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DIGITAL MEDIA THEORY   ENGL 32313/CMST 37803  

Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (pjagoda@uchicago.edu)

Course Meeting Time: Tuesday/Thursday 2:00-3:20pm

Course Location: Social Sciences Research Building 108

Instructor Office Hours: Tuesday 3:30-5:30pm or by appointment (Walker 504)

Digital media technologies have enabled the emergence of numerous new cultural forms, including videogames, virtual worlds, social networking, and electronic literature. They have also made available new tools and techniques, from interactive maps to social network analysis methods. Through a study of contemporary media theory, we will analyze what precisely is “new” about new media. Along the way, we will examine digital media through technical, cultural, political, and social lenses. We will also think about emergent methods that have shaped this field over the last two decades.

 

Readings by theorists including Ian Bogost, Wendy Chun, Alexander Galloway, Mark Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles, Lisa Nakamura, John Durham Peters, Rita Raley, and others will help us think about concepts such as interactivity, software, virtual embodiment, and networks. Along the way, we will play video games, read electronic fictions, analyze social media algorithms, and consider emergent research methodologies.

 

COMMUNICATION PLATFORMS

 

Slack: We will use Slack for ongoing conversations with both shared channels for informal conversations about games and private channels for communication with the instructor. For all course related questions, you should contact me via Slack instead of email.

 

Course Website: We will use the course WordPress website to access the syllabus (with links) and to post blog entries. The blog will be publicly available.

Canvas: We will only use Canvas to access PDFs of shared course readings. You will have to log into Canvas, using your CNetID.

 

 

COURSE SCHEDULE OF TOPICS (Subject to Revision)

 

Week 1: Digital Media Theories

Oct 2: Introduction to Digital Media Theory

 

Oct 4: “As We May Think” (Vannevar Bush), “Addressing Media" (WJT Mitchell, p. 201-221), “Media Theory” (Mark Hansen, p. 297-306), and “Understanding Media” from The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (John Durham Peters, p. 13-52)

Week 2: Media Ideologies

Oct 9: “User Interface: A Personal View” (Alan Kay, p.121-31), “Postscript on Control Societies” (Gilles Deleuze, p. 177-182), “The Unworkable Interface” from The Interface Effect (Alexander Galloway, p. 25-53), and “On Sourcery and Source Codes” from Programmed Visions (Wendy Chun, p. 19-54)

Oct 11: “Multitasking Leisure” (Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Report), “Introduction” to Tactical Media (Rita Raley, Introduction, p. 1-30), “Countergaming” from Gaming (Alexander Galloway, p. 107-126), “Biometrics and Opacity: A Conversation” (Jacob Gaboury and Zach Blas, p. 1-6), and Facial Weaponization Communiqué (Zach Blas, video).

Week 3: Video Games

Oct 16: Braid (Jonathan Blow, 5-6 hours), “Art” in How to Do Things with Videogames (Ian Bogost, p. 9-17), and “Videogame Criticism and Games in the Twenty-First Century” (Patrick Jagoda, p. 205-218)

Oct 18: Dys4ia (Anna Anthropy, 5 minutes), Queers in Love at the End of the World (Anna Anthropy, 10 seconds), Hair Nah (Momo Pixel, 5 minutes), Problem Attic (Liz Ryerson, play for 1 hour), “The Other Side of Braid” (Liz Ryerson),  and “Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming Rhetoric as Gender Capital” (Lisa Nakamura, 4 pages)

 

Week 4: Affective Media

Oct 23: Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (Richard Grusin, p. 1-7 and 90-121), “Ubiquitous Sensation” (Mark Hansen, p. 63-88), and The Power at the End of the Economy (Brian Massumi, p. 19-56)

Oct 25: Play Candy Crush Saga or Diner Dash (play for 1 hour), “Casual Games, Time Management, and the Work of Affect” (Aubrey Anable, 15 pages), and “Vulgar Boredom, or What Andy Warhol Can Teach Us About Candy Crush” (Scott Richmond, p. 21-39)

 

Week 5: Digital Storytelling and Electronic Literature

Oct 30: Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2 hours), Save the Date (Paper Dino Software, 30 minutes), “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” (Henry Jenkins, 15 pages), and Hamlet on the Holodeck (Janet Murray, p. 1-10 and 65-96),

 

Nov 1: “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” (N. Katherine Hayles, p. 1-42) and Presentation 1: Electronic Literature

 

Week 6: Network Aesthetics

Nov 6: “Preface: The Wonderful Creepiness of New Media” and “Introduction: Habitual New Media, or Updating to Remain (Close to) the Same” from Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (Wendy Chun p. ix-xi and 1-20), “Vernaculars: The Always-On Image” (James Hodge, 1-22), “Poor Meme, Rich Meme” (Aria Dean, 14 pages), and “Touch” video (James Hodge, password protected)

 

Nov. 7: FINAL PROJECT ABSTRACT DUE

 

Nov. 7: SPECIAL SESSION: Play Journey (ThatGameCompany) at 6:30pm in Logan Center 802 or play One Hour One Life at home

Nov 8: Discuss Journey, “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” in The Interface Effect (Alexander Galloway, p. 78-100), “Role-playing Toward a Virtual Musical Democracy in The Lord of the Rings Online” (William Cheng, p. 31-62), and Presentation 2: Network Genres and Forms

Week 7: Algorithmic Inequalities

Nov 13: “Why are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation”  (Tara McPherson, online), “How Algorithms Shape Our World” (Kevin Slavin TED talk), “Introduction: The Power of Algorithms” in Algorithms of Oppression (Safiya Umoja Noble, p. 1-14), and “Reprogramming Decisionism” (Luciana Parisi, 17 pages)

 

Nov. 13: FINAL PROJECT ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY DUE

 

Nov 15: “Algorithms” in Evil Media (Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey, p. 69-82), “We Undid YouTube's Algorithm” (Anna Russett, October 2017), and Presentation 3: Algorithms

 

Week 8: Critical Making and Design

Nov 20: “Critique and Critical Making” (Patrick Jagoda, p. 356-363), “I Don’t Know All the Circuitry” introduction to Making Things and Drawing Boundaries (Jentery Sayers, p.1-18), and S.E.E.D.: Creating and Implementing an Alternate Reality” (Philip Ehrenberg, Patrick Jagoda, and Melissa Gilliam)

 

Nov 22: NO CLASS FOR THANKSGIVING

 

Week 9: Transnational Labor and Non-Western Technics

Nov 27: “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy” (Tiziana Terranova, p. 33-58), “Silicon” and “Mobile” in Cyber-Proletariat (Nick Dyer-Witheford, p. 60-80 and p. 102-123), “Digital Labor and the Anthropocene” (McKenzie Wark, 7 pages), and “Introduction” to The Questioning Concerning Technology in China (Yuk Hui, p. 2-33)

Nov 29: Sleep Dealer (film) and “Introduction: Farm Workers in the Machine” to Farm Worker Futurism (Curtis Marez, p. 1-42)

 

Week 10: Conference and Final Project

Dec 4: FINAL MOCK CONFERENCE (EXTENDED TIMING: TO BE SCHEDULED)

 

Dec 10: FINAL PAPER OR PROJECT DUE

 

CLASS EXPECTATIONS

  • We only meet for a few weeks, so arrive on time for each seminar session.

  • Do the reading. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with these texts, films, games, and other media. Readings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.

  • Assignments and papers are due when they appear on the syllabus. Extensions are discouraged but, if necessary, must be requested well in advance of the deadline. Late assignments will immediately entail a grade reduction, unless we have arranged an alternative due date in advance.

  • Print out readings or bring your annotated pages to class.

  • Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours (seriously).

  • I am committed to meeting the needs of all students. To arrange class-related accommodations, please see Student Disability Services prior to scheduling a meeting with me: http://disabilities.uchicago.edu/accommodations

 

GRADING

  •  Class Attendance, Preparation, and Participation: 20%

  • Network Genre Presentation: 5%

  • Algorithms Presentation: 5%

  • Electronic Literature Presentation: 5%

  • Weekly Blog Posts: 15%

  • Mock Conference Abstract, Annotated Bibliography, and Paper Presentation: 20%

  • Final Paper/Project: 30%

  • Exhibition Review: Extra Credit

ASSIGNMENT DESCRIPTIONS

Presentation 1: Electronic Literature Presentation

In groups of 4-5, you will select a piece of electronic literature from the “Electronic Literature Collection” archive Volume 1, 2, or 3. You will then give a 5-minute presentation of this game. As you think about your selected work, be attentive to such features as form, narrative, aesthetic style, interface design, navigability, and interactivity.

 

Presentation 2: Network Genres and Forms

In groups of 4-5, you will select a network genre or form including the meme, selfie, supercut, ASMR, GIF, sext, webisode, battle royale game, virtual world, flash mob, or a preapproved genre or form of your choice. The basic idea is to give a 5-minute presentation that introduces and analyzes a genre that is made possible or augmented by networked technologies.

Presentation 3: Algorithms

The operation of many common everyday algorithms shapes and influences the contemporary world. In groups of 4-5, you will analyze an algorithm that undergirds one of the following sites or systems: Facebook News Feed, Google Translate, OK Cupid Date Matching, Candy Crush, Netflix movie recommendations, Google AdWords, Pornhub algorithm, or a preapproved popular algorithm of your choice. Admittedly, many of these algorithms are proprietary and it might not be know exactly how it works. Nevertheless, you’ll find many articles and essays online that speculate about its techniques and model.

Weekly Blog Posts

Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog (on this site) through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 5 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s theoretical readings or digital artworks, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 5 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.

 

Exhibition Review Extra Credit (2 pages)

Chicago is overflowing with exhibitions that are relevant to digital media theory this fall! For some extra credit (.5 point on your final grade), you can attend any Chicago-area exhibition on digital media art, including (but not limited to) the Museum of Contemporary Art’s I Was Raised on the Internet (closes October 14th), the Block Museum’s Paul Chan video installation (closes November 4), and the Video Game Art Gallery’s Chicago New Media, 1973-1992 exhibition (November 1 until December 15) and Backlog: Five Years Building the VGA Print Collection (closes December 16). You can also be on the lookout for shows at locations such as Redline VR and Digital Art Demo Space. For this opportunity, all you have to do is visit a relevant exhibition and write a short review of it. Slack me a copy. But also post it on the blog, as it will surely be of interest to the entire class.

 

Final Paper or Project Abstract (300-400 words)

About a month before the final essay is due, you will turn in a brief abstract. You can adjust your topic during the research process, but it’s useful to have a starting point — a working fiction, if you will — well in advance of the deadline. The abstract should succinctly state your argument, name your key work or object of analysis, explain the way you’re positioning your intervention in the broader scholarly field, and demonstrate why a reader would care about the argument that you’re making. The abstract should also comment upon the type of research that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. If you wish to include a bibliography (which is recommended but not required), it will not be included in the word count. Also, this exercise will connect to the final mock conference. So write the abstract as if you are submitting it to an actual conference and include the name of the conference to which you are submitting. I will play the part of a conference organizer and either accept or reject your proposed paper.

Annotated Bibliography (5 sources)

For this short assignment, select 5 sources that are relevant to your final paper or project. This annotated bibliography should summarize both the argument and scope of each source. As such, each item should be one paragraph long and include: 1.) Citation: a full citation for each work included (in a consistent style such as MLA, Chicago, etc.). 2.) Summary: a 1-3 sentence summarizing of the text’s primary argument, intervention, and significance. 3.) Evaluation and Application: a brief critical analysis of the text and a description of the source’s likely contribution to your project.

Final Mock Conference (12-15 Minutes)

About a week before the final research paper is due, you’ll have a chance to present a slightly shorter version of your paper in class. You should present your argument and its implications in a clear and persuasive manner. You should also prepare the presentation, in advance, so that it fits within the allotted 12-15-minute slot (you will be timed). Visual aids (such as PowerPoints, images, or videos) will certainly strengthen your presentation. The primary purpose of the assignment is to prepare you for conference presentations and to give you useful feedback that will help you with your final set of revisions. After your presentation, we will have a short question and answer period. You may pre-circulate your paper among the other members of your panel.

 

Final Paper or Project (10-15 Pages)

Your 10-15 page final paper can be related to any aspect of the material covered in the course. To clarify, you need not necessarily write about one of the primary texts we cover in class. For this assignment, you will work up to your final essay through an abstract (due November 7), annotated bibliography (due November 13), and a conference presentation (on December 4). If you write a paper, it should be a research paper that cites at least seven sources (you may of course include additional sources and/or sources covered in our shared discussions but there must be at least five external texts in the mix). If you choose the project option, you should include with it a brief artist’s statement about the theoretical foundations of your work. I am open to collaborative projects in small groups if the ambition and interdisciplinary need is apparent, but such projects must be pre-approved.

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