Extending Play: Rutgers Media Studies Conference

Thanks to Aaron Trammell, who was scheduled to be on the “Game Studies as Media Studies” roundtable with me at the FLOW 2012 Conference, but who was unable to make it due to Hurricane Sandy, I have just learned of an exciting conference going on April 19-20, 2013 at Rutgers University (Aaron is on the organizing committee). The conference is entitled “Extending Play,” and it’s not too late to submit a proposal (but hurry, the deadline is December 1!). Here’s the CFP:

Can we still define play as an organizing principle in today’s technologically mediated world? 

Play can be hard work and serious business, and it’s time to push beyond the conceptualization of play as merely the pursuit of leisure and consider how the issues of power, affect, labor, identity, and privacy surround the idea and practice of play. The Rutgers Media Studies Conference: Extending Play invites submissions that seek to understand play as a mediating practice, and how play operates at the center of all media.

We are interested in all approaches to the traditions, roles, and contexts of play, and hope to explore how play can be broadly defined and incorporated as a fundamental principle extending into far-flung and unexpected arenas. Johan Huizinga characterizes man as the species that plays: “Law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primaeval soil of play” (Homo Ludens, p.5).  How does play operate as a civilizing function — or is it perhaps a technology that produces order?

Play is a means of exploring and joining various disciplines: Social media, mash-ups, and blogs have altered how we communicate and create; game design has influenced how businesses relate to consumers; citizen journalists have shifted the role of the professional in mediating information and forging a public sphere.

To explore these questions, we invite scholars, students, tinkerers, visionaries, and players to the first ever Rutgers Media Studies Conference: Extending Play, to be held April 19th and 20th, 2013 on the Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick, NJ. Confirmed speakers for our keynote conversations include Fred Turner (Stanford University) & Stephen Duncombe (New York University) and Trevor Pinch (Cornell University) & Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky (The European Graduate School).

We invite individuals from media studies and related fields in the humanities and social sciences to participate. Potential topics for paper, panel, roundtable, and workshop may include, but are not limited to:

-Playing with labor: work-like games and game-like work
-Play as resistance (culture jamming, situationist art, or other contexts)
-Gendering (and gendered) play
-Music and performance
-Linguistic play
-Play and social media
-Playing with identity
-Love and play (flirtation, AI relationships, robotica, etc)
-Gamification and games in nontraditional settings
-Transgression, cheating, and “gaming” systems
-Darker side of play (trolling, gambling, or corruption)
-Game studies

The Rutgers Media Studies Conference: Extending Play promises to offer a memorable meeting of scholarship, and to that end, we are looking to play with standard conference conventions. One track throughout the conference will be a series of public workshop sessions in which scholars and practitioners will host roundtable discussions on contemporary issues that bring together an audience of experts and interested parties. In the academic panel track, each presenter will have a maximum of 15 minutes to offer his or her ideas as a presentation or interactive conversation, and will choose one of the following methods of presentation:
–material accompaniment (hand out a zine, scrapbook, postcard series, etc)
–performance (spoken word, song, verse, dance, recording, etc)
–limited visuals (a maximum of 3 slides and 25 total words)
–game (create rules and incorporate audience play)
For additional ideas on how to play with media, play with time, or play with space during your presentation, visit our Style Guide.

The deadline for proposals is Saturday, December 1, 2012. We invite individual proposals, full panel proposals (of four members), and proposals for roundtable and workshop sessions. Please email an abstract of approximately 247 words, along with your name, affiliation, presentation method, and a short biography to mediacon@rutgers.edu. If you are interested in proposing a topic for our public workshop track, or are interested in participating in one, please indicate that as well. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by mid-January 2013.

For more info, see the conference website: mediacon.rutgers.edu

Presidential Politics and the Anthropotechnical Interface

Watching election night coverage last night, I was struck by how commonplace a variety of presentation, visualization, and interfacing technologies have become in comparison to the last election four years ago, when many of these things were introduced and foregrounded — often somewhat awkwardly, as the videos here demonstrate. The shift has a great deal to do with much broader processes of habitualization through which touchscreen devices such as smartphones and tablet computers have been domesticated, de-exoticized, and rendered unspectacular in the intervening years. Taken for granted now as so much furniture of the lifeworld, it’s easy to lose sight of how fast these processes transpire, and of how differently things looked just a few years ago. In the interest, then, of cultivating a sort of media-archaeological awareness of the inherent transitionality and instability of our experiential and affective relations to the media-technical infrastructure of our lives, I’m posting here some glimpses from another world — several relevant video clips from the last presidential election night, along with some observations I originally posted the day after, on November 5, 2008:

America’s biggest media events, the Superbowl and the presidential election, are not simply mediated events but, centrally, events of mediation: showcases for new media technologies. This is a wonderful example. If I didn’t have a dissertation to write [update 2012: glad I’m done with that!], I’d be writing an article about CNN’s Virtual View (which is self-consciously placed “in the tradition of Princess Leia”). Watch them navigate between an ostensible story and a heightened awareness of the state-of-the-art special-effects. This is sci-fi, and not just because the “hologram” looks like something from Star Wars or because it seems to “beam” the correspondent in the style of Star Trek. This is sci-fi in a richer sense, because it perfectly utilizes the sci-fi film’s basic self-reflexive appeal to the technologies used to mediate its highly conventionalized story about technology.

Of course, the appearance of CNN’s holograph is not an isolated phenomenon. It partakes of a larger science-fiction context. The report of astronauts voting is a good example. Not only is outer space the traditional setting, the astronaut an established character, and the spaceship a central iconographic element in sci-fi; more importantly, the report provokes the question, as I asked last evening, how exactly did they cast their votes? With what kind of apparatus, via what channel of communication, and with what security measures in place? These are the same questions that one can ask about one’s local voting station: how do these new voting machines work, how do they communicate with one another, and are they trustworthy? The astronauts casting their votes are not interesting in themselves. Instead, they are an invitation to regard the apparently more mundane situation of earthbound voting from a technophilic, science-fiction perspective.

Meanwhile, the other networks foregrounded gigantic touchscreens, double ticker text lines, made-for-HDTV special features, and parallel online supplements in their bids to captivate viewers (see here for more). Since I couldn’t stay awake for it, I’ll be loading Obama’s victory speech (and maybe McCain’s concession of defeat while I’m at it) onto my iPod. Watching it there will in some way consummate the message of the medium, and I anticipate that it will also speak to a level at which consummation is eternally deferred: Now if I only had an iPhone or an iPod touch to match the tactile response, if not the scale, of those giant touchscreens [update 2012: the iPad had not been released yet…]. Isn’t that what this election was all about?