Author Archives: Brian Lennon

Lecture: Stephanie Boluk, From Metagames to Moneygames

Thursday, October 12, 2017
1:45 PM
Grucci Room, 102 Burrowes Building

On Thursday, October 12, 2017, Stephanie Boluk (University of California, Davis) delivered a lecture titled “From Metagames to Moneygames.”

Event flyer

Description of presentation

Metagames, simply put, are games about games. They are the games we play in, on, around, and through videogames. And although the word “metagame” has a long history—from Nigel Howard’s game theory in which he proposed a solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma during the Cold War to Richard Garfield’s game design philosophy for Magic: The Gathering in the 1990s—since the turn of the millennium and especially with the emergence of social media and streaming services like Steam and Twitch, the term has become a common label for diverse forms of play occurring not only around videogames but around all forms of digital technology. After reviewing what “metagaming” means within various player communities, this talk will focus specifically on the movement from metagame to moneygame in the emerging economic ecology surrounding e-sports and livestreaming.

I will analyze the ways in which players have not “gamified” but “gamblified” their livestreams in order to produce a complex network of betting games that suture together Steam and Twitch. From thousands of dollars being gambled in virtual blackjack using live video feedback of Panamanian dealers to online poker games streaming from private yachts in the Pacific to subscriber chat lotteries giving away Counter-Strike skins obtained through grey market economies, this talk examines the flows of affective, informatic, and racialized labour of moneygames that do not evade surveillance technologies but flourish precisely as a result of the presence of ubiquitous real-time cameras and networked spectatorship. As players wager that their activity will result in a wage, money is not simply the outcome but the main game mechanic driving this massive multiplayer game.

Speaker bio

Stephanie Boluk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and the Department of Cinema and Digital Media at the University of California at Davis. With Patrick LeMieux, she is the author of Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). She is also a co-editor of The Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3 (2016).

Description, from publisher’s Web site

The greatest trick the videogame industry ever pulled was convincing the world that videogames were games rather than a medium for making metagames. Elegantly defined as “games about games,” metagames implicate a diverse range of practices that stray outside the boundaries and bend the rules: from technical glitches and forbidden strategies to Renaissance painting, algorithmic trading, professional sports, and the War on Terror. In Metagaming, Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux demonstrate how games always extend beyond the screen, and how modders, mappers, streamers, spectators, analysts, and artists are changing the way we play.

Metagaming uncovers these alternative histories of play by exploring the strange experiences and unexpected effects that emerge in, on, around, and through videogames. Players puzzle through the problems of perspectival rendering in Portal, perform clandestine acts of electronic espionage in EVE Online, compete and commentate in Korean StarCraft, and speedrun The Legend of Zelda in record times (with or without the use of vision). Companies like Valve attempt to capture the metagame through international e-sports and online marketplaces while the corporate history of Super Mario Bros. is undermined by the endless levels of Infinite Mario, the frustrating pranks of Asshole Mario, and even Super Mario Clouds, a ROM hack exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

One of the only books to include original software alongside each chapter, Metagaming transforms videogames from packaged products into instruments, equipment, tools, and toys for intervening in the sensory and political economies of everyday life. And although videogames conflate the creativity, criticality, and craft of play with the act of consumption, we don’t simply play videogames—we make metagames.

Other resources

Lecture: Margaret Schwartz, On Revolutionary Tenderness: Towards a Feminist Ethics of Care for the Digital Age

Friday, April 14, 2017
3:30 PM
Grucci Room, 102 Burrowes Building

On Friday, April 14, 2017, Margaret Schwartz (Fordham University) delivered a lecture titled “On Revolutionary Tenderness: Towards a Feminist Ethics of Care for the Digital Age.”

Event flyer

Description of presentation

What happens when we view care work as the foundation of a feminist ethics of care? What if we make it the bedrock of our theorization about living under a late capitalist culture of connectivity? We might then find ourselves with what the poet Francesca Lisette has called revolutionary tenderness — a theory of social change written out of the body in its most sacred function, care.

Speaker bio

Margaret Schwartz is Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University. Her book Dead Matter: The Meaning of Iconic Corpses was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2015. This talk is taken from her ongoing work on embodiment, care, and materialist feminism, which will be published in the forthcoming collections Digital Existence and The Networked Self: Love. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and two children.

Other resources

Description, from publisher’s Web site

“Taking as its starting point the significant role of the photograph in modern mourning practices — particularly those surrounding public figures — Dead Matter theorizes the connections between the body and the image by looking at the corpse as a special instance of a body that is simultaneously thing and representation. Arguing that the evolving cultural understanding of photographic realism structures our relationship to the corpse, the book outlines a new politics of representation in which some bodies are more visible (and vulnerable) in death than others.

“To begin interpreting the corpse as a representational object referring to the deceased, Margaret Schwartz examines the association between photography and embalming — both as aesthetics and as mourning practices. She introduces the concept of photographic indexicality, using it as a metric for comprehending the relationship between the body of a dead leader (including Abraham Lincoln, Vladimir Lenin, and Eva Perón) and the “body politic” for which it stands. She considers bodies known as victims of atrocity such as Emmett Till and Hamsa al-Khateeb to better grasp the ways in which the corpse as object may be called on to signify a marginalized body politic, at the expense of the social identity of the deceased. And she contemplates “tabloid bodies” such as Princess Diana’s and Michael Jackson’s, asserting that these corpses must remain invisible in order to maintain the deceased as a source of textual and value production.

“Ultimately concluding that the evolving cultural understanding of photographic realism structures our relationship to the corpse, Dead Matter outlines the new politics of representation, in which death is exiled in favor of the late capitalist reality of bare life.”

“In a deep, sophisticated, and riveting book, Margaret Schwartz shows us how corpses become focal points for collective meaning — in nation construction, in violence and martyrdom, and in the passion of fandom. In explaining how the dead circulate among the living, Dead Matter gives us the tools to better understand death as a social and communicative phenomenon, and, one hopes, build more thoughtful relations with the dead.” —Jonathan Sterne, author of MP3: The Meaning of a Format and The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction

Dead Matter bridges important theorizations of death, the human corpse, and mediation. This book is a critical connecting point between seemingly disparate fields of study.” —John Troyer, Deputy Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath

Lecture: Pooja Rangan, Autism, Voice, and the Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary

Friday, March 31, 2017
4:00 PM
Grucci Room, 102 Burrowes Building

On Friday, March 31, 2017, Pooja Rangan (Amherst College) delivered a lecture titled “Autism, Voice, and the Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary.”

This event was presented in conjunction with a reading by Cathy Park Hong sponsored by the Modern and Contemporary Studies Initiative, Friday, March 31, 2017, 7:30 PM in 112 Chambers Building.

Event flyer

Description of presentation

What can autism teach us about the documentary politics of “having a voice”? This talk, based on one of the chapters of my forthcoming book, Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke University Press, June 2017), places autistic accounts of language and communication in conversation with critical and media theories of voice. I ask: what do the documentary tropes of persuasive speech have in common with contemporary therapeutic and humanitarian interventions around autism spectrum disorders? What would it look, sound, and feel like to realize an autistic voice in documentary — and how might such a voice unravel the metaphysics of voice in documentary’s reality-effects? I look at three films involving autistic protagonists — “I Am Autism” (2010), an advocacy video by the humanitarian organization Autism Speaks; Autism Is a World (2004), a television documentary; and “In My Language” (2007), a YouTube video by Mel Baggs — that represent a range of approaches to voicing in documentary that also map onto ongoing debates around autism, humanitarianism, and disability.

Speaker bio

Pooja Rangan is Assistant Professor of English and Film and Media Studies at Amherst College. Her book Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke University Press, June 2017) examines the humanitarian ethic of “giving voice to the voiceless” in global participatory documentary interventions that equip disenfranchised subjects with visual media as a means of immediate empowerment. Rangan’s writing has been published in differences, Camera Obscura, Film Quarterly, South Asian Popular Culture, World Picture, Feminist Media Histories, and other anthologies and magazines. Rangan serves on the board of the Flaherty Film Seminar.

Description, from publisher’s Web site

Endangered life is often used to justify humanitarian media intervention, but what if suffering humanity is both the fuel and outcome of such media representations? Pooja Rangan argues that this vicious circle is the result of immediation, a prevailing documentary ethos that seeks to render human suffering urgent and immediate at all costs. Rangan interrogates this ethos in films seeking to “give a voice to the voiceless,” an established method of validating the humanity of marginalized subjects, including children, refugees, autistics, and animals. She focuses on multiple examples of documentary subjects being invited to demonstrate their humanity: photography workshops for the children of sex workers in Calcutta; live eyewitness reporting by Hurricane Katrina survivors; attempts to facilitate speech in nonverbal autistics; and painting lessons for elephants. These subjects are obliged to represent themselves using immediations — tropes that reinforce their status as the “other” and reproduce definitions of the human that exclude non-normative modes of thinking, being, and doing. To counter these effects, Rangan calls for an approach to media that aims not to humanize but to realize the full, radical potential of giving the camera to the other.

Other resources

Pooja Rangan web site

In Defense of Voicelessness: The Matter of the Voice and the Films of Leslie Thornton,” Feminist Media Histories 1, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 95–126.

For a Critique of the Documentary Logic of Sobriety,” World Picture 9 (July 2014).

Humane-itarian Interventions,” differences 24.1 (2013): 104–136.