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.

 

 

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.

DIGC330 Digital Asia – Week Two

I didn’t discover that the ‘original’ Godzilla, which I knew as a child was actually a remake for US audiences of the original 1954 Gojira, until quite recently. It is minor ‘epiphany’ of sorts that serves as my starting point for the seminars in DIGC 330 Digital Asia this week. Following on from the lecture on field studies, ethnography and the autoethnographic research method that we will be using to investigate the production and consumption of ‘asian’ media in an Australian context this session, I introduced two student seminar groups to two very different texts that have informed my media ‘experience’ of Japan and Japanese culture. The first group got to experience Godzilla, while the second were treated to Ghost in the Shell.

Autoethnography is not a research method that is commonly encountered by undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Media and Communication Studies and there is often a degree of hesitancy and confusion regarding ethnography, let alone accepting the idea of allowing the researcher to directly and overtly account for their own subjectivity through autoethnographic narrative in their analytical, critical and cultural research. The following is meant to serve as a guide for students still wrestling with the concepts, and is a simple start towards some autoethnographic observations on the experience.

My first encounter with Godzilla was a chance discovery made while flipping TV channels on a school holiday afternoon, when I was 8 or 9. The cultural shock and sheer strangeness of the movie was confronting and intoxicating; the characters, plot, structure, and the monster were like nothing I’d encountered previously. Finding the movie well into its run time and heavily punctuated with advertising, it was a difficult text to make sense of, but a season of lazy afternoon monster movies, science fiction classics, and black and white war movies had prepared me to make a kind of meaning out of the movie that went well beyond interest in the obviously rubber suited monster.

The extensive use of practical and special effects, cemented a deep and lifelong interest in cinema’s use of models and perspective, and the scenes of various Japenese people and cities would later feed into an obsession with Blade Runner. Rewatching the movie now three decades on from my first viewing I am remembering those early lessons, including the importance of Japan’s fishing industry, that fear and terror of the unknown were universal, and that despite clearly delineated social, political and cultural roles, gender relations are a predictable force in practically any narrative. Growing up on a diet of science fiction themed politics of 1970s Doctor Who, I’m confident that I registered that Godzilla was a critique of unrestrained scientific inquiry and the propensity for humanity to turn amazing discoveries into terrifying weapons.

Encountering Godzilla anew this week in the context of the subject, I’m curious as to what the students will make of the text. As @jawgbear noted we are watching 70 years on from Hiroshima bombing, more than 50 since the movie’s first release, and only four years on from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. I’m looking forward to the discussions next week to see how the students have accounted for their own experiences. I’m sure many will have encountered Godzilla in some capacity in the past and making sense of it anew will hopefully pose questions about gender roles, cultural politics and the assumptions that we bring to the text as an outside audience.

One interesting framing element I did notice this time around was an early scene making use of a map of Japan, titled with the japan sea. The island nation is pictured rotated 90 degrees on the map, so the islands play out in a long elongated horizontal stretch, bordered by the Japan sea at the ‘top’. I’m very interested in this self-presentation of a very differently visually aligned Japan, although I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, which is a clear signal that I need to do some research on this visual representation of the Japan as a nation state.