Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature

Gamer Theory Critique

October 6th, 2014 | Posted by Cathy Li in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Mckenzie Wark first presented his Gamer Theory online in form of flashcards, wherein readers commented and contended and Wark replied. Then Harvard University Press turned the Theory into the dead-tree version that incorporates all the marginal comments as footnotes. Arguably the affordance should only change what we are seeing, i.e. a computer screen or pieces of paper. The digital version of the Theory, however, appeals to me more in various aspects than the physical book, or a pdf scanning of the book.

The flashcards online itself makes the reading experience less painful because they segment the book into several chapters and further into 5-flashcard groups within each chapter. Navigation through the flashcards also expedites the reader’s journey in the Gamer Theory. The search function, were it able to function properly, would help the reader to find keywords and main ideas. Of course, readers can also exchange their opinions of the Theory on the margin of the webpage. On the other hand, the printed version of the book (or a scanned pdf) takes away all these features and is just utterly boring to read.

The theory itself, however, does not come along deep or practical, in the first two chapters at least. The Theory draws a close analogy between game space and human lives, which sounds fanatical to begin with and superficial/ill-purpose in actuality. Why would someone think that our life is a game anyway? Wark started the Theory with Plato’s Cave Allegory that challenges the common view on the nature of reality. If cavemen were tied up and forced to see only one side of the cave from the day they were born, their reality would only contain the shadows on the wall and the echoes whose sources are mistakenly thought to be the shadows. The example implies that our reality cannot be some objective world happening outside but precisely our perceptions of it. Wark then moved on to describe Benjamin’s Sims world (a game) that in various ways resembles our world (the gamespace), but of course the fact that Sim is a life simulation game predicates the resemblance and the allegory; other games may not carry the allegory at all.

The reason why the Plato’s allegory of cavemen works is because Plato himself notoriously endorsed the ideal world, the perfect world afterlife, and physical existence of the perfect abstract objects. Plato alleged that our world is a failed version of the perfect world; not surprisingly, what’s in parallel in the author’s argument is that the world is actually an imperfect game play. Admittedly, it is hard to argue against idealism because our senses channel in the information from the outside and our inner ideas evolve to be more capable in the so-called mental world than our physical body in the outside world because our ideas can predict the physicals and we can think that we know it. We think that we know what games are and that we know what constitute reality. We can also think that our life magically resembles a game like Wark does. We make all these silly analogies because we can, not because it is ever for a second true. Nevertheless, we can also remind ourselves that it is life that generates all kinds of games and that it is we human who create all the games that have ever existed. Playing a word game cannot reverse the relation of game and life. I agree that epistemically we cannot question whether there exists a larger entity than the life as we know it; but the argument that says we should live life according to the perfect game rules that are, in fact, produced by, in, and from the imperfect life is simply malarkey.

Living a life as a game leads us to nowhere, if not to fatalist exasperation. Honestly, what game in the world can get as a millionth complicated as the life on earth (not to mention what happen in the outer space capable of destroying everything we know)? Since no such game exists, what game rules and what algorithms are there for us to follow? All the games oversimplify our real lives and that’s partially why people escape from the actual, complex life to the simplified virtual world wherein there are no hard problems and people to deal with. The most complex algorithms written to generate the game almost have nothing to do how the gamers win the game. A game that asks the gamer to modify its own code to win the game does not attract any gamer at all; rather, a game that asks me to earn money and survive in a war to win the game does. Because earning and surviving operate at a level way above the perfect algorithms running in the kernel, nobody would bother to decode the algorithm of this life and then abide by the code. It is like saying we should abide by the principle of quantum mechanics to live a life, which actually sounds much more reliable than the Game Theory. Treating life as a game doesn’t benefit us in any way.

At some point, the author mentioned that some gamers focus more on following the rules and winning but other gamers focus more on the items, or as I call the byproducts/side-effects of the game, such as collecting the furniture in Sims. This more or less jibes with a certain part of our life, but not entirely. For example, I myself value the experience of things, but I also like things themselves. So what would be the winner of my life – the Cathy who has more experience or the Cathy who has more possessions, prizes and good grades? They both die one day for sure. Or actually the Cathy who lives longer? Who is there to tell me the rules of this life? (I am a hundred percent serious but the premises of the Theory now just read like jokes.) There are other problems with the analogy such as the relationship between the gamer and the Sim’s character. Is Cathy both the gamer and the character? If the character cannot know there is a gamer, will the gamer know that the character can know this (have consciousness)? [The introduction of the Bogost’s How to Do Things with Videogames explicates lots of problems with the Gamer Theory]

At last, the comments at the margins are not peer reviews because the author did not revise the content accordingly (not that I know of) but simply inserted them as footnotes. Academic peer reviewers must review the content carefully and give the author constructive suggestions; only after the author revises accordingly or defends herself can the content being reviewed again and so forth until finally published. Comments do not serve these purposes. The book might have undergone some real peer reviews before publishing but the discussion section beside the flashcards cannot be counted as peer reviews.

The Game of Life of Games

October 6th, 2014 | Posted by Pooja Mehta in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

My definition of a game, based off of  is any action that involves tasks, has rules that direct how those tasks should be done, and has some sort of end goal to it. This end goal could be anything from gaining a certain number of points, to getting to the next level, to competing a certain task. A medium is, to me, a method of delivering information and supplementing the information that is trying to be shared by the author. It could be as dynamic as the internet, as stagnant as a book, as interactive as, well, a video game. Additionally, it could be appropriate in some scenarios and inappropriate in others, which is why you often see the same information presented in a variety of different mediums. Or, as Ian Bogost says, “we can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does” (Bogost 3). I would classify games as a medium because games have the ability to supplement information with the affordances of the particular game layout.  Some games do not augment the information, and are simply prized for their entertainment value—for example, Flow doesn’t really seem to offer much as an information platform. On the other hand, a game like Storyteller could be used to deliver information and allow the player to see scenarios differently than if it were to be read on paper, because they could control the players and potentially decide the outcomes of certain stories. I think most forms of information could be turned into a game. In fact, this very phenomenon is played out in elementary schools throughout the country. Kids learn their alphabets, hand washing skills, and multiplication tables all through the help of games. There are even apps that turn day to day activities into games, or use games as motivators. For example, the apps we talked about in class. There was one that would record the area you encircled while you ran, and then mark that area as your “territory.” You would have to keep running the same paths in order to keep your claim on your land. It turned the mundane chore of working out into a game, thus giving it a competitive edge and making it seem like a more appealing task.

I think we should study games, because games have a lot of potential. As technology advances and we get better graphics and an increased ability to incorporate biodata into games, the line between gaming and virtual reality blurs. Because of this I would say to study one is to study the other. Virtual reality is already used as an educational medium—pilots use computer simulations to practice taking off and landing without ever getting into a plane. They have a screen either in front of or around them, and controls that change their viewpoint based on how they move the controls. There are different difficulties of landings, and obstacles that the pilot has to maneuver around. If you put some sort of competitive aspect to it, like points or a goal, is it really any different than a game? No–in fact, adding the competitive aspect to it turns it into a game.


Now, in this argument, I am treating videogames as a subset of games, and use videogames as a term to describe traditional video games, cell phone games and computer games—basically any game that has a primarily digital aspect. Many papers that discuss the topic of games talk about video games. It is true that as technology becomes more integrated into our lives, video games will grow to encompass a bigger sector of games, and it is not unreasonable to say that it will eventually dominate it. Already there are children who don’t know what board games are, since they have only ever played on their tablets and other devices. I do see a future where games will become obsolete and will only be relevant in terms of videogames, but society will definitely lose something at that point. Like Bogost’s example of caterpillars—“If you remove the caterpillar from a given habitat, you are left not with the same environment minus caterpillars: you have a new environment, and you have reconstituted the conditions of survival” (Bogost 6). I think there should be a focus on studying regular games as opposed to video games, simply because the progression of technology is naturally taking us towards video games, and if regular games are pushed to the side, we lose a caterpillar in our environment. Additionally, with technology comes pros and cons, a point that is also mentioned in Bogost’s post. Gaming can be used as teaching and analytical tools, but it can also encourage laziness and distractions. Studying games and gaming can help steer it into a more positive light and find ways to utilize games to facilitate development and societal success, rather than a discouraged practice.

Games are an integral part of life, and life could be thought of as a game. It seems like something someone who is obsessed with video games would say, but it really has more of a philosophical, deeper grounding to it. Depending on where you are or what stage in your life you are at, your definition of “wining” changes. You “level up” as you go—you graduate college, you get a job, you start a family, you live a happy life. There are winners and there are losers, but we are all part of the same game of life—looks like Milton Bradley wasn’t too far off!

Bogost, Ian . “Introduction.” How To Do Things With Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. 1-8. Print.

If by “medium”, we mean any substance that is used to convey information in some way, then without a doubt games can act as a medium. Moreover, as with all media, games have a unique set of affordances to them, which are not captured well by any other sort of media. One of these affordances, echoing Katherine Hayles, is that our interactions with games, especially particularly immersive ones, can be remarkably embodied interactions. They can make us physically feel relaxed as in Cloud, or they can make us feel regret as in Regret. Studying games is, therefore, a valuable enterprise for two reasons: it lets us nail down precisely what are the possible affordances of the medium of video games, which can let us utilize the medium to the best of its abilities, and studying games can shed another perspective on the “real” world as well. For example, taking the perspective of McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, by looking at the real world itself as a game, another perspective on reality is opened to us by which we can address some philosophical questions.

Ian Bogost, in the text How To Do Things With Video Games, defends the idea that games are a serious multifaceted medium in the following quote:

Games – like photography, like writing, like any medium – shouldn’t be shoehorned into one of two kinds of uses, serious or superficial, highbrow or lowbrow, useful or useless. Neither entertainment nor seriousness nor the two together should be a satisfactory account for what videogames are capable of. After all, we don’t distinguish between only two kinds of books, or music, or photography, or film. Rather, we know intuitively that writing, sounds, images, and moving pictures can all be put to many different uses. (5)

This is not to say that the value of video games as a medium for entertainment should be downplayed. As a child, I often played the video game series Kingdom Hearts with my sister. Although for sure it provided us with countless hours of entertainment while we explored several different virtual worlds in the quest to save Sora’s best friend Kairi, we also unconsciously internalized several moral lessons about friendship, teamwork, and perseverance. An interesting empirical, psychological question in the vicinity here about video games as a medium is this: how well do they serve, particularly in children, as an educational tool for the teaching of important life lessons? Several of these lessons are already imparted to children through storytelling, but there is no reason to think video games can not participate in this. In fact, new research is now confirming the utility of video games in this area. For example, a study done in the University of Victoria, which took a total of five years and studied gaming in teens aged 13 to 17, found that “playing video games can make children more ethically and morally aware” (Vincent). Studies like this provide a much needed contrast to the popular opinion expressed in the media that video games only promote morally bad behavior, e.g. violence.

We may also ask whether video games can be used as an artistic medium. Although it is true that the question, “Are video games art?” is latent with vagueness, I am absolutely confident in its answer, and I suspect that most people who have played enough of the right games are as well. The first point to make is that many video games explicitly hire artists to aid them in creating their virtual worlds. So if we understand the question of whether video games are art operationally, we get the easy answer “yes”. However, to be completely convinced of this fact, one only needs to look at examples. For example, we may look at some particularly big video games put out by Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft and Diablo III. Each is set in a very elaborate fictional world, and the corresponding games literally created entire virtual worlds for them. These worlds are completely filled with artistic details, from the creativity required to dream up and design templates for countless different species of creatures, to the beautiful game mechanics of lightning, meteors, totems, teleportation, etc. At the opposite end of the artistic spectrum, there are games like Parallax which are much more minimalist, but they still manage to be awe inspiring in their artistic creativity. A final example of a game in the genre of “art games” is Antichamer, a game which lets players explore non-euclidean geometries with extra spatial dimensions!

What can we learn from games when we look at them from a critical context? Can there be a critical theory for video games? These are the sorts of questions that McKenzie Wark explores especially well in Gamer Theory. One interesting theme to explore in the relation between games and reality is the notion of teleology, or purpose. Most games, though not all, have goal structures that are built into them from the outside. One has to beat the bad guys, maximize the number of points one has, get from point A to point B, etc. Is this fact shared by reality? Here we get embroiled in deep philosophical questions. For example, if certain religious traditions like Christianity are true, then the answer seems to be yes. We even have a reward system for whether you accomplished God’s goal or failed, i.e. heaven and hell! However, even in this picture, we can always step outside. Why does God have the purposes he has? Are there some objective purposes that are even placed on him, or are God’s purposes ultimately arbitrary? If the first option, where did those objective purposes come from? Is this not heading off to an infinite regress? If the second option, why should we care about God’s purposes if they are ultimately arbitrary? Reasoning like this, it might be tempting to come up with the conclusion that the notion of an ultimate, objective, external purpose is simply incoherent. If there were any such thing, it would either have a higher objective external purpose and we would have an infinite regress, or it would seem to be arbitrary. If this objective purpose came out of nowhere, why shouldn’t we invent our own purposes in our lives? This is the fundamental thought behind the philosophical school of Existentialism, which we have found can interestingly be arrived at by thinking about the nature of gaming. Not only can games be enjoyed by children for the sake of pure entertainment, games can be studied by serious philosophers to achieve new insights into the nature of reality. This is the remarkable range of affordances that the medium of gaming provides.

Works Cited

Blizzard Entertainment. Diablo III. 2012. PC

Blizzard Entertainment. World of Warcraft. 2004. PC

Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2011. Print.

Hayles, Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. Print.

Parallax: Steam Greenlight Trailer. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.

Square Enix. Kingdom Hearts. 2002. Play Station 2

Vincent, James. “Video games ‘can make children more morally aware'” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

Wark, McKenzie. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.

william gibson RTs us

Drowning in Problems – Notch

There is nothing. Solve.


For a review, see BoingBoing’s Drowning in Problems: Notch’s surprisingly moving text game



Stephan Thiel’s “Understanding Shakespeare” project succeeds as a digital design project, but it falls slightly short when viewed as a digital humanities project (which, in our opinion, requires effective analysis and original conclusions). Thiel aims to present a “new form of reading drama” (Thiel) to add new insights to Shakespeare’s works through information visualization. The project is broken into five separate approaches, each of which turns the words and events of Shakespearean drama into data and then presents said data in an informative visual display. While Thiel’s intentions (the “new form” stated above) constitute a worthy design goal, they do not serve as a strong thesis to guide the literary implications of his project (or lack thereof – literary conclusions are mostly absent). The separate approaches are not linked to support a core argument.

Each approach display has a small, concise description of its purpose, and presents data in a visual form that is easy for any average reader to navigate and explore. In viewing Shakespeare’s words as information to be processed (by methods described further on), Thiel goes against the opinions of Stephen Marche and others who argue that “literature is not data” (Marche). Marche fears the advent of the digital humanities and criticizes the field for being “nothing more than being vaguely in touch with technological reality” (Marche). He goes on to describe the sorts of algorithms that Thiel uses as “inherently fascistic” (Marche). Most digital humanities scholars will dismiss Marche’s fears of algorithms as irrational and exaggerated. However, there is a danger to the scholarly pursuit of literary analysis when projects claim to serve a literary purpose but instead do relatively little literary research. Although Thiel’s project is primarily a design project, his own self-written goals are a little too ambitious and reflect literary intentions that he does not satisfy. For example, his “Shakespeare Summarized” approach uses a word frequency algorithm to condense speeches from a play into one “most representative sentence” each, which he claims will create a “surprisingly insightful way to ‘read’ a play in less than a minute” (Thiel). This is a far-fetched claim, as the “Shakespeare Summarized” charts each turn out to be more of a disjointed collection of hit-or-miss quotes rather than a coherent narrative. The charts give no detail with regards to plot events or characters, and viewing this data cannot be compared to the experience of reading Shakespeare’s full prose. The data presented is of little value to someone who has not previously read the associated work. Therefore, Thiel falls short in re-purposing the data to create an analytic digital humanities project – instead, he simply gathers the data and presents it visually.

Another of the approaches, “Me, You and Them” (Thiel), serves to identify each character’s role by compiling statements that begin with personal pronouns. Thiel claims that this approach “reveals the goals and thoughts of each character” (Thiel), though the project itself does no analysis of the data. Scholars who are familiar with the work may be able to examine Thiel’s compiled data and draw conclusions from it, but there are no conclusions put forth as part of the project.

Looking at the overall project’s design and technique criteria, it is clear that this digital humanities project really did form in sync with the concept and tool application. Thiel is well aware of the affordances of his tools (the capabilities of each algorithm for useful visualization), and he is effective in organizing the data in a readable manner. The approach titled “Visualizing the Dramatic Structure” introduces Shakespeare’s plays through a fragmented lens. Each lens signifies a major character within the entire play, or simply a character important within one scene. To produce this, while still maintaining an authentic feel to reading a play, this approach has a very inventive page structure. The structure follows that of a novel, however the story is divided by vertical lines that create horizontal portions for each scene/character that summarize their most important lines. This format reveals how this approach properly demonstrates the affordances of the overall project through this particular fragmented, yet organized, display. Thiel focuses on using technology that affords him the ability to examine the scope of an entire story by highlighting smaller, important details. The only major concern or flaw in the design of the media was that the visuals were presented through Flickr. This made it somewhat difficult to zoom in far enough and more so to navigate the vertical Flickr photo. A higher resolution and different media type for the visuals would have pushed the design to a higher level of sophistication.


(Hamlet, Prince of Denmark – Understanding Shakespeare Project)

It is not sufficient to only view the final presentation of a digital humanities project. Examining the development of any project is imperative to fully appreciating the level of work and rigor involved within a project’s creation. Studying the design process also can reveal biases or assumptions inherent in the project. The “Understanding Shakespeare” project was successful in recording and documenting the entire process, from the digitalization of the plays, to the coding manipulation of the data, to its fruition. The process is presented through a series of Youtube videos fast-forwarding through the various mini-projects. This is a great tool to observe and, to an extent, understand the coding algorithms that were used to organize the words or lines of the play by frequency. The major dilemma with this entire process, however, is that without a Computer Science major, it may be impossible to understand the process of the coding by looking at the video. What is missing in this page is verbal dialogue, walking someone through the process as the video is playing. Therefore, even though the documentation is there, the transparency of the project’s development isn’t present.

This Shakespeare project not only documents the entire process to the final product, but it also thoroughly credits the different platforms and software used within the project. In the “About” tab, all the acknowledgements are made. It certifies that the data being used was based from the WordHoard Project and Northwestern University. In addition, it reveals that the software processors called “Toxicilbs” and “Classifer4J”, were the ones used to manipulate the data into an interesting visual arrangement based on frequency. In terms of project visibility, the open web accessibility of this project allows for any academic scholars to examine Thiel’s charts. Furthermore, it is also open and simple enough that it accommodates for the layman who may only be attracted to the visuals of one play that he or she may have read. It is worth noting, however, that Thiel does not make the raw data available to the public – he only displays the data visualizations.

To sum up “Understanding Shakespeare” as a digital humanities project, it helps to look through the lens of a prominent digital humanities scholar like Katherine Hayles. In her book “How We Think”, Hayles describes how “machine reading” processes like Thiel’s algorithms could supplement traditional reading experiences by providing a “first pass towards making visible patterns that human reading could then interpret” (Hayles 29).  However, this relationship implies that machine reading could inform readers who have not yet read the work traditionally, and in the case of “Understanding Shakespeare”, the data is not of much use without previous familiarity with the drama. As of yet, no scholars have taken advantage of Thiel’s project to make literary arguments, and thus it still sits idly as what Mattern would describe as a “cool data set” (Mattern). Standing alone as data, the project leaves lingering questions: Could these techniques be applied effectively to the works of other authors, and more importantly, what are the literary implications of this type of data?



Hayles, Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. Web.

Marche, Stephen. “Literature Is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities – The Los…” The Los Angeles Review of Books. N.p., 28 Oct. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <>.

Mattern, Shannon. “Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited.” » Journal of Digital Humanities. Journal of Digital Humanities, Fall 2012. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.

Thiel, Stephan. “Understanding Shakespeare.” Understanding Shakespeare. 2010. Web. <>.

As the project that we are critiquing, the infographic “Every Scene in Great Gatsby”, is not technically a digital humanities project, we will focus on comparing it to other projects, why it is not acknowledged as a digital humanities project, and how to make it into an actual one.

First of all, the creator of the infographic has done a good job representing the series of events graphically. On the top of the picture, a map shows the protagonists’ geographic changes in the novel, particularly focusing on Gatsby’s death. The body of the picture is separated based on the chapters of the novel, and the characters, represented as circles with the initial letter of their names, participate in each chapter in a linear temporal order so as to provide the reader with the information of how the characters interact with one another throughout the novel.

Google the title of the infographic, and not many articles regarding its merit appear. In fact, many articles state that the producers of this project are Pop Chart Labs, an infographic poster who specializes in making popular culture items visual. In a sense, it loses some merit given that it was not created for the sole purpose of advancing scholarship. Nevertheless, many who stumble upon this Great Gatsby infographic find it useful. This project is described as “a stylish, elegant and beautifully designed graphic – another classic” ( Although not necessarily a classic per se, it does provide its audience a mode of understanding the book better. There is some dialogue prevalent to the project. It appears in social media such as Pinterest and Twitter, basically portraying how the general public does find it useful enough to share amongst others. even has an article depicting the breakdown of the project along with comments about how it helps the reader.

In retrospect, it is clear that not enough dialogue about this projects is present throughout the internet, at least not enough to portray biases of the project. Also, although it is a platform that presents media objects, it doesn’t necessarily provide an argument. A useful digital project is created on the basis of whether it could be argumentative or responded to. This infographic lacks enough elements to even be labeled as such. There isn’t sufficient links or annotation, but it does do justice to the initial literary work even if it is a simple derivative to The Great Gatsby.

The novel representation and the simplistic drawing does offer the reader a clearer outline of the novel. However, surely one can remake the infographics on a piece of paper so this project can hardly be called a digital humanities project. Nevertheless, one should never give up on a brilliant idea such as this but to turn it into something more modern, useful, technologically advanced.

Shannon Mattern, in her paper Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited emphasized the importance of “a strong thesis or argument at the core of the work”, which obviously is lacked from this infographics. Transforming a dull poster that merely serves to retell a story into a vivid digital humanities project requires a strong motivation to make a point. In this case, the revisor should reevaluate the essential ideas that Fitzgerald tried to convey such as Daisy’s vanity and Gatsby’s unconditional affection. What the revisor, as a reader, thinks of these (are they in vain? valorous? pathetic?) should be incorporated in the project and the details of the novel that embody the point should become the main theme of the project. The revisor’s motivation plays a crucial part of the project because it ensures that what technical effort should be made and why it should be made to finish the project; it differentiates a thoughtful project from a directionless “cool-data-set” that cannot be interpreted.

There are many ways to transform this simplistic infographic into something with more digital mediums. Images are mostly the only types of mediums the creator uses to make this project work. But audio, code, and other types of technologies could’ve helped make this infographic livelier. After the revisor settles on what his/her point of making the project, the structure and technical details need to be filled.

Here, one must first decide what affordances will be utilized – whether it is going to be a visual computer interface that asks the reader to click on or an immersive environment that activates the reader’s other senses like auditory, olfactory, tactile, etc. Of course, the technic availability limits what a project can do; since the design and technique is concept/content driven as aforementioned, the revisor must consider whether switching from one affordance to another will affect the reader’s understanding of the gist and motivation of the project. For example, an easy revision of the project, can be a programmed interface wherein the main body of the infographics remains the same but extra function buttons are added. The reader can click on different scenarios throughout the novel and then a clip of the movie will be replayed or a segment of the novel will be reread for them. It can also be made interactive as the reader can ask the characters questions about the novel and the character will respond according to the content of the story. Or, the book could have simply been brought to life through the infographic itself. The creator could keep the temporal and spacial elements he incorporated and added more movement through programming and audio.

More types of data could’ve been extracted from other sources in order to create a more credible project, and more technology and design would’ve most definitely helped the infographic fit into Dr. Mattern’s criteria of a multimodal project. By tweaking this infographic with more data and research along with various mediums, a multidimensional project like this would provide an immersive environment between the audience, granting them a more interactive experience. In essence, both scholarship and multimedia should be synthesized to perfection in order for the audience to reap more benefits from the medium. By keeping the audience in mind and providing them with a digital resource that could help them better understand The Great Gatsby, the creator would’ve invented a whole new, innovative way to make literary media more digital.

Work Cited:
Mattern, Shannon. “Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited.” » Journal of Digital Humanities. Journal of Digital Humanities, Fall 2012. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.
Wilson, Mark. (2013, July 25). Infographic: “Every Scene in the Great Gatsby”
“The Great Gatsby Chart Infographic.” Infographickcom. N.p., 20 July 2013. Web. 22 Sept.

On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces is a digital humanities project by Ben Fry on the evolution of Darwin’s famous On the Origin of Species. It begins with three introductory written paragraphs which clarify the purpose of the project, give a couple of examples of significant changes in Darwin’s work across its six editions, and give credit to the sources, tools, and motivations behind the project, respectively. Under these three paragraphs lies the main media element in the project: a hyper minimized copy of Darwin’s work which can undergo a time lapse at two different rates which demonstrates the changes in Darwin’s work across its six different editions by color coding these changes.


The core conceptual content of Ben Fry’s project is that Darwin’s seminal work on evolution itself evolved in a substantial way throughout its six different editions. When we evaluate this thesis, however, we see that the thesis is not a contestable one, although it is both defensible and substantive (Galey 1). It fails to be contestable for the simple reason that anyone who is aware that Darwin’s Origin of Species went through six editions will recognize that it did go through such an evolution.  This failure could have easily been remedied in a number of ways. Rather than simply presenting the data about how the book transformed, for example, Ben Fry could have analyzed this data. We get a very small dose of analysis in the second introductory paragraph when he points to the addition of “by the Creator” in the second edition of Darwin’s text and when he points out that the phrase “survival of the fittest”, inspired by a British philosopher, only appeared in the fifth edition of the text. Continuing this line of thought, it would be a natural extension of Fry’s work if he addressed which changes in Darwin’s work were merely matters of detail and which changes were significant conceptual changes. Another question that Fry could have analyzed is the immediate one that any user has after interacting with this project: what happened to section VII during the sixth edition? In the time lapse, it is clear that the entire content of the section is original to the sixth edition, so it is a natural question to wonder to what extent this change influenced the main conceptual core behind the Origin of Species.  Another crutch the project has is that it only really relies on one source, Dr. John van Wyhe’s The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. Additionally, it does not incorporate data from other digital humanities projects, and it suffers from a lack of links or annotations. The last hyperlink in the third introductory paragraph, which is found in the sentence “More about the project can be found here”, does, however, provide some interesting autobiographical motivation for doing this project. In it, he says that after completing the project, he came to a greater appreciation of Darwin’s original ideas and discovered that they were not in fact stolen from some of his contemporaries. Again, the reasons he came to this conclusion would have been an excellent piece to analyze.

The format and design that Fry used for his project is also somewhat of a mixed bag. As a positive, Ben Fry succeeded in making his thesis “experiential” by both color coding changes based on the edition as well as letting the user experience these changes through a time lapse that has the option of going at two different rates. Furthermore, these media elements were not at all used gratuitously, but they all have explicit connections to the conceptual core of his project. Additionally, the format and design were essentially digital; the time lapse for example could not have been done on a piece of paper. However, these positives are not unaccompanied by limitations. Users of this project will find it very inconvenient to identify what the edits actually are. The project does let one zoom in on a couple lines at a time by scrolling over the text, however it would be much more usable if the project let a user zoom in to individual chapters or paragraphs and see the edits in a more contextualized setting, rather than just zooming in on one line at a time. Changing this one thing could potentially have vastly expanded the audience of the project.

The academic integrity of the project is hurt by the fact that it only really had one source, and it also did not have any collaborators. He did succeed, however, in document his intentions for the creation of the project in the concluding hyperlink: he began the project to understand to what extent Darwin stole ideas from his contemporaries. The project is linked to by other websites occasionally, but only for the purpose of directing the audience to it rather than using it or analyzing it in any depth (see here and here). The work does not seem to use expert consultations, and it is not peer reviewed.

After looking through the criteria for a multimedia project, and applying the sets of questions given by Shannon Mattern, we would argue that this is not a multimedia project–it is a media project at best, and a glorified e-text at worst. That is not to say it is not a good project. According to Fry, “We often think of scientific ideas, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, as fixed notations that are accepted as finished. In fact, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote,” and this project strives to show the evolution of the idea of evolution. He does a good job of demonstrating this through the use of processor, but that, along with the original text, is the only media he used. While it does repurpose the text by putting all six editions together and allow us to see the differences that a hard copy simply could not, we would argue that Fry left out a lot of things that could have been done with the project. For example, instead of just showing us the changes, embedding tags into the project that offer explanations or hypotheses for certain changes would make it much more informative and take advantage of the fact that this project has the entire knowledge of the internet available to it.  This would also give more credit to the format of the project. As it stands now, while it is cool to watch the text change and grow, printing out the final result would cause no loss in information. If there were tags and other external resources embedded directly into the project, keeping it in a multimedia format would be necessary. But, after looking at some of Fry’s other projects it seems to us that most of his work is done with the intent of being displayed in print. So this project does do what Fry wanted, but it does not qualify as a multimedia project.

Mattern, Shannon C. “Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited.” » Journal of Digital Humanities. Journal of Digital Humanities, 1 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.

Fry, Ben. “Projects.” Projects | Ben Fry. Ben Fry, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.

Fry, Ben. “On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces.” On The Origin of Species. Ben Fry, 2009. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.

Galey, Alan. “Literary and Linguistic Computing.” How a Prototype Argues. Oxford Journals, 27 Oct. 2010. Web. 21 Sept. 2014


Powerful Digital Representation

September 15th, 2014 | Posted by Diego Nogales in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Hey guys, I recently watched a TED talk that I feel is truly relevant to this class and to my post. Hans Rosling is a global health professor and he loves data and statistics. His presentation was powerful and explained the changes to global economic development over a 200 year span that I am sure no printed reading could have done, in my opinion. This kind of visual representation of data and statistics proves how useful computers are and how interactive digital representations can give you a clearer perspective than a printed report would.

Here is the link, start at TIME 3:00 and just watch the next few minutes.