Author Archives: Brian Lennon

Lecture: Jennifer Rhee, “Drone Warfare, Drone Art, and the Limits of Identification”

Thursday, April 5, 2018
3:30 PM
Grucci Room, 102 Burrowes Building

On Thursday, April 5, 2018, Jennifer Rhee (Virginia Commonwealth University) delivered a lecture titled “Drone Warfare, Drone Art, and the Limits of Identification.”

Event flyer

Description of presentation

This talk comes from my book The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming 2018). I will trace connections between U.S. robotics technologies and cultural forms at the sites of dehumanization and devalued labor. I will argue that the figure of the robot in contemporary culture and technology is largely shaped by the conceptions of the human and more importantly of the dehumanized. I will look specifically at the labor of drone operators and what I call “drone art,” or contemporary artistic responses to drone warfare. Drawing on the racializing aspects of early cybernetics military research, I will look at drone art that responds to drone victims’ dehumanization by examining the limits of identification as a means of ethical response. Instead, drone art, as I will discuss, points to an understanding of the human through unrecognizability, difference, and unfamiliarity, rather than recognition, familiarity, and knowability.

Speaker bio

Jennifer Rhee is Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research and teaching are in science and literature and media studies. Jennifer’s book The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), will be published later this year. Her work has also appeared in journals including Camera Obscura, Configurations, Mosaic, and Postmodern Culture. She is currently working on her next book on counting technologies, from statistics to biometric surveillance.

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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.

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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