#SCMS15 — Post-Cinema, Digital Seriality, and a Book Giveaway!

2015-03-10 06.03.52 pm

Only two weeks until the 2015 Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference (March 25-29 in Montreal)! In case you haven’t seen it already, the official program is now up here (warning: opens as a PDF).

As I have posted before, I will be participating in two panels this year:

First, I will be serving as chair on the “Post-Cinema and/as Speculative Media Theory” panel (Session K7: Friday, March 27, 9:00 – 10:45am), for which I feel extremely lucky to have secured an all-star lineup of panelists: Steven Shaviro, Patricia Pisters, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Mark B. N. Hansen (click on each name to read the panelists’ abstracts). I also feel very honored that the Media and the Environment Special Interest Group has chosen this panel for official sponsorship!

Second, I will be co-presenting a paper on “Hardware Seriality” with my colleague Andreas Jahn-Sudmann in the “Digital Seriality” panel (Session Q20: Saturday, March 28, 3:00 – 4:45pm). Other panelists include Scott Higgins and Dominik Maeder (click for their abstracts). (Unfortunately, Daniela Wentz will not be able to attend the conference.)

Finally, just for fun: A BOOK GIVEAWAY! The first person to ask me (in person, during the conference) about my book Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface (excerpt here) will get a free copy! So be on the lookout!

SCMS 2015 Preliminary Schedule Online — #SCMS15


The preliminary schedule for the Society of Cinema and Media Studies 2015 conference in Montreal is now online (here). As I posted recently, I will be involved in two separate panels:

First, I will be chairing the panel on “Post-Cinema and/as Speculative Media Theory” (panel K7, Friday, March 27, 2015, 9:00-10:45am) — with presenters Steven Shaviro, Patricia Pisters, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Mark B. N. Hansen. You can find the complete panel description, as well as individual abstracts, here. Note also that all participants on this panel are contributors to the forthcoming Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film, which I am co-editing with Julia Leyda.

Second, I will be participating in a panel on “Digital Seriality” (panel Q20, Saturday, March 28, 2015, 3:00-4:45pm) — along with Andreas Jahn-Sudmann, Scott Higgins, Dominik Maeder, and Daniela Wentz. Panel description and abstracts can be found here. And, as with the other panel, this one too has a tie-in with a publication: all the participants on this panel were contributors to the special issue of Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture that Andreas Jahn-Sudmann and I edited on the topic of “Digital Seriality.”

Out Now: Digital Seriality — Special Issue of Eludamos


The latest issue of Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture, a special issue devoted to the topic of “Digital Seriality” — edited by yours truly, together with Andreas Jahn-Sudmann — is now out! Weighing in at 198 pages, this is one of the fattest issues yet of the open-access journal, and it’s jam-packed with great stuff like:

  • Patrick LeMieux on the culture and technology of tool-assisted speedrunning
  • Jens Bonk on the serial structure of Halo
  • Scott Higgins on the ludic pre-history of gaming in serial films
  • Lisa Gotto on ludic seriality and digital typography
  • Tobias Winnerling on the serialization of history in “historical” games
  • Till Heilmann on Flappy Bird and the seriality of digits
  • David B. Nieborg on the political economy of blockbuster games
  • Rikke Toft Nørgård and Claus Toft-Nielsen on LEGO as an environment for serial play
  • Dominik Maeder and Daniela Wentz on serial interfaces and memes
  • Maria Sulimma on cross-medium serialities in The Walking Dead!

So what are you waiting for? Do yourself a favor and check out this issue now!

“Digital Seriality” — Panel at #SCMS15 in Montreal


At the upcoming conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (March 25-29, 2015 in Montréal), I will be participating in a panel on “Digital Seriality,” co-chaired by Andreas Jahn-Sudmann and Scott Higgins, along with Dominik Maeder and Daniela Wentz.

Here is our panel description, along with links (below) to the abstracts for the various papers:

Digital Seriality

Seriality and the digital are key concepts for an understanding of many current forms, texts, and technologies of media, and they are implicated in much broader media-historical trajectories as well. Beyond the forms and functions of specific cultural artifacts, they are central to our global media ecology. Surprisingly, though, relatively few attempts have been made at thinking the digital and the serial together, as intimately connected perspectives on media. This is precisely the task of the present panel. On the one hand, the papers interrogate the serial conditions, forms, and effects of digital culture; on the other hand, they question the role of the digital as technocultural embodiment, determinant, or matrix for serialized media aesthetics and practices. The panel thus brings together heretofore isolated perspectives from studies of new media culture (cf. Manovich 2001, Jenkins 2006) and emerging scholarship on seriality (cf. Kelleter 2012, Allen and van den Berg 2014).

Seriality and digitality are understood here in terms not only of their narrative/representational manifestations but also their technical-operational impacts on our media environments. Accordingly, Shane Denson and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann’s paper looks to the case of the Xbox One in order to show how computational platforms affect the serial forms and practices emerging within, among, and around digital games (“intra-,” “inter-,” and “para-ludic” serialities; cf. Denson and Jahn-Sudmann 2013), but also how these platforms inscribe themselves – as a serialized factor in their own right – into the parameters of computational expression. Whereas video games serve here to highlight the differences between digital and pre-digital serial forms, Dominik Maeder approaches things from the opposite direction, arguing that the interfaces of Netflix, Hulu, and other digital streaming services embody a form of spatio-temporal serialization that, already anticipated by TV series, is closely related to (pre-digital) televisual seriality. As a complementary perspective, Daniela Wentz’s paper shows how certain TV series anticipate their own digital afterlives in the form of fan-made gifs and memes. Finally, Scott Higgins provides an “archeological” perspective, exploring the ludic dimensions of the operational aesthetic, which anticipates computer games in pre-digital forms, thus offering a fruitful case for rethinking digital seriality from a media-comparative perspective.


Allen, Robert, and Thijs van den Berg, eds. Serialization in Popular Culture. London: Routledge, 2014.

Denson, Shane, and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann. “Digital Seriality: On the Serial Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games.” Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture 7.1 (2013): 1-32.

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006.

Kelleter, Frank, ed. Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MIT, 2001.

Finally, here are links to the individual abstracts:

Shane Denson and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann, “The Xbox One as Serial Hardware: A Technocultural Approach to the Seriality of Computational Platforms”

Dominik Maeder, “Serial Interfaces: Publishing and Programming Television on Digital Platforms”

Daniela Wentz, “The Infinite Gesture: The Serial Culture of the Gif”

Scott Higgins, “Ludic Operations: Play and the Serial Action Sequence”

Shane Denson and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann, “The Xbox One as Serial Hardware: A Technocultural Approach to the Seriality of Computational Platforms” #SCMS15


Here is the abstract for Shane Denson and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann’s paper on the panel “Digital Seriality” at the 2015 SCMS conference in Montréal:

The Xbox One as Serial Hardware: A Technocultural Approach to the Seriality of Computational Platforms

Shane Denson (Duke University) and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann (Free University Berlin)

In order to fully understand the serial aesthetics and practices of digital game culture, seriality must be addressed not only on the level of software or gameplay, but also as a hardware phenomenon. The (un)official numbering of console generations serves to mark innovations serially (e.g. PlayStation, PS2, PS3, PS4), and this accords generally with the way in which the technical, aesthetic, and economic evolution of game software and hardware follows a serial logic of “one-upmanship” (cf. Jahn-Sudmann and Kelleter 2012). However, some systems like the new Xbox One ostensibly refuse the additive logic of innovation (the would-be “Xbox 720”) and perform a symbolic reboot instead (cf. Denson and Jahn-Sudmann 2013). Yet this revolutionary rhetoric, along with its connotation of exclusivity, seems hardly compatible with the serial remake-logic of game engines, for instance. These engines function not only to allow games to be run on various platforms (PC, consoles, etc.) with only minor changes to their source code, but also serve to make the reusability of core software components easier and faster, thus increasing the economic viability of game series. Already against this backdrop, the technical development of consoles has to be conceptualized, almost inevitably, as a process of media evolution rather than of media revolution.

In our paper, we seek to explore how game consoles like the Xbox One not only enable and constrain aesthetic forms and practices of ludic seriality, but also how these platforms themselves emerge as serial factors of technocultural expression. The presentation focuses particularly on two questions: First, and more generally, how can the theoretical and historical perspective of “platform studies” (as advocated by Montfort and Bogost 2009) contribute to the study of digital seriality? Second, in how far can we think of the game console as a computational platform that mediates different levels of ludic seriality (forms of serialization within the game, between games, and “outside” the game) while also shaping the cultural forms of what we call “collective serialization” (i.e. processes of community-formation in connection with the consumption of serialized media) and “serial interfacing” (i.e. the temporal-serial experiences that transpire at the interface between humans and digital technologies) (Denson and Jahn-Sudmann 2013)?


Denson, Shane, and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann. “Digital Seriality: On the Serial Aesthetics and Practices of Digital Games.” Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture 7.1 (2013): 1-32.

Jahn-Sudmann, Andreas, and Frank Kelleter. “Die Dynamik serieller Überbietung: Amerikanische Fernsehserien und das Konzept des Quality TV.” Populäre Serialität: Narration-Evolution-Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Ed. Frank Kelleter. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2012. 205-224.

Montfort, Nick, and Ian Bogost. Racing the Beam. The Atari Video Computer System. Cambridge; London: The MIT Press, 2009.


Author Bios:

Shane Denson is a DAAD postdoctoral fellow at Duke University and a member of the research unit “Popular Seriality—Aesthetics and Practice.” He is the author of Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface (Transcript 2014) and co-editor of several collections: Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Narratives (Bloomsbury, 2013), Digital Seriality (special issue of Eludamos, forthcoming), and Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st Century Film (REFRAME, forthcoming).

Andreas Jahn-Sudmann is assistant professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies (Freie Universität Berlin) and a member of the research unit “Popular Seriality—Aesthetics and Practice,” in which he co-directs the project “Digital Seriality.” He is the author of a book on American independent film, Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung? (Transcript, 2006), and co-editor of several anthologies, among them: Computer Games as a Sociocultural Phenomenon (Palgrave, 2008).

CFP: Digital Seriality — Special Issue of Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture


I am pleased to announce that my colleague Andreas Jahn-Sudmann and I will be co-editing a special issue of Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture on the topic of “Digital Seriality.” Here, you’ll find the call for papers (alternatively, you can download a PDF version here). Please circulate widely!

Call for Papers: Digital Seriality

Special Issue of Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture (2014)
Edited by Shane Denson & Andreas Jahn-Sudmann

According to German media theorist Jens Schröter, the analog/digital divide is the “key media-historical and media-theoretical distinction of the second half of the twentieth century” (Schröter 2004:9, our translation). And while this assessment is widely accepted as a relatively uncontroversial account of the most significant media transformation in recent history, the task of evaluating the distinction’s inherent epistemological problems is all the more fraught with difficulty (see Hagen 2002, Pias 2003, Schröter 2004). Be that as it may, since the 1990s at the latest, virtually any attempt to address the cultural and material specificity of contemporary media culture has inevitably entailed some sort of (implicit or explicit) evaluation of this key distinction’s historical significance, thus giving rise to characterizations of the analog/digital divide as caesura, upheaval, or even revolution (Glaubitz et al. 2011). Seen through the lens of such theoretical histories, the technical and especially visual media that shaped the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (photography, film, television) typically appear today as the objects of contemporary digitization processes, i.e. as visible manifestations (or remnants) of a historical transition from an analog (or industrial) to a digital era (Freyermuth and Gotto 2013). Conversely, despite its analog pre-history today’s digital computer has primarily been addressed as the medium of such digitization processes – or, in another famous account, as the end point of media history itself (Kittler 1986).

The case of digital games (as a software medium) is similar to that of the computer as a hardware medium: although the differences and similarities between digital games and older media were widely discussed in the context of the so-called narratology-versus-ludology debate (Eskelinen 2001; Juul 2001; Murray 1997, 2004; Ryan 2006), only marginal attention was paid in these debates to the media-historical significance of the analog/digital distinction itself. Moreover, many game scholars have tended to ontologize the computer game to a certain extent and to treat it as a central form or expression of digital culture, rather than tracing its complex historical emergence and its role in brokering the transition from analog to digital (significant exceptions like Pias 2002 notwithstanding). Other media-historiographical approaches, like Bolter and Grusin’s concept of remediation (1999), allow us to situate the digital game within a more capacious history of popular-technical media, but such accounts relate primarily to the representational rather than the operative level of the game, so that the digital game’s “ergodic” form (Aarseth 1999) remains largely unconsidered.

Against this background, we would like to suggest an alternative angle from which to situate and theorize the digital game as part of a larger media history (and a broader media ecology), an approach that attends to both the representational level of visible surfaces/interfaces and the operative level of code and algorithmic form: Our suggestion is to look at forms and processes of seriality/serialization as they manifest themselves in digital games and gaming cultures, and to focus on these phenomena as a means to understand both the continuities and the discontinuities that mark the transition from analog to digital media forms and our ludic engagements with them. Ultimately, we propose, the computer game simultaneously occupies a place in a long history of popular seriality (which stretches from pre-digital serial literature, film, radio, and television, to contemporary transmedia franchises) while it also instantiates novel forms of a specifically digital type of seriality (cf. Denson and Jahn-Sudmann 2013). By grappling with the formal commensurabilities and differences that characterize digital games’ relations to pre-digital (and non-ludic) forms of medial seriality, we therefore hope to contribute also to a more nuanced account of the historical process (rather than event) of the analog/digital divide’s emergence.

Overall, seriality is a central and multifaceted but largely neglected dimension of popular computer and video games. Seriality is a factor not only in explicitly marked game series (with their sequels, prequels, remakes, and other types of continuation), but also within games themselves (e.g. in their formal-structural constitution as an iterative series of levels, worlds, or missions). Serial forms of variation and repetition also appear in the transmedial relations between games and other media (e.g. expansive serializations of narrative worlds across the media of comics, film, television, and games, etc.). Additionally, we can grasp the relevance of games as a paradigm example of digital seriality when we think of the ways in which the technical conditions of the digital challenge the temporal procedures and developmental logics of the analog era, e.g. because once successively appearing series installments are increasingly available for immediate, repeated, and non-linear forms of consumption. And while this media logic of the database (cf. Manovich 2001: 218) can be seen to transform all serial media forms in our current age of digitization and media convergence, a careful study of the interplay between real-time interaction and serialization in digital games promises to shed light on the larger media-aesthetic questions of the transition to a digital media environment. Finally, digital games are not only symptoms and expressions of this transition, but also agents in the larger networks through which it has been navigated and negotiated; serial forms, which inherently track the processes of temporal and historical change as they unfold over time, have been central to this media-cultural undertaking (for similar perspectives on seriality in a variety of media, cf. Beil et al. 2013, Denson and Mayer 2012, Jahn-Sudmann and Kelleter 2012, Kelleter 2012, Mayer 2013).

To better understand the cultural forms and affective dimensions of what we have called digital games’ serial interfacings and the collective serializations of digital gaming cultures (cf. Denson and Jahn-Sudmann 2013), and in order to make sense of the historical and formal relations of seriality to the emergence and negotiation of the analog/digital divide, we seek contributions for a special issue of Eludamos: Journal of Computer Game Culture on all aspects of game-related seriality from a wide variety of perspectives, including media-philosophical, media-archeological, and cultural-theoretical approaches, among others. We are especially interested in papers that address the relations between seriality, temporality, and digitality in their formal and affective dimensions.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Seriality as a conceptual framework for studying digital games
  • Methodologies and theoretical frameworks for studying digital seriality
  • The (im)materiality of digital seriality
  • Digital serialities beyond games
  • The production culture of digital seriality
  • Intra-ludic seriality: add-ons, levels, game engines, etc.
  • Inter-ludic seriality: sequels, prequels, remakes
  • Para-ludic seriality: serialities across media boundaries
  • Digital games and the limits of seriality


Paper proposals (comprising a 350-500 word abstract, 3-5 bibliographic sources, and a 100-word bio) should be sent via e-mail by March 1, 2014 to the editors:

  • a.sudmann[at]fu-berlin.de
  • shane.denson[at]engsem.uni-hannover.de

Papers will be due July 15, 2014 and will appear in the fall 2014 issue of Eludamos.



Aarseth, Espen. 1999. “Aporia and Epiphany in Doom and The Speaking Clock: The Temporality of Ergodic Art.” In Marie-Laure Ryan, ed. Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 31–41.

Beil, Benjamin, Lorenz Engell, Jens Schröter, Daniela Wentz, and Herbert Schwaab. 2012. “Die Serie. Einleitung in den Schwerpunkt.” Zeitschrift Für Medienwissenschaft 2 (7): 10–16.

Bolter, J. David, and Richard A, Grusin. 1999. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Denson, Shane, and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann. “Digital Seriality: On the Serial Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games.” Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture 1 (7): 1-32. http://www.eludamos.org/index.php/eludamos/article/view/vol7no1-1/7-1-1-html.

Denson, Shane, and Ruth Mayer. 2012. “Grenzgänger: Serielle Figuren im Medienwechsel.” In Frank Kelleter, ed. Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript, 185-203.

Eskelinen, Markku. 2001. “The Gaming Situation” 1 (1). http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/eskelinen/.

Freyermuth, Gundolf S., and Lisa Gotto, eds. 2012. Bildwerte: Visualität in der digitalen Medienkultur. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Glaubitz, Nicola, Henning Groscurth, Katja Hoffmann, Jörgen Schäfer, Jens Schröter, Gregor Schwering, and Jochen Venus. 2011. Eine Theorie der Medienumbrüche. Vol. 185/186. Massenmedien und Kommunikation. Siegen: Universitätsverlag Siegen.

Hagen, Wolfgang. 2002. “Es gibt kein ‘digitales Bild’: Eine medienepistemologische Anmerkung.” In: Lorenz Engell, Bernhard Siegert, and Joseph Vogl, eds. Archiv für Mediengeschichte Vol. 2 – “Licht und Leitung.” München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 103–12.

Jahn-Sudmann, Andreas, and Frank Kelleter. “Die Dynamik Serieller Überbietung: Zeitgenössische Amerikanische Fernsehserien und das Konzept des Quality TV.” In Frank Kelleter, ed. Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript, 205–24.

Juul, Jesper. 2001. “Games Telling Stories? – A Brief Note on Games and Narratives.” Game Studies 1 (1). http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/.

Kelleter, Frank, ed. 2012. Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion: Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Kittler, Friedrich A. 1986. Grammophon, Film, Typewriter. Berlin: Brinkmann & Bose.

Manovich, Lev. 2001. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Mayer, Ruth. 2013. Serial Fu Manchu: The Chinese Supervillain and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Murray, Janet H. 1997. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Murray, Janet H. 2004. “From Game-Story to Cyberdrama.” In Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, eds. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2-10.

Pias, Claus. 2002. Computer Spiel Welten. Zürich, Berlin: Diaphanes.

Pias, Claus. 2003. “Das digitale Bild gibt es nicht. Über das (Nicht-)Wissen der Bilder und die informatische Illusion.” Zeitenblicke 2 (1). http://www.zeitenblicke.de/2003/01/pias/.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2006. Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Schröter, Jens. 2004. “Analog/Digital – Opposition oder Kontinuum?” In Jens Schröter and Alexander Böhnke, eds. Analog/Digital – Opposition oder Kontinuum? Beiträge zur Theorie und Geschichte einer Unterscheidung. Bielefeld: Transcript, 7–30.

Digital Seriality


Just in time for the holidays, a new issue of the open-access journal Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture is now online. Among the articles in this issue is a piece that I co-authored with Andreas Jahn-Sudmann, called “Digital Seriality: On the Serial Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games.” In this article we put forward some of the central ideas of our joint research project and provide illustrations of serial aesthetics and practices in games and game cultures. Here is the abstract for the paper:

In this paper we are concerned to outline a set of perspectives, methods, and theories with which to approach the seriality of digital games and game cultures – i.e. the aesthetic forms and cultural practices of game-related serialization, which we see unfolding against (and, in fact, as a privileged mediator of) the broader background of medial and socio-cultural transformations taking place in the wake of popular media culture’s digitalization. Seriality, we contend, is a central and multifaceted but largely neglected dimension of popular computer and video games. Seriality is a factor not only in explicitly marked game series (with their sequels, prequels, remakes, and other types of continuation), but also within games themselves (e.g. in their formal-structural constitution as an iterative series of “levels” or “worlds”) as well as on the level of transmedial relations between games and other media (e.g. expansive serializations of narrative worlds across the media of comics, film, television, and games, etc.). Particularly with respect to processes of temporal “collapse” or “synchronization” that, in the current age of digitization and media convergence, are challenging the temporal dimensions and developmental logics of pre-digital seriality (e.g. because once successively appearing series installments are increasingly available now for immediate, repeated, and non-linear consumption), computer games are eminently suited for an exemplary investigation of a specifically digital type of seriality.

In the following, we look at serialization processes in digital games and game series and seek to understand how they relate to digital-era transformations of temporally-serially structured experiences and identifications on the part of historically situated actors. These transformations range from the microtemporal scale of individual players’ encounters with algorithmic computation processes (the speed of which escapes direct human perception and is measurable only by technological means) all the way up to the macrotemporal (more properly “historical”) level of collective brokerings of political, cultural, and social identities in the digital age. To account for this multi-layered complexity, we argue for a decidedly interdisciplinary approach, combining media-aesthetic and media-philosophical perspectives with the resources of discourse analysis and cultural history. We approach the seriality of digital games both in terms of textual and aesthetic forms as well as in the broader context of serialized game cultures and popular culture at large.

Please take a look and spread the word about the new issue of Eludamos. We would be more than happy to hear your feedback about our article, so feel free to leave a comment here. Enjoy!

(“Pixel Gnomes” image created by Shane Denson, based on hand-painted Mario & Luigi-style garden gnomes made by Karin Denson.)

Super Star Trek and the Collective Serialization of the Digital


Here’s a sneak peek at something I’ve been working on for a jointly authored piece with Andreas Jahn-Sudmann (more details soon!):

[…] whereas the relatively recent example of bullet time emphasizes the incredible speed of our contemporary technical infrastructure, which threatens at every moment to outstrip our phenomenal capacities, earlier examples often mediated something of an inverse experience: a mismatch between the futurist fantasy and the much slower pace necessitated by the techno-material realities of the day.

The example of Super Star Trek (1978) illuminates this inverse sort of experience and casts a media-archaeological light on collective serialization, by way of the early history of gaming communities and their initially halting articulation into proto-transmedia worlds. Super Star Trek was not the first – and far from the last – computer game to be based on the Star Trek media franchise (which encompasses the canonical TV series and films, along with their spin-offs in comics, novels, board games, role-playing games, and the larger Trekkie subculture). Wikipedia lists over seventy-five Trek-themed commercial computer, console, and arcade games since 1971 (“History of Star Trek Games”) – and the list is almost surely incomplete. Nevertheless, Super Star Trek played a special role in the home computing revolution, as its source code’s inclusion in the 1978 edition of David Ahl’s BASIC Computer Games was instrumental in making that book the first million-selling computer book.[i] The game would continue to exert a strong influence: it would go on to be packaged with new IBM PCs as part of the included GW-BASIC distribution, and it inspired countless ports, clones, and spin-offs in the 1980s and beyond.

A quick look at the game’s source code reveals that Super Star Trek didn’t just come out of nowhere, however: Here, the opening comment lines (“REM” indicates a non-executable “remark” in BASIC) mention not only the “Star Trek TV show” as an influence, but also a serial trajectory of inter-ludic programming, modification, debugging, and conversion (porting) that begins to outline a serialized collectivity of sorts. Beyond those participants mentioned by name (Mike Mayfield, David Ahl, Bob Leedom, and John Borders), a diffuse community is invoked – “with a little help from his friends…” – and, in fact, solicited: “comments, epithets, and suggestions” are to be sent personally to R. C. Leedom at Westinghouse Defense & Electronics. Reminiscent of a comic-book series’ “letters to the editor” page (cf. Kelleter and Stein 2012), this invitation promises, in conjunction with the listing of the game’s serial lineage, that readers’ opinions are valued, and that significant contributions will be rewarded (or at least honored with a hat-tip in the REM’s). Indeed, in these few preliminary lines, the program demonstrates its common ground with serialized production forms across media: since the nineteenth century, readers have written to the authors of ongoing series in order to praise or condemn – and ultimately to influence – the course of serial unfolding (cf. Hayward 1997, Looby 2004, Smith 1995, Thiesse 1980); authors dependent on the demands of a commercial marketplace were not at liberty simply to disregard their audience’s wishes, even if they were free to filter and select from among them. What we see, then, from an actor-network perspective, is that popular series therefore operate to create feedback loops in which authors and readers alike are involved in the production of serial forms (cf. Kelleter 2012a) – which therefore organize themselves as self-observing systems around which serialized forms of (para-)social interaction coalesce (cf. Kelleter 2012d, as well as the contributions to Kelleter 2012b).

The snippet of code above thus attests to the aspirations of a germinal community of hackers and gamers, which has tellingly chosen to align itself, in this case, with one of the most significant and quickly growing popular-culture fan communities of the time: viz. the Trekkie subculture, which can be seen to constitute a paradigmatic “seriality” in Anderson’s sense – a nation-like collective (complete with its own language) organized around the serialized consumption of serially structured media. And, indeed, the computing/gaming community had its own serialized media (and languages) through which it networked, including a plethora of computer-listings newsletters and magazines – such as David Ahl’s Creative Computing, where Super Star Trek had been published in 1974, before BASIC Computer Games made it more widely known; or People’s Computer Company, where Bob Leedom had mentioned his version before that; or the newsletter of the Digital Equipment Computer User Society, where Ahl had originally published a modified version of Mike Mayfield’s program. These publications served purposes very much like the comic-book and fanzine-type organs of other communities; here, however, it was code that was being published and discussed, thus serving as a platform for further involvement, tweaking, and feedback by countless others. Accordingly, behind the relatively linear story of development told in the REM’s above, there was actually a sprawling, non-linear form of para-ludic serialization at work in the development of Super Star Trek.[ii]

And yet we see something else here as well: despite the computing industry’s undeniable success in moving beyond specialized circles and involving ever larger groups of people in the activity of computing in the 1970s (and gaming must certainly be seen as central to achieving this success), the community described above was still operating with relatively crude means of collective serialization – more or less the same paper-bound forms of circulation that had served the textual and para-textual production of popular serialities since the nineteenth century. In many ways, this seems radically out of step with the space-age fantasy embodied in Super Star Trek: in order to play the game, one had to go through the painstaking (and mistake-prone) process of keying in the code by hand. If, afterwards, the program failed to run, the user would have to search for a misspelled command, a missing line, or some other bug in the system. And God forbid there was an error in the listing from which one was copying! Moreover, early versions of the game were designed for mainframe and minicomputers that, in many cases, were lacking a video terminal. The process of programming the game – or playing it, for that matter – was thus a slow process made even slower by interactions with punch-card interfaces. How, under these conditions, could one imagine oneself at the helm of the USS Enterprise? There was a mismatch, in other words, between the fantasy and the reality of early 1970s-era computing. But this discrepancy, with its own temporal and affective dynamics, was a framing condition for a form of collective serialization organized along very different lines from contemporary dreams of games’ seamless integration into transmedia worlds.

To begin with, it is quite significant that Super Star Trek’s functional equivalent of the “letters to the editor” page, where the ongoing serialization of the game is both documented and continued, is not printed in an instruction manual or other accompanying paraphernalia but embedded in the code itself. In contrast to the mostly invisible code executed in mainstream games today, Super Star Trek’s code was regarded as highly visible, the place where early gamers were most likely to read the solicitation to participate in a collective effort of development. Clearly, this is because they would have to read (and re-write) the code if they wished to play the game – while their success in actually getting it to work were more doubtful. Gameplay is here subordinated to coding, while the pleasures of both alike were those of an operational aesthetic: whether coding the game or playing it, mastery and control over the machine were at stake. Unlike the bullet time of The Matrix or Max Payne, which responds to an environment in which gamers (and others) are hard-pressed to keep up with the speed of computation, Super Star Trek speaks to a somewhat quainter, more humanistic dream of getting a computational (or intergalactic) jalopy up and running in the first place. In terms of temporal affectivities, patience is tested more so than quick reactions. If bullet time slowed down screen events while continuing to poll input devices as a means for players to cope with high-velocity challenges, the tasks of coding and playing Super Star Trek turn this situation around: it is not the computer but the human user who waits for – hopes for – a response. As a corollary, however, relatively quick progress was observable in the game’s inter-ludic development, which responded to rapid innovations in hardware and programming languages. This fact, which corresponded well with the basically humanistic optimism of the Star Trek fantasy (as opposed to the basically inhuman scenario of The Matrix), motivated further involvement in the series of inter-ludic developments (programming, modification, debugging, conversion…), which necessarily involved coder/tinkerers in the para-ludic exchanges upon which a gaming community was being built. […]

[i] A more complete story of the game’s history can be gleaned from several online sources which we draw on here: Maury Markowitz’s page devoted to the game, “Star Trek: To boldly go… and then spawn a million offshoots,” at his blog Games of Fame (http://gamesoffame.wordpress.com/star-trek/) features comments and correspondence with some of the key figures in the game’s development; Pete Turnbull also recounts the game’s history, including many of the details of its many ports to various systems (http://www.dunnington.u-net.com/public/startrek/); atariarchives.org hosts a complete scan of the 1978 edition of BASIC Computer Games, from which we reproduce an excerpt below (http://www.atariarchives.org/basicgames/); and a recent article in The Register, Tony Smith’s “Star Trek: The Original Computer Game,” features several screenshots and code snippets of various iterations (http://www.theregister.co.uk/Print/2013/05/03/antique_code_show_star_trek/).

[ii] A better sense of this can be had by taking a look at all the various iterations of the game – encompassing versions for a variety of flavors of BASIC and other languages as well – collected by Pete Turnbull (http://www.dunnington.u-net.com/public/startrek/).

Works Cited

Hayward, J. (1997) Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera. Lexington: UP of Kentucky.

Kelleter, F. (2012a) Populäre Serialität: Eine Einführung. In Kelleter F., ed. Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript, pp. 11-46.

Kelleter, F., ed. (2012b) Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Kelleter, F. (2012d) The Wire and Its Readers. In Kennedy, L. and Shapiro, S., eds. “The Wire”: Race, Class, and Genre. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, pp. 33-70.

Kelleter, F. and Stein, D. (2012) Autorisierungspraktiken seriellen Erzählens: Zur Gattungsentwicklung von Superheldencomics. In Kelleter, F., ed. Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript, pp. 259-290.

Looby, C. (2004) Southworth and Seriality: The Hidden Hand in the New York Ledger. Nineteenth-Century Literature 59.2, pp. 179-211.

Smith, S. B. (1995) Serialization and the Nature of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In Price, K. M. and Smith, S. B., eds. Periodical Literature in Nineteenth-Century America. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, pp. 69-89.

Thiesse, A.-M. (1980) L’education sociale d’un romancier: le cas d’Eugène Sue. Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 32-33, pp. 51-63.

Ludic Serialities @FlowConf2012 #Flow12

I am pleased to learn that my proposal has been accepted in a panel on “Game Studies as Media Studies” at this year’s FLOW Conference in Austin, Texas (organized biannually by graduate students in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at UT). Interestingly, no papers will be presented at the conference — just five-minute statements followed by panel discussions. The preliminary schedule is now up at the conference website, and for the most part it looks great (though I do regret to see that my panel is scheduled to run concurrently with the panel on “Teaching TV” — I was looking forward to seeing Jason Mittell there, who left Germany a few months ago after his year-long stay in Göttingen; I guess we’ll just have to get a beer afterwards…). Anyway, my proposal is based on a project that I’m currently developing with Andreas Jahn-Sudmann (on “Digital Seriality: The Serial Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games”). Here’s my short abstract:

Ludic Serialities

Shane Denson

In order to think through the affordances and consequences of conceiving game studies as part of humanities-oriented media studies – as opposed both to non-disciplinary approaches to games as focal objects for many disciplines, as well as to strong disciplinary programs following from “ludological” assertions of digital games’ medial exceptionality – I propose looking at a widespread but undertheorized aspect of video games: viz. the seriality that characterizes games at virtually every level of their material, cultural, and intermedial expression. Seriality informs gameplay through formal-algorithmic structures of repetition/variation and the intra-ludic seriality of progressive game “levels”; sequels, remakes, and other explicit serialization practices constitute inter-ludic serialities; finally, fan practices and transmedial phenomena beyond the games themselves instantiate extra-ludic serialities. Careful attention to serial structures offers both a broad basis for cross-media comparisons (from dime novels, film serials, TV series, etc.), as well as the means for identifying salient differences of digital interactivity.

Popular Seriality

Just a quick reminder that the theme week on “Popular Seriality” is underway over at In Media Res. The first two posts are up, and there’s been some lively discussion. So check it out and spread the word!

Here, again, is the lineup of presenters/curators for the week, along with our titles:

Monday, Dec 12Frank Kelleter
“That Soothing Balm of Latent Discontent: MAD MEN Unstresses the 21st Century”
Tuesday, Dec 13Shane Denson and Ruth Mayer
“Plurimediality and the Serial Figure”
Wednesday, Dec 14Jason Mittell
“Serial Characterization and Inferred Interiority”
Thursday, Dec 15Andreas Jahn-Sudmann
“TV Series, Metaseriality and the Very Special Episode”
Friday, Dec 16Daniel Stein
“Authorizing Alternative Authorships: The Popular Serialities of Superhero Blockbuster Spoofs”