DISSERTATION: On QGCon and Community

autoethnography, critical making

I’m tired. Exhausted, in fact.

But I’m also energized, renewed, re-invigourated. For all of the ways that Ars Electronica was alienating, the Queerness and Games conference, which I co-organized and which happened this weekend at Concordia with the help of TAG and Milieux, made me feel like a part of a community.

One of our keynotes, Mattie Brice, talked about finding inspiration in performance arts, in the Happenings of the sixties, and, in its own way, I think QGCon is a Happening. It’s a temporary space where the usual rules are in some way suspended. It’s a space of caring, softness, kindness and vulnerability.

I’m not too sure exactly what I expected from the event, but it wasn’t exactly this. I had a great time at the last QGCon in 2017, but this time, maybe because I was closer to the event, it felt like there was a real, tangible presence of…I don’t even know what to call it… Hopefulness? Goodwill? permeating the space.

Organizing the event took a great deal of energy and labour, and I had to take on a lot as one of the local organizers. I wish I had been able to get more rest.

But nevertheless, while before I wanted to make a game about alienation, I think I want to make a game about feeling alienated and finding others who mitigate that feeling.

I’ve still got to sit down and design this project, but ideas are forming in my mind.

Rather than trying to find others for competitive reasons, maybe this can be a game about trying to find others so that you can be reunited, so that you can find community and hope in each other.

I’m reminded of a game that we showed at Princess of Arcade called Secret Agent Party. That’s a game that requires a lot of players in a contained space. I wonder how I can make this game playtestable or workable with very few people present or very many people. Maybe I need to narrow the scope.

Maybe static objects can also be people in some version of the game and give you info, but in other versions, the static objects are being worn and carried by others. So that, if there are only a few players, the story is filled in from static objects that stand in as people with histories (thinking of the programs you find in Transistor), but in a version with more players, those objects can then be on players who are also scanning you.

Thinking about the themes of Time Travel that I was working with, maybe it makes sense for there to be echoes or traces of people even if the people themselves aren’t always visible.

Well, just some design thoughts inspired by QGCon and sleep deprivation (please don’t worry — I’ve slept two solid 10 hour blocks since QGCon or more, even if I am still tired).

Dissertation: Autoethnography Project Notes from Steyr, Austria

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation, reflective games

[NOTE: These notes are transcribed, annotated but unedited, from a handwritten version.]

PROJECT 02 for my dissertation. Sept 9th 2018.

I was hoping to find inspiration for this project in my travels. Before I even left, I was sort of dreading this trip. I was feeling exhausted but still had so much to do. I didn’t want to leave home and Tom because of all the work to be done, and also because we’ve been away from each other so long with no time to rest and just be in each other’s company. The first 24 hours of this trip were stressful and restless, with trains to catch and a new country to navigate, with the knowledge that when we arrived, we still wouldn’t be able to make it to the place we were staying [clarifying note: our train arrived at 11:17 but the last train to Steyr departed at 10:52]. The next day, we found out that the folks in charge of setup had been unable to get the project working, and when and how they told us this was a tad frustrating and unprofessional.

We fixed it.

Still, the frustration and exhaustion didn’t go away, and in many ways we struggled to feel welcomed to this place.

This is the first place I’ve felt truly out of place as a trans person. I’m not on on any sort of supplement to alter my hormones, but i guess with a binder and short hair, I “tip the scale” into an uncomfortable place for these people. I felt stared at, and was worried when someone approached me on the train platform to ask how I felt about gay and trans people. It wound up being a friendly conversation, but the whole place feels fraught. So. Discomfort and alienation, even from the people we’re supposed to be here with, is definitely a huge, present concern for me.

Yesterday was a bit better. We checked out more of the other exhibits, had to fix part of our installation that someone decided to fiddle with, and I had a long conversation with two older artists working in textiles. They’ve been collaborating for over twenty years (and they also totally thought I was a dude through most of this conversation. At least they thought I was a nice dude).

The installations that we saw and that discussion have got me tihnking about this project as a narrative wearable project about being a stranger in a strange land. I am also thinking of the wearable as a living, alien guide. Maybe using defamiliartization and recontextualization with language. I’m definitely thinking of the work of Blast Theory and ZU-UK.

A narrative you can experience and carry around with you.

I’m trying not to let myself get too bogged down in how technically difficult the concept will be at first. I could see this requiring QR, GPS, radio coms…

I also really do want to think about Augmented Reality and also interactive theater/escape the room projects.

I’d like this to not need to be site-specific. At the same time, I’m only one person. I’m not sure I can keep track of someone wandering through a truly open space.

What if someone wanders off, or gets lost?

I don’t want this to just be an app or a webpage people use on their phones. I want to highlight the interface. But phones come equipped with so much useful junk — the GPS, gyroscope, the QR scanner.

This is why I don’t think I want to narrow the focus and worry about scope or tech yet.

I’m also thinking of the voice that the writing in transgalactica uses — sort of rueful, sort of hopeful, but jaded, a tad bitter.

I’m also thinking about time travel because of the Time Travel RPG I’ve been running. And again, that whole ZU-UK, Place des Alts [explanatory note: a recent TAG project that started out as a collaborative piece between ZU-UK and TAG] inspiration.

I was really inspired by the MIT Cillia project. I wonder if there would be a way to access that.

A pocket companion, guiding you through an almost familiar, alien civilization…

Actually, it’s worth noting that I just finished Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness.”

I guess I could maybe limit the scope to certain parts of the EV building, 10th+11th floors.

Players could play different parts — some the populace of this alien, different time, a few others the time travelers. Maybe something like two rooms and a boom?

I think having audio communication through some kind of wireless device would be nice. I think having some kind of costumes (I’m thinking scarves) could be nice.

The scope of the playtesting immediately comes to mind as a concern, but I’ll try to put that aside for now.

All of this makes me think that this might ultimately be that game about genderfeels that I wanted to make in some form.


autoethnography, critical making, dissertation

Yes! I have a few more playtests coming up in the fall with Flip the Script, but I’m onto Project 02, currently untitled for my dissertation.

This time, I want to push both the technological/programming side of things and possibly a firmer narrative. That might be a tall order for a project that I have to finish in a little less than six months, but at least, in these first few hopeful weeks, that’s what I’ll be thinking about.

The truth is, running Flip the Script! requires a tremendous amount of work for me, because the playthrough can go so many places. Even if it means making a shorter game, I think that I need to have more pre-determination.

At the same time, I would love to make an exploratory physical toy, that, when you play with the toy, things happen programmatically (possibly on-screen visualizations or gameplay). After all, that’s one of the ways that I emphasize the physical aspects of physical-digital hybrid games.

So, toy or story? Toy Story? I don’t know yet.

From September 4th-18th, I’ll be in Europe. I’m going in the first place because of Ars Electronica — ‘rustle your leaves to me softly’, my ASMR plant dating simular project, made in collaboration with Dietrich Squinkifer, is part of Hexagram Campus’ Taking Care exhibit. (You can read about the exhibit here and here.)

We will be there from the 5th to the 10th, and are then taking a few days to travel since we’ll already be in Europe. I am hoping that Ars Electronica will provide plenty of inspiration for my new project, along with the series of long train rides involved in making it from Paris (where it was cheapest to fly to) to Linz and back.

I am definitely aware that my programming and arduino skills might get one heck of a workout for this project. I’m apprehensive but excited.

More as it happens!