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The Political Power of Play

Keynote address for Re:Humanities digital humanities conference. Also published as a peer reviewed article in Hybrid Pedagogy.

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The Political Power of Play

  1. 1. April 2014 The Political Power of Play Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton College 1 @adelinekoh
  2. 2. Nota Bene ✤ This keynote was simultaneously published today as a peer reviewed article in the journal Hybrid Pedagogy. Visit 2 @adelinekoh
  3. 3. 013 PLAY
  4. 4. 014
  5. 5. Play for Grown-Up Children ✤ Play as a new form of critical inquiry (Morris, Rorabaugh, Stommel)! ✤ Game mechanics should be used to reformulate K-12 and higher ed (Davidson)! ✤ Reality is broken, games are the solution to many of our problems; risking failure for epic win (McGonigal)! ✤ Serious Play Conference (UCSD)! ✤ Michigan State University: MA in Serious Games 5 @adelinekoh
  6. 6. Play is Serious Business. BUT WHY AND HOW IS PLAY POLITICAL? 6 @adelinekoh
  7. 7. 7 @adelinekoh
  8. 8. Comics: Liberation and Subversion “Everything about the enticing book of colored pictures, but specially its untidy, sprawling format, the colorful, riotous extravagance of its pictures, the unrestrained passage between what the characters thought and said, the exotic creatures and adventures reported and depicted: all this made up for a hugely wonderful thrill, entirely unlike anything I had hitherto known or experienced.” 8 @adelinekoh
  9. 9. Comics as Political Play ✤ Blur boundaries with graphic, colorful excess! ✤ Provided the ability to imagine, create and live alternative realities! ✤ Imagining the Alternative=the most deeply political of acts 9 @adelinekoh
  10. 10. Comics: Dangerous Play “In ways that I still find fascinating to decode, comics in their relentless foregrounding — far more, say, than film cartoon or funnies, neither of which mattered much to me — seemed to say what couldn’t otherwise be said, perhaps what wasn’t permitted to be said or imagined, defying the ordinary processes of thought, which are policed, shaped and reshaped by all sorts of pedagogical as well as ideological pressures. I knew nothing of this then, but I felt that comics freed me to think and imagine and see differently.” 10 @adelinekoh
  11. 11. 0111 Imagining is Political
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  13. 13. 01 “Play.Invent the World.” Salman Rushdie’s reading of Brazil 13 @adelinekoh
  14. 14. The Location of Brazil represents: Imagination, Impulse, Play Rushdie: “the true location of Brazil is the other great tradition in art, the one in which techniques of comedy, metaphor, heightened imagery, fantasy and so on are used to break down our conventional, habit-dulled certainties about what the world is and has to be.” 14 To Reimagine the World is to Create the Potential to Change It. @adelinekoh
  15. 15. 15 Play is Serious Business. Image Source @adelinekoh
  16. 16. 01 Gameplay has a different rhetoric ✤ Ian Bogost! ✤ procedural rhetoric: “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions rather than the spoken word, writing, images or moving pictures.”! ✤ movements/outcomes as procedural! ✤ act of performing these procedures functions as rhetoric 16 @adelinekoh
  17. 17. “To speak a language is to ! take on a world, a culture.” –Frantz Fanon, “Black Skin, White Masks.” 17 @adelinekoh
  18. 18. 0118 @adelinekoh
  19. 19. 0119 @adelinekoh
  20. 20. 0120 @adelinekoh
  21. 21. Creating “Native” Objects in Civilization/Colonization ✤ “Natives were created by consciously turning off individual characteristics of standard peoples in Civilization IV. That is to say, Native peoples are not a different kind of entity in the game; they are quite literally another kind of people.” Owens and Mir! ✤ Default human subject position=European colonizer. All other= nonhuman 21 @adelinekoh
  22. 22. 0122 @adelinekoh
  23. 23. “War onTerror”:The Board Game ✤ Satirical board game based on 2003 US Invasion of Iraq! ✤ Goal of game: to create larger empires by “liberating” other territories through controlling oil production! ✤ Every empire that loses joins the terrorist group 23 @adelinekoh
  24. 24. 01 “War onTerror”: The Board Game ✤ Spinner decides on who is the “Axis of Evil”! ✤ “Evil” as random! ✤ Much of exchange=secret message boards 24 @adelinekoh
  25. 25. Procedural Rhetoric in “War on Terror” ✤ Procedure: “liberation” often accompanied by covert funding of terrorism! ✤ Procedure: “Axis of Evil” as completely random, but players receive financial incentives to attack player designated as “evil”! ✤ Dispossessed become terrorists=nothing to lose 25 @adelinekoh
  26. 26. 0126
  27. 27. Trading Races ✤ University of Michigan, 2003. Landmark cases on affirmative action! ✤ Real and imaginary characters, including Sandra Day O’ Connor, John Hope Franklin, bell hooks! ✤ Three factions:! ✤ color blind! ✤ color conscious! ✤ indeterminate! ✤ 3 stages to game: pre-game, gameplay, post-game debrief 27 @adelinekoh
  28. 28. Trading Races ✤ Players win through demonstrating effective occupation of ideological positions! ✤ Real name of the game should be “Trading Ideological Positions”! ✤ Developed out of Reacting to the Past Games (! ✤ Note reacting to and not re-enacting the Past 28 @adelinekoh
  29. 29. Results ofTrading Races ✤ Better writing, better speaking by students! ✤ Game challenged students to consider opposing side much more carefully than they would otherwise! ✤ For more: visit and 29 @adelinekoh
  30. 30. 30 Play is Serious Business. Image Source @adelinekoh