COURSE NAME: Digital Media Theory (Fall 2015)
COURSE INFO: ENGL/CMST
MEETING TIME: Tuesdays 1:30-2:50 p.m.
OFFICE HOURS: Thursday 3-5pm and by appointment (Walker 504)
Digital media technologies have enabled a variety of creative innovations, including videogames, virtual worlds, social networking, and electronic literature. They have also made available new tools and techniques, from interactive maps to social network analysis methods. Through a study of contemporary media theory, we will analyze what precisely is “new” about new media. Along the way, we will think carefully about questions of methodology. For instance, what does it mean to write new media theory without hands-on engagement with digital technologies and design experience? How are digital tools and techniques influencing literary studies? What are the overlaps and differences between the disciplinary formations of the “new media studies” and the “digital humanities”? We will also attend substantively to the social and political implications of digital media.
Readings by theorists including Ian Bogost, Wendy Chun, Alexander Galloway, Mark Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles, Alan Liu, Lev Manovich, Nick Montfort, Janet Murray, Lisa Nakamura, John Durham Peters, and others will help us think about concepts such as interactivity, software, virtual embodiment, and networks. Along the way, we will play video games, read electronic fictions, analyze social media algorithms, and explore emergent research methodologies.
Students will produce regular blog posts, four short group presentations, and a final conference paper or project presentation. Leading up to the final project, you will also produce a short abstract and annotated bibliography. Finally, on a few occasions, we will watch films and play videogames as a group. Seminar participants need not be technologically gifted or computer savvy, but a wide-ranging imagination and interest in new media culture will make for a more exciting quarter.
COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)
Readings available upon log-in to Chalk (see: Course Documents)
Week 1: Theories of (Digital) Media
September 29: “What is Digital Media Theory?” (Course Introduction)
October 1: “Media Theory” (Mark Hansen, p. 297-306), The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (John Durham Peters, Chapter 1, p. 13-52), and “Imagining the New Media Encounter” (Alan Liu, online, p. 1-14)
Week 2: Software, Code, and Platform Studies
October 6: “On Sourcery and Source Codes” (Wendy Chun, Programmed Visions, p. 19-54), Software Takes Command (Lev Manovich, Introduction, p. 1-51), and “Behind the Blip: Software as Culture” (Matthew Fuller, p. 11-37)
October 8: “Time-Sharing and Virtualization” (Tung-Hui Hu, A Prehistory of the Cloud, p. 37-72), Racing the Beam (Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort, p. 1-17, and 145-150), “How Algorithms Shape Our World” (Kevin Slavin TED talk), and Algorithms Presentation
Week 3: Ideology Critique and Resistance in a Digital Era
October 13: “User Interface: A Personal View” (Alan Kay, p.121-31), “Postscript on Control Societies” (Gilles Deleuze, p. 177-182), and “The Unworkable Interface” (Alexander Galloway, The Interface Effect, p. 25-53)
October 15: Tactical Media (Rita Raley, Introduction, p. 1-30), “Biometrics and Opacity: A Conversation” (Jacob Gaboury and Zach Blas, p. 1-6), “Speculation: Financial Games and Derivative Worlding in a Transmedia Era” (N. Katherine Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and Patrick LeMieux, p. 220-236), and explore the Speculation Archive
Week 4: Embodied and Affective Media
October 20: How We Became Posthuman (Katherine Hayles, p. xi-24), Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (Richard Grusin, p. 1-7 and 90-121), and “Ubiquitous Sensation” (Mark Hansen, p. 63-88)
October 22: “Reinventing Invention: New Tendencies in Capitalist Commodification” (Nigel Thrift, p. 29-55) and The Power at the End of the Economy (Brian Massumi, p. 19-56)
Week 5: Network Cultures Aesthetics, and Imaginaries
October 27: The Culture of Connectivity (José van Dijck, p. 3-43, Regenstein full text online), Habitual New Media, Introduction (Wendy Chun, p. 9-51), and “Gender and Race Online” (Lisa Nakamura, p. 81-93)
October 28 (5:30pm, Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, New Grad Building on 60th street): Journey Group Play Session
October 29: Discuss Journey (thatgamecompany, PS3, group gameplay session), “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” (Alexander Galloway, The Interface Effect, p. 78-100), and “Countergaming” from Gaming (Alexander Galloway, Gaming, p. 107-126)
Week 6: Experimental Videogames
November 3: Play Braid and Persuasive Games (Ian Bogost, p. 1-40)
Week 7: Virtual Intimacies and Queer Media
November 9 (7pm, TBD): Her Film Screening
November 10: Discuss Her (film), “Gifts of Ubiquity” (James J. Hodge, p. 51-76), and Virtual Intimacies (Shakka McGlotten, p. 1-16 and 123-136). Special visitor: James Hodge.
November 13: Abstract for Final Paper or Project DUE
Week 8: Electronic Literature
November 17: Hamlet on the Holodeck (Janet Murray, p. 1-10 and 65-96), “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” (N. Katherine Hayles, p. 1-42), and play Depression Quest (Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schankler)
November 19: Electronic Literature Presentation
November 20: Annotated Bibliography DUE
Week 9: Transnational Digital Studies
November 23 (7pm, TBD): Sleep Dealer Film Screening
November 24: Discuss Sleep Dealer (film) and “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: the Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft” (Lisa Nakamura, p. 128-144)
November 26: NO CLASS, THANKSGIVING BREAK
Week 10: New Media Studies and the Digital Humanities
December 1: “The Meaning of the Digital Humanities” (Alan Liu, PMLA, p. 409-23), In the Shadow of the Digital Humanities Presentation
December 3: Mock Conference Paper/Project Presentation
December 10: Final Paper/Project DUE
- We only meet for a few weeks, so arrive on time for each seminar session.
- Film screenings, the gameplay session, and seminar participation are mandatory. If you absolutely can’t attend one of the special sessions, you must pre-approve this absence and prepare the material prior to our class discussion.
- Do the reading. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with these texts, films, games, and other media. Readings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.
- Assignments and papers are due when they appear on the syllabus. Extensions are discouraged but, if necessary, must be requested well in advance of the deadline. Late assignments will immediately entail a grade reduction.
- Print out readings or bring your annotated pages to class.
- Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours.
- Class Attendance, Preparation, and Participation: 15%
- Algorithms Presentation: 5%
- Electronic Literature Presentation: 5%
- Experimental Videogame Presentation: 5%
- “In the Shadow of the Digital Humanities” Presentation: 5%
- Weekly Blog Posts: 20%
- Mock Conference Abstract, Annotated Bibliography, and Paper: 20%
- Final Paper/Project: 25%
+ ASSIGNMENT DESCRIPTIONS
The operation of many common everyday algorithms shapes and influences the contemporary world. In groups of three, you will analyze an algorithm that undergirds one of the following sites or systems: Facebook News Feed, Google Translate, OK Cupid Date Matching, Candy Crush, Netflix movie recommendations, Google AdWords, or a preapproved popular algorithm of your choice. Admittedly, many of these algorithms are proprietary and it might not be know exactly how it works. Nevertheless, you’ll find many articles and essays online that speculate about its techniques and model.
Experimental or Art Videogame Presentation
In groups of three, you will select a short experimental or art game that may include one of the following: Passage, Inside a Star-filled Sky, Between, Gravitation, Realistic Female First-Person Shooter, Today I Die, One Chance, The Company of Myself, End of Us, Freedom Bridge, I Wish I Were the Moon, Storyteller, Loved, Limbo, or a preapproved art game. You will then give a 5-minute presentation of this game. As you think about your selected work, be attentive to its media-specific techniques. Your presentation should tell us something meaningful about the production, narrative genre, audio-visual aesthetics, gameplay, and other aspects of your selected game.
Electronic Literature Presentation
In groups of three, you will select a piece of electronic literature from the “Electronic Literature Collection” archive Volume 1 or 2, or another preapproved piece. You will then give a 5-minute presentation of this game. As you think about your selected work, be attentive to such features as form, narrative, aesthetic style, interface design, navigability, and interactivity.
“In the Shadow of the Digital Humanities” Presentation
In groups of three, you will select one article from the differences Spring 2014 special issue “In the Shadow of the Digital Humanities” and present its argument and methodological insights to the class.
Weekly Blog Posts
Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog (located on this WordPress site) through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 5 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s theoretical readings or digital artworks, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 5 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.
Final Paper or Project Abstract (300-400 words)
About a month before the final essay is due, you will turn in a brief abstract. You can adjust your topic during the research process, but it’s useful to have a starting point — a working fiction, if you will — well in advance of the deadline. The abstract should succinctly state your argument, name your key work or object of analysis, explain the way you’re positioning your intervention in the broader scholarly field, and demonstrate why a reader would care about the argument that you’re making. The abstract should also comment upon the type of research that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. If you wish to include a bibliography (which is recommended but not required), it will not be included in the word count. Also, this exercise will connect to the final mock conference. So write the abstract as if you are submitting it to an actual conference and include the name of the conference to which you are submitting. I will play the part of a conference organizer and either accept or reject your proposed paper.
Annotated Bibliography (5 sources)
For this short assignment, select 5 sources that are relevant to your final paper or project. This annotated bibliography should summarize both the argument and scope of each source. As such, each item should be one paragraph long and include: 1.) Citation: a full citation for each work included (in a consistent style such as MLA, Chicago, etc.). 2.) Summary: a 1-3 sentence summarizing of the text’s primary argument, intervention, and significance. 3.) Evaluation and Application: a brief critical analysis of the text and a description of the source’s likely contribution to your project.
Final Mock Conference (12-15 Minutes)
About a week before the final research paper is due, you’ll have a chance to present a slightly shorter version of your paper in class. You should present your argument and its implications in a clear and persuasive manner. You should also prepare the presentation, in advance, so that it fits within the allotted 12-15-minute slot (you will be timed). Visual aids (from powerpoints to images to videos) will certainly strengthen your presentation. The primary purpose of the assignment is to prepare you for conference presentations and to give you useful feedback that will help you with your final set of revisions. After your presentation, we will have a short question and answer period. You may pre-circulate your paper among the other members of your panel.
Final Paper or Project (10-15 Pages)
Your 10-12 page final paper can be related to any aspect of the material covered in the course. To clarify, you need not necessarily write about one of the primary texts we cover in class. For this assignment, you will work up to your final essay through an abstract (due November 13), annotated bibliography (due November 20), and a conference presentation (on December 3). If you write a paper, it should be a research paper that cites at least seven sources (you may of course include additional sources and/or sources covered in our shared discussions but there must be at least five external texts in the mix). If you choose the project option, you should include with it a brief artist’s statement about the theoretical foundations of your work. I am open to collaborative projects in small groups if the ambition and interdisciplinary need is apparent, but such projects must be pre-approved.