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Brenda Laurel on “Crossing Boundaries” (Media Systems)

When asking how the humanities, the arts, and computer science can come together to create new possibilities for media making and understanding, we might choose to be purely theoretical. But why would we do this, when we have decades of experience to draw upon?

In this talk, “Crossing Boundaries,” from the Media Systems gathering at UC Santa Cruz, Brenda Laurel gives us the particulars of the interdisciplinary elements that combined in some of her major contributions to computational media. She maps the journeys through parallel territories that led to work such as Computers as Theatre and Placeholder. She gives a tour of “Rutland” (when games were in a rut) and talks about her efforts at Interval and Purple Moon to create something different, with a particular focus on girls and games. She concludes with a powerful set of questions about community sensing, new ways of making visible, and the possibilities for seriously engaging issues of climate change.

There are many important lessons here. Laurel’s biggest lesson from Purple Moon is that “cultural intervention at scale is possible” — and her definition of cultural intervention is one of my favorite lines from the gathering (“cultural intervention is introducing new genetic code into a culture without activating its immune system”). On a different note, as excitement builds for VR and AR technologies once again, with the arrival of platforms such as Oculus Rift and Google Glass and our local Seebright, Laurel points us to earlier-learned lessons we should not forget — from the larger goal of shaping experiences so audiences make dramatically interesting choices to specifics such as taking directional information from the pelvis (which, as she points out, doesn’t lie). She also calls us to use our understandings ethically and collaboratively to address major issues.

Like my introductory talk posted last week, PDF slides are available on the main Media Systems page for this talk — and feel free to discuss here in the comments or on Twitter with hashtag #MediaSystems. Laurel also has two SXSW proposals (1, 2) and the time to vote for them is now. Finally, watch for Janet Murray’s thoughtful and humorous talk here next week!

This material is based upon a project supported by the National Science Foundation (under Grant Number 1152217), the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, the National Endowment for the Arts, 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 the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, Microsoft Studios, or Microsoft Research.

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