Syllabus for my grad seminar on Seriality (spring 2017).
My abstract for the panel “Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes” at SLSA 2015 in Houston:
“Gaming and the ‘Parergodic’ Work of Seriality in Interactive Digital Environments”
Shane Denson, Duke University and Leibniz University of Hannover
Twentieth-century serial figures like Tarzan, Frankenstein’s monster, or Sherlock Holmes enacted a “parergonal” logic; as plurimedial figures, they continually crossed the boundaries between print, film, radio, and televisual media, slipped in and out of their frames, and showed them – in accordance with a Derridean logic of the parergon – to be reversible. In the twenty-first century, the medial logics of serial figures have been transformed in conjunction with the rise of interactive, networked, and convergent digital media environments. A figure like Batman exemplifies this shift as the transition from a broadly “parergonal” to a specifically “parergodic” logic. The latter term builds upon Espen Aarseth’s notion of “ergodic” gameplay – where ergodics combines the Greek ergon (work) and hodos (path), thus positing nontrivial labor as the aesthetic mode of players’ engagement with games. These new, ergodic serial forms and functions, as embodied by a figure like Batman, raise questions about the blurring of relations between work and play, between paid labor and the incidental work culled from our entertainment practices. Following Batman’s transitions from comics to graphic novels, to the films of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, and on to the popular and critically acclaimed Arkham series of videogames, I will demonstrate that the dynamics of border-crossing which characterized earlier serial figures has now been re-functionalized in accordance with the ergodic work of navigating computational networks – in accordance, that is, with work and network forms that frame all aspects of contemporary life.
On April 23-24, 2015, I will be participating in the conference “Thinking Serially: Repetition, Continuation, Adaptation,” hosted by the Department of Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, CUNY. You can find the full program here, and here is the abstract for the talk I’ll be giving:
Ludic Serialities: Levels of Serialization in Digital Games and Gaming Communities
Shane Denson (Duke University, Program in Literature)
In this paper, I outline several layers of seriality that are operative in and around the medium of digital games. Some of these resemble pre-digital forms of popular seriality, as they have been articulated in commercial entertainments since the nineteenth century; others would seem to be unique to digital formats and the ludic forms of interactivity they facilitate. Thus, the “inter-ludic” seriality of sequels, remakes, and spinoffs that constitute popular game franchises are recognizable in terms of the (predominantly narrative) seriality that has characterized serialized novels, films serials, television series, cinematic remakes and blockbuster trilogies. But these franchises also give rise to “para-ludic” forms of seriality that are more squarely at home in the digital age: games form parts of larger transmedia franchises, which depend in many ways on the infrastructure of the Internet to support exchanges among fans. On the other hand, games also articulate low-level “intra-ludic” serialities through the patterns of repetition and variation that characterize game “levels” and game engines. These serialized patterns are often non-narrative in nature, manifesting themselves in the embodied rhythms instantiated as players interface with games; they therefore challenge the traction of pre-digital conceptions and point to what would appear an unprecedented form of “infra-ludic” serialization at the level of code and hardware. Interestingly, however, such ultra-low-level serialities remain imbricated with the high-level seriality of socio-cultural exchange; levels of code and community cross, for example, in highly serialized modding communities.
This presentation takes a comparative approach in order to identify historical, cultural, and medial specificities and overlaps between digital and pre-digital forms of seriality. Besides outlining the levels of seriality described above, I will also look at methodological challenges for studying these new forms, as well as several approaches (including both close and “distant” forms of reading) designed to meet these challenges.
Boluk, Stephanie, and Patrick LeMieux. “Hundred Thousand Billion Fingers: Seriality and Critical Game Practices.” Leonardo Electronic Almanac 17.2 (2012): 10-31. http://www.leoalmanac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/LEAVol17No2- BolukLemieux.pdf
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. http://www.eludamos.org/index.php/eludamos/article/view/vol7no1-1/7-1-1- pdf
Denson, Shane, and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann, eds. Digital Seriality. Special issue. Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture 8.1 (2014). http://www.eludamos.org/index.php/eludamos/issue/view/vol8no1
Kelleter, Frank, ed. Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012.
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!
According to the Duke Visualization Friday Forum website, my talk this Friday — “Visualizing Digital Seriality: Correlating Code and Community in the Super Mario Modding Scene” — will be streamed live: here.
The talk will take place at 12:00 Eastern time, Jan. 30, 2015.