[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 2: Analog by design

Derek Curry derekcurry638 at gmail.com
Tue Mar 10 04:18:26 AEDT 2020

Hello Empyre community, and thank you Alenda for the introduction!

This is an exciting topic for me, as I am very interested in the area where
games cross into the real and the real becomes mixed up in a game. For this
post, I will focus on the former, or as Alenda put it, “digital games that
deliberately cross thresholds into the "real" world”

Alenda mentioned my game WarTweets that was made with Jennifer Gradecki. It
is a pervasive game that is played through a game interface and on Twitter
(to play the game, players login using their Twitter account).  The
gameplay is a simplified version of the game Global Thermonuclear War from
the 1984 film WarGames.  But, in WatTweets, orange rockets are launched
every time President Trump tweets. Players intercept the rockets by
tweeting back to the President. Elements of the game are intended to be
silly and biting, like the political cartoons of George Grosz or Honoré
Daumier. For example, the game map is a fictional world with landmarks
labeled as things Trump has said or tweeted, like “Covfefe Island” or “Grab
‘em by the Peninsula.” But the real intent of the game is to promote
political discourse on a public forum that will become part of the national
archive. US Courts have ruled that the Presidential Records Act of 1978
applies to Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account, which means that tweets
made by @realDonaldTrump are official presidential records. Federal judge
Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that President Trump cannot block any Twitter
users from reading or posting to this account because it is a “designated
public forum.” This means that tweeting to @realDonaldTrump is a conduit
for political speech that cannot legally be censored by President Trump,
and a way for citizens to make their opinions of the Trump administration
part of the official public record. So, tweets made in the game become part
of the official public record.

We are well aware that inciting a meaningful or productive debate over
Twitter (or with President Trump for that matter), is a lofty goal that we
don’t expect to achieve. But, we do believe that games can create spaces
for possibilities—and the responses and exchanges we have had with players
have been thought-provoking. For example, some people become genuinely
angry, either because they disagree with the politics of the game, which is
understandable. Or because they have an ideological conviction that games
should not be overtly political, which to me is reminiscent of arguments
over the political autonomy of art—though no one has specifically evoked
Adorno or Kantian aesthetics. While Jennifer and I don’t enjoy making
people angry, these conversations have been very interesting as we end up
learning a great deal about what is important to people who are invested in
the “purity” of games. We were also surprised at how much some people
enjoyed railing against the president. I had assumed that anyone who really
wanted to vent at the president and had a Twitter account would already be
doing this. But, what we learned was the context of the game created a
space where players had a community of like-minded people. Some of these
players took the game very seriously and tried to intercept every rocket in
the game, while other players were more selective about what they responded
to, and used the game as an opportunity to fact-check the tweets and
retweets of the president.

The game also has its own Twitter account connected to a bot that is
counting how many times Trump has tweeted certain words since he has been
president. As of this writing, the latest one says “This is the 198th tweet
by @realDonaldTrump that contains the word RUSSIA since he has been
president.”  I don’t check this account regularly, but every couple of
weeks I will login and find people trying to start an argument with the
bot. The bot is not artificial intelligence, it is just a word counter.  I
don’t know if these people are imagining someone monitoring Trump’s twitter
account around the clock with a ledger in hand to log every instance of
certain words to tweet the word count back at the President within 5
minutes, or if is more like people who scream at the television when they
see something they don’t like.  But it has prompted me to think about the
role of NPCs in the real world such as automated customer support or
self-checkout machines at the grocery store. My dissertation research
focused on how algorithmic trading bots interacted with human traders and
monitored market information from the news and social media. But I think
that should be a subject for another post, and I am curious to hear the
thoughts of others.


On Sun, Mar 8, 2020 at 1:15 PM Alenda Chang <achang at filmandmedia.ucsb.edu>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Greetings, empyre! This week, we're lucky to be joined by discussants
> Derek Curry, Brent Povis, Aaron Trammell, and Timothy Welsh. Tim's
> work on "mixed realism" and the perennial bugbear of violence in video
> games helped frame this month's discussion. The last time I saw Derek,
> I was playing his game WarTweets (made w/Jennifer Gradecki) at the
> 2019 SLSArcade, which turns Trump's tweets into missiles that have to
> be neutralized by direct Twitter participation. I know Aaron from his
> dedication to carving out a space for analog game studies in a
> digitally dominated world (witness the journal
> http://analoggamestudies.org/). And finally, I'm fannishly excited to
> have Brent Povis join this conversation as a working board/card game
> designer, whose game Morels is a favorite in my household and
> simulates--what else?--a mushroom-hunting walk in the woods
> (http://www.twolanternsgames.com/the-morels-story.html). Beware
> destroying angels.
> Week's topic: Analog by design
> In many ways, this week's focus extends last week's concern with the
> sustainability of gaming and the need for environmental forms of play.
> Over the next seven days, let's make room to talk about all the
> non-digital games, or digital games that deliberately cross thresholds
> into the "real" world (e.g. alternate-reality, pervasive, locative,
> augmented-reality, serious, art games), or "RL" activities treated as
> games (gamification, neoliberal capitalism). Furthermore, how might an
> attention to the analog reorient us toward the material underpinnings
> of games, from player labor (playbor) to game development workforce
> issues (diversity, unionization), or games deliberately meant to be
> destroyed or played a limited number of times (legacy)?
> Cheers,
> Alenda
> --
> Guest bios:
> Derek Curry
> Derek Curry is an Assistant Professor in the College of Arts, Media
> and Design at Northeastern University. His interdisciplinary practice
> combines artistic production with research techniques from the
> humanities, science and technology studies, natural language
> processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. He uses a
> practice-based research approach to investigate topics where
> information may be limited, and to create artworks and games that
> provide an experiential understanding of topics where information may
> be limited, such as automated decision-making systems used by
> algorithmic stock trading systems and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)
> gathering practices.
> Brent Povis
> There are few times on any given day when Brent Povis (US) is not
> designing, playing, or fantasizing about playing tabletop games. This
> obsession began at a young age when he realized that most 80’s family
> fare in board gaming was lackluster, struggled with that reality, then
> was floored by the realization that he had the power to change them.
> Brent has been delighted to see the renaissance in board gaming over
> the past quarter-century, inspired designs now ubiquitous across
> genres and themes. He enjoys the creative challenge of bringing the
> outdoors to the kitchen table, art kinetic with sunshine and rustling
> leaves and tactics based on evaluation of multiple positive options
> such that each turn is like the choice between competing forest paths,
> knowing that the day hinges on the moment but that in the end both
> present the best of all possible worlds. His 2-player strategy game
> Morels (2014 Card Game of the Year) expresses his fascination with
> foraging, Agility (2016 Best 2-Player Game Nominee) with animal
> behavior, and designs in process our shared attempts to fathom the
> cosmos.
> Aaron Trammell
> Aaron Trammell is an assistant professor of Informatics at UC Irvine.
> He graduated from the Rutgers University School of Communication and
> Information in 2015 and spent a year at the Annenberg School of
> Communication at USC as a postdoctoral researcher. Aaron’s research
> looks at the persistence of analog games in today's digital world. He
> is interested in how political and social ideology is integrated in
> the practice of game design and how these perspectives are negotiated
> within the imaginations of players. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the
> journal *Analog Game Studies* and the Multimedia Editor of *Sounding
> Out!*
> Timothy Welsh
> Dr. Timothy J. Welsh is an associate professor of English at Loyola
> University New Orleans where he teaches in the Film+Digital Media
> concentration. He is the author of Mixed Realism: Videogames and the
> Violence of Fiction as well as articles on videogames, digital
> culture, and literary theory.
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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