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.

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.