All posts by markdangerchen

Mark Chen is an independent researcher of gaming culture and spare-time game designer. He is the author of Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. Currently, he is looking into experimental and artistic games to promote exploration of moral dilemmas and human nature, researching DIY subcultures of Board Game Geek users, and generally investigating esoteric gaming practices. Mark also holds appointments at Pepperdine University, University of Washington, and University of Ontario Institute of Technology, teaching a variety of online and offline courses on game studies, game design, and games for learning. He earned a PhD in Learning Sciences/Educational Technology from the University of Washington and a BA in Studio Art from Reed College.

Letters to my students

This year, starting from when the pandemic hit Seattle hard, I’ve been writing periodic letters to my students to let them know that I’m thinking about them and that we’re all in this together. I’ve decided to collect them all in this post and will start posting future ones here as well.

Mark, the author, taking a selfie, wearing a jacket, a baseball cap, and a protective face mask.
Mark, the author, taking a selfie wearing a jacket, baseball cap, and protective face mask.

March 16, 2020

Extra support if you need/want

Hi all,

I’m writing this message to all of my students from the last academic year to check-in and offer help if you need it or want someone to talk to or whatever during these extreme times. Gov. Inslee just declared no gatherings with more than 50 people across the whole state, no gatherings with fewer than 50 without permission, and no restaurants, bars, or entertainment/recreational locations will be open during the COVID19 crisis as we are asked to practice social isolation.

I know some students have difficult home lives or need social interaction for their well-being. If you’ve taken 236 with me, you know the importance of co-presence and staying social with friends so keep doing that or find ways to compensate and enhance your daily interaction. Think of it as physical isolation, not social isolation.

As this quarter ends and we transition to next quarter, I don’t know what UW will announce in the next few days, but I strongly suspect we’ll be fully online during spring. If you need help academically or whatever, UWB has many supports in place, but feel free to also contact me. I basically live and breathe tech (and if you need, I actually have several laptops that are free to borrow).

cheers and stay safe,

mark

April 2, 2020

I want to get real with you for a sec

Hi,

Things are changing drastically, very quickly. Remember the last email I sent to all my previous students from the last year? It was just two weeks ago when I mentioned that we’re now maintaining social distance and not having any gatherings of more than 50 people state-wide. This, as you know, has changed to no social gatherings of any sort at all period, and it comes at a time when the rest of the country has caught up with us in Washington (with places like NYC surpassing us quite significantly).

I want to get real with you for a sec. It’s going to get worse. Like, a lot worse. We’re currently seeing reports of infected cases *and* deaths due to the coronavirus double every three days. (An excellent tracker is actually the Bing one: https://www.bing.com/covid and if you only read one source of news about all this, I highly suggest the New York Times daily coverage: https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/coronavirus) Over the last few days, the White House seems to finally have taken this seriously and announced that it’s *hoping* we limit deaths to 100-240k. Yes, that’s one hundred to two hundred forty THOUSAND people. That’s our hopeful projections. Right now we’re at about 5k nationwide. To put this in perspective, the US lost about 300k during WW2 due to combat. That was over four years. If the rate of infection and death continues as it is now, we’re going to see the same numbers in two weeks. TWO WEEKS.

I worry about us. I worry about you. Hell, I worry about me. I worry about my friends and my family. But, you know what? I’m not that worried that one of us will die. I’m steeling myself for that possibility. What I’m more worried about is our mental sanity. I wonder how we’ll just keep on keeping on as the world goes nutso.

But, here’s the thing: We must push forward because it actually is the only sane response to an insane world. If you are familiar with Albert Camus and absurdism, you understand that when faced with intolerable systems that refuse to relent and where it seems futile to try, the moral and ethical and sane response is to try anyway because therein lies the path to agency and being woke. Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus during WW2 while living in occupied France, so it seems particularly apropos for our time now. The power of humanity lies in the struggle, in maintaining optimism, in collectively saying a big FUCK YOU to the universe and adamantly supporting each other, defiantly pushing on. Not only that, actually! In fact, this absurdist condition leads us to an attitude of joy and a sort of giddy happiness. Take a lusory and playful attitude towards life! (Learn from The Well-Played Gamehttps://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/7-1-book-review-2.pdf)

I’m sending this to you now because I can’t be sure anyone else is being real with you. (I believe we have a massive crisis in leadership on the federal level going on right now.) I still cling to the hope that all of our projections will defy math and that it really won’t be that bad, but I believe very strongly that an informed public is way better than an ignorant public. To mollify panic, more education not less. So what does this mean? In the coming weeks and the rest of this quarter, I know I’m not your prof anymore, but I want you to do me a favor and be diligent and communicative in your courses. The most important thing is to be communicative and social. Reach out to others. Make sure they’re okay. Keep doing your work. And beyond school, reach out to old friends, reach out to family, and let everyone know that we’re in this together. Let them know that you see them and that you’re there. Please do this for me and for humanity. And for fuck’s sake, stay home except for essentials!

thanks,

mark

  1. Here’s a good video about Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus:This Absurd Universe: Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus

May 31, 2020

My end of year thoughts: recognize your connectedness and responsibility, love, and grats

Hi,
(I’m sending this to every student of mine from the past 1.5 years and every peer facilitator from all years.)

I was saving up a message to send to you all when the quarter ended–words of encouragement and a reminder that we’re all in this together.
But then this past week happened, and I feel obligated to send this out early while also adding some thoughts about the protests (local, national, and global). It’s extremely emotional for me to see my city go up in flames and being looted from anarchists exploiting a day of peaceful protests against the continual racial injustice in America, sparked by the murders of Arbery and Floyd (while the president foments hate, while we shelter in place, while Asian Americans are being targeted out of fear and ignorance, while the 1% continue to only give a crap about the stock market and profit off everyone else’s pain, etc.).

But the problem is, I don’t know *what* to say other than just to let you know that I think everything is connected. We’re all interconnected with each other and the systems we’ve built for ourselves. From a liberal white woman calling the cops on a black man to weaponize his race against him and then being called out on it in a massive way on social media to HK activists fighting for democracy and freedom and documenting it on social media. It’s all connected. Know that your decisions for how to live your life, including both how you work (and for whom) and how you play, have lasting impacts on those around you–the ones you love and hold close–*and* on those afar–the strangers who are only strangers because you haven’t let them in yet.

And this gives us enormous power and with that power comes responsibility. The repercussions of your decisions affect everyone near and far. You matter and have an impact, so live to your best self; project an ideal identity and strive for that every day. Own up to mistakes from yesterday and learn from them while continuing to be better today. Be more like Christian Cooper rather than Amy Cooper. Be more like those cleaning up this morning rather than those who marred the peaceful protests and destroyed downtown yesterday. Imagine a better future and work towards that. Elect to participate even in the face of apparent futility. Take steps to recognize the wretched constraints in our lives and then push back. But remember that you’re not alone so we all have to work together rather than divided and divisively to enact lasting progress. Step up with your brothers and sisters. Welcome to adulthood.

And here’s my original prepped message to be sent out in a few weeks:

To everyone, especially those of you who are graduating,

I want to say that I believe in you and that I hope you know that it’s not too late. It’s not too late for the world with all it’s problems because they can be worked on if enough of us do the work. It’s also not too late for smaller things like your individual relationships where you might feel like it’s weird to reconnect because too much time has passed or you just don’t know what to say. And, finally, it’s not too late to attend to yourself, to make sure you’re okay and healthy and strong enough to do good and keep going on. Indeed each of us has an infinite capacity to do good. Just remember that you matter, and, collectively, we can make the world better.

Grats for surviving this crazy year, and, if you’re graduating, grats for this massive accomplishment. UWB will always be here for you, and, if you need, I’ll always be here for you, too.

take care.

love,

mark


You see before you Mark Chen, PhD.
Above his head appears a label that changes every time you look at it between “Hoodie-Wearing Games Scholar Thug,” “PT Lecturer at UW Bothell,” and “A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.“Do you send him a tweet (@mcdanger), check out his website (markdangerchen.net), or respond to this email?His desk and surroundings are on fire as he smiles and says, “everything is fine.”

Addendum [June 1, 2020]: Just in case it wasn’t clear. When I wrote “anarchists,” I actually meant bad actors in general, whether they be white supremacists or other extremists. I was using a layperson’s definition of anarchist, perhaps too loosely, and I actually think a healthy skepticism of government and authority (and of everything, really), which is at the ideological root of anarchy, is a good thing… Not that we don’t need government–we absolutely do–but we need to make sure it’s serving the public rather than perpetuating systems of power and oppression.

But the overall message remains the same: We are all connected both in social terms and also in metaphysical terms (we’re all the same star stuff). The social systems we’ve erected are collective burdens while also being collective triumphs. Let’s make sure they’re more the latter as much as we can.

Anyway, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need someone to talk to.

mark

June 1, 2020

Letter to current students

(Details removed)

Hi all,

Given the happenings in the past week of our nation in distress (and evidence of extremist groups fomenting violence* and a president who is advocating for an authoritarian state**), I’ve decided that we will not have a regular class meeting this week but instead treat both days as optional open time in case any of you want somewhere to hang out and talk things over or have questions or whatever, whether related to this course or not. 

Final Assignments
As far as the final assignments, please do as best you can in finishing up and documenting what you did. Help each other as a team where you can. If you need more time, just let me know, and, if you cannot finish, that’s okay; just write about your intent and what you’d do if you had more time.

Discussions
I’ll be looking at who participated in this week’s readings so definitely do so if you can, but, if you cannot, I’ll extrapolate from previous weeks and give you credit if you’ve consistently been participating.

Personal Learning Reflection
At this point, the thing I care about most is this assignment due at the end of the quarter where you write some thoughts on how well you think you did, what you struggled with, where you think you should go from here, how the course could be improved, etc. So, please, still do this.

Also, course evaluations are live, and I treat them fairly seriously, so do it for this course if you can.

thanks,
mark

*https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pkyb9b/far-right-extremists-are-hoping-to-turn-the-george-floyd-protests-into-a-new-civil-war
**https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-calls-governors-facing-unrest-weak-fools-urges-stronger-police-n1221116

June 9, 2020

Take a chance. Things are different.

Hi all,

I’m old enough to have been through other periods of unrest and civil disobedience as responses to social inequities in our systems. I remember when the Berlin Wall fell, when we started the Gulf War, when the WTO protests in Seattle happened, when students from my college protested against Bush’s visit to Portland by vomiting red, white, and blue colored mashed potatoes, and when 9/11 compelled us to go to war against Iraq. And I remember more recently Occupy Wall Street and the momentum of Black Lives Matter and #metoo a few years ago. The continual discourse (sit downs, shutdowns, *and* riots are part of our public discourse) seems to be cyclical, and it can get tiring to be constantly vigilant and resistant and critical of our public institutions. Institutions, I should say, that have been erected and bolstered over 400 years to suppress and discriminate against anyone who isn’t rich and white, set up to criminalize being Black or indigenous or POC or immigrant or poor or basically anything that doesn’t add a higher ROI to the 1%’s coffers, often using hypermasculinity and the big ol f*cking American Dream as weapons.

These past 11 days, I started out really, really worried and pissed off and anxious. I feared for people’s lives and well-being. I felt anguish that it was getting chaotic, and I was worried that Proud Boys and other domestic terrorists were pushing for a race war that the president would just spin as more reason to suppress African Americans. 

But the past few days for me have turned into ones of hope. I think I’m noticing something different than all the other times. In the last few days, while many questionable events have occurred across the US, for the most part, I feel like it’s working, and I’m energized at the prospects for lasting transformation in a way that I’ve never seen before… in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen as a country in a long, long time. This latest call to defund the police (i.e., siphon money that’s used for training our police (with military equipment and tactics) to treat us as enemies away and towards progressive social services instead)–something that has been recommended time and time again over decades–is finally getting some traction rather than inaction.

When I think about what could be the soundtrack to our lives right now, I go old school and think about Public Enemy or Rage Against the Machine, but, you know what? This morning I woke up with “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA in my head, and I think the lyrics are particularly meaningful right now. (But actually, more nerdy than that, it was Erasure’s cover that I was remembering. Here’s the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-d4J3YUQmU 🙂 )

Things are different now, and I’m really, really hoping that we all take a chance on each other. 

If you’re in one of my courses this quarter, I hope you know that I’m basically treating all the assignments from the last two weeks as optional. If you turn them in, I’ll gladly read and review them, but, if you can’t get to them, no worries. I think I have enough to extrapolate a grade for you (assuming you were able to keep up or communicate with me throughout the quarter). 

Stay safe and sane. F*ck the police. Black lives matter.(and support your Asian American restaurants as we open up restrictions!)

If you need anything, I’m here.

love,

mark

P.S. The latest episode of Last Week Tonight is particularly on point. Watch the last few minutes if nothing else. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf4cea5oObY

P.P.S. I’ve been periodically sending emails out to all of my students from the past 1.5 years and all peer facilitators ever. I fixed some email address recently so if you missed previous ones, an archive of messages sent can be found here: https://markdangerchen.net/2020/06/03/letters-to-my-students/

These messages aren’t normal. I’ve felt compelled to write you all in a way that’s also different than previous years. I don’t think this will be a regular thing moving forward, but I sort of didn’t think that three months ago either… Please let me know if you want me not to include you. Thanks!

July 11, 2020

Thoughts for Growth and Resources

Hi,

As some of you may know, I live with someone who is immune compromised. We think that if she caught COVID-19, her chances of dying are far greater than the average so we decided that we’re not going outside at all, really, except to get necessary prescriptions for her medical conditions. Not until there’s a vaccine and it’s widely being used. I calculated that this means I would go outside this year maybe 6 more times… She was prepped to stay home and not leave even once for the remainder of the year. (This past week, we learned that we do have to travel in the next two weeks, unfortunately, but, as soon as that’s over, we’re back to hermiting…)

This time at home has given me a lot of time for contemplation. Like… A LOT.

The more I think about this year, the more I’m resolved to reach out to those I care about because I want them to know that they’re loved and that they matter. I also want to push them into educating themselves during our national/global time of not-normal. 

This past week, in one of my courses, we talked about the desire to use ignorance as an excuse for inaction and avoidance as a way to stay happy and sane (which you can see with the Instagram trend of just discarding things from your life that you don’t want to think about and with the immature practice of ghosting), but we also talked about responsibility, ethics, and activism, and that the American usual to ignore uncomfortable topics is precisely why we’re in the shit we’re in and that to be uncomfortable is a necessary component for growth. So that’s just fueling my resolve to reach out.

Rather than trying to stay ignorant or avoidant to maintain happiness, learn to dwell in discomfort and see them as opportunities to learn and be better. There are things that are bigger than your bubble. Project your ideal self for how to be in the world and use that to dictate your actions. And for the sanity and happiness part, I highly suggest turning to playful satire (which only works for the informed). Read McSweeney’s, The Onion, follow memes, kpop stan trends, etc.

And generally, here are some other things that might be of interest to you (they were to me):

Two insightful articles from Time about being Asian American, its history, and why it’s important to stand up with our Black, brown, and indigenous brothers and sisters:

Other resources/todos:

Wear masks and be safe, y’all.

If you need help with anything, I’m here for you.

love,mark

August 21, 2020

Light it up like dynamite

Hi everyone,

As this summer is ending and another quarter is all but done with (grats graduates!), I thought it was time to send a reminder message that I’ve got you. In our crazytimes, it may be hard to focus or to find support or to do whatever you think is normal. Please reach out to your friends, loved ones, and strangers, and know that I’m here for you, too.

At the recent Democratic National Convention, Biden called this a “season of darkness.” It’s hard not to agree. We’ve got existential threats all around us: climate change, melting ice caps, COVID-19, rising wealth disparity, persistent racism in all facets of life, gender and sexuality hatred, rampant capitalism with no checks in place, the verge of a new cold war, and the general populace seemingly letting the wool be pulled over our eyes, being played as pawns (some of it on social media platforms) to help the rich and powerful maintain their status.

But, as this summer’s protests have demonstrated, we can fight back. and I think more of us are waking up and pushing the wool aside. As the midterm election 2 years ago proved, there is hope for a renewed America and a world that believes in fairness and the well-being of everyone. I believe we must keep pushing and make this moment lead to lasting change.

It will take effort, and it will take all of us, but I fully believe we can overcome and let hope prevail and truth and justice and equality and democratic ideals live again.

I read these words by John Lewis in the latest issue of Time: “Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.” Most of you are too young to really appreciate this, I think, but realize that things take time. The fight is constant, but, rather than feel overwhelmed, take heart in knowing that this fight for what’s right is an opportunity to show the world what kind of human you are. In doing so, you realize you can be a hero rather than a pawn and that we each have that capacity to be a hero. But also, celebrate when you can, and take a breather when you need.

So, yes, we may be in a season of darkness, but, as BTS says, we can be in the stars tonight and light it up like dynamite.

I hope you join me in lighting this fall’s election like dynamite. And then I hope you join me in making this moment herald a lasting era for future generations, for, even though the fight is never-ending, sometimes reducing the burden on someone else’s shoulders, even if for just a while, is worth it. All of it.

There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.

love,

mark

September 22, 2020

Thoughts as we start the new year (wherein Mark flies his progressive colors and appeals to you for help)

First, RIP Notorious RBG. With her death, we lost a strong voice for LGBTQ and women’s reproductive rights on a national level. If the Republican Senate succeeds in their massive hypocrisy, we’re going to see another dramatic shift in the judicial branch that threatens what I believe makes for a just and equitable society, and this shift will last decades. On lower levels of court, Trump has installed a number of conservative judges over the last four years, and, frankly, even if things change this fall, massive steps backwards have already been happening that will, yes, take decades to rectify.

The absurdity is that this all comes at a time when most Americans agree on many traditionally progressive values: believing that all Americans deserve stable lives and access to healthcare, recognizing the value of science, wishing to focus on climate change collectively, and addressing racial, gender, and sexuality injustice on a systemic, national level. It boggles the mind how powerful those in power can be and that so many Americans support them in their greed, completely fooled by the rhetoric of the “American Dream,” thinking that they just need to work hard for what’s theirs, not understanding that the system is rigged to reward some to the detriment of others. Indeed, the rich have us fighting each other. (For example, is immigration actually a problem? OR could it be that the rich are trying to use xenophobia to pit the poor against the even more poor while they accrue record-levels amount of wealth? They’re getting working-class folks to fight each other for shit jobs that pay shit but keep us too busy to see the shit, and instead we are thankful to be working, shoveling their shit.)

But more and more of us seem to be recognizing that it need not be this way, perhaps because COVID-19 has shown how fragile the system is. Maybe we’ve been given a potentially last chance to turn things around. I believe we mostly have a resource distribution issue, not a resource scarcity issue. We could all thrive, have our voices heard, and live loving lives as brothers and sisters, if only we would collectively move to tear down the institutions erected and sustained by the rich and powerful. 

Today is National Voter Registration Day. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but participating in it is required for any chance of change. Register to vote and then vote goddammit. We need better representation on all levels of government.

Some useful resources:

Also:

And for distraction:

Lastly, as you know, this pandemic has had a traumatic effect on the world, and it seems like the summer protests and current wildfires and hurricanes are just more crap to deal with. As predicted in my very first email last spring, we have about the same number of deaths from COVID-19 as we did during WW2. 🙁 Like some of you, I’ve lost a few friends and/or family. But, as always, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here for you, and I can help or find resources.

love,

mark

Adding Syllabi to website

As I’m more and more ensconced in teaching for the University of Washington Bothell, and because someone on Twitter recently thanked me for finding my Game Studies syllabus from 2013, I’ve decided to start sharing my syllabi again.

I’ve created a permanent Syllabi page to showcase them. All are Creative Commons licensed. Cheers!

Thoughts on WoW Classic

Not that anyone’s asked, and, note! a major disclaimer: I haven’t played WoW Classic yet.

But I’m finding myself having a lot of thoughts germinating now that WoW Classic has come out, and I thought I should write them down and I suppose share now that I’ve written them. 

Also note that as I wrote this, it sort of became a mini-reflection or revisit on themes from my book, Leet Noobs, about the early days of WoW and learning therein. Leet Noobs came out of my dissertation on how learning in WoW (esp. wrt to raiding Molten Core) was culturally mediated, and expertise was marked by a refinement of the arrangement or orchestration of sociomaterial objects to help one succeed. (Find it on Amazon if you want. Or email me and I can tell you where to find a pirated PDF because fuck if I care anymore.)

Nostalgia

For me, the early days of WoW was like the Wild West (a romanticized version of it) where it was still finding itself–where players were finding themselves. They were establishing norms, social etiquette, and ways of being while basically discovering how the game works. It was really exciting to explore this new world with people and to try to establish a community and set standards for how we would govern and treat each other.

Movement

WoW came on the heels of EverQuest (and DoAC, AC, UO, and a whole bunch of others) and many players came from these old-school MMOs. A lot of them were into fantasy role-play. I suspect one of the reasons why WoW was so successful… like an order of magnitude more successful than EQ!… was because it was Blizzard, which had a track record of highly polished games (Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo). So you’ve got this mix of old-school RPGers who want some autonomy in how society is formed and Blizzard fans who may not have been as much into role-play and politics and more into the ludic systems (or, cynically: numbers, leveling, grinding, loot, and theorycrafting).

From my perspective (and a lot of this is covered Leet Noobs), in 2005 and 2006, there was a sizable shift in the culture of the game, a movement from role-play as performative identity to role-play as literally filling a role in the tank, healer, dps triangle. Early addons used to facilitate in-character role-play were eclipsed by addons used to facilitate surveillance and quantifiable performance measures. (cf. TL Taylor’s articles in Games and Culture circa mid-2000s)

Which I suppose begs the questions: How are addons handled in WoW Classic? Is threat meter a thing from the getgo? If I remember right, it took a year and some change (WoW came out in November 2004 and Kenco’s Threat Meter came out in Feb 2006) for us to figure out how threat worked: that it was a cumulative quantifiable score that persisted for the duration of a fight. Figuring this out really highlighted the shift from just messing around to performance and efficient raiding. So, for those of you playing, is threat meter a thing in WoW Classic?

The days since the early days of WoW

How quaint my research seems to me now that we are (supposedly) post-gamergate, (supposedly) post-Riot toxicity, (supposedly) post-2016 elections, and dealing with the alt-right, a global rise in xenophobia and populism, and basically a world that doesn’t make sense except in the most absurdist of fictions. Escaping into WoW Classic seems like an irresponsible act for me personally because I know how much of a time commitment the early days were, and, if that’s what I’m trying to get back to, I suppose I have obligations now to engage in the IRL world more directly to address injustices and fight for what’s right. I mean, don’t I? (And yet, at the same time, of course, I advocate for living slow and being proud of expert serious leisure, but I think it’s only insofar as the belief that through introspective play we make a better world by understanding the human condition, i.e. each other.)

A return to role-play?

I truly believe that lasting friendships and deeply meaningful experiences are potentials with new WoW. (Though that’s true of any game. Fortnite’s a third space, after all.)

And perhaps WoW Classic signals a return to role-playing and a backlash against surveillance culture. The Blizzard statements to the press sure seem focused on story and phased content, right? But that’s what happened in the early days, too. WoW’s website was always about epic story this and omg plot twist that. But as soon as you started playing, it was clearly not *really* a game about story but about leveling and efficiency.

I’ve moved on, too

And then there’s where I am now versus back then. Back during the early days of MMO research (TL Taylor, Constance Steinkuehler, Bonnie Nardi, Games & Culture, The WoW Reader and the Europeans, the Canadians, Terra Nova, Julian Dibbell, Ted Castronova, Thomas Malaby, Tim Burke, Ta Nehisi Coates, State of Play, AoIR… all of it), I felt on top of the world, following in all these amazing scholars’ footsteps. I was engaged and useful.

Then, after years on the market, it seemed clear that the academy and its machinery was much colder about my relevance. Meanwhile, newer scholars had more to say that I fully admit seems more relevant in terms of social commentary: more critical, more about addressing toxicity and masculinity and misogyny and homophobia and fat shaming and transphobia and all of it. My research, by contrast, was just a look at learning in games, instrumentalizing assessment, and the death of a “well-played game.” Why did I ever think American (and global) education could learn from an account of situated expertise from an MMO? Why did I ever think a Comm department or Anthro department cared about learning when there’re fucking injustices to fight?

So what?

So, yeah, my nostalgia is full of wonder, hanging out and having fun, and exploration… 

It’s Chuck Norris jokes, Barrens chat, the rhythmic undulations of open-world PvP. It’s 22242223222, pally shields, and Thoguht Cutthroat, the accidental hero and layabout.

But it’s also full of grief (and griefing) and melancholy that’s tied into how the game and the culture around the game seemed actively engaged in distancing itself from those early days. And it’s all tied into how all that social networking and capital production didn’t land me an academic position that valued my contributions to this field of study.

So, yeah, I probably will pick it up at some point. I have some serious FOMO, seeing my aca friends picking up the game, coordinating servers, etc. The crazy thought occurred to me that I should write a Leet Noobs 2, comparing what’s different now from back then. But then I remember that the first book took 7 years, and I’ve gotten about $150 out of it and no TT job so why bother?

Don’t feel sorry for me, though. I mean, my life is pretty good right now. I love my job (even though the pay is crap and it’s only part time), and this huge weight was lifted off me when I decided to not pursue line items for my CV anymore. The reason I’d join WoW now is to hang out and have fun, which, I suppose, I’ve been arguing for all along.

Test

I couldn’t find an image credit for this… 🙁

I’m just testing out the new post editor with WP 5.0! 🙂

Third issue of Esoteric Gaming CFP is out!

CFP Third Issue 2018!

Gaming. What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing!

True?

In the wake of gg transforming into the alt-right, of Bannon moving from gold farming to fake news to a place in the White House and finally back to fake news in some shadow illuminati, of Brexit, the cheeto in chief, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook, of Google employee scandals, Google government contract scandals, Google privacy scandals, and basically all of us continuing to sign over our lives to Google, of the academy embattled, of capitalist pig dogs winning, of growing inequality, of too-late-to-do-anything-about-it climate change… in the wake of everything… what is gaming good for?

Yet at every step, we’ve resisted. With Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Brenda Romero, Kara Stone, Adrienne Shaw, Shira Chess, Tanya DePass, Elizabeth LaPensée, Kishonna Gray, and many others (including some guys, too, I suppose), we’ve resisted. With Feminist Frequency, Crash Override, EarthGames, Games4Change, Games for Health, Filament, GLS, DML, and CLS, with Meaningful Play, CGSA, NASAGA, and many other official or semi-official organizations, we’ve resisted. We recognize that games are more than games. Fighting for their place and our place in them is a reflection of who we are and who we want to be… collectively.

Gaming is diverse. Gaming is the future. Gaming is speculative fiction. Gaming is imagination. Gaming is resistance, subversion, and persistence. Gaming makes us think about our human condition and our responsibilities and relationships to others… to each other.

Gaming. What is it good for?

Everything.

True?

Maybe.

For some but not all.

We are not all privy to a well-played game. (RIP Bernie DeKoven. We miss you.)

How can we fix that rather than throwing it all away?

This is your official CFP for the third issue of Esoteric Gaming, an online journal about shit crazy gaming practice and what makes gaming great.

A word of caution, though. This is not your typical academic journal. (Fuck academia! Fuck paywalls!) It’s not even in the same vein as the amazing Unwinnable and First Person ScholarEsoteric Gaming is scrappier, less formal, and more focused on nuanced game play. Also, NOTHING about Esoteric Gaming means anything for your careers. There’s no line for your CV. There’s no respect from your tenure review committee. There’s no ranking systems and no journal impact. There’s nothing here.

Except… there’s everything.

We’re looking for short, informal pieces that are heavy on detailed description. (I suppose, you could perhaps call them “thick.”) We don’t need a ton of analysis, no methods sections, no lit reviews. Just good writing about intricate, nuanced play and how they collectively tell a story about human (and nonhuman) diversity and inclusion. This is your chance to escape the normal crap you have to deal with in traditional academic publishing. This is for grad students wanting to just talk about games and gaming away from the drudgery. This is for tenured profs… wanting to just talk about games and gaming away from the drudgery, too. Hell, this is also for people who aren’t academics and just want to engage in thoughtful writing!

That said, we’re also basically open to anything related to gaming practice. If you do have a longer article that you want to get published or if you have a thought piece that you want to air out, well shit, why not?

Your article will be lightly edited, given massive suggestions to find images, videos, or other media to include, as well as a healthy look at how we could take advantage of the POWER OF THE WEB™ to make it an ergodic article where appropriate.

Deadline for first drafts is loosely end of summer, like, around September 15. We’ll work with authors over the following months to have the issue come out by the winter holidays. Ideas for submissions (or even first drafts!) can be emailed, shared via a google doc, or submitted through the online web form. We can work with you on your idea before formal draft submission!

Also! If anyone is interested in helping edit or providing feedback to authors, please contact us! Esoteric Gamingwas originally meant to be an anarchist collective. That didn’t work, but we still like to pretend and can accommodate any willing participants.

And in case it’s useful, here’s the about page for Esoteric Gaming and the intro to the second issue.

¡Viva la revolución!

Mark Chen along with Nat Poor and Kristin Bezio

Co-editors, Esoteric Gaming

A VERY brief timeline of games scholarship [needs edits!]

Comments and suggested edits welcome. This is super rough.

General Timeline

1940s/1950s Homo Ludens
1950s/1960s war games post-WW2/Korean War
~1970 ISAGA, NASAGA, S&G
1970s New Games Movement and The Games Preserve, alongside rise of hippies and Woodstock culture
1980s “Me” generation kills NGM while their kids play video games and newfangled RPGs
1990s Gen X and later video gamers start going to college
2000s rise of game studies, DiGRA, GLS, G4C, new games journalism, rise of designer board games
2010s collapse of academia, convergence (and diversification) of games scholar fields, gamergate, inclusion and representation in games, gamification and its backlash

Continue reading A VERY brief timeline of games scholarship [needs edits!]

What does it mean to be gaming literate? Slides for invited talk at MMSEE 2017

Korea has been great! No nuclear fire yet. Great food and drink. Amazingly welcoming and excited scholars and new colleagues. 🙂

Huge thanks to Jason Lee for inviting me and to Hannah Gerber for getting him in touch with me!

Here’re my slides from my plenary/keynote talk at MMSEE 2017.

[Edit: Trying to embed google slides instead of slideshare so that you all can see the presenter notes. The slides don’t mean much without that text…]

Click on the gear icon to open up speaker notes!

History of Ed Tech for lay people

Audrey Watters recently posted a really good, concise explanation about ed tech and how it seems to keep reinforcing content-delivery systems rather than project-based learning initiatives. She wrote it as a blog post since it seemed too long for an individual email response to a question she got.

I tweeted it out yesterday, and, as it happens, my mom reads my tweets and wrote me asking what this paragraph by Audrey Watters means:

Ed-tech has always been more Thorndike than Dewey because education has been more Thorndike than Dewey. That means more instructivism than constructionism. That means more multiple choice tests than projects. That means more surveillance than justice.

As I was writing a response, it seemed like maybe I should also blog the answer in case it’s useful for other people wholly unfamiliar with what Audrey was talking about:

 

The field of educational technology is always treated as new in academia, but it’s actually grounded in the history of education in general. In the US in the early 20th century, there were two main philosophers whose work informed how the US could head towards national policy.

Thorndike based his theories on psychology and behaviorism, which is focused on memorizing facts and getting people to do and learn things by simple cause and effect mechanics. His model focused on a teacher standing in front of the classroom and doing a lecture, pouring knowledge into students’ minds.

Dewey, in contrast, was much more about a Montesorri style way of doing things. Have kids engage in projects, ask them to solve problems, let them explore and see the connections between phenomena.

Thorndike = instruction

Dewey = project=based learning

So, a lot of people keep saying that educational technology has great potential as a site for project-based learning, but a lot of what we see ends up being more efficient ways of delivering content. This mirrors the overall trend in education in the US to focus on content and not learning by doing.

The last part… since we are so focused on assessing whether people know things, we surveil them. We tabulate and measure. We don’t empower and let them do things and enact change. Education is about instilling shit rather than empowering.

MMSEE 2017 plenary session details

I just submitted my talk for the proceedings for MMSEE 2017.

There’s a bunch of keynotes and plenary talks. I’m set as a plenary talk. Here’s what I wrote (I’ll post slides later this summer as I finish them):

What Does It Mean to Be Gaming Literate? Meaning Making Through Games

Literacy can be defined as the ability to legitimately perform particular practices that are consequential within a community or setting (Street, 1984). In this way, gaming spans a number of literacy practices (Steinkuehler, 2007). Likewise, expertise is socially defined through performative actions that others consider as signs of “expertness” through their understanding of what that means as legitimate participants of their situated community (Collins & Evans, 2007). This emphasis on the doing of things rather than the knowing of things calls for researchers to use an analytical lens that focuses on the relationships between actors in a particular setting and how they affect each other (Pickering, 1993; Latour, 2005). The lens thereby focuses on their practice and change in practice over time and necessarily describes the narrative of a dynamic system that is ever changing and struggling in its continual rebirth (Chen, 2012). This talk will give examples of some of these gaming practices and add nuance to our understanding of how they are socially and culturally situated.

More and more, however, I’ve come to understand gaming as not just another example of new literacies but also as a particularly effective way to increase personal agency and empathy in the world at large. Through exploration and play within a game’s systems, we learn about those systems and what works and what doesn’t towards an imagined goal. We become empowered and gain agency to affect our future, projective selves (Gee, 2003/2007). We also are asked to believe… to believe that the choices matter, that the people and situations we meet in games are understandable in a way that we become empathetic to their conditions. In other words, by engaging in gaming practice, we learn how to act and be through games and we strengthen moral and valued identities. Moreover, this new sense of agency and the new feeling of empathy are evidence that players make meaning through their gaming practice. This talk will, therefore, also cover this newer line of thought and make a case for games as spaces for cultural inclusion, understanding, and deep meaning making. Gaming literacy, then, is more than expertise in how to do stuff in games but also how to make connections to others and find meaning through games.

Finally, this talk will end with a call for gaming and play at large. Learning a game and learning to play it well requires critical examination of its systems. Play encourages participation and communicative acts, and play can act as subversive moves to make the world a better place (Zimmerman, ). As educators who want to empower our learners, we have an obligation to cultivate play and play communities that struggle for fairness, inclusion, and equality (DeKoven, 1978/2013).

References

Chen, M. (2012). Leet noobs: The life and death of an expert player group in World of Warcraft. Peter Lang.

Collins, H., & Evans, R. (2007). Rethinking expertise. University of Chicago Press.

DeKoven, B. (1978/2013). The well-played game: A player’s philosophy. The MIT Press.

Gee, J. (2003/2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Palgrave Macmillan.

Latour, B. (2005).  Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford University Press.

Pickering, A. (1993). The mangle of practice: Agency and emergence in the sociology of science. American Journal of Sociology, 99(3), 559–589.

Steinkuehler, C. (2007). Massively multiplayer online gaming as a constellation of literacy practices. E-Learning and Digital Media, 4(3), 297-318. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2304/elea.2007.4.3.297

Street, B. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge University Press.

Zimmerman, E. (2013). Manifesto: The 21st Century will be defined by games. Kotaku (September 9, 2013). http://kotaku.com/manifesto-the-21st-century-will-be-defined-by-games-1275355204

I’m doing a keynote for MMSEE in Korea, September 15-17!

 

I’ve been invited to do a keynote for a conference on, among other things, using media for teaching and learning English in South Korea! I’ll be focusing my talk on gaming literacy and what that means for education. Here’s the details:

What Does It Mean to Be Gaming Literate? The Development of Agency and Empathy

Abstract:
As we know, gaming spans a number of literacy practices. This talk will give examples of some of these practices and add nuance to our understanding of how they are socially and culturally situated. More and more, however, I’ve come to understand gaming as not just another example of new literacies but also as a particularly good way to increase personal agency and empathy in the world at large, as we learn processes for how to act and be through games. This talk will, therefore, also cover this newer line of thought and make a case for games as spaces for cultural inclusion, understanding, and deep meaning making. Gaming literacy, then, is more than expertise in how to do stuff in games but also how to make connections to others and find meaning through games.

 

More details about the conference can be found at http://www.mmsee2017.com/