Thursday, September 23, 2021

Northern Star - Apophenia - call for papers

 Dear friends and readers, I have the pleasure to extend the invitation for a symposium at Nord University, Bodø, December 9-10th 2021. More details will follow as we learn how many will participate.

NOTE concerning extensions:  since this clashes with DiGRA2022 deadline: I am not going to formally extend the date, but if you send me an email letting me know you want to submit, but need more time, I will extend it to October 18th. Why do I do it like this? I need to, as soon as possible, have some kind of idea about the interest for this symposium for the internal planning, and to know you will submit is very helpful at that point. The actual selection process will not start until the 18th, but there are some practical decisions that need to be taken as soon as possible.


CFP:

Northern Star Symposium: Apophenia 

Apophenia is the sense of seeing patterns where there are none. It is why you feel like it always rains when you travel, and may also be why an angry mob thought fragmented messages from the anonymous stranger “Q” meant the US election was invalid. It is what makes open world games so inviting to player interpretation, but also why they break, as apophenia will leave players chasing clues that don’t lead anywhere. 

 For this first Northern Star symposium at Nord University in Bodø, December 9th and 10th 2021, we invite participants to present reflections, abstracts and work in progress that relate to pattern recognition in texts and online behaviour. The main focus is on how we see patterns, interpret and mis-interpret them, with examples from media, social media, games; digital and analogue, and networks. This can include, but is not limited to, fake news, conspiracy theories, worldbuilding, social networks, big data and methods (errors and over-interpretation), fiction, and religion. 

 How to participate: Email: torillDOTmortensenATnordDOTno, use APOPHENIA in the subject field. 

Deadline: October 15th 2021. Decision: October 22nd 2021. Include a no more than one page description (500 words) of what you want to do. Options are: 

Reflections: This is a flight of fancy, a description of potential ideas and connections that the concept Apophenia fosters. 

Abstract: This is a summary of a relevant research project you have done, and which you would like to present to the others. 

Work in progress: This is a work you would like feedback on. You will get an opponent, and be asked to oppose the work of another person. 

Selection process: Participants for this inaugural Northern Star symposium will be selected based on received description of the project up to 500 words. For this first Northern Star symposium the program committee members are Torill Mortensen (organizer), Lisbeth Klastrup, IT University of Copenhagen, Tanja Sihvonen, Vasaa University and Susana Tosca, Roskilde University. Submissions will be curated by the program committee and the Nord University journalism faculty. 

Place: Nord University, Bodø. Venue to be announced. 

Online? If it is still/again impossible to travel, the two keynotes will be streamed, and there will be a town hall meeting where we discuss what we would like to do next year. Also, all the submissions will be collected and distributed to the other participants, before the virtual town hall. The symposium itself will not move online.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Go north!

 I have gone north. This update comes to you from just north of the polar circle, Nord University in Bodø. If you need to google that, you are not alone. Until a few years ago, Nord University Bodø was Bodø University College, along the same lines and Volda University College, where I worked for 19 years. It is a small, messy place which has grown in different direction based on interest, need, politics, convenience and opportunities. There is no clear plan that can be easily identified from the outside, and while there is a strong profile, it is as much forced by geography (arctic, local, indigenous) as designed. These small universities in the Norwegian periphery grow from the inside, based on necessity and possibility, rather than from the outside, based on grand visions and planning. They are the medieval city center rather than the renaissance park of educations.

Being here feels like coming home, but at the same time, I left that renaissance park behind. As I step in under the low ceilings of the 80-ies architecture, climb the red brick stairs and settle between the light yellow walls, I miss the steel and glass of ITU, the flights of fancy dominating the atrium instead of the snug warmth of the offices. However, here people can speak to each other. The Norwegian habit of bringing your own lunch means most are settling down around the same table unpacking their sandwiches of dark bread, having homegrown vegetables and sharing homegrown fruit. The directness that feels like such an alien thing when I speak to my colleagues at ITU is the norm here, with sharp jokes, insolent comments and quick teasing, with everybody unapologetically getting into all business being revealed in the open. This is Norway too - if you are a stranger, you are shielded, but if you are in, you are in for it all, every impulsive thought played out for better or for worse. I had forgotten I missed this, the language letting me be quick and sharp back without slowing down to shape the words carefully to be understood, the body language so easy to read, the actions and habits to easy and normal.

Things may still change. Whether I stay north or go back south depends on a range of circumstances falling into place. The main reason I am here is to be in Norway, with my husband and children, and not trapped at the other side of a border, our visits determined by quarantine laws, not desire to be together. But as for now, I am planning for a future in Bodø, building a master in journalism and strategic communication, and this place being as open to opportunity and invention as it is, I am building the education I really want to offer. It will be exiting to see it play out.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Feminine values

Since it is March 8th 2021, the first thing I want to do is congratulate all the girls and women out there. Congratulations. We have made it through another year. I am not going to say the last year has been all about progress: this year has cast a harsh light on inequality, gender, race, and class. The pandemic has underlined how easily small differences and cultural expectations can have huge consequences. So if you feel this year didn't really bring us all a step closer to a free and equal society - I don't know how history will judge, but seen from this spot all alone in front of my computer, I can tell you I both understand, know and feel that this year has been hard. 

 When that is said, I found something beautiful this year. Those of you who know me know that I knit. I have always knitted a bit, I focus more easily with a knitting project in my hands. It keeps me from falling asleep while watching television, it helps me listen more closely in lectures, and I have to admit I have a few socks created during conferences. I normally have a pair of socks going - we can never have too many, right? - normally very simple ones, no pattern, just a nice colour-changing yarn. However, once in a while, when I find a lovely pattern, I do other things, although mostly sweaters with traditional, Scandinavian yokes. I love the stranded colourwork and the intricate decreases coming together to create a soft, warm embrace. And when the pandemic isolated us all at home I pulled out my yarn and needles and started knitting.

First, I finished this project, which I had started just days before the lockdown, using scrap yarn from a failed project. It is not fully as large as it should be, but large enough, and it is the Peacock Feather Shawl by Lyudmila Aksenik. Then I worked my way through other projects: a sweater I had started the summer of 2019 (Tiril Snøkrystall Pullover by Tiril Eckhoff), a vest my family had bought as a kit (Duet Vest by Hanne Falkenberg) and which had moved slow due to the very complex construction, until I started ordering yarn for other projects. Soon, during 2020, I had knitted six sweaters, four of them for adults, four shawls, four cowls, and an unknown number of socks and caps. To give you an idea of what this meant: My normal speed, if I don't try, is a sweater a year. This was something like 10 years of production in as many months.

This is not to brag about my speed though, because this maniacal knitting was not a sign of health, but a coping mechanism for stress. And I soon started to see that others used knitting in the same manner. All around me, people shared their knitting projects, and on the websites where I followed knitters, mainly Ravelry.com, but also in groups on Facebook and on Instagram, I soon found that people used knitting to respond to the pandemic in different ways.

Knitting has a long history of political activism, and so the response of patterns designed to respond to the pandemic were not surprising. These patterns were interesting though: they were not mainly about making a statement, but about expressing longing and connection. They were extremely intricate and time-consuming, and often came with a lot of individual support from the designers to the knitters that chose to knit them, for instance in the shape of knit-alongs (KALs): online timed work sharing with pictures, chats and Q&As, sometimes with gifts.

KALs are not something new with the pandemic, but the way people talked about them was interesting. It was clear that there is a real connection in sharing your work, and it was less important to be perfect than to share the progress. And soon I was looking at hour-long youtube videos often called "podcasts", where the important thing was not the amount of information shared, but the sharing of togetherness. These podcasts, mostly ran by women, but also some men, are - and this is where we get to the title - celebrations of everything we have so far understood as feminine values. They are recorded in very domestic settings, often either framed by the tools of the craft - in front of shelves packed with yarn, a swift and a ball winder - or in some cozy position with a fireplace, plants, pets, pictures on the walls or examples of thread craft (embroidery, weaving, knitting, crocheting) on the walls or draped around the person speaking. A few candles or electric candles are good too, and add to that a cup of something warm to drink.
Slumber Shawl by Stephen West.


The podcast itself frequently expresses tactility - the touching of yarn, skeins and balls, or knitted results, hugging them, cuddling them, holding them up to the face, while speaking about their softness or firmness, depending on the desired result. Then they express industry. There is always a work in progress and one or more finished works to show off. Since that is the main event, not surprising, but during this there is often a story about who this is for. And this leads us to the next part of what these videos express: connectedness. The people in these networks are extremely good at acknowledging each other. Not just mentioning designers or producers - that is very important and is often underlined with added comments after the fact - but also speaking of videos they have watched, live-streams they have participated in, Instagram, Facebook or Ravelry pictures they have seen, and comments they have received. A lot of the hour these videos often last is filled with this kind of net-work, where they make sure to mention names and demonstrate connectedness. And that is before they start sending each other presents. There is a constant stream of little gifts between these crafters, they send and receive patterns online, but also physical gifts like wool, needles, blockers, little markers, and finished works.

There are other expressions of connectedness. One of the crafters will invite you to a live-stream to sit down and eat with him. Another made a video where you would not see him, but his knitting, seen from his point of view. One will take you on little outings to visit other knitters, and another takes you out on her farm to see her sheep that produce her wool, letting you connect with the original producer, so to speak. Others post memories of times when they could get together, videos from past seminars, festivals and courses. But common for all of this is that I am so far not seeing anything but invitations to participate. The people who comment on each others objects - even some of the eye-searingly ugly scrap-yarn objects designed through random selection and decades of questionable taste - are nothing but inclusive. An incredibly ugly thing gets complimented for the amount of work going into it, or questioned about the sophisticated technique. Something clearly useless is complimented for its inventiveness, and the boring but useful gets lots of praise for its practicality. 

I am aware that being unfailingly inclusive and sweet is not a typical value for women, we can be as sharp and judgemental as anybody, but society has assigned this connection work to women, and it is wonderful to see it play out, particularly at this time when we really need to maintain connections!

So here is the recommendation I want to make on the women's day of 2021: Nurture the feminine values in your everyday life. Find the side of yourself that understands how to connect - it can be over a car engine, sports, cooking or whatnot - and reach out to others. Leave some positive, friendly comments. Touch your favourite tool and tell us why it is the best there is. Let others like you know its story, where you got it, who else have used it, and what it is used for. Connect with the physical world and share it in the virtual. Understand connectedness. It is the feminine value that will let us come out of this sane.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

So how are you doing after this spring?

If you are reading this, you have survived until past summer solstice of 2020. That in itself is a feat. The year is not over though, and we still have things to do, virus to beat and oppressive systems to tackle. Because who knew that when sending people home from work to save as many as possible, taking away their livelihood and not offering them proper health care would lead to dissatisfaction with the government? That is just one of the many surprises of 2020.

I am not going to go into all that though. There will be books and books written about this year for a long time to come, and for historians it will be a turning point to return to. The virus revealed the weakness in capitalist systems, the robust greed of the top 1% and the strength of their investments, the fragility of welfare systems around the world, the tension of racism and the systematically distributed poverty, and the mechanisms that have kept all of this balanced on the edge through force and violence. And that is before we even look at the way the virus has ravaged the weakest of the refugees still stuck in camps, or how it has disturbed supply chains around the world. The global village is just a series of weakly linked nodes after all, and when the links break, which nodes end up starving may surprise you... (By the way, here is an article from WebMD that reveals how capitalism was the main problem with the meat shortage in the US. Export was kept up, while President Trump wrote an order to maintain production because there might be a national shortage. WebMD? That is where I go to understand what the bump on my nails might signify, not for articles on the problems of production specialisation in late capitalism. I guess we all revealed new depths this year.)

And yeah, I used click-bait language. Because the internet has struck again, and shown us how the same trolling skills that can force women out of their homes of fear for their lives, or send the police to innocent strangers, can fool a president to thinking that he would meet hundreds of thousands packed in to listen to him despite the danger of infections from this global pandemic. The internet is a force that can move mountains, if its people can just agree on which mountain to move.

Anyway, I just wanted to say hi. I have been pretty much alone for months and not written to you, because I have been depressed and didn't want it to leak too much out the cracks until I felt better. So instead I did things to make me feel put together. Productivity always does that, but I haven't been able to focus enough to write. I did manage to teach and supervise, and my students were brilliant! I am so happy to teach smart, nice, funny people, and get to hang out with them while teaching. It is a gift, and even more so in bleak times. However, I did something non-work related that made me feel like I was doing something worth while: I knitted. I have always loved to knit, and I normally have a pair of socks on the needles, to feel productive while I binge-watch something. This spring I have finished three adult pullovers, three childrens' pullovers, and two large scarves. There is an unfinished pair of socks and a baby jacket tucked away here somewhere, and I am looking for my next big project. Finishing something physical, something that has both beauty and use, is immensely satisfying. Giving it away and knowing a person I love can feel that love is even better. If I am doing that I can handle watching the news too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Physical isolation - social interaction

Not much to say today except what the title says. We call it social distancing, but that is wrong. We are, and should be, physically distancing ourselves from others. Socially, however, we should be close. And that is definitely possible these days. Ask anybody in a long-distance relationship, with a disability, with 100 friends in the raid-guild, with an active Tik-tok presence, even with a decent amount of pen-friends or involved in mail-chess: physical distance is not social distance.

I have spent more than 20 years studying Internet user by now, and this actually pretty much sums it up. Online and digital communication is real. Friends who show up to raid with you on time are real friends. The people who bother to cheer you on in your fifteenth update of your crocheting adventures are really happy for you. They are not socially distant, they are socially present, even if they may be physically distant.

So get on the phone, computer, or your neglected stationary set, and get socially closer. And if you are among those who still make money: do some mail-order local shopping too. They need our business.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

All the invisible women - and English as a second language

Recently an interesting article by Amanda Phillips combining PUA rhetoric with game studies history has made some waves in social media, so I decided to have a look at it. Particularly as it was speaking about something I was part of: Gamestudies.org, in year one.

The article is addressing the affective tone of the development of game studies, and as such that is a pretty subjective thing, and agreeing or disagreeing doesn't really matter much. I read it mostly hoping to have fun and get an idea about how people understood what we did.

Imagine my disappointment when we apparently didn't do anything. The article discussed the tone of Espen Aarseth's initial editorial statement, and that was it. It did pretend to include more authors by citing Aarseth, but without letting us know they cited Aarseth: "One author in Game Studies 1, no. 1, even casts new media studies as a 'pseudo-field' invented 'to claim computer-based communication for visual media studies.'"

Once I saw that, I realised that this was a paper that did not engage in historical precision, or even a proper close reading of Aarseth's editorial, but was concerned with how a very specific group of people felt about game studies. And if you write about your own feelings and those of your friends, or as the abstract clearly states, a limited affective history, it also explains all the participants who became invisible in this discourse, and the cultural distinctions that are ignored.

Once upon a time we were quite proud of the many very strong women in game studies. Marinka Copier was vital for the first game studies conference in connection to what became DiGRA. The group that started the Digital Games Research Association had a strong, although not a completely balanced, gender representation, and after the first three years with Frans Mäyrä as president, there were three female presidents: Tanya Krzywinska, Helen Kennedy and Mia Consalvo, until William Huber took over in 2016. The group that started Gamestudies.org had two women and two men among the editors, one woman and two men as review editors, and four "collaborators", where one was a man.

In the later discussions of what gamestudies in Europe consists of, these women are to an almost spectacular degree forgotten. Most of them, myself included, had different approaches to games than the more structuralist understanding that articles like Phillips' argue against. Perhaps due to this we were not good enemies in the so-called narratology-ludology debate, and so we were ignored in all positioning papers in literature theory based writing. Perhaps since we are women we were ignored in all discourses about the male-ness of game studies. Emma Vossen, who has written a Ph D Phillips cites actively, has interviewed a group of scholars, but in these interviews the names of most of these original, strong and important women from Gamestudies and DiGRA are not on the radar of neither the interview subjects or the scholars.

Since this is an affective history, the feeling that only the men were important for game studies in Europe is probably entirely correct for an American scholar. But this affective history, that claims to have closely read the writings of Aarseth, forgets one more thing. Aarseth is a Norwegian scholar. English is his second language. And for an American to analyse affective signals in the writings of someone who writes in their second language must be really complicated.

Norwegians are abrupt, direct, and often sharp. Foreigners experience us as rude, inconsiderate and ignorant of common manners. Any scholar who understands about affect (at least the Massumi school) would know that it is based on pre-cognitive experiences, sensations that are hard to analyse, because they rely on experiences which are not quite interpreted. And when your first, affective language is Norwegian and not American English, that matters.

Still, of course, Amanda Phillips feels what she feels when she reads these articles. Emma Vossen has made her own choices when trying to unravel who have power and who have access in game studies. But they are both writing from a very particular position, about a history constructed from a distance about something that was built from a small, diverse (yes, diverse: the group that established DiGRA spoke 9 different languages, the first working group in Gamestudies spoke 6 or 7 different languages), up until that point invisible, community that came together for a series of efforts that has had a huge effect on a field. And awareness of this is a level of reflexivity about Phillips', and also Vossen's own position in relation to what they write about, which I would have liked to see in their different, otherwise interesting analyses.

And now some of you will claim that I am defending a friend I have worked with for 20 years, and I am annoyed at not being mentioned. Nah, those who know me also know I am not blind to Espen's flaws (he knows too), and I am quite happy with not being a tall tree that draws this kind of attention. A little occasional recognition and a job is what I want most of all. :)

But I am really disappointed that Helen, Aphra, Marinka, Susana, Anja, Lisbeth, Jill, Sal, Celia, Mia and all the other women who were part of starting Gamestudies.org and DiGRA have been treated as if they have not had any influence on the history of building a field. There were women at the table. Those who choose to only focus on the men who appear to be great targets for criticism are also complicit in making the women disappear. And these fantastic ladies are a lot more than boring ghosts.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Playing Kingdom

One of the games I have played most frequently recently is Kingdom. I am currently on Kingdom 2 Crowns, which is the third version of it, and I haven't explored all the features yes, but I am still having fun trying to figure out the most efficient way to move through the lands.

Kingdom is a simple sidescrolling strategy/resource management game, where you are a monarch trying to keep your land from falling to the greed in the dark of the night and the depth of the winter. In the two first version you have to flee or fall, while in the third version you have a chance to fight back - even after your fall, as you can spawn at the beginning as a new monarch.

The game is beautiful, with soothing music, and the gameplay is extremely simple - at the beginning you just run back and forth. It is so soothing and simple, I have at times lost because I have fallen asleep and run into danger.

Kids don't immediately catch it, but when they have been interested, it has been as groups. Since it can be played - at least version 2 - on a tablet, it's one I have when I visit the grandchildren. They like to play it if they can play with friends who talk about problem solving, dangers and solutions. It was a huge hit in a recent 7th year birthday, with a group of adorable kids who displayed excellent turn-taking, careful consideration of each other, and a few problems with the strategy. I died once I had the game back, as my bags were empty and the walls too weak, but I had observed some sophisticated reasoning for a pack of sugar-hyped kids running on extra helpings of chocolate pizza.

I play the game to calm myself, or while I am watching television and can't knit. I need something in my hands while focusing on other things. I only focus on this game alone while I am exploring new content. Once I am through, I know how it works, and it becomes more about the right rhythm than about focus, but I have to admit, that has taken me down a few times. Got to keep an eye on those seasons! And yes, I adore a game with seasons.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Comparing privilege - or lack of

Once upon a time, I wrote an article for an American collection, and I used class as an example of inequality. The response was that this would not be understandable to an American public, so I was asked to use ethnicity instead. That was however not something I felt confident with, so I used gender, which was accepted.

Since then, I have tried to understand why being asked to use ethnicity or, to be frank about it, race, as an example of inequality troubled me so much.

There are a couple of simple and obvious explanations, of course. Growing up in a very homogenous Norway, where the family had defined their ethnicity away by deciding we were all Norwegian, I did not have a language to explain some of the lived experience, and so when I tried to see what was happening my tools were all those of an analysis of social class. I quickly found that these were exceptionally functional and flexible, and did embrace a lot of those other differences, which today are spoken about and analysed as intersectionality:
“All of us live complex lives that require a great deal of juggling for survival,” Carty and Mohanty said in an email. “What that means is that we are actually living at the intersections of overlapping systems of privilege and oppression.”
When later class, a common topic in education, public discourse and political activism in the sixties and seventies in Norway was combined with gender, an increasingly debated topic, it offered a type of intersectionality that was easy to understand and deal with. Why then, the problem with ethnicity?

First, the problems with systemic ethnic bias in Norway were very well hidden. After WW2 large portions of the Sami population had redefined themselves as Norwegian when they reregistered and moved back to their home areas after they had been evacuated and Finnmark scorched. Many of them had already been using Norwegian names. My father's fathers had been Morten Mortensen for several generations at this point. At this point they registered as Norwegian speaking, a vital marker for ethnicity.

Second, even within these communities, there was bias. The settled, combined fishing and farming sea sami of the coast resented the nomadic reindeer herders who came with their flocks through carefully nurtured, sparse fields and farms. The nomadic herders resented the settled farmers for closing off their traditional paths. And so being Sami became something backwards, exotic and different, alien to the lives of contemporary Norwegians, apparently a lifestyle choice rather than a culture.

It took years to understand that my own ethnicity blinded me from understanding that of others. Experienced and internalised racism blocked the understanding of other expressions of it. After all, we had just left it all behind and moved on, why couldn't others?

But had we?

Trying to understand what I experienced as a child and how it has designed the understanding of intersectionality I am struggling with today is not a simple task, but we clearly had not moved on. The ethnicity of the past kept rearing its head, for instance in the way my father's dyslexia was treated as a result of him being sami, and so my sisters' dyslexia was never acknowledged, and that meant recognising the same problems in our childrens' generation was that much harder. Reading was a waste of time anyway, right?

Which brings me to the comparisons of privilege. My understanding of the struggles of other ethnicities are still just theoretical, they are learned, not lived. But I have learned that privilege is not simple and one-sided, and so I have a problem when this is not accepted. Being told that I am too white to understand racism when I have my entire life lived in a society where racism is not based on colour, but on language, education, naming and geography, is confusing. I don't quite believe that privilege is that simple. Instead we benefit from something, but are stopped by something else, and the mathematics of privilege becomes as complex as the mathematics of hedons and dolors in Bentham's Felicific Calculus.

While being aware of privilege is extremely important, we need to acknowledge that like the struggle of complex lives, privilege is also relative and varied, and should not be a simple and automatic stamp. And that is what bothered me with the demand to leave class behind when discussing inequality, because class is as important as ethnicity or gender in this arithmetic of privilege. And this is what makes call-out culture and the emphasis on being "woke" such a problem to translate, because both practices focus on relatively narrow understandings of privilege and inequality.

But until we all have an intersectional understanding of privilege, we can make a stab at memorising Bentham's nonsense verse to aid the calculation of hedons and dolors to guide our moral actions:
Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure—
Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure.
Such pleasures seek if private be thy end:
If it be public, wide let them extend
Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view:
If pains must come, let them extend to few.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Growing up together with an academic field

"What do you do," somebody asked me, two decades ago in a MUD. "I am a scholar," I answered. That was immediately challenged. Apparently, that was a term that kept being misused. At the time I was an assistant professor, just finishing up my Ph D., and I was doing research right then and there. I explained this, and was grudgingly accepted as being the real thing.

I have had a few firsts in the years as a scholar. I built an education in strategic communication in the media department of a tiny college on the west coast of Norway, I studied computer games way before it was cool, together with Jill Walker Rettberg I wrote perhaps the first academic article on blogs. I created the second games research guild in an MMO - and it was the second only because when I told those pesky Americans about my plans at that conference, they went and made their own immediately - which inspired the first book on World of Warcraft, an anthology which served to open up what almost became its own branch of game studies - WoW-studies. I was part of the first group of editors for Gamestudies.org, the first academic journal for games, and a journal that will be 20 years old next year, and I was part of organising some of the first conferences specifically for the digital arts, the DAC conferences.

All of this, and a few other things, specifically the work I have done on the more problematic topics around games, the aggressive culture, the offensive and difficult content, the transgressive aesthetics, was part of why I received the acknowledgement from the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) as a distinguished scholar, this year.

You'd think I felt like I had gotten somewhere. But every time I sit down to teach or do research, it still feels like I have just gotten started. Like it's all at the beginning. The only times I feel old is when young scholars complain about the institutions that came up after I started. The lack of publishing opportunities, the problem with getting accepted to conferences, the positions in the field, the lack of relevant literature for their work, it all seems to be so difficult, and it all makes me feel so old, because I really, really want to tell them to do what we did, and create what they need. I am not here to make life harder for those who came after me, but sometimes I really feel tempted. Your reviewer was a bit harsh on you? Buhu, go create the journal where you will be accepted. You couldn't get into the conference? Too bad, go start your own. It's what we did. It's why you can stand there and complain. OK, I occasionally do say this, when I have a headache and really don't want to hold your hand while you cry over your rejections. I have rejections of my own (still) that demands tears.

But those moments of tired impatience aside, I am more worried about that day in the extremely far future when I will retire and no longer have the privilege of teaching, supervising and working alongside young scholars. Because that is still, after 28 years as a scholar, the best work I know.

Monday, September 02, 2019

The privilege of not having to worry.

In the aftermath of #MeToo, there has been a lot of "oh but now I don't know how to approach women" and "I can't talk to women because what will they think of me?" Suddenly men worry about how to approach women, and feel afraid of being misunderstood when they talk to women.

Well, here's the thing, women have been doing that for ever. Here are some examples of things women think when they encounter a guy:

Scenario 1: She likes him, thinks he is funny, and wants to hang out, but she isn't interested in sex with him.
- I need to laugh at the right things, but I can't appear to chase him.
- I can hang out in public, and with other people, but I can't go home with him.
- Oh, he wants me to come home with him. It might be innocent, or it might be a THING. If it's the first, and I refuse, I will ruin this chance to hang out with this guy I really like. If it's the second, and I go, it will definitely be ruined, because then I will either have to sleep with him, or he will be angry and hurt when I reject him.

After that she MAY be lucky and have a friend or at least a guy who just laughs and is fine with the mismatched signals, or she may be unlucky and have anything from a spurned suitor complaining about being friend-zoned to a date-rapist in her past

Scenario 2: She wants the job, and she has a male boss.
- I need to look good enough that he doesn't immediately reject me or think I am a mannish bitch, and tone it down enough that he doesn't think I am a slut or airhead.
- I need to be pleasing when he asks me to help, but sufficiently assertive that he understands I can do this on my own.
- Oh, he wants me to take responsibility of this thing, and I have to lead two other guys. How can I both be confident and assertive, while not making them think I am an angry, man-hating feminist?
- The guys are really not doing this the way it should be done, and I have the data, the experience and the examples to show everybody why. I need to do something, but how?

After that, she MAY be lucky and have earned the respect of her boss and her colleagues, or she may be stamped as a vindictive feminist bitch that is impossible to work with, be professionally side-tracked at best, or just plain fired because she can't cooperate, never to find a job in the profession of choice again.

Scenario 3: She dresses up to look as beautiful as possible, because we all need the boost of looking lovely once in a while, hiding her blues behind a smile and some very careful make-up, and goes with her friends to a party. At the party there are both men and women.
- I need to smile and be polite and make sure everybody have a great time, because I might meet some interesting people.
- Oh, this was a fun group of interesting people who want to talk to me, now if I am funny and sweet, we will all have fun!
- Ooops, I was a bit too sweet. Nice hug, but now I am ready to end that.
- No really. I need to get out of this situation right now.
- Is there a friend I can signal to, and go talk to, to get out of this without making a scene?
- Right, there's Anne, going to the bathroom - hi Anne, I am coming to the bathroom with you!
- Thanks all powers, I got out of that without making it too awkward, I can talk to them some other time and nobody will be offended...

After that she may find more people to chat to, have fun and get home still riding the sweet rush of having met some great new people, spent time with friends and had great fun, or she may be desperately avoiding the attentions of the guy who decided he wanted to come home with her and took no hints, and who she needed to negotiate her way around the rest of the night (or more, if he is really determined), more or less successfully.

Of course, sometimes we just contact guys we like, even stalk them, sometimes women are bitches and sometimes sluts who just want to pick up a guy for the night. But trust me, we have all at some point thought very carefully about how we approach the men around us, in order to not be misunderstood, even if we sometimes fail at sending the right signals. Not all women are good at this, even if we know we need to be careful.

What I am getting at is: the idea that men only need to start thinking like this after #MeToo just confirms what it is all about. Men having to think about how they are perceived before they talk to women? Welcome to not having all the privilege, all the time.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

So you don't like the conference?

Conferences are difficult for academics. We need them for publications and for networking, but nobody really likes them. The fun part is always the stuff that goes on at the same time, the conversations, the parties, the walks, the runs, the more-or-less planned meals, the trips back and forth - that's what feels like it makes it all worth the trip. We still go, because no matter how much we may dislike it, the next time we need a reference we remember that we heard something on that conference there... and then we have a way to track the argument down, and avoid repeating other people's work, or to go a step further ourselves.

However, since we all need them, but don't really love them, everybody have an opinion about them. So did I, many years ago, when I first started attending. Then I started organising them, and now I just thank every conference organiser as long as they are not obviously scamming. So for all of you who are unhappy about your current conferences, aside from perhaps looking around to check if there's something fun going on elsewhere, these are my recommendations.

Start organising seminars with colleagues. Just small stuff. One day, everybody cordially invited, a relevant topic for the group, but no call or reviews.

This lets you practice how to book rooms, how to make a schedule, find funding or a space for lunch, if everybody pays for themselves, how to keep time, and how to keep track of who are there and who are not able to come.

Next step is inviting a speaker. Same learning outcomes as above, but with the added complexity of inviting somebody from outside, somebody as many of your mates find interesting as possible. Done that? Good, next step.

Now you send out a call for your one day seminar, which means you need to practice writing a CFP (call for papers), find reviewers, create a double blind review process, follow up the reviews, send responses to the people who sent their papers in, including both acceptances and rejections. Once people arrive this time, they may not be from your little circle of friends and colleagues, so they need directions, a website with the program on and their paper on the program to prove for their institution that they need travel funding, preferably also a proceedings for use in their further struggle to be hired in academia, they have special dietary needs, they have disabilities, they need help to find a place to live - in general, you have suddenly upped the game seriously. But you are still within a one-day, one-track conferences. It's fine, it's still real, but it's still manageable out of your own computer on your own time.

But then this catches on, and you think "huh, we had to reject so many great papers, why don't we increase this to a two day conference with multiple tracks." Now you start having so many submissions that you no longer manage to keep track of every author and every reviewer, and you need to find a good system for managing the papers. There are several out there, and they all do the same thing: help you set up a place to submit the papers, register presenters, register reviewers, send out reviews, collect them, compare, make decisions and send out the decisions. Then you need to get the papers de-anonymised, the abstracts updated, and you need to put papers into sessions and find chairs for the sessions, create an even more elaborate program, deal with all the people who needs changes, handle the complaints about the reviews, etc etc. And you need to create a set of proceedings, that needs to be published, probably at this stage by your institution, and you need a stable website for it, because you are now doing something that impacts all those other people.

And then you start getting feedback. This is when either swear never to do this again, or you just swallow all the acid the feedback generates, and decide to learn from it and go on. Because at this point your work had made a jump from being fun and interesting for a small group, to being important enough that others care about what you do. And that means they also care about how you do it, whether you invite the right speakers, serve the right kind of food, think about the environment, about gender issues and identity, ethnicity, accessibility for people from low-income countries, opportunities for early-career scholars - all of this and a lot more is now placed on your shoulders, and you have to respond to it as the you who knew everything about how a conference SHOULD be run would have liked to see it.

Depending on the size of the conference, this will get harder, the feedback and expectations tougher, and rewards for everybody else involved higher, and so the stakes will increase too, and there you are, elbow deep in the stuff you were complaining about before that first seminar.

I still think you should do it. Organise that first seminar. Start learning about how to facilitate the academic growth and development of an academic community. Care enough to act, not just talk. Make the conference you want to see.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Dedicated to tourists in Copenhagen: biking

After almost 9 years using my bike as the main transportation for everything, I am starting to feel confident. Not native, mind you, women my age around here have more than 50 years in the saddle, honing their thigh muscles, but no longer a tourist. And so I would like to offer some advice from somebody who still remembers how confusing this was.

Copenhagen has a wonderful network of bicycle tracks, and it's easy to rent bikes, manual and electric. I strongly recommend that you try this out at least for one day. However, Copenhagen traffic is complex, due to the mix of pedestrians, cars and bikes, and all the natives know the rules and get really upset when you don't follow them. So please remember:

1) You are operating a vehicle. A bike is heavy, and moves at reasonable speed, and that's why it is really important to follow the traffic rules for vehicles. Follow the driving direction. Don't drive on sidewalks. Don't drive on foot-paths. Don't drive on pedestrian crossings. Follow the direction of the other bikes, don't drive against the driving direction. Signal when you turn or stop. Vehicle, remember?

2) Your vehicle is small, slow and vulnerable. Don't try to be smart and outwit the cars. Busses and trucks turning right cause the most serious bike accidents in Denmark. Make sure they see you, make sure you follow the rules for bikes, don't confuse the drivers.

3) If you decide to behave like a pedestrian (this is the great thing with bikes, you can, easily), get off the bike. Either you are on it, and driving a vehicle, or you are off it, walking, and a pedestrian. And if that is what you choose to do, get out of the way, off the bike path, and preferably aside so you don't block the sidewalk.

That is basically it, but I have some extra hints:

The city center is a bad place to ride your bike. Getting past places like Nyhavn, Tivoli and Christiania is hard enough for the natives who know what to expect, with pedestrian tourists who forget that the extra sidewalks are actually bike lanes. If you try to do it, you don't know what to expect, and will end up crashing with some French lady too cool for rules.

Further, the city center has some of the most traffic heavy bike lanes in Copenhagen, and during rush hour people just want to get to the other side of the city, now. And if you, like the British dad I just almost forcibly met on the bike lane this morning, decide it is a brilliant idea to guide your little family against the driving direction of the lane, you are asking for trouble. The least will be a symphony of angry bells, the worst will be a multi-bike pile-up when the rush hits you head on.

Instead, anything that takes you out of the center is great. Take the bike to Refsehaleøen, it's a lovely trip across the canals and along some beautiful old roads, and keep going to hit the artificial beach at Amager Strand. Follow the canal south to the Royal Library and the Architecture center, and then turn back to find the Parliament at Christiansborg, or Tivoli. Go east, and circle Castellet, to reach the little Mermaid from the other side, rolling smoothly up like a native, instead of mingling with the less informed tourists. Or keep going north along the water, to the lovely, posh neighbourhoods to the north-east past Østerport, or to the beaches of Charlottenlund. Push out beyond Nørreport and towards Nørrebro, to visit H. C. Andersen's grave in one of the loveliest combined graveyards and public parks you may find (at least around here). This is when the bike is your friend, and will happily carry you out of trouble, well beyond the anger of annoyed Danish bikers and pedestrians, and the crush of all the other tourists who are not as smart and well informed as you.

Anyway - I don't expect tourists to be reading this. But perhaps you accidentally get a hit on google for this, and read all the way down here. If so: please, be safe, be patient, read up on rules, and check the map carefully. Knowing where you want to go will get you there much easier. Also: Pay attention to the traffic lights. I am probably that woman behind you, swearing because you were chatting and didn't catch the 7 seconds of green light for bikers in that specific lane. You just made me wait five more minutes, because yes, the traffic lights in Copenhagen are sometimes a bit impatient with error. If you do hear me muttering angrily under my breath as I am pushing past with my groceries, it's not personal. And I do know that not that many years ago, that was me, hesitating, and somebody else, grumpily muttering. Embrace the Copenhagen experience and learn the rules, and we will soon enough have you too being annoyed and using your bell to angrily scatter tourists.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Relevance and morals as a modern researcher

When we submit applications, we are always told to tell the world why our research is important. How is it relevant? And I am always at loss of words. Not because I think what I do is irrelevant, but because I think it is all extremely relevant, and not seeing that is really not a problem I can solve. So, let's take a step back and look at the problem from another angle.

First, I need to simplify, which means picking one of the 500 reasons why I think what I do is incredibly interesting and important. So instead of listing all the ways in which studying games, play and cyberculture is important, I have to find one. My current most important reason for studying this is: it plays with our emotions.  That is just standard rhetorics though. Aristotle was talking about how rhetoric plays with our emotions, so why is it still important? Well, rhetoric never stopped playing with our emotions, and we have not become smarter about it, quite the opposite. Our emotions are now being played with at a rate we have never before experienced. Our heart-strings are constantly being tugged, our anger stoked, our sense of humour tickled, and somebody are making that their main business. The contemporary currency of mass media is not just our eyeballs, which have been sold regularly for generations, but our reactions, connections, networks, and emotional impact.

So next, I need to figure out which agency might care about this. If what I wanted to do was to sell a business idea about how to do all of this better, then I would probably have had a long range of businesses to work with - and I would have made a lot more money than I do as a lowly scholar. But I have this thing about not just having my fun - I also care about how I have my fun. So I want to use this knowledge about how emotion is currently bought and sold in a way that lets the society in general benefit, and not just, for instance, Google or Facebook (who have become super-rich off our emotions already).

That is where it all stops. Because I have this tiny little thing that I know a lot about, there is a sea of businesses who want to make it into a better business plan, and I want to give it away for just the price of developing it into a working model together with somebody who will use it to counter all of those commercial players. I am sure the persons I could talk to exist. I am also certain they are looking for somebody like me. But instead of matching up us, application processes are basically working by the garbage bin principle.

In organisational theory, a generation ago now, we learned that in any organisation there are a stack of problems, and a stack of solutions. They all get thrown into the same bin, then they get shook up a bit. Afterwards we go through, and start trying to match them up. It doesn't matter if the problems and the solutions match perfectly as long as they kind of match. And that is the problem with any research application process. I am at any given point trying to guess the problems in the bin, and then I try to write an application that matches the problems I think have been thrown into the bin. A lot of other people do the same, of course, and it's all matched up by a bunch of people who never asked the questions, nor wrote the answers.

Here is another answer I don't have: I don't know what a perfect application process would be. I do think it is a pretty impossible task to ask me to guess how to be relevant to every possible funding source out there. And to be honest - I don't even want to. But if you are interested in a person who knows a bit about how our emotions are being manipulated through digital media, well, if you have a good question, let's see if I can make a plan to come up with a good answer. Who knows, we might be able to avoid the garbage bin altogether.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Should we teach every buzzword? The example of growth hacking.

When you try to develop an education that is attentive to the potential job market of students, one of the things you will face are buzzwords. Every employer will have a new buzzword that they would like you to use when educating the students. The current term is "growth hacking."

There is nothing wrong with wanting our students to know about growth hacking. If you research the term online, it is mainly a way of thinking, a strategy for understanding how everything in a business can be optimised in order to gain and retain customers. Patel and Bryson have "A Definite Guide to Growth Hacking", and they are quite enthusiastic about it, even if they feel like they have heard the term a million times.

So why does growth hacking show up when we plan a tiny course of just a few ects at a University in Denmark, what is smart about it, and what is a problem. First, we are doing a course on networked user practices. That is pretty much the bread and butter of growth hackers. They want to know how to study users, in order keep them around for as long as possible. Sound strategy. It is what we have public relations and marketing departments for: to understand the people who keeps the business running: The consumers/users/clients. And growth hacking mainly means that the knowledge of these departments need to be drawn in closer to the production and innovation, in order to inform every step of the chain from concept to product more closely. For those of us who have been reading something on the development of PR as a profession, this is pretty much the Grunig and Hunt excellence model on steroids: The business is in continuous conversation with the surroundings.

But why is this then a problem? Because when they call it growth hacking, they think we are not already doing it. A solid, updated education teaching strategic communication will already teach the students what they need to know in order to support growth hacking in an organisation. The term isn't really needed for the university to understand the importance of constant user testing and feedback to an organisation that wants to develop quickly. The terms is needed for the businesses in order to understand that the thing they want to have our students doing is exactly what we want to teach them.

The problem arises when we can't find literature on the term to put on the reading list, because when the solid research that exists is on dull and well known topics like market demography, data scraping and netnography, that doesn't read like the sexy terms consultants throw at their clients. But here it is. Instead of hiring a horribly expensive firm to give your business a growth hack spin, look for somebody with a solid education in communication. Give them the attention and resources you would give the self-proclaimed growth hacker, and make certain all the different levels of the organisation is available to them - and they are available to all in the organisation. Then you can get on with the growth hacking, but buzz free. And we can get back to teaching things like the methods that facilitate the development so often disguised behind the buzzword.

When that's said: I will have growth hacking as part of my lectures. I have now read up on it, and my book shelf is already full of the communication literature I need to ground it in a solid organisational communication history. I don't think I will publish on it though. Before it's out, the term will be out, too.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

2018 books I remember

I tend to devour fantasy and science fiction, and I do it for the escape. I read and write constantly, and when I don't, I play, all for work, so when I want to get out of that kind of headspace, I end up mindlessly devouring popular fiction. Aside from Netflix and HBO binging, I have been buying Saga, Monstress and Paper Girls comics, and I definitely recommend either one of those. But today I want to mention some books.

The thing with me and fantasy/sci-fi is that I rarely remember what I read afterwards. That's not what they are for. But sometimes I am left with a bit more than just the normal odd sense of having had a different experience, and I actually remember something from them. These are the books I have read on my Kindle in 2018, and remembered something of.

The Newsflesh series by Mira Grant. This is a little bit like cheating, because I read the first, Feed, some time ago, then picked up the second in 2017, reread the first, read the second, and then bought and read the rest in 2018. That means I read one of the books twice, and have a bit more of a chance to remember it. But it also means I cared. This is a weird and interesting zombie novel, where the main characters are journalists who end up in a zombie-infested conspiracy. The different endings are not all that happy, because this is a post-zombie-apocalypse dystopia, but at the same time I love the struggle to keep going and maintain some kind of coherence in a world that is all broken.

The Clocktaur War, by T. Kingfisher, a pen name for Ursula Vernon. I am trying to remember why I loved this. One part is the clockwork constructs that inhabit this world in the best steampunk style, but also the sense of flawed characters wielding even more flawed magic, and the stupidity and arrogance of humans starkly revealed in the face of other intelligences.

Then there is Uprooted, by Naomo Novik. I have loved Novik since the Temeraire books - who can resist a society reforming, social democratic dragon? And Uprooted is also a book of dragons, but a very different kind of dragon. This is about the evil we do not speak and do not fight until it is almost too late. Then we need to go into the heart of its darkness to reveal the rotten core of betrayal. And no, the dragon isn't evil in this book either.

The next book, City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, is special because I still can't remember it. I know I loved it. I reread the beginning today before writing this, to see if I could recall it, and all I am left with are odd glimpses like a kaleidoscope of beautiful imagery. Sometimes, this is all I remember of a book that while reading gripped me firmly, and sometimes it's because it was disjointed. I can't, for all it's worth, recall which it is with this book. I am still including it because the fragments are still very appealing.

A series/type of books I had a lot of fun with this year, was a series of superheroes. Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon has carried me through many flights this year. It's about a world in which superpowered individuals pop up at odd intervals, either at puberty or triggered by trauma, and about how they deal with that. Lots of humour, not particularly complex, but sweet, light reading for those of us what have always wanted to have Atlas Type powers because that means we will be able to fly.

And then there are the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. This made enough of an impression on me that I modelled the main story for Transmedial Storytelling this year after the idea of artificial intelligences with human traits. Sadly, my students hadn't read it + they are IT students and know that there are humans behind the most invasive of software dystopias, so they didn't even care to spin a rogue AI fantasy. But I loved the idea of a self-aware and, by mistake, quite empathic military grade robot out there, saving humanity from itself.

I have read a lot more. My kindle content list is so long it may be a sign of an addiction. But these are the ones that, skimming through the list today for the sake of summing up some of what I did in 2018, stood out.

DiGRA 2019 Call for Papers






It is our great pleasure to announce the Digital Games Research Association's 2019 Conference call for papers. Papers are invited under the theme 'Game, Play and the Emerging Ludo Mix', where 'media mix' serves as a starting point for considering games' convergence, transformation, replication, and expansion from platform, technology, and context to another. For more information and updates, please see http://www.digra2019.org/.

DiGRA 2019 Conference will be held at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan from August 6 to 10, 2019.

Submission deadlines: 
Full Papers, Abstracts, Panels, and Doctoral Consortium: February 5, 2019
Workshops: April 8, 2019

Please share this call with any potentially interested parties. 

Best wishes,
Program Chairs Hanna Wirman, Masakazu Furuichi and Torill Mortensen

Monday, September 24, 2018

What the world owes you - lessons from a meme

There is this meme making the rounds, and it popped up in my feed. I saw it enough that I want to just rant a little about it:

In the comments at imgflip, where I found this picture of it, somebody had edited it to say: Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. This is from the US declaration of independence, and was not at the time considered self-evident, but a goal for a new nation to strive towards. Much of the rest of the western world agreed, and when United Nations drew up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was drawn up along the ideal that humans had certain rights to seek a good life through legal means.

What we tend to forget these days is that this is an ideal. As this meme points out, the world as such owes you absolutely nothing. Some institutions are working very hard in order to make sure that you and everybody else have some rights: mainly the right to live as happily as you can within the law. But nobody owes you this. Quite the opposite: you (and I) owe a debt to those who went before us, and those who work now, to uphold these ideals. That debt is owed to everybody from the officials and politicians working to ensure these ideals, to your neighbour paying her taxes, doing her job, sorting her trash and raising her kids to support a world where human rights can be a reality and not just an ideal. If you don't participate in that it doesn't matter how rich or privileged you are, nobody owes you anything.

While this is harsh, it is a reminder that if we want to be taken care of, we need to care for the society we live in. There has to be some kind of exchange, even if it is at a few degrees remote. Only through a universal dedication to caring for others can we be certain to be cared for. Which, for those who are inclined that way, is what it means to be a Christian.

give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38.

And while I am quite agnostic, a lot of the new testament just makes sense as to how to treat others to live in peace, freedom and happiness. And that isn't something the world owes us - it's what we owe to others. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Hövding bike "helmet" warning

I bought a Hövding bike "helmet" - they call it air bags for your head - because I am vain. I also bought one for my husband, because he hates to wear a helmet. These are the main reasons why people buy this very expensive protective gear. My husband tried it on, and went straight back to the store. For him, it was much worse than wearing a helmet. At least he came back with a new helmet which he now occasionally uses.

I kept using mine. I particularly liked it when my hair was up, because I have long hair and a regular helmet doesn't fit over a bun. Today I put my hair up, put on the jacket and "helmet", reached for my keys (not suddenly. I am a sedate, middle-aged woman), and heard a loud bang. The airbag blew up while I was still standing!

They do warn that you should not walk with this, but the movement I made was something I could easily do on a bike, a soft turn, like leaning over while turning right. And if this had happened while on a bike, I would have had a real accident.

That, sadly, was not enough. My head was pushed forwards, and for a moment I was trapped in this high collar. It turned out that the airbag impacted with my bun, and pushed my head away and forwards, rather than enveloping it protectively.

I was devastated. I loved the idea of this technology, and was planning to buy it as presents for others in the family. Now I am very happy I didn't. This flaw is serious, it could cause an accident, and get me badly injured in the accident it caused.

Luckily I also have a very good looking bright red helmet, and was able to get to work almost on time.

I have lodged a complaint about this. It is not a prank, or something I post in order to ruin anything for the designers. I really wanted this to work, and have used it, expecting to be protected, for more than a year. It has also protected others I know, personally. But mine exploded for no particular reason.

#Hovding #Hövding

Monday, September 10, 2018

Education across cultures

Last year in Bologna, I had the privilege of easy access to the world's oldest University. Since then I have had several people go: "there must have been something in.... (insert ancient culture here)", but it's easy to counter by pointing out that the University in Bologna is still up and running.

What that does not tell us though, is that no, the University as we know it was not established in 1088. Rather, what we saw at that time, was that some people who were already exploring grammar, rhetoric and logic were broadening their field, actively meeting for discourse, and teaching others. From this, and from other, only sightly newer institutions in England, what we understand as the western university grew.

But it wasn't that simple. Norway, for instance, didn't get a university until 1811, when what was at the time Det Kongelige Frederik's Universitet was established in Oslo, then Christiania (Frederik and Christian were the two most popular names of Danish kings.)

The establishment of this university, along with the liberation of Norway from Denmark and the subsequent creation of a Norwegian constitution, led to a movement of Norwegianness which meant the development of a Norwegian language. The life of students was carefully recorded, by Knut Hamsun in his novel "Sult" or "Hunger", and by Arne Garborg in "Bondestudentar" or "Peasant students". Very different in language, tone, plot and aim, they still both describe a transition - a movement from a society where it was not common to be educated into a society where studying was not only a possibility, but also a goal.

Today we are seeing another group of students who have to leave their culture, their past, their familiar structures and their families behind in order to gain a coveted education. Like the student in Hamsun's Hunger, they struggle against their own abilities, intellect, imagination and desires, and like the peasants turned students in Garborg, they struggle against their own betrayal of their past, and their inability to smoothly integrate into the culture at the university. What we are seeing is whole nations - gigantic nations - attempting to make the class journey that the peasant students did when moving from the countryside to the city. And they try to do it by going abroad.

Where Garborg's students needed to learn Danish and let go of their Norwegian, two languages still related and fairly close, today's class-traveling students change language, culture, national institutional structures, what almost become entire worlds. They leave everything familiar behind, and fight to survive in a tight, stream-lined and carefully bureaucratic educational system. The question isn't why they fail. The real question is how do they manage at all?

The peasant students in Norway eventually changed the educational system. They created a new language, so they would not have to study in a language which was not their own. They established more universities, and eventually district colleges, so their sons and daughters didn't have to travel that far to get education. They made it all free for all who wanted education, and they made lower level education mandatory. This educational system had very little in common with what was created in Bologna in 1088. The only thing, actually, would be the desire to learn and to teach. All the rest was built upon a mixture of learning structures and cultures, on the hopes and dreams of local scholars, and on politics and nation building.

This is what has to happen (and hopefully is happening in several places) in Asia, the Middle East, Africa. The desire to learn and to teach needs to find local, sustainable outlets. Teaching thousands and thousands of foreign students in Australia, USA and Europa is not a bad thing at an individual level. For one strong, resourceful student, a period of learning abroad can be a wonderful, formative experience. But as a system for the development of a nation it will - should - fail. Nations need their intellectuals at home, working, solving problems and educating new intellectuals to meet the specific problems of the future. Buying that education from expensive, western Universities only helps so far.

As for the students who come so very far only to fail... Arne Garborg gets it.

Han lagde dusken bak; lagde dusken fram; lagde dusken midt på aksli; nei. Det vart ikkje den rette svingen. Og frakken, - frakken sat, som alle frakkane hans hadde siti. Han såg ikkje ut som student. Han var ikkje student. Han var ein forklædd bonde.

"He flipped the tassel to the back; to the front; left it right on his shoulder; no. It did not get the right turn. And the coat, - the coat fit, like all his coats had fit. He didn't look like a student. He wasn't a student. He was a peasant in disguise."

Monday, August 13, 2018

Kjerringa mot strømmen

This is here to link a folk tale of the most contrary of women, who is also a Norwegian folk hero, the wife above the waterfall, or the woman against the stream. Please do read both the collected version from fairytales, and the poem by André Bjerke at the end.

Not a conspiracy, just a consequence

There are  several different theories of education at the moment, from the more reasonable: "learn to search for information and cooperate, don't focus on rote learning," (the problem with this is that without a certain level of simple facts learned the hard way, we don't know what to look for), to "learn mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, these are the core skills for everything else, all the rest is useless," at the other end of the scale (no need to interpret, contextualise and critically question if you can test everything in  laboratory). Just to get my point of view out there, the only theory of education I vehemently oppose is one where science is equalled with religion, and can be compared and exchanged on a curriculum. The rest should learn from each other and reach a point of mutual best practice where kids learn philosophy and physics, music and maths, art and biology, facts and cooperation. How to reach that ideal, I leave to educators.

But.

Here's the thing: All children need and deserve the best education any nation can afford to give them, education that teaches them to take informed choices about everything in their lives, from feeding themselves by way of choosing a profession to electing the leaders of their countries. If we keep skewing education only in one or the other direction, we take these options away from our future decision makers. We really don't want to do that, but we are doing it.

By emphasising the natural sciences to the cost of social science or the humanities, we are reducing the chances of children to become critical thinkers who can question social systems and the ethical and symbolic meaning of progress. We are taking away from the future the ones who would have a chance to question and oppose the oppressors, abusers and manipulators that will rise.

I am not saying that there are people who try to achieve this effect by attacking educational institutions and diverse information. I am just saying that if the funding keeps being shifted away from education to - just about anything else - this will be the result.

And that was my warning of the day. I do try to find other ways to oppose this trend, for instance by educating critical thinker, but here is why I stay in academia.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Game addiction controversy

Game designers used to be very proud of how addictive their games were. During the nineties, designing an "addictive" game meant having a great success. And so behavioural psychology was raided for knowledge of what extrinsically motivates people, this was rebranded as gamification, and used as an argument about how it is possible to use game design strategies in order to make any apparently boring or insignificant chore... well, if not fun, then at least more engaging and, yes, addictive.

But was this really addiction?

Addiction is a tricky word. It is currently used in several news articles in order to warn about the dangers of video games, but the WHO classification of diseases doesn't talk about addiction, but disorder, underlining it as a warning sign. There is however no specific list of what a gaming disorder might be a sign of. There is however already a decent body of research that points out that by treating gaming as an addiction and a disorder in its own right, the real problems go ignored. And if you disagree with all of these researchers since they are critical of the term, here is an article co-authored by Mark Griffiths, one of the strong voices arguing in favour of obsessive behaviours being classified as addiction.  Here's the list of other problems this article finds that "gaming addiction" is associated with:
In terms of the results, the following personality traits were found to be significantly related to Internet gaming addiction: avoidant and schizoid interpersonal tendencies (Allison et al. 2006), loneliness and introversion (Caplan et al. 2009), social inhibition (Porter et al. 2010), aggression and hostility (Caplan et al. 2009; Chiu et al. 2004; Kim et al. 2008; Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), boredom inclination (Chiu et al. 2004), sensation-seeking (Chiu et al. 2004; Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), diminished self-control and narcissistic personality traits (Kim et al. 2008), low self-esteem (Ko et al. 2005), neuroticism (Mehroof and Griffiths 2010; Peters and Malesky 2008), state and trait anxiety (Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), low emotional intelligence (Parker et al. 2008), low self-efficacy in real life as opposed to high self-efficacy in the virtual world (Jeong and Kim 2010), and diminished agreeableness (Peters and Malesky 2008)
It's like treating the fever, without asking if the patient has meningitis or the flu.

It is important to note that no game researcher today will claim that gaming has no problematic aspects. Just the one-sided use of time that for many very dedicated gamers could be better spent maintaining face to face communication, a healthy exercise habit and some variety in their general life experiences is worth considering when we talk about how games should be used. From there we see problems all the way from the development of cultures of exclusion based on game performance, by way of a language of aggression developing from the very direct communication ingame, to the huge economic losses caused by microtransactions. No, games are not always a fun and healthy habit. Neither is gardening, if you take it to an extreme that ruins your health, isolates you from friends and drains all your money. The only thing that makes excessive gardening better is that if you avoid pesticides and invasive species, at least you add to the production of oxygen and help counteract the heating of the planet, rather than adding to it through the support of the massive server-farms running to keep the games up. That is a huge benefit. Please go with problematic gardening, if you can choose.

The main danger of the decision to treat gaming disorder as a disease is that it shuts down too many other venues of exploration in order to understand why people play. It's becomes simple: It's because there is an addictive component to games, and like with drugs, alcohol and gambling, the only way to avoid the very wide range of problems ascribed to gaming is to shut down the games. But we don't know that. All we know is that there are a large group of people who wish it was that easy. If school shootings were caused by games, they would end if there were no games. If games cause teen-age pregnancies, they will disappear when there are no games. If games cause young men to become shut-ins and isolate themselves from the world and their families, they will emerge from their basements when there are no games. Students will finish college, grades will rise, drugs will disappear from the streets, crime-rates will drop. So many of society's ills can be cured, if we just remove games!

OK, the above was a touch of hyperbole lifted from the many, many articles describing what may happen unless we restrain games, and what games cause in society. The WHO classification underline that it's a very small part of the population that gets problems with games. But already the knowledge that this is a registered disorder has caused the business of treating it to bloom. And if that is allowed to happen without more research and more understanding of what is really going on, that means another boom of bad treatment clinics.

I rarely recommend comedy shows as references, but John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, May 20th 2018, had a long section discussing the rehab industry. Look at that, and then consider the potential for a gaming addiction rehab industry. There is after all a long history of strategies and research on drug rehabilitation. The so-called need for gaming addiction treatment comes with none of this, only concern and rumour.

When we, as games scholars, are worried and concerned, protesting the classification of gaming disorder, that is the real nightmare scenario.

Elsewhere on this:

The Verge on Gaming Disorder

Friday, June 15, 2018

The normativity of a fun Facebook challenge

Last night I let myself be convinced of a fun challenge on Facebook. It looked pretty innocent, and I just wanted to play along. It was as follows:
NO cheating 😉 Please brighten my day with the 11th [put in the number you are given] picture on your camera roll, no matter what it is! 😂 Have fun & play along. Then, copy and paste using the number I give you.
This looks innocent, right? I did however sense something was off, because when I reposted it, I pointed out that people should definitely cheat. And I soon learned why.

Not everybody's camera roll is comfortable sharing material. We use the cellphone cameras for a lot of stuff. I use it for remembering shopping lists, addresses, names and numbers, as well as for just regular images. I take pictures of books and handwritten notes. It's not all stuff that needs to come out on FB. And that is before I have started thinking about baby pictures and kids, faces I really don't have the right to commit to the face recognition machines harvesting our data. And since I am not really convinced that my body is all that attractive anymore, I do not have physically revealing pictures, and so that whole universe of either straight or queer images of enticing revelation was not on my mind at all.

But that is, of course, an important part of how we use our phones. It may not even be for tittilation, but just registration, even for health. It may be revealing pictures of ourselves or our friends or family, from naked children jumping into a kiddie pool to heavy fetish wear or situations. And both may easily exist side by side on the same personal image roll, without problems or perversions - until somebody tells you that you have to show them one particular image.

And that is when you learn why cat pictures are so popular on the internet. Because you will hastily scroll past all the pictures that will give away too much information, reveal a face that should be kept away from the public eye, or show somebody in a compromising situation, and end up - with a cat. Or, like me, in the lack of a cat, with a landscape or a building.

Of course, nobody checks. But at the same time this challenge forces us all to revise the reality, and you and I know. That revision is cheating. Still, in this day and age of surveillance: the game is already rigged, so please, do cheat.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Media-Ludic approaches

Two years of planning, pitching, reviewing, editing and writing sees its reward in the June 2018 issue of MedieKultur. It is an open source journal, so for all of you who really want to do some serious reading about research methods, here you go! My personal favourite here? My co-editor Emma Witkowski's interesting and innovative work on Sensous proximity in research methods with expert teams, media sports, and esports practices.

MedieKultur is a wonderful, well-established media journal that is also daring enough to give up space to a special issue on research methods still about the be established. I am immensely grateful to the editors and volunteers in the journal for putting in the work to maintaining this journal, which I have loved pretty much my entire academic life, and for taking a chance on Emma and me as guest editors.



Monday, June 11, 2018

Cookie Policy

So, this blog now also has a mention about cookies and how information is collected displayed across the top, and I have checked that it works. It is a standard notification, the way Google does it elsewhere. I used to think those were seriously annoying. Yes, I know you follow all my clicks, Internet. Every page eats my info, selling my presence. As with any other media, my eyes and my view of the content is what sells. The difference from a paper news source is that here, I also produce the content others makes money off. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, any other company that lets us produce and find content online, are making money off us both coming and going. I have known that all along.

But I have made thinking about this my life. I study, teach and research use of the Internet. It is not a trivial thing to me, quite the opposite, it is a fascinating theatre of human behaviour, a stage of love and hate, victories and pain, anger and reconciliation: all on top of a complex network of economical, military and political interests, driving increasingly sophisticated technology.

I do still get surprised by what people do online. But I no longer get surprised by my surprise. It has become a rule of thumb for me that if something can be exploited online, it will be. That includes you and me. That includes you reading something on this blog.

So yeah, there should be a cookie policy. There should be a warning that your advertising may change even if I choose not to have any on my blog. I am not making money off you. But I am convinced that your visit to my little blog here is part of Googles data collection. I am not sure what they plan to sell you afterwards. Books? Computers? Games? Gadgets to preserve your privacy online?

To help the little Internet spiders along, I will give you two suggestions.

Charles Stross has a series of alternative world Sci-Fi that I love, and which definitely follows my somewhat paranoid mood today. The Empire Games is a follow up of the Merchant Princes, and while I loved the first, the second (except where there are endless plotting scenes that I constantly fall asleep in the middle of) series feeds my surveillance paranoia.

Edited by Dale, Goggin, Leyda, McIntyre and Negra, The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness offers exactly the kind of relief from the fear, suspicion and general paranoia the Internet induces once you start asking questions. Not that it will really help in the long run, because as you will learn from this anthology, cuteness is a plot, and not only one to make you open the fridge or offer belly rubs.

Enjoy. And you are warned. Here be cookies.