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Canadian Society For Digital Humanities And Canadian Game Studies Association

These conference notes are being written as I listen to talks so it will have large gaps and errors.

Congress 2013 was held at the University of Victoria. I attended meetings of two associations, Canadian Society for Digital Humanities and Canadian Game Studies Association.

Monday, June 3rd

Human-Centred Design in Humanities Computing

Stan Ruecker and Gerry Derksen presented a more theoretical paper about what human-centered or researcher-centered design might be in the digital humanities. They talked about sustainability - what does it mean to design sustainable systems.

Researcher-centered design should:

  • make research possible
  • make research easier
  • make research pleasurable

Locative Media Interfaces to Halifax History

Keith Lawson is developing an interface to Raddall's history of Halifax. He has been thinking about how locative-media can create a connection between past and present. Lawson quoted Farman "Mobile Interface Theory" to the effect that locative media can give you a sense of implacement. Lawson is trying to add a historical aspect to this by pulling passages from Raddall and applying it to place.

I wonder if we could call this a locative concordance? The organizing principle is location not alphabetical word.

Context isn't just there - it is actively produced and maintained. Locative applications can be seen in a history of such contextualizing. They try to break us out of the frozen moment we think we are in.

Terra Incognita: Modelling digital scholarly editing as a form of hyperreal cartography

Jon Saklofske started by talking about maps and territories. Scholarly editing can be considered a form of mapping. Maps have a relationship to a territory (at least most do) just as editions have some relationship to a text. Scholarly editing model source texts and often have to compromise or decide what to show or hide. The visualization or map can become the work itself. (Is that the simulacrum.)

He showed the New Radial tool that he is developing in INKE. See This lets items from a database be arranged spatially. Spatializing representations for Jon can help organize a community commenting on a text.

New Radial by default imposes a radial arrangement on the data, but users can adapt the space (terraform it). Neither maps or editions are neutral. New Radial and other environments encourage community editing - does that have

My sense is that Jon is using mapping metaphorically and while it is useful to think about editing as mapping, it would also be interesting ask what are the differences.

Factors Hindering the Absorption of Digital Humanities in Developing Countries: A focus on Nigeria

Titilola Babalola (University of Lethbridge, Global Outlook::Digital Humanities) presented a very different talk as her session was collapsed into ours. She is interested in how to connect to other regions outside the usual suspects. She showed a graph of where digital humanities centers are, and there was only one in South Africa.

Despite low internet usage in Africa, some countries like Nigeria and Eygpt however, show up in the top 20 usage countries mainly because of mobile internet usage. Many African countries like Nigeria access the internet very differently than we do in North America. Nigeria has the highest Facebook mobile penetration, for example. So why is there little interest in the digital humanities?

Some of the factors that lead to low interest in the digital humanities:

  • Poor network connectivity
  • Electricity is not reliable
  • Poor integration of digital tools into teaching (no projectors)
  • Limited bandwidth (and most digital humanities resources take high-bandwidth)
  • Unresponsive attitude towards crowdsourcing and data curation (when you pay a lot for a network connection, why do work for others?)

Nigeria is a country with lots of heritage that is being lost, especially oral heritage. Babalola mentioned Davidson's questions about the difference between digital humanities and digital literarcy. Digital literacy is important to Nigeria, but the digital humanities may not be. For example, Facebook is preferred and perhaps more useful than Moodle.

There is in effect, a certain amount of digital work related to the humanities, but the term "digital humanities" isn't used. What is needed is change in digital culture and rather than use of the term.

Just What Do They Do?

A bunch of us gave short papers in a panel organized around the "Just What Do They Do?" SSRHC Insight grant.

Stéfan Sinclair started us off and introduced the project, the questions we are asking, and mentioned the success of Voyant Tools which averages about 35,000 pageviews a month. He mentioned the evolution of the TAPoR portal.

I spoke about the historical tools that we are entering into TAPoR. Ryan Chartier then talked about the text analysis that he ran on the corpus of 500 articles. He used R to do PCA (Principal Component Analysis) and vocabulary analysis. He used Mallet to do topic modelling.

Then Rebekah Willson talked about a study that interviewed 20 participants about what resources they used and how they used them. They also asked participants to actually try some tools for some tasks. She talked about how what people use they expect. If they use Google then they expect things to work like Google.

She then talked about some of the results. Many people are very focused on specific tasks rather than future use or general issues. There is a lack of awareness of the variety of tools out there.

The next theme is that people want choice. They want to choose how they access, what they upload, what they can do with the output and so on. They want online tools, but are worried about online tools being slow or disappearing. And they don't want these tools to be black boxes. There was a split between people who want visualizations and those who don't.

They wanted more comprehensive tools that do more and more. People want lots of functionality in one location. They don't want to be shifting from one place to another. And it was interesting that most want to be able to drill down to the full text. I'm convinced that that is what distinguishes literary text analysis and mining.

John Simpson then gave us a survey of text mining techniques that can be used in the digital humanities. He mentioned five general categories of text mining tools:

  • Classification is a technique where you train a system to recognize some feature like irony. Sentiment analysis can be seen as a form of classification where you classify documents according to different sentiments.
  • Vocabulary analysis or concording is a class of techniques that also gets called text analysis. Tools like Voyant would follow
  • Topic extraction tries to find topics (clusters of words) that are important in a collection. It tries to identify what you might follow and study more closely.
  • Clustering is related to classification and the idea is to find a hierarchy of clusters of documents.
  • Network analysis is a class of techniques that represents a set of entities as a graph with nodes and edges. The idea is to see how the items are connected into a network.

Mark McKellar talked about the next version of TAPoR that supports better community participation. Some of the features in the new version include:

  • We now present back to users the most popular tools and recommended tools.
  • We have a featured tool panel in the central position.
  • We have categories and user provided tags.
  • You can log in using Google, Twitter and Yahoo. This should make it easier to comment on tools.

Finally Milena Radzikowska talked about designs for the next version of TAPoR. She showed new design that Mark is implementing. She talked about providing an easier entry for users with featured tools and three column structure. She talked about larger labels and the typographic quality.

She had a neat slide showing how she has been trimming space and moving it around in the design. The slide had arrows showing where space is going. For example, the title bar is getting narrower.

She then talked about how TAPoR might highlight users by letting them keep lists of tools. TAPoR could also recommend tools and highlight the user as an author of tools. The user page privileges the user not tools, so it can become a way of recognizing people who develop tools.

FemShep: Crowdsourcing a Female Hero in BioWare’s Mass Effect.

The last panel that I attended was a joint panel between CSDH and CGSA. Sean Gouglas introduced the panel by talking about the expanded community/culture around the Mass Effect space opera. He described how Bioware ran a form of beauty contest to get the fans to choose the form of the female Shepard that would be used in advertising. The panel shared a study of the discussion around this contest.

Sean talked about how Bioware has made the female Shepard a rich character, but still have lots of content that don't really fit having a female lead character.

Then Sean talked about our content analysis of the discourse around the contest. (I was peripherally involved.)

Then Andrea Budac talked about developing a codebook and coding the data. She talked about the voting and what we could guess about commentators from their Facebook presence. Most commentators were civil, possibly because they were commenting under their Facebook account. Some of the results include that many more males commented, but women tended to write longer comments.

Then Maren Wilson presented about the wider context and media. She talked about gaming news media. She talked about the Death to Blonde Shepard article by Kim Richards. There was a mismatch between the comments critical of blondshep and the media attention. The media attention may have led to Bioware running a second contest to determine hair colour (again.) Not surprisingly a different hair colour was chosen. Wilson talked about the myths around blondes and the way blonde hair triggers images and stereotypes.

Shannon Lucky talked about the relationship between players and game avatars and in particular the relationship players form in single-player off-line RPGs. In off-line games you don't need to impress or intimidate others. They followed up with a survey of players through Facebook.

Players feel connected to avatars, but not that the avatar is them. Players got close to their avatars when the going got tough for their avatar, not when the player can control their look. They empathize with the avatars as characters who are semi-independent. She talked about the customization of characters.

Customization is clearly important to players, especially female players, but it doesn't lead to identification with avatar. Customization also lets you play many times as different characters.

Jen Jenson finished off the panel by talking about the limitations in the choices. The choices are normative of representations of women. This sort of research open up the choices and add subtleties to the discussion. She talked about the importance of this work that is trying to give some nuance to what is happening. Gaming should be a site for those who are not straight white males!

Tuesday June 4th

Enhancing Digital Scholarship: Technologies, Content, Literacies

In the morning I was part of a panel organized by SSHRC on Enhancing Digital Scholarship. Here is the SSHRC description of the event:

SSHRC is hosting the event Enhancing Digital Scholarship: Technologies, Content and Literacies at the 2013 meeting of the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. The purpose of the event is to explore our increasingly digitized research landscape and some of the pressing questions facing today’s scholars, such as: What are the implications for scholarship and knowledge mobilization? What tools and methods are best applied to “big data”? How can scholars and decision-makers leverage this wealth of information to the benefit of society? SSHRC President Chad Gaffield will provide opening remarks. The event will take the format of a panel discussion.

As it was a panel, I couldn't really take notes, but here are the points I made in my opening remarks:

  • History: the use of computing in the humanities is not new. We can learn from the decades of history.
  • Sharing: one of the things the web lets us do is share knowledge more broadly with different publics. We need to re-engage the larger publics in what we do and the web is a venue for doing that. I argued that we need explore ways of crowdsourcing research that bring citizen scholars in.
  • Analysis: one of the new things that we can do over the web or with computers is to share interactive ideas or ideas about interactivity. I talked about the need to keep the development of tools in the humanities as it is about how we ask questions.
  • Knowledge interoperation: the challenge of big data is partly how to get all the lovely craft projects to interoperate so that we have big (quality) data to analyze at all.
  • Knowledge mobilization: we can use
  • Gaming: I ended by arguing that gaming is one area we (humanities) should be paying more attention to.

In the panel discussion we had some interesting

Learning in Video Games

Andy Keenan talked about the learning within a game (as opposed to learning about something through a game.) He discussed "procedural tutorials" that you often hit at the beginning of a game that tells you how to play. He analyzed 10 games and created a topology of best practices.

He showed the opening of Killzone 3 and how you learn to play the game through it. The game puts you in a training session.

  • First time you get something you get popup explanations - a prompt comes up in the middle of your screen
  • Just in time information - you get explanations of what is going on as in "You are hurt, get to cover." (What about audio versions of this.)
  • Integrated narrative - where you get narrative or in game things that tell you about what is happening.

He then quoted Eric Zimmerman to the effect that games are becoming mutant cinema where you don't need to participate. He also quoted Jesper Juul to the effect that games that you can't do wrong in are fine. Why be bothered that you can get through a level without learning how to play (in that the game just drags you along.)

Andrew plans to study how experienced and new players deal with the opening tutorials.

Assessing Serious Games

Man-Wai Chu and Domini Gee presented on thinking through how to assess games. We (I was part of this project) looked at how game design books recommend one thinks through developing a game. They often structure assessment as a set of questions. Then we mapped different types of probes, techniques, discussions, and assessment techniques to these questions. Here are the headings for the clusters of questions we think are interesting.

  • Affiliations
  • Expectations
  • Resources
  • Planning
  • Design
  • Delivery
  • Feedback
  • End-State

Playing with Citations in Scholarly Games: Moving Empiricism from the Edge of the Historical Narrative Back to the Centre

Jerremie Clyde talked about a project to teach about citations. The Game "Combat and Morale in North Africa" was developed in Visionaire.

Wednesday, June 5th

The House of the Future: Mediating Open Enclosures

Sarah Thorne of Carleton talked about homes and homeliness and how the idea of home has been explored. Digital media technologies are changing our relationship to the house. The house is now a media center and the difference between in and out is changing. TV and radio bring the outside in. Web cams and stuff bring the inside out. The walls of the house have become more porous.

The house of the future is a recurring motif. She talked about the 1940 Leave it to ROLL-OH. Microsoft is developing an operating system, Home OS that is meant to help manage appliances in ways related to the ROLL-OH video.

She talked about the effects of satellite views on our sense of home and space. She talked about Jenny Odell's Travel by Approximation: A Virtual Road Trip - a project where the author created a travel photobook of a trip that she didn't take. She used found images and photoshopped herself in.

I couldn't follow all of the argument, but I was wondering how construction technology might be changing to give us different senses of enclosure/home.

Enhancing User Experience and Mobile Interfaces in Locative Augmented Reality Games

David Holmes talked about a Augmented Reality Game project we have been working on at the University of Alberta. We have developed a platform called fAR-Play or "for Augmented Reality Play". He then talked about a game we made with fAR-Play called the Intelliphone Challenge. This game was created with and for the Fort Edmonton Park, a historical park that has historical buildings recreating Edmonton in the past.

Holmes talked about the data we collected from the game and how we changed the interface to respond to user feedback. For example, when we removed a forced log-in we saw an increase in the number of players. We also got a lot of feedback about the interface and redesigned it to make it as simple and intuitive.

The Waste Land for iPad as a Model for the Public Digital Edition

Alyssa Arbuckle talked about making public digital editions from a literary vision (nerdy humanistic vision.) She did a close critical reading of the Waste Land app from Touch Press for the iPad. She was critical of a number of aspects of the app:

  • Too many of the voices are of white men
  • You can't search for some of the typographic features which limits knowledge available
  • There are decontexualized objects without bibliographic references - everything seems to float around
  • It dehistoricizes
  • The editorial position isn't documented publicly

She didn't want to only damn it. She feels it is also important to acknowledge how it is both more accessible than scholarly editions and more scholarly than most popular editions. They have shown how you can combine scholarly and accessible/engaging components. The problem is how to do it well.

The app climbed to the first position in the UK within 7 hours and became one of Apple's app of the week. That it was successful is a good sign for serious digital editions, but it calls attention to the limits of Touch Press's design.

She is now developing a public digital edition under the name "Weird Fiction" of Lovecraft's works. She hopes to demonstrate how one can create a better contextualized and historicized public edition.

Because it is popular and public we (digital humanists) need to be involved in the development of these digital editions.

Citizen Player: Reimagining players as acknowledged legislators of the game world

Jon Saklofske presented a series of questions about whether games could promote citizenship. He argued that gamed now encourage selfish individualism. He then looked at evolving (Western) ideas of citizenship and then reflected on how games do and don't encourage collaborative citizenship.

Pachinko: A Game Studies Perspective

Keiji Amano and I presented on pachinko. We introduced the game and talked about how the video industry and pachinko industry have become entangled. Pachinko began to lose young (male) players to games in the 1980s and needed a way to get them back. Japanese game companies were also suffering increasing costs. The two industries therefore had reason to collaborate in two ways:

  • Pachinko started licensing content from the manga, anime, TV, and game industries. The idea was to attract new players in through favorite characters.
  • Pachinko

The Edge of Game Design: Rethinking Meritocracy

Chris Paul talked about fairness and meritocracy. He mentioned "pay to win" that seems unfair. Do we really want balance and fairness in games?

Chris then talked about social science literature that is critical of meritocracy. "The playing field may be level, but certain kids get to spend nights and weekends practicing on it in advance of the competition." (Chris Hayes) Chris Paul continues to quote Chris Hayes about the legitimacy of a hypercompetitive social organizations.

He then challenged us (the lucky) to give back. What can gamers give back. Who makes and plays games?

Breaking Eggs: Disruptive Technologies and Prototyping the Book

Carolyn Guertin was the CSDH/SCHN Outstanding Early Career Award winner and gave the final Plenary Lecture. She has just published a book titled, "Digital Prohibition". She talked about McGann and Ramsay's idea of deformation.

The creation of new digital editions and tools are theoretical interventions. They are acts of design. She then talked about Canadian contributions and

Swift Current was one of the first digital magazines and was published starting on

Mashups and so on are made by breaking things. Bogost talks about intellectual carpentry. Carpentry builds from scratch. Digital humanities breaks up and then builds from the broken. She talked about the aesthetics of the underacademy:

  • Interruption = stoppage and repetition
  • Disturbance = action + event
  • Capture/Leakage = performance + documentaion

Disruptive technology was a term coined by Clayton M. Christensen for disruptive innovation. Two disruptions importance to us are mobility and collaborative tools. She arrived in the deep South from a bubble of the future called Canada to take over a digital media lab and to introduce training and literacies. Because of the success of her programmes she was shut down. Guertin was the disruptive force that needed to be stopped and they did right before her tenure file went out for review. The story is shameful.

She talked about virtual reality and augmented reality. VR immerses while AR supplements, but it can be a matter of scale. Guertin wants to move games off the screen and into space. She described her next new media project which will be for iPads and similar devices. She wants to expand the book to inhabit the world.



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