wife for the past couple days about making meaning in video games, and pretty quickly she's gotten on board. She helped me come up with a game idea about a Dad reading stories to his son at night and the player taking over as the dad as the hero of each bedtime story. I can tell there's a lot of potential in this topic and it's easy to get people excited about it.

Similar Books:
Apart from Bogost's other books, some titles that seem to always pop up alongside this one are Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken, which I've already read and enjoyed, but also some other titles that intrigue me, such as What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee, which I noticed is also on our class's Goodreads bookshelf, as well as Tom Bissell's Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. The rest of the books in the "Electronic Mediations" series also probably have a lot in common.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Curation of Pinterest

I'm sure most of us are familiar with Pinterest. You pin something, for example a blog post or a video, to a digital pinboard, and from there, others can see and repin what you have pinned. The entire site is essentially used for curating different content for individuals.

Courtesy o Bunches and Bits {Karina}

But it does go a little bit further than that. While doing some research, I came across some interesting cases where Pinterest was being used to go beyond the digital world and actually is applied in the physical world.

The first thing I came across what this article titled "Highlights from 'The Pinterest Diet.'" Essentially, this woman wrote a book about how she used Pinterest to lose weight. The author, who wrote this article as well, said, "The diet combines my innovative program of eating clean, satisfying foods with Pinterest's capacity to provide a never-ending supply of recipes, workout plans, and inspiration." A few steps in her plan include creating the pinboards to help achieve this goal and pinning for at least ten minutes a day. She concludes by saying, "By spending time pinning, you're taking care of yourself. You're nourishing your creativity, you're nourishing your mind, and you're nourishing your body. This helps you to refocus on your goals and stay determined to reach them." (I think that's stretching it, but you get the idea.)

Google Alerts: the Now, the What, the Who

I've been looking into Google Alerts as a curation tool of late, as I wrote in a recent blog post, but I wanted to throw some thoughts out there as to its usefulness and some of the things that I've found .

My general impression is that I'm very impressed. I've used Google Alerts before to monitor people, but I've never really approached it topically, and I have to say, I've really been missing out on a valuable tool. I put up three alerts (queries) on Thursday and have been receiving daily updates on "digital worlds," "virtual worlds," and "virtual civilizations," and while I've gotten a few things that were less applicable to my particular area of interest, I've discovered a lot of really interesting recent, meaningful resources and found people with whom I can connect.

Storify: The Future of "Primary Documents"

History has always depended on "primary documents"--the words and artifacts of the people who were actually there when important things happened. History in the digital age is no different. We want to get at the source of everything, find the hub of activity online. Thanks to hypertext, it's no easier than ever to jump through the rabbit hole of references back to the "primary document" of anything on the internet--the original YouTube video, the original Tweet, the original Facebook post. Storify is a service that plays to this ability and helps you curate digital primary documents into a "story."

Screenshot of the landing page for Storify

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Presenting at RMMLA: My Experience

On October 10, I had the opportunity to present my paper, "'Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On': Shakespeare and the Cultural Legitimacy of Video Games" at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association conference. The conference this year was in Vancouver, Washington (no, not Canada and no, not DC). It is unusual for an undergraduate to present at this conference and I was very grateful for the opportunity.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how well my paper was received. Even before the conference started, the panel chair, a professor from Utah State, told me to not be nervous because they were a nice group of people. It also helped that everywhere we went there seemed to be another BYU graduate wanting to talk to us--in the airport, in the hotel, in the room I presented in--everywhere. I was really worried that they'd hear I was an undergraduate and someone would say something about how I wasn't supposed to be there or ask how I ever got in to the conference. I was also worried that I'd get to the conference room and the other presenters would speak and it would all go way over my head and my paper would seem completely juvenile in comparison. Actually, neither of those things happened. I found the other papers super interesting and exciting, and when the time came for Q&A after the presentations, I actually got the bulk of the questions (this might have been in part because I was the last presenter, but it still felt good) and I held my own and had answers for everyone. (Surprisingly, I didn't get the chance to use any of the ten or so answers I had come up with for the questions, "But how can games be art when they're so violent?" because no one asked any version of that question.)

After I finished my presentation, the panel chair asked if I was going to publish my paper and asked the room if they thought I should. They were all very supportive in saying I should publish it somewhere. A woman from The University of Baltimore asked me to email it to her to give to their new Department of Simulation and Digital Entertainment. She said they would love to read it.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and much less intimidating than I thought it would be. The paper was received very well and I'm more excited than ever about my prospects studying video games as an art form.

The full text of my paper can be read and downloaded here.
The accompanying PowerPoint can be viewed and downloaded here.

And, finally, here's a video my lovely wife took of my presentation:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Creating Worlds: Immanuel Kant and Virtual Reality

Wiki Creative Commons
This idea is still in its infancy, but I wanted to get it up here before it gets carried away in the busy of life. Recently, I've been studying Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and that's got me thinking about the imagination as a creative entity. Kant's overarching idea is that reality is founded in the imaginative representation rather than in actual substance--that the world is really just a series of relationships that  exist between the mind and the body and that the world is thus, in some sense contained within each individual. This has lots of implications, but the quick and dirty summation is that as a result, human beings are, at least in Kant's view, entirely autonomous and actually construct their worlds (actively and passively) through the associations that their imagination makes with objects and ideas in the world around them.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Google Alerts (Teaser) and Mirror's Edge

I've been looking into Google Alerts as a way of monitoring the Internet for information on digital worlds and civilizations, and I'm thinking that this will be a really effective way of catching the latest information on new technologies and trends. I made three different alerts today, and I'm going to monitor them over the next few days to see what quality of information it really picks up, and then I'll post a review on Monday as to my findings.

Creative Commons License, Tom Francis
In other news, I recently stumbled on a game called Mirror's Edge, and I've been enjoying exploring that world and thinking about the implications of some of the ideas. The game is based in a dystopian world wherein a hegemonic political/police entity controls all information highways. As a result, the only safe means of transporting information is through runners who use parkour (you should watch this: it's amazing) to navigate rooftops and abandoned buildings in their efforts to evade capture. The game originally interested me because of the parkour aspect, in that I'm working on a novel that features parkour runners or "kites," but in any case, as with most well-made games, Mirror's Edge has got me thinking about some other important ideas.

Digital Portfolios

Last week I posted on Google+ about digital portfolios while I was trying to put my own digital portfolio together. Dr. Burton suggested that I follow up on how common they are becoming.

The first thing I did was search to see exactly what is out there when it comes to digital portfolios. Off the bat, I found that there were two main groups using digital portfolios: artists or photographers and students. The artists and photographers are kind of self-explanatory; it's an easy way to display their work. But the students using these digital portfolios are of all ages, elementary- to college-aged students.

There are tons of sites (and tons of pins on Pinterest) dedicated to setting up digital portfolios for kids, which really surprised me. These kids are already dealing with digital portfolios and will probably be mostly using the digital medium as means for applying for jobs in the future. That's how fast this is catching on.

While continuing my research, I came across a video blog that demonstrates how to make a digital portfolio using PowerPoint, which I wouldn't have even thought to do. It's a cool idea if you are considering a way to make your digital portfolio. However, there are websites or apps, such as Weebly or Deviantart, you can use as well, which is how I created my digital portfolio. (If you want to check it out, click here.)

So, what's the big deal? Why are portfolios switching from print or physical copies to digital? Well, for one, it's convenient. If it's on a website, it's really easy to update. For employers, it's easy to keep track of and it doesn't take up a lot of space. Most importantly, perhaps, is that it shows employers that you are tech savvy.

What do you think about digital portfolios? Do you think they are just another way to showcase skills to an employer, or are they more than that? Do you think it's a good idea that kids are starting to incorporate these in their curriculum at such an early age?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Digital Nations: The New Frontier

(If you're in for a long read, read it all. Otherwise, just skip to the bolded stuff)

Okay, so here's my proposition, and I want to hear your thoughts on it: just as America was the cultural and social heir of the British Empire and the British Empire that of the Roman Empire, the Internet represents the heir apparent to the cultural and social wealth of the American 'Empire' and will ultimately serve as a crucible for new, digital civilizations.  

So some of you probably thinking right now, "Wait a second... America heir to the British Empire? The British Empire heir to Rome? I don't know what you're talking about..." Well, that's okay, because the idea is still rattling around in my head, too, and it still needs a lot of refining, but I think you'll see my point as I explain. It all started out with the lovely drawing that you see to the right. Well, actually, it started out when I found out that there are Roman aqueducts all across Great Britain, but the drawing was really when it started to take shape. So, to start off, let's look at what goes into making a super-power (like the British Empire and America, for example):

Other Curation Sites

After talking about the idea of curation last week in Digital Cutlure, I thought of a few other examples of curation on the internet that deserve a look.


Tumblr is interesting because there's a pattern that's emerged of someone creating a blog around very specialized topic (for instance, Les Mean Girls, memes mashing Mean Girls quotes with Les Miserables shots). Sometimes, these sites explode, and the creator suddenly becomes a curator as people submit their own ideas to them and they vet and post these submissions to rapidly expand the sites archive. A good example of this is Sims Gone Wrong, a tumblr that's just a big collection of glitches from the popular game The Sims 3. At least in one case, this process has resulted in a creator/curator getting a job. The creator of Onion-like, a tumblr that collects real-world headlines that sound like they came from the popular news satire service The Onion. He was recently given a job at BuzzFeed in major part because of the success of his tumblr.


BuzzFeed is an example of curation as a business model. According to their own about section, BuzzFeed is "the leading media company for social news and entertainment, intensely focused on delivering high-quality original reporting, insight, and viral content across a rapidly expanding array of subject areas." What this translates into is a few scattered original articles, and a lot of what is now called "listicles," meaning articles in the form of lists that are light on text and heavy on images (as examples: "42 People You Won't Believe Actually Exist" and "28 Unsettling Animal Mashups That Should Probably Never Have Happened". Most of BuzzFeed's most viral posts fall into this category, meaning most of BuzzFeed's business is just curating internet content (that they often just pull from social media sites like tumblr, deviantart, or reddit).

Screenshot from

The last one I want to talk about is Songza. Songza is a different kind of curation business. The premise of the service is to "play the right music at the right time." When you first open the app/website, it'll display the day of the week and time of day, and offer you moods or situations that might be happening to you right now. When you pick one, it will then present you with a list of playlists that fit that mood/situation. The playlists are curated by music professionals to fit that particular theme. So, like BuzzFeed, Songza is a business model based on curation of internet content, but for a different intent.

The explosion of digital content has made curation more important than ever, and it's quite interesting how it's being implemented to bring people digital content they'll be satisfied by. It's important to note that all of these sites are free--so the only money anyone's making off this is through advertising, putting the pressure on these business to be consistently satisfying to digital consumers so people keep coming back to produce ad revenue for the company. It's an interesting and exciting combination of social and economic forces.

Midterm 1: Results

For my midterm paper, I did a mix of what I wrote in my midterm posts (here and here), what I'd written in earlier posts (mainly this one, this one), and new stuff that came up as I worked through these ideas. The final result can be seen here (on Skydrive--feel free to comment on it over there--I've never used Skydrive like this before! It could be fun!).

Then, of course, it all just got more complicated when I went to see Dr. Burton and Dr. Wickman. Dr. Wickman pointed out that many of the claims I made are based on assumptions about the theoretical underpinnings of media and "new" media that are actually hot debates currently in the academic world. For example, I say in my paper, "When new mediums arrive, however, no culture exists to prepare their audience to unpack the meaning the creator intended." Dr. Wickman pointed out that this isn't necessarily true, and pointed me to some scholars and books that complicate this idea and argue that even in "new" or "emerging" media, there may be an existing culture impacting it.

After that, the conversation turned to another topic that the shifts in digital culture and digital media makes more complicated and difficult: graduate school. They asked me what what my plans were after graduation, and we discussed the pros and cons of going a more traditionally scholarly route and becoming a professor working with the kinds of ideas I've been developing about video games over the past year or so, or jumping straight into the video game industry and returning to academics later (Dr. Burton pointed out that for this industry, it might be like the business school--you have to work in the field a while to really be an authority on it).

I've already been looking at the University of Utah's top-rated game design program, but since talking to Dr. Burton and Dr. Wickman, I did more research and found out that MIT actually has a Comparative Media Studies/Writing (why the slash? I don't know.) master's degree, which seems like a Digital Culture class on steroids. But programs like that are extremely limited, and majorly untried. What jobs do they lead to? None specifically, but of course the program is extremely relevant to the world today and would lead to all kinds of opportunities. The question of grad school and which school or program to go to is just yet another aspect of life made more complicated by the new digital media and culture.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Identity Crisis: Prewriting -- Midterm 1

Thanks to the wonderful comments from my last midterm post (thanks guys!), I have decided to stick with the theme of identity while writing my paper. Now, I know what you're thinking: That's a really general topic. Yes, but this is the beauty of a prewrite; it helps me to narrow it down further.

I want to head in the direction of identity crisis. We as people "wear different hats" when it comes to aspects of our lives, like Amber pointed out in the comments of my last post, with the different roles we play as people: students, parents, employees, etc. Our identities online are no different. I, for example, am more professional on my LinkedIn profile than I am on my Facebook profile.

Sometimes because we are trying to juggle so many different roles, we can forget which role we are supposed to be playing, sometimes for a moment or sometimes even longer.

The most obvious example in Moby Dick was Ahab, who forgot about his other roles altogether and made revenge his only focus. But I want to look at other characters like Ishmael, Stubb, and Pip when they mixed up their roles with other personal roles and how that affected them and/or the crew.

Then I want to tie that back into digital identity and how in some cases people get so involved with their digital identities that these become the dominate identities rather than their physical selves.

What do you think? I would appreciate any insights or comments that you might have!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Midterm 1: I'll Do This

In the non-narrative chapters of Moby Dick, Melville's essentially pulling in the reader further into the world of whaling, building connections that will increase the power of the plot in the reader's heart and mind. By relating everyday objects to large philosophical questions and symbols, Melville builds a collage of meaning over the final scenes of man versus whale in the novel. Through Melville's connective efforts, by the end of the novel we're not just watching a one-legged man chase a white whale, we're watching Satan tempt Jesus, and the world turn more secular, and Peter deny Christ, and America be forged, and several other metaphorical and allegorical applications Melville has built into the story--and infinitely more that he did not build in, but which we can build over the structure he has laid before us.

I want to study in my paper how meaning is established in Moby Dick, and in what ways these techniques can be used to create meaning in the new digital form of video games. I also want to explore how video games can't follow Moby Dick's example, and what video games can do to create meaning that a book could not.

We're very good at finding meaning in books, and pretty good at finding it in movies, because these forms have been around awhile and we have learned how to "read" them for meaning. We don't know how to "read" video games for meaning. Many would argue that this is because video games simply don't have meaning, but I don't believe that for a second. Every English major can attest to having defended a novel as meaningful when someone told them it really "didn't mean anything." I believe this is the same situation. It is true that games have only recently had the economic stability to consider more traditionally artistic themes and tropes--but at the same time, early games might be even more meaningful because they were made despite all the economic difficulty, meaning the creators really had something they wanted to accomplish with it enough to make it happen despite the difficulty.

So, here's a go at a working thesis statement:

Moby Dick is an excellent case study in how novels can create meaning through connecting with readers personally and with larger human themes and ideas. Using this case study, I argue that video games can create meaning in many of the same ways as novels (and in many ways unique to the medium). The only reason we do not find as much meaning in video games as we do in novels is because we have not learned how to find and understanding the meanings games could produce.

Please comment below if you have any questions or insights you think I should consider. Also, if you are on reddit, you can join a similar discussion I started over there.


Midterm 1: I Did This

So far, I've made the following posts in our Digital Culture class:

One theme I see running through all my posts and that I've found some interest in is how digital culture changes the way we make meaning in our lives, and how digital meaning can best create meaning, specifically video games. We talked a lot in class about the "extra" chapters in Moby Dick, and how they add to the meaning of the overall work. Greg talked about how Moby Dick builds both the whale and Ahab into symbols of God and Satan, respectively, exploring another aspect of how meaning is created. I'm interested in the ways digital media--and especially a variety of digital media together--can create new kinds of meaning and more intense, emotionally connected meaning. This idea gets especially interesting as digital media is often in flux--not entirely finished and often iterated and revised, as Dr. Burton talks about in his post on the spiral. Digital media, then, is an interesting blend of authorial intent and influence and a larger relationship between the author(s) and their initial audience, thus blurring that traditional binary as well. Thus, the future of digital media criticism and studies will have to draw not only on traditional literary criticism, but sociology and organizational behavior theories to truly understand the meaning created by a single digital experience. This makes digital media potentially much more powerful, but at the same time much more difficult to manage and control, such that it makes authorial touches fade in the background or lose their footing in the mass of iteration and outside input. Thus, my research question is how can authorial control be exercised over the new digital media--and even across several media simultaneously--to harness the potential of digital media forms to create more powerful meaning both inside the work and outside the work in the reader and world at large?

Midterm #1 Prewriting: Charting a Path to Connectedness

Here are some quotes and initial thoughts for my investigation of connectedness and isolation through the lens of Melville's Moby Dick:
  • "It is a book which could only have been written in America" (vii-viii)
  • "Melville wants the whole world in--particularly the human world; hence the slightly improbable spectrum of the crew of the Peqoid" (ix).  --> ship as a microcosm of America
  • Sea as the new frontier
  • "Ishmael, the whale-writer, knows that the great Sperm-Whale, 'scientific' or poetic, lives not complete in any literature . . . his is an unwritten life'. [sic] . . . We must not expect to find Moby Dick in Moby Dick" (xiii). --> In some sense, maybe digital culture is not intended to show us humanity but is rather meant to lead us back to an appreciation of that which is real and present within our lives.
  • "Given the radically orphaned condition of modern man (Ishmael ends as an 'orphan', [sic] which is the last word of his book), a danger that Melville could see was the accelerating drift into disconnectedness of the non-affiliated contemporary individual" (xv).
  • "How, therefore, men might move from isolation to connectedness was a matter of great moment to him and it pervades the book" (xv).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Shifting from Physical to Online - Midterm 1

Here are the blog posts I have written so far this semester.
The themes I seem to be the most interested in are the themes that center on how we are shifting traditions from physical to online. Although there are pros and cons to this, the benefits seem to outweigh the problems. A universal culture has developed, but it's all digital. People seem to like it for a myriad of reasons. It's easy and more convenient to access this information. And other times, it's about the kind of information people can access or the types of audiences they can reach.

People can collaborate with one another to make something completely new and different, just like Eric Whitacre's virtual choir. People can get information on any subject they can think of and they don't have to physically go anywhere to get it. People can be self-taught on any subject. People can send messages and connect with friends or family instantly, no matter their locations. The list can go on and on. The point is, we would not be able to do this (at least, not very easily) without the help of the digital culture that is available through the Internet.

We have adapted to this new culture. Kylee, Ariel, and Greg both mentioned that technology has become an extension of ourselves, which can be good and bad, like Derrick discusses in his post. In a way, we are now the product of transmedia; we are adapted and changed for another medium.

The questions I wish to ask are as follows: Are all of these changes necessary? And why do we tend to change when we represent ourselves online?

Midterm 1: Looking Back and Zooming Forward

This is an index of the blog posts that I've completed to date on Team Ahab:

Pleasta Meecha! (An introductory blog post)
The Sea and Solitude (Isolation and connectivity in the Digital Age)
Avatars and Anonymity: Who are We? (Anonymity and online personae)
Bionic Us (Bionic implants and prosthetic technology)
God in the Whale (Melville's use of Moby Dick as a symbol for deity)
Devil in the Man: A "Hell-Bent" Captain (Capt. Ahab as Milton's Satan remade) 
Don Yer Blubber, Land Lubber (The virtue of blubber/thick skin in the Digital Age)
My Research, Your Voice (Exploration of research topics and requests for social proof)
"Another and still stranger world..." (Selection of research topic as "digital worlds unseen" and a brief look at EVE Online)

In class, we've talked about various social platforms that have allowed people to meet others with similar interests and connect in meaningful ways--in many cases, in ways that would be impossible except for the Internet. Whether it's collaborative music sites like Kompoz or expansive, fantastical worlds as in EVE Online and other video games, the Internet is creating digital spaces wherein people are able to share ideas and interact in meaningful ways.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Peer Reviews through Digital Media

After this was mentioned in class, I wanted to find out a little bit more about how content that is not peer-reviewed can still be considered a reliable source of information.
I came across this article, which talks about the new system of peer-reviewing when content is published instantly.
“In the case of social platforms, the metric that drives discovery is how much interaction there is with your content on the social platform in question. Examples of such interaction include the numbers of followers you have and the number of times your content is shared, liked, commented on, [and] viewed.These metrics show how much interest there is in your papers, and how widely they are read right now, and thus provide a sense of their level of impact.”

Courtesy of birgerking from

Personally, I’m not sure I’m ready to accept this as a reliable peer review. While something may be popular and getting lots of likes and shares on Facebook (we’ve all see, or even shared, those Huffington Post articles), that doesn’t mean it is ready to be cited in an academic paper.  While it’s great that ideas and content can be published instantly, they still need to take the next step to phase three of academic blogging to be taken seriously.

So, what are your thoughts? Can something be considered a reliable source if it is getting a lot of attention online? 

"Another and still stranger world..."

Ch. 11, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Recently, I wrote a blog post, a Google+ message, and a Facebook plea asking for you to help me choose between research topics, and the tally is in. I'm proud to announce that I'll be researching 'digital worlds unseen'--that is, the digital universes that oft times go completely unnoticed in the 'real' world despite their apparent complexity and outright intrigue.

In light of our study of Moby Dick, this is an especially pertinent topic, for in some sense, the leviathans of Melville's work live in a world that is to us likewise unknown and unseen--a place that's neither understood nor appreciated by the vast majority of people. We perhaps catch a tiny glimpse of that world every now and then in our brief encounters with its strange inhabitants, but we otherwise remain blissfully (and sometimes sanctimoniously) ignorant to these worlds lurking just beneath the threshold of our perception. Well, I want to change that.

The Internet: The End of "The End"?

Paul Valéry (image source
The French poet and critic Paul Valéry once said, "Poems are never finished, only abandoned." Reading andthinking about Dr. Burton's concept of the spiral and the idea of iterative social creation this week brought that quote to my mind again, along with the question: Is the internet the end of "finished products"?

Dr. Burton pointed out in the lecture this week that perhaps one of the biggest dividing lines between print and digital culture is that print is by necessity finished product gone through several reviewers and editors before it's put out into wide distribution, while the internet is instant wide distribution of whatever people want.

At the same time, Dr. Burton encouraged us to put out ideas through blogging that we might not otherwise put out for the world to see to allow others to help us in the creative process so we can make something better than we'd make on our own. This is certainly the process the digital age has taken on in many ways. News stories on the internet often end in something like "We will continue to update this story as details come out." These stories are then edited several times over days or weeks before they're left alone not because they're finished as much because there are other stories to write at that point. In video games, it is becoming increasingly popular to open up development to beta and even alpha testing as the developers continue to work on the game before it's official "release." Steam, the most popular online game store and platform for PC games, now has a section of the store dedicated to these "early access" games. Even after games are released, they are often updated through downloaded patches, which, again, only really end when people stop playing the game, not when the game's "finished."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Research, Your Voice

By Giulia Forsythe
Over the past few days, I've been looking into a number of different research topics, but I want to narrow down my scope and try to begin spiraling in on a single topic or two. The thing, is I want these ideas to matter to someone more than me. The existing academic approach typically focuses on super-specialized topics and presents them in ways that are almost entirely inaccessibly for the vast majority of people. Well, you can maybe see where that might be a problem. People just aren't interested in things that have no relation to them and which are couched in so bizarre or abstract a form as to render them unintelligible. So what's the solution?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Spinning Into Control

Dr. Burton's post about creating digital content as a spiral absolutely fascinated me. I believe it is the best metaphor I've yet found on how to create digital content.

Some of the best media of our time has been developed in exactly the way Dr. Burton described of turning back and seeing things from a new perspective, then changing it and expanding it to improve on it until it's great. Pixar has meetings every morning where they go over the material they made the day before and hash out every single detail, changing anything and everything they can find to change. Naughty Dog, the development team behind my favorite video game, The Last of Us, also famously iterated on ideas incessantly right up to the day they shipped the game out. Neil Druckmann, the game's creative director, even went so far as to say, "fail as much as you can early on, because all of these failures lead you to better answers."

Early concept art from The Last of Us, a game that changed drastically over the course of its creation
(image source
Blogging--especially academic blogging--is at best exactly that process. Testing, trying, exploring, gaining feedback, returning, improving, and finally landing on something great.

I was lucky enough to go through this very process last semester in a Shakespeare class Dr. Burton taught. I tell the whole story of my paper here, but basically I had the idea to connect Shakespeare's journey to legitimize English-language drama in 17th century England to the struggle of turning video games into a culturally legitimate art form, but I didn't really know how to pin it down. Through social discovery and proof and a lot of help from everyone from my wife to recognized game theorists and authors, I created something far beyond what I ever imagined it would be, and I'm presenting the paper that resulted out of all that to the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Conference next week.

After getting the paper accepted, I've kept circling back to the ideas I presented there, and I've kept talking and reading and researching and iterating on it. I imagine the paper will never really be done.

That's the beauty of the digital age--things to have to "be done." We can log the process, keep a memory of where we've been, and ideas don't have to be lost. If we use it right, the internet is the great defender of knowledge and intellect, not the great destroyer we so often make it out to be.