BCM325 Future Cultures: Why Science Fiction?

BCM325 Future Cultures is a third-year subject in the major of Digital and Social Media, which is one of five majors in the Bachelor of Communication and Media. Previously the subject was called ‘Cyberculture’ and had a very techno-social focus, with an emphasis on regulation and policy. My revisions for the subject have responded to the attention that digital, social and emergent media already receives in earlier subjects in the major and even subjects in the core subjects of degree, after all these are ‘the’ media that graduates will be working, in, with and around. Future Cultures has been refocussed around the primary goal of challenging students to think about the future across three time scales: the short-term, the medium-term and the long-term. The subject has a student blog, which students contribute to here.

As the major is going to be offered across multiple campuses including Wollongong, Hong Kong, South West Sydney and Dubai over the next few years, I have transitioned to a blended learning approach, which provides the lecture material in a series of online videos. My approach to the three-hour face-to-face seminar time mixes a little of the old and a little of the new. One of my favourite experiences as an undergraduate was the screenings of movies that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to or had the opportunity to view. Student’s today have more access to this type of content but don’t often choose to watch it. Similarly, classroom discussion in traditional tutorial mode is often hampered by an increased level of student anxiety, and less available time to prepare and do the background readings and research that would help them to speak from an informed position. Our students, however, are encouraged to use Twitter during their first-year lectures, deploying the hashtags #BCM112 and #BCM110 to develop their sense of a cohort and engage with the content, using memes, gifs and the obligatory shitposting.

Enter live Tweeting. One of my favourite experiences at academic conferences is the ‘backchannel’ conversations and coverage that comes from the rapid live tweeting of speakers and presentations. Similarly, some of the most interesting Twitter threads emerge from the live tweeting of events and especially from fans participating in the coverage of their favourite shows. Live tweeting is not an easy skill to develop, it requires advanced practices in note taking, listening and the ability to distil information rapidly, and in such a way that it contributes to the understanding of those not physically present. Even if students don’t go on to continue using Twitter, and many don’t, it is a valuable process that supports student learning, and confidence in engaging in real-time analysis, research and critical conversation that will be useful to their future careers in the media and communication industries.

This brings me to science fiction. Over the course of the session, students engage in the live tweeting of science fiction movies from the previous one hundred years. Beginning with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, moving through Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, both Blade Runners, the original animated Ghost in the Shell, and ending with Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime. The point is to consider the way the future has been represented in the past and to contemplate the tension between the representation of the future and its reality. Students must tweet during the screening, using the #BCM325 hashtag and are assessed on their ability to engage with each other and outsiders, who often comment on the live tweeting stream, and make sense of the films for a public audience.

In the above video, I explain why we are using Science Fiction to think about the future in more detail, drawing very briefly on the work of two SF scholars, Istvan Cicsery-Ronay and Darko Suvin.

Future Cultures

It is a new year and a new semester, and I have been busy writing a new set of lectures for BCM325 Future Cultures.

As this subject is going to be available across four campuses over the next couple of years, in Wollongong, Hong Kong, South West Sydney and Dubai, I’ve elected to record them as video lectures.

I’ve been learning Final Cut Pro, but have been screen capturing from Prezi for the time being.

This is the Week One introductory lecture:
And a short guide to Live Tweeting, our seminar activity:

Fan Studies Network Australasia 2017 Conference CFP

From the Fan Studies Network Australasia:

The first Fan Studies Network Australasia conference is to be held at the University of Wollongong, Australia from 30 November – 1 December 2017, hosted by the Research Centre for Culture, Texts and Creative Industries (CTC).

Keynote Speaker: Prof. Matt Hills, University of Huddersfield.

As research and interest on fandom gather momentum in Australia, New Zealand, and Asia at large, the Fan Studies Network is very keen to foster new connections and resources. This inaugural conference for scholars based in the region is the first step in establishing an Australasian branch of the FSN. We invite abstracts of no more than 300 words for individual 20 minute papers that address any aspect of fandom or fan studies. We also welcome submissions for pre-constituted panels (for 3-4 speakers/papers). We encourage all of those engaged in fan studies as well as those existing members of the network to submit proposals for presentations on, but not limited to, the following possible topics: Fandom in Asia, Australia and/or New Zealand – Non-Western fan cultures – Producer-audience interactions– Activism and fandom– Ethics in fan studies– Defining fandom– Anti-Fandom and Non-Fandom– Fan use of social media platforms– Fandom (and) controversies– The future of fan studies.

Please send any inquiries and/or abstracts to fsnaustralasia@gmail.com by 25th August 2017.
Conference organisers: Dr. Bertha Chin, Dr. Renee Middlemost, Prof. Sue Turnbull, Dr. Ika Willis
W: https://fanstudies.org/
FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fanstudies/
T: @FSNAusAsia (hashtag #FSNA2017)
DL: http://jiscmail.ac.uk/fanstudies 

About the Fan Studies Network: Since March 2012, the Fan Studies Network has provided a friendly space with which scholars from all disciplines who are interested in fans and fan culture can connect, share resources, and develop their research ideas. In June 2017, the network held its fifth annual conference at the University of Huddersfield, UK. Each year has seen the network grow exponentially, as the mailing list and conference attract more scholars interested in fan studies from all over the world.

Playing Lotus (2016)

This post is the first autoethnographic account in a research project for a future article to be titled ‘Cardboard Asia’.

Background
The lotus flower is a common element in Asian themed games where it is used to denote orientalism and mysticism. The flower, while often used to represent Chinese themes, also has a long history as the ‘sacred lotus’ in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. The lotus is, therefore, a polyvalent symbol and generic orientalist signifier. The lotus is featured in the German Der weiße Lotus (2000) that depicted territorial control in the middle ages and Flower of the Lotus (1996), which was republished under the title China Moon (1998). The German-only language version of Lotus (1998) is an award winning piece-stacking racing game with some strategical elements, which featured a red snake-like dragon on a grid layout that somewhat resembled a flowering lotus plant, a very stereotypical representation of Chineseness.

Lotus (2016) by Jordan and Mandy Goddard (Renegade Game Studios)

Lotus (2016)
The most recent Lotus boardgame first signals its ‘asianness’ representationally with the box cover that depicts a digital watercolour painting of a woman in traditional straight collar purple cheongsam with coiled buttons and green and gold embroidery, who appears to be levitating a glowing lotus flower. On the cover, the title ‘Lotus’ has a calligraphy-styled font, and the game’s designers are simply listed as ‘Jordan & Mandy’, while the back of the box has images of the game’s components. The back of the box signals the game’s Chineseness with a single hànzì character appearing next to the component list, which Google translates suggests is ‘lotus’. The game is illustrated by Anita Osburn and Chris Ostrowski, and made in China, but Lotus is published by Renegade Games studies, which is listed as a Californian company, who also publish two other popular Asian themed games Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and Honshu.

First encounter
As with most ‘boxed’ board games, the first game involves several commons experiences including the removal of shrink wrap, the ‘popping’ of cardboard tiles from the factory punched card stock and the learning of the rules. Our first game was a four player experience, with Harriet, my ten-year-old daughter, my partner Lucy, and our friend Jodie, who began reading the rule book while I search for a ‘how-to-play video on YouTube. The first game we played was an introduction to the game’s aesthetic experience that I described as ‘beautiful meanness’. Playing the game involves placing the individual flower cards on the table and completing the flower ‘sets’ of the flowers placed by others by adding the right number of cards/petals. Each of the flowers – Iris (3 petals), Primrose (4 petals), Cherry Blossom (5 petals), Lily (6 petals) and the Lotus (7 petals) – is a typical Chinese flower type. The font on the Guardian cards and points coins replicate the calligraphy style of the box cover, but the cards lack other overt symbols of ‘Chineseness’.

Each player gets two insect tokens – Yellow (Butterfly), Red (Ladybug), Blue (Dragonfly) and Green (Caterpillar), which evokes the connections to Japanese games media where bug collecting (Pokemon and Yokai Watch) is considered an honourable and worthwhile pursuit. In Lotus, the insects are ‘Guardians’, and when placed on the flower cards, they count as that player’s territory. To take a flower, the player must complete it, but to get the bonus points or special power tokens, the player with the most Guardians wins. This helped to offset the ‘meanness’ I felt in completing the flowers that other player’s put down. By building up the flowers, we emotionally invest in them, and it can feel mean when other players complete your carefully assembled Lilly or ambitiously planned Lotus. The beautiful meanness of the game became even more profound to me during our second game. In the first game, my strategy of completing flowers rather than investing Guardian tokens into them meant I won with a huge lead and prompted an immediate second game where I became the one to beat. Instead of focussing on taking the flowers in the second game I invested in achieving all the special powers, which gave me fewer points but it felt like I was experiencing more of the game than simply winning.

Final thoughts
Lotus is a game designed in the United States and made in China. It is a global product, one that is clear in its Asianness but also offering a contemporary feel to the concept. Lotus has a degree of ‘ludonarratological dissonance’ in which the gorgeous aesthetic, underlying spiritual and botanical motifs, contrasts sharply to the competitive element of traditional ‘trick-taking’ in Western card games like Bridge or 500. Board games, in general, suffer from this problem, and in the future, I’ll put together a blog post on those that work to overcome it (I’m thinking specifically of Netrunner).

Lotus is a game designed in the United States and made in China. It is a global product, one that is clear in its Asianness but also offering a contemporary feel to the concept. Lotus has a degree of ‘ludonarratological dissonance’ in which the gorgeous aesthetic, underlying spiritual and botanical motifs, contrasts sharply to the competitive element of traditional ‘trick-taking’ in Western card games like Bridge or 500. Board games, in general, suffer from this problem, and in the future, I’ll put together a blog post on those that work to overcome it (I’m thinking specifically of Netrunner).

iv. the Pokémon GO Plus and embodied space

The Pokémon GO Plus – the Pogo+ or Poképlus – is a wearable technology that connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth allowing the user to play Pokémon GO without being restricted to the mobile phone screen. Playing Pokémon GO, contrary to reports (see the Pokémon GO Death Counter) is concerned with locating the self in space by triangulating the player location in both the real world and the virtual world represented on the mobile phone screen.

The Poképlus is a device which translates onscreen information into blinking colours and vibrations. The device is shaped like a mashup of the Google map ‘pin’ and the classic white and red Pokéball. It attaches to a wrist strap or clip providing the user with the ability to feel, see and hear the location of Pokémon and Pokéstops within the sphere of detection permitted by the app (approximately 40 metres in diameter).

The Pokémon GO Plus lets players see, feel, hear and respond to the world of Pokémon away from their screens.

The player can put their phone in a pocket and interact with the local environment through a button press, which glows green in the proximity of a Pokémon, yellow if the Pokémon is not in the player’s Pokédex, and blue in the presence of Pokéstops. If the Pokémon is captured the device vibrates in a distinct pulsing rhythm, matched with a LED flashing pattern of green, blue, red, and white. An escaping Pokémon results in a simple short pulse accompanied by a red flash. Approaching a Pokéstop the device flashes blue and the player gathers the items from that stop in the app with a button press that results in simple vibration and multiple colours flashing to indicate success.

The Poképlus transforms the experience of space and place in a much more embodied and less visual way that the game played only through the screen. The Poképlus makes the game less about using the screen to reveal the world filled with Pokémon, and more about using the body to interact with the game’s translation of the environment, bringing the game into the physical and tangible world in a different way.

I found the Poképlus to be a massive release from lifting the screen up to view when walking. No longer does my neck ache after a Pokémon Go play session. It means that my walks with the game were less punctuated by stops and starts, and a more seamless movement through the environment. There is a degree of anxiety that I first encountered when playing with the Plus as the catch rate for Pokémon feels more random. The device is also deeply connected to the in-game economy, as it only uses basic Pokéballs in the catching process, which means these can be depleted and have to be replaced through buying currency and items in the game. The catching process is limited to a single throw, which means that higher level and rarer Pokémon can evade capture more easily. I had to make the conscious effect not to look at the in-game journal and ignore the ones that got away.

I use the Poképlus every day, and thoroughly enjoy the transformation of play into a differently embodied experience. It’s a device that reveals how AR experiences don’t have to be limited to interacting with screens and it shows how wearable technologies might expand interactions with our environments in simple and effective ways in the future.