DISSERTATION: I’ve Been Tired!

autoethnography, critical making, curious games, dissertation

Well, sportsfans, I’m keeping busy and working away on my dissertation project and a whole whack of other things.

Since the last time that I wrote, I’ve participated in a lot of events, which is the priamry reason why I haven’t been able to write too much here. In between the events, I’ve just needed time to recover, work on my code, and do my chores.

Speaking of code, you can now find the repository for my working-title project Traces here.

What I have discovered after a lot of effort and working with Node JS and etc is this:

— Johnny-Five doesn’t not play well with this NFC shield. I could either get my little LED light to blink using a node server command or I could get my RFID shield to read my NFID tags, but not both. People have been asking for support on this from the johnny-five developpers since 2015, but obviously it’s a labour of love and it just hasn’t happened.

— I will have try to use websocket and serialport instead, although I remember there being some issues with serialport and one of our previous projects. Alternatively, I will have to try and make everything happen through the Arduino board (this is not ideal for audio or for using multiple com ports).

Okay, so my last post was written on a Sunday. Then, there was a week of work from there, where I did some writing and a lot of code troubleshooting that I don’t have a lot to show for. On the 8th, I did a Costco run with one of the organizers of GAMERella in preparation for, you guessed it, GAMERella, which happened on the 10th and 11th.

I made a game that weekend with Narf and Catherine called “TAMAGAMEWORKER”, and it’s about unhealthy working conditions in the game industry. You have to try and take care of a tamagotchi gameworker named Tama, while they try to balance their basic needs alongside demands from work and other spheres. You can check it out here – it’s not perfectly balanced and you may have to install “Noto Sans” for the fonts to display properly (I haven’t gotten around to doing web fonts for it yet). I did the programming, most of the art except the tamagotchi animations, the annoying music, and I helped edit the writing. Catherine did most of our writing and Narf helped with programming, did the Tamagotchi animations, and helped Catherine with syntax for the JSON file.

Then, this past weekend (and when I say weekend here, I mean covering the period from the 16th-19th), was the Montreal Mini Maker Faire followed directly by the Maker Cultures conference and symposium. It was four days straight of very intense, long days.

On Friday and Saturday, I was exhibiting. I didn’t realize how tired I was ’til after — it can be really hard to take a break and have someone else watch your booth when you’re the only one who knows what needs to be done and, as the Gamemaster, your skills are a big part of the experience. It was helpful to have to explain Flip the Script! (the game I was showing) to so many people. I was also on CTV Montreal with the project — you can check out the video here (although unfortunately it misgenders me).

On Sunday, it was a day of talks followed by dinner with the presenters, and Monday was a day of workshops and trying to help define this area.

One very serendipitous meeting from this weekend was with Tess and Karen Tanenbaum from UC Irvine. We had met at QGCon in LA two years ago, which Tess was kind enough to help me remember by saying “we haven’t seen each other since…” because I had total face blindness. The Tanenbaums have done some really cool work with — surprise! NFC! That includes a storytelling NFC glove, so I definitely plan to engage with their work as I think about Traces.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I took the day off and went to see Burn The Stage in theaters. I slept in, I ate ramen, I bought art supplies, I watched a movie, I cuddled kitties, I played video games, I wrote with Tom…It was glorious.

And that brings us to today. Today, I worked on some other tasks needing my attention regarding my work as student rep and some other administrative things. I also had the chance to practice Japanese with a dear friend. She is very patient with me — with all that’s been going on, I haven’t had much chance to practice. Oh, and I got a new night-guard and had it adjusted.

I jokingly told my friend today that maybe the reason I was working so much with Time Travel themes (in the tabletop RPG I am running for my friends, for example, and with this project) is because I never seem to have enough of it and I want to make more of it.

As the Pixies say, “I’ve been tired! T-I-R-E-D spells it, spells it, spells it”.

So I’m trying to be cautious, take the time that I need to rest, and keep on keeping on.

DISSERTATION: A general kind of exhaustion, but also hope

autoethnography, critical making, curious games, dissertation, playtest, reflective games, research

It’s been exactly one month since I last wrote an autoethnographic blog post, and let me tell you, it’s been some month. There’s still plenty ahead too — I’ll be traveling to Europe for Ars Electronica, Hamilton for a BTS Concert (yes, I’m a fan — it’s astounding how many graduate students in game studies are and how many of us de-stress [not relax, but de-stress] watching their flashy music videos), Montreal for QGCon (which I’m co-organizing!), Worcester, MA for Different Games, New York for my nibling’s christening, and home again in Montreal for Maker Faire.

From the end of July into the beginning of August, I continued my yearly tradition of participating in GISH (formerly known as GISHWHES). That finished August 4th, and I’ll eventually post some of the items and videos that I made — one video even featured Harle, Avi and Drake as puppets from the 1950s!

From there, from the 5th onward, began a nightmare move that I still haven’t seen the end of. To make a long story short, I have had to make insurance claims and the movers were very unpleasant. It’s left me with a lot of work in addition to my already-hectic schedule, and it’s pretty stressful. At times, it’s been overwhelming. I’m chipping away at it bit by bit, though, and hopefully things will keep shaping up. There’s still a lot of cleaning, renovating, painting, furniture-buying, furniture-building, and decorating to do.

I have run four playtests of Flip the Script in the past two weeks! It’s a game that takes up a lot of energy, and I’ve decided that in the future, I think that the best that I can do is run it once a day. The game relies heavily on the facilitating role, and the facilitation itself IS heavy.

As you might remember about Flip the Script!, one of the debriefing and de-roling exercises that I do with players is formulating a statement that we’d like to put out ot the world — it can be a statement of hope, advice, just something that the players would like others to know. I try to listen and facilitate this. There were four statements to come out of these playtests. I won’t tell you which statement is in relation to what topic.

“Please be attuned to the subtle signs of our inner experiences and invisible struggles (and thank you for your patience).”

“Each ‘small’ drop in the bucket still eventually fills it and can make it overflow.”

“Be critical of the information you consume; be a good observer, be a good listener, and go deeper than the surface.”

“In recognizing each other’s humanity within rigid systems, there may be potential for unusual alliances and creative solutions.”

Some things that I’ve learned from the playtesting: the microbit and LED technology isn’t pulling its weight as much as it could, although it’s not horribly mismatched, it’s a facilitator-heavy game, I need to help players connect to their puppets by making sure that they interact with them early and often and make things up about them, and I need to carefully shape scenes by regeneralizing any personal anecdotes that people tell, and ensure that the scene is robust enough to support multiple playthroughs. That means carefully setting up the characters and potentialities/story seeds. Also, the way that the game goes and how much is disclosed depends very heavily on who is playing (but I knew that would be the case).

Player reception has been generally positive, and people seem to get something out of the game on an emotional level, even if it’s not a perfect game. I guess it’s okay that it’s not perfect.

What I think I am realizing is that I do need to be careful about how much emotional labour the next project demands of me, because these playtest sessions have been very rewarding, but also quite draining. Given the fact that there are many draining situations in my life at the moment (this nightmare move, everything to do with Tom, just the general stressors of being a grad student with many things to do, plus community organizing and the things that come with it). That means I need to offload more onto the tech and interface and game rules and less onto the facilitator. That’ll hopefully mean that playtesting will be easier, even if initially there’s more work to be done with the tech (which is not necessarily my strongest suit — but it’s always getting stronger!).

With Flip the Script!, I spent a lot of time agonizing over the game idea and getting it to a point where I felt good about it. Then, a lot of my time was spent making the puppets and their interfaces. The rules themselves also took up a good chunk of that time. I’ll have to see where the next project takes me, but I think I need to be able to run the next game even if I’m not feeling at 100%. Maybe that means bringing back a screen. Maybe that means bringing in Raspberry Pi and pre-recorded things. Maybe that means more quick, written rules.

I would like to work more with costumes and theatre, but at the same time, with toys and tiny worlds. I guess I’m thinking of wearables and board games, or even of something like Polly Pocket, or, for a digital reference, Gnog. I want to embed a narrative into the interfaces and have players spend time exploring and discovering that narrative through the interface. I am also feeling inspired by Ida Toft’s Promises project, which I think is vibrant and alive in a very satisfying way, even though it’s quite stripped-down. There’s a suggestion of life within the vibrations in the river rock-like objects that the player engages with.

On another note, playtesting made me feel oddly “on-track” for my dissertation projects. I feel like this project, even if it’s imperfect, is a success. I think it engages with complex ideas that are coming through in the game, that the level of work that I put into it feels appropriate for a six month project, and I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s a nice feeling, amidst all this turmoil.

Dissertation: First Game Update — Puppets, Cosplay, Masks

critical making, curious games, dissertation

Writing here as a record of what my process has been like of late in relation to this first dissertation game. The work is proving hard to get a handle on — for a number of reasons, I think.

So, lately, I’ve been reading about larps and I also just picked up and am about to read Queer Game Studies, edited by Bo Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw. Since what I have been absorbing reading-wise is larp related, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I have had no trouble writing my latest larp once I settled on the topic. I completed a draft in just seven hours, and you can read that draft here: https://jekagames.itch.io/queer-sleepover-witching-hour

I have the materials that I need in order to experiment with making some objects for my latest game, but I am having trouble figuring out what I would like to explore in the game. The truth is, with everything that is going on in my personal life with my spouse’s work, and my difficulties with living in Fort McMurray, not to mention that doctoral programs are not known to be stellar for one’s mental health, I have been having trouble working at the same pace that I am used to. In January, I had to take a break because I was exhibiting burnout symptoms. The break seemed to work well, but I still haven’t been able to return to my former pace of work, and although my symptoms are not nearly as bad as they were, I still am having much more trouble focusing than I am used to. My resilience is not what it used to be. I’m not who I used to be.

Maybe it will all get better if this situation ever resolves itself, but for now, I have to continuously remind myself to be kind to myself and not to rush the work. But I feel guilty not being productive and not making as much as I am used to (even though I’ve released like three games in the first three months of 2018 and have been doing plenty of reading, writing and other work – sheesh).

I’ve been having doubts about this game as a “puppet” game, and with the materials I’ve gathered, I find myself interested in maybe making a game with masks, or costumes. The problem with masks and costumes, I think, is that it is difficult to make something that will be “one size fits all” — because one size doesn’t fit all. Nevertheless, I am considering the affordances of these different possibilities. One theme that is very present for me at the moment is mental health. It’s a bit of a tired metaphor if I work it from the “masks” angle, so I would have to consider carefully what I want to say and how.

The puppets are causing me trouble possibly because of the relationship between puppet and audience, and the kinds of activities that puppets are used for. I want the interaction to be meaningful and supported by the digital components of the game. I find myself thinking of the Bird Game Collective’s “Lovebirds” and how they made use of masks.

Amongst the materials that I have gathered to play with are three micro:bits, twenty-dollar microcontrollers developed by the BBC and brought to my attention by my colleague, Enric Llagostera. They are Bluetooth and radio-communication enabled straight out of the box, which is making me rethink my initial thoughts. I initially thought that the puppets would be easier to make and less likely to break if I had them interact with an environment that was wired up and close circuits using conductive material rather than having them wired up, since I didn’t want to have to deal with strain on the wires and such. While that’s probably true, I think that having interactions embedded in the puppets themselves probably gives me more interesting design possibilities. Maybe I should use a combination of both. I can also certainly find ways to protect the wires and avoid stretching them too badly.

Well, I wish I had some solutions and could get right into the making. I hope that this long, contemplative process will be well-worth it! I won’t stop playing around with ideas, sketching, and trying to make stuff, though.