Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Friggin' Busy: The Life of a Person of Consequence

I was really looking forward to the month of May; with my teaching course wrapped up, I assumed I would finally, finally, be free to pursue my dissertation, with a minimal amount of distraction.  But the gods laugh at the plans of men.   This month featured not just one, but two conferences, and a slew of videogame theory book recalls, which have been necessitating their own time demands.  After the break, I'll talk about how all of that turned out.

The result of the recalls was a bunch of book-related posts, which I'm sure you remember.  If you want to check them out, the Jones and Sicart book reviews are in the recent archives.  The first conference was last weekend.  It was our local department grad student conference, with Cary Wolfe, he of posthuman scholarship fame, as the keynote speaker. I hadn't been planning on doing anything for it but showing up and heckling, I mean, listening to the papers, but my officemate noticed we both were reading Siegfried Zielinski, and proposed hosting a roundtable discussion on the subject of variantology.  (You remember Zielinski, don't you?  He's this guy.)  I hadn't done a roundtable before, and it seemed like a nice, simple way to ease into it.

For those unfamiliar, the basic unit of discourse for an academic conference is the panel presentation.  That is, you're part of a group with one to three or so other people, hopefully speaking on a topic similar to yours.  Each of you has 20 minutes to give a presentation on your topic, and after, there's a brief Q&A session.  In my personal experience, I have always been put on a panel with presenters I have nothing in common with, and there are never any questions for me.  These two items may be related.  A roundtable session is a little different.  Rather than argue separate topics, everyone speaks to the same topic, and the discussion goes back and forth between the roundtable members, with a moderator occasionally prompting questions.  Depending on the size of the gathering, it's not unusual for the audience members to participate, to a level almost the same as the contributors.  (Sadly for the audience, it's only the contributors that get to put it on their CV.)  Essentially, then, the roundtable is a lot like what the panel presentation, if you take out the presentation part and make the whole thing Q&A.  It means that while you are going to do some prep for it, there's going to be some amount of spontaneity as well.  Spontaneity isn't really my strong point, academic-wise (there's a reason I write a blog rather than, I don't know, give a live podcast or something), so I was a little worried.

I wish I had some sort of hilarious story to insert here, but nothing so narratively compelling happened.  I spoke a bit on variantology and videogames, and my officemate spoke on variantology and science-fiction.  I've spoken on the potential for a variantological look at games before (again, see the post above) so I won't do that again.  I will say, that, in a lot of ways, variantology and science-fiction is almost more interesting than variantology and games, just because variantology is the study of interesting variants, and science-fiction is all about the interesting variants.  I say almost, because, technically, most, if not all, videogames are technically science-fiction themselves, in plot if nothing else.  They're somewhat limited by the need to be about shooting things wildly, but potentially, there's not a lot a sci-fi book can do that a sci-fi videogame absolutely can't.  At any rate, the discussion went fine.  Though our moderator had to sub in with very little prep time, he still did a very admirable job, and we had another member of the faculty present as well who gave me free range to indulge in a history of ludology diatribe.  I think I might have gone on a bit more on the game side of things than was strictly warranted, but I don't think anyone held it against me.  I don't think we radically changed anyone's minds about our scholarly prowess (since virtually everyone in the room knew us already, more or less) but we didn't wind up with egg on our academic faces either.

(One last note on the conference: I want to do a larger post at some point on some thoughts about Cary Wolfe's speech.  But that's going to have to wait for a later showing.  And if you want a quick run-down of  most of the conference's presenters, look me up on Twitter, or search for the hashtag #SAGEconference.)

The second conference this month is the big one, though.  The full name is the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, known as Congress for short; it's the annual big meeting of Canadian scholars in the Humanities and Social Sciences fields. This year, it's being held in Waterloo, Ontario, jointly between the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University and it starts this Friday, and runs for a full week. And addition to being a really big conference in its own right, it also has dozens of smaller organizations holding smaller conferences within it.  I'm presenting two papers for the Canadian Game Studies Association, and one for the Canadian Communication Association, in addition to the work I'm doing for the group project I mentioned back way back.  (I'd link to it, but I can't remember exactly when I mentioned it--the project started in February, so, um, have fun in the archives.  And if you do find it, let me know!)  And while I can't give any details on exactly what happens, I can say it all starts here: http://questing.at/crossroads/.  Do sign up, if you feel so inclined. I will say--by which I mean brag--that I was the one who wrote most of the tasks.

 Anyway, the CCA paper is done, in rough draft at least; it needs a bit of trimming, and a corresponding power point set up, but the brunt of the work is finished. It's on--surprise--instruction manuals, and in writing it, it felt really good to put to use the knowledge I've compiled in the last half year. The paper's fairly compressed, and a little more analysis (as opposed to secondary sources) than I'm used to, but I think it'll hang together well. Of the other two papers, one for the CGSA is part of the project, and I'm on a panel with four other people, so hopefully, I won't have to say very much. And at any rate, I can't really plan for it until the project's a little further underway.  The other paper's on the remediation of photography and Dead Rising.  If that sounds familiar, there's a good reason.  I should point out, though, that this is more than just a recycled paper: the Montreal conference was a workshop format, which meant that I just presented the idea there, and we discussed its potential, rather than me giving a formal presentation.This version of the paper is basically an expansion of the ideas I started with the first time around, taking into consideration some of the commentary at the October conference, and adding some theory I've since read concerning digital photography.  It's the big task between now and Friday, writing-wise, and hopefully, it won't require a complete re-write so much as a judicial updating.

I think that catches everything up to speed, work-wise.  Now it's time to stop talking about it, and start doing it.  ...Or taking a brief siesta.  That sounds good too.

Later Days.

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