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Digital Humanities

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Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means

Deep Time of the Media takes us on an archaeological quest into the hidden layers of media development—dynamic moments of intense activity in media design and construction that have been largely ignored in the historical-media archaeological record. Siegfried Zielinski argues that the history of the media does not proceed predictably from primitive tools to complex machinery; in Deep Time of the Media, he illuminates turning points of media history—fractures in the predictable—that help us see the new in the old.

Drawing on original source materials, Zielinski explores the technology of devices for hearing and seeing through two thousand years of cultural and technological history. He discovers the contributions of "dreamers and modelers" of media worlds, from the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles and natural philosophers of the Renaissance and Baroque periods to Russian avant-gardists of the early twentieth century. "Media are spaces of action for constructed attempts to connect what is separated," Zielinski writes. He describes models and machines that make this connection: including a theater of mirrors in sixteenth-century Naples, an automaton for musical composition created by the seventeenth-century Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, and the eighteenth-century electrical tele-writing machine of Joseph Mazzolari, among others. Uncovering these moments in the media-archaeological record, Zielinski says, brings us into a new relationship with present-day moments; these discoveries in the "deep time" media history shed light on today's media landscape and may help us map our expedition to the media future.

An Approach to Videogame Criticism

In Unit Operations, Ian Bogost argues that similar principles underlie both literary theory and computation, proposing a literary-technical theory that can be used to analyze particular videogames. Moreover, this approach can be applied beyond videogames: Bogost suggests that any medium--from videogames to poetry, literature, cinema, or art--can be read as a configurative system of discrete, interlocking units of meaning, and he illustrates this method of analysis with examples from all these fields. The marriage of literary theory and information technology, he argues, will help humanists take technology more seriously and hep technologists better understand software and videogames as cultural artifacts. This approach is especially useful for the comparative analysis of digital and nondigital artifacts and allows scholars from other fields who are interested in studying videogames to avoid the esoteric isolation of "game studies."The richness of Bogost's comparative approach can be seen in his discussions of works by such philosophers and theorists as Plato, Badiou, Zizek, and McLuhan, and in his analysis of numerous videogames including Pong, Half-Life, and Star Wars Galaxies. Bogost draws on object technology and complex adaptive systems theory for his method of unit analysis, underscoring the configurative aspects of a wide variety of human processes. His extended analysis of freedom in large virtual spaces examines Grand Theft Auto 3, The Legend of Zelda, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and Joyce's Ulysses. In Unit Operations, Bogost not only offers a new methodology for videogame criticism but argues for the possibility of real collaboration between the humanities and information technology.

Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media

Games and other playable forms, from interactive fictions to improvisational theater, involve role playing and story—something played and something told. In Second Person, game designers, authors, artists, and scholars examine the different ways in which these two elements work together in tabletop role-playing games (RPGs), computer games, board games, card games, electronic literature, political simulations, locative media, massively multiplayer games, and other forms that invite and structure play.

Second Person—so called because in these games and playable media it is "you" who plays the roles, "you" for whom the story is being told—first considers tabletop games ranging from Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs with an explicit social component to Kim Newman's Choose Your Own Adventure-style novel Life's Lottery and its more traditional author-reader interaction. Contributors then examine computer-based playable structures that are designed for solo interaction—for the singular "you"—including the mainstream hit Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and the genre-defining independent production Façade. Finally, contributors look at the intersection of the social spaces of play and the real world, considering, among other topics, the virtual communities of such Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) as World of Warcraft and the political uses of digital gaming and role-playing techniques (as in The Howard Dean for Iowa Game, the first U.S. presidential campaign game).

In engaging essays that range in tone from the informal to the technical, these writers offer a variety of approaches for the examination of an emerging field that includes works as diverse as George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards series and the classic Infocom game Planetfall.

Second Person features three complete tabletop role-playing games that demonstrate some of the variations possible in the form: in John Tynes's Puppetland, players take on the roles of puppets in a land ruled by the villainous Punch; Greg Costikyan's Bestial Acts imports the techniques of Bertolt Brecht's theater of alienation into a dark role-playing structure; and in James Wallis's The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the gameplay revolves around spinning elaborate tales in the style of the famous raconteur.

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