Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do Androids Count Electric Sheep?

"You mean old books?"
"Stories written before space travel but about space travel."
"How could there have been stories about space travel before --"
"The writers," Pris said, "made it up."
― Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The art world is full of new genres, those emerging in the last handful of decades. In modern fashion, you see clothing on the catwalk exposing women's busts in the 70's from Saint Laurent of France. In literature, you see fantasy novels beginning with Tolkien's works in the late '30s and mid 50's (though scientific/planetary romances and the sci-fi works of Verne, Wells, and others, as well as fairy tales, myths, and folklore certainly influenced the distinct genre). In the broader Humanities and the field of computer science, you see the development of the Digital Humanities (or DH) some time in the middle of the 20th century. Around the same time, video games entered the scene and soon exploded into a bona fide mass medium. While the term "video game" predates that of "the Digital Humanities," it's somewhat unclear which truly came first. Moreover, the ideals of these two concepts overlap in many places. This begs the question: Should video games fall under the umbrella of the Digital Humanities? Were video games the first element to DH, or, similar to stories of space travel, did they predate the actual birth of the field?

Sports have frequently been looked down upon by those in the Humanities. They are considered crude and animalistic or basic and soulless. Yet sports can be just as human as the broader Humanities. Player storylines and such may be absent from Pong, the first video game to achieve commercial success, but this simple game of table tennis did well to represent human struggle, a key theme of the Humanities. It seems wrong to not consider a video game even as simple as Pong to belong to the Digital Humanities.

If Pong falls under DH, plenty of other video games should too. Not every game may fit the bill, such as Klondike/Solitaire or Tetris; however, many other games contain characteristics of the Humanities that seem to make them DH. Sports games like Madden and FIFA should be counted automatically. Puzzle-based games may draw more questioning. Does playing "I Spy" rouse enough creative inquiry to fall under the Humanities? Tactical strategy games, especially those with characterization and rich storylines, should definitely count as DH. The Fire Emblem series knows what's up, that's for sure. Each individual game could be put to a test to determine whether it should be DH or not. That test is not for us to make, at least not at the moment.

It is still hard to say how the timeline plays out for DH and video games. Video games may have started the field off or come in early on. They may have just jumped on the bandwagon. Only one thing is clear: many video games should count under the Digital Humanities. Which ones those are is just a little harder to determine.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

To Credit, or Not to Credit: A Totally Original Title

Stephanie Barber is a published author who created (or did she?) a small book titled Night Moves. Her novel was inspired by the popular song "Night Moves," performed by Bob Segar. Barber created this piece in what is known as an "uncreative" process; she got all of her material for her book from the YouTube comments on Bob Segar's "Night Moves" official music video. Using the comments from Bob Seager's song on YouTube has created a controversial question: is Stephanie Barber the author of Night Moves, or does the credit belong strictly to those who wrote the YouTube comments? This question truly has no right or wrong answer, but to form a more solid opinion on the subject, my Digital Humanities class tried uncreative writing first-hand.

The class is split into what the professor calls "tribes", and each tribe includes four members. Each tribe created a chat room on Google Hangouts. Our professor then showed the class small segments of five video clips that all included dialogue of some sort. The videos ranged from Kanye West speeches to a Donald Trump/Game of Thrones collage. While the small segments of each video were played, all four members of my tribe typed everything we heard and remembered into our chat room. We would send our messages frequently, with each message only containing a few words. After performing this act with all five videos, the tribe copied and pasted the entire chat to a Google document. We created an uncreative poem. This poem, which we titled "People are Looding," is created entirely from what four undergraduate college students heard when listening to random (read: incredibly important) YouTube videos.


After plenty of thought regarding the ethics of uncreative writing, as well as attempting it first-hand, I formed an opinion regarding the authorship of Night Moves. The ownership of the novel belongs not only to Stephanie Barbers, but to Bob Seager, and also to those who posted the YouTube comments. The comment area of Bob Seager's original video is where the writing of the novel occured. The name of the novel was inspired by Seager's song. Those who posted the comments actually created the material within the novel, and Stephanie Barber then catalogued the comments to create what is now Night Moves. This novel would not exist if it were not for Barber, Seager, and the commenters; therefore, all three deserve authorship. In the same respect, while all four members of my tribe deserve credit for the creation of "People are Looding," we are not the only authors of the piece.

At first glance, I thought that Night Moves consisted of nothing but a bunch of random words. I never thought that any meaning resided within the work, and still feel kind of feel this way to this day. Night Moves, "People are Looding," and other forms of uncreative writing can have meaning, but you have to look between the uncreative lines and find that meaning for yourself. With that being said, I cannot deny that Stephanie Barber has created something completely out-of-the-box, intriguing, and, depending on the individual, meaningful. Uncreative writing is, and will continue to be for a very long time, a controversial form of writing in which authorship is constantly being questioned.

A Collaborative Effort

1st-Person Pronouns: Molly Verostick and Zack Tokosh (variously)