five interventions

Serious Play

One of the great advantages to teaching courses on procedural literacy, media philosophy, video games and simulation is that the subject matter lends itself to exciting, if preparation-intensive, interventions*. I frequently stage these for classes; in many cases, we are joined by additional students from the Program.

Goldfarming marathons. After the World Bank came out in favor of so-called “liminal ICT work” as a viable employment option among SE Asians (see, e.g., Heeks), we wanted to better understand what might be lost, and gained, in the process. We lock ourselves in the program’s cramped Studio for twelve hours or so, all of us working hard inside the World of Warcraft to meet performance quotas inferred from first-person reports. (It is worth noting that we have seldom come close to achieving those goals).

Dérive DC. Peripatetic class sessions on play, the Situationists, and the psychogeographic method. We typically work our way through the neighborhoods of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, orienting ourselves with, e.g., an 18th Century map of Paris, a map of the Death Star, and an ancient Indian plan of the circulatory system of elephants.

Second-Life Build-a-thon. Second-Life sought to afford participants ownership of their world by allowing them to create their own digital goods. One way to better understand Second-Life, then, was to encourage students to understand the virtual technology that made their Second-Life possible. Students dedicated two weeks to learning the complexities of Linden Lab’s astonishingly clunky tool, and created a fairly remarkable virtual exhibit on the history of the virtual.

MineCraft Makes. One of the remarkable things about MineCraft is called RedStone. It works like copper wire, carrying a charge at a uniform rate. RedStone torches work like toggle switches, setting the RedStone charge to either On (True) or Off (False). In addition to Zombies and Creepers, then, MineCraft can operate as a Turing-complete hardware simulator. We took advantage of this easy-to-access shared virtual space in order to collaborate on a 4-bit full adder (a very simple calculator): When complete, it occupies the equivalent of a football field in MineCraft, and it takes seven seconds for it to compute 1+2. But it was a gratifying project.

Hackathons. In my programming-oriented courses, we usually have one hackathon per semester. Supplied with appropriate food and drink, students choose from among several partially-built projects (video games, twitter visualizations, and so on) and work collaboratively to complete it. It allows students to bear witness to their improving skillsets, and emphasizes the social pleasure that can come with collaborative problem-solving.

  1. *
    The term intervention comes from Stuart Moulthrop’s essay “Rethinking Scholarship in the Days of Serious Play.” He calls it “a new genre of formal academic work” that is contributes “to pragmatics as well as abstract understanding.”