Emulating reality

When we think of emulation, we usually think of the emulation of software that exists only as a digital artifact. But something recently brought to my attention challenges this predominant narrative of software and emulation. In the world of digital preservation, it’s a fairly obvious point that the digital is not any less real, any less material, and this example only highlights that.

So, the topic in question: I found an old blog post (from 2009) celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing. This post describes a project to emulate some of the original code from the command module and lunar module. It’s mostly really just something cool on the web, but more than that, there’s a reason why I’m writing a(n admittedly short) blog post about this: this is a clear case of emulation applied to something that was undeniably “real-world.” What could it even mean to emulate the code from the lunar module? What draws someone to do that? I guess you have to be fascinated with the Apollo Program, and also really into old code. Or something. But how can you emulate this code and forget that three people were inside the module that this code represents? How can you emulate this code and forget that two people used this code to set foot on the moon?

It’s a reminder that even when we are talking about emulation of games (link to a thought-provoking and vaguely relevant blog post), we’re talking about a constellation of things that real people played in real space. And sure, maybe emulation isn’t responsible for representing that aspect of the experience, but we are.

Constructive criticism

Okay, so based on the three responses to the readability poll (still in the sidebar), I’m going to avoid using “read more” cuts in the future. I will also go back and remove them in older posts, probably, but not right this second.

Thanks for making your opinions known, faceless readers! This blog thanks you. (And as I said in the other post, feel free to continue to do so, though it would be nice if you could save it for housekeeping posts such as these.)

Edited to add: I went back and removed (I think all) of the read more tags, so there’s that. Next readability poll might be on infinite scroll. Hate it or love it?


On Minecraft and positive reinforcement

In which your author decides to try Minecraft.

I’ve had Don’t Starve and enjoyed it for some time now (I think I first tried it in June 2013), and I’ve always heard that it’s basically a Minecraft clone with fancier graphics and a different set of problems. Not that different, but different enough. So I downloaded the demo for Minecraft several months ago (onto my old computer), and didn’t have much fun with it.

Today, however, was the end of a stressful week, and I wanted to do something that was fun and cooperative (we’ll get to that part later I think) and without win-conditions. I don’t feel like playing a game that put pressure on me to perform. So I booted up the demo, started a new world with “Peaceful” selected, and actually put some effort into trying to learn the controls. So far, I’m enjoying it, and if I like the demo I think I’ll actually buy the game so I can play with people. I’m going to be the boring person who just wanders around and makes stuff…but I think I’m okay with that. Maybe I should try Farmville instead (no).

I think this is known as self-care, and I’ll let you know how it works (and if I end up deciding to buy the game).

Also, if you’re curious, I highly recommend Don’t Starve if you’re looking for an enjoyable but intense single-player game. The spiders are adorable. But don’t go near them.

On Digital Humanities and community

A funny thing about Digital Humanities is that whenever two or more DH people (I know the accepted phrasing is Digital Humanist but like, lol no) get together, they have to agree on what DH means for them. Quite often it’s a strategic term, deployed more to establish an in-group and an out-group, than a real marker of a community of practice.

Although, that’s an interesting digression: understanding DH as a Wengerian Community of Practice, with peripheral identities and marginal identities and trajectories of participation. But as interesting as that path is to follow, I think I’ll wait a bit to pursue it.

Returning to the main topic of discussion: “DH.” The construction of DH as a discipline is quite strange to me, because of this phenomenon. I talked about fields and disciplines earlier on this blog, but I’d argue that DH isn’t really a field either. If disciplines are identified by shared methods and fields identified by shared objects of study, DH is identified by…a social network. There is a set of people who use the term in describing what they do, and this set of people meets in a variety of venues. DH is a particularly patchwork network, moreover, so these venues don’t necessarily overlap. I’ve been to a few DH conferences/events/thingamajigs in my time, and while there are certain people I’ve seen repeatedly, the vast majority travel in their little packs that don’t necessarily overlap with my pack (which for two years was the Boston-area DH group, based out of my home lab).

In sixth grade there was a system for class changes: the administration assigned each student to a “pod” of 4-6 people with an identical schedule. At this stage in my education history, there wasn’t anything too complex so scheduling this was not a problem. It helped us get used to our schedules, and also helped us feel a sense of stability when, for the first time, we were moving rooms every class period.

The DH community is kind of like this: there are pods based around projects and places, and these pods move through the currents of the community.

I’ve had the fortune, or the misfortune, to leap away from my pod and find myself in a new place with new projects and people. So, going to the first gathering of the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium was an enlightening experience. I’ll write more about that another day (no promises), but suffice it to say I met people and learned about projects, and I’m looking forward to see where this pod is going.

On readability

It just occurred to me to wonder whether I’ve been doing the right thing with “read more” cuts/jumps. On the one hand, it makes each front page cleaner and easier to navigate. On the other hand, it makes it harder to just scroll through posts (though you can still click on individual posts and read an entire backlog by using the prev/next links within those).

So I’m asking you lot (all…what…five? of you?) to speak now or forever hold your peace.

Kidding, I’ll probably look at the results in a week and make changes based on those. But if things change drastically after that I’ll reconsider I guess.

If you have comments, leave them here in this post. Anything related to ease of reading for this blog is welcome.

In which your author revises her opinion of Suchman

Technologies can be understood as materials whose stability relies upon the continuous reproduction of their meaning and usefulness in practice.

– Suchman (1993), “Working Relations of Technology Production and Use.”

I’ve had similar thoughts and read similar thoughts strewn over papers before but this is a perfect crystallization of the nature of technology. I think this has to go on my mythical quote board, to pull out whenever someone questions why I care about smashing up materiality and practice and context and performance into a great big ball of “research material.” It’s why, although I focus on games, I also look at literature and scanlation (lol yeah really) and “new media” in general.

But I’ll be honest, this works just as well to explain myths, or methods, or anything used by people to make meaning. Which makes me wonder: what if technologies are tools for meaning-making? As in, understand technology as anything that a person uses in order to add meaning? I know this is sloppy, but I feel like it kind of has to be in order to capture the human elements of this. I’m suggesting we look at myths and methods (just to be consistent here) as technologies in the production of meaning.

tl;dr: Suchman got this one right on the nose, and I’m grateful for it.