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Session 7: The games people play

5 min read

Session 7 was missing one of its speakers, so we heard from Lisa Rosner, a medical historian, on her project creating and “playtesting” a video game based on 19th century smallpox vaccination in Edinburgh, and from Anders Wallace, and anthropology PhD student at CUNY, on his research around pickup artists and their online communities. Each was working with a very particular form of “game."

Rosner prefaced her discussion by explaining that the Keystone talk last night has made her reconsider the gender binary on which the majority of her playtesting analysis was based. She moved forward with the caveat that her “boy” and “girl” playtester categories were based on the historically male and female first names of the players (although her headings etc in the presentation still used those original terminologies with which she approached the play testing and analysis). The original premise on which she approached the design of the game was the narrative of a certain doctor administering smallpox vaccines - he made terrible choices, and so his narrative challenges a dominant one in medical history of continuous “progress”. But ultimately, as she became more skeptical of the power of games to change players (bringing into question the importance of the question of whether this sort of educational game is “gamifying” educational content or "educationifying" games), the project ended up privileging her interest in the unexpected ways people play games, or “off label” use. This seems like an extension of her research focus on the bottom-up history of the patient rather than the top-down history of the doctor. The original version of the game on which she ran the playtesting she was analyzing has the player find smallpox outbreaks and convince people to get vaccinated - so a game of strategy, not an "interactive storybook” or “content delivery system." It engages the player with the virus, the patient, and the healer, or, in other terms, three interlocking systems that contribute to medical history: epidemiological, social, and economic. Although the game tries to push students towards primary sources and emphasizes the social history of medicine, because playtesters were able to use it in different ways, attending more or less to those focuses, analysis of the playtesters' use of the game was not just focused on whether they absorbed those things or not, but rather on their situation-specific approaches to the game. Her playtesters were NJ high school students working after school for extra credit, majority with female names. The “boys” played a mainly economic game, missing much of the historical info, while the "girls" played a puzzle based, more philanthropic narrative but failed to question, and actually particularly liked, the gendered expectations for characters in the game. Basically, the way people played the game and what their “win condition” was ended up being gendered and situational.

Wallace began by introducing the concept of “seduction forums,” which take “AFCs” (average frustrated chumps) and help them change themselves into “PUAs” (pick up artists). He wants to examine the type of charming masculinity these forums are premised on and create, from a virtual to real platform, by approaching one particular forum with a mix of digital humanities-type numerical/lexical analysis and ethnographic analysis - he viewed the data analysis as a basis for asking certain questions which could best be answered through more nuanced ethnographic study. The forum he drew his data from ran from 1995 to 2008 and included about 75 authors; it acts as both a database and social network in his analysis. Use of the database peaked in 2004, and fell flat in 2008, when pickup artistry went mainstream - he suggests a few possible reasons for this: either people left for more niche forums, or went public to use their specialized pickup skills in coaching etc as their practice became marketable. He used the data from this forum to create different visualizations that looked at the hierarchy produced around use of language on the forum - some of his results showed a correlation of verbal prolificness with social influence (or centrality in the forum’s social network); a correlation of high unique word count with low social influence (so high education level, which was high for the group overall, is inversely related to social influence); and a correlation of low “sentiment level” with social influence. This last result suggests to him that this is a “community of affliction,” and he went on to examine the way men experience the real-world effects of this virtual community. They tended to see the value of the practice in its “conditioning of their neural pathways”; ultimately they wanted to embody the practice through “flow” or "being in the zone,” sensations that could become addictive. Wallace ultimately wants to use the information he presented here to problematize the western masculinity exemplified in this performative, transactional relationship between the inner and outer self. In this example of the pickup artists' forum, we see that relationship cultivated, but also destabilized by the “camp” which is brought into the performance of masculinity.

Old Bailey

1 min read

This guy was found guilty of Deception > fraud, but the description makes it sound like he was just stealing... his punishment, though, isn't the death penalty attributed to so many property crimes. It seems like this is the case for most perpetrators in this category. I wonder if this is because there is a real discernible difference in these crimes from theft that I don't see, or whether labeling a crime differently was a way of giving a lighter sentence (or something else entirely?).

Title v full text - looking at genre and gender

3 min read

I will be working on a larger and a smaller project, but the idea for both is to look at the relationship between titles and text. We tend to assume that relationship is correlative, and I want to use END data and some other tools to examine where and if that assumption is true. The larger project, which will be a group effort with several ENDers, aims to examine our claims of genre for novels based on key words in the title. I will be looking at works specifically in the 1760s, and choosing a selection of 50 works split into 5 "genre groups" defined through title keywords. I will be making a word cloud of titles to determine what genre keywords actually seem to be the most prominent in (at least our collection of) 1760s titles. From some preliminary work, I expect these will probably be life, adventure, romance, history, and letter. I will pick the 10 works in each of these genre groups based on what we have in our END database and which titles have full texts available. For titles without full text, Ian will also be contributing to the project by creating new OCRed plain text files. From there, I will be chunking the works into chapters and using topic modeling software (probably Mallet) to see what the similarities seem to be, or if there are similarities, within the 5 genre groups. My smaller project aims to map the "imaginary worlds" of male versus female authors based on the place names mentioned in titles of their works. I will again be using a sample from one decade of the 1700s, probably the 1760s. The question this map will answer, however, will be determined by whether or not the place names in titles are representative of the the place names within the texts and produced by the (male and female) authors of those texts. Place names in titles may not be correlative with the works themselves, and so authors imaginary spatial reach. To address this problem and check the correlation of place names in titles with place names in the entire works, I will be doing a full text project comparing instances of place names in titles with instances of place names within the works, probably using Stanford Named Entity Recognizer (NER). The results of this full text research will tell me whose imaginative spatial reach I am mapping with book titles - that of male and female authors and their novels, or something more ambiguously attached to the authors and their texts. It seems likely that what I end up mapping will rather represent what publishers think will sell works, or the desires of their marketplace for imaginary travel, as they were often the ones titling works. If this is the result, however, the map could still represent interesting gendered differences in the ways publishers sell the works of male and female authors.

Project Idea: Male v. female authors' imaginary landscapes

2 min read

I am interested in looking at the physical places that novels written by men and women extended to - do men's landscapes extend farther than women's, or the reverse, are there distinct characteristics to these (aggregated) male and female landscapes?

One way to look at this seems to be comparing the place names we have recorded in the 989 tagged title field. But I'm not sure if it is fair to assume that titles are a good indicator of the places mentioned in books, so a preliminary stage to this project might be looking through a selection of full texts and comparing the place names mentioned within the text with those mentioned in the titles. Even if these don't match up, though, I think the place names in titles might be meaningful, insofar as how these books were marketed and presented - women's books might be restricted to smaller ranges of space/more imaginary spaces/etc in their titles if not in their texts.

Anyway, after determining exactly what place names in titles might mean by comparing them to place names in full texts, I think it would be cool to map out the places mentioned, maybe with a time lapse if things seem to have changing trends over time, and definitely with a male/female indicator. Dealing with imaginary places will be interesting here, and I will have to see how imaginary they are to know what to do with them, probably (imaginary English town v. imaginary European country v. imaginary country with no location).


2 min read

I was cataloging The Memoirs of Lydia Tongue-pad, and Juliana Clack-it with Molly, and we had a lot of trouble locating the source of the Hesiod epigraph. We only found the fascinating source of the quote when we looked up the second epigraph, by the famous newspaperman Joseph Addison. It turned out that the Hesiod quote was an epigraph at the beginning of one of Addison's essays in his newspaper The Spectator, which he had probably translated from the ancient Greek himself - the second quote in the novel came from the same essay.

This was a fun discovery, but I also found it especially interesting in terms of the way print culture and different types of knowledge were circulating in and around novels. The author of the novel had probably never read Hesiod, and likely didn't have the education necessary to read ancient Greek. He did have access to Addison's newspaper. The way he presents his two epigraphs, Hesiod followed by Addison, suggests that not only was it not a secret that he accessed Hesiod through Addison, but that his audience was probably also familiar with Addison and the pairing of the two quotes would be meaningful to them - perhaps the author even expects his entire audience to have read the same Addison article as him. This just gives an interesting window into who was reading and writing novels, what else they were reading, and how "intellectual" knowledge was circulating along with the novel. There's probably much more to look at here more thoroughly...