Dissertation Autoethnography: Journal Entry #1

autoethnography, Process Writing

February 1st marked the start date for my autoethnographical data collection and the death of my Uncle Roger. I guess that if there is a method that takes particular care to acknowledge how personal factors and lived experiences affect research, it would be autoethnography.

The year has been off to a rough, complicated start, and I think that it is important that I be candid about that so that there’s a record of the ebbs and flows and complicating factors related to my creative practice. My uncle’s death, followed closely by the birth of a new nibling (a gender neutral term for niece/nephew), alongside my exhaustion from dealing with uncertainty related to my spouse’s employment, and the fact that doctorates are known to be stressful for one’s mental health, are all examples of the things that are keeping me from focusing as much as I would like to on my dissertation work. I have been having a hard time focusing on my work, and have been noticing some early warning signs for burnout. I am doing my best to be patient with myself, say no to as many things as possible, and take breaks when things aren’t working. I’m already feeling much better.

Although I’m not behind on my dissertation schedule quite yet, there are a number of blog posts that I have intended to write that I haven’t yet. Some are in progress, such as an adapted form of Exercise 5.6 from Heewon Chang’s Autoethnography as Method, and others are a part of my creative process (such as writing about the creation of my global game jam game, transgalactica, which you can play here). Since you’re reading this, that means I’ve managed to get some work down, so here’s hoping that I can keep that up!

In terms of my new project, what I will say for now is that I have been toying about the idea of working with puppets for some time now. Here’s the history of the project so far as I can reconstruct it: I took a course called Objects, Agency and Material Performance with Mark Sussman, and some of the discussions centered around puppets. As part of this course, I attended a puppetry performance involving a bunraku-style puppet (in the sense that it was controlled by three operators) called The Tablesee a trailer here.

Then, last spring, Dietrich Squinkifer & I talked about making a series of games in suitcases, one of which would involve puppets and soft circuits. I was signed up for a puppet creation workshop in the summer, but the workshop was cancelled. This year, a game that ostensibly used puppets as alternative controllers made the alt.ctrl.GDC lineup, and I have several critiques of the game’s design. For one, it is still screen-based, drawing the focus away from the puppets, involving a series of minigames that, from what I can tell, are played by pressing a button on top of the puppet’s head (I find this disappointing since there are so many other possible interactions to do with puppets). For my first dissertation project, after discussions with my supervisor, other game designers, and my partner, I’ve decided that I’ll use puppets as a starting point despite the disappointing GDC puppet game. I am thinking that I may want to work with bunraku-inspired puppets because I’m interested in playing with distributed agency and having players either collaborate or have differing agendas, but needing to maybe keep up the facade of unity and make the puppet work as best they can. I’ve barely started to think about what gameplay might be like, or what I might like to do.

Today, with this puppet project in mind, I managed to sit in at the last minute on part one of a soft circuit workshop at the Milieux Institute, given by Marc Beaulieu and Genevieve Moisan. I’ve worked extensively with the Makey Makey, but not with many sensors or circuits more complicated than that. The project that my team chose to work on (the workshop will continue next week) was proposed by a person named Pat, whose father has Alzheimer’s and benefits from tactile stimulation. She had been thinking about making a fidget quilt or mat for him for some time. So, today, we thought through what that project would look like with three separate interactions that would be tailored specifically to her father and his personal history. By the end of the workshop, we decided that we probably needed to scope down, and that Pat would then be able to extend the project later on.

I learned a lot, though I still need practice drawing circuits and making sure that everything that needs power or input gets what it needs. It’s amazing how much working with more complex computers and boards handle for you. Sensors are exciting but mysterious things that I can break or short-circuit if I wire them wrong. I think much bread boarding will be needed. I’ll need to work more with smaller, possibly wireless electronics to make a project like this work, I think.

So. Life is happening all around me, and it’s seriously messing with my best laid plans! But, I trust the schedule that I’ve set for myself, and I’ll do my best to take care of myself as needed.