Hello friends and colleagues!
I submitted my dissertation, titled “Brittle Configurations: Practical Explorations on Games and Vibrotactile Media,” to the exam office! This means I am ready to discuss, defend and casually chat about my research.
I always thought that once I got to this point, I would be able to synthesize my research in a few snappy sentences, but honestly, putting it simply became increasingly complicated as time passed and the dissertation grew.
As a quick summary, though, I will say that it is a research-creation exploration of vibrotactile technology and game design. The written part of this work is also my articulation of a feminist game studies that posits difference as a foundation and alternative to the exclusionary habits that accompany presumptions of sameness.
In practical terms, this work includes descriptive chapters articulating what Annakaisa Kultima calls a praxeology of game making. This means I detail expressive, ethical, practical and technical questions involved in the artistic game development of four games that feature vibrotactile motors as a primary interface technology. Alongside these descriptive chapters I include an equal number of reflective chapters, complementing and contextualizing the development processes.
A few of the themes I grapple with include the space between vibratory sensation and words, and the practical implications of this in-between for game design. I revive the notion of “calm games” as an aesthetic, an apparent impossibility in the mid-90’s techno-philosophical imagination. And I use Lucy Suchman’s concept of “mutual intelligibility” and her critical remarks on the term “context” in a consideration of what I sometimes call “fragile games”—a more situated, relational, and possibly post-anthropocentric approach to game design and game studies.
I will post the abstract below for a bit more detail on this work.
Ok, I am on to the next project. For now, I am still uncertain what exactly that might be, but I am excited to find out!
Contact me if you would like a copy of the not-yet-defended dissertation. The final version will be available in 6 or so weeks, depending on how the defence goes.
ABSTRACT: Brittle Configurations: Practical Explorations on Games and Vibrotactile Media
Ida Toft, PhD / Concordia University, 2021
This dissertation presents the written portion of a research-creation PhD exploring vibrotactile technology in the context of artistic and creative game development. Brittle Configurations: Practical Explorations on Games and Vibrotactile Media features four games that use vibrotactile technologies as a primary expressive modality. Vibratory expression crosses boundaries inexorably: materially, anatomically and semiotically. Focussing on the vibrotactile in the context of game development therefore allows for a refiguring of what Aubrey Anable has called the surface/depth dichotomy in game studies—a tendency to associate representation with the surface, and computation with depth. This dissertation details the development process of the four games mentioned above. Four chapters present these four respective development processes, introducing expressive, ethical, practical and technological concerns of artistic game development. These development chapters alternate with reflective chapters contextualizing and complementing the examined making processes. In seeking out a design strategy that not only accommodates difference but appreciates it, this dissertation articulates how I worked toward vibratory media that abandon the closed loop of signifier and signified and become open signifiers, hosting memories, speculation, imagination, poetry, and inquisitive thinking. A critical examination of the role of container-like metaphors in game studies offers new perspectives on how tasks and responsibilities (such as playing, executing, policing, evaluating, rewarding) are distributed throughout circuits of playful media. Together with non-verbal and non-human modes of communication, as well as a series of alien robotics, these examinations bring about reflections on what I call fragile games. A fragile game aesthetic features situated and relational game design as an alternative to universal guidelines of “good game design” and aesthetics of purity, stability, resilience, and individuality. The evolution of these explorations culminates with the development process of the game Where Stillness Breaks, an installation that explores memories, associations, and speculative connections in the space between felt vibration and words.