Video Game Probe Kits
This project uses a series of interactive probe kits to look at video game play in relation to community specific interaction and cultural practices. The selected games vary across genres and include: Animal Crossing, Overwatch, Last of Us, Among Us, Elder Scrolls Online and Call of Duty.
The probes utilize qualitative research methods to generate critical interdisciplinary work, specifically employing digital ethnography (ethnography of the Internet) and critical thinking. Ethnographic research into the Internet often involves studying the impact of technologies, i.e. the emergence of technological abuse, and the formative conditions in which technologies come to be, e.g. forms of participation, user-generated technical practices, etc. (Hine 2017; Barassi 2017). This process will involve constructing “a network of human actors, non-human actants or objects, as well as the processes and practices that become enrolled” as it follows examples of counterspeech and abuse across this community (Ford 2017).
Participants engage in walkthroughs of game play and community engagement and generate reflections and notes on their experiences through probe kits. Probe kits include a set of game-specific instruction cards (prompts), several game-related items such as memorabilia and official game packaging, and a series of digital materials. Participants will begin by selecting instruction cards and following the prompts.
After participants have completed the probe kit, they will participate in either a focus group or individual interview. Interviewers will use the probe kits to ask questions and generate dialogue with participants.
This project will identify and explain the different modes of communication, their uses, their affordances and limitations, and how they embody, assume or undermine social norms. It will also investigate cultural practices in the specific game community and game through examples of disruptive behavior and political engagement. The resultant ‘thick descriptions’ will be synthesized so that the modes of communication and cultural practices are analyzed in relation to one another. This process will involve a discussion on the potential for both abuse and counterspeech and in doing so will generate new ideas of what potentially counts as counterspeech and provide models for future counterspeech initiatives.
ROM Hacking + Workshops
Many early NES video games were based on cartoon and toy franchises that embodied hegemonic masculinity, such as G.I. Joe, Beavis and Butthead, Darkwing Duck, Popeye, Transformers, and Toxic Invaders. These games not only reinforced views that males are/were the primary video game consumers, but that male power is reflected through the video games’ hypermasculine traits. Several gender swapping hacks or mods have responded to this claim: for example, in 2012 Mike Mika created a Donkey Kong NES hack that places Pauline in the protagonist role which is usually occupied by Mario. While the ROM (read-only memory) hack was created for Mika’s daughter, it garnered the attention of national news outlets, such as NPR, ABC News, and the Huffington Post, and it was shared thousands of times on social media. The emphasis on the man’s actions and classification in the Donkey Kong hack news reports is representative of larger video game communities where there often is ‘a lack of interest or even outright derision regarding games about domesticity and girlhood’ (Alexander 2014). This has contributed to the popularization of narratives that concentrate on ‘men’s role in reshaping hegemonic video-game culture’ and reinforces cultural assumptions of the default gender of video games (Weil 2013).
Consequently, feminine/girly games as well as the women players, creators, and production laborers have been erased, excluded, and marginalized from larger historical narratives and certain video game communities. To address the dominance of hegemonic masculinity in video game culture and the problems with supporting male-based intervention into this culture, such as the Donkey Kong hack, we must first consider what conditions predicated the need for such interventions. From the forgotten labor of the migrant women workers in Chinese electronics factories to the lack of attention paid to feminist artists and game developers creating deep hacks of classic games, women have been excluded from the mainstream conceptualization of the video game industry and larger tech culture.
ROM HACKING – WORKSHOP
Correspondingly, this workshop poses the following questions: in what ways are women already contributing to this culture and why are they ignored/erased from the mainstream narrative? How can we imagine and/or produce feminist interventions or hacks into the hegemonic video game culture through ROM hacking? This workshop adapts ROM hacking methodologies to critical inquiry practices and involves physical deconstruction of ROMs and basic hacking through hex and tile editor programs. Participants will be equipped with tools such as soldering irons and screwdrivers at workbenches in the lab.
Each participant will receive:
- 1 package of literature and links to videos to be read and watched before the workshop
- 1 vintage video game console
- 1 digital game emulator
- 2-3 games via dropbox file sharing
- 1 hex editor program
- 1 tile editor program
Throughout the workshop, participants will be asked to reflect on their experiences. At each stage, participants will then develop a series of reflections based on their experiences and encountered difficulties. This will guide their research inquiries into production processes and associated precarious labor. For example, after desoldering the ROM from the cartridge, participants will be asked to describe their physical posture held during this procedure, the time it took and any physical difficulties encountered. They will then be asked to search for information regarding the working experience of an assigned factory. Afterwards, there will be a short group discussion comparing their experiences to those they read about online.
The Scanner Archive Project
This project consisted of 2 synchronous parts:
- An online, interactive archive that examines image scanners through a media archaeological perspective. Please visit: https://jaimekirtz.wixsite.com
- An in-person exhibit hosted at the Media Archaeology Lab. This exhibit included a deconstructed scanner and provided tools and a workspace for visitors to deconstruct and interact with scanners.