I have been thinking about useability a lot of late, especially with respect to how people interface with abstract forms like knowledge or code, and the ways in which abstraction mediates use. Today in my ongoing study I learned about universal design, which got me thinking about design for games and the web beyond aspirations of useability. Universal design is a vision of useability or accessibility not as a reaction to a hostile environment, but as a foundational principle for any given environment we might create.
What initially pointed me in the direction of universal design was a link to a forthcoming book by Jennifer L. Pusateri, Transform Your Teaching with Universal Design for Learning. Whether or not this will be merely another pedagogical technology recuperated by institutional education is to be seen, but the underlying framework of universal design will likely remain of interest. To this end, I have converted the source document from NCSU that is linked above to markdown, and saved it to my /journal repository at Codeberg for permanent reference.
I’ve been reading more about NASA’s Artemis program, and specifically taking a look at the Artemis Accords of 2020, a “shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment which facilitates exploration, science, and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy.”
In comparing these documents, I find the emphasis in the Artemis Accords on information transparency and the sharing of scientific data, and the addition of a mandate for “interoperable and common exploration infrastructure and standards,” to be interesting, positive byproducts of the techno-global era in which we live. However, while the focus in the Outer Space Treaty is on state responsibility and liability, the Artemis Accords emphasize “commercial activities” in the introduction, and later plainly acknowledge the “extraction and utilization of space resources.” Another byproduct of the present era, but a more concerning one.
I got set up on Codeberg today, and will be slowly migrating my repositories over there from GitHub. The first, though, is a new /journal repository, which I will be using as a source for materials referenced in journal entries here, including the two treaty documents discussed today.
It’s been extremely busy, but I was really happy to have had the chance to present at Generation Analog again this year. I was on the Participation and Pedagogy panel, and the whole thing (as well as all of the other panels) are now available on the Analog Game Studies YouTube channel. The paper, which I mentioned in entry 0004 below, is also available to read at Zenodo, in full and for free.
Over the weekend, I was contacted by a cousin from a long lost branch of the family, which had severed ties back in the sixties. She and her father had started doing research into their family tree, since most of the information that they had was lost when her grandfather died. She stumbled across a partial family tree that I had uploaded to Ancestry back in 2013, and realized that our great grandmothers were sisters. I mentioned her to my grandmother, and she was full of stories of her childhood with the cousins of that generation prior to the schism; my cousin in turn had some stories featuring my great aunt and my great grandmother from before when my grandmother was born.
I’ve been experimenting with Mermaid.js for a visual representation of the genealogical history that my grandmother started in the seventies, and which she digitized in the early 2000s. I’d ultimately like to convert all of it to a more durable plaintext format, since the files are currently in .doc format. My latest efforts, though, have been learning about genealogical numbering systems in order to develop a consistent, well structured index for the data that I’m inputting to the Mermaid flowchart. My grandmother’s records all use the Henry System, a descending system that works quite well for capturing the full scope of a family with a shared common ancestor. But to build a family tree in the other direction, and so to bring together four different family trees for each of my four grandparents, simply using the Henry numbers as indices doesn’t work, since the same person can show up in multiple trees with a different identifier in each (for instance, I am 1114321, 11362621, and 1634321 across three of the trees in which my name appears). My Mermaid tree is using an Ahnentafel (ancestor table) instead, which is an ascending method that makes for a much cleaner markdown source file. Indeed, though I’m using the table to produce a tree, the data structure is meaningful in itself, whether or not it is diagrammed, and ideal for plaintext. As Wikipedia puts it: “an ahnentafel is a method for storing a binary tree in an array by listing the nodes (individuals) in level-order (in generation order).” As a “functional theory of numeration,” it’s a fascinating artifact, and a surpisingly useful tool in this digital age.
The principles of the Ahnentafel method were first published in 1590 by Michaël Eytzinger, and thinking about this duration, and the duration between myself and some of my oldest recorded ancestors, brings the seventh generation principle to mind, requiring that I consider just how radical the principle is. My ancestors of the seventh generation were born around 1800, and could not have conceived of the life that their seventh great grandson lives. Seven generations from now will take us to the 2200s, and I, similarly, cannot conceive of the lives any potential seventh great grandchildren of mine might live. Catastrophic climate change by 2030, global food system collapse by 2050—these dates simultaneously remain at a distance and yet present an unavoidable, inevitable horizon, a horizon that is less a firm boundary and more a temporal oil spill leaking into the present. The year 2200 feels inconceivable. And yet, it is precisely the work of imagining an earth without us that is necessary for us to properly orient ourselves toward the emergency at hand, and so make possible a conception of an earth with us for those yet to come, seven generations from now.
I’m quite pleased to have gotten this HTML Journal up and running, and enjoying the more relaxed format to what I usually write. Checking in at The Neon Kiosk once a day is a pleasant little routine.
I need to get around to writing up a Now page, and then I’m going to try and get Webmentions working and use them for my longer Notes. Maybe I’ll move to m15o’s HTML Blog format too, though it will take a bit of fussing the way the posts are currently setup with Jekyll/Liquid. I’ll likely make this a part of a larger project to migrate the site off GitHub.
Finished my conference presentation for Generation Analog today: “Play to Lose: Animation, Failure, and the Milieu in Trophy Dark.” In it, I discuss my experience facilitating tabletop roleplaying games, and specifically Jesse Ross’s Trophy Dark, for an undergraduate introduction to game design course at the university where I teach. Conference is online, and tickets are free, if an analog game studies conference sounds interesting to you.
Rain today, and some wind. First I’ve seen the inlet disturbed. The water has been so still and smooth since we got here. It was humid last night, in advance of the weather coming in, and today I’ve felt the moisture in my left knee and ankle, reminders of injuries that refuse to entirely heal.
The ankle has been years, but the knee is fresh. I bouldered a lot before the pandemic, but that stopped when quarantine came, that and physical activity in general. Unemployment and then work from home does that to you. When numbers finally declined in the region and restrictions on gyms lifted, I decided I’d try something I’d always been interested in, and signed up for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the Gracie Barra in town. Good covid safety policies and a positive gym culture made for a pleasant experience. It was a lot of fun, with a lot of good, kind people. When I received my third stripe I jumped right into GB2, and promptly got dropped on my knee, hard. Loss of mobility, major swelling, and a nasty purple bruise that leaked out from under my knee cap. I rested it, tried to rehab it as best I could, but then a few weeks later I did the same again. It’s aching a lot today.
There’s no Gracie Barra on the Sunshine Coast, though there are some other gyms not far from here. I’m nervous about the culture at a new gym, and I’m nervous about my knee, but I do miss it, the mechanics of rolling, the way your body learns to inhabit form. There’s a bouldering gym very close by, so maybe it’s time to grab my shoes and chalk bag once again. There’s a formalistic quality that bouldering and jiu jistu share, something that both my brain and my body appreciate.
On corridor thinking from yesterday, Donna Haraway provides a short bibliography for further reading:
Mary Ellen Hannibal, The Spine of the Continent: The Most Ambitious Wildlife Conservation Project Ever Undertaken (Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2012).
Michael E. Soulé and John Terborgh, Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations Of Regional Reserve Networks (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1999).
Jodi A. Hilty, Annika T. H. Keeley, William Z. Lidicker Jr., and Adina M. Merenlender, Corridor Ecology: Linking Landscapes for Biodiversity and Climate Adaptation (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2019).
Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2005).
Alexandra Koelle, Rights of Way: Race, Place, and Nation in the Northern Rockies, PhD Dissertation, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2010.
On production, and my day job. From Latin, produco. A few senses:
I lead or bring forth, forward or out.
I conduct to; bring before, present.
I draw or stretch out, lengthen, extend.
I bring to light, disclose, expose.
In game production, there is some nobility claimed by virtue of both position and etymology: production as bringing forth, as bringing to light, as conducting and extending what is (and I am inclined to say that there is something to these definitions). The producer orchestrates, conductor of a symphony. But, in reality, production is more often than not closer to a fifth sense of the word:
I place one thing before another.
In this sense, production is a matter of counting, of sequencing, a combinatorial effort. To produce a game is primarily to enumerate and arrange. Less glamorous than bringing forth, to be sure. But also, more practical and material. There is no magic here, and that’s good, because magic is shit process. All focus needs to be on the work, on the actual effort expended by actual people. That is the function of production.
Progress on the interactive storytelling syllabus continues. My game list, broken up into the three categories mentioned yesterday (chatty is now dialogic, much more scholarly...), is as follows:
Thatgamecompany, Journey (2012)
Ustwo Studios, Monument Valley (2014)
Playdead, Inside (2016)
Buried Signal, Gorogoa (2017)
Nomada Studio, Gris (2018)
Mountains, Florence (2018)
Witch Beam, Unpacking (2021)
The Fullbright Company, Gone Home (2013)
Campo Santo, Firewatch (2016)
Night School Studio, Oxenfree (2016)
Geography of Robots, Norco (2022)
Mobius Digital, Outer Wilds (2020)
Shedworks, Sable (2021)
Constituting the analytic portion of the course, students will conduct a solo analysis of one of the wordless stories, a partner analysis of one of the dialogic stories, and a group analysis of one of the environmental stories. Thinking about drama as both individual writer-designers and together as a writers room.
We have made the move from the hustle and bustle of the Fraser Valley to the quiet and calm of Sechelt, on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. We love it here. We are on the inlet side of town, and this has me thinking about corridors, those geographic passageways that Donna Haraway writes about in Staying With the Trouble (2016) as “essential to [the] being” of symbiont life. “The restoration and care of corridors, of connection, is a central task” for the communities that inhabit and travel them. Corridors are “practical and material, as well as fabulous and enspirited.” I want to cultivate “corridor thinking.”
I have been reading Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy (1958) as part of my ongoing book club with my brother. It’s good, so far, accessible for a non-physicist. Puts to rest a lot of misreadings of quantum mechanics as irreperably subjectivist or correlationist. He carefully lays out the order of nature > humanity > science, emphasizing the unilaterality of this order (compare my book club entry on Heraclitus, “Generic Science: Heraclitus, Intelligence, and the Common”). He also takes pains to dismiss shallow interpretations of quantum mechanics as anti-realist, considering it instead an updated theory of the real against a dogmatic or reductive realism. We’ll see where the book goes as Heisenberg tries to generalize to the level of human experience.
For pleasure, I’ve been reading Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (1992), book four of The Wheel of Time. I started the series last summer, and read the first three books relatively quickly. This one is a monster, and has been slower going. But, after a couple hundred pages of prologue, the plot finally got moving and reading has been brisker. I’ve been using Bookwyrm by @tripofmice to track my fun reading, and though I’m not very active there, I enjoy my time on the site. As per usual, I’m @steinea.
I started playing Sable (2021) from Shedworks and Raw Fury last night. Though buggy, the art, animation, and music are gorgeous, and I’m already quite enticed by the story the game is weaving. The Perpetual calls...
What else, what else... I watched season one and two of For All Mankind recently, and have been watching season three as it airs. The show rekindled a love for space that has been somewhat dormant throughout the pandemic, and led me to stumble across NASA’s Artemis program, which somehow I hadn’t heard about. Lunar settlement, Mars exploration, fiction and dreams finding purchase in reality. I recall the “slow cancellation of the future” and David Graeber’s brilliant analysis of this state of affairs in The Utopia of Rules (2015). Amidst fires and floods and plagues and wars, it has been so hard to dream, to imagine a future at all.
I work on EA’s FIFA, and was struck today, as I frequently am, by the interconnectedness of things, and the precarity of the global stack. A data center in Dublin experienced some hardware failure that sent over five hundred VMs offline, one of which we needed for a FIFA deploy. Everyone was in a panic, and everything was out of our control.
In my other life, I teach game design and production, and I am very excited to be teaching interactive storytelling in the fall once again. I started work on my syllabus yesterday, thinking about the games we’ll play and discuss as a class. I’ve arrived at three loose groupings: Wordless Stories, Chatty Stories, and Environmental Stories. I’ll be using Alexander Swords’ Forest Paths Method for Narrative Design (2020) as a textbook, as I have in previous iterations of the course. I think it does an excellent job of teaching the mechanics of drama in the interactive space, providing writers of all backgrounds with simple, extensible tools for applying their craft to writing for games.
I’ve written this according to m15o’s spec for HTML Journals, and hope to get it up on The Neon Kiosk soon. I’ll continue to use Atom for longer notes, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with this looser, shorter format (well, shorter for future entries, hopefully...).