Horror: Hell in a handbasket I tell ya!

Sitting in the car last night, stuck in traffic, a radio announcement came on for the new movie “Drag Me To Hell“. At first we thought it was a parody, or some strange credit commercial; but no – it was dead serious – meant to make us scream in terror. If horror films follow contemporary social fears – from the  “Frankenstein Complex” to articles like this and books like this; then what does the premise of this movie say about the current state of our society? (can’t help but chuckle even as I type this at 7:49am!)

The premise – straight from IMDB:

A loan officer ordered to evict an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse, which turns her life into a living hell. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to a breaking point.

… and from Wikipedia:

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer with a good job and a promising future. With a promotion up in the air between her and another employee, her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), advises her that she needs to demonstrate she can make “the hard calls” and make tough decisions. When Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an elderly Slavic woman, asks for a third extension on her mortgage, Christine, against her better instincts, denies her in an attempt to prove herself. In desperation, Ganush prostrates herself before Christine, begging and kissing the hem of her skirt. As a crowd of customers and employees gathers, Christine panics and shoves the woman away, gravely insulting her.

That night, in a parking garage, Ganush, enraged and humiliated, exacts revenge by attacking Christine, pulling her out of her car and tearing off one of the buttons the sleeve of her jacket before using it to place a curse upon her. Shaken by this confrontation, but sure that no further harm will come of it, Christine tries to forget what has happened and move on with her life- that is until she is haunted around the clock by a mysterious and terrifying entity that only she can see.

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APA Style Guide Update – 2009

Thank you to the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list (and to Debashis ‘Deb’ Aikat, Ph. D., Associate Professor and Media Futurist
School of Journalism and Mass Communication at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for posting it to the list), there will be a “6th” edition of the APA guidelines – which will include the following:

Key to the “sixth edition” of APA style is a Web presence. On July 1, 2009, APA will launch a fully revamped website featuring tutorials, sample papers, frequently asked questions, an APA Style blog, and
other resources about APA Style.

The sixth edition of APA Style offers new and expanded instruction on publication ethics, statistics, journal article reporting standards, electronic reference formats, and formats for tables and figures.

Some select features include:
~~ “new ethics guidance on such topics as determining authorship and terms of collaboration, duplicate publication, plagiarism and self-plagiarism, disguising of participants, validity of instrumentation, and making data available to others for verification;”

~~ “significantly expanded content on the electronic presentation of data to help readers understand the purpose of each kind of display and choose the best match for communicating the results of the investigation, with new examples for a variety of data displays, including electrophysiological and biological data;”

~~ “consolidated information on all aspects of reference citations, with an expanded discussion of electronic sources emphasizing the role of the digital object identifier (DOI) as a reliable way to locate information;”

~~ “simplified APA heading style to make it more conducive to electronic publication;”

~~ “new guidelines for reporting inferential statistics and a significantly revised table of statistical abbreviations;”

See more details at http://books.apa.org/books.cfm?id=4200066

The Day After

I have posts from pre-CGSA (friday night fun in Ottawa) and Day 1 to wrap up and post, but I have to say, the day after any conference, there is always a feeling of both relief and exhaustion. A mix of feeling a bit lighter (something you have been working on and stressing about over the last while is over and done, and if we are lucky, done well heh), and a returning feeling of stress – having to get back to the other things on my to-do list that have been pushed aside in the final week leading up to the conference.

So today, although I have a mere two weeks to rework my secondary comps paper (not as bad as it sounds) and make the minor but necessary edits to my proposal (both due June 6th), I will try to rest up and recuperate. Bring the laptop to bed, dilly dally with a few books, jot down a few notes if I am so inspired and maybe even do a crossword or two. Tomorrow, life begins again – but until then… =)

CGSA – Day 2 – Panel 4 & 5

Session 4 – Alternative Play Spaces

This sessions dealt with the ever-neglected (imo) topic of health issues/education and videogames.  Fern Delamere kicked the 4th session off with her presentation called Place Matters: social Construction, Disability Groups and the Virtual World Second Life.  Her focus is to look at the virtual worlds in respect to the social communication and the fact that space matters for people with disabilities in terms of the support. The virtual space allows people to get together and interact in ways that they may not be able to in their everyday, physical lives. Looking at the supports systems and services, the relationship between health advocacy and those who participate in these communities. These places level the playing field (physically and socially) for those who go to them – neutral places – and this is important. Fern spend a nice portion of the presentation talking about places like The Virtual Ability Island which offers those with physical disabilities to participate in things that they may not be able to do otherwise and (Virtual) Help Island that focus on health and disability information (i.e. meetings and advocacy) and multiple groups such as the American Cancer Society, Wheelies in SL (social dances for those with disabilities) and Gimp Girl, which is a group of women with disabilities who work towards re-appropriating the word gimp as something that is empowering and unifying. All of these groups and spaces broaden the scope of social meaning and education for both disabled and able bodied people.

The second presentation in the panel was presented by Bill Kapralos titled Community Health Nursing Education Comes to Life and aimed to talk about serious games, the motivation behind the project, and mSTREET, which is a modular synthetic training .. slides moving fast – I missed the last few words). Bill frames the talk by contextualizing the target audience for digitally mediated education as those who have been raised in a “sensory flooded” society (dubbed the Millennial Student – 1981-1999). They expect learning to be “fun” and therefore serious games can be an innovative tool for education. The focus of the presentation is on Community Health Nursing which encompasses home care/public health as something that is moving away from the hospital and into the community. The video game aspect is related to ways to develop its curriculum as that which is contrasted to traditional nursing education. Through serious games and simulations, it can provide the students with a safe practice environment. It would also develop critical and reflective thinking skills, and reinforce key learning concepts. Admittedly, a step or three away from topics that I am usually drawn in by, sometimes it is quite interesting to see projects that attempt to use innovative teaching and research tools to move a field (any field) further.

Session 5 – Identity in MMO’s

Probably the session that I should have presented in (oddly, I cannot remember the last time I presented my identity work in a peer public venue). That being said, there couldn’t be a better topic (imho) to wrap it all up.

Alison Harvey presented her work titled Situated Accounts in Non-Places: Doing Empirical Research on Online Gaming which dealt with methodology, specifically ANT (Actor Network Theory), SST (Social Shaping of Technology) and Post Structural Feminism. Messy methods – John Lay – After Method: mess in social science research.  It is important to keep in mind that research methods are not value neutral – this needs to be taken into consideration when one chooses their methods for research. Alison spent the first half of the presentation taking us through the bullet-pointed definitions (the best kind) of ANT, SST, SCOT and how these theories can be used in research (specifically ANT). She also makes parallels between SST and post-structuralist gender/queer theory as something that tries to move beyond dichotomous thinking. Describing games such as Club penguin which reifies gender norms in video game design – compared to how gender norms are actually performed. A few phrases that stuck out as Alison was wrapping up her presentation: Gender in action instead of as innate traits. Methods from the margins. Allow the messiness of life into the rigid boundaries of research methods.

The last presentation of the day was given by Elkan and Sheldon Richmond – The Question of Identity in Massive Multi-Player Games and Social Reality. As a game designer, philosopher and systems analyst they open the presentation off with questions for the audience about the multiplicity/singularity of identity, getting the group to collectively challenge ideas of reality, being and identity, morality. “Am I my job” ; “how do different social roles or identity related to my ‘real’ identity”; and “if my ‘real’ identity is above and beyond what I do, what is my identity” (the last question was let go, as the audience did not take the dialogue in the (potentially) desired direction). A philosophical presentation that seemed to aim to get the group to discuss the banality (or purpose?) of studying videogames. However, the presentation never really got to talk about videogames at all in an informational sort of way. Too bad really.

All in all, it was a great conference, a few good meals, a couple of good brew (Young’s Double Chocolate Stout baby!), a lot of great conversations and honestly, nothing better than being able to meet once a year with a group of similarly but just different enough-thinking peers.

CGSA 2010 – Concordia University, Montreal Canada next May.

Quote of the day: I guess you can call it informed, directed ignorance

CGSA – Day 2 – Afternoon ( Panel 3)

Session 3 – What Really Happened?

After a great morning, and a pretty decent lunch with pretty great people, we are head into the last two panels of CGSA 2009. Kicking things off is Cindy Poremba with her talk Frames and Simulated Documents: Indexicality in Documentary Videogames which focuses on the game JFK Reloaded, and the representation of actual (historical) events within the game, how they are related to indexicality and what purpose it serves. She argues that the game is not about the reference to the real – the actual event – but to the resurrection of the archives of the event. Bringing indexicality into videogames serve two primary functions –  (1. Bah! I was too slow to get this down before she moved on!) and anchoring the player into the “real world” in conjunction with the game-world. She continued on to talk about simulation and representation and the truth value of the claims being made through the use of them. The core of the presentation discussed the issues and problems that simulations present when used to offer motives and insights into the historical event itself. She wrapped it all up talking about the relationship between memory, experience, simulation and indexicality (apologies if my summary doesn’t actually do justice to her presentation, but I was busy paying attention  😉

The second presentation in this panel was presented by Stephanie Fisher (Originally titled Great Expectations: WWII Games and Informal History Education – However, the title was changed but did not have time to take it down before diving into the presentation). Dealing with the ways in which historical teaching and learning for K-12 education. Her introductory argument follows that the playing of WWII video games may lead to increase interest in, and learning opportunities about historical information (in this case WWII games such as Call of Duty and  Medal of Honor). Key statements and 4 levels of appropriation for analytical use to explore how students use videogames to learn history (Pattern/result: the larger the role/investment WWII gaming plays In their lives, the higher level of potential appropriation).

  • Level 1: Tangential Learning – may encourage specific research directions
  • Level 2: Preconditioned Expectations – For gamers, it structured their historical thinking Preferred military history over other branches + in-depth examinations (characteristics of WWII FPS games); for non gamers, it expanded their knowledge
  • Level 3: Safe Spaces – Entertainment-based source = contested information = safe space to practice historical skills (however, historical bias as per the market/reworking of the historical accuracy of the events portrayed in games)
  • Level 4: Unsafe Spaces – Using the information learned in the ‘safe space’ outside of the game i.e. In the classroom

She wrapped up the presentation saying that history is often an unpopular class in school, and perhaps there is room for games to be used/brought into the curriculum.

Both presentations inspired flurry of questions on the relationship between game design, what is real and the player experience. In such cases, it is sometimes sad that there are only 10 minutes for questions for every two presentations.

CGSA 2009 – Day 2 – Morning Sessions

Session 1 -Readerly/Writerly Play

The first session of the day was (happily) at 10am – started with Jim Bizzocchi gave an animated presentation titled Close-Reading and the Poetics of Form in an Emergent Medium (unfortunately, his co-author Joshua Tanenbaum was not present). Essentially, a presentation on methods and processes of close readings – looking at the relationships between the game design, narrative, and gameplay, keeping a journal of observations under the categories of narrative, theme, gameplay, media. The game of choice – Oblivion. Looking at elements of performativity, and adaptivity of the game. In conclusion, Jim wrapped up giving the benefits

Close-reading coming from humanities based scholarship, it can

  • effective and versatility
  • reveal the poetics  of game and medium
  • Loosely or systematically

Overall, the presentation was interesting, unfortunately, as time was a factor, it had to be hurried through a bit towards the end.

The second presentation, by Diane Poulson (Bricolage and Emergent Gameplay) the discussion began with some introductory material on cut scenes, videogames, and interactivity. The presentation included ideas on the ways in which players alter game rules to re-author the gameplay and space. From here, she went on to discuss how players appropriate videogames for purposes other than gameplay – essentially, for pure artistic entertainment, (in the machinima spirit) making music videos around content and themes about the game. From machinima and add-ons, she continues to discuss the ways that players use outside elements and bring it into the games. Overall, it was an interesting (and entertaining – anyone who can sing a bar or two from a song during a presentation gets my vote for presentation of the day) overview of the tools and process of alternative uses of videogames from both within it, and external  elements.

Session 2 – Games and Communication

The second session focused on presenting two research groups and their work. Beginning with Maude Bonenfant, presenting the research group HomoLudens which focuses on socialization and communication in videogames, focusing specifically on the player experience. She presented the main research questions through field work in mmorpg’s such as which communication tools players use, do these tools influence the ways in which they communicate; questions on cheating; player interpersonal relationships etc. She presented the early findings and challenges that they faced as they worked through with the players they were researching as well as information from the second phase of their research. As they are now entering into the last phase of the research, analysis etc, Maude clarifies that while they are working with in depth interviews with well over 50 participants, they are not aiming to make any generalizations, but aim to understand the role and meaning of gameplay in mmorpg’s in the players lives.

The fourth presentation of the day brought Nick Taylor to the podium, with his presentation titled “Shots heard ‘round the world: Halo 3 goes global. The focus was on digital competitive gaming tournament – the professionalization of gaming as sport. He conducted an ethnography of players in Toronto who play Halo competitively from local practice tournaments completing with a large scale international conference and using Actor Network Theory to think about the interactions between the players to the technology in order to further understand the embodied activities of the players both inside and outside the gameplay. With great photo images and video footage of international gaming competitions, the presentation was both informative and entertaining, a great mix for a conference presentation if you ask me =)

Both sessions had great question periods, and some compelling replies to kick off a pretty decent lunchtime discussion. Off for lunch – will wrap up the last group of panels, which gets to great topics such as documentary/indexical issues in games, alternative play spaces, and identity in mmo’s.

Conference Time

I am heading off today (well, tomorrow since I have not been to bed yet) to Ottawa, ON (Canada) to present work on new material with a colleague (and great co-author) Shanly Dixon at the Canadian Game Studies Association annual meeting. We get the hot spot for presenting – the session just before the wine and cheese =) Usually a well attended time slot given the social nature of a good conference.

While we have been working on this presentation for the last two months, and have done alot of reading, note taking and ethnography, I am still extremely anxious to actually stand up and talk. From the ridiculous “what the heck should I wear” to the paranoia infused “what if they think I’m an idiot!”, the stress of any pre-conference usually manifests itself in some of the strangest ways (from hives to verbal repitition).

So, it’s off I go to continue to tweak our presentation – torturing my wonderful co-author with last minute questions and doubtful rebuttals. But I must say, of all the jobs I have had, regardless of my persistant fear of public speaking (which I am told I hide quite well), I would still not want to do anything else!