Category Archives: Life

Letters to my students

Over the past three months, 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).

You can find me on:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/markdangerchen

LI: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markdangerchen/

IG: https://www.instagram.com/markdangerchen/

Discord: mcdanger#6611

Twitter: @mcdanger

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

FB, IG: markdangerchen

Twitter: @mcdanger

Discord: mcdanger#6611


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

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! 🙂

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.

ANNOUNCING 1st issue of Esoteric Gaming!

I am extremely pleased to announce the first collection of stories for Esoteric Gaming, a new website/book project that features accounts of diverse and niche player practice.

This is not an academic journal and doesn’t necessarily include deep thoughts, conclusions, or research. Instead, it’s a bevy of detail–a space for us to share extreme, nuanced, amazing, arcane, and totally rad things that players and communities do to play the perfect game and to make life meaningful.

I started this project (initially a coffee table art book idea) to give games scholars a venue to be creative and to not stress about deadlines or worry about our CV. This is for us to celebrate why we love games and the people who play them.

Please take a moment to read about the first issue, learn more about the mission, and submit your own stories!

Thanks for any interest and HUGE thanks to the first round of authors: Matt Bouchard, Andy Keenan, Johansen Quijano, Bjorn Shrijen, Osvaldo Jimenez, and Shannon Mortimore-Smith!

Just some updates coming in

As you can probably tell, I’m finally posting to this blog again. The last post was way back in January.

I’ve got about half a dozen drafts that I’ll finish up this week and next.

I might have news to share by then, too.

Playing the Witcher 3 again

So, I got a new graphics card (970 GTX) to play through the Witcher 3 again with higher graphics qualities…

But upon installing it, I was reminded that I could import my save game from The Witcher 2:

Screenshot 2015-08-27 15.06.57

Having played through 3 once already, I know there’s a simulated save game import through a barber shaving interrogation scene, but I thought… ah hell… I should prob just replay 2 so I can remind myself what the story was about and have a more meaningful experience with 3. I remember thinking that there’s all this mention of Yennefer that really didn’t make sense to me when I played 2 way back when, but now having played 3, I could appreciate mention of her like people who’ve read the source books…

I don’t have much space on my HD, though, so I had to uninstall 3 to make room for 2. Then I got this:

witcher 2 decision

 

Jeez. Ok. What the hell… Might as well uninstall The Witcher 2, install The Witcher, and start completely over!

I do remember The Witcher relatively well, having done a review of it for E-Learning, but I never played through the Enhanced Edition.

But, you know, then I thought: there’s probably some good mods that’ve come out since The Witcher was first released… And lo and behold:

witcher.rise of the white wolfHurrah!

So, last week, I finished The Witcher with Rise of the White Wolf. The Enhanced Edition seemed like an improvement, but it was still pretty clunky. Combat takes some getting used to, characters clip and stutter like crazy in cutscenes, and there’s something seriously wrong with how Zoltan looks…

Anyway, this week and next and maybe longer, I’ll be playing The Witcher 2 (with mods). And hopefully in October I can finally do my second comprehensive playthrough of The Witcher 3. Maybe by then there’ll be some good mods for it, too.

*Knowing what I know now, it seems crazy that no one in The Witcher mentions Yennefer explicitly (though, interestingly, there are little tidbits here and there of the Wild Hunt and a tale of a witcher and a sorceress being in love, etc.). And, wow, Triss totally took advantage of Geralt’s memory loss… Making me rethink what choices I want to make in 3 next month…

 

My AirBnB experience: 9 different places in 9 weeks.

For the most part, my AirBnB experiences have been really positive. So far each one has had at least one thing wrong with it, but often getting to meet someone new or seeing a different part of the city or having other really nice amenities easily makes up for it. Better experience and/or cheaper than many hotels, and, as with hotels, if you spend more you get a nicer experience. Still, this post is a listing of those nigglings.

Once I got to LA in September, I decided that I wanted to live in a bunch of different places to check out different neighborhoods before committing to a place more permanently. My appointment at Pepperdine is for this school year, which is about 8 months, so the plan was to check out different places for 2 months and then sign a 6-month lease. At the time, this plan also made sense because I knew I was going to be gone for 3 weeks at a couple of different conferences in October, so why pay rent for those 3 weeks?

Continue reading My AirBnB experience: 9 different places in 9 weeks.

Depression Quest is the most important game I’ve ever played

[This article originally appeared on Critical Gaming Project as part of the “Critical Exemplars” features series.]

Whenever I’m defining what games are with new students, usually, someone mentions that games must be fun. I love it when this happens because it’s the perfect entryway into getting students to start thinking critically and reflectively about games and gaming. The discussion requires clarification on what “fun” means and whether games really have to be it. I usually argue that if we treat games as an expressive medium like film, we can apply the same standards of criticism on them. Not all films must be fun (think Schindler’s List), so why should all games be fun? In the last year or so, my go-to example to challenge this existing definition of games is Depression Quest (DQ) (before that it was usually Hush).

Depression Quest is an amazing game.

Continue reading Depression Quest is the most important game I’ve ever played