The following mostly dot-point notes are what I remember to be the stand-out points from a few of the highlight talks from Code 2012, held at Swinburne this week. It’s telling that the “standouts” are just about every single paper and presentation I went to (no slight on the rest that I also attended but don’t recall). A few extra concluding thoughts at the end, but here’s a list of most of what I saw at CODE and what I remembered from it (this is all from memory, if you remember differently or want to clarify any point get in touch, my email is in the side-bar).
Rowan Wilken’s brief dalliance with Erica T. Carter
- The story of a poetry joke/hoax/scam (site: Waitingforgodot.com, published “Issue 1”, giant anthology)
- Poetry generating software, run ~1000 times, each poem attached to a fake author (many real poets, some not – Rowan had one himself and he’s no poet)
- Most interesting thing from it (for the software authors): finding out how many poets have Google Alerts for their own names
- Plenty of questions about the nature of authorship and language
Mel Gregg & Ned Rossiter’s Plenary panels (with v. cool overlap: similar objects of study w/ different perspectives)
- Mel talked about “Getting Things Done (GTD)” software, and the shifts in workplace to distributed/atomised/unshackled from an office conditions. Some interesting stuff on the language of work and “freedom” that these pieces of software provide (dubious promise of freedom – freedom to be more productive for the same wage, or in more precarious environment, or “always on” maybe)
- An extension of the same kind of thinking as in her book ‘Work’s Intimacy’ which is very interesting, and raises these issues too.
- Ned talked about some ideas he’s working on regarding “logistical nightmares” (his title for his forthcoming book) and overviewed his desire to make a “game” to simulate logistical political interventions (strike the ports, block the containers, knock out the power, etc). Very early stages, though he had some very cool mock-up footage. (Lawson Fletcher pointed out on twitter that the footage Ned showed was largely material from existing logistics modelling/simulation software.).
- To me whether or not his “game” (simulation?) gets made isn’t as important as the idea that he wants to make one. (Very much in harmony with the implication of Anna Anthropy’s rise of the videogame zinesters > If “everyone” should be making games then, hell, even tenured professors like Ned should be making games!)
- And there’s something here that syncs with Christian McCrea’s Friday morning keynote which took the position that code or programming isn’t do or die re: game making, people can and do work around it using middleware, programs like twine etc etc quite successfully.
Mitchell Whitelaw’s ‘Programmable Matter’
- Talk was really about suggesting un-programmable matter
- Used a bunch of incredible examples from artists who have worked with pseudo-computers, analogue computing, crystal fields, cosmic ray detection, and in one case earth current (Telluric) waves to boot up a laptop (beautiful glitch aesthetic; dirt OS)
- Very interesting b/c of how much overlap there is between my own human/non-human stuff, and yet how completely differently it was conceptualised. i.e. through Kittler and German media theory rather than Latour & SR.
- I was a little curious about why keep the idea of ‘computation’ for some of these when it seems like they don’t quite end up being computers so much as analogue circuits. Asked him why later, answered mainly because the artists themselves call them computers. Still a bit resistant to the plausibility of it. Zizek’s take on talking to artists is persuasive:
- “I hate this idea that if you talk to a director or an author, you will discover something amazing, some secret. What they know is in what they produce.”
- That said, each of the examples were incredible and there were lots of intriguing ideas in there.
Scott Wark’s ‘Towards a Technics of Literature’
- All about ‘Blood Rites of the Bourgeoise’ by Stewart Home (book)
- Half the book was written with the aim of passing through a spam filter first, then with the aim of telling the story (i.e. medium over content)
- Scott had some other interesting ideas about the way language works in this book, but I got lost when he mentioned Derrida and others.
Tom Apperly’s ‘Random and Boring’
In my reading of his paper it operates on three levels:
- Content level: Deliberately shitty, e.g. “Boring is a really complicated concept, as I found out last night reading the Wikipedia page” and “Lets get all classic cultural studies, all Raymond Williams, and check out the etymology of the word random”. On this level the paper sorted those who were falling asleep from those who were awake, by making it easy to mistake it for a really bad paper.
- Mid level: Paper was critiquing or “trolling” the conference, and the conference format, & familiar paper-giving tropes. Apperly is a fantastic scholar with great ideas but because they were not “presented” properly in the format, the temptation was to nod off because (on the content level) it was very… boring. But this leads to…
- The Inception level: Paper performed its own content. The paper did more to act/affect (albeit, at the expense of those not clued in) the power, interest and worthiness of study of both concepts, randomness and boredom. Stimulating in the audience the kind of responses that you are trying to explain in a dry and dispassionate way is a remarkably efficient presentation.
- This was the most fun session of the whole conference, and it left me completely exhausted. It was impossible (for me, anyway) to miss the fact that there was a lot of love in the room – both from Tom, and for Tom – from many of his peers. It was a really idyllic conference scene. Never forget “Random and Boring” by Tom Apperly, 21-11-12. (Thinking about getting a 21-11-12 tattoo tbh lmao)
Emily van der Nagel on Reddit’s /Gonewild subreddit
- A ‘consensual space’ where “nudes” are traded for Karma
- Weird micro-distinctions between anonymity and pseudonymity across the site’s ToS and the Users.
- Advice for posters on Reddit /gonewild: make a throwaway account (but then what point to accrue the Karma?), obscure your face, include a timestap (for authenticity), which many people write on their body.
- Result is a list of chopped ‘body parts’ – boobs, butts, etc, with no faces attached.
- I asked a question about whether, given that it is an explicitly non-coercive space, there are other ways of inducing women into submitting these nudes, and I can’t remember what she said in response (Emily is in the first year of her PhD, and this is a ridiculously well developed and promising project, I really want it to be done already so I can cite it in my own work, haha!)
- “When will we get Google bodies?”
- Of course the title was a ruse, since it was all about (e.g. Katherine Hayles) embodiment, and embodied books and some issues around digitization
- Salient point about how those most loudly decrying the “death of the book” (and often by equating the book and reading with life) tend to be those same people for whom the book is the source of their income (their economic life)
- Example of the early destructive ways of scanning books that Google had (chopping spine, book scanned as loose pages)
- Gave example of Google Books Ghosts/digital scanning artifacts (See ‘The Art of Google Books’ tumblr – fingers, thumbs, etc – talk about artefacts of embodiment)
- Also what happens when one copy of a book gets scanned, and the errata/marginalia of many individual (paper) books gets lost? Some examples of notes left by readers in margins, and some other notes that readers left responding to even earlier notes. One errata comment was talking back to the author (“Thanks Doc for this incredibly illuminating text…” very sarcastic tone)
Glen Fuller’s enthusiasm paper and the shift from print mags to online
- Primarily about methods of ‘valorisation’ and how/why certain things get valorised (and who is doing the valorising)
- Started with “How To” guides from the print mag tradition (“Step 1… Step 2…” etc) and compared that with blog/forum “Build threads” where posters give and receive feedback in (slow-ish) real time.
- Glen reckons that with AR technology like google glasses, high speed net, robot surgery, etc, we’ll see a transition over to direct intervention in the build (or whatever relevant thing it is) I tweeted the phrase “Tele-buildonics” in response to this direct intervention aspect, reminiscent of ‘teledildonics’.
- I’m interested in hearing more about this project w/r/t Time and/or acceleration (Accelerationism?) and what it says about collapsing (time) distances? (Cycles of print publishing > Forum Posting > Internet latency) but that might just be a really boring and obvious thing, idk
- Takeaway from this one is the phrase “Good” deployed as a form of punctuation.
- Talked about two main projects: Australasian Heritage Software Association & some other program I’ve forgotten the name of
- The history of software (partic. Game) development in Australia is an important element of software-cultural history
- Some libraries have as a legal requirement that they store/archive anything they get under (forgotten the term – “legal deposit”?) even games/software.
- Rowan Wilkens commented that he was surprised that the State Library of Vic wasn’t a parter on the program, and offered to help make a connection
- Christian McCrea added that they do have a small collection “It’s a cardboard box”.
An anecdote before we (Darshana, Brendan and myself) did our panel: we talked about how many words we had in our papers, Darshana had like 2800 or something, I had about 2700. Tom Apperly said 1800 was probably the ‘ideal’ amount allowing for pauses and things. D went “crap” I went real fast and skim read big chunks of mine, basically turning it into something like dot points with big bits of elaboration on-the-fly and the occasional fully written section. Worked okay for me, but in the future I will aim for less words, more dot points to allow for elaboration. Darshana ran out of time but also did a really good job of on-the-fly summarising. I think he would do well with more loosely organised, dot-pointy, off-the-cuff elaboration type stuff, since he clearly knows his stuff. Darshana’s paper had a huge amount of content and only clearly only barely scratched the surface of his project.
Darshana Jayemanne’s God Hand & Camp
- Important element of God Hand: SERIALITY (I’m not super familiar with this term’s specifics, but basically contrast it with nonlinearity, indeterminacy, etc, etc. Not overly concerned with thinking systems and stuff I guess (but certainly not ignoring them either, probably just not idealising them as the be all and end all of games, idk. Again, v. sim to McCrea’s keynote ideas).
- In God Hand: The characters and their design are a bit “off” (all the characters are too tall, too short, too fat, too thin > breaks typical character ideals. CAMPY)
- Each variety of character design “leads up” or culminates in a boss that synthesises (?) all preceding designs.
- Camp is about performance…
- But there is no “game over” for god hand, only the player’s disengagement with the game out of boredom/frustration, etc.
- What does God Hand’s “camp” mean for games?
- Example of a Lets Play recording of God Hand, someone did a discourse analysis of it, in response they re-played it while reading their own (analysed?) transcript (lots of non-sync points, but occasionally does sync)
- Question arises: “What is a performance of a game?” Is it playing it one time? What about interrupted playings? What about repeat playings? Partial/incomplete play-through? Big questions without simple answers.
- Dinosaur Comics as ergodic literature, i.e. Aarseth’s “non-trivial effort”
- Dino comics draws attention to itself as a comic > the matter, stuff of the page
- Hidden text all over the place (mouse over, “contact” page has a default email subject line)
- Hidden overlays that change that comic (“IWouldRatherBeReadingTheLastDinosaurComicEver” = meteorite crashes into the planet and kills all the dinosaurs)
- The cool thing about Brendans was how well it proved you could be an expert on something just by… being an expert (?). I learnt things about dinosaur comics that I didn’t know.
- We also had a really great conversation with the session chair Steve Conway about the trickiness of ‘non-trivial’ – what even is non trivial? Great question to throw out at undergrads lol.
For my talk I’ll try put the recording and slides up online soon-ish, but I got some really great questions including a Q from Scott Wark about the nature/problems of gatekeeping in an online community built on/around Flarf, and from Jenny Kennedy a fellow grad student from Swinburne who asked a really interesting question about presence, which wasn’t really something I’d encountered or thought about before. A sense of ‘presence’ being quite important to many online communities, and one that arises when the ‘medium’ (skype, chat, comment thread, twitter, etc) disappears and the distance between people collapses. Flarf may present a problem for this idea, which is super interesting. Definitely want to read (and think) some more about how it affects those kinds of ideas.
Jason Wilson’s talk
On at the same time as ours so I didn’t see it myself, but I heard really good things. It as described to me as about “white lines” as a good starting point/object for comparing media (how do games do white lines? How about painting? Drawing? Etc etc). Sounded super interesting. Probably the most frustrating clash of the conference for me.
Christian McCrea’s keynote
- Lots to take in, but key points for me were that the study of games isn’t limited, not enslaved to, the study of code (or even, more abstractly, systems)
- Lot of amazing examples of the history of games and the evolution and spread of fighting game mechanics through hacked/modded SFII arcade cabinets (SFII: Rainbow edition)
- I’ve forgotten most of the details of this one, I was out ridiculously late the night before and I saw mention of the keynote becoming a PDF at some point so look forward to that instead of my recollected notes.
Adam Muir’s Demoscene talk
- Really cool little overview of the research into the early Australian demoscene stuff (Demoscene is all about cramming graphics/video/music/etc into tiny, tiny programs – was all about efficiency, stretching the limits of performance of older hardware, etc. Commodore 64 doing ray-traced 3D rendering that looks similar to Windows 95, for instance. A decade or more ahead of its time.)
- Very much about using (e.g.) assembly code. Super-low-level languages of the hardware, etc, etc.
- Most surprising talk of the conference, had no idea what it was about, got 100 mile p/hr stats on bookmaking online and “daytrading” in bookmaker stats gaming
- Really amazing questions his work raises about where the line is between “cheating” and what is legitimate exploitation of a system.
- System Text exploit: Spamming the system discussion channel stopped people from being able to “see” the important things they needed to (other chat info? Arrival/departure of ships in certain systems?)
- CCP didn’t “patch” the system (b/c of the way their content update system works, i.e. BIG chunk updates rather than trickles)
- Instead CCP said “This is an exploit, you’ve been warned, anyone doing it again will be banned”
- Players up-in-arms for CCP trying to socially enforce certain behaviour, rather than hard-code in a solution:
- There was a quote from a player to the effects of “This is a broken mechanic!” (i.e. systemic issue, not social/behavioural issue)
- I asked what Daryl thought about that response and the laissez faire (libertarian?) attitudes in the game.
- Daryl suggested that because the players are (generally) smart, tech literate, they understood how trivial a “patch” it would be
- For me, that’s super interesting (and totally right) but I can also see there being other reasons (e.g. bullshit management, bureaucratic, reasons) that would prevent it being “trivial”.
- I saw some really intriguing tweets about Adam Nash’s talk, but apart from being intrigued specifics have completely slipped my mind and when I spoke a couple times to Adam in the park afterwards I didn’t think it was fair to ask him (and the same applies to everyone) to summarise their paper just because I missed it.
And that was the last of the sessions, with the exception of the Friday afternoon Masterclasses. I don’t really have much to say about Jussi’s masterclass, except to say that I left feeling a little less concerned about not being totally and immediately across all of German Media theory as some super-relevant tradition for my own work.
And primarily the reason for this is that Jussi said something that hinted that he has a very different perspective on the importance (for me, it’s critical) of paying attention to (or embedding other work in/around/through), say, Feminist and LGBT critiques, minority perspectives and all that sort of stuff. Not to say that he’s disinterested in that stuff at all, but rather that it’s just not his “area” (which, to be completely frank, I think is part of the problem, but then I would say that wouldn’t I so I won’t try and make some big bullshit issue out of it). I will also add that Mel Gregg’s question at the end of Jussi’s keynote also exposes this same fault-line, and was totally on point. There was a slide of Parikka’s that was an image of the women “computers” from the war era that pre-dated non-human computer computers, and Mel asked why he put it up and referred to it without really engaging with (maybe) the implications of that particular historical implication. Jussis keynote was fine, but I didn’t get a lot out of it, not being well across what media archaeology actually is, nor across German media theory.
Addendum: After talking briefly on twitter with Jussi about it, his point was that “German MT is weak on gender and feminism, one of the key blindspots of GMT.” So it was my mistake to conflate his discussion of GMT with his positions and interests, for which I apologise. But that also reinforces my satisfaction with not needing to be worried about not knowing as much German media theory as I might have been otherwise.
So that was CODE2K12. It was quite honestly one of the best and most hassle-free conferences I have ever been to, and as the above list and sumaries attests there were so many great papers. I’m really excited for the scholarship being done in Australia right now. That we have all these people around the nation (not to overlook the international crowd, just to say that I was seriously impressed at the level Australian scholarship is at, w/r/t this particular slightly niche interest) bodes really well I think. It’s a bit of a shame that so many of us only get to meet and hang out a couple of times a year, but even so, there’s a really great online sense of community here too, and that’s exciting.
I came away from Code with a renewed sense of excitement for my own research, and for the stuff other people are doing around me. That’s a mighty success.