The seven weeks since I began my latest design project, working title/codename “TRACES” have been busy, but I’ve already talked a bit about that, so I won’t go too far into it — first, Ars Electronica, then guest-lecturing, then QGCon, then Different Games, and then a family event in New York City. This, alongside further issues with Tom’s work situations. My apartment still needs to be painted, and we still have furniture to build, rooms to fix up, and boxes to unpack. One thing that I haven’t mentioned that took up a fair bit of time and energy recently is that I released an open letter talking a bit about Tom’s situation. You can read it here if you want to. There are times when this situation makes me completely unable to work, both because my help is needed, and also because it’s incredibly stressful. So I want to be sure to note that, for autoethnography purposes.
All of that means that I haven’t had a lot of breathing room to focus on the project — but things are moving ahead, little by little. Technology is on its way. I have started to write the game’s story and script. I am thinking about aesthetics, and rules, and context. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about time travel — I’ve run two sessions of my time travel RPG with my usual RPG night group, and am aiming to run a third one soon. I’ve also started to read Ryan North’s How To Invent Everything (which is a guide for stranded time travelers to recreating modern amenities and “civilization”). My spouse and I are watching (re-watching, in my case) Altered Carbon. So yeah, I have been thinking a lot about the future and about time travel.
I thought consuming this media about time travel and thinking about the rules of the technology of this world, linked to the thinking about societies and gender that I’ve been doing in relation to The Left Hand of Darkness, would be all the “research” that I needed to do for the writing. But I should have been reading about fascism, bigotry, the darkness of human history.
I wanted to tell a story about my transness and feeling undervalued and underappreciated in a conservative country’s art world context, feeling alienated by people who were supposed to be peers. I wanted to tell a story of hope and community, even if just as the backdrop for a society that did value the characters in question. But now, the stakes have changed. The real-world ones.
It didn’t happen overnight, and maybe they haven’t actually changed as dramatically as all that. But the facts remain that a major world power (the United States) and a neighbour to my country, who is currently electing conservative leaders all over the place, is trying to legislate transgender and intersex people out of existence, based on pure bigotry, ignorance and hatred. This is just the latest in a series of exhausting, dehumanizing events in the United States. Fascism never went away, really, but it just keeps rearing its head in government-mandated ways and somehow each moment feels like that’s as bad as this administration can get. And somehow people keep normalizing these new situations, or somehow believing that there are “two sides” that have equal validity and a right to be heard.
This game…might not be what I thought it was going to be.
But I’m also energized, renewed, re-invigourated. For all of the ways that Ars Electronica was alienating, the Queerness and Games conference, which I co-organized and which happened this weekend at Concordia with the help of TAG and Milieux, made me feel like a part of a community.
One of our keynotes, Mattie Brice, talked about finding inspiration in performance arts, in the Happenings of the sixties, and, in its own way, I think QGCon is a Happening. It’s a temporary space where the usual rules are in some way suspended. It’s a space of caring, softness, kindness and vulnerability.
I’m not too sure exactly what I expected from the event, but it wasn’t exactly this. I had a great time at the last QGCon in 2017, but this time, maybe because I was closer to the event, it felt like there was a real, tangible presence of…I don’t even know what to call it… Hopefulness? Goodwill? permeating the space.
Organizing the event took a great deal of energy and labour, and I had to take on a lot as one of the local organizers. I wish I had been able to get more rest.
But nevertheless, while before I wanted to make a game about alienation, I think I want to make a game about feeling alienated and finding others who mitigate that feeling.
I’ve still got to sit down and design this project, but ideas are forming in my mind.
Rather than trying to find others for competitive reasons, maybe this can be a game about trying to find others so that you can be reunited, so that you can find community and hope in each other.
I’m reminded of a game that we showed at Princess of Arcade called Secret Agent Party. That’s a game that requires a lot of players in a contained space. I wonder how I can make this game playtestable or workable with very few people present or very many people. Maybe I need to narrow the scope.
Maybe static objects can also be people in some version of the game and give you info, but in other versions, the static objects are being worn and carried by others. So that, if there are only a few players, the story is filled in from static objects that stand in as people with histories (thinking of the programs you find in Transistor), but in a version with more players, those objects can then be on players who are also scanning you.
Thinking about the themes of Time Travel that I was working with, maybe it makes sense for there to be echoes or traces of people even if the people themselves aren’t always visible.
Well, just some design thoughts inspired by QGCon and sleep deprivation (please don’t worry — I’ve slept two solid 10 hour blocks since QGCon or more, even if I am still tired).
[NOTE: These notes are transcribed, annotated but unedited, from a handwritten version.]
PROJECT 02 for my dissertation. Sept 9th 2018.
I was hoping to find inspiration for this project in my travels. Before I even left, I was sort of dreading this trip. I was feeling exhausted but still had so much to do. I didn’t want to leave home and Tom because of all the work to be done, and also because we’ve been away from each other so long with no time to rest and just be in each other’s company. The first 24 hours of this trip were stressful and restless, with trains to catch and a new country to navigate, with the knowledge that when we arrived, we still wouldn’t be able to make it to the place we were staying [clarifying note: our train arrived at 11:17 but the last train to Steyr departed at 10:52]. The next day, we found out that the folks in charge of setup had been unable to get the project working, and when and how they told us this was a tad frustrating and unprofessional.
We fixed it.
Still, the frustration and exhaustion didn’t go away, and in many ways we struggled to feel welcomed to this place.
This is the first place I’ve felt truly out of place as a trans person. I’m not on on any sort of supplement to alter my hormones, but i guess with a binder and short hair, I “tip the scale” into an uncomfortable place for these people. I felt stared at, and was worried when someone approached me on the train platform to ask how I felt about gay and trans people. It wound up being a friendly conversation, but the whole place feels fraught. So. Discomfort and alienation, even from the people we’re supposed to be here with, is definitely a huge, present concern for me.
Yesterday was a bit better. We checked out more of the other exhibits, had to fix part of our installation that someone decided to fiddle with, and I had a long conversation with two older artists working in textiles. They’ve been collaborating for over twenty years (and they also totally thought I was a dude through most of this conversation. At least they thought I was a nice dude).
The installations that we saw and that discussion have got me tihnking about this project as a narrative wearable project about being a stranger in a strange land. I am also thinking of the wearable as a living, alien guide. Maybe using defamiliartization and recontextualization with language. I’m definitely thinking of the work of Blast Theory and ZU-UK.
A narrative you can experience and carry around with you.
I’m trying not to let myself get too bogged down in how technically difficult the concept will be at first. I could see this requiring QR, GPS, radio coms…
I also really do want to think about Augmented Reality and also interactive theater/escape the room projects.
I’d like this to not need to be site-specific. At the same time, I’m only one person. I’m not sure I can keep track of someone wandering through a truly open space.
What if someone wanders off, or gets lost?
I don’t want this to just be an app or a webpage people use on their phones. I want to highlight the interface. But phones come equipped with so much useful junk — the GPS, gyroscope, the QR scanner.
This is why I don’t think I want to narrow the focus and worry about scope or tech yet.
I’m also thinking of the voice that the writing in transgalactica uses — sort of rueful, sort of hopeful, but jaded, a tad bitter.
I’m also thinking about time travel because of the Time Travel RPG I’ve been running. And again, that whole ZU-UK, Place des Alts [explanatory note: a recent TAG project that started out as a collaborative piece between ZU-UK and TAG] inspiration.
I was really inspired by the MIT Cillia project. I wonder if there would be a way to access that.
A pocket companion, guiding you through an almost familiar, alien civilization…
Actually, it’s worth noting that I just finished Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness.”
I guess I could maybe limit the scope to certain parts of the EV building, 10th+11th floors.
Players could play different parts — some the populace of this alien, different time, a few others the time travelers. Maybe something like two rooms and a boom?
I think having audio communication through some kind of wireless device would be nice. I think having some kind of costumes (I’m thinking scarves) could be nice.
The scope of the playtesting immediately comes to mind as a concern, but I’ll try to put that aside for now.
All of this makes me think that this might ultimately be that game about genderfeels that I wanted to make in some form.
Yes! I have a few more playtests coming up in the fall with Flip the Script, but I’m onto Project 02, currently untitled for my dissertation.
This time, I want to push both the technological/programming side of things and possibly a firmer narrative. That might be a tall order for a project that I have to finish in a little less than six months, but at least, in these first few hopeful weeks, that’s what I’ll be thinking about.
The truth is, running Flip the Script! requires a tremendous amount of work for me, because the playthrough can go so many places. Even if it means making a shorter game, I think that I need to have more pre-determination.
At the same time, I would love to make an exploratory physical toy, that, when you play with the toy, things happen programmatically (possibly on-screen visualizations or gameplay). After all, that’s one of the ways that I emphasize the physical aspects of physical-digital hybrid games.
So, toy or story? Toy Story? I don’t know yet.
From September 4th-18th, I’ll be in Europe. I’m going in the first place because of Ars Electronica — ‘rustle your leaves to me softly’, my ASMR plant dating simular project, made in collaboration with Dietrich Squinkifer, is part of Hexagram Campus’ Taking Care exhibit. (You can read about the exhibit here and here.)
We will be there from the 5th to the 10th, and are then taking a few days to travel since we’ll already be in Europe. I am hoping that Ars Electronica will provide plenty of inspiration for my new project, along with the series of long train rides involved in making it from Paris (where it was cheapest to fly to) to Linz and back.
I am definitely aware that my programming and arduino skills might get one heck of a workout for this project. I’m apprehensive but excited.
It’s been exactly one month since I last wrote an autoethnographic blog post, and let me tell you, it’s been some month. There’s still plenty ahead too — I’ll be traveling to Europe for Ars Electronica, Hamilton for a BTS Concert (yes, I’m a fan — it’s astounding how many graduate students in game studies are and how many of us de-stress [not relax, but de-stress] watching their flashy music videos), Montreal for QGCon (which I’m co-organizing!), Worcester, MA for Different Games, New York for my nibling’s christening, and home again in Montreal for Maker Faire.
From the end of July into the beginning of August, I continued my yearly tradition of participating in GISH (formerly known as GISHWHES). That finished August 4th, and I’ll eventually post some of the items and videos that I made — one video even featured Harle, Avi and Drake as puppets from the 1950s!
From there, from the 5th onward, began a nightmare move that I still haven’t seen the end of. To make a long story short, I have had to make insurance claims and the movers were very unpleasant. It’s left me with a lot of work in addition to my already-hectic schedule, and it’s pretty stressful. At times, it’s been overwhelming. I’m chipping away at it bit by bit, though, and hopefully things will keep shaping up. There’s still a lot of cleaning, renovating, painting, furniture-buying, furniture-building, and decorating to do.
I have run four playtests of Flip the Script in the past two weeks! It’s a game that takes up a lot of energy, and I’ve decided that in the future, I think that the best that I can do is run it once a day. The game relies heavily on the facilitating role, and the facilitation itself IS heavy.
As you might remember about Flip the Script!, one of the debriefing and de-roling exercises that I do with players is formulating a statement that we’d like to put out ot the world — it can be a statement of hope, advice, just something that the players would like others to know. I try to listen and facilitate this. There were four statements to come out of these playtests. I won’t tell you which statement is in relation to what topic.
“Please be attuned to the subtle signs of our inner experiences and invisible struggles (and thank you for your patience).”
“Each ‘small’ drop in the bucket still eventually fills it and can make it overflow.”
“Be critical of the information you consume; be a good observer, be a good listener, and go deeper than the surface.”
“In recognizing each other’s humanity within rigid systems, there may be potential for unusual alliances and creative solutions.”
Some things that I’ve learned from the playtesting: the microbit and LED technology isn’t pulling its weight as much as it could, although it’s not horribly mismatched, it’s a facilitator-heavy game, I need to help players connect to their puppets by making sure that they interact with them early and often and make things up about them, and I need to carefully shape scenes by regeneralizing any personal anecdotes that people tell, and ensure that the scene is robust enough to support multiple playthroughs. That means carefully setting up the characters and potentialities/story seeds. Also, the way that the game goes and how much is disclosed depends very heavily on who is playing (but I knew that would be the case).
Player reception has been generally positive, and people seem to get something out of the game on an emotional level, even if it’s not a perfect game. I guess it’s okay that it’s not perfect.
What I think I am realizing is that I do need to be careful about how much emotional labour the next project demands of me, because these playtest sessions have been very rewarding, but also quite draining. Given the fact that there are many draining situations in my life at the moment (this nightmare move, everything to do with Tom, just the general stressors of being a grad student with many things to do, plus community organizing and the things that come with it). That means I need to offload more onto the tech and interface and game rules and less onto the facilitator. That’ll hopefully mean that playtesting will be easier, even if initially there’s more work to be done with the tech (which is not necessarily my strongest suit — but it’s always getting stronger!).
With Flip the Script!, I spent a lot of time agonizing over the game idea and getting it to a point where I felt good about it. Then, a lot of my time was spent making the puppets and their interfaces. The rules themselves also took up a good chunk of that time. I’ll have to see where the next project takes me, but I think I need to be able to run the next game even if I’m not feeling at 100%. Maybe that means bringing back a screen. Maybe that means bringing in Raspberry Pi and pre-recorded things. Maybe that means more quick, written rules.
I would like to work more with costumes and theatre, but at the same time, with toys and tiny worlds. I guess I’m thinking of wearables and board games, or even of something like Polly Pocket, or, for a digital reference, Gnog. I want to embed a narrative into the interfaces and have players spend time exploring and discovering that narrative through the interface. I am also feeling inspired by Ida Toft’s Promises project, which I think is vibrant and alive in a very satisfying way, even though it’s quite stripped-down. There’s a suggestion of life within the vibrations in the river rock-like objects that the player engages with.
On another note, playtesting made me feel oddly “on-track” for my dissertation projects. I feel like this project, even if it’s imperfect, is a success. I think it engages with complex ideas that are coming through in the game, that the level of work that I put into it feels appropriate for a six month project, and I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s a nice feeling, amidst all this turmoil.
The interesting thing about my dissertation is that I’ve managed to be both ahead and behind my schedule at the same time.
I expected to finish Flip the Script! at the end of August, and to start playtesting in September, but I think that the game is close to reaching its final form now (as I’ve done early playtesting and the concept works, but the design work I’ve done since then is to make better, more interesting use of the technology involved). In this period, I’m also supposed to be writing first drafts of my background and methodology chapters.
As I wrote the last time that I updated you all, I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading (and now rewriting). Last week, I spent roughly 6 or 7 ten-hour days completely rewriting an article, basically from scratch, for publication to include the requested revisions (after all, I read 19+ sources to better inform myself on the field that I am making a foray into). The sources turned out to be very, very helpful and gave me a lot to think about. I think the resulting article is many orders of magnitude better than the original.
So, now, having finished a draft, a fair number of generous people have agreed to read the draft. Since the revisions to the article are due on the 25th, I’ve asked commenters to finish reading for the 21st.
When I finished a draft on Saturday night, I felt drained, and I promised myself that I would take the next day off. Of course, when Sunday came along, having slept, and having already received some feedback, I immediately felt guilty and unable to really relax and take a break. This is an issue with graduate studies, but it’s also an issue with modern work: many of us could literally always be working. It’s exhausting, it’s toxic, and I don’t know exactly how to teach myself not to feel that way. I reasoned to myself that it would make more sense to gather more feedback and address it all at once, rather than rewriting as people were reading and commenting.
At the same time, while waiting for the comments, I find myself with some free/liminal time. I feel the need to keep myself thinking about the article in progress, rather than moving onto the background (lit review) and the methodology chapters. I think it would be difficult to switch modes. That leaves, then, playtesting my game. Although I am only scheduled to playtest it in September, my September is functionally gone: I will be away in Europe attending Ars Electronica and doing a bit of traveling from September 4th-18th, I’ll be in Hamilton around the 20th, I’m giving a guest lecture on the 27th, and QGCon is happening on the 29th and 30th of September. That’s basically all of September, gone — or at least, trying to schedule a playtest at an appropriate time for my game seems ill-advised.
The third factor in all this is what I have to give of myself in exchange for running a playtest, especially one for which I’m collecting Very Important Data for my dissertation. My games often require me to facilitate them — my knowledge, my (eventually acquired) ease with the patter and “game mastering” of a particular game are necessary to the game, especially when it comes to these physical-digital hybrids addressing intersectional issues. When I am at my most resilient, this is not an issue. I’ve spent eight hours at a time getting people to play a game about consent (In Tune), or facilitating play about emotional labour (The Truly Terrific Traveling Troubleshooter).
Was I just younger then (a few months ago)? Or was I just less tired? I think the truth is that there are issues facing my partner (and therefore both of us) that are weighing me down, taking up energy that I would rather give to my art. This affirms my belief that the whole “suffering for art” thing is bullshit — while suffering might give you lived experiences, it’s a lot harder (at least for me) to make creative work when I am exhausted, or unhappy. I can’t really speak much publicly about what is going on, but I know that it is well and truly sapping me.
So, this week, feeling guilty about not working, feeling unable to move onto other writing until I have settled this article, and feeling too exhausted to do the labour of actually planning playtests in the short term, I find myself trying to find better ways of working. I find myself doing the small things that I have put off. I find myself trying to recover and recharge, reminding myself that breaks and relaxation are essential.
Yesterday, for example, I revamped this website, added sections, reworked the games section to be more usable (rather than just a chronological listing of my projects), added more of a history to where I’ve showcased games, what I’m up to, and where I’ll be in the future.
Yesterday, the thought also came to me, inspired by Pippin Barr, to use tinyletter to communicate with people who might want to play my games. The prospect of reaching out repeatedly to mailing lists full of people who may or may not want to hear from me felt exhausting, along with the work of trying to organize playtests, let alone running them when they require my continuous, present, attentive moderation. So, to gather potential playtesters, I made a tinyletter and shared it in my networks. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the numbers so far — people are being very generous with their time (or at least their willingness to be contacted) for playtesting. If you’re local to Montreal (and even if you’re not), you can sign up for it here.
I’m also trying to just listen to my body and let myself rest. So far, since Sunday, the guilt has subsided a fair bit. After all, it is the summer. Once this article is done, I can move onto other academic writing and scheduling playtesters with the people who have signed up for my mailing list.
On another note: I wrote last time about the need to streamline Flip the Script! down from two hours, but I think that I was maybe wrong in that assessment. I know that two hours limits the audience for the game, but since it is inspired by theatre, I think that, in fact, I just need to think of this like a performance that needs to be scheduled rather than something that I can have people play in loud expo halls and arcades. 90 minutes is pretty darn short (or at least, average) for something like, say, a tabletop RPG or board game, for example.
Since my last post, I’ve been doing a lot of reading in order to revise an article for a journal. I also wrote a draft of the full rules for Flip the Script! The week before last, I got to talk about them with the Reflective Games Group, and run through some of the rules, which led me to rewrite my section on intersectionality. This week, we did a full playtest (which I recorded the audio for).
The playtest went well, on the whole, but I was astounded to find that the run time was two hours, and I will have to find a way to streamline that amount of time in the future. It’s just too long to reasonably expect most festival players to commit to.
The major revisions that I plan to make other than trying to streamline the introductory parts is to try to use the LED interfaces in a different way. Squinky and I had criticized another puppet interface for just being buttons on the puppets’ heads that did things in game, and it’s true that this interface isn’t as embedded into the puppets as I originally envisioned. The truth is that I didn’t want to embed the electronics in places where I couldn’t easily access them, in the end, and so we’ve got this current version where the electronics aren’t even really sewn onto the puppets. And I’ve made my peace with that — it’s a different game than what I thought it would be in terms of its use of technology.
But, at the moment, there was very little reason for players to use the technology, and players rightly suggested that maybe offloading more onto the tech and getting it more involved would do good things for the game. It was also suggested that maybe I could have my own microbit to send signals, especially if the meaning of those signals changed (like perhaps the players could switch roles, or a new character is introduced — maybe I could make each of these into a more formalized rule for each round, sort of like the way that the games change in “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” — I don’t know why that specific reference comes to mind except that it’s the same general concept each time, with specific rules for each individual game/scene. Another interesting idea that came up was what it would be like to play my other nanolarps using puppets instead of having the players play themselves.
It also occurs to me that I wound up using a blackboard to record notes from the session where all the players could see them this time, and that I will want to do that in the future. That means I’ll have to get a carry-on sized whiteboard (possibly at the dollar store, possibly a picture frame with plastic or glass in the frame?) to do so in the future.
The subject that we wound up discussing in this game was the concept of the “good” migrant, explicitly asking “what does it mean to be a ‘good’ migrant?” To contextualize this, we were problematizing the idea of a good migrant while also recognizing that many nationalists and other people have expectations of what good migrants are, even if those expectations might be subconscious. We unpacked those in the context of apartment hunting.
I feel good about the playtesting, though, again, astounded that it took so long.
This is the statement that the players and I jointly came up with for our playthrough to release out into the world:
“Use what privilege you have to act in concrete, actionable solidarity.”
I figured it was time for a little update from my notes and documentation!
So, since my last update, the project has moved forward considerably!
I also presented my Reflective Games research on a panel which I chaired at CGSA (the Canadian Games Studies Association) and had some great questions about it from other scholars, and had the chance to chair a talk by Kara Stone about Reparative Game Design and Time (in many forms — queer time, crip time, deep time). We got a lot of good questions and feedback, and I felt quite recharged by the conference.
To simplify things a little, beyond preparing for and presenting at CGSA, here are the…
Egh. As I opened the link to github with the intent of sharing my code repository, I found out about the news that github is being acquired by Microsoft, and I’m not too sure how to feel about that.
Well, at any rate, the code lives there for now, so here’s a timeline of the progress since my last blog post, along with some short descriptions and pictures.
TIMELINE May 20th-21st:
After finishing Harle, my first puppet, I got to work on a puppet that I came to call Avi. The names of the two colours of fleece that I bought from Fabricville were Guacamole and Chai Tea, and reminded me of the colours of the inside of an avocado. So, despite the fact that Avi looks a lot like a turtle, their look is actually avocado-inspired.
I was invited to an impromptu get-together at a friend’s house, and I knew that I would have a lot of hand-sewing to do, based on Harle. So, I machine-sewed everything possible ahead of time, and brought my pins, fabric, stuffing, needle and thread over to this friend’s house. I have found that I can watch, listen and speak while handsewing, and so while we conversed and others played board games, Avi’s body came together. The next day, I added features like Avi’s eyes and other details.
My friend Gina suggested that my third puppet should be a red dragon, complete with wings. I had been planning to use red fabric so that the puppets are each sort of in correspondence with CMY/RGB colour theory (Avi, while not Cyan, is both green and yellow). Since Drake was my third puppet, I felt confident enough to experiment with the design, particular when it came to character details. I had this vision of fringes and crests, and, measuring against the puppet’s face, I free-handed a pattern on a piece of cardstock, cut it out, and used the same technique that is used to machine-sew the hands of the puppets to sew my fringes.
Yes, Drake is an obvious name for a dragon-inspired puppet, but I was also thinking of my Toronto friends who are huge Drake fans (in particular, the writers, artists and game designers).
I spent the next few days working on Microbits/Neopixel code, and created a Git repository for this (not very reader-friendly but very small in size) code here.
I used the Microbits coding environment and their drag-and-drop code along with the Adafruit Neopixels package/library for the environment. It was astoundingly easy to get things up and running. I ran into a persistent problem using repetitive loops (like the While loop and the loop that allows you to repeat code multiple times) — the code couldn’t be interrupted. That meant that I couldn’t turn the signal off when I wanted to. That felt clunky, so instead, the LEDs animate a few times, and then continue to be their rainbow selves until the other button is pressed and they are turned off (this is something that I just updated yesterday, but didn’t feel like I should separate from this section — it’ll still get its own timeline entry!).
One major change was deciding to use one neopixel instead of two — basically, I didn’t want to have wires hanging around everywhere and the one LED seemed sufficient for the signal.
Following that, I started to design vests to hold the electronics. While I could have embedded them directly onto the puppets, I felt that it would be better not to damage the puppets and also easy to develop an agile, changeable solution if the electronics were on something that the puppets wore instead. The vests are perhaps not the most aesthetic things in the world, but on the whole, I think that they look fine. I only had time to start the basics before having to pack and get ready for CGSA. At first, I thought of using my cat’s harness pattern, but that seemed to take up too much fabric, and anyway, wasn’t based on the same shape as the puppets. This gave me the idea of using the existing puppet pattern as a base. So, using the larger puppet back pattern, I slightly altered the shapes and left room for arm holes.
May 29th – June 2nd: I was at CGSA!
A whirlwind of staying up too late and sewing tiny vests for puppets! After designing the shape and ensuring that it worked, I had to design a pocket for the batteries (which I talked through with Tom), a way of making the Microbits buttons easier to use no matter a person’s handedness/what hand they chose to put the puppet on, and decide on LED positioning. Tom helped me talk through the pocket decision, which due to the flexible positioning of the microbits (which are attached by velcro and can be repositioned), had to be in a specific orientation. Last night, I finished all three vests and they’re all in working order.
June 4th: After finishing the vests, I tweaked the code, cleaning it up to reflect the single neopixel, turning down the brightness of the LEDs, and making it so that the second button turned the pixels to “black” or “off” instead of to the very-bright white setting.
And that brings us to now.
I am ready to draft rules of play for the game, but I have started to do some reading to familiarize myself a little bit with the literature on psychodrama and on sociodrama (which may actually be more what I am aiming for — systems and the experiences of a group rather than necessarily individual experiences).
In terms of narrowing down the themes of the game, I have been thinking a lot about harassment, bullying, and microaggressions. This, I think, is the confluence of a few factors: some of my friends and colleagues have recently told me about harassment which they are experiencing, my own family is facing harassment and bullying, and I just watched Season 2 of Thirteen Reasons Why.
So, I’ll be doing some reading and thinking before I sit down and commit to the rules.
On the Autoethnography side of things, I wanted to note the difficulty of tracing the influences on my thought process. This thought is based partially on this quote from a recent blog post by Pippin Barr about Translation Studies:
“One of the most difficult things about trying to actually talk about design is that it’s so ephemeral much of the time. Even with the best will in the world and the determination to pause and reflect on your design work in the moment as you make decisions, it can be hard to think of how to even frame what you’re doing, and thus hard to get words out. The most important thing in that context is to actually know what you’re trying to make, for which you can refer to design documents, artist statements, or similar. But even then it can be tricky to make the connections between some specific design decision and the high level statement of purpose.”
To really note all the overheard bits of conversation, all of the media that I am consuming (willingly or not, whether it’s the music playing in the grocery store, or an accidental glance at someone else’s phone, or all the myriad things I might scroll past on social media) that might have an influence on my process, and still have this project be manageable in scope is…just not possible.
What I can do, and what I am doing is documenting, writing notes, and recording conversations when I can clearly say that yes, this is part of my design process. I am taking notes about the things that I am deliberately consuming and thinking about as part of this design process. But there is so much going on, and for both ethical and practical reasons, it can’t all go in. So, the data is necessarily incomplete. I guess I have to make peace with that. I already have hours of conversation recorded.
On another note about productivity and scheduling: I was having a conversation with a friend and fellow designer this morning, and we were talking about what I’ll summarize as the concept of “lying fallow” — I’m not sure if others have used this term before… I feel like the answer to that is yes. These thoughts are also definitely influenced by Kara Stone’s CGSA talk, which is forthcoming as a paper, about Reparative Design. Increasingly, I am coming to recognize the importance of the times where a project is active but I am not working on it. This is something I think that I discussed in my writing earlier this year, in January and February, when I was experiencing burnout symptoms.
Now that this idea has had the time to lie fallow, all of a sudden, things are just coming together. It’s a joy to work on it. It’s a joy to talk about it. But it needed that time. And so did I — I think that, like a field that has given all it has to grow the previous seasons’ crops, I needed to rest. I needed to be taking in information and thinking about the project without worrying too much about time. My past development cycles have definitely been about these bursts of activity, followed by refinement.
Having given six months to each game project (eight in the case of the first one, though I’m hoping to not need all of those extra months, in order to be able to build more of a buffer), and knowing that I also have to do things like writing and editing (for my dissertation, for publication) as well as teaching, and y’know, taking care of my physical and emotional needs, I know that my schedule is a lot. It can be difficult to feel okay about lying fallow, but ultimately, the past year has shown me that it is a necessity.
Your faithful autoethnographer,
Doing the best that they can,
Yesterday, after roughly two days’ work, I finished making the first puppet for “Flip the Script”, so I wanted to drop a few notes about what the process was like:
— I thought I would be able to sew everything by machine, but a few different parts required me to whipstitch some fairly intense parts of the fabric — sewing the round faceplate into the puppet’s face, sewing the neck to the body, and sewing the arms on. This made the process take so much longer than I expected, partially because I know how much wear and tear these puppets are going to face (so I may have been a bit overzealous with my reinforcing of the stitches).
— I couldn’t find affordable reticulated/polyurethane foam for the skull and mouthplate of the puppet at first, so I instead used 6mm EVA foam. The resulting skull was quite blocky and firm, and pretty uncomfortable to handle. The mouthplate is very robust, and Harle’s mouth hangs open unless it is being shut by a puppeteer. I eventually found thicker polyurethane foam at Wal-Mart (1″ instead of 1/2″) and I had to trim away at it with my scissors. For the next puppet, I am going to try and saw some polyurethane foam in half with an exacto, and see what comes of it. It will almost definitely be painstaking, but for what I need it for, it may do the trick.
— I bought ping-pong balls to use for eyes, and I compressed them inward in one spot to create an indented spot for the glue to hold and to make sure that the eyeballs would lay flat on the puppet’s head. Unthinking, I applied hot glue to this spot, and to my surprise, it began to expand outward, far beyond the original shape of the ping-pong ball. I could have anticipated this if I had thought about the trapped air inside the ping-pong ball heating up and expanding, but alas, I did not. It was a bit of a mess, but I managed to clean everything up all right.
Throughout this process, which turned out to be a bit slower than originally anticipated, I began to think with the materials — which is exactly what I had been hoping to do originally. It made me realize that I didn’t want to make generic puppets — I wanted to make characters that players could then choose as their assistants in the game. I like the idea of the puppets being actors or helpers to the players, rather than blank slates for them to project upon.
I have also been toying with the idea of having spots of velcro on the puppets where one can add accessories. I’m unsure about that for the moment. I am thinking that perhaps the electronics ought to be housed in vests/clothing on the puppets rather than sewn directly onto them.
Oh, I also found a number of tutorials doing exactly the sort of thing that I want to do with NeoPixels and the micro:bits (by which I mean, using NeoPixel rings with micro:bits).
Since my last update, I have spent a number of hours in design conversations with my spouse and my brother. These conversations helped me to greatly clarify what I should be doing to move forward with the design process for “Flip the Script.”
Talking to my brother in particular helped clarify what the design of the puppets ought to be like, regardless of whatever electronics wind up embedded in them. Basically, these puppets will all follow the “Project Puppet” pinhead pattern, and I will create accessories to make them customizable.
As we speak, I have a large plastic bag full of fleece, ready to be made into puppets, and I’ve got the pattern cut out and prepared. I hope to make the puppets in the next few weeks, before June 13th, when I will be leaving to come back to Montreal for three weeks with my spouse. During those three weeks, I plan to be working on a draft of my background chapter.
In these design conversations with my spouse and brother, I also talked about the rules. This clarified one of the problems I was having regarding interruption, and made me think that the game probably needs a few more steps of mediation to make it run smoothly — for example, letting the storyteller tell their story once all the way through, and then having the group decide on what the key moments that they would like to address in the retelling are.
So, here are my near-future goals for the game:
— Write out the Rules more formally.
— Make at least 3 puppets and some accessories for them
— Attach the NeoPixels to the Microbits and test (https://microbit-micropython.readthedocs.io/en/latest/neopixel.html — I have a different kind of
NeoPixel, but I see no reason why this shouldn’t work)
— Figure out just how much technology/computational assistance is needed for the game beyond this.
— Figure out how the group’s coda/lesson/thoughts will be recorded at the end. Will there be a website? Will there be a twitter account?