Portfolio for English 606: Topics in Humanities Computing


April 2016

Please Give Me Some Space! (Week 14)

Trevor Harris calls for more scholarly attention towards the use of cartography as a tool for the humanities. Harris, a professor of geography at West Virginia University, is just one of many scholars propelling the Spatial Turn in the humanities.

In “Geohumanities: engaging space and place in the humanities,” he explains that “the Spatial Turn reinserts space as an active participant in human events and behavior,” and it “calls for a critical revaluation of space and spatiality across disciplines where social theory is part of, and contingent on, a triad of space, time, and social structure.”

Harris goes on to discuss the potential of spatial storytelling for humanities study, and makes an important distinction between thin maps and deep maps. Thin maps are straightforward; their primary objective is to relay data. Deep maps, on the other hand, are “heavily narrative-based and interlace autobiography, art, folklore, stories, and map.”

While reading, I initially thought about two maps that are presented as videos and combine time and space to cause a reaction. The first map is the widely known World Population map that represents the growth of the world population from 1 A.D. to 2007, created by the Population Connection, a nonprofit group that advocates for population stabilization.

The author’s intent, as emphasized in the 1 and a half minute introduction, is to warn the public that if the population continues to grow at its current rate, Earth will exceed its carrying capacity.

The map uses one dot to represent a million people. The year is displayed in the bottom-left corner and an additional historical landmark, such as the Roman Empire, is displayed in the bottom-right corner. Additionally, there is a heartbeat noise that speeds towards the end, signifying something like the lead up to a heart attack.

Pulling from ecocriticism, this map is a clear example of apocalyptic rhetoric, and although I am critical of the map now, it caused a powerful reaction when I first watched it in high school.

The second map is the Time-Lapse of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945. This map, created by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto is a colorful representation of every nuclear explosion from 1945 to 1998.

The design is reminiscent of classic video games (like Pong). The count per country is displayed in the frame surrounding the map. The month and year steadily change in the top-right corner and the total number changes in the bottom-right corner. The nuclear explosions are represented with varying colors and sounds, creating an illuminating orchestra that is discomfortingly beautiful. At the end of the video, the ‘scores’ are displayed, showing that the United States has ‘won.’

Another example, which I will demonstrate next week in my project presentation, is Esri’s Story Maps. In Harris’ “Deep geography – deep mapping: spatial storytelling and a sense of space,” he discusses technologies that can be used by humanities scholars to map stories. One example he provides is Esri’s MapsOnLine. I’m guessing this was the precursor to either Esri’s Story Maps or Esri’s ArcGIS Online.

The Story Maps feature allows you to easily create beautiful and dynamic stories using maps, text, images, videos, and audio, and I think it could be a powerful tool for humanities scholars.


Video Games: More Than Just Play (Week 13)

The readings this week were woven together with a major emphasis on processes, procedures, and expression. Furthermore, all of the readings this week advocate for more scholarly research of games, specifically the input (the code and procedures), as most existing research focuses on the output (the screen and gameplay).

In Procedural Rhetoric, Ian Bogost acknowledges that video games are not taken seriously in academia: “videogames are considered inconsequential because they are perceived to serve no cultural or social function save distraction at best, moral baseness at worst” (viii). He analyzes the procedural aspect of video games under a rhetorical lens and proposes the concept of procedural rhetoric to capture this rhetoric. He defines procedural rhetoric as “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures” (viii).

Bogost claims that, because video games are expressive, they are well suited for rhetorical speech/persuasion. Video games utilize the enthymeme: “the player performs a great deal of mental synthesis, filling the gap between subjectivity and game processes” and “a procedural model like a videogame could be seen as a system of nested enthymemes, individual procedural claims that the player literally completes through interaction” (43). The player is willing to accept the claims put forth in video games, and often this is done unknowingly.

I agree that video games deserve more attention as rhetorical objects and more “acceptance as a cultural form” (vii). The readings this week made me think critically about the different types of video games I’ve played, such as the Sims, Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), Runescape.

Relating this information to some games, like the Sims, is easy. It is more difficult with other games, like DDR. The procedures involved in DDR seem so simplistic; it’s difficult to initially see the value of studying the procedural representations of the game.

The player must step on the correct arrows as they match up with a line on the screen. The level of accuracy influences the number of points awarded and the words that appear on the screen, such as “Perfect” and “Boo.” There are no lively characters or realistic setting for the game, and there certainly is no story.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, in Expressive Processing, uses the term expressive processing to “talk about what processes express in their design–which may not be visible to audiences,” such as their “histories, economies, and schools of thought” (4). Considering these hidden processes, such as the culture embedded in the game design, validates DDR as something that has significant cultural and social functions.

On another note, in the Introduction to Technical Communication for Games, Jennifer deWinter and Ryan Moeller discuss the technical communicator’s potential role in the production and dissemination of video games.

Although the reading did not touch upon this at all, I thought about my technical writing work at ITS. From there, I thought about the terminology of the audience. With technical writing for WVU’s IT services, the audience is the user. With video games, the audience is the player.

There may be nothing behind this distinction, but it may add to the perception of video games as not worthy of serious consideration from scholars and technical communicators.

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