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. #keydh #summary