Tag Archives: simulation

Preliminary Exams Rationale

The following is the first version of my Preliminary Exam Rationale, including: the major area of transmedia narratives, production, and aesthetics; a minor area on ergodic and nonlinear literature; a minor area on ludology and simulation.

Jay Johnson
Preliminary Exam Rationale
Plan C
Fall 2011

My major area of focus is on the production, aesthetics, and analysis of transmedia narratives, with a specific focus on Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). In Henry Jenkins’s Convergence Culture, he explores transmedia storytelling–“entertainment for the age of media convergence, integrating multiple texts to create a narrative so large that it cannot be contained within a single medium”–in terms of the eponymous media convergence, which “represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections amongst dispersed media content” (97, 3). Therefore, in order to explore transmedia, my foci will concentrate on media studies, with a specific focus on “new media” aesthetics and production, as well as transmedia narratives and traditional narratives that explore the notion of “alternate reality.” Some of these texts include: Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media, Waldrip-Fruin and Montfort’s New Media Reader, and Mitchell and Hansen’s Critical Terms for Media Studies for media studies; texts, message boards, and other paratexts from ARGs, such as The Beast, I Love Bees, The Lost Experience, Year Zero, and Push, Nevada; narratives that represent “alternate realities” of a dystopian, science fictional, and magical realist variety, such as the works of Borges, Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and VALIS trilogy, Robinson’s The Wild Shore, Chesterton’s The Club of Queer Trades, and Link’s Magic for Beginners.

Complicit with Jenkins’s understanding of transmedia narrative–and perhaps new media, at large–is the engaged reader/viewer, or, in Jenkins’s words, “participants who interact with each other according to a new set of rules that none of us fully understands” (3). As such, I’m interested in exploring the boundary between reader and author as found in metafiction, an area with which my own creative work often intersects. I’m also interested in exploring the breakdown of this boundary as a print medium example of the superimposition of the virtual and the non-virtual (or “real”) in order to create a different (or “alternate”) experience of reality, what Virilio refers to in Information Bomb as a “field effect” view of reality that is a result of the collapse of time and distance facilitated by light-speed digital networked communication technology (43). Texts that explore this metafictional boundary include many short works of Borges, Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel), and Marias’s All Souls and Dark Back of Time.

My first minor area, ergodic literature, is both an extension of my interest in transmedia narrative as well as a reflection of the desire in my own creative work to incorporate a more active, participatory reader. In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, Espen Aarseth defines ergodic literature as a form which requires the reader to “[effectuate] a semiotic sequence,” or order the text in a nontrivial, self-selected manner. This active role for the reader can also be seen in what Manovich describes as the “database logic” of new media, which requires a reader to sort narrative elements, much like players in ARGs sort narrative clues in to a narrative. Some representative examples I will explore include both non-electronic ergodic literature, such as Cortazar’s Hopscotch and Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and the electronic, including Joyce’s afternoon and Jackson’s Patchwork Girl.

My remaining minor area of interest is ludology and simulation, which is, again, related to my main interest in transmedia. The theoretical intersection of ludology and narratology is a turbulent space, as evidenced in Waldrip-Fruin and Harrigan’s First Person. Transmedia narratives that incorporate video games, such as Star Wars or The Matrix, blur this boundary; moreover, ARGs are definitionally positioned as games, yet are frequently presented as transmedia stories, as they lack the interface of the screen and controller and purposely confuse gamespace with “real,” everyday spaces. Similarly, Aarseth asserts, in “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory,” that “simulations are somewhere in between reality and fiction” (79). I will explore this transliminal space between reality and fiction in terms of “alternate realities” and as a dominant form of representation in post-modernity, through the visual representation of computational and dynamic rules. Some texts that will be applicable to this area include Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx & Crake, the films Run Lola Run and The War Game, the reality television show The Colony, and the critical texts The Order of Things, by Michel Foucault, and Suspensions of Perception, by Jonathan Crary.

What articles and reviews might tell us about media studies and culture

The four articles I read [Adrienne Shaw’s “What Is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies”; Patrick Crogan’s “Tracing the Logics of Contemporary Digital Media Culture”; Gigi Durham’s review of Douglas Kellner’s Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern”; Bo Reimer’s review of Jostein Gripsrud’s Understanding Media Culture”] were more convergent than I may have expected, given their divergent objects of study. These articles converged in their focus on cultural studies and the common academic ethos, likely as part of that wide-ranging discipline, that could be found in the various interrogations.

To begin, let me first elaborate on the individual articles and approaches. Shaw examines how the term “video game culture” has been used, adopted, and challenged through a discourse analysis of popular and academic articles using the aforementioned phrase. Through this analysis, she sees “culture” as a combination of actions, identities, and values—particularly how individual texts and genres of games are valued. Crogan explores the relationship between the simulation technology—screen mediated virtualization and visualization of the real that leads to a potential shift in the role of history as data for simauthors and as a way to check the accuracy of simulations (SIMNET)—and the political, economic, and power influences of and on society. Durham sees Kellner as being concerned with alternate, combinatory approaches to the cultural studies of US mass media. Reimer reads Gripsrud as writing an exemplar and useful text book for introduction to media culture for students and for serving as a common touchstone text for faculty in the traditionally various humanistic and social science approaches that might be valued in a typical media studies department.

Throughout these texts, a search for a reflexive and complex understanding of the relationship of culture and media is a common concern. Shaw challenges academics to reflexively ask why some favorable stereotypes of video game culture (VGC) are blindly accepted in the field while the more unflattering assumptions of VGC are destabilized. Rather, she argues that we interrogate all aspects of VGC, whether perceived as favorable or not, in order to reflect an inclusive and diverse understanding of VGC.
Crogan seeks to unearth the connections between the post-WW2 state of “pure war” (Paul Virilio’s term for the condition of military build-up and mobilization that made peace time indistinguishable from war) and Eisenhower’s notion of the military-industrial complex that fed “pure war.” This connection can be seen in the development of the screen-mediated virtualization of reality, reified first through the command and control defense system the Semi-automated Ground Environment (SAGE)—used to manage a potential nuclear strike response—and then through the networked military simulation system SIMNET. In both cases, Crogan focuses on how the simulation technology is both shaped by the cultural expectations of graphical and cartographic representation and is a shaping force for those expectations, specifically through the films and video games associated with the Military-Entertainment complex. Furthermore, and perhaps of higher stakes, contemporary military simulation techniques use data gathered from real battles, such as those in Desert Storm, to develop conditions and systems, which can then be used to simulate alternate outcomes. Crogan argues that this might be a shift in the perception of history, from “historical discourse as a hermeneutic, critical processing of the past” to a set of conditions used to predict probable futures—and secure national interests against perceived future threats.

Kellner and Gripsrud seem to approach their objects of study through more common understandings of media: mass media. These objects seem appropriate for their focus. Kellner is interested in a combinatory methodology of modernist and postmodernist theories of social science and cultural studies to excavate the connections between mass media and identity, ideology, race, gender, class, and politics, to name a few areas of concern. Through this “multicultural, multiperspective” (Kellner via Durham) approach, he seeks to open new opportunities for discussions of policy in the name of the grand project of the “democratization of society through media culture” (quoting Durham). Gripsrud, in composing a text book on media culture, offers a structured yet diverse approach to understanding media culture, through a audience-text-production context trichotomy. (neologism ftw…) The main critique of Reimer, the reviewer, however, is the lack of reflexivity in discussing why theories are included/excluded and what the historical influences on media culture theory might tell us about what theories have become privileged. Reimer’s critique, to me, seems very similar to Shaw’s critique of VGC: too little reflexivity, limited inclusiveness.

In these objects and methodologies I see at least two very specific echoes of what Mitchell and Hansen privilege in their introduction: interdisciplinary approaches and the concern with the “middle” position of media—its (at least) duality of being. Media is both influenced and influence; it occupies a complex role in the ecosystem of everyday (not ordinary, but ubiquitous) life.