I thought it might be useful to post some updates on what I've been working on these past few months.
Recently, I’ve been hard at work on my dissertation, which treats art as a heuristic for translating knowledges between persons, communities, and cultures. The idea here is to establish a correlation between art and our capacity to understand and empathize with one another. For this reason I’ve pursued a feminist disability studies approach to draw out some of the more pernicious aspects of pop-culture—namely, its reliance on normative figures and situations. From there I draw the conclusion that those persons marginalized by what is culturally normal—which, at various points, includes but is not limited to: women, persons of colour, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities—are further disadvantaged by a pervasive inability on the part of various audiences to translate knowledge of their situations.
For this reason I’ve been researching artistic representations from a variety of perspectives, including persons who are deaf, persons with food allergies, autism, depression, and domestic abuse and violence. Such artworks include graphic novels like El Deafo by Cece Bell and Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People by Joe Ollmann, as well as games like To the Moon, Auti-Sim, and Papo and Yo. What I’m looking for are those artworks that excel at training their audiences to translate knowledges without resorting to and reinforcing norms.
I have also been working away on my own game—Allergies & Allegories—which constitutes a portion of my dissertation. The game follows from a collaboration between myself and GET-FACTS (Genetics, Environment and Therapies: Food Allergy Clinical Tolerance Studies), a knowledge translation initiative intended to raise public awareness on the topic of food allergies. Allergies & Allegories is a web-based game that has players working with Mia, a child with a peanut allergy that has moved to a new school. The objective of the game is to improve Mia’s well-being, which is a composite of various factors identified in the patient-centered research conducted by GET-FACTS on children with food allergies in Ontario schools. Both the research and the game focus on the social and cultural barriers children with food allergies face. In a manner of speaking, such children are playing the game of life on a higher difficulty due to a lack of awareness and understanding of food allergies. The objective in creating the game is to work towards lowering that difficulty by engaging children, adults, students, and teachers with various representations of day-to-day life with food allergies.
Allergies & Allegories also bridges into some preliminary research I’ve begun at The Games Institute on treating games themselves as heuristics for knowledge translation. Games afford players a degree of agency that enhances their capacity to represent experiences in a persuasive, personal, and practical manner, fostering the retention and deployment of those experiences in everyday interactions. I’m interested in further exploring this notion not only in terms of its artistic implications, but in its potential application to scholarly publishing—what I’m thinking of as playable publishing. This name comes from Vi Hart and Nicky Case’s “playable post,” the “Parable of the Polygons.” The blog post itself is a ‘segregation sim’ based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning game theorist, Thomas Schelling. It represents a kind of interactive form of conveying scholarship that enhances the reader/player’s understanding of the material by affording a degree of play into the process. In a similar vein, Allergies & Allegories can be understood as a form of playable publishing as it takes GET-FACTS scholarship on food allergies and makes it interactive. In this way Allergies & Allegories transforms the insights of an academic paper on the need for increased awareness of food allergies into a game that attempts to realize that increased awareness. Playable publishing could provide a new means of making scholarship accessible to wider audiences, while also making the material more persuasive and meaningful.
I’ll be presenting this idea at the upcoming Sustaining Partnerships in Scholarly Publishing conference. I’ll also be presenting on First Person Scholar (FPS), an online periodical that publishes accessible, timely scholarship on games and culture. As editor-in-chief and co-founder of FPS, I’ve worked with a team of fellow graduate students to create a site that communicates the value of game studies to other scholars and academics, but also to a wider audience in the general public. Games are often seen as frivolous and rather irrelevant, and scholarship on games can seem doubly so; FPS demonstrates that such opinions are unfounded—games have a significant influence on our lives and they have the capacity to irrevocably change how we communicate knowledge and understand one another.
Another FPS endeavour that took place relatively recently was our Pseudo Game Jam, which called for participants to write ‘pseudo games’—poetic descriptions of the processes and procedures that would make up thought-provoking games. The idea behind the jam was to get people thinking about the overall message or meaning of game, aside from its technical instantiation. The result was dozens of submissions that really challenged conventional notions of what constitutes a game and what they can or cannot represent.
Lastly, and most recently, I’ve been invited to serve as a judge for this year’s SSHRC’s Storytellers contest. This will be my second time; I was a judge in 2014, as the year before I was one of the five winners of the 2013 contest, all of whom were invited to serve as judges in each subsequent year.