iii. first encounters with Pokémon GO

Critics of Pokémon GO have called the app a device for amassing geospatial intelligence, and an instrument for violating personal information and privacy. The autoethnographic approach employed here recognises that these concerns are important, but they are only one way of addressing the disruptive potential of Pokémon GO and the degree to which its play has been performed, contested, resisted and rewarded at a local level. The debate and concern over the potential abuse of surveilling features of all mobile technologies should not be minimised, but it is also only part of what is going on and we shouldn’t abandon a closer look at the entire experience.

My first experience with the Pokémon GO app transformed the interior and exterior of my workplace, the University of Wollongong, especially how I came to view and experience the campus. Often a place of intensive periods of work, teaching and researching, inside classrooms and between them, the campus – although an aesthetically enchanting location of artificially created streams and duck ponds and richly authentic native flora – had become a familiar site. That changed with Pokémon GO, as I searched the local environment for virtual monsters between classes, on the way to the library, to buy coffee and attend meetings.

The app changed the way I was oriented to the campus. My typical landmarks of central buildings, duck ponds and pathways changed to focus on the Pokéstops in the game which would reward me with in-game items. I was also intrigued to learn, and often think about, how these in-game locations were crowdsourced by players of Niantic’s previous game, Ingress. Walking between Pokéstops, I began to hold the phone up in front of me as I walked: forcing my eyes between the virtual environment of the simplified Google Map on my screen and the direction I was heading. This act signalled my performance of play, and I noticed other ‘Trainers’ who similarly identified themselves as players to the world with a particular stance that centres the phone at chest height or above and in the middle of the view. The app forces the player into a new physical relationship with the phone, holding it out in front to look between the screen and the path ahead. This new way of holding the phone while walking aggravated a pre-existing neck injury, and I found myself always trying new ways of holding the phone to reduce its impact on my body.

Pokestop

My favourite UoW campus Pokéstop.

 

Here I note the immense power and privilege that comes with the position of lecturer at an Australian university. First, because my wage had enabled me to buy into a contract for a new iPhone, the 6S, in the week of the app’s launch (deciding between the closed model of Apple products and more open operating system of Android devices). Having access to the high number of 4G access points on the rooftops of the campus buildings and the institutions high-density WiFi signals servicing the demand for high-speed internet access of students and colleagues, meant that connection – when the servers were operating- was assured and not disrupted by gaps in coverage experience by other regional and rural players. The campus was also privileged as a prime location for Ingress players, university students who had mapped the location of potential sites of significance and interest by submitting details to Niantic as part of the play of their previous game.

Pokemon GO map of Pokestops on the University of Wollongong Campus

Pokemon GO map of Pokestops on the University of Wollongong Campus

This Google Map is an incomplete picture of the Pokéstops that I choose to seek out as I walk across campus. I no longer travelled along the most direct route between buildings, which increased the distance I covered with the app and advancing the number of pokémon I could find and the number of Pokéstops I could visit each trip. I began to leave the office to make short walks of ten minutes more often.

Until playing Pokémon GO, I had assumed that non-university attending players would regard the campus as a public place. My assumption was that ‘the public’ would visit to take advantage of the density of pokémon and Pokéstops. I had assumed, wrongly, that players would regard the University campus as a public place, similar to the Wollongong Botanic Gardens directly across the street, which also has a high density of available Pokéstops.  My incorrect assumption was revealed by a question on the Illawarra Pokémon Go Facebook group. On the annual recruitment ‘Open’ day the University of Wollongong marketing team added ‘lures’ to each of the campus Pokéstops.  Lures are purchased in-game items that increased the number and rarity of Pokéman ‘spawning’ in that location, which resulted in the arrival of a rare Kabutops: the question posed to Facebook asked if it was permissible for those not intending to enrol to be on the campus.

 

 

ii. an autoethnography of Pokémon Go – beginnings

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality (AR) locative data application with a virtual and ludic interface connecting mobile device users to a universe filled with friendly monsters. The game functions like a magical talisman revealing hidden creatures in the everyday environments of our networked connected world. Released in July 2016 on the iOS and Android operating systems by Niantic Labs, the app had a turbulent first month. The experience of Pokémon Go in the first few weeks of play was characterised by disruptions: a fervour of activity and excitement generated by a new relationship to the user’s mobile device which revealed unconsidered dimensions to familiar locations.

Pokemon Go App location

By holding up the mobile phone, the user, the app and the object transform the ordinary space of homes, work environments and public places into newly inhabited locations full of ‘first generation’ of Pokémon. Generation One (Gen 1) refers to the first Pokemon game for the Nintendo Game Boy developed by Game Freak for Japanese audiences in 1996. At launch, Pokémon Go included 151 pokémon of different rarity, which produced a highly nostalgic experience for players of Gen 1. The first few weeks of Pokémon Go was also marked with very high degrees of player frustration, as the servers which Niantic used to support the game were not able to keep up with demand. Hackers and modders overloaded the game’s application programming interface (API), and players were shut out of the Pokemon tracking features meant to encourage the exploration of the play environment for hidden pokémon. These features were removed from the game entirely and later reinstated in a less server intensive iteration, which caused many players to register complaints via social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

Despite the early days of server-side instability, this game continues to attract millions of daily users, generating more than a $1 billion (USD) in 2016. There are numerous reasons for the game’s global success beyond the popularity of the Pokémon franchise. Among them is the unprecedented harnessing of existing technology: the phone’s forward-facing camera enables the augmented reality feature, overlaying pokémon onto the world; the internet connectivity provides access to the in-app Google Maps overlay revealing the hidden locations of pokémon around us; the network data storing the locations of Pokéstops (generated by players of Niantic previous locative data app, Ingress) which are required to receive in-game items and player experience points that increase the level of their personal avatars (XP); the mobile phone towers and GPS satellites triangulating location means the players transverse the virtual game space in the real world through walking or running; and the haptic phone interface which provides the experience of catching Pokémon in the wild, bringing to life the dreams of millions of players who have enjoyed Nintendo devices for three decades.

Norman Denzin, (2006) argued that doing and performing autoethnography is a way of being ethical and political in the world. This approach suggests that respecting objects is not merely understanding their role in the political economy of late capitalism, but requires making sense of our relationships with them as they are performed, lived and experienced in the everyday. Pokémon Go brought with it the sudden increase of people looking at their phones in public. A wave of news stories surfaced about absent-minded mobile phone users endangering lives, breaking property boundaries and turning previously highly regulated spaces such as workplaces such as offices, hospitals, police stations, as well as cultural sites like war memorials and museums into playable zones. Pokémon Go, with seemingly careless ease, reordered and destabilised previously established location-based networks of performance and behaviour.

The feelings of euphoria and discovery that characterised Pokémon Go play by people across the globe looking into their phones to see the world anew, was reflected on in the tweet from Nathan Sharp:

Nathan Sharp's Pokemon Go nostalgia

The launch of the app coincided with the original series celebrating its twentieth year, with GameFreak releasing a new Nintendo DS game, Pokémon Sun and Moon. The new game updated the player’s experience but kept intact the vision of its creator, who synthesised elements of the Shinto and Buddhist cultural experiences of his earlier life, bringing them together with his love of bug collecting. Unlike GameFreak, Pokémon Go’s developer, however, was not a traditional game development company and the app lost many players as Niantic changed fundamental aspects of the game after launch. Very few games companies would, or would be able to, remove core design elements post-launch.

At the time of writing, while the initial disruption and playful sense of discovery have abated, there remains a colossal and very active contingent of players around the globe. The game remained in the top five grossing apps available via the Apple iTunes store, with over $950 US million in revenue and attracting millions of previously non-gaming consumers to the market in 2016 (Stewart, 2017). The Pokémon Go app was released to the public in a very unfinished state -providing a bare minimum experience – it continues to be updated by Niantic in non-regular updates that remove some elements of the game and change others. This makes the play experience less stable and predictable compared to other Pokémon games.

i. autoethnography of objects

Autoethnography uses narrativised experience in order to examine, interpret and explain cultural experiences and practices (Adams, Holman Jones and Ellis 2015):

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.” (Ellis, Adams and Bochner 2011: np).

Autoethnographic researchers describe and analyse cultural beliefs, practices and experiences that qualitatively recognise the value of the research relations with others, but rarely do those others include objects. One notable autoethnographic engagement with tangible materiality is Paul Booth’s Game Play (2015) which examines paratextuality in contemporary board games. Adapting Matt Hill’s approach to the study of Fandom, Booth explores the ludic functionality of analogue games through play by scrutinising the tastes, values, attachments and investments of his and his game group’s personal experience. Objects, however, are only peripheral in the engagement and while some of the physical matter of board games is considered, objects take a backseat to the reflexive analysis of the subjective experience of the researcher and his team of players.

Autoethnography is a research method that is careful and methodological in its reflexivity, but the focus of reflection is almost always on the self, society, the personal and the political. Objects are rarely considered in equal measure to the subjective experience of autoethnographic ‘thick description’ (Geertz 1973: 10), and objects are not considered as partners in the narratives and stories that reflect heavily on time, place, emotion and affect but rather as a basis for heightened concerns about social, political and ultimately subjective identity. In the desire to make sense of the messy and uncertain social life, autoethnography attention is paid to the physical experience and embodiment, but even the body as an object is often sublimated in the narratives and accounts that are used to answer questions about how identities matter. It is important to understand that the identities, characteristics, experiences, regulation, silencing, disregard and abuse of objects also matter.

The omission of objects in autoethnography is understandable as the methodology places the ‘self’ within the scope of the investigation and the narratives developed are the framing devices for critical analysis of subjective experience. Autoethnography asks the researcher to consider their own biases, opinions and assumptions as part of the process of discovery and learning. This approach makes objects part of the intellectual firmament that autoethnography so promisingly seeks to escape. To consider objects is to risk falling into the ‘crisis of representation’ (Adams, Holman Jones and Ellis 2015: np) precisely as we are attenuating our senses to “local knowledge” that promises to subvert existing power relations to ‘create more just and equitable living conditions”. There is a sense that this kind of qualitative research can only focus on human intentions, actions, and motivations, and to incorporate objects is to fall back into the traps of colonialism, scientificism, and capitalism. Autoethnography is “a method for exploring, understanding, and writing from, through and with personal experiences in relation to and in the context of the experiences of others” and those others can include objects (Adams, Holman Jones and Ellis 2015: np).

In the posts to follow this one, I will provide an autoethnographic account of the interactions with the objects involved in playing Pokemon Go and experiencing Virtual Reality.  The autoethnographic account will seek to retain the core ideals of the methodology which generally involves the foregrounding of personal experience; an illustrative sense-making processes; highly reflexive analysis; illustration of insider knowledge to document a cultural phenomenon and experience; critique cultural norms and practices; and seeks to communicate with and respond to audiences from outside the academy (Adams, Holman Jones and Ellis 2015: np). In order to include objects in what Leon Anderson (2006) describes as Analytical Autoethnography, it is possible to rebuild attention between the subject and object by including 1) attention to the social world that the objects and the researcher are a part of; 2) reflexivity involving understanding of the privileged and often unique position of the researcher and access to the objects; 3) narrative visibility of the active researcher, which makes visible the human and the non-human within the networks of the social world under observation; 4) a non-technical account of the interaction and dialogue between the researcher as subject and the objects involved in the encounter, and the experience of others as presented in available media to be consumed, such as YouTube accounts, Memes, Tweets, and communities of practice, including specific online communities (fans, experts, reviewers) in a dialogue with others (Anderson 2006: 386); and finally 5) a commitment to theoretical analysis which draws on empirical evidence to conceive and test theoretically the illumination of a broader set of cultural and social phenomena.

this time around

Teaching this semester involves a welcome return to DIGC330 Digital Asia and the most satisfying collaborative blog I’ve been fortunate to be a part of in my teaching experience. The subject is very much directed by the students own interests, both personal and professional, and the results are unpredictable and revealing of the way that we are capable of coming to an understanding of cultures that are not our own.

taking entrepreneurship seriously

Australia is a stagnant nation, politically, socially, technologically and intellectually and it is really OK to admit this. We have great ideas, great talent, and an amazing environment that our creatives, experts, innovators and risk-takers have to leave in order to be successful more often than they should and more often that is healthy for those of us who remain. Our political ‘leaders’ on all sides have failed to understand, plan and build for this, and we need only look to the NBN for evidence; a world class national broadband network that would propel our little creative nation into the future was abandoned, settling for second sixteenth sixty fourth best because it’s too expensive, too hard, too politically messy to do better.

Wollongong is a city with a great deal of potential and the University of Wollongong is a university of students, academics and professional staff who all punch well above their budgets. I will excuse that mangled fighting cliche by doubling down on it and suggesting that ‘we’ are not prepared, as Ronda Rousey says (UFC women’s champion visiting Australia this week), to be a ‘do-nothing-bitch’. I’m obviously stepping out of the gender politics of that statement in order to appropriate the core elements of Rousey’s straightforward philosophy here to argue that we are not going to sit back and let others take care of our future and the challenges that will we face. We are not going to do nothing, but what are we going to do?

This is a crucial question for students graduating this year, and the next, and the year after. The only consistency we are going to face in the future is massive change and to be prepared for that means taking charge, forming networks, and solving problems. This includes divesting ourselves of the idea that the fields, industries and businesses that students anticipate working in, and being employed in, will be as stable (or present) as they were in the past. This is already the case for the students in Media and Communication  and Journalism degrees, witnessing firsthand the transformation of journalism, and is only a matter of time for others in the Creative Arts, Health, Science, Law, Engineering, and so on. Even if the disruption isn’t as massive, it will still require an appropriate response. Failure to change and adapt is failure (see our previous PM). The result is that we need to take student entrepreneurship seriously. Entrepreneurship isn’t something to aspire to following an undergraduate degree, it’s something that needs to become fundamental to what undergraduates, at least in the Creative Industries, must be aware of, embrace and experiment with.

This was my reaction following my first experience of Creative3, the QUT Creative Enterprise Australia annual forum, in Brisbane this week. Celebrating ideas and innovation, the line-up of entrepreneurs was exciting, passionate and creative yet almost entirely lacking in real radical thinking. There were very impressive success stories in business, retail, marketing, social media and new product dimensions; like the Shoes of Prey’s online shopping returning to bricks and mortar stores with their design-a-shoe product service; QxBranch’s quantum analytics of rocket science; and Bonza’s approach to user generated culture; but all of these are applications are iterations of innovations that originate elsewhere, and are perhaps most notable for their ability to attract investors (this is not a bad thing). As a side note it was interesting to hear of Brisbane’s last major game studio, Halfbrick, becoming a YouTube content producer, as their game ‘designers’ are let go following the department of Fruit Ninja’s primary developer Luke Muscat. Maybe games companies do need to stop thinking of themselves as content creators in only one medium, but that is not an excuse to endlessly recycle ideas and turn every game success into a animated YouTube series. Perhaps I am a little jealous that QUT students will get to potentially contribute content with Halfbrick retaining editorial control, and presumably the donated copyrights, but as one attendee noted with concern, that if the student’s work goes unpaid when it supports a revenue stream, then that is a textbook case of exploitation.

The most impressive presentation for me was Thea Baumann, the creative technologist and CEO of Metaverse Makeovers, and the augmented reality product Metaverse Nails, which uses QR codes and AR technology to produce interactive adhesive nails, which are pure cyberglam. What sounds like a gimmick is a triumph of 2D (if nail surfaces can be thought of as a flat dimension) and 3D design, app design and manufacturing. Metaverse Nails are a glimpse into the future of a world enhanced by virtual and augmented realities, but Thea’s presentation gave me that real mind blown feeling as she recounted the challenges in taking her ideas to Japan and China. She reminded us that while everyday Chinese internet users might be able to move around the firewall, this is not the case for businesses, particularly those working internationally. Perhaps most the powerful challenge to the Australian innovation ecology was the acceptance of China as a copycat culture and the need to let go of intellectual property concerns when trying to compete in the amazing technoculture of shanzhai, in which copyright and intellectual property means nothing and risk, speed, creativity, innovation, and expertise is everything. I’m also very fond of the Metaverse Nails as unsuccessful crowdfunded project, having first hand. experience of the intensive demands and extensive peer-to-peer networking involved in that model of investment.


Entrepreneurship isn’t just about business, investment and selling products, services and ideas, or at least we can’t keep imagining it to be so. Take the fictional lemonade stand that is often the case study, it’s not that we need to make the ‘ultimate lemonade experience’, as affective marketing trends and agencies might suggest, but rather we need to cut through the jargon, the trending patterns, the bad data visualisation and the elitism of investment culture, to make entrepreneurial options possible for students as effective and long lasting career choices. Business, investment and entrepreneurial culture, like political culture, is yet to properly address the problems facing us a nation, let alone a globe, and it is yet to stop treating sustainability as a buzzword. Dealing with climate change isn’t going to be a marketable ‘experience’,  it’s going to be painful, and it’s going to require risk.

What business and innovation culture can teach us is not to fear failure. Failure is the engine of innovation, and it was very reassuring to hear this message repeated throughout the event, perhaps most notably by CSIRO ‘strategy’ scientist Stefan Hajkowicz (@stefanhajkowicz) as the most necessary element of creative innovation, whether it be the next great product or marketing idea or whether it be in addressing the real challenges that entrepreneurs need to contribute to tackling from climate change, aging and over populations, to microbial drug-resistance, ocean acidity, disruptive technologies and refugee support. With the future of steel in real doubt in the Illawarra, the question is not what jobs graduates will be eligible for in the future, but what careers, products, and services will they create to employ, retrain, and support and how to best insure a successful strategies in funding, investment and innovation to meet these needs. We need more innovators like Shen Narayanasamy.

persona autosurveillance

Nearly finish impmapping* the paper for the October talk on ‘Persona Autosurveillance’ over the weekend, still some missing pieces but I’m happy with the shape that is slowly coming together

impmapping (impermanent mapping) Persona Autosurveillance

Plans for a new paper on Persona Autosurveillance

* impermanent mapping – a temporary mind map of the flow of a research project

The University of Wollongong Yellow House Virtual Reality Project

Michael Organ, Rebecca Daly, Neil Cairns from the University of Wollongong, Ted Mitew, myself and others in Graphics Design, History, Media and Politics disciplines have been collaborating on a VR project, for which we recently submitted an OLT seeding grant. Although we missed out we are intending to go forward with the project and seek the funds to develop the prototype stage.

The Yellow House pilot project will create an open access 3D, immersive and interactive virtual reality (VR) gallery based on the Sydney terrace house set up by artist Martin Sharp in the 1970s as an experimental art space.

Using Oculus Rift and similar virtual reality technologies, students and researchers will enter the virtual Yellow House gallery and engage with its historic elements. In addition, they will be able to modify their own Yellow House galley using the open data object created as part of the project.

The VR experience will serve as a virtual gallery space for experimentation and collaborative experiences between academics and students, and as a means for experiencing UOW Library’s expanding digital collections.

The Yellow House gallery will align and integrate with UOW curricula in Digital Communication and Media, and History and Design, for the purpose of readying students for the immersion of these technologies in business, academia and research environments.

This pilot project aims to build and deliver an open access, virtual 3D environment and web gallery for researchers and students to engage with University of Wollongong (UOW) Library collections focused on Australian counterculture art and publishing movements during the 1960s and 1970s.

The web portal will provide the gateway to: * the virtual reality Yellow House space; * open data files of this product for reuse, experimentation and redesign by others; and * related collections digitised by UOW Library, such as OZ and the Yellow House collection, among others.

This gallery will be an extension of existing work undertaken by the UOW Library, including the acquisition and digitisation of significant historical Australian collections, such as OZ magazine, and the recent acquisition of the important Yellow House collection of materials.

The gallery will be incorporated into the Library’s existing Digital Collections portal space, and will include the technical capability for students and other users to share their experiences and stories regarding their experiments with the open source files, thus offering students a cutting edge model in which to engage with content.

Minimal research has been done on the Yellow House art collective, to date. Looking at the development of the Yellow House over time enables moving beyond images to encapsulate what is taking place in the social and cultural movements and political discourse of the nation at that time.

This offers a range of new research possibilities into visual communication culture. The web portal will provide a space for researchers, students and the community to contribute to the body of knowledge for this period in Australian history.

//Sidenote. Written into the application, but not very well documented in the rationale, is the provision for the development of a student VR portfolio to potentially offer the student an interface between their work, discipline and degree neutral, for others to interact with and experience. This might be a virtual library, a gallery, an office or hallway, it could be a studio or open environment. Of course, much of this is speculating that commercial VR will be a success at the end of 2016, and on its ways to becoming a ubiquitous technology. The open access and open source Yellow House VR project is a means to test the potential here