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Just Roll with the New Media Concepts_Reading Notes for September 8th

All right, round two with New Media: The Key Concepts!

Image hosted on Giphy.

Image hosted on Giphy.

As a refresher, the book takes six concepts as key components to studying New Media and its threads:

-Network

-Information

-Interface

-Archive

-Interactivity

-Simulation

The chapter on Network was very familiar to me as I had taken a course in the spring that focused on different aspects and theoretical frameworks that revolved around networks (ecological, neural, computer, social, etc). Networks are essential to New Media as computers become ever more integrated into both our working and daily lives. The connections between computers and other such devices, interfaces establishing links between users and users as well as users and information, change not just our means of communication but also how we view our society and one another. One way I visualize this is when I think about people and their relationships with their cell phones. Staying in touch with other people is a big aspect of our current culture, but we use our phones for more than just that. We capture moments (sometimes staged, other times spontaneously) in time through selfies, videos, and pictures, but we also share those moments through social media, emails, text messages, personal websites, blogs, YouTube, and so on. We become creators of content as well as consumers, extending ourselves through the networks.

So many connected. Image hosted on Technoexpress.com.

Sherry Turkle, take it away!

Interactivity interlinks with the networking web of computers, users, and data. According to Gane and Beer, “[Interactivity] is often invoked as a benchmark for differentiating ‘new’ digital media from ‘older’ analogue forms, and for this reason it is not unusual to find new media referred to as interactive media. But herein lies a problem: in spite of the almost ubiquitous presence of this concept in commentaries on new media it is not always clear what makes media interactive or what is meant exactly by the term interactivity” (87). To counter claims that the term “interactivity” has lost some of its power in describing New Media since it has been overused, the authors pull together commentary from various scholars like Lev Manovich and Stephen Graham, “who together give an idea of what the term interactivity might mean in different disciplinary settings, and how it might be put to work as a concept” so long as “it is deployed with precision” (87).  The definition that caught my attention was by Tanjev Schultz: “New media interactivity is, for a start, instantaneous, and tends to work in ‘real-time’. It also, in theory, offers the promise of being more democratic: ‘the formal characteristics of fully interactive communication usually imply more equality of the participants and a greater symmetry of communicative power than one-way communication’” (qtd. in Gane and Beer 95). I found this intriguing because it reminds me of the work being done in my own classes. As my program is a hybrid of on-campus and distance students, collaboration in digital spaces is key. This idea of working in “real-time” (which reminds me of Final Fantasy) makes me think of working as a group in Google docs and seeing everyone moving through the space and entering in their input in view of everyone and at the same time.

As someone who is trouncing into Video Game Studies though the lens of English Studies and wishes to someday work in the industry, interactivity is a very relevant term. Yes, video games are interactive in the sense that players can pick up a controller or put their hands on a keyboard and play within a virtual environment that responds to them in some way, with the experience varying depending on the intuitiveness of the software. But advances in the game engines and the evolution of how developers design game experiences is stepping up that sense of interactivity, often through dialogue wheels that are a more sophisticated form of dialogue trees.

RPGs comparison. Image hosted on a Giant Bomb forum.

RPGs comparison. Image hosted on a Giant Bomb forum.

However, video games are not just about interacting with the software. Networking plays a huge role in video games like massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, and Guild Wars as well as games played on consoles (Playstation and XBox) like Call of Duty and Borderlands. Here, players from around the world come together, exploring virtual environments, battling and raiding in groups, and sharing in-game expertise between players of varying skill levels. The game space is just as social as it is competitive, building relationships among players through interfaces rather than face-to-face interactions. The hardware and software, though, are not just tools, but participants in the network of gaming experience, nodding to Latour and his Actor Network Theory. I will not go further into that train of thought as I already have longer, more elaborate posts devoted to this topic. On a final note, while reading this book, I found it particularly useful for my ventures into Video Game Studies because video games encompass all of these concepts, working to enhance each aspect so as to be more attractive to players.

Link doing it right. Image hosted on Giphy.

Link doing it right. Image hosted on Giphy.

Citation

Gane, Nicholas and David Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2008. Kindle.

Dancing through the Reading


State Apparatuses + Message and Meaning Encoding/Decoding_Final Mindmap Update

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap update_April 27th

Mindmap update_April 27th

For this final mindmap update, I created nodes for Louis Althusser’s State Apparatuses (ideological and repressive) and Stuart Hall’s principles for “Encoding/Decoding,” under the heading Cultural Studies. I decided on naming this collection Cultural Studies I had previously read these two essays in a Cultural Studies course and they deal with how the populace is (in a manner) indoctrinated by the dominant class to stay subsurvient as cheap labor within the cycle of means of production, or how the masses are actually receiving messages and meanings through media outlets and changing those meanings in response. I linked out this heading to Rhetorical Theories, CHAT, Social Network Theory, and Foucault because I feel like what is going on within each of these, what is moving within those networks has to do with how and what people are processing.

For Althusser, I made a node that lists his examples of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) as well as a smaller list of his examples of his Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs). The last node I made for Althusser was his discussions about ISAs being around us from birth onwards and how school is the most influential of these because students are obligated to attend an institution that is constantly having them operate within ideology (especially ideology that promotes ideas of freedom and liberty equated with education, though the reality is often quite different).

For Hall, I made nodes that included two quotes about the circuit of production, and an image of the two-way communication between producers and consumers of media. I linked the node with the heading Encoding/Decoding with a quote from Foucault about “Enunciative levels of formation” because I feel like, for many of us, the discursive moments Foucault is talking about requires a constant taking in and releasing back out of messages and meanings as we come across them, as we produce our own responses, and as our responses reach other people, with the cycle moving on with or without further input from us.

Must Not Forget the Music:


“Play Ball!” MindMap Reframed

http://popplet.com/app/#/1571354 So, I puzzled over how to reconceptualize a mindmap 15 weeks in the making using concepts, rather than components. I reviewed our class syllabus for footholds, pondered my case study foci, watched a little ESPN on a break, checked … Continue reading

Mobile Technology On the Move: Rainie, Scott, and Deleuze

Rhizomes and Social Networks – This week’s readings bring us around to the rhizome analogy, one which Deleuze and Guattari wax philosophic over (when they apparently are indulging in some pharmaceutical hallucinations, I gather). Their rhizomatic illustrations seem to serve … Continue reading

Let the Network Society Rise, and Other Tales of Information, Economy, and Technology

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

This week’s reading tackled a very large topic (in terms of research but also in terms of scope). Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Manuel Castells, encompassed in his book (we read Volume 1 out of 3) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

Mass Self-Communication - “This form of communication has emerged with the development of the so-called Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the cluster of technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation of social spaces on the Internet thanks to increased broadband capacity, open source software, and enhanced computer graphics and interface, including avatar interaction in three-dimensional virtual spaces” (xxvii)

Social Spaces of Virtual Reality – “Combine[s] sociability and experimentation with role-playing games,” such as Second Life (xxix)

Culture of Real Virtuality – “In which the digitized networks of multimodal communication have become so inclusive of all cultural expressions and personal experiences that they have made virtuality a fundamental dimension of our reality” (xxxi)

Space of Contiguity – “Space of places.” “Cities are, from their onset, communication systems, increasing the chances of communication through physical contiguity” (xxxi)

Space of Flows – “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance. This involves the production, transmission and processing of flows of information. It also relies on the development of localities of nodes of these communication networks, and the connectivity of these activities located in the nodes by fast transportation networks operated by information flows” (xxxii)

Metropolitan Region – “a new spatial form…to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…These ‘cities’ are no longer cities, not only conceptually but institutionally or culturally” (xxxiii-xxxiv)

Economies of Scale – “can be transformed by information and communication technologies in their spatial logic. Electronic networks allow for the formation of global assembly lines. Software production can be spatially distributed and coordinated by communication networks” (xxxvii)

Economies of Synergy – “Spatial economies of synergy mean that being in a place of potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction…economies of synergy still require the spatial concentration of interpersonal interaction because communication operates on a much broader bandwidth than digital communication at a distance” (xxxvii)

And away we go…

This was definitely a long book, and intricate. Very intricate. I can’t even begin to imagine what the three volumes look like together, much less read like. That being said, though, I enjoyed the way Castells intertwined the aspects of culture, society, technology, information, economy, and power, weaving his way through these layers to find how the threads of their relationships are the fabric for movements, changes, and stagnation in a way I don’t think most of us pay much attention. Most of us are a part of a giant web of interconnectivity, in a way that reminds me of the Cloud Computing articles I read at the beginning of this semester. We have moved into an era where global communication technologies are an underlying fabric for our lives, our cultures, our societies. Think of the way I am relaying this post to you. Here I am, writing in some cities in the United States, but this post could be read anywhere and I can link it out to websites about anything. I am creating my own network of information, but Castells is looking farther, deeper into the structure and the beams holding it up, holding it together.

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth's profile on NetworkSociety.org

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth’s profile on NetworkSociety.org

And, in the theory Castells is proposing, humans are the nodes, but so are the technologies people are creating (Actor-Network Theory, anyone?). It’s more than that. There are layers and layers of networks in this Network Society. People make up the culture and the society, and then those cultures and societies form larger networks. A metropolitan region, which contain heavily populated cities, are a network: “It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs” (xxxiii). This was not a new concept to me, as I had heard of the growth of cities and science fiction often deals with issues surrounding regions like this, but it also feels odd to think about how there is no real separation between urban and rural in places like this. In my nostalgic musings, the city will always be the city while the country will always be the border between simple living and this wild space. Yet, here they come together, one overshadowing the other as it we always seem to demand progress, progress, progress.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

 

[add pictures here]

[more notes]

Reference

Castells, Manuel. Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


Let the Network Society Rise, and Other Tales of Information, Economy, and Technology

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

This week’s reading tackled a very large topic (in terms of research but also in terms of scope). Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Manuel Castells, encompassed in his book (we read Volume 1 out of 3) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

Mass Self-Communication - “This form of communication has emerged with the development of the so-called Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the cluster of technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation of social spaces on the Internet thanks to increased broadband capacity, open source software, and enhanced computer graphics and interface, including avatar interaction in three-dimensional virtual spaces” (xxvii)

Social Spaces of Virtual Reality – “Combine[s] sociability and experimentation with role-playing games,” such as Second Life (xxix)

Culture of Real Virtuality – “In which the digitized networks of multimodal communication have become so inclusive of all cultural expressions and personal experiences that they have made virtuality a fundamental dimension of our reality” (xxxi)

Space of Contiguity – “Space of places.” “Cities are, from their onset, communication systems, increasing the chances of communication through physical contiguity” (xxxi)

Space of Flows – “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance. This involves the production, transmission and processing of flows of information. It also relies on the development of localities of nodes of these communication networks, and the connectivity of these activities located in the nodes by fast transportation networks operated by information flows” (xxxii)

Metropolitan Region – “a new spatial form…to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…These ‘cities’ are no longer cities, not only conceptually but institutionally or culturally” (xxxiii-xxxiv)

Economies of Scale – “can be transformed by information and communication technologies in their spatial logic. Electronic networks allow for the formation of global assembly lines. Software production can be spatially distributed and coordinated by communication networks” (xxxvii)

Economies of Synergy – “Spatial economies of synergy mean that being in a place of potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction…economies of synergy still require the spatial concentration of interpersonal interaction because communication operates on a much broader bandwidth than digital communication at a distance” (xxxvii)

And away we go…

This was definitely a long book, and intricate. Very intricate. I can’t even begin to imagine what the three volumes look like together, much less read like. That being said, though, I enjoyed the way Castells intertwined the aspects of culture, society, technology, information, economy, and power, weaving his way through these layers to find how the threads of their relationships are the fabric for movements, changes, and stagnation in a way I don’t think most of us pay much attention. Most of us are a part of a giant web of interconnectivity, in a way that reminds me of the Cloud Computing articles I read at the beginning of this semester. We have moved into an era where global communication technologies are an underlying fabric for our lives, our cultures, our societies. Think of the way I am relaying this post to you. Here I am, writing in some city in the United States, but this post could be read anywhere and I can link it out to websites about anything written by people writing anywhere. I am creating my own network of information, but Castells is looking farther out and deeper into the structure and the beams holding it up, holding it together.

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth's profile on NetworkSociety.org

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth’s profile on NetworkSociety.org

In the theory Castells is proposing, humans are the nodes, but so are the technologies people are creating (Actor-Network Theory, anyone?). It’s more than that. There are layers and layers of networks in this Network Society. People make up the culture and the society, and then those cultures and societies form larger networks. A metropolitan region, which contains heavily populated cities, are a network: “It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs” (xxxiii). This was not a new concept to me, as I had heard of the growth of cities and science fiction often deals with issues surrounding regions like this, but it also feels odd to think about how there is no real separation between urban and rural in places like this. In my nostalgic musings, the city will always be the city while the country will always be the border between simple living and this wild space. Yet, here they come together, one overshadowing the other as we always seem to demand progress, progress, progress. But, “space is the expression of society. Since our societies are undergoing structural transformation, it is a reasonable hypothesis to suggest that new spatial forms and processes are emerging…space is not a reflection of society, it is its expression. In other words: space is not a photocopy of society, it is society. Spatial forms and processes are formed by the dynamics of the overall social structure. This includes contradictory trends derived from conflicts and strategies between social actors playing out their opposing interests and values. Furthermore, social processes influence space by acting on the built environment inherited from previous socio-spatial structures. Indeed, space is crystallized time” (440-441). I love this idea of “space as crystallized time” as it makes me imagine walking along the streets of a city, where others have come and gone before me, leaving their marks in places I can and cannot see. Human history is embodied in the places we leave behind, as archaeology is constantly reminding us, and our cities are intergenerational projects. We do not rebuild a city from the ground up every time a new type of society emerges. We may transform aspects of our cities to fit new needs and demands (think of how we built factories and then cities grew around them, even when those factories became obsolete and were abandoned).

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

But, a metropolis is never a unified whole. Instead, it is a series of places that have been linked through transportation, through business deals and physical businesses, through families and rivals, politics, telephone lines, electricity and water and sewage. A metropolis is a collection, eccentric as it is, of different cultures, societies, identities. Sometimes they mesh, though often they don’t. A metropolis is a collection of actors, human and non-human, moving through the paces of living, growing and shrinking with the changes that happen to cities over the course of their timelines. Castells’ comment about identity strikes me as I think of cities expanding outwards, enveloping the surrounding areas whether they are urban, suburban, or rural: “In the absence of active social demands and social movements the mega-node imposes the logic of the global over the local. The net result of this process is the coexistence of metropolitan dynamism with metropolitan marginality, expressed in the dramatic growth of squatter settlements around the world, and in the persistence of urban squalor in the banlieues of Paris on in the American inner cities. There is an increasing contradiction between the space of flows and the space of places…few people in the world feel identified with the global, cosmopolitan culture that populates the global networks and becomes the worship of  the mega-node elites. In contrast, most people feel a strong regional or local identity…in a world constructed around the logic of the space of flows, people make their living in the space of places” (xxxix). This idea of people being drawn to a regional or local identity as a way as an alternative to the “mega-node” imposing “the logic of the global over the local” reminds me of Spinuzzi’s discourse regarding local work-around solutions, except that this here it is in terms of identity rather than work measures, though Castells does have a section on workers later in the book. But, this also reminds me of Ecology Theory. The city is an ecosystem, but each section, each neighborhood, and each family become smaller ecosystems operating within and spilling over into the surrounding ecosystems. And then the ecosystem of the metropolis functions within itself and then spills over into the surrounding cities that compose the metropolitan region. This region goes through the same cycle on a much larger scale. In order to function within a totalizing group, smaller networks crop up within to humanize people. The mega-node can become so big because there are small networks within, operating on their own while simultaneously connecting outwards in all different directions.

As I was working through these concepts of regional identities and mega-nodes and ecosystems, I found that the best way to visualize this was to think of the Lego Movie where the different parts of the world were represented as different Lego sets (big city, Wild West, fantasy land, and so on). Each of these “worlds” had its own distinct flavor and yet all of the worlds were interconnected as a web of symbols sprawled out across a large table. So, as a treat (or torture), here you go:

Another huge part of the Network Society has to do with economics, productivity, and wealth. Castells makes an interesting point about how our society is no longer dominated by industry, but by information, but that these two are never separate: “The informational economy is a distinctive socio-economic system in relationship to the industrial economy, but not because they differ in the sources of their productivity growth. In both cases, knowledge and information processing are critical elements in economic growth, as can be illustrated by the history of the science-based chemical industry  or by the managerial revolution that created Fordism. What is distinctive is the eventual realization of the productivity potential contained in the mature industrial economy because of the shift toward a technological paradigm based on information technologies” (99). What I liked about his exploration of our society’s economic changes between agricultural to industrial to informational is that he talks about how none of those economic structures ever really disappears. A country still needs to produce food and material goods still need to be made, even as the society itself moves towards a “technological paradigm based on information technologies.” The underlying foundation of technology being an integral part to society makes sense, not only as we move into an era of global connectivity, but also just looking at Castells’ examples of the past, what worked and what didn’t. I was struck by his section on China throughout the ages and how it is direction of the government that ultimately limits or propels technological progress. In a way, I am reminded also of H. G. Wells’ Time Machine, in that prosperity and peace can stagnate a culture and its technological ambitions. A country can have all the wealth in the world, but without the drive to move forward, it stalls out, lagging behind those countries that need the technology and that want what benefits they can get out of progressive movements.

Global fabric of data. Image hosted on the website for the FCSIT Student Government.

Global fabric of data. Image hosted on the website for the FCSIT Student Government.

Reference

Castells, Manuel. Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


In Which Neurobiology Walks into the Mindmap, and Everything Gets Synaptic

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap update for April 06

Mindmap update for April 06

Ah, neurobiology, my old foe. It’s time to take your place in the midst of my mindmap (or on the outskirts?), but where should you go? Hell, what should I add? How do I place science within a brainstorming network of other (less science-y) theories of network? Well, that’s always a good question. Neurobiology is the perfect network, with everything (ideally) functioning as a highway system of information, constantly moving between the neurons. The two theories that make the most sense for a direct connection are Hardware/Software Theory and Ecology Theory (with Bateson, in mind, as the top contender). The trouble I had choosing the nodes and making the connections was how specific neurobiology is and how technical the jargon remains.

Now that I have my overarching connections between theories, let’s start with my new nodes.

First node deals with learning and memory: “So how could this intricate electrical mechanism act to form new memories? LTP [Long-Term Potentiation], like learning, is not just dependent on increased stimulation from one particular neuron, but on a repeated stimulus from several sources. It is thought that when a particular stimulus is repeatedly presented, so is a particular circuit of neurons. With repetition, the activation of that circuit results in learning. Recall that the brain is intricately complicated. Rather than a one-to-one line of stimulating neurons, it involves a very complex web of interacting neurons. But it is the molecular changes occurring between these neurons that appear to have global effects. LTP can lead to strengthened synapses in a variety of ways. One such way, as discussed in the video, is by the phosphorylation of glutamate receptor channels, which is accomplished by a calcium-triggered signaling cascade. This results in those channels passing more ions with subsequent stimulation, strengthening the signal to and from the neuron.” The inclusion of a quote on memory made the most sense to me. Memories are the very fabric of information coming and going. It seems like for every memory that is created, another one is replaced (or, it seems, five in my case). The idea of repetition of stimulus reminds me a lot of what I imagine occurs within the cloud network that connects all of our lives, and how the transfer of data would play out in the Ecology of the Mind.

The second node I chose was about memory and the Hippocampus: “It is widely agreed that while the hippocampus is undeniably important for memory, the “recording” of information into long-term memory involves plasticity, or physical changes, in multiple regions throughout the entire nervous system. Another interesting distinction that scientists have made in types of memory is between declarative memory, which allows you to remember facts and is extremely complex, and reflexive memory, which usually consists of learning by repetition and often involves motor learning. While declarative memory can be reported, reflexive memory is exhibited by performance of a task and cannot be expressed verbally. It is now thought that the two types of memory may involve two entirely different neuronal circuits.” I connected this node and the one above to Hardware/Software theory because a lot of how the writers describe processes in the brain sounds a great like how computer techies describe processes in computers. The hippocampus reminds me of a CPU and how it stores all of the information, sending out data to be represented as pixelated images on the monitor and being accessed by people through movements with the mouse (or screen if it’s touch sensitive). However, I also chose this quote for another reason. The writers describe “entirely different neuronal circuits,” which sounds similar to what I have been reading about for this week’s reading notes in Manuel Castells’ book The Rise of the Network Society. Next Sunday, my plan is to create a node regarding how there are different layers of networks within the Network Society to connect to this quote about the hippocampus. When I think of the brain, I think of one mechanism moving everything through, so the idea of different neuronal circuits operating in conjunction gives me a different picture of how my mental process works.

The last of my nodes was an image of a Synapse. I connected with a quote from Syverson: “In a complex system, a network of independent agents–people, atoms, neurons, or molecules, for instance–act and interact in parallel with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” (3). The reason I chose this quote in particular is because it helped me to imagine what she talking about. Here, each piece has a part to play to keep the system functioning. The neurons, pre- and post-, within the synapses, working to create memories, crafting the mental environment. The images and videos gave me an idea of how stuff moves between networks more concretely than the idea of just information, though I’m amazed at the idea of electricity in the brain helping to move stuff along.

Image of a Synapse. Image hosted on Annenberg Learner, textbook on Neurobiology.

Image of a Synapse. Image hosted on Annenberg Learner, textbook chapter on Neurobiology.

Memory, Neurons, and Music Mix on a Fine Sunday Afternoon


Neurobiology Comes to Play with Theories of Networks

Okay, I can admit that this week’s Reading Notes topic scared me…a lot. When I heard that we would be reading an online textbook on Neurobiology, my brain just couldn’t deal… I’m pretty sure that every time I opened the website, peeking between my fingers, my face looked like this.

Bloo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends makes the best faces.

Bloo from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends makes the best faces.

And, I may have done this… once or twice.

Running and screaming. I found this gif (and the one of Bloo) from a review by Katrina Passick Lumsden (amazing reviewer that she is) on Good Reads.

Running and screaming. I found this gif (and the one of Bloo) from a review by Katrina Passick Lumsden (amazing reviewer that she is) on Good Reads.

My relationship with science ended after my first year of freshman year in college when I took Astronomy and Physics back to back. So, what do I remember from days with the terms “centripetal force” and “kinematic equations”? Ummm, yeah.

Chemisty cat meme embodies all that I can remember of science.

Chemisty cat meme embodies all that I can remember of science.

Once I stopped panicking over words like “neuronal” and “postsynaptic neurons,” it was time to get to work. I know that the brain, with its seemingly endless nodes and connections, all contained within the skull, was the essence of a network. But, I had to really think about how I could use nueroscience within an English course. The brain may be where all of our ideas begin, allowing us to be creative and critical, but how would that fit with Foucault, with ecology, with rhetorical situation and genre boundaries? How could I curl neuronal impulses into my understanding of World of Warcraft guilds? That’s really the whole point, though, isn’t it? The brain is at the heart of all human activity (even when it appears otherwise), its design inspiring the shape and functionality of our networks of communication, of architecture, of science. I may not understand all the ways in which potassium, calcium, and sodium help in terms of neurotransmistters and synapses, but I do understand that our brain is really just an information highway that is always sending and receiving, and that what scientists are currently uncovering are new understandings of how memory works.

So, Let’s Start with Vocabulary (mainly pulled from the Annenberg Learner website)

Neurons

—->Presynaptic neurons  – “The transmitting neuron. Its synaptic terminals extend into synapses.”

—->Postsynaptic neurons – “The receiving neuron in a synapse; formed by a neuron’s dendrite.”

Neurogenesis - “The formation of New neurons from precursor stem cells.”

Synapses - “A functional connection between two neurons where information can be exchanged.”

Amygdala – “is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe” (Science Daily)

Exocytosis – “The release of neurotransmitters from their vesicles into the synapse.”

Hippocampus- “A region of the brain associated with both short-term and long-term memory formation. Also the site of long-term potentiation (LTP).”

Long-Term Potentiation – “The phenomenon in which a neuron becomes more sensitive to stimuli after receiving synchronized stimuli.”

Reward Pathway – “A region of the brain that is stimulated when an animal is engaged in pleasurable activities.”

Neuron in the hippocampus colored by green stained protein. Image hosted on the Neurobiology section of Learner.org

Neuron in the hippocampus colored by green stained protein. Image hosted on the Neurobiology section of Learner.org

Now that we have some vocabulary whirling around in our brains, what do we do with all of this information? How do we process it without feeling those very brainwaves start to implode the system? I wish I had an easy answer for that. What I understood from this textbook (besides the totally encompassing feeling that I know very little, even after years of being in an academic setting, trying rigorously to put an end to my ignorance. Socrates and Plato would be proud), is the ideas of connections, of information moving from place to place, initiated by the sensorial neurons that go into our system, get us thinking, and then the neurons that lead that information outwards into reactions. What surprised me was the research that had uncovered the fact that our brains do not stop changing, stop growing after a certain point. Instead, new connections are constantly being made on a daily basis, with the activities and encounters of the day helping to shape the interactions going on in the brain. The brain may be something that needs just as much exercise (mental exercise) as muscles do, but I found it absolutely fascinating that researchers could push past older ideas about how the brain works, especially in terms of aging, to explore Neurogenesis.

Once I got off on that train of thought, I started thinking about how these scientists are playing into and reacting against what the larger Mind of Bateson’s Ecology of the Mind was talking about. By harnessing advancements in computer technology, the neurobiologists are constantly pushing deeper into activities in the brain. For every new discovery, this information could be filtered outwards into the collective imagination of a non-scientist population (of which I am heartily a member), to help with innovations in the classroom (the memory research is quite useful in understanding how and why educational practices succeed and fail) as well as with daily life for adults. The textbook blew my mind with the idea that, “Memory and, thus, learning involves molecular changes in the brain. During the last few decades, researchers have started to map the molecular processes involved in memory formation. They have been increasingly able to link the ability to remember with physical changes in the structure of neurons.” When I think of memory, I don’t think of molecular processes (it’s sort of like going to the grocery store and not wondering where all of the food actually comes from. It’s just there, is usually nutritious, and is already categorized along aisles like it won’t be when I stuff it in my shelves or fridge). Memory for me has always been about the experience and reconstruction of that experience in my faulty memory recall. Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk “Experience vs. Memory” and a smattering of science articles on the processes of the brain were really all the foundation I’ve had.

I wish I could say that I retained more of the reading for this week, but I mostly walked away with the image of the scientist slicing the rat brain apart so he could experiment on the pieces, and with the understanding of how drugs like cocaine affect the rewards pathway of users. The reward pathway is an interesting concept, allowing me to understand why we do what we do in order to stimulate parts of the brain through activities that reward us in some way (usually with pleasure), such as eating and exercising. This makes me wonder about research that looks at people’s brains when they are playing video games and whether or not the constant buzz of boredom that video game scholars have discussed causes the reward pathway to be activated. It’s something to think about, actually it’s all something to think about. Overall, this week’s readings made more sense when friends tried to explain pre/postsynaptic neuron activity with analogies that included Terminator, gnomes and elves and dwarves, and Riders of Rohan. One lesson to take away? As in any network, information traveling from place to place, interacting with and reacting against other information being dispersed outwards.

**Side note: To supplement the textbook reading, I turned to PBS, with their video Blueprint for the Brain. Again, the focus was on the connections being made, the pathways neurons follow, and what these connections do for us.

How did it feel to reach the end of the textbook with most of my synapses and neurons and long-term pontentiation intact?

Dancing and flailing. Image hosted on Tumblr All the Supernatural Gifs.

Dancing and flailing. Image hosted on the Tumblr All the Supernatural Gifs.

References

“Unit Chapter: Neurobiology.” Learner.org. Annenberg Foundation, 2013.  Web. 27 March 2014.

Major Tom, I’ll Meet You Up There:


Rewriting the Object of Study_Round 2

 

World of Warcraft. Image hosted on IGN.

Guilds of World of Warcraft. Image hosted on IGN.

As the semester advances, steadily gaining on the last month of Spring 2014, my peers and I have been asked to rewrite our Object of Study Proposals. My original proposal stated that I was going to look at guilds in MMORPGS like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2. However, I found that all of my case studies have revolved around WoW, so this is part of how I wish to narrow down my object of study version 2.0 here.

From my original proposal, I am keeping my description of the guilds: Guilds essentially allow players to form small to large groups, with smaller questing and dungeon parties being formed either on a need-basis or more permanently. Unlike more traditional Role Playing Games (RPGs) on video game consoles where a player usually ventures into the virtual world alone as a single character (like Assassin’s Creed) or as a group of controllable companions (like Final Fantasy games), MMOs create environments that encourage player-player interaction within the game as certain activities like raids and dungeon boss battles are easier to navigate when players take on different roles (the healer, the tank who draws enemy attention, and the character classes that do damage-per-second are some of these roles) in order to enhance the effectiveness of the group. Guilds are not only for questing and raiding, but are also ways for new players to be mentored by veteran players and come with a number of perks and opportunities that a lone player would not have access to, such as item trading. Though MMOs do have an underlying storyline driving the game world and creating overarching goals for players, it is the interaction between players that comes to embody the bulk of their experiences within the games, transforming individual gameplay from a solitary experience to one with a seemingly infinite number of connections. One of the biggest draws of guilds is the communication nexus that exists between members, as players find not only companions within the game worlds, but also connections outside of the games, through general discussion forums on official game websites, guild forums, in-game channel chats, social media like Facebook, and personal emails and phone calls.

The further I work through applying network theories to WoW guilds, the more I understand them as ecosystems, as social dynamics playing out on a microcosm space, but I have not (as I originally intended) sought to understand the social dynamics for how students in classrooms could work more cohesively or for how the application of narrative elements by players enriches the group’s overall experience (beyond the occasional comment about role-playing guilds). Instead, I have found myself looking at the social facts and speech acts that gather together to create genre sets used by players, granting them greater agency as a group and as individual nodes within those groups; the rhetorical situations and discourses that emerge through player-player interaction, leading to the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of those groups; and how taking technologies into account as “objects with agency” changes the shape and angle of scholarship looking into the rhetoric playing out within the guilds. Looking back at my original proposal, I was not expecting to tackle rhetorical activity, but scholarship rarely takes the pathways I expect of it.

With rhetorical activity being what emerges through my case studies, guild members are still that which I believe to be the framework and nodes of the network. However, how that framework appears to be structured seems to depend on the theory being applied. For Rhetorical Situation theory, there is the idea that certain veteran players taking officer-style positions within the group creates a fluid hierarchy of speakers and mediators of change who can take that rhetoric and improve the group’s experiences. In that hierarchy, each player who is invested then becomes a link (rather than a “mere hearer or listener”) to other players, taking on battle and questing roles and keeping in communication within their parties. In other theories, the hierarchy is flattened, requiring a more collective agreement among players on activities, or there is a demand for the increased understanding of how technology allows for that guild, that hierarchy, and those activities to exist. Code and rhetoric become twin elements moving among and through the nodes of the network, something that will become even more important in English Studies as our discipline adapts to changes in technology and continues to implement those technologies for our work.

For the rest of the semester, my new proposal for WoW guilds as my object of study is to continue exploring how that virtual environment allows for the guild to become an ecosystem that extends even beyond its programmed borders. The players’ abilities to harness the technology of the game and use it parallel to other software and technological devices shapes new boundaries for a human-constructed ecosystem of minds, rather than physical proximity of bodies. I am curious to see how rhetoric molds and is molded in return by gamers who voluntarily enter into a community and struggle to maintain and redefine the group(s) they have chosen for themselves.

Just One of Those Nights:


Mindmap Gets Another Update_Ecology Theory, Ecosophy, and New Connections

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap updated for 30 March 2014.

Mindmap updated for 30 March 2014.

haha Every time I look at my mindmap anymore, I am reminded of the skill system from Final Fantasy X.

Grid sphere system from Final Fantasy X. Image hosted on the website The Philippine Final Fantasy Portal.

Grid sphere system from Final Fantasy X. Image hosted on the website The Philippine Final Fantasy Portal.

The grid sphere system, especially upon first sight, sprawls out like some curled serpent moments from waking. The more I look at my mindmap, the more impressed I am by how large it has gotten in the last three months. For my own sanity, I keep a mindmap drawn on paper with the overarching theories drawn on it.

But, enough about that. Time to talk about what I have added, my three nodes and my little links between them. This week continued Ecology Theory, with Felix Guattari’s Three Ecologies, Frank Spellman’s Ecology for Nonecology, and Margaret Syverson’s Wealth of Reality. This week’s additions were a bit easier since I had already laid the ground work for Ecology nodes.

So, what did I add?

First things first. A definition of Guattari’s term ecosophy – “‘An ethico-political articulation…between the three ecological registers (the environment, social relations and human subjectivity)’ that Guattari believes could help the ‘ecological disequilibrium’ that has been generated by the ‘period of intense techno-scientific transformations’ we are facing (19-20).” I wanted to make sure I had this in my mindmap because it gives me an idea of what ecology theorists may want to do with their theories. Why link ecology to computer systems and politics, why have so many texts that try to make sure people know just how inextricably connected we are to all the ecosystems we don’t think about? Guattari’s text may be short, but it gave me a lot to think about.

What, then, could follow Guattari? Spellman’s discussion of an organism’s environment:

“The organism’s environment can be divided into four parts:
1) Habitat and distribution – its place to live
2) Other organisms – whether friendly or hostile
3) Food
4) Weather – light, moisture, temperature, soil, etc

There are four major subdivisions of ecology:

Behavioral ecology
Population ecology (autecology)
Community ecology (synecology)
Ecosystem” (Spellman 5)

This was another thing I wanted to be sure to add as it dealt with concepts I had read about in the prior week with Gibson and Bateson, drawing in information played out in the video on the Cary Institute’s website. Here, there were habitats, affordances, and neighboring ecosystems, but also the subdivisons that make up an environment with the different kinds of ecologies. I linked this node to a node I had made for Gibson’s “Theories of Affordances,” which I think linked to a node about CHAT’s creators defining what CHAT is supposed to be: “As objects and environments are formed and transformed through human activity, they come to embody the goals and social organization of that activity in the form of affordances for use.”  The Ecology Theories we have been reading give me more perspective on what “affordances” meant (something I wasn’t totally sure about before), but also gave me the understanding that this definition of CHAT is looking at the modification that Bateson and Gibson had been discussing. This was hindsight leading me down new rabbit holes.

For my last node of the week, I pulled from Syverson’s text: “In a complex system, a network of independent agents–people atoms, neurons, or molecules, for instance–act and interact in parallel with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” (3). This quote reminded me a lot of Foucault’s discussion of the physician and the role the physician plays being dependent upon everything going on in the field around him or her. The complex system that Syverson is discussing is more organic than the constant restructuring of the medical field with advancements in technology and anatomical understanding, but it was the idea of “simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” that seemed to underlie the constant cycle and layering of discursive statements that populate history. Is this what was meant by Bateson’s cybernetic epistemology and ecology of the mind?

Add This to the Ecosystem of Sounds Filling the Room:


Case Study 2: AT + GT + MOOCs = Alphabet Soup

Introduction: In my first case study, I examined the Composition MOOC from the lens of structural theory, which provided a foundation upon which to build this second layer of analysis. There are a number of scholarly discussions concerning the technological … Continue reading

In Which ANT Meets Rhetorical Theory, And Even Objects Have Agency_Case Study #2 WoW

WoW Guild. Image hosted on Think Tutorial.

WoW Guild. Image hosted on Think Tutorial.

For this second case study, I am approaching guilds in World of Warcraft from Rhetorical Situation Theory (Lloyd Bitzer and Richard Vatz) and Actor-Network-Theory (Bruno Latour). While Rhetorical Situation is focused on humans as rhetors and the functions and effects of rhetorical discourse on and within audiences,  ANT looks at non-human as well as human actors as they are constantly defining and redefining groups and what is, ultimately, the social. Both of the theories look at those who are acting within a group, with one being more inclusive as to who/what can be an actant, and effects of the actors’ movements rippling through the network rather than looking at the network from the outside in.

Literature Review

The research that surrounds computer and video games is usually limited in terms of what is being analyzed. The major scholarly tracks seem to be violence, effects on children, Hzuinga’s “magical circle,” how games can be used for learning, gamer-avatar identity, and addiction (with this last one being a major component of research done on WoW). The international popularity of WoW (and some other MMORPGS, though WoW tends to have the most active subscriptions) is reflected in the scholarship surrounding it, as researchers from around the world turn their attention to the game and the effects it has, or can have, on its players. Scholars like Shelia Murphy as well as Nicholas Hoult and Douglas Klieber attempt to understand how computer games and video (console) games provide spaces for players that draw them in to identify with their characters (as well as how that gamer-avatar identification can be disrupted) in a way that television and movies do not, drawing upon the psychological needs being fulfilled. Like Murphy, Alex Golub also explores the visual elements of computer games, with WoW as his primary object of study, but ultimately concludes that the players’ experiences in virtual worlds are not based on enhanced sensorial realism, but on downplaying that realism because, “Rather than describe people who turn databases into worlds, I will describe a community which has taken a virtual world and turned it back into a database” (19). Golub finds that players use what the game provides them to strip away the levels of realism to work more closely with the code, the language of ones and zeroes, to enhance their experience of the game and their activities within guilds, and such activities take place not only in the game through verbal and textual communication between players and actions of avatars, but also through out-of-game spaces like websites and forums, email, phone calls, and through software like Skype and Google Hangout. Work like that of Chien-Hsun Chen, Chuen-Tsai Sun, and Jilung Hiesh is an outlier to the usual research being done on computer and video games as they use quantitative analysis to track the constant evolution and dissolution of WoW guilds in Taiwanese servers, finding that there are patterns to the creations, maintenance, and disbanding of guilds, based on players’ movement between guilds based on level ranking and quality of guild management.

Rhetorical Situations in a Game?

For the first part of this case study, I am going to be working with Rhetorical Situation Theory (focusing on the works of Bitzer and Vatz), looking at moments of rhetorical situation and the boundaries within which rhetors produce discourse in the gamespace of WoW.  But, are there moments of rhetoric in an MMORPG? If, as Bitzer says, “rhetorical discourse comes into existence as a response to a situation,” what kinds of situations in-game would create moments of rhetorical discourse (5)? It’s just a game, isn’t it?

Well, yes, it is a game, but it is also an environment, one that is heavily grounded in social interaction. Rhetoric is everywhere as players move as network nodes between interactions, joining and leaving guilds as well as joining and leaving raiding parties. Within guilds, players must convince one another of battle strategies as raids can often be difficult undertakings, requiring hours of planning and hours of execution, sometimes with little success; in player-player conflicts, with some players defending themselves and their potential virtual property against other players; when player-player conflicts cannot be resolved, there are ruptures within guilds, leading to the creation of separate guilds; and within the creation of new guilds, the recruitment of players into the guilds, especially when the gamer is new to the server or has been relatively isolated prior to creating a guild charter.

Guild social dynamics are essentially playing out in a microcosm of social and political** (usually within the guild, not in the gamespace at large) tensions, mediated through character avatars over Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and textual messages. But rhetorical situations do not only occur in-game for guilds, but also outside of games: in forums (official and unofficial), on guild websites, through YouTube videos, and in personal communications. Much of this discourse is written by guild members for guild members, creating a circular audience, though gamers outside of the guild and even non-players (depending on the medium) can have access to out-of-game texts about in-game activities.

VoIP. Image hosted on official WoW site, Battle.net.

VoIP. Image hosted on official WoW site, Battle.net.

Unofficial World of Warcraft website for the guild Frostwolves.

Unofficial World of Warcraft website for the guild Frostwolves.

With this theory, rhetorical discourse always has a human agent, what Bitzer calls “mediators of change”: “Rhetorical  discourse produces changes by influencing the decision and action of persons who function as mediators of change” (7). This raises the questions of who would constitute the rhetors, the mediators of change, and the audience of those moments of discourse? The answer to these questions will always be guild members, but there are different kinds of guild members. There are differences between guild officers, raid leaders, guild leader, power players versus non-power players, and veteran players versus rookie players. The differences in-game are not based on outside elements like age, profession, race, financial status, or social class, but are based on experience and skill in-game. While the ideal is that every member of the group be given fair and equal treatment within the guild, there are often moments where players’ agency depends on their perceived level of commitment to the group and what level of guild hierarchy they have reached. It all depends on the rules established by the guild for how the guild operates in gameplay.

Oftentimes, a guild’s success at continuing to exist is based on the quality of guild management and how much agency each member (as a node in the network) has in the relationships formed through rhetorical discourse. The conversations that arise during the whole process of raids (from the pre-planning, the decisions as to who will play what role, the instructions and conversations that crop up as the raid is taking place, and the distribution of loot after the raid has been successfully completed) reflect the quality of leadership and companionship of the guild to its members, even if to no one else. If there is a break down in communication, if the leader (or rhetor) has no responsibility placed upon him/her for the rhetorical situation he/she has decided to take advantage of or ignore, the group may become fragmented as the members (who are more than “mere hearers and readers”) become mediators of change in a way that can ultimately dissolve the guild. Players may leave the guild (alone or with others) if they feel they are being treated unfairly (such as them feeling cheated if they are not allowed loot they have requested, if they feel the loot is being hoarded by guild officers, and so on), if they feel they have outgrown what the guild can offer their character, or if the guild is not operating efficiently enough (too many members missing raid meeting times). If the rhetorical discourse require for a situation is ineffective or absent when most needed, the guild as a whole may be left at a severe disadvantage if the best players leave. Even a player who feels he/she has no agency in the group, still has enough agency to leave the group and find a new guild.

From the angle of rhetorical discourse, what is moving through the network are the rules and guidelines that the members are continually establishing and putting into effect (or neglecting) for the experience they are seeking as a collective. Vatz states, “To the audience, events become meaningful only through their linguistic depiction” (157). Guild members could play the game alone (whether that gameplay would be successful or not would be another story), but it is the rhetorical exchange that underlies the guild activities that gives the events meaning for the players. A raid would be just hack-and-slash and magic-casting except that the players are using language to persuade themselves and each other that this raid, this dungeon, this boss fight means something for all of them. The raid leader may need to persuade others that a certain strategy is the correct one, but that explanation and the resulting discourse makes it a lived experience. Even a breakdown in communication or a consistent lack of quality guild management is a rhetorical discourse that can lead players to become mediators of change through guild dissolution.

**Side note: There are also times when political rhetoric crosses into a gamespace as players adapt the web of interconnectivity that a popular game can provide. An example of this is an in-game political rally for Ron Paul supporters that was established by players. These players carved a non-traditional space (non-traditional for a game, at least)for themselves within WoW by collecting supporters for an out-of-game cause.  Can the video below be considered a rhetorical text? Can these players be considered mediators of change as both rhetors and audience members?

Enter the ANT

While Rhetorical Situation Theory is very much about the human and the rhetorical discourse, ANT allows the very non-human entities of hardware and software as having just as much agency as the gamers themselves in a study on WoW. The programming code that makes everything work is not pushed off to the side; it is allowed into the discourse, becoming a major (and acknowledged) part of the network. With ANT, the actors are the nodes, but who are out actors? So yes, gamers, of course, are on the list of actors, but so are representations of the code through non-playable characters (NPCs), loot from raids, quests logs, monsters, characters’ pets, parts of the environment, and objects that can be handled in the game. But our list is still incomplete. We have to step outside of the game and look at what allows gamers to actually play: keyboards, CPUs with monitors or laptops, mouse, and headphones, as well as additional technologies that can now be used to access the game (thank you add-ons from Blizzard) like cellphones. Is this a more complete list? Sort of. Guild activities do not only take place in the gamespace, but outside of it as well in forums, through software like Google Hangouts and Skype, through social media like Facebook, and through unofficial game websites. There could be other actors involved, especially if the guild members know each other in person, but this will be okay for now as our list is more robust than simply just listing humans. This is what a WoW ANT network for a guild would like.

Normally, when a guild is mentioned, people imagine this:

WoW guild, anyone? Image hosted on the C Trust Network.

WoW guild, anyone? Image hosted on the C Trust Network.

When really, with our newly constructed list in mind, the mental image should include these two:

Example of what a screen for what a player sees during a raid. Image hosted on C Trust Network.

Example of what a screen for what a player sees during a raid. Image hosted on C Trust Network.

Guild playing at a tournament. Image hosted on website SK-Gaming.

Guild playing at a tournament. Image hosted on website SK-Gaming.

Now that we have our larger (if not totally exhaustive list) and our handy-dandy new mental image, we must deal with a new way of conceiving how the nodes in our guild network have agency and are situated within the network. Why would I choose to list these actors? According to Latour, “If we stick to our decision to start from the controversies about actors and agencies, then any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor– or, if it has no figuration yet, an actant. Thus, the questions to ask about any agent are simply the following: Does it make a difference in the course of some other agent’s action or not? Is there some trial that allows someone to detect this difference?” (71). Let’s see if we can tease out how this works within an MMORPG. What do all of these actors even do for the network? The gamers, their hardware, and the game’s software have one major collective goal. They are all working towards the creation and maintenance of the gameworld in which the guild exists. Sounds odd that gamers are part of this, doesn’t it? But, that’s how games work. The developers design the code that then puts the gameworld into existence on the chosen platform(s) players will then access through their chosen hardware. If the gamers choose not to play, eventually the designers will have to shut the game down or the game remains in its plastic casing on a shelf. In order for the gameworld to be activated and maintained, it needs someone to be playing.

But, we need to narrow this down further. Our target network is not the game as a whole, but individual guilds. What gamers, the software, and the hardware do for the game at large works the same way for the guild on a more microscopic level. The guild’s boundaries must be defined and redefined constantly, which Latour mentions when discussing the creation and maintenance of groups: “all need some people defining who they are, what they should be, what they have been. These are constantly at work, justifying the group’s existence, invoking rules and precedents and, as we shall see, measuring up one definition against all others. Groups are not silent things, but rather the provisional product of a constant uproar made by the millions of contradictory voices about what is a group and who pertains to what” (31). In this sense, the guild is a network node inside a much larger, far more extensive network. And, the gamers, who would have been just one node among (literally) millions of other player nodes, and those are just talking about the human elements of the game. What being part of a guild does then is offer players greater agency in their own gameplay experience of WoW by making them a node in a network that is comprised of a more manageable (usually) number of human players.

However, if those guild members stop redefining the boundaries of their group, against the world, other guilds, and against players with no guilds at all, the guild itself will dissolve. The code and gamers’ hardware is not enough to maintain a guild. The guild may have an archive of some kind as having once existed, but the players are the core nodes who meet and interact in a way that makes a guild what it is. That being said, the guild would not exist without the code that is always underlining the game. There would be no reason for a guild unless the environment of the gamespace provided dungeons to conquer, raids to take on, a world to explore, cities to visit, and servers where players can face off against one another or players (PvP) face off against the environment (PvE). And, without the hardware of the computer and the headphones, players would not have access to the gamespace and to each other. All of the actors are necessary, especially with digital games.

It is here where ANT really diverges away from theories like Rhetorical Situation Theory, complicating how we see interactions in a network. What exactly can be moving through a guild network when we must take into account the software and hardware? How does it move among the different nodes? One of the major things moving through the network is code, zeroes and ones that render the visuals, relay information  about characters’ statuses, allow for environmental sounds and pre-established soundtrack selections, and initiate reactions from the environment, NPCs, and monsters in which the guild members interact. There are also the zeroes and ones that allow players to have their avatars do physical gestures towards one another and allow relay their textual conversations. But, that’s not all. The hardware players may opt to use like headphones and mics allow for verbal communications. Rhetorical discourse may be part of what is being conveyed, but, in this more inclusive list of network nodes, the code is central to all transmissions.

Who/what are the mediators and what are the intermediaries making all of this possible? “Every time a connection has to be established, a new conduit has to be laid down and some new type of entity has to be transported through it. What circulates, so to speak, ‘inside’ the conduits are the very acts of giving something a dimension. Whenever a locus wishes to act on another locus, it has to go through some medium, transporting something all the way; to go on acting, it has to maintain some sort of more or less durable connection. Conversely, every locus is now the target of many such activities, the crossroads of many such tracks, the provisional repository of many such vehicles. Sites, now transformed into actor-networks for good, are moved to the background; connectors, vehicles, and attachments are brought into the foreground” (Latour 220).

**This quote always reminds me of Tron: Legacy.

In ANT, there are mediators (those that cause other actors to do something) and there are intermediaries (objects that relay information without causing change), though intermediaries can become mediators. How to picture this, though, when zeroes and ones are at the heart of everything in-game and players must continually be mediators while they are immersed in the gameworld? The hardware seem most likely to be continually be mediators so long as gamers are playing, in much the same way as Latour’s example of telephone wires being persistent mediators for the British Empire. It took me a while to puzzle this one out, but the best example I could think of for an intermediary in relation to a guild in WoW would be NPCs and monsters populating the world. As guild members move through the gamespace, signing off and returning to the world of the game when the guild and the meatspace demand, NPCs and the other creatures of the gamespace continue to exist, but what are they doing? In a sense, they are code-in-waiting. They are physically representing the zeroes and ones that program an NPC or a monster to be in a particular location, but they are not really causing change in the network of the guild until a player (or the group of players) interacts with them. These digital entities are always ready, either standing in the same physical space or roaming predetermined pathways, waiting for something to trigger them (through conversation or battle). Once activated, the NPC or monster then becomes a mediator by either giving players details for a particular quest or transporting them for the former, or attacking them for the latter. The players may then be sent in a new direction (to find an item, location, or just to run away), or find themselves needing to defend and attack.

Example of an NPC. Image hosted on the WoW Insider on Joystiq.

Example of an NPC. Image hosted on the WoW Insider on Joystiq.

Conclusion

When applying ANT to guild activities in WoW, there is as much need to define and redefine the boundaries of the network for the researcher as the actors when they are defining and redefining the groups within which they find themselves working. The code of the game may play a major role in what the guild can do in the gamespace, but it does not limit itself to that. The code is always working throughout the game, across the different servers in the different countries where people are playing. When talking about this angle in my case study, I always get the sense that I am stepping away from my object of study as the boundaries blur. The zeroes and ones are hidden from the more casual player under layers of what they render, though the games allows players the option of stripping away the visual elements in order to have greater access to the code underneath. This makes tracing the associations in ANT a little more difficult. Game developers make the world as seamless as possible so that players can immerse themselves, and hardware and software are only truly noticed when they malfunction. In comparison, Rhetorical Situation Theory seems easier to implement, primarily because it is not as inclusive and, therefore, more manageable. By only focusing on humans dealing with other humans, the extra variables made visible in ANT are left out.

References

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 25 (Selections from Volume 1) (1992): 1-14. PDF.

Chen, Chien-Hsun, Chuen-Tsai Sun, Jilung Hsieh. “Player Guild Dynamics and Evolution is Massively Multiplayer Online Games.” CyberPsychology & Behavior 11.3 (2008): 293-301. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 March 2014.

Golub, Alex. “Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game.” Anthropological Quarterly 83.1 (2010): 17-45. JSTOR. Web. 26 Jan 2014.

Holt, Nicholas A. and Douglas A. Kleiber. “The Sirens’ Song of Multiplayer Online Games.” Children, Youth and Environments 19.1 (2009): 223-244. JSTOR. Web. 26 Jan 2014.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the SocialAn Introduction to the Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Murphy, Sheila C. “‘Live in Your World, Play in Ours’: The Spaces of Video Game Identity.” Journal of Visual Culture 3.2 (2004): 223-238. Sage. Web. 17 March 2014.

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 154-161. PDF.

Sunday Begins and Ends with Music


Networks, Actors, and the Great Mindwarp

“To pay justice to the efforts of our predecessors and to remain faithful to their tradition, we have to take up their goal, understand why they thought it had been prematurely completed, and see how it can be pursued with slightly better chances of success” (Latour 248)

Bruno Latour. Image hosted on the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities.

Bruno Latour. Image hosted on the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities.

Ah, reading notes, we seem to keep bumping into each other. And, so we continue forth like ANTs making our way back to the nest as this week sees a return of Spinuzzi and a replay of Latour. Yes, you heard correctly. It’s time to wrap up Latour’s Reassembling the Social and introducing him to Spinuzzi’s chapter, “How Networks are Theorized?” Okay, my dears, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Continuing on from last week where we cut off after the third uncertainty, we pick back up with Latour’s four uncertainty: “Matters of Fact vs. Matters of Concern.” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when looking at this title as I had never heard of “matters of concern” within the context of sociology. Was that a thing outside of ANT? How were actors involved? Of course actors were involved, but what was all this stuff about the melding of human and non-human entities? Settling back into my chair, I knew I was in for a mindwarp.

Enough distractions, young lady. Keep moving, keep unpacking threads of thought, and don’t forget to look back at the ghost of Foucault you imagine is judging every theoretical step you take. But, where to start? What thread to follow? Will I even understand the full tapestry when I stumble, rather ungracefully, upon it? Let’s just begin where I understand best and spiral outwards from there.

I have to say, Latour sure knows how to make a reader smile. When he is finished being snarky, or in the middle of a really good rant, the images his writing conjures give a sense of concreteness to theory I had not expected. Take, for example, his conversation about the word “construction” and all of the problems it had created for him and his colleague when they first used the term (the very beginning of their forays into the “construction” of Actor-Network-Theory). As he juxtaposed his ideas of what construction would mean in the boundaries of sociology with that of his colleagues, I found myself siding with Latour: “Moreover, to say that science, too, was constructed gave the same thrill as with all other ‘makings of’: we went back stage, we learned about the skills of practitioners; we saw innovations come into being; we felt how risky it was; and we witnessed the puzzling merger of human activities and non-human entities. By watching the fabulous film that our colleagues the historians of science were shooting for us, we could attend, frame after frame, to the most incredible spectacle: truth being slowly achieved in breathtaking episodes without being sure of the result” (90). All too often I see a movie or a theory or a book and think that it is perfect in its wholeness, never stopping to think of its flaws, the fact that there were probably times when the final product seemed nothing but a pipe dream. Latour’s concept of “construction” as a way to peek into the process of creation rather than something’s artificial-ness. I really loved the moment when he talks about learning of “the skills of practitioners,” as it relates to how the actors he is pulling from across all disciplines and boundaries of society are linked: “Those various trades are not distinct by the domains they deal with, but only by the different skills they apply to the same domain” (254). It is here where the ANTs start to make the most sense as he draws upon the example of a building being constructed, a concerted effort by people of all different trades and with all different skills. An architect may craft the designs for a building, but the actual work requires contractors, plumbers, electricians, foundation crews, suppliers, interior designers, construction workers, and all other types of subcontractors necessary to make a building not only visibly finished but also functional.

Construction Workers. Image hosted on The Daily Mind.

Construction Workers. Image hosted on The Daily Mind.

[add nifty stuff here]

[maybe a picture, or two, or three, or four]

“the question of the social emerges when the ties in which one is entangled begin to unravel, the social is further detected through the surprising movements from one association to the next; those movements can either be suspended or resumed; when they are prematurely suspended, the social as normally constructed is bound together with already accepted participants called ‘social actors’ who are members of a ‘society’; when the movement toward collection is resumed, it traces the social as associations through many non-social entities which might become participants later; if pursued systematically, this tracking may end up in a shared definition of a common world, what I have called a collective; but if there are no procedures to render it common, it may fail to be assembled; and, lastly, sociology is best defined as the discipline where participants explicitly engage in the reassembling of the collective” (Latour 247)

[lots of paragraphs]

To this discussion we add Spinuzzi, who has graced this blog before but had to be tucked away into interweaving of the theories my peers and I have approached. But, how does the man who sought for ways to accomplish Genre Tracing fit into ANT? Well, he decided to throw ANT into conflict/dialogue with its bitter enemy: activity theory.

Activity System Mode, hosted on the website, Information Research.

Activity System Mode, hosted on the website, Information Research.

Yes, Spinuzzi decided to throw them together to duke it out, to weave between, and to settle that while they do have differences, they also have similarities. As I am not too familiar with Activity Theory, I really couldn’t explain to you (yet. I’ll get cracking on discovering the tension).

[more information and quotes]

[discuss, discuss, discuss]

Citations:

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the SocialAn Introduction to the Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

In Which All Roads Lead to Frozen:

 


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