I didn't attend as many sessions as planned. The usual excuses apply: big city appeal, conflicts of interest, hangovers, lingering hallway conversations. With that admission, though, I think I made it to a good variety.
Conference session summaries and commentary, both of which may be inaccurate and/or inconsequential, follow. Speakers are identified by their Twitter accounts when possible.
B.34 - Designing Education: What Videogame Designers and Rhetoricians Can Learn From Each Other
Samantha Blackmon (@saffista) encouraged the audience to think more like videogame designers, advocating a specific focus on the relationship between pedagogy and student engagement. Blackmon also ruminated on the idea of "to pass through" and what this means in videogames vs. how it occurs in a writing classroom. We can show through gameplay, through the act of performing knowledge, how we learn, which may lead us (students and teachers) to more effective writing processes. Blackmon also considered the heads-up display (HUD), in particular the PipBoy 3000 in Fallout 3, as a potential model for documenting process and progress, that the idea of a HUD in composition could influence the development of "squishy rubrics" for assessment.
Ian Bogost (@ibogost) introduced himself as coming to rhetoric from videogames and expressed interest in how cultural artifacts, e.g., videogames, work. "The rhetoric is in the rules," he explained. With Cutthroat Capitalism, McDonald's (the game), Oiligarchy, and Fatworld, Bogost put forth the idea of videogames as metarhetorical acts, as depicting process through a process. There was also an argument for algorithm and system over narrative and story, with page 82 of Diamond's _Guns, Germs, and Steel_ as an example of documentation, not discovery. Referencing McLuhan's Laws of the Media, Bogost encouraged the audience to think how and what we enhance, reverse, restrict, and obsolesce various and sundry processes.
Alex Reid (@digitaldigs) expressed interest in the affective aspects of composition, how ideas of flow and object-oriented rhetoric apply to the work we (students and teachers) do. For instance, if happiness is not a primary concern in composition or videogames, what is it that motivates? In this way, there are analogous challenges in composition and videogames. In the former, we have writer-object encounters; in the latter, we have player-object encounters. In both, there are unnecessary obstacles, but one still has greater appeal, perhaps because of its flow state. According to Reid, we can and should work more toward achieving and facilitating the flow state of composition.
Subsequent discussion concerned gamification, clarifying points on documenting process and progress, aesthetic intent, exploration as a form of play, and how we are (or can be) bridges between games and formal learning environments.
E.25 - Gaming the Academy
Scott Nelson and Andrew Rechnitz presented their work on The Agon, a game influenced by notions of roleplaying and make-believe in teaching and learning. Admitted gamer-scholars, Nelson and Rechnitz explained a variety of game scenarios based in agonistic competition for students of rhetoric to pass through. Rather than holding something like a mock trial in a face-to-face classroom session, The Agon will be a different sort of learning gamespace, one with closer ties to The Oregon Trail than Number Munchers.
Tekla Schell explained how she uses Mass Effect in teaching ethics. There was some focus on the videogame's dialogue wheel as the most interesting aspect because of how it doesn't so much present full dialogue choices as it does words or short phrases expressive of particular tone. Schell also noted that the relative positioning of students with the player-character Shepard can allow for a long view regarding the impact of ethical choices.
G.23 - Poiesis in Motion: Rhetoric, Composition, and Mobility
Ehren Pflugfelder gave attention to the materiality in/of rhetoric, the embodiment of gesture, and notions of kinesis, energeia, and techne. He explained the regimes of movement in the world, how one can be living well and also have lived well, indicating existence and movement in "the moment up to the present." This is also the realm of gerunds. Most interesting to me, though, was Pflugfelder's unpacking of techne, which he explained as navigation while also nodding to Heidegger's position of it as a primary mode of revealing. It is through movement, through navigating technology, through expressing rhetoric that we are mobile.
Lars Soderlund provided something of a working example of this, delivering his talk about Gorgias's migrant teachings while walking around the room. Soderlund related the mobility of the sophists in educating the general public to the idea of circulation and how it feeds into a kairotic moment and then continues to circulate. Among the more recent examples Soderlund introduced was FDR's "fear itself," though he also related this to Jim Ridolfo's observations on rhetorical velocity. For Soderlund, circulation applies to ideas while mobility applies to people and things.
Given Pflugfelder's and Soderlund's consistent mentions of objects and things, I anticipated some talk of object-oriented rhetoric, but none came. And I'm still too much in the beginning stages of understanding OOR to inquire as to why neither presenter touched upon it.
Jason Swarts produced a very helpful handout in relation to his talk on movement among and between locations and spaces and how it's possible to code and define them. Types of spaces identified by Swarts include geographical, municipal, commercial, event, transit, and social. The significance attached to locations include activities, times and dates, conditions, people, trajectories, addresses, and articulations. Swarts also explained how he coded a collection of Twitter data, moving from "location" to more specific areas, including "building," "event," "path," "road," "area," "relational," "geographical," and "transit.
Ryan Moeller concluded the session with some perspective on his study of students' mobile and non-mobile writing events.
I have to admit to being so interested in Moeller's talk that I took almost no notes. Among the few scribblings I took, though, is this: I'd be interested in overlaying Jason Swarts's coding passes on Moeller's study. I'm curious as to what might be gleaned from doing so.
H.18 - Writing Text, Writing Code, Writing Connections
Julie Meloni (@jcmeloni) introduced the audience (or maybe just me) to critical code studies, explaining that everybody does something with code, but so many don't know what code is or means. "Everyone writes code, knowingly or not," she declared at one point. And doing so builds and feeds the machine, making it better and into something new. Writing and code both represent and construct the world.
Annette Vee (@anetv) spoke about the effects of code on computers and humans. Code says and does, making for real (not symbolic) change. All speech is performative; code is descriptive and performative by degrees. The perlocutionary should be the goal. Computers are linguistic/social objects, with code/software as the audience.
Brian Ballentine expressed interest in points of entry in software programming as well as the relationship between code and narrative. Ballentine used the Matrix as an early illustrative example, explaining Hollywood "code view" vs. "real code view. He later explained how writing bookends the software development process and the need to have narrative present in every stage, even if the meaning of "event" is something different for programmers.
L.29 - Serious Games and Digital Rhetoric
Doug Eyman (@eymand) thought aloud about writing and videogames, framing serious games as theory machines and advocating that the real value of games cannot/does not come from reading them as texts. Instead, games are a "generative force for defamiliarization." Eyman explained this through the different kinds of writing associated with games: writing ABOUT games (analysis and review), writing AROUND games (fan fiction and wikis), writing INSIDE games (e.g., Mass Effect's codex), and writing THROUGH games (mods, technical documents). It should be noted here that Eyman also mentioned machinima, but I didn't record where he placed that kind of writing, (either INSIDE or THROUGH makes sense).
Steve Holmes read a paper on moving toward a rhetoric of the MMORPG, noting the rhetorical nature of videogames and how persuasion is evident through procedure. He invoked Ian Bogost, but Holmes also critiqued the apparent privileging of coded procedures, preferring to instead look at "uncoded" aspects of World of Warcraft. Among these aspects were social principles, random consequences, and extra-game social rewards. Holmes privileged the player over the system, noting out-of-game motivation and the realm of expressive products, and wants more accounting for human agency in procedural rhetoric.
Scott Reed (@rhetoroxor) looked at the challenge of boredom in our post-process moment, on how this involuntary loss of meaning leaves us with no history to made (boredom here, not post process, ha!). He stressed the need to be other than goal-oriented. Reed also advocated an embrace of the digital agon and for us to play with unexpected connections.
Jimmy Butts read a paper on play in the U.S. prison system, building upon the instance of an inmate banned from playing Dungeons & Dragons to argue for the precious importance of play to all humans. It was with marked sarcasm that Butts listed those games still available to those incarcerated: "Thank goodness for Stratego."
Jan Holmevik spoke about the future of virtual worlds and WoW's movement from theme park to narrative. Play is a bridge, creating locations for our rhetorical consideration. In the future, Holmevik hopes to see more harnessing of the power of community-distributed models and less top-down structures.
N.04 - The New Work of the Digital Book in Composition Studies
Debra Journet began by talking about the book as something of intellectual heft, its weight, its length, its "symbolic rendering." The book is an object, a technology, a genre. How do we translate this materiality into something digital? How do we make the digital a comparable amount/form of work? What we recognize as a book is based in part on our assumptions about convention. If the university press book is the gold standard (and it is), there are important, necessary changes in distribution and authorship as well as economic consequences when moving into the digital.
Cheryl Ball (@s2ceball) documented the process from idea to review, looking at what's possible now as well as best practices, abilities, and expectations in addition to issues of copyright and peer review. Ball addressed questions of time and money, assumptions about the amount of advance work, and the process of labor in digital production before narrowing to a focus on media-based vs. print-based language in various publishing documents (namely proposals and reviews). We need to recognize the print biases that persist and remain, the expectations associated with those biases.
Ryan Trauman (@trauman) closed the session with some thoughts on fostering the digital push in acknowledgement of history. "History is a narrative technology," he said while previewing certain, various histories of new media, naming Gitelman, Kittler, Bazerman, Benjamin, Feenberg, and Foucault as places to start. In moving from history to practical example, Trauman noted the fallacy of "artist before her time." From his perspective, it isn't that innovators see the future so much as the shortcomings of current technology. "The future emerges out of negotiation," he explained. One such negotiation concerned the table of contents, which was both a design approach and opportunity for him, and he concluded his talk with a demonstration of a Flash-based table of contents that was dependent on reader selection for its clustering organization.
In my notes on the game-oriented sessions summarized above, I express annoyance over the introduction and use of videogames as metaphors, primary texts, and teaching tools. Even if they are in the right direction, these are small steps. I'm concerned that not much really changes as a result of these steps. I'm impatient for more substantial change. I don't want to use videogames in a composition course. I don't want a gamified composition course. I don't want some kind of immersive media replacement that dovetails with past/present pedagogy. I don't want a superficial layer on top of a learning system already rife with problems of engagement and motivation. I don't want achievements as replacements for grades. A videogame can function as documenting a process or system, right? I want games to call bullshit on what we do. I'm uncertain if games as metaphors, primary texts, and teaching tools are enough to do that.
Who I met, re-met, and/or at least shook hands with: Jen Almjeld (@jenalmjeld), David Bailey (@dbfuturist42), Kris Blair (@cloudydc), Ian Bogost (@ibogost), Richard Colby, Chris Denecker, Scott Graham (@easyrhetor), Dennis Jerz (@DennisJerz), Liz Losh (@lizlosh), Brian McNely (@bmcnely), Scott Reed (@rhetoroxor), Alex Reid (@digitaldigs), (@Scrivenings), Lee Sherlock (@Imsherlock), Chris Tolley, Mark Vega (@megavark), and Quinn Warnick (@warnick).
I also spent an alcohol-infused, smoke-filled evening with Simon Ferrari (@simonFerrari), Ben Medler (@benmedler) and Simon's friend Mark (whose last name I do not recall).
Beer recommendation: Terrapin rye pale ale
Food recommendation: brisket barbacoa at Nuevo Laredo
Postscript: The discussion about conference hashtags was as important as it was, in some ways, moot. Many appeared amused and/or exasperated by the plethora of descriptors, from #4C11 to #cccc2011 to #theconferenceoncollegecompositionandcommunication. Newcomers included as many hashtags as they could while still getting their points across; veterans set up archives and tweeted about which hashtag was rising or falling in popularity. I won't be surprised to learn of future papers and talks given about this event within the event. I'll be interested in reading those papers and listening to those talks. And yet, I remain amazed at the hugeness of the conference. When compared to the overall number in attendance, I'd wager a slim fraction of those participated or even knew of the hashtag kerfluffle. This is not to imply that future analysis and scholarship on conference hashtags are unimportant or unnecessary. I'm just curious about perspective and perhaps how the absurdity of the event may have inhibited participation.