From Humanities computing there was a shift to new media and now New media has
lost out on popularity among researchers; there were people who went to extremes
in their objection to the term: in the early years of my PhD I would secretly start
avoiding people who said they were working on new media. There were times when I
even stopped playing videogames with them.
Anyway, almost in response to this: Digital humanities is the now current term for
digital mediations in the Humanities. I can’t say I like it very much but I’m being
The borders of DH are at best still fuzzy. And for me, that’s a good thing.
The general perception might be different even negative (talk about the ‘Presidency
videogame parlour’) but whatever it is , DH has attracted the attention of academia
and the media.
The key question is ‘What is different with digital humanities?’. Why all the interest
the world over?
At a digital humanities session at the SHARP conference in Dublin this year, I was
given this postcard by some digital humanists from the Bodleian. They sent out an
unambiguous message and I haven’t forgotten it. The message is intriguing: old
words, new tools. So are we then using digital media to do what we did before in
Humanities without much changing the concepts? There is a proclivity amongst
commentators to argue for a repetition of traditional tasks via the often much quicker
and easier digital means.
J-C Carriere talking to Umberto Eco sees nothing new in USB drives except the much
larger space. Sawday and Rhodes are aware of the playful instability of the hypertext
and are quick to distance this from the comparatively stable nature of print culture.
Yet, they too join the old words new tools party – maybe hypertexts aren’t like print
but they are certainly like medieval scrolls.
I find this problematic.
The postcard is now a treasured keepsake but I’ve modified it for myself, slightly: I’ve
added a word - ‘really???’.
Old Words New Tools image. Is it really old words and new tools?
The computer, through its possibilities for interactivity, ‘play’ and the creativity of
now rapidly undoing that idealization of stability, and returning us to a kind of
textuality which may have more in common with the pre-print era. Thus, Vincent
Gillespie has argued that the
contemporary user’s experience of hypertext ‘… seems to me to be similar to a
experience of illuminated, illustrated and glossed manuscripts containing different
material that can be accessed in various ways’. Computer-generated texts, now, are
exist as far more provisional entities than we have ever been used to since Gutenberg
books from moveable (that is, redistributable) type. ‘Ink and paper’ writes Leah
relatively stable media by comparison with the computer screen’. This shift
represents not so much
the oft-proclaimed ‘Death of the author’ but, rather, the possibility of multi-
authorship, where an
individual’s contribution to a scholarly or scientific debate is just one voice amongst
many which go
to make up the totality of responses. (‘Imagining the Renaissance Computer’, p. 10 –
Also compare Jean-Claude Carriere : Then there are our USB sticks and other ways of
storing and carrying information. These too are nothing new. At the end of the
eighteenth century, the upper classes would pack a small library in trunks and take
them on their travels […] these libraries, of course, were not measured in gigabytes
but it was the same idea. (p.50)
Mobled queen. Bichitra as one of the largest DH databases
I find something that Jacques Derrida says quite useful in this context:
Derrida’s Archive Fever :
This is another way of saying that the archive, as printing, as writing, prosthesis or
hypomnestic technique in general is not only the stockroom and the conservatory for
archivable contents of the past which would exist in any case, and just the same,
without the archive.
No, the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of
the archivable contents even as it comes into existence and its relationship to the
future. This means that in the past psychoanalysis would not have been what it was
(no more so than many other things) if electronic mail, for example, had existed. And
in the future it will no longer be what Freud and so many psychoanalysts have
anticipated now that E mail, for example, has become possible.
So any move towards the digital archive effectively involves a thinking through of the
ways in which such archives function – the querying of digital databases is not
necessarily the same as it would be to search Diderot’s encyclopaedia. The creating
of such databases might involve the creation of structures that can be accessed by
the digital logic of systems like SQL etc. [??? Finish]
Anyway, for me digital humanities is not just about designing digital archives, creating
electronic texts, coding concordances or the very textual uses to which computing in
the humanities can be put.
For me, there is a key element that is often left out of the consideration – culture. As
Derrida clearly says, the technical aspect relates to its relationship with the future.
There is a cultural shift that we cannot do without.
[speak about originary technicity]
There is no natural originary body: technology has not simply added
itself, from the outside or after the fact, as a foreign body. Or at least
this foreign or dangerous supplement is ‘originarily’ at work and in place
in the supposedly ideal interiority of the ‘body and soul’. It is indeed at
the heart of the heart (JD, Points)
Locating the digital humanities – show wordle cloud
Social media, virtual worlds, roleplay, story creation, data-mining, concordances,
digital texts / hypertexts, videogames
Further, is it ‘digital humanities’ or ‘the digital humanities’: is it singular or plural?
This was part of a project on the impact of web 2.0 on professionals in Leicester, UK.
The case of Inspector Bill Knopp merits study in terms of digital culture.
Game Studies as digital humanities
Barry Atkins’s quote.
One day, perhaps, the computer game will even produce its À la Recherche du Temps
Perdu or its Ulysses, its Casablanca or its Citizen Kane. It is, as yet, early days, and this
is a reading of those early days.
MacTavish - To date, the most common debates have been between ludological
approaches, which define digital games as primarily rule-based objects and activities,
and a collection of other approaches rooted in the study of narrative, theater, and
film. For many ludologists, remove the story-line and high-tech special effects and
you still have a game based upon rules. While this may be true, the fact remains that
many digital games include stories, performance, and audiovisual pleasures that are
configurable by the player in some fashion. Remove them from the game and you
might still have a game, but it won't be the same one you started with.
It is safe to say that digital games are currently an important object of study for
scholars of digital culture. If safety comes in numbers, then we need only to
acknowledge the growing number of conferences, monographs, essay collections,
and university courses and programs treating digital games as cultural artifacts that
express meaning and reflect and shape the world we live in.1 A far riskier claim would
be that digital games studies is a definable discipline. While there may be abundant
evidence that scholars are engaging with digital games, it's too early to see an
established discipline with a set of matured methodologies and canonical texts or a
broad base of institutional structures like departments and academic appointments.
This does not mean that digital games scholars are not trying to establish a discipline.
Indeed, an important component of academic discourse around digital games has
been less on gaming artifacts and practices, and more on defining appropriate
methodologies for analysis that are more or less unique to digital games. Many
scholars want to treat digital games with the same analytic seriousness as they treat
works of literature, theater, visual art, music, and film, but they are also concerned to
understand what is distinctive about digital games. The burning question at hand is,
should the study of digital games be guided by theories and methods unique to digital
games, or can we apply theoretical models developed to explain other cultural forms
such as narrative, theater, and film? On the one hand, this primarily political
dimension of digital games studies draws attention away from games and gameplay;
on the other hand, answering the question has very real and material effects on the
generation and distribution of knowledge around digital games.
There is nothing new in scholars debating approaches to their subject matter,
especially when it comes to the study of new or updated forms and presentations of
culture. This is normally a sign of a healthy and growing field. In the area of digital
games studies, though, the stakes seem very high as participants bandy about the
rhetoric of colonialism to protect their turf against invasion from opposing teams of
scholars.2 One might imagine these debates in terms of team building in schoolyards
where groups select the players they want on their team, leaving those outside the
debate standing on the sidelines waiting to be picked or going off to play their own
game away from the popular kids. The danger of such team building, of course, is that
the popular kids would like to believe that they are the only game in town. In other
words, as important as these debates have been to establishing digital games as
legitimate objects of study, they have tended to divide scholars into camps, each with
particular methodologies defined to some extent in opposition to other camps.
Intentional or not, the result of such division can be an unfortunate blindness to the
remarkable diversity of digital games and gameplay practices.
To date, the most common debates have been between ludological approaches,
which define digital games as primarily rule-based objects and activities, and a
collection of other approaches rooted in the study of narrative, theater, and film.
While most ludological commentators grant that digital games can include story,
performance, and filmic convention, they often argue that these elements are
secondary to a game's gameness. For many ludologists, remove the story-line and
high-tech special effects and you still have a game based upon rules. While this may
be true, the fact remains that many digital games include stories, performance, and
audiovisual pleasures that are configurable by the player in some fashion. Remove
them from the game and you might still have a game, but it won't be the same one
you started with.
What most digital games scholars agree upon is that games require an active
participant for the game to proceed. Players must effect change within the game for
there to be a game. In this respect, game players are co-creators of the gaming
experience. Similar claims have been made for the way we consume most forms of
culture. The reader of a novel or the viewer of a film actively engages with the work
by interpreting it. This psychological interaction with the work can discursively affect
how others interpret it, but it does not change the work's fundamental structure or
organization. When we watch a movie, we might interpret it differently than others,
but we all experience the same sequence of images and sounds. While it is possible
to skip or review sections of a movie or novel, these actions are not necessary to the
realization of the work. Digital games, however, require that players physically
interact with the work, whether it's to guide characters through the game space,
modify the game world, or even to create new game elements.
Espen Aarseth conceptualizes the participatory nature of digital gameplay in terms of
ergodics. In ergodic works, "non-trivial effort is required to allow the reader to
traverse the text," while in nonergodic works, "the work to traverse the text is trivial"
(1997: 1). For Aarseth, who approaches digital games primarily from a ludological
perspective, flipping pages and scanning images with our eyes is nonergodic because
it does not require the user to cause the same kind or degree of physical change to
the work. Janet Murray thinks about the participatory user in terms of agency, stating
that "Agency is the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of
our decisions and choices" (Murray 1997: 126). Concerned mainly with the narrative
potential of digital games, Murray adds that "we do not usually expect to experience
agency within a narrative environment" (Murray 1997: 126). Even though Aarseth and
Murray approach digital games from two different and sometimes opposing
perspectives, they agree that the participatory nature of digital games distinguishes
them from other textual and visual forms of culture. Regardless of perspective, the
realization of a digital game requires participating players whose interactions with the
game make them co-creators of work.
As digital games research begins to move its focus away from the ludology vs.
narratology debate and toward the kinds and qualities of participatory play, the
creative element of digital gameplay is receiving much more critical attention. Rather
than pronounce that gameplay is unproductive time, as influential play theorists
Johann Huizinga and Roger Callois have argued, a growing community of games
scholars are arguing that digital gameplay is a creative activity saturated with various
in-game and meta-game productive practices. Whether we conceive of creative
game-play in terms of ergodics or agency, our analysis should be guided by questions
around what kinds of creative practices are supported by digital games and how
social, cultural, and economic factors shape these practices.
If simulation is becoming increasingly pervasive and important, however,
MATERIALITY is as vibrant as ever, for the computational engines
and artificial intelligences that produce simulations require sophisticated
bases in the real world. The engineers who design these machines, the factory
workers who build them, the software designers who write programs
for them, and the technicians who install and maintain them have no illusions
that physical reality has faded away. If representation is an increasingly
problematic concept, materiality offers a robust conceptual framework
in which to talk about both representation and simulation as well as
the constraints and enablings they entail.
Although material criticism is highly developed in specialized fields
such as bibliographic criticism and textual studies, I think its value is
much more general and widespread. Accordingly, I want to call it
media-specific analysis (MSA), as a way to invite theorists and critics to
think more broadly about the connections between strands of criticism
that have not yet made common cause with one another. (29)