Tuesday, 27 November 2012

DH and Gaming: Closer than we thought?

So I'm not really much of a gamer, the furthest my foray into the world of gaming went was The Sims (1,2,3). I have to admit though, I was quite obsessed with those games. For me it has become a case of simply not having the time to appreciate the world of gaming. For the last five years I have bounced from one degree to the next, which really eats into your 'me' time.

However, I have recently discovered a game which has been getting a lot of attention on the web. I'm probably, most definitely, late to the game on this one but I was interested in it from an open access perspective. The game in question is Slender. This is a prime example of good quality, FREE gaming. Did I mention it's free to download! And no I am not being paid to promote it. I am a big horror genre fan, so the concept of the game piqued my interest immediately. The premise of the game is to travel through a forest in the pitch black of night, gathering 8 pages from various locations, while all the while trying to avoid being caught by the 'Slender man'. It also includes very eerie music which increases in volume as the Slender Man draws near to you, and the tendency for your flashlight to fail at this exact moment.

The creation of the legend of the Slender Man is described on the games homepage. Although the creator is named as Victor Surge, it shows the manipulation of forums and blog threads to create something sharable:
 The Slender Man was created at the Something Awful Forums in a thread entitled "Create Paranormal Images." He is described as wearing a black suit strikingly similar to the visage of the notorious Men In Black, and as the name suggests, appears very thin and able to stretch his limbs and torso to inhuman lengths in order to induce fear and ensnare his prey. Once his arms are outstretched, his victims are put into something of a hypnotized state, where they are utterly helpless to stop themselves from walking into them. 
(The Slender Man)

Not only is this game an example of the power of collaborative efforts  via the 'Something Awful Forums', but it shows the incredible work which is being done in terms of open creative endeavours.

It also encompasses some key elements of the movement in digital humanities: Interdisciplinarity, collaboration and creativity. Examples of these functions can be seen in the assembling of the Slender Man story. Aspects of the digital manipulation used in the paranormal pictures photoshop competition run on the Something Awful Forum, Cabadath from the Chzo Mythos games, and German folklore tales about Der Grobmann, often translated as the tall man, all influenced the creation of this game (Slender Man-Know Your Meme).

(Der Grobmann, from German folklore tales)

Personally, this game conjured images of Jack Skellington from Henry Sellick and Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). 

It also links rather nicely to the argument that I was making in my last post about the purpose within Digital Humanities of Deforming for Reforming, or what I like to refer to as digital flattery. In this sense, I would argue that this game was conceived of through the deformation of various representations of this tall figure and folk tales about such figures, in order to create a new digital, gaming version of this figure. 

The site which hosts the game also provides connections between DH and the gaming community. It seems that DH has taken a lot of inspiration from the world of gaming, in terms of their methods of communication and discussion. The forum, is now a large part of the gaming culture, in which tactics can be discussed and help can be received to get past a certain level. This site houses a very well frequented forum which would put many DH forums to shame. 

So next time you DHers play your games, whether on your console or online, remember that you are contributing to the long relationship which exists between the world of gaming and its influence on concepts within Digital Humanities.

With thanks to the Slender Man game for influencing this post.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Deforming For Reforming

To many, Las Meninas represents one of the most dynamic, multi-layered and complex examples of artwork. It has received so much attention, that it has garnered recreations by the likes of Picasso most famously. However, I am not interested in discussing fine art in this post. I am interested in how the transmission of this work in its different forms ties into what digital humanities represents.

It struck me while examining Picasso's interpretation of Las Meninas, the 1656 painting by Diego Velazquez, that at the root of what digital humanities represents to me is the deconstruction or disassembling of the image, the text, the sound, etc., in order to reform the core of humanities frameworks.

                                                  (The original Velazquez Las Meninas)

In essence what this transmutes is a type of deforming in order for reforming these categories. This is not to say that the original form is destroyed, rather it is rediscovered in a new arena. The core values have not changed, just the transmission of the idea. Many may call this remediation, but I am not entirely convinced of this words application yet in terms of digital humanities aims. I do not think that the original item, such as the text, needs remedying by digital means. I believe that this process serves to translate the book or the artwork into a more interactive format. I also believe that this extends the reach of these previously physical constructs.

 (The Picasso Version)

You may ask what does this have to do with the aforementioned paintings? The answer to this, I propose, is that they are essentially just different versions of the same concept. They have both developed out of creativity, just different versions of this creative process. Picasso has deformed Velazquez's original painting in order to reform it in a modernist context. Conceivably, we have moved into a digitally saturated context, therefore these concepts have moved with that in the same way. This process not only shows the translation of a form through history, but it symbolises the constant re-invention of space using the digital.

At the centre of this is the reformation of an idea, for its further development. So that Velazquez and Picasso's versions, in digital form are allowed to take on new dimensions:

These reconfigurations conjure notions of the dreaded plagiarism for many. However 'the anxiety of influence', as Bloom puts it best, does not take into account the disassembling of one idea in order to reform this idea in another mode. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating plagiarism, I just believe that it's definition is not clearly dealt with in terms of some elements of DH thus far. If this was the case, would we not all be guilty of plagiarism in some form, by re-instating physical works on the web, with our name attached to the coding? While discussing Bloom's most famous work, Robert McCrum from The Guardian, argues that "influence is unavoidable, and not all of it is bad".

It is my opinion that DH thrives on influence, but it recreates this in a digital context. To conclude this post, I would like to pose the question, Is the Humanities undergoing a digital reformation? Answers in the comments.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1973. Print. 

McCrum, Robert. "Harold Bloom's Influence Still Holds Sway", The Guardian. 25 May 2011. Web Article. www.guardian.co.uk

Picasso, Pablo. Las Meninas. Barcelona: Museu Picasso, 1957. Image.

Velazquez, Diego. Las Meninas. Madrid: Museo Del Prado, 1656. Image.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Reading in F and it's challenges to literature online

Have you ever thought about the structure of the page? No? Neither had I until recently. Many people take the page for granted, not recognising the centuries of work which have gone into its creation. The digital page,  if it can even be called that, is no different. The main contrast between the two can be argued as the rapid development of the digital space of the page. I am becoming increasingly interested in how the digitised world is changing many of the constructs which we do not give much thought to within the Humanities.

With these rapid developments come problems. Jakob Nielsen has changed my views upon the digital page. He argues that people do not read an online page, for example a website, in the complete fashion in which we read a page from a book. We now read in an"F shape". Examples of this F shape can be seen below.

Christi O'Connell summarises this idea in her article Eye Tracking and Wesbite Design:
Nielsen’s (2006) eye tracking research has demonstrated that users read web content in an F-shaped pattern. The F-shape reading pattern refers to the viewing order: users start by reading across the top line and then look down the page a little and read across again and then continue down the left side.

Rather than taking in every piece of information, we now scan the page for what we perceive to be relevant, giving little attention to particular data on the page, such as information on the right hand side, corners and the bottom of the page. My concerns for this type of reading, which I myself am guilty of, are its impact upon digitised literature in particular. Will we absorb a book that we read on the web in the same fashion as we scan a web page, simply picking out what is relevant? Although it is necessary to filter information when using the web, so as not to become overwhelmed by information, could this be detrimental to how we analyse the text of a literary work? 

As the internet progresses, I perceive that eventually it will be more common and feasible for many people to do most of their reading online. However, coming from an English literature background in which the physical book is sacred, it upsets me slightly to imagine this. However, this generates many problems for the effectiveness of close textual analysis, if we continue to develop these habits of overlooking the full structure of 'the page'. This threatens the very core of literary analysis. Therefore, I challenge you all to break this habit, to some degree, myself included, and see how much more resourceful we can make our readings on the web.After all, you wouldn't read a physical book in this fashion, so why would you read a digital page like this? On a side note, I do take into account that some pages often require us to overlook information or we would be there for hours. But in an academic context, we could stand to gain from taking a closer look at the digital page.

My second concern for the page is that we will lose our sense of the identity of the physical page through increasing digitisation. Although I believe that this is the only way forward in terms of making knowledge more accessible to the masses, I fear that the structure of out traditional page will soon be forgotten. Even as a I write this I am aware that I am using a digital tool, the blog, a relatively new form of displaying text, to voice these concerns. My only hope is that the reader does not scan this blog in the 'F shape' which Nielsen speaks of.

These are just some of my own concerns for increasing digitisation of the aforementioned page. However, the 'pros' definitely outweigh the 'cons' in terms of research prospects and the increasing availability of valuable knowledge in this global space. It is up to the global online community to read in a more attentive manner, and to truly value the space of the page which is put in front of us all.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Linking In: Broadening my horizons using my online profile

I have recently set up my online profile on the site Linked in. I hope that it will further my academic and work prospects.

Check it out at the following link:

Sunday, 4 November 2012

'Collaborate or Perish': Cultivating Information in the Modern World

(An example of a community of practice)

In the global space of communities of information, it is often a case of nature versus nurture. By this it can be understood that creating communities of practice or inquiry can be either helped by the rapid development of economies of knowledge; i.e. a case of natural development in society. Alternatively it can be restricted by a sense of nurturing of the old ways to harbor information within a particular community, rather than sharing this data for the greater good of society. This blogpost will discuss these conflicts in relation to the Communities of Practice class of the MA in Digital Humanities, here in UCC, which will take place on Monday the 5th of November 2012. This class will allow us to experience active discussions of Etienne Wenger's Introduction to Communities of Practice and the Introduction and first chapter of Wikinomics, using digital conferencing methods.

It is now time to create the foundations for walking the walk within Digital Humanities:

(Wenger discusses his work with Brantlee Underhill, PMI Director of Pratitioner Markets)

Looking at Wenger's work it is clear that the concept of communities of practice is well established, yet underrated. Like many structures of economy, learning and society, a lack of communication thus far outside of the walls of these sectors has allowed for this idea to escape our notice. With the rapid expansion of all things technology based, we can now experience the true value of communities of practice. Examining Wenger's definition, he states that "communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly" (Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction). This statement invites the question of whether there are elements of failure within this scheme? Can a community of practice deteriorate through loss of this concern or passion, and should there be regulations in place in order to deal with these losses?

There is also the issue of those who are forgotten when the community of practice evolves into its largest, most openly creative form. These are the hoarders. Those who hide in their offices, sitting on valuable information.

(Image obtained from www.123rf.com)

They are also those who are afraid of change.

These people also fall into the nurture category, when looking at the system of communities of practice. Is there a way of including these people so that they do not get left behind, or are they eternally stuck in this mindset? I think that the adaptability of the human race is underestimated in this sense. Arguably, Wegner and the Wikinomics writers have overlooked certain elements of human psychology, in that the crowd or tribe mentality is strongest, and that sooner or later the majority of non-believers will convert, once they perceive the great success of this method of global practice. Positivity is essential in the conversion of private practices of closed community to public practices of open community.

The process of growth within communities of practice reminds me of a kind of information farming. Ideas are grown through nourishment, when seeds are planted by engagement with the foundations, which in this case is the wider community of the world. It has been argued that people are the "tangible assests" of modern day organisations, whether they are internal or external to that organisation (Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage, 3). This is becoming more and more evident in our own University structure. The engagement of students within the knowledge economy of their degree makes them a valuable external asset to the internal teaching practices of their lecturers. These contributions also come from external sources outside of the University community, such as interaction with greater society. Without the external influences of the students, the Universities assets are diminished. The University is no longer a closed network of learning. We are engaging in global connectivity with other colleges to improve our own systems.

A statement which struck me as very controversial came in the form of the closing words from the first chapter of Wikinomics. "Collaborate or perish", which is also the title of this post, seemed slightly dramatic in essence and certainly retained its shock value. I think that again it overlooks societies ability to adapt as a whole, and does not acknowledge the fact  that people progress at different rates. It is evident that this threat is meant to challenge the hierarchy of information. However, one needs to ask the question as to whether threats will get a progressing system anywhere?

The book itself provides a template which my own class could use for creating a work of collaboration.The example of using the development of a subtitle as an open web discussion highlighted the multi-dimensional applications of 'wikinomics' in the field of digital humanities. "Within twenty-four hours we had dozens of great subtitle suggestions" (Wikinomics, 4). It defies the structure of a normal book, in that it was created by many, who were given the open opportunity to participate in constructing the framework for headings associated with the chapters through the online forum, rather than excluding useful knowledge through writing and publishing agreements. I think that they put it best in this chapter with the line that they will "harness some of the best minds in the Industry" using these methods of community (Wikinomics,8). There is also a significant element of acknowledgement and gratification in this practice. New, skillful members of society are uncovered, who would otherwise have gone overlooked. Open source puts all of these ideas highlighted by Tapscott and Williams into practice.

When I imagine this in terms of what we are doing in this course, I envision class projects in which we collaborate in a virtual space to create a body of work outside of the classroom, such as a shared blog. The various examples of public 'peering' throughout this work provide some very applicable models for our own MA to think about when we begin to face the challenges that lie ahead in Digital Humanities. These examples, such as the Gold Mining story, face both the problems and benefits which any community of practice will encounter when engaging in collaboration. Forbes provides a comprehensive list of tips for virtual collaboration, which I think will prove useful in the context of this course. These are as follows:

  1. Increase cross cultural awareness
  2. Co-create team rules and norms
  3. Build virtual trust
  4. Mix communication mediums
  5. Make the first meeting face to face

I thought that this list would be helpful in building our own online community of practice using this course as a backbone. In particular I felt that the elements of trust and regulation would keep the group working fluidly.

There was one discussion in this chapter in particular which drew my attention. The 'Promise and Peril' section underlined the dangers which the idea of communities of practice can attract. Alongside these communities who mean well with their intentions for collaborating are those involved in criminal collaboration. The inclusion of this section was worthwhile in exposing the negative types of collaboration which still exist in such a developing area. It synopsizes the negative and positive kinds of teamwork out there and that while communities of practice are revolutionary in theory, they are not without their problems.

 Another aspect of the perils which I would like to discuss is the "mass mediocrity" problem. Coming from a literary studies background, the suffocating of authentic voices due to over-saturation of digital voices is one of my greatest fears. I am glad that it has been recognised here. I link this back to literature  by arguing that the literary market-place may become flooded by mediocre 'writers', meanwhile true, talented voices of literature may be lost in the influx. This idea follows into the debate made by James E. Gall about the conflict in this book between profit and sharing. "The apparent contradiction created between the openness/sharing philosophy and the personal/corporate profit angle is the greatest weakness of this book" (Gall, 362). Literature is a prime example of this in that free, open source literature follows this model, but professional writers also need to make a profit. Therefore how do we merge the two, without stifling the professional literary marketplace? I agree that there are many contradictions involving these two areas in this book, however it would be wrong to overlook the economic factors, in order to promote this cause.

To conclude, I consider both of these works to warrant a dynamic debate amongst my peers in Mondays class. I found them both useful for contextualising the system of communities of practice in my own mind.
They also categorised the dark side of these communities, which are a valuable element to be aware of when engaging in them. Although both were a bit over zealous in their promotions of COP's or Wikinomics, they provided many valid points on why this is the way forward. However, if we are to practice what these works preach, we must do so with caution so as not to lose sight of true creativity. I think that we should also encourage the nurturers of old traditions to follow the progressing digital path. The only way that we can persuade them to do this is by demonstrating the effectiveness of creating our own society of knowledge building through global, digital means, leaving them no choice but to walk the walk alongside us.

Works Cited

Gall, James E. 'The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen; Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Donald Tapscott, Anthony D. William, Review', Educational Technology Research and Development. 53.3 (2008): 361-4, Jstor, 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 

Saint-Onge, Hubert, Debra Wallace. Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003. Print.

Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction. Web. June (2006). http://www.ewenger.com/theory/

William, Anthony D., Donald Tapscott. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Web, (2008). http://www.wikinomics.com/book/IntroAndOne.pdf