My aim this week has been to start to narrow the focus of my work. After speaking with Martin at our first meeting, I wanted to pick one of the themes and really take a good look at it with a view to framing my research question as clearly as I can. At the same time two things happened. Firstly the talk by Horvat mentioned in my last entry, and secondly Sam Carroll put me onto this article by Papacharissi building on Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in EveryDay Life to look at the web. I found it interesting not so much because of the (fairly dry) discussion but because of the way her questions were framed:
RQ1: What are Web page characteristics through which virtual actors pursue self presentation online?
RQ2: How are the characteristics of personal home pages related?
Now, her methodology was quantitative and (in my opinion) a little limited because of it, but it did get me thinking about the notion of self as being central to what I’m really interested in. So I started re-reading some of Goffman on presentation, and thinking about the destinction between the classical (Cartesian) notion of the stable self and more recent ideas about fractured/constructed selves (e.g. Dennett), Goffman’s ideas about self-presentation, and Althusser’s stuff about interpellation. I finally tracked down the one copy of Althusser’s Lenin And Philosophy in the ECOM library and read his famous ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ article. Interesting — it reminded me of a lot of political science stuff I read as an undergrad.
Althusser is on about individuals (selves) being always-already subjects. He says “all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concreate subjects”. So for example when a police officer says ‘Hey, you there!’ and someone turns around, the fact that they know that it is really them who is being referred to means that they are a subject, and that they know it. The other example he gives is Christian ideology, which addresses individuals in order to transform them into subjects.
Castells is similarly coming from a political science perspective. I remember reading his stuff when I was doing International Relations. He has a bit to say about ‘self in the informational society’, saying that the net is actually completely at odds with the ‘self’, and even quoting Alaine Touraine “in post-industrial society, in which cultural services have replaced material goods at the core of production, it is the defense of the subject, in its personality and in its culture, against the logic of apparatuses and markets, that replaces the idea of class struggle”. This stuff is definitely up my alley with my politics background and pretty interesting in the light of my topic.
I decided that there would probably be enough just in the notion of the self to investigate with respect to DRALE too. How do these budding lawyers establish their identity as lawyers? What characteristics of the system interpellate them as lawyers? How do they employ this system, and how and to what extent are they defined by it? I can think of a lot of examples within the design of DRALE to look at — for example the agency provided by the letterheads for each of the teams. The authentication of students by typing in their name and password. The counter-signature process. The system as an actor/actors, the roles of the staff involved, and so on.
I went to the Image, Text & Sound Conference at RMIT today and there were a couple of papers that were of particular interest. Les Horvat spoke about narrative as a vehicle to organise the self, referring to Macintyre. He contrasted the Cartesian view of the self as stable with recent ideas of the self as a stream of narrative fragments (e.g. Dennett). I found it quite useful just at the moment as I’m considering ideas of identity and role-plays. Lisa Dethridge talked about the importance of time in narratives. This was interesting to me from a design point of view, but I’m wondering whether it points to any interesting ideas for analysing the use of role-play systems too. In any case there was plenty to think about, and I will be following up a few things from the first one.
Today I spoke to Peter Jones from the Law School about the current use of DRALE. It sounds like it is still in heavy use there — being used in 1st, 2nd, and sometimes also over the summer semester. The 2nd Semester students just finished using the system yesterday. The next cohort to use it will be the JD students, who will probably use it over the next fortnight. It will then most likely be used again in January during the summer semester (JD students again I think he said) and after that in 1st semester 2005, around april – may for approximately 6 weeks. The 1st Semester cohort is the one that interests me most, because this is when the students team up and match with opposing teams.
Martin gave me a number of leads at yesterday’s meeting. Firstly, there was the fascinating and slightly disturbing ‘<a href=”http://www.ict.usc.edu/disp.php?bd=proj_clas”>Think Like A Commander</a>’ role-play developed for the US Army. Two references he recommended regarding interpellation are <i>Decoding advertisements: ideology and meaning in advertising</i> by Judith Williamson and <i>Ideology and State Apperatus</i> by Louis Althusser. He also mentioned Andrew Stapleton, Multimedia Lecturer & Game Researcher, Multimedia Group, School of Biophysical Sciences & Electrical Engineering, Swinburne University of Technology, who is giving a paper at the academic summit at <a href=”http://www.agdc.com.au/conference/schedule_acad_summit.php”>The Australian Games Developers Conference</a> in December.
Yesterday I posted a topic about online role-plays for higher education on Brainstorms. I knew there’d be an interest in the idea there, but what’s amazing is the quality of discussion there. Already I’ve had responses from people like Howard Rheingold, Andee Baker, Julian Long and Charles Cameron, all of whom are noted experts in related fields. Andee has even taken up my offer to check out what I’m doing here (hi Andee). Charles’ area is games for education in general. He pointed out something called the Serious Games Initiave. Through that site, I found a videotaped presentation by Kurt Squire from MIT’s Games-To-Teach Project. His presentation talks about (among other things) a role-play game called Biohazard from CMU that sounds really intriguing. It’s a “robust simulated” role-playing game, meaning it includes a simulated environment that you can interact with, much like (I imagine) a FPS game. This could be a really interesting case study because it is so obviously packed with all kinds of assumptions and interests — for example the project is funded by Microsoft, and the example of a biohazard that Squire gave was anthrax.
I also read an article that popped up on google about role-plays and the self. Admittedly not the highest quality piece of research I’ve ever read, but it does raise the possible link between people’s predispositions and the extent to which playing a role has an effect on their sense of self. I made some (very brief) notes.
Today was another reasonably productive day. I started by tracking down some documents I still have (archived to CD-ROM) from the original DRALE project. I actually hadn’t realised how much I had kept from those days. I located the original Proposal from Acumen, the agenda for the first meeting and the Functional Specification, which should be useful. I even found a notice for a Seminar about DRALE, which I thought was good going. One of the most useful documents might be a Briefing Paper by Peter Jones which sets out some of the reflections on its use after the first couple of years. All of this should be handy for tracing different people’s roles in the project.
The two articles dredged up through the Proquest search were very different. The first was a short article from the designer of Deus Ex and the Ultima series games, Warren Spector. Even though it was very light on, it was interesting to read such a clear discussion of what works and doesn’t work for the design of RPGs, and it made me wonder if there might be some value in looking at a bit more along these lines at some point. I was thinking of referring to the widespread use of RPGs by students before they even get to the tertiary education system anyway. My notes are here.
The second one was a very technical sociology paper on something called ‘role theory’. This is a theory about ‘embededness’, which I take to mean long term cooperative behaviour, and has little or nothing to do with role-playing per se. This all has to do with game theory, apparently, which (rather confusingly) has nothing to do with games as such, but refers to thought experiments like the Prisoner’s Dilemma (you know the one, where Al and Bob are criminals and they have to decide whether or not to rat on one another or trust that the other will not rat on them). ‘Role theory’ is apparently the idea that “the individual should be viewed as a collection of roles” rather than as unitary actors (under rational choice theory). Interesting, but not really anything to do with my topic, so I abandoned the article there.
I also re-read a couple of articles by Margaret Riel. ‘Cross-classroom collaboration’ is the type of upbeat article you’d find at an EdMedia conference (or ASCILITE for that matter). It’s really just pointing out that computers can be used to connect school classrooms together. Anyway, I put my notes here.
The only other thing I did today was put my notes on Chapter 1 of Poster’s book online. I’m enjoying the way this works because I feel like I have easier access to stuff now. It also meant I re-read the notes, which gave me a kick in the right direction again. More on that later, I think.
It was the last box left in the house. I was sure this box contained only MLX-related stuff (well, that’s what the label said after all). So imagine my surprise when we removed the masking tape to reveal my beloved pink folder (helpfully labeled “MASTERS”) right at the top. This contains a bunch of material I was going through and annotating a while back. Now I plan to transcribe my notes and re-read anything that still sounds interesting. A cursory glance showed that I have a few pathways to trace with this material too. There’s not a huge amount, but it’s good to know I’ve got the references from this batch to go back to when I need it.
I’ve found some notes that I made on Poster’s What’s the Matter with the Internet, which Mike recommended as a good jumping off point. I don’t know where the electronic version of these notes has gone, which leads me to wonder whether I did lose a bit of useful stuff when my iMac’s hard drive got fritzed a few months ago. Nevermind, I’ve got the hard copy of just about everything, so I’ll start feeding it in here this week.
A couple of articles turned up from that ProQuest search that I’m going to take a look at: