DISSERTATION: Project 03 has started!

adventures in gaming, autoethnography, critical making, dissertation, research

Last week, I managed to break through and figure out what I want to do for my third and final dissertation project! It’s a suitcase game where you have to unlock a variety of small boxes, encounter messages from previous players, and leave messages of your own about particular themes/prompts/topics.

Now that I’ve come up with my concept for my last project, I am researching whether something like this has existed before. There are definitely “escape rooms in a box”, but these are largely cardboard boxes with items that you then take OUT of the box and use to solve the puzzle. The box itself seems to matter very little — and I think that’s an affordance that could use more exploration.

What makes this challenging as a constraint is that there isn’t going to be a lot of physical space or surface area to work with. But I think that as long as I colour-code things and clearly signpost the connection between the clues and the boxes, it’ll be fine.

So today is a day for researching. I’m immersing myself in escape room literature, looking at Escape Room boxes, guides and philosophies about designing escape rooms and types of puzzles. It’s fun! It’s exciting — and that matters a lot when you’ve been feeling burnt out. The fact that something feels right and good is nice.

Recently, a peer of mine (Scott DeJong) who saw my design sketch about the new project recommended looking into Scott Nicholson’s work with Escape Room boxes in classrooms, and I’m now noticing that his work also comes up from Escape Room designers, which is neat! Scott came to my queering game controls panel at CGSA a few years ago and his insights were really interesting.

There’s a lot of puzzle advice out there, both generally and specifically for Escape Rooms, and I am definitely already breaking the rules because I am using such a constrained space, so I will have to play up other aspects like colour-coding (for example) to clearly signpost what goes with what.

I’m about to go down some rabbit holes… See you later!

DISSERTATION: Learning new technologies

adventures in gaming, autoethnography, critical making, dissertation, research

Just a quick update so that I have a record of what I was working on yesterday. I spent around seven hours fiddling with the near-field communication tech and trying out different programming. It turns out that there is a lot less detailed guidance for the recommended Adafruit libraries than one would hope — and the alternate libraries are often deprecated, don’t work nearly so well with my physical technology, or just don’t quite do the thing that I want them to do. To make matters a bit more complicated, my chosen NFC tags don’t work with newer phones, which was one of the ways that I was testing, and, without additional apps, the NFC for phones is really only designed for very specific uses (actually activating email, the phone, a webpage), or so it appears. So, just generally not a lot of guidance for using NFC for what I intend to. Generally, people seem to program them on their computer and use them on their phones, or they don’t care about what the actual message on the cards say? Or, if they do, the projects don’t clearly indicate the steps for getting there.

When I program a tag and read it on the reader with my current library (PN532), however, there doesn’t appear to be a function to a) just have it be a string of text and b) to read what the tag actually says.

The library itself has almost no clear documentation, just example projects.

So, it’s got me thinking about alternate ways of handling the issue (like just using the unique ID of each TAG without actually putting a message on it to trigger a program). But I also need to be able to translate what I’m getting from the monitor into actual triggers for the arduino to talk to a javascript app.

I was talking to Tom about this yesterday: I want to be independent and handle the tech myself this time. It’s not that I mind collaborating with others, but because I am largely self-taught when it comes to all the tech that I use, I need to prove to myself that I’m able to do it, or something like that. It seems a bit ridiculous putting it into words, but that’s the feeling that I have. Maybe the truth is that I just need to ask for help because the documentation just isn’t there. It was frustrating to work for that long yesterday and not have a lot of concrete work to show for it. Or maybe the documentation is out there somewhere and I’m just not finding it.

That’s all for now!

Dissertation: Changing Stakes

adventures in gaming, autoethnography, critical making, dissertation

The seven weeks since I began my latest design project, working title/codename “TRACES” have been busy, but I’ve already talked a bit about that, so I won’t go too far into it — first, Ars Electronica, then guest-lecturing, then QGCon, then Different Games, and then a family event in New York City. This, alongside further issues with Tom’s work situations. My apartment still needs to be painted, and we still have furniture to build, rooms to fix up, and boxes to unpack. One thing that I haven’t mentioned that took up a fair bit of time and energy recently is that I released an open letter talking a bit about Tom’s situation. You can read it here if you want to. There are times when this situation makes me completely unable to work, both because my help is needed, and also because it’s incredibly stressful. So I want to be sure to note that, for autoethnography purposes.

All of that means that I haven’t had a lot of breathing room to focus on the project — but things are moving ahead, little by little. Technology is on its way. I have started to write the game’s story and script. I am thinking about aesthetics, and rules, and context. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about time travel — I’ve run two sessions of my time travel RPG with my usual RPG night group, and am aiming to run a third one soon. I’ve also started to read Ryan North’s How To Invent Everything (which is a guide for stranded time travelers to recreating modern amenities and “civilization”). My spouse and I are watching (re-watching, in my case) Altered Carbon. So yeah, I have been thinking a lot about the future and about time travel.

I thought consuming this media about time travel and thinking about the rules of the technology of this world, linked to the thinking about societies and gender that I’ve been doing in relation to The Left Hand of Darkness, would be all the “research” that I needed to do for the writing. But I should have been reading about fascism, bigotry, the darkness of human history.

I wanted to tell a story about my transness and feeling undervalued and underappreciated in a conservative country’s art world context, feeling alienated by people who were supposed to be peers. I wanted to tell a story of hope and community, even if just as the backdrop for a society that did value the characters in question. But now, the stakes have changed. The real-world ones.

It didn’t happen overnight, and maybe they haven’t actually changed as dramatically as all that. But the facts remain that a major world power (the United States) and a neighbour to my country, who is currently electing conservative leaders all over the place, is trying to legislate transgender and intersex people out of existence, based on pure bigotry, ignorance and hatred. This is just the latest in a series of exhausting, dehumanizing events in the United States. Fascism never went away, really, but it just keeps rearing its head in government-mandated ways and somehow each moment feels like that’s as bad as this administration can get. And somehow people keep normalizing these new situations, or somehow believing that there are “two sides” that have equal validity and a right to be heard.

So.

This game…might not be what I thought it was going to be.