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Donald Brinkman on “Tin Cupping for Plutonium” (Media Systems)

How can people embedded in large, for-profit companies find a way to direct some of the present expertise and resources to make a positive difference? In this talk from the Media Systems gathering, Donald Brinkman describes how he has worked to do this within Microsoft. In particular, he describes Microsoft’s role in enabling the digital projects engaging the AIDS Memorial Quilt that were also discussed in Anne Balsamo’s talk.

These projects explore the potential of digital memorials in an era when, as Balsamo references in Wendy Chun’s work, “we must be reminded that memory and storage are not the same thing.” Balsamo and collaborators began exploring the concept of creating a digital version of the quilt, allowing one to see and move across its massive surface, in 2001. With the emergence of national support for the digital humanities, a 2010 NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grant allowed them to begin work on the project — and led to an invitation to include their digital version in the physical display of the AIDS Quilt on the National Mall being organized by the NAMES Project Foundation for 2012.

From here a level of complexity in collaboration began to take shape that testifies to the many potential ways that computational media can engage memorialization and memory, as well as to the range of organizations enthusiastic to contribute to this work. The University of Iowa’s Digital Studio for Public Humanities began working with Balsamo and her team at USC on a mobile web app, allowing people to find their way to desired panels on the Mall and also experience the quilt remotely. Brinkman became involved, bringing both Microsoft Research’s expertise as well as the software and groups of two of their collaborations: the ChronoZoom team (at UC Berkeley and Moscow State University) and the LADS team (at Brown University). This made it possible to pursue both an interactive timeline and a table-sized zooming display of the quilt itself, but there weren’t enough development resources to complete all three projects before the quilt was due to be installed on the Mall. By tapping into the Garage program, which encourages Microsoft employees to dedicate time to charitable causes, all three projects were brought to fruition in time. Together they helped demonstrate that computational media experiences can not only provide access to works that are otherwise unavailable, but they can powerfully complement the experience of works that are physically present, contributing to the occasioning of remembering and testifying — as well as to education and critical reflection.

Brinkman believes there are four key ingredients to making this kind of powerful collaboration possible:

  1. Deep Data – that is culturally meaningful
  2. Passionate Partners – that are doing it because of personal belief
  3. Terrific Tech – which the people involved understand deeply
  4. Plutonium

The last of these he sees as having a set of possible ingredients:

  1. Free (as in beer) labor – such as the Garage program
  2. Matching funds – given by anyone from internal product groups to outside foundations
  3. Free tech – such as hardware donations, in return for things like publicity or a broader range of software
  4. Expertise – people who can help tell the story

If you wish to discuss the ideas in Brinkman’s talk further, please leave comments here or take to Twitter with the #MediaSystems hashtag. Also, as with most of our previously-posted videos PDF slides are available on the main Media Systems page for this talk. The full report from the Media Systems project — “Envisioning the Future of Computational Media” — is now available for download and print-on-demand. And watch for our final video, from Michael Mateas, coming next!


This material is based upon a project supported by the National Science Foundation (under Grant Number 1152217), the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities (under Grant Number HC-50011-12), the National Endowment for the Arts’ Office of Program Innovation, Microsoft Studios, and Microsoft Research.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of these sponsors.

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Pamela Jennings on “Field Building” (Media Systems)

In an emerging, interdisciplinary area, how can those getting started understand the possible paths forward? One way is through looking at the (often wending) paths taken by pioneers. In this week’s Media Systems talk from Pamela Jennings (recently-appointed director of the Center for Design Innovation) she provides insight into how she became a field leader, as well as into the work she has done to help the nascent field find its way. Jennings has been a key figure in much of the field development of recent decades, including recent successes such as the NSF’s CreativeIT program and the founding of the SEAD network. (Some related reflections can be found in the Media Systems talks of Brenda Laurel and Janet Murray.)

Jennings also discusses her ongoing work as CEO of the startup company Noblewire. In particular, she describes the CONSTRUCTS Toolkit, a wireless sensor mesh network system for new mixed-reality (virtual and physical) applications in education, gaming, and design prototyping. Providing new hardware/software possibilities such as these can help in engaging diverse groups, spark new kinds of speculations, and make possible the construction of new demonstrations and prototypes that could lead to new insights and products. This in turn, is one strategy for creating the kinds of “digital sandboxes” that aid field building by providing opportunities for those from different disciplines to engage, communicate, collaborate, and play. Read More »

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Ken Perlin on “Interdisciplinary Media Technology Research” (Media Systems)

I am happy to announce that we are publishing the final four videos from the Media Systems gathering — and that the final report, “Envisioning the Future of Computational Media,” is now available through print-on-demand!

We’re kicking off the last group with a talk from Ken Perlin, offering a vision of how computational media can become integrated throughout the curriculum, as something both written and read. Unlike most of our talks, this video focuses on the screen, where Perlin goes through a series of high-speed, interconnected demonstrations. He begins with a discussion of enabling believable interactive characters — arguing that a key is characters who can carry out intelligent performances of their roles, based on the kinds of high-level direction that can be provided by an AI system or by audience interaction (e.g., with a game controller). He shows two prototypes of characters like this, able to give engaging, coherent, grounded performances in real time. These simple characters arose from research deeply combining procedural computer graphics with the arts, particularly animation and puppetry (Perlin regularly collaborates with puppeteers). Read More »

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New Publication: “A Unified Approach to Preserving Cultural Software Objects and their Development Histories”

Report Cover

We are pleased to announce the publication of our recent National Endowment for the Humanities supported white paper on archiving and appraising academically produced computer games. “A Unified Approach to Preserving Cultural Software Objects and their Development Histories,” is aimed at providing a first step towards an archival methodology for computer games and their development documentation. The report provides an in-depth look at the development of Prom Week, EIS’s social simulation game, with a focus on its development process, context, and documentation. We highlight key moments in its development timeline, and elaborate on the different types of documents produced, and the challenges encountered in gathering everything together for deposition into the University of California’s Merritt Repository.

The report is available at CPGM’s main website (permanent URL link at the bottom of the page): https://games.soe.ucsc.edu/project/prom-week-development-archive

The development archive is available here: https://merritt.cdlib.org/m/ucsc_lib_promweek

We would like to thank the NEH Digital Start Up Grant (HD-51719-13) program for providing the funding for this effort!

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Faculty Job in Games Research at UCSC

I’m pleased to announce that the newly-formed Computational Media department at UC Santa Cruz is advertising an open-rank faculty position in interdisciplinary computer games research. As the official job flier puts it, our ideal candidate is someone “connecting novel technology research with practices of design and/or interpretation.”

I’m excited by the great community we’re building around games research, and computational media broadly, at UC Santa Cruz. This includes two key hires in the Arts this year (Robin Hunicke and Susana Ruiz) and the founders of the new MS in Games and Playable Media (Brenda Romero and John Romero) hired last year, as well as the pre-existing CM faculty (Arnav Jhala, Michael Mateas, Sri Kurniawan, Marilyn Walker, Jim Whitehead, and yours truly) and other faculty in the Center for Games and Playable Media (e.g., Brenda Laurel, Soraya Murray).

I’m a member of the search committee, so please feel free to contact me with any questions. More details are below. Read More »

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GDC 2014: U.S. National Investment in the Future of Games?

At the just-concluded 2014 Game Developers Conference I organized and spoke in a session titled, “U.S. National Investment in the Future of Games?” I was joined by William S. Bainbridge (Program Director for the National Science Foundation), Elaine Raybourn (Principal Member of the Technical Staff in Cognitive Systems at Sandia National Laboratories, on assignment from to the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense), and Jason Rhody (Senior Program Officer for the Office of Digital Humanities in the National Endowment for the Humanities). I’m posting here my slides and notes from the session introduction and my talk, the latter of which focused on three recommendation areas from the Media Systems final report that would benefit from joint effort by federal agencies and the game development community. Read More »

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