DISSERTATION: Escape Suitcase Progress & Challenges

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation, research

I thought I’d write a little update to say that the physical making of the escape suitcase is going pretty darn well. I’m very happy with the look so far. The structure of the box itself is done, and the outside parts are done (but not stained and the hardware isn’t on). Next, we have to plan and make the inside of the box (I’d list some parts but I want to avoid spoilers for the solutions).

What makes that a bit difficult is the fact that I still haven’t managed to finish that last puzzle. I talked about it at the new design group that’s forming at TAG, I had some conversations with Tom about it, and still, I’m having a hard time getting into it. The general advice seems to be to try and change my frame of reference/point of view — either in terms of the puzzle type, or the theme, or the interaction. That’s what I’ll be trying my best to do today.

For my good friend Gina’s birthday, we played an escape room yesterday — we won! The one thing we got stuck on was…maybe a bit unfair given the horizon of expectations that the escape room genre sets up, and the positioning of the clue in the room, along with some red herrings, which in the end required us to revisit a puzzle. We had to ask for a hint on that one! But from there, it was pretty smooth. It was on the whole a very well-designed room but, I have to say, the thing that I am trying to avoid in this last puzzle, which is feeling that there’s a kind of disconnect (or only a shallow connection) between the puzzles in the room and the narrative was definitely present. It’s definitely hard to design puzzles and narratives that fill fit those puzzles without being stilted, but I think it’s a worthwhile goal for escape rooms, and for my project.

Okay, time to try designing this puzzle once again!

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!

CGSA 2019 Recap

autoethnography, dissertation, research

Hi folks,

So, I just got back from CGSA (the Canadian Game Studies Association) in Vancouver, BC, which I followed up with some hiking and sightseeing on beautiful Vancouver Island. The conference was pretty excellent, and the past week has been extremely relaxing and good for me. (I’ll post my CGSA talk and slides eventually.)

Now, though, it’s time to get back to my dissertation work, and to be honest, I am a little worried — by now, I’m supposed to be three and a half months into my new project, but I’m not. As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of reasons for that. I lost the first month of project 02 to exhibiting and traveling in Europe followed by running last year’s QGCon. I lost December and January (months four and five) to burnout from the RCMP work that I was helping Tom with, as well as to getting ready to teach in January… And then, I needed two and a half or so extra months to finish TRACES.

I could have opted for a less-finished prototype, but I felt a strong connection to the project, and I really wanted to make it as “finished-for-now” as I could. I am very, very happy with the end-result of the project. But it took time.

That’s time that I didn’t use for Project 03, or for dissertation writing. Now, I know (and so do you, if you look back on this) that I have been writing this entire time, but I haven’t been writing formal chapters.

I’m happy that I did use my CGSA presentation to write a few thousand words about archival practices. I think it’s a good initial first go with some strong thoughts, and I did get some suggestions for who I should be reading/looking into from the audience, including: Dene Grigar from U of Washington/Vancouver, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Jennifer Douglas (who writes about the subjectivity of archivists and on documenting workspaces and personal libraries at the NYC Public Library)… And I was reminded of a few sources that I should definitely be citing, such as Donald Schon (inescapably awesome work), and Barr, Khaled and Lessard’s MDMA work (I don’t know if it’s formally published somewhere now?). Adrienne Shaw’s Encoding and Decoding Technology sounded liked something I’d be interested to read, as well as Kat Holmes’ Mismatch.

John Sakloske brought up questions of ephemerality that I didn’t agree with but will certainly have to address. Raph’s Delete Jam (happening tonight) also brings these questions up, philosophically and affectively.

All this is to say that I am not sure that I am on track to finish writing or to defend by May 2020. I will try to finish my next project in three months, but I don’t know that I will. From there, I have to write about 50 000 words, which, honestly, isn’t too bad, but I know that I have a lot more to say than that, and that this will all need editing. I also have a lot to analyze in terms of materials. I have to get many hours of audio transcribed in order to analyze it with grounded theory. But I think I will have to only include a sample of that in my dissertation as an appendix.

Right now, I haven’t been as in-touch with Rilla, my supervisor, as I would like. Since she’s on maternity leave and the work is still plugging along, I guess that’s okay, and we’ve already talked about what would happen if I didn’t finish on time (the answer is pretty well just to remember to save up a little money so that I can finish at the end). Money is a bit of a concern because Tom hasn’t yet found a full-time job (he’s doing some worthwhile part-time work in the meanwhile). My budget is in order but it depends on Tom being able to pay his half of the bills. He’s still also working on the various complaint files that he still has to have a part in.

So, I’m trying to figure out what this project is about. This morning, I was thinking about themes like connection/intimacy, as well as interpretation. I was thinking of electronic motion and vibration. They’re two areas that I haven’t done a lot with yet that my peers, like Ida and Squinky, have been doing neat stuff with. One idea that came to my mind as I was half-awake was a game where you have to interpret the motion of a digital/electronic device. More on this to come! One concern that I have is that I wanted to try out a game with clearer outcomes and win/lose conditions than the previous one, and this direction doesn’t seem to be going that way. I don’t want to rest on my laurels! Another concern is that working with the technologies that I did for TRACES involved a lot of trial and error and programmatic problem-solving that was more difficult and time-consuming than I anticipated, so I wonder whether it would be better to work with a technology that I already know.

More as it comes!