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Johanna Drucker is Pulling My Leg

Johanna Drucker has a thoughtful review of Matt Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms in the Spring 2009 issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly. I think most of what she says is spot-on. But she has to be kidding with this, right?

Have any works appeared in digital media whose interest goes beyond novelty value? Not yet.

My first reaction was to say, She’s got to be kidding. Perhaps we can’t see more recent work clearly enough, so let’s turn the clock back a quarter century. We then find a group of works that clearly pioneered new aesthetics, that are still having important influence on work produced today, that are well-loved enough by audiences to produce amateur preservation and derivative works, and that are now attracting the attention of major cultural institutions like museums and universities. This sounds to me like the characteristics we see both in important alternative works and mainstream cultural productions — two or three decades later we can see which ones have interest that goes well beyond novelty value. A good portion of the early 1980s work I’m talking about, of course, has been distributed and understood as games — whether graphical video games or textual interactive fictions — but computer games are simply a subset of digital media.

But then I read Matt’s response to the review, and started following his links to related discussions at the Institute for the Future of the Book’s blog and at The Guardian, and was dispirited to find one of digital media’s defenders (Mark Bernstein) writing:

Can’t we leave the yahoo anti-intellectual pose to the gamerz?

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. There was a period in the digital media field when it was a struggle to get games included. (Now it seems there’s often a struggle to get things other than games included.) The old prejudices are still there.

As for the conversation to which Mark was contributing, it gets more nuanced from there, at least some of the time, and it’s worth reading. (Even though, being a year old, it’s ancient in blog years.) That said, I’m still left with the question: Drucker was joking, right?

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