Electracy and Games

March 24, 2013

It’s been a long time since I posted to this blog, and this is partly due to time constraints as a result of becoming involved in the academy again with the Interactive Media course I’ve been teaching at Emerson College for the past four years. Doing this every spring has introduced a new rhythm into my life whereby I usually collapse/relax once the course is done (and this lasts through the summer), begin to think about the course again come fall (including investigation of new textbooks and syllabus revision), and then teach the course in the spring. I have detours into little projects that occupy my time (one fall was devoted to researching genealogy; a summer or two was given over to working on interactive fiction projects, and last May-June was focused on finishing an interactive fiction for the Cover Stories “speed IF”). Since August, I’ve been spending a good bit of my spare time taking different MOOCs being offered by coursera.org and udacity.com–another way to stay busy!


Throughout this time, games and gaming have become more central to the course that I’m teaching, both in the readings and course content. Lately, I’ve been investigating the possibility of gamifying my syllabus and just didn’t have enough time to do so for Spring 2013. So when I discovered GamesMOOC and its focus on ARGs (Alternative Reality Games) and AR (Augmented Reality), I felt completely obligated (or I should say “intrinsically motivated”) to take this course. I return to blogging here, therefore, as a result of my participation in that course, hoping to achieve the “Games Based Learning Badge” that they are offering. We’ll see how well I do, given my various time constraints…. (I’m also developing a “mini MOOC” course for the UnderAcademy College that will be starting as the Emerson class ends).


I’ve also been following Gregory Ulmer‘s ongoing evolution over the past four years, in part by interviewing him for the class every year as well as by reading his recent book Avatar Emergency. His ideas about electracy become more clear the more I spend time with his thought, and it continues to unify a wide variety of reading, experience, and intuitions that I have regarding the transition from literacy to electracy that is occurring so rapidly. He recognizes what he calls the “third axis of electracy” as demarcating a spectrum of pleasure and pain (which, when superimposed upon the vertical axis of orality demarcating right and wrong and the horizontal axis of literacy demarcating true and false, attempts to capture a new dimension of experience now more and more valued as embodiment gradually loses the stigma associated with it by the Judeo-Christian religions.  See below.  [image from Jan Rune Holmevik’s book Intervention: Free Play in the Age of Electracy).


All the recent talk of “fun engineering,” “the engagement economy,” and “hard fun” points toward the harnessing of pleasure by means of gamification and confirms the work that Ulmer has done providing the philosophical foundations undergirding these movements in our culture and educational institutions.

The third round of the GamesMOOC just focused on “Fun, Flow and Fiero” for its first TweetChat and so it too falls into this recent trend of figuring out how to tap the pleasure gradient in the era of electracy.


Virtual Memory Palaces as 3-D Immersive Learning Environments

April 27, 2010

While at the Immersive Education Initiative‘s Boston Summit April 23-25, I went to a workshop on Open Cobalt, an open source virtual world browser and toolkit.  What I found most helpful about the presentation was the “historical” overview, which began with reference to the radical nature of linking in Gopher (a text-based predecessor to the WWW) as well as the “walled gardens” of CompuServ and AOL.  One of the keynote speakers, Duke University professor Julian Lombardi, compared the “closed source” approach of Second Life to these walled gardens of the past and presented Open Cobalt as a potential solution to the current situation.

I immediately recognized the great potential for using this platform to have students experiment with the creation of virtual memory palaces, a concept I presented last month in the Writing for New Media class I’m teaching at Emerson College this spring.  Open Cobalt’s ability to connect virtual worlds via links echoing the powers of connection that Gopher inaugurated in the 1990s can allow for collaborative projects and experiments in collective intelligence (or collective mnemonics).  The possibilities are quite exciting–I saw this as one of the most promising developments to come out of the conference.

Analogical Heuretics

January 29, 2010

I just started teaching Writing for Interactive Media at Emerson College, for which I introduced Ulmer’s “Apparatus Theory” and the concept of “electracy.” Part of the talk presented two examples of “analogical heuretics,” that is, thinking via grammatological analogy as Ulmer is fond of saying and doing.  So the first one asks this question: if literacy makes conceptual thinking possible, what kind of thinking does electracy make possible?  In an essay I wrote titled “Imaging Place as Imaging Thought,” I conceived of four different answers to this question, playing with the etymologies in the same way that Ulmer suggests doing in a recent blog post:  deceptual thinking, receptual thinking, inceptual thinking, and exceptual thinking.

In the PowerPoint for the class, I expand a bit on “deceptual thinking,” drawing a connection to the famous New Yorker cartoon of the dog who, while sitting at a computer, tells another dog, “Nobody knows you’re a dog on the internet” as well as quoting from Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen where she writes that “You are what you pretend to be.”

While reading and commenting on Ulmer’s blog this evening, I got to thinking about thinking once again and pulled an old book (1889) off my shelf by George John Romanes called Mental Evolution in Man.  He studied and reported on animal intelligence, and when I googled “recept” at one point, references to his books came up.  And what he says about recepts (a word he coins to describe the kind of thinking that happens somewhere between percepts and concepts) resonates quite a bit with what we’re trying to do in establishing a category of thinking characterized as “electrate.”

For Romanes, the recept is a kind of compound idea that precedes the act of naming or use of language, which introduces a level of abstraction that elevates ideation to conceptual thinking.  He quotes John Stuart Mill, who invokes Auguste Comte,  who suggested that “besides the logic of signs, there is a logic of images and a logic of feelings.”  The recept, that is, is a kind of thinking before language, a thinking with images.

We can build upon Romanes’ idea of the recept, which he posits to suggest that animal intelligence is on the same spectrum as human intelligence (“the universal continuity of ideation, both in brutes and men”).  With electracy, we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water; we will build upon literacy and allow the electrate apparatus to enhance literate modes of thinking.  In this case, I wondered if Lakoff and Johnson’s idea of “metaphorical concepts” or “conceptual metaphors” could be considered a kind of receptual thinking insofar as they are a thinking (“conceptual”) with images (“metaphors”), a kind of thinking in which metaphors/images/analogies are brought to a level of abstraction.  In virtual worlds, we take all of this to a new level and begin to think with and within 3-D spaces, via movement through a space, almost like the peripatetic philosophers of old.

Romanes himself relies upon Lakoff and Johnson’s key conceptual metaphor of the mind as body metaphor (so that “thinking is moving through a space”) when he asks, “how far can the mind travel without the vehicle of Language?”  With this metaphor, Romanes reveals an inherent bias in favor of conceptual thought:  the mind can only go so far without the “vehicle” of language.  But I’m more interested in the fact that, once again, in order to think about thinking, we resort to the use of spatial metaphors through which the mind moves.  In my comment on Ulmer’s blog, I think through and with this metaphor to suggest that allegory has powerful potential for advancing thought along these lines…

Infinition: Thinking-Fractal

May 1, 2009

I wrote a poem a while back called “Axiom: A Mathematics of Poetry” in which I parody the opening chapters of G. Spencer-Brown’s The Laws of Form. The first line introduces a new concept that I created called “infinition”:

It shall be taken as given the idea of infinition. The idea of infinition stands in direct opposition to the idea of definition.

Then, as in chapter one of the Spencer-Brown book, I provide a definition:

Infinition is the act of making indefinite or unclear. That is to say, while some uses of language attempt to clarify, others attempt to obfuscate.

The poem then continues with instructions to make a poem, introducing “canons,” “conventions,” and “principles” much like The Laws of Form does in its opening chapters; these kind of “mathematical” moments attempt to define poetry from its moment of creation. Interspersed within these various defining moments are “infinitions,” poetic moments that obfuscate, that use metaphor and imagery to open up or make blurry what the definitions try to distinguish or clarify.

I later realized that this concept of infinition, which I playfully created for the purposes of this poem, could be introduced in the context of electracy as a simple analogue of electrate thinking. If electracy is a kind of thinking that emerges from or opposes (to some extent) literacy, and literate thinking has as its modus operandi the goal of defining, distinguishing, and clarifying, then “infinition” can be seen perhaps as a kind of electrate definition.

Or, to phrase it as Greg Ulmer might, infinition is to electracy as definition is to literacy.

As a kind of image-thinking, or thinking through or via images, electracy invites the kind of ambiguity that literacy loathes. Ulmer’s work (in Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy for example) steers us toward this kind of thinking that is already happening, that is at the core of inventive thinking, as in Einstein’s “wide image” of the compass:

Part of the value of Einstein as a paradigm is that his theories are imaged by a compass. The story of his compass becomes a parable for our own search , in that we must find our equivalent of the compass–the scene that we recognize as having this guiding role in our orientation to the world and to life. (27)

For Ulmer, “invention is an ecological process” and therefore we must attend to the various institutions of our lives (family, career, entertainment, community) in order to tune in to potential new ideas that can emerge from cross-over (in the way that metaphor suggests “crossing over” or “carrying across”). His books provide “heuretics” for invention, and they work: using his CATT(t) method back in his graduate theory course in 1987, I independently discovered the image of the rhizome (for me imaged as a watermelon) as a model of thinking differently, before knowing anything about Deleuze and Guattari.

If we are to think of infinition imagistically, then, I would offer the Koch snowflake as a model of a kind of “fuzzy definition” or “fuzzy logic” or “thinking-fractal.” The idea is to start with an equilateral triangle and then to let each of the sides open out into an increasingly elongated boundary. It’ll be quicker for you to get the idea if you see the animations at the Wikipedia entry for the Koch snowflake. Here is a boundary of infinite length, which seems to be a contradiction: if something is bounded, it is typically finitely bounded, enclosed by a measurable boundary.

So the question, then, is how can this fractal curve help us to think differently? Can the model of the Koch snowflake open up thought, make it an act of infinition?

Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for definition. But there is also a place for infinition.

Imaging Thought

August 21, 2007

I have finished and posted the essay that all of these posts have worked toward completing. The title ended up being “Imaging Place As Imaging Thought: Deleuze, Electracy, and Second Life.” One insight I reached in the process of writing it is that there is a connection between Deleuze’s call for a new image of thought and the new kind of thinking that Ulmer calls forth with his concept of “electracy.” Another insight I discovered is that the “imaging place” that cognitive metaphors of the Mind as a Body moving through space is a form of imaging thought. That is, we automatically image thought using these metaphorical concepts that Lakoff and Johnson have discuss.

The second part of the essay was an experiment in “thinking with Second Life.” I call it “Disorientation” as it is meant to throw into doubt some of our cherished beliefs about rationality. A startling coincidence occurred. I chose randomly, among the multitude of pink stars (indicating events in the Second Life cartographic interface), the one for the place called “The Think Differently Lounge.” And the funny thing about the place was that it was like most of the other dance halls you might encounter in SL, but this one had a grid-like structure for a ceiling and walls. And there were no obvious exits. I couldn’t find one, at any rate. So after teleporting directly into the “Think Differently Lounge,” I was trapped and surrounded by a highlyl striated (grid-like) barrier. Striation is a codeword in Deleuze and Guattari for a process that has congealed, crystallized, stabilized: all flows have slowed to a rigidity–the state (vs. the nomad), the tree (vs. the rhizome), stratification (vs. destratification), the striated space (vs. the smooth space), the territorialized (vs. the deterritorialized). I use the term in the paper to invoke this concept of theirs, in order to suggest that any form of thinking differently eventually settles in and becomes the norm. It’s a common enough, almost cliched conclusion to reach, but it was interesting to have it happen on one of the only occasions that I consciously went into SL with the intention to perform an act of electrate reasoning. Out of the experience emerged the kind of allegory (down to the woman who accompanied me, called “Nar Duell,” which sounds suspiciously like “Ne’er Do Well,” like a character one would encounter in a bona fide allegory straight out of the Middle Ages) one might expect to see more of in the emerging age of electracy.