New Media Production / Week 4

Mea Culpa // Cyberduck

Deepest apologies for the FileZilla mishap. Sourceforge used to be a reputable site, and FileZilla used to be a respected project. I failed to do my due diligence here and I apologize.

Apparently, Cyberduck is still free (but only if you visit their website, it sells for $24 on the Mac Store…). Here is a link to the Cyberduck download page.

MEmorial Showcase

Much of our evening will be dedicated to watching your MEmorial projects. I am excited!

Rhetoric, Games, Gamification, and the *Real* World

I want us to get started thinking about games and gaming. At the same time, I want to continue using new media composing tools. I want to do these things by playing a different kind of game, an ARG (Alternate Reality Game). The game in question: sf0. Originating in San Francisco in 2009, sfZero describes itself as

…a Collaborative Production Game. Players build characters by completing tasks for their groups and increasing their Score. The goals of play include meeting new people, exploring the city, and participating in non-consumer leisure activities.

Players document the completion of these tasks in the form of text, photographs, audio tracks, and/or video. Players then upload their documentation to forums on the sf0 site and are awarded experience points by other players based on the creativity and sophistication of their task’s execution. As players level up within a particular character class, they earn points for that team (the game frames the various classes as in competition), the right to tackle more challenging tasks, and eventually the right to develop and submit their own tasks.

In class we should have time to set-up sf0 accounts. Think of your super hero name. Let’s come up with a team name.

Also: SuperBetter

Time to begin.


For next week:

  • Complete the postmortem on Canvas for the MEmorial project (this should take about an hour)
  • Complete any two quests for sf0 (the player photograph and one other quest)
  • “Win” at least 4 days in SuperBetter; come up with a power-up, a quest, and a bad guy
  • Read Kalman, …And the Pursuit of Happiness, April and any 3 other months
  • Read Shipka Towards a Composition Made Whole, 1-29
  • Write a blog post about something you read somewhere
  • Tweet something to #enc6422
  • Celebrate the fact that you have made Internets

Rhetoric & Gaming / Week 4 / Class 2: Project Day

Quickie: SuperBetter

I’ve gotten a few email questions asking “what should I be doing with SuperBetter?” My quick answer here is: us it. If you go through the introductory process, then you have already selected or articulated a personal problem you want to address: willpower, procrastination, weight loss, exercise, confidence, etc. SuperBetter will give you a bunch of quick things (power-ups), daily routines (quests), and big challenges (bosses) that you should “battle/complete” everyday. You’ll find them on your to-do list. You can also download “quest packs” (at least I think that is what they call them). All together, you should be clearing your to do list everyday, starting today. That means 3 quests, 3 power-ups, and 1 boss. Don’t cheat. And, seriously, start doing this everyday. At the end of the next month, we should all be at least level 10. And, I get a daily feed of who has done what (since you all friended me).

Welcome to the Panopticon.

Prepping for Project Two

We will spend much of today talking about your projects: listening to theories of art and celebrating successful and interesting games. That should be a fun conversation!

But I want to take a minute to have what is a bit more somber conversation, in preparation for the weekend’s readings and Tuesday’s class. As I touched upon last week, we will be discussing race and gender. These can be difficult conversations. I want you to feel comfortable to ask questions–I am not attempting to police thought. I often think what makes people hesitant to join these conversations is the ire with which “Social Justice Warriors,” such as myself, will rain fire down upon people who might, out of innocent ignorance, say something that mortally offends their liberal sensibilities. So, up front, I am warning everyone to take a deep breath and extend charity and tolerance to everyone else’s perspective.

I also want you to take a look at this picture:

If you think this picture is funny, that’s ok. Maybe. Often comedy operates by transgressing imposed social norms, giving us a moment of respite from the hard work of being civilized human beings (hey, Archer is one of my favorite shows).

If you don’t realize that this picture is mortifyingly wrong, and that it is socially unacceptable to think this is funny, then we have a problem. And if you think me thinking that this picture is mortifyingly terrible is me making a big deal out of a little joke, then you need to keep that opinion to yourself.

It might seem as if I am not willing to extend charity to your perspective, that I am policing you. In part, yes. Part of my job, especially as someone teaching in the Professional Writing, Rhetoric, and Technology program, is to teach you the social boundaries that discourse should not cross. Transforming genocide, or domestic abuse, into a joke is one of them.

I’m pretty sure that if a bunch of black students from a northern university made a sign that said “Let’s March ‘Em Like Sherman All the Way Back to the Sea,” then southern white people would lose their minds. And I know that if a bunch of muslim students made a sign that said “Let’s Blow ‘Em Up Like the Twin Towers,” then people would go absolutely crazy. You don’t get to make a joke about another culture’s tragedies. Period. Being a sophisticated Professional Writer or Rhetorician requires a measure of cross-cultural awareness.

As the fallout of the recent #GamerGate nonsense hopefully shows: you don’t get to purchase your identity, or just have some fun, at the expense of others–especially at the expense of groups that have been historically victimized, enslaved, suppressed, lynched, or disenfranchised.


There’s a fairly significant amount of reading for next class, so please budget 2-3 hours. As you read these articles, pay particular attention to their methodology, as well as their findings. In Tuesday’s class, I will ask you to use these articles to specify the dimensions of your next assignment. In other words, project 2 will be a response to these two articles (in the form of Sarkeesian’s video). So:

New Media Production Week 3

Today we will be working on three things:

  • FTP file transfer
  • Ulmer Assignments
  • An Introduction to CSS

Setting Up an FTP Connection with BlueHost

FTP (file transfer protocol) is a program/application that allows you to connect to a web server. It facilitates moving a large number of files all at once (which is really necessary since the BlueHost file manager only lets you move one file at a time).

I recommend using FileZilla. Not only is it OS agnostic and free, but also it is supported by BlueHost.

Once you have downloaded FileZilla, you will want to go into BlueHost and find the FTP button from the top navigation. Scroll down to the bottom of this page (ignore the create FTP account) and find the Special FTP Accounts section. Click on the Configure FTP option on the right side of the screen.


Hopefully you see something like what you have above. Next, you will want to click on the FileZilla FTP Configuration File link. This will download a file.

Next, hop onto FileZilla and select “import” under the file menu, importing the file you just donwloaded.


Finally, under “File,” select Site Manager and you should have the option of connecting to your BlueHost server. You can now move files and folders from your computer onto the server in one drag.

Let’s Talk About MEmorials

Talkie Talkie Talkie.

A Brief Introduction to CSS

First, let’s play around.

While I can’t be sure what will come out of our discussion of MEmorial assignment sheets, I hope that we get to the point where we realize that a MEmorial is a series of images or web pages that explore something. What I don’t want: a 6 page paper cut into a series of text-based pages with a standard navigation system.

What I do want: I want you to make me a website that is not a website and is a MEmorial but is not a memorial. Got it?

I can think of three basic ways you might organize this thing.

Method One: Screen as Canvas. For this method of organization, each page would be static. It might have a background image and some text. It might have an image and some text juxtaposed. The text might be in different locations in every page. Perhaps one word per page is a different color, and that is the link to the next page. In this case, your MEmorial might end up being 20 or 30 pages, each with a different thought/image/purpose. rotating between 4-5 different CSS sheets. Or, if you are struggling, you could create one CSS sheet for the whole thing.

Method Two: Vertical scroll. Normally I would condemn this as boring, but I have become a bit enthralled with the new vertical “parallax” designs. The dynamic elements of these designs are complicated, but you don’t need to do them dynamically (having stuff move) to create the effect (having different background images on top of each other).

Here’s a NYT example of Parallax in action.

Here’s what looks like a pretty elementary introduction to parallax design

Method Three: Horizontal Scroll

Here’s a classic example of the technique.

Here’s a snippet of Kristen Gay’s mystory project.

Here’s a tutorial for creating a side scrolling design (involves some easy-to-borrow javascript)

Here is another (and seemingly simpler) tutorial

R&G Week 3 / Class Two / Critical and Revolutionary Art

Baraka, the Revolutionary Theater, and Games and/as Critique

For my final answer to the question “what is art?” I want to discuss art that overtly or explicitly offers political commentary. Critical art is similar to the surrealist or (post)modern art we examined last class: except, with critical or revolutionary art, the question it attempts to engender is often quite clear. There is usually little guess work. A simple check for whether you are working with a critical, satiric, allegorical, revolutionary art/game: can you fill in the template: If we do not X, then Y (or, similarly, if we continue to do X, then Y).

Below I will address Baraka directly, but first I want to discuss a few other variations of this kind of art. The first that comes to mind for me is satire. Satire uses pointed hyperbole that both targets human flaws and offers solutions/remedies/improvements. This pedagogic dimension is what separates true satire from mere mockery–what separates SNL from Chapelle Show or the Simpsons from South Park. There is often an underlying moral argument to satire, or at the very least, a moment in which the satirist pulls back the veil, the mask, to reveal the target of their outrage. Famous example: Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” in which Swift argues that the Irish economy could be boosted if poor Irish parents began selling their children to rich English kitchens. Swift:

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

This epitomizes the satiric moment in which the artist drops the facade and drops the hammer.

Related to satire is allegory, a story which contains a poignant but (somewhat) “hidden” message. We tend to think of allegory and children’s stories, such as the tortoise and the hair or the ant and the grasshopper. But allegory can also work in more sophisticated ways: and I would argue that science fiction has become, principally, a medium that operates allegorically to critique 20 century politics. There is a long list of works here, from 1984 to Brave New World to F. 451 to something more contemporary like The Matrix or Battlestar Galactica. Most of these works expose pressing dangers to individuals under increasingly totalitarian or dehumanizing governments/economies. But they also explore our complicity in such systems, our desire for simplicity, our desire for a Father who orders and commands. Most of these allegories contain traces Immanuel Kant’s “A Question Concerning Enlightenment, which warns that most people want to be led, duped, controlled–only a select few can achieve or appreciate Enlightenment. This is a common theme of late 20th century art. I am unsure if this remains a theme in the 21st century.

Sidenote: Deconstruction

Deconstruction is an often overused term. I will not dedicated too much time to it here, other than to say that it is (in part) a form of criticism that seeks to identify and expose determined foundations and wonder how they might be otherwise determined. Take 2: a deconstructionist recognizes that, at the base of every social/political system or idea, there is a moment in which something undecideable has been concretely decided, and the trace of that decision–its initial undecideability, ambiguity, uncertainty–has been erased. To deconstruct something (say an argument) is to expose this initial ambiguity.

It isn’t (or I would say shouldn’t be) necessarily destructive in its intentions. Rather, it is productive, attempting to explore new ways for doing things. What if we structured the system around a different decision? What if we operated otherwise? What new avenues would we discover? That said, deconstruction is a progressive argumentative strategy, one vigorously suspicious of fundamentalist thought. This is why deconstruction is only in part a method of criticism: it is also a mindset, a conviction, a metaphysic, built around the idea that transcendental Truth (a truth that comes to us from beyond the material world and our social/cultural/linguistic relations) is impossible. And, equally, a conviction that such Truth is both alluring and dangerous. People will kill to sustain a Truth. In the words of theorist Victor Vitanza in his 1997 book Negation, Subjectivity, and the History of Rhetoric: “My position is [...] that we are not at home in our world/whirl of language. Any and every attempt to assume that we are has or will have created for human beings dangerous situations.”
And in the words of Chris Rock:

“I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should be malleable and progressive, working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth. New ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant.” (Dogma)

Deconstruction is a commitment to ideas and an opposition to belief.

Revolutionary Art

Of course, the “Revolutionary Theater” Baraka endorses isn’t so subtle–it is art that is confrontational, aggressive, assaulting. It often will attempt to shock, transgress, violate, disturb. At its worst, it is merely shock value–something gross or vile without insight (say, the film The Human Centipede). But at its best, it uses shock value, it generates abjection or disgust, in order to force us to reassess ideas, to motivate us to action, to rally us to a cause. Often, it pushes on the borders of obscenity, such as Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s campaigns against Egyptian patriarchy and, more recently, ISIS’s sexual politics.

I tend to categorize art in the Revolutionary category in two ways. First, there is the kind of art that works with its enemy, or at least on them. Think of the way To Kill a Mockingbird or Fredrick Douglass’s Narrative of a Slave work to mortify us. It is there everyday, common presentation of violence, rape, and terror that strikes us. Hard. Two quotes of particular importance:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

“Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”

Baraka’s theater of destruction isn’t as much an attempt to get you to walk in his shoes as it is an attempt to crush you under the weight of his pain, outrage, frustration. It assaults you. Think here of Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening, in which the protagonist Edna Pontellier would rather kill herself than live under the patriarchal expectations of 19th century Southern life.

I am unsure if any video game would qualify as the theater of destruction, or even as critical art. I might toy with the idea of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, if only because there is a strong attempt to contextualize the protagonist’s crimes as a result of the impoverished world and (especially) corrupt policemen and politicians that fill it. I am also curious about war games that critique the impulse/necessity towards/of war. And there is a long appreciation of the critical dimensions of Final Fantasy VII (its attack both on corporate capitalism and ecological disaster)

Other contemporary examples I would point to: The Chapelle Show. Although, as Katherine Zapos argues in her thesis on The Chapelle Show and satire:

I argue that using satire often has the unintended consequence of crossing the line between “sending up” a behavior and supporting it, essentially becoming that which it is trying to discount, though this is not to say that its intrinsic value is therefore completely negated.

A less confrontational, but perhaps more uncomfortable and profound example would be Eddie Murphy’s comedy Trading Places.

Another example from popular culture would be Rage Against the Machine.

What we don’t know keeps the contracts alive and movin’
They don’t got to burn the books they just remove’em,
While arms warehouses grow as large as the cells,
Rally around the family,
With a pocket full of shells.

But the video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” is probably a better example.

At some point I will want to show Ill Doctrine’s “How to tell somebody they sound racist” video.

Writing the Paper

I recognize for many of you, writing a paper isn’t an every day/week/semester activity. So I’ll try to provide some details here for what I am (and am not) looking for. First, the “am not.” Thanks StrongBad.

I’m looking for a response to Ebert’s claim that games cannot be art. The response should be written as if it would be posted online to a blog or online outlet (such as, say, Joystick, Gawker, Salon, etc). What follows below is not absolute insistence, more suggestion. You can argue (Chet) that games are not art yet, and tell me why. You can argue that a game created a moment that was amazing and artistic, even if the rest of it is dribble. This is your paper, “paint a happy tree.” Or an angry bird.

The paper could/should have the following parts:

  • An interesting title that doesn’t suck (perhaps using the MLA “joke-colon-paper topic” format.
  • An introduction that lays out the problem (in this case, Ebert’s claim that video games cannot be art)
  • A thesis (of sorts) that explains if we define art as X, then we can see that, contrary to Ebert, a number of games can be art. I examine Y, paying particular attention to how it.. Z
  • A definition of art. You can, of course, begin by stressing the difficulty of defining art. But you cannot excuse yourself from the task. You must offer a definition of art that mentions (either in support or contrast) two of the theorists/theories we have used in class. These mentions need to include summaries and specifics.
  • Introduce your game–give relevant contextual info (when was it made? Popularity? Genre?). Provide a plot summary for those who have not played.
  • Address theme: EVEN IF YOUR GAME DOESN’T HAVE AN ARTISTIC THEME. This might be a sentence, or several paragraphs (e.g., Though Resident Evil’s basic theme is fairly traditional, in the sense that a hero arrives to destroy an unquestionable evil and restore order, this does not make the game uninteresting. What is interesting about Resident Evil is the way in which it…).
  • Some kind of conclusion. Conclusions are tricky. They summarize your argument and return to the original premise (reminding us of the problem, Ebert’s dismissal, and suggesting to the reader what they might do next, or what lingering questions remains unanswered). DO NOT TELL ME THAT YOUR WHOLE PAPER IS MERELY ONE OPINION AND THAT AS A READER I AM ENTITLED TO MY OWN OPINION. I will fail any paper that does that. Your paper isn’t an opinion. It is an argument, an idea. Just because it might not be absolutely True doesn’t mean it is insignificant.
  • This paper does not need any kind of Works Cited or Reference list, but it does need to attribute sources. You can often do this in text (look above at the way I bring in names).
  • Magic Sentence

    Today I want to work on smoothing out the transitions into sources, and share what I call the “magic” sentence. I call this the magic sentence because it does so much for us in such a compact frame. Here it is:

    Shakespeare’s Renaissance tragedy Romeo and Juliet documents the titular characters’ intense love and foolhardy demise. Shakespeare’s play leads us to question both the sincerity of young love. 

    I came up with this sentence while prepping high school students to take placement exams, hence the literary material. But the semantics of the sentence make it useful for virtually every kind of writing. I especially want to highlight the importance of the verbs in this sentence, because choosing the proper verb often reveals both our appraisal of the source and our thinking on the questions it raises. 

    [Author]‘s [time period] [genre] [title] [verb] [plot summary]. [Author] [verb] [theme/purpose]. 

    Ok, so in reality I have two sentences here. But, when dealing with non-fiction works, they can often be combined into one:

    [Author's] [time period] [genre] [title] [verb] [purpose]. 

    As I indicated above, it is the verb that is the silent star of the show here. Consider for a minute the following example:

    Malcom Gladwell’s 2005 book Blink exposes how subconscious part of our brain think in ways we are not consciously aware. 

    Exposes. How does the meaning of the sentence change if I use the verb:

    • suggests
    • argues
    • questions whether
    • supposes 
    • explicates
    • details
    • offers a theory of
    • explores

    Each of these verb choices subtly alters the way I approach the work discussed. Exposes suggests something secret and perhaps mysterious is being uncovered. Suggests suggests that an amount of doubt surrounds the issue. Supposes implies that I am hostile or at least quite skeptical toward the idea. This subtle indicator allows my an opportunity to softly align or distance myself from the source I am using. Good authors do this all the time to subconsciously prepare readers for their arguments


R&G Week 3 Class One / Dali and Surrealism

Reaching Back to Thursday

To revisit something: “it’s just about football.” Yes and no. I think this gets at the difference between “plot” and “theme.” When I approach a show from an aesthetic perspective, I am often looking to interrogate what values–implicitly or explicitly–that show challenges or reinforces. If I watch a show and every character is straight and in a heterosexual relationship, then that show is supporting a particular worldview. If I watch a show and several characters are in queer relationships, then that show is supporting a worldview. It isn’t that one ideology is necessarily superior to another. Rather, I am asking us to recognize that any show is always, already “about” more than it might appear on the surface.

So, yes, in the sense Friday Night Lights portrays the kinds of decisions and difficulties one faces playing high school football (or growing up in high school, or being a parent, etc). The joy of victory and the agony of defeat etc.

But, in the course of doing so, the show also unconsciously portrays and reinforces a number of values about not only football, but also what constitutes a life well lived. ANY SHOW does this. This is what I mean. Sometimes it is obvious, but not always. (Hence Battlestar Galactica, a show about humans running from robots in space is also a show about terrorism and a show about the confrontation between science and religion; Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about a girl killing vampires and demons but is also commentary on traditional expectations of gender/sexuality; Batman is about a guy chasing villains but also about the emptiness of vengeance and managing one’s demons, etc).

Dali and Surrealism

First, a picture that many of you have seen:

Rockwell Girl at Mirror

Perhaps fewer will have seen Gene Pelham’s photo upon which Rockwell based the photo. Here’s another worth considering:

And one of Dali’s:

And another Dali


Let’s compare:

What do we “need” to “appreciate” the second work, by Jackson Pollock as art?

And what of Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture, “The Fountain”?


Game Journals (finish that game!)

Read Baraka’s “Revolutionary Theater”

New Media Production Week 2

Things to do:

  • Apologize for Blue Host charging for a three year commitment (that is not a commitment) up front
  • Talk about working on the web and .zip files
  • Have people attempt to .zip and send me their MEmorial assignment sheets
  • Talk about Ulmer
  • Look at Blue Host interface
  • Look at WordPress One-Click Install
  • Locate .www folder / talk about file/folder structure
  • Set-up SuperBetter and email list
  • For Next Meeting

Work on the Web: Images, Files, and Folders Oh My!

A quick note about images and the web. When you use HTML to include an image on a web page, you are pointing to a file that exists either 1) on the web or 2) on your computer. If the file exists on the web (meaning it has a URL like this one), then you don’t have to worry–that image should show up anywhere you host the HTML file. Moving the file around will not change whether the image works

If, however, you are creating a local path to the image (meaning the image is on your computer), then it is very important that you preserve that path when you move the HTML file.

For example, say I write the code: img src=”evil_kittens.jpg” That means the browser will look in the same folder for a file called evil_kittens.jpg. If that file is not in the same folder as the HTML file, then it will display an image error icon.

When working on files in class–or even at home–I highly recommend that you create a folder for each project. And in that folder, you should create a sub-folder called “images.” Thus, your img src links would read img src=”images/evil_kittens.jpg” / Make sense?

BlueHost/Wordpress Interface

I am a veteran of several content management systems, and I found Bluehost’s interface a bit confusing at first. After installing WordPress, it took me quite awhile to figure out how to access it. And once I left it, it took me a good bit of time to find it again. Let’s see if we can make life easier.

When you first login to, you should see the screen above. This is the home screen. Pictured at the bottom is the WordPress install.

As I indicated above, once you have installed, WordPress, it can be tricky to locate the login portal. Click again on “install WordPress” and then scroll your screen down to see the buttons pictured above.

Next back to the Bluehost home page, look for the C-Panel button.

The file manager!


Sharing Ulmer Assignment Sheets

First you talk and share and I will listen. You are not committed to completing your assignment and can alter it in anyway. You are encouraged to steal from each other because Web 2.0 and stuff.

Talking About Ulmer

To cheat a little bit, here is the article this class produced two years ago: Our Electrate Stories / Explicating Ulmer’s Mystory genre. In that piece, I argued that Ulmer’s mystory was a postpedagogical response to the socio-epistemic rhetoric/cultural studies pedagogy popularized by James Berlin.

For Ulmer, there is no sense of a self apart from others. There is no self uninhibited from the influence of networks. We jestingly refer to Ulmer’s postpedagogy as a socio-expressivism: the mystory is an attempt to map the recursive, feedback-infused influence of networks, to reveal what / who bounds a self into the avatar that plays me / that I play. Ulmer’s avatar frames selfhood as a messy conglomeration of body and mind engendered and sustained through networks. A central goal of the mystory concerns exposing this conglomeration via memory. Ulmer drew upon Roland Barthes’ (1981) concepts of studium and punctum, describing the mystory’s use of photographs to trigger what Barthes described as the sting of personal memory, the ways it idiosyncratically divests itself from “the public encyclopedia of concepts” (Ulmer, 2003, p. 44). Thus, unlike the forms of expressionism Berlin condemned, Ulmer’s mystory remains mindful of the material and the ways the material engenders selfhood.[8] The mystory genre aims for more than a digital renewal of the ancient Socratic mantra of “know thyself.” The mystory, by rejuvenating our faith in personal testimony, attempts to fashion a digital form of agency that returns politics back to the individual.
In short, Ulmer’s mystory, like expressionistic rhetoric, makes no explicit move to demystify a student’s false consciousness (Berlin, 1988, p. 490). Again, it looks to “sting” them emotionally, in the sense of Barthes’ (1981) punctum (see Ulmer, 2003, p. 44). Jeff Rice (2007) characterized this sting as a kind of aha moment, one that awakens the student to see unexpected relationships and ask unanticipated questions. Thomas Rickert (2007) referred to this kind of moment as surprising, stressing that it is a kairotic emergence for which we necessarily cannot plan and which we certainly cannot guarantee (pp. 172-173). The surprising aha moment is not a function of pedagogical mastery but of pedagogical serendipity.[9]

The importance on Barthes’s punctum, further explicated in that article, is also, I believe, at the core of the MEmorial project.

To cheat a bit more, here’s a link to a previous page I wrote for my undergrad class on Electronic Monuments.

For Next Meeting

  • Read Presentation Zen Design, pages 5-127. I will ask that your final MEmorial incorporate the visual aesthetic advocated by Garr and Reynolds (and, honestly, I think their Zen approach works well with the Ulmer’s pedagogy). This means that you should think about the screen as a canvas–as an image (rather than thinking about the screen as something that can scroll).
  • Read Ducket’s chapter on lists. Make a list somewhere in .html. Chances are you will need to refer back to Duckett’s info on .html
  • In next week’s class, we will work with CSS and visual design. This week, you should work HARD to collect any research / write any text you will need for your MEmorial. Code as much of the .html as you can. Think about navigation and links. Think about crafting an experience rather than conveying information. Come to next class with at least 5 .html pages coded up.
  • Check into SuperBetter once a day; my SuperBetter email address is
  • Write something for your blog. It shouldn’t doesn’t have to have anything to do with this class. If you are reading something, then try writing a five minute review. Or generate a series of questions to answer. “Grid” it in public. Tag it, too.

R&G Week 2 / Class 2: Art and Identification, Ethos and Nationalism

Today I want to:

  • Play This!: Bad Paper
  • Talk about Tolstoy
  • Talk about art, nationalism, ethos, and identification (and its ugly counterpart, “orientalism”)
  • Set up SuperBetter


For our last class, I asked you to read excerpts from Tolstoy’s 1896 essay “What is art?” The excerpted version is broken into aphorisms, or a series of short concise statements. I want to focus a bit of attention on the opening aphorism:

In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man.

In our discussion of Aristotle, I suggested that art, and even a theory of art, is a response to problems. These can be universal problems–problems that every human, every where, at every time, faces. Or they can be particular problems–problems that arise at a particular time for particular reasons (often they are a mix of both–it isn’t necessarily an either or). For instance, the game we played at the beginning of class is clearly a response to what many have terms America’s culture of debt. But, thinking universally, we could say that it is a commentary on poverty and helplessness. And, if we are thinking Romantically (in Tolstoy’s words, if we are interested in the transfer of feelings), then the game attempts to recreate that feeling of hopelessness by locking you into a series of “can’t win” choices.

Back to Tolstoy: what does it mean if we argue that “a condition of human life is intercourse between [hu]man and [hu]man?”

Identification, Nationalism, and Art

I want to twist Tolstoy a bit away from his Romantic interest in the recreation of emotion to focus on his interest in uniting human beings. I am thinking particularly of his conclusion that:

Note that this Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity. (emphasis added)

And Tolstoy clarifies what might happen if art did not effect this union:

And if men lacked this other capacity of being infected by art, people might be almost more savage still, and, above all, more separated from, and more hostile to, one another

Thus, art contributes to our unification, our identification with each other, our sense of community and nationality. Art is the glue that commits us to write and maintain Rousseau’s social contract.

This theory of the social contract, and the idea of art as what unifies a group of individual savages into a civil “we” traces back Ancient Greece–specifically, to the rhetorician Isocrates (not to be confused with Plato’s teach Socrates–Isocrates was actually their rival). In his long mockery of Plato’s Apology, Isocrates argues for the cultivation of paideia, or for an education dedicated to producing the Ideal Greek citizen. For Isocrates, to be Greek wasn’t a matter of race, religion, or birth. Rather, it was a matter of “culture”–of accepting a particular set of values, of having the proper upbringing, of attaining a measure of class. Isocrates’s place in history is often debated–is he a progressive offering a democratic education? Or an elitist, conservative, reactionary prioritizing privilege and exclusion? This is not an easy question to answer–but his writing asks us to think about the political dimensions of art and education.

Regardless of how we answer that question, we can draw from Isocrates’s the idea that art cultivates ethos, one of the three primary rhetorical appeals. Let me explain: according to ancient Greek sophists and Aristotle, for a person to be persuasive, her speech needs to balance three dimensions (or appeals): logos, ethos, and pathos. Different occasions call for different appeals–one should probably not be too logical in a eulogy.

Quick test (all stats made up):

  • Don’t you realize people who smoke are 340% more likely to contract lung cancer?
  • Don’t you remember that Dr. Robinson emphatically argued that smoking is hazardous to your health?
  • Don’t you realize 9 out of 10 doctors condemn smoking?
  • Don’t you realize that if you keep smoking you’ll never meet your grandchildren?
  • Don’t you realize that LeBron James couldn’t play basketball if he smoked?
  • Don’t you realize what you could do with that 6 dollars a day if you weren’t smoking?

While we often use ethos to mean “credibility,” this is a pretty impoverished sense of the word. Yes, ethos is often an indication of whether we are willing to accept someone’s ideas, and thus whether we consider them credible. But it is also more complicated, since we will often only accept their ideas after they have proven that they are “one of us,” after their speech has exhibited the culture markers that indicate they are a member of “our” community (and not one of “them”).

Ah, the “them.” The dark underside of paideia, ethos, and identification. As a number of theorists have argued (including Kenneth Burke, Edward Said [pronounced SI-EED], Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler), the “we” inevitably defines itself in contra-distinction to a “they.” The “they” often takes on villainous tones. “They” are the barbarians that threaten Isocrates’s Athens, barbarians who would storm the gates. Or, as Burke argued, wherever we find union, a bringing together, we will also find division. Or, as Derrida argued, every act of definition will necessarily exclude and marginalize.

I have strayed quite far today from our purpose: what is art? Let me return to the question, to Tolstoy’s interest in unity, and to Burke et al’s caution toward the inevitable violence of division.

Great art, I propose, is art that shakes our identifications and points to the ways in which those identifications exclude. Simple art does the opposite and reinforces a narrow or established idea of what it means to be an American. Prime example: Frederick Douglas’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Both of these works expose us to the kinds of discrimination buried in our term citizen or American. A more contemporary example might be the now almost forgotten action film The Peacemaker, a film that has almost completely disappeared after 9/11. Or, I would argue, disappeared because of 9/11. Why? Because the film problematizes our traditional identifications of terms like “American,” “Patriot,” and, most importantly, “terrorist.” It is a film that works hard to make you identify with the terrorists, not necessarily to condone their violence, but rather to sympathize with their motives (and, as a great piece of art, it even problematizes this sympathy by demonstrating that “terrorists” aren’t some homogenous group, but themselves a group of heterogenous people each with their own motives and investments). After 9/11 I would argue that the audience for such a film is very, very small.

So, here’s what to think about and write in your game journal today: what identities exist in your game? Races? Genders? Nationalities? How are they portrayed? Are they complicated and heterogenous, or simple and homogenous? What kind of “us” does the game create? And what kind of “them” does it pit “us” against? Are “we” the GOOD GUYZ and “them” the BAD GUYZ? Or is it more complicated? How do you describe that complicated?

Super short re-cap: does this game try to make you feel uncomfortable? About what?


Let’s play (around with) SuperBetter and friend each other.


  • Read the two short Dali pieces I distributed in class, “The Moral Position of Surrealism” and “Reality and Surreality”
  • Check in with SuperBetter at least once a day
  • Play the heck out of your game

At this point, I want you to invest as much time in playing your game as you can. Try to finish it. For every hour you play, put ten minutes into the gaming journal, addressing the questions we have touched upon thus far:

  • What is this game identifying as the “problem” of being human?
  • Who does this game think I am?
  • Where/when is the setting of this game? Is the setting important?
  • What emotions does this game engender?
  • What questions does this game want to ask?
  • What beautiful images does this game present?
  • What music does this game use?

We’ve got to get these games finished so you can begin writing your response.

R&G Week 2 / Class 1: Aristotle’s Poetics

Our discussion of Aristotle will center around two key terms: mimesis and catharsis.


The stock definition of the ancient Greek term memesis is “imitation,” though the more precise philosophical sense, attributed to Plato and Aristotle, is often “representation.”

As I mentioned last class, Plato was suspicious of art because it was merely memesis- that is, representation of the material world (which itself is a mere representation of a transcendental Ideal/divine world). For Plato, being a representation (a copy, an imitation) was a pejorative.

But Aristotle rejects Plato’s condemnation, and actually argues that mimesis is superior to reality (or that art is superior to history). Because the artist has the power to represent things not as they are, but as the should be.

Aristotle argues that art represents “men in action” either “better than in real life, or [...] worse” (I.10.a). This exaggeration provides art with its pedagogic potential–the core to Aristotle’s defense of art. He writes:

Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in thing imitated.

To understand what Aristotle means by contributing to our advancement and learning, one must recognize the difference between plot and theme, what Aristotle designates as the difference between “narrative” and “action.” This gets us at the heart of what art imitates–what is the “action” of a poetic drama (which in Ancient Greece is a catch-all term for all artistic production). Plot is what happens in the narrative. Theme indicates what the narrative “is about.” To be more explicit: what general problem/tendency of the human condition does this particular story address? What does it teach us of the struggle to be human? to be better? to live the good life?

When Ebert challenges that games cannot be art, when he calls them immature, I believe he is pointing to their “theme,” although he has not provided a sufficiently robust definition of art to support the claim.

In class: I want you to focus on unravelling the theme for your game.


Above, Aristotle referenced the “pleasure” experience via art as one of the two primary causes for poetry. Pleasure here must be scare quoted, because often the impact of aesthetic works isn’t necessarily enjoyable. Aristotle is approaching one of those timeless introductory questions to the humanities: why do we enjoy things that make us cry?

His answer is catharsis, the process which, by watching/experiencing a narrative of struggle with which we identify, we are able to purge ourselves of those emotions. He writes:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action, that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions. (VI. 1-2)

Of course, there is something memetic or pedagogical going on here as well–we are learning the proper way to handle those difficult situations in life. But we are also releasing frustrations. This, Aristotle argues, is essential to human life. Gain and struggle are unavoidable. Art not only teaches us how to deal with such difficulties, but also helps us cope with the frustrations we accumulate on a daily basis.


New Media Production Week 1

Welcome! Syllabus!

Project One

Make me a MEmorial that is not a memorial.

Media/Requirements: HTML and CSS. Multiple pages. Images (probably altered with Photoshop). Perhaps video clips. Links. Scraps. Quirkiness. ATH. Abject.

Due Date: Sept. 19th / We will view/traverse/experience your MEmorials in class

Quick Fire Challenge #1 Walter Ong Remediation

It begins! Let’s play around.

Read through the Walter Ong. Take five sentences that you think are especially noteworthy.

Spend sometime (no more than 10 minutes) finding an image for each of your sentences. It is helpful is the images are (kind of) the same size.

Open Photoshop

In Photoshop, crop the images so that they are all the exact same size.

In Photoshop, use a filter on the images and adjust their brightness and color.

In Photoshop, put your quotes onto the images using the text tool. Try and keep the font consistent across all images. Make a least one word in each sentence a different color than the rest of the words in that sentence.

Bonus: Make an opaque box underneath your text so that the text is more legible (time permitting).

Unzip the file folder I emailed you. If you do not know what “unzip” means, then Google it. If you are feeling a bit cray-cray, ask me for help.

Find the folder called “images” in the unzipped folder I sent you. You will save your images here when you export them (next step)

Export your images from Photoshop as “.jpg” / Note that this is different from saving them as .psd. Save them as image1.jpg image2.jpg image3.jpg etc. Again, save them in the folder called “images.”

In the folder called images, right-click on the file called index.html and select “open with” some web browser (Chrome, Firefox)

Pretty cool, right? Just wait.


There are so many things to do. But I have arranged them into a list.

  1. Sign up for Twitter. Read my quick primer for Twitter.
  2. Follow me (@Oisin16). Post something cool with the hash tag #enc6422. Follow everyone else in the class as they post to the hash tag. Rejoice in newfound friendships.
  3. Download either Notepad++ (PC) or TextWrangler (mac).
  4. Familiarize yourself with USF Apps.
  5. Re-read Ulmer’s preface, intro, and chapter 1. Read Chapters 2 and 3. Focus on your assignment: Make Me a MEmorial that is not a memorial.
  6. Read and do Duckett, pages 2-40 and 74-125. By “do,” I mean create an .html assignment sheet for our first project using at least 3 links and 2 images. Save this .html file in the “new-media” folder I gave you in our first class.
  7. As you make your assignment sheet, I will ask that you make it purely “content,” don’t deal with “form” at this point (in other words, use only html tags, do not use style rules yet–we will start that next week!)
  8. Sign-up for your URL and server space with BlueHost. You should not need to spend more than a the $4.95 a month (I don’t)–you don’t need any of those additional services. We will play with these sites (including a walkthrough for the WordPress install) next week.
  9. Purchase (i0S / recommended) / create an account for SuperBetter
  10. Tonight–Steam has Walking Dead Season 1 on sale for 6.24 since (rather than its usual 24.99). This sale ends at 10am tomorrow morning.

Rhetoric & Gaming Week 1 / Class 2

Today we need to:

  • Twitter 101
  • Talk about Ebert
  • Talk about games and the Canon
  • Provide preface to Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Introduce Google Docs for the Gaming Journal

Twitter 101

The #, the @, and the DM

Ebert: Focusing on his Argument

I am interested to see how you react to the Ebert piece and to his definition of art. I particularly want to pay attention to the following paragraph:

Plato, via Aristotle, believed art should be defined as the imitation of nature. Seneca and Cicero essentially agreed. Wikipedia believes “Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more concerned with the expression of ideas…Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction.”

First, as I hope tonight’s reading suggests, the “imitation of nature” is a pretty impoverished way of summarizing Aristotle’s theory of art and/as mimesis. It is more complicated than that.

Second, notice how Ebert is essentially engaging in the kind of “is it a sport?” exercise we experimented with last class. He turns to Wikipedia to distinguish games from either work (utility) or art (expression). It is this second distinction that I believe we can productively problematize.

Here is another paragraph that is worthy of attention, especially if you are considering advocating for a narrative-driven game:

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.

I have previously published articles that focus on the aesthetic/affective experience of playing particularly provocative/smart/disturbing games (using Freudian/Lacanian/feminist psychoanalytic theory to compare the rather normative Resident Evil series to the more disruptive Silent Hill series–in short, Silent Hill 2 is the greatest video game ever made).

One more passage:

Kellee Santiago has arrived at this point lacking a convincing definition of art. But is Plato’s any better? Does art grow better the more it imitates nature? My notion is that it grows better the more it improves or alters nature through an passage through what we might call the artist’s soul, or vision. Countless artists have drawn countless nudes. They are all working from nature. Some of there paintings are masterpieces, most are very bad indeed. How do we tell the difference? We know. It is a matter, yes, of taste.

Again, I think our reading (and my preface below) will show that this is an Aristotelian approach to art. And, again, it feels a bit impoverished because it does not theorize (explain, explicate, address, etc) what constitutes “nature” (hint, hint).

As far as Ebert’s second post–”Play on My Lawn”–I will address the point of linear vs. multi/hyper narrativity later in the course as we discuss Walking Dead and Dragon Age and games that do that special thing that I won’t talk about yet.

Towards a Canon of Games

Now I want you to tell me about games that would go in your canon (“the list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality”). What are the greats?

Here’s the rough draft of our list.

One thing that will come up: are you a populist or elitist?

Aristotle’s Poetics

A response to Plato’s critique of art. Shadows, caves, Idealism–oh my!

Recall from Ebert’s first post, Video Games Can Never Be Art, his summation of Herzog and cave paintings:

Herzog believes, in fact, that the paintings on the wall of the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc in Southern France should only be looked at in the context of the shadows cast on those dark walls by the fires built behind the artists, which suggests the cave paintings, their materials of charcoal and ochre and all that went into them were the fruition of a long gestation, not the beginning of something–and that the artists were enormously gifted. They were great artists at that time, geniuses with nothing to build on, and were not in the process of becoming Michelangelo or anyone else. Any gifted artist will tell you how much he admires the “line” of those prehistoric drawers in the dark, and with what economy and wit they evoked the animals they lived among.

This is actually a playful reference to book seven of Plato’s Republic, in which Plato’s protagonist Socrates (not to be confused with the actually historic person Socrates) suggests that, compared to the rational, enlightened philosopher who basks in the light of the blinding sun, most people dwell in the depths of a dark cave, confusing mere shadows for truth and reality. This is the allegory of the cave.

So for Plato, the purpose of human life is to escape the darkness, to move toward the light. Rationality. Art (especially the poetic arts of Ancient Greece, which were predominantly mythic and theological) leads us away from the truth. It is deception, make-believe, a representation of the real world, a real world which itself is but a mere flawed copy of the transcendental Ideal realm–a realm beyond our material world of pure light/truth/divinity.

What does this have to do with Aristotle and video games? In short: Aristotle disagreed with his teacher regarding the value of art (he also didn’t really buy into this transcendental divine realm thing either, but that is another class). For homework, I would like you to read Aristotle’s Poetics, paying particular attention to the ways in which he defends art’s “usefulness.” Later generations of artists will reject this approach, arguing that the value of art lies in its opposition to utility. But that is yet another conversation for another day (probably some time next week).

Gaming Journal

Over the next few weeks I will ask you to play video games for homework. That’s a pretty awesome sentence.

I will also ask you to keep a reflective journal as you play. Whether you are playing for the first time or revisiting a game you have played before, you will want to keep a journal that catalogue’s your thoughts on a game. Additionally, you should use the journal to record links to screen shots, ideas re: the aesthetic theories we discuss in class, links to articles/discussions of your game, or anything else that might contribute to your first project.

I will ask you to do this in Google Docs, and to share the Doc with me. My email address is We will set this up in class today (Thursday).


  • Read sections from Aristotle’s Poetics [distributed via PDF]
  • Pay attention to two terms/concepts: mimesis and catharsis
  • Identify the game for your first project. Play the game for at least 45 minutes. Then spend 15 minutes writing about the game in your Game Journal
  • Tweet something interesting with the hashtag #enc3435

Also, remember that Steam is having a super sale on Walking Dead until Friday. You can also buy the game for iPad and iPhone through the Apple Store.