Old Friends, Old Games: No One Lives Forever 2 in Kolkata

No comments
Subhayu Mazumder is easily one of my oldest friends. We started in the same section at kindergarten, continued together throughout our schooldays and then went on to read English Lit together at university. We don't meet often but he's one of those people you have on your thoughts even during a random bus ride through this busy city and then, out of the blue, he's on the phone nattering away at breakneck speed, providing unnecessary explanations and spewing ideas (with which you might not always agree but then again, there's no deterring him). Together with Sanjay Banerjee, we had started our school's first (arguably) literary wallpaper, 'My Back Pages'  and had those many adventures that only extremely curious and creative (or so I'd like to think) teenagers can possibly have. Looking back now, they seem other lives, other videogames.

So Subhayu wanted me to write an article on gaming for The Times of India and I said I'd bite. Readers of Ludus Ex will know that I've been doing everything I can to push the importance of games research to the Indian academia, the videogame industry and the policymaking gods. The article itself needed a Kolkata focus so after saying the usual and making my case about the potential of gaming here, I remembered another old friend. A virtual one this time - Cate Archer from No One Lives Forever 2. NOLF seems to have disappeared even from the second-hand markets as Emil Hammar was telling me when we were in Bergen last month. NOLF is the only videogame I know with a direct Calcutta connection. So this is an excerpt from what I wrote:

Unknown to most gamers, this is the first Indian city (arguably) to have been featured in a major gaming title. Cate Archer, the British spy famous for her Bond-like skills and her lipstick spycam, comes to Calcutta in the 2002 videogame No One Lives Forever 2. For the first time in videogames, the gamer (a.k.a  Archer) can move around the bylanes of Kolkata and fight corrupt policemen and goons. Archer is sent to Kolkata to meet someone with the unlikely name of Balaji Malpani  and will have to pay a local the handsome sum of forty rupees to be given a city tour before she can start taking out the operatives of the criminal organization H.A.R.M. Archer then travels to Siberia, Japan and Greece to fight super-soldiers and Soviet troops.

Cate Archer in the bye-lanes of Calcutta

NOLF 2 has not had a sequel to date but from what the reviews  of the gameplay testify, Calcutta was a great game setting and one would hope that after the Cate Archers, the James Bonds and the Assassin’s Creed heroes would make the city their next stop.  So here’s raising a virtual glass to more videogames and a healthy gaming culture in Kolkata.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, Bergen 2013

No comments
I didn’t ever think I’d make it this time. Backbreaking work at the university, very little research time  and certainly no gaming time meant that conference abstracts were super-impossible to write.  Imagine my surprise when I found that the PCG abstract had been accepted. Anita Leirfall, eminent game philosopher and PCG veteran, casually asked me whether I was going to Bergen and I answered with a crestfallen ‘no’; on second thoughts and on Anita’s suggestion, however, I emailed the organisers and there was a welcome email from John Richard Sageng saying that yes we would be meeting in Bergen.  The story goes on and involves battles with university admin and incompetent travel agents and a miraculous intervention by the VC whereby I was able to get my visa at the very last minute from the Norwegian consul’s residence!

The UNESCO heritage buildings in Bergen

Then I was in Bergen – adjusting to the sheer beauty of Bergen Bay, the colourful buildings and the beauty of the surrounding hills. Having arrived a day before the conference, I was able to go exploring on my own.  After a magical ride into the Floyen on the Bergen Funicular railway and then a desultory but very rewarding stroll around the city, I felt I had done enough sightseeing for the day and now it was time to locate Hotel Grand Terminus, the venue for the conference.

The first keynote by Stephan Guenzel outlined in detail the philosophy of space, taking us carefully from Euclidean and Newtonian space as understood and experienced in Game Studies and then moving on to Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the spatial trialectic. Agreeing and then differing with the spatiality concepts laid down for videogames by Michael Nitsche and Milaucic, Stephan spoke of the need to  identify the different concepts of space to be found with computer games, offering users an experience enabled by the intuitions of space as form. He mentioned Linda Henderson’s work on four-dimensional space and also made connections with how in videogames we have an inversion of the horror vacui or the medieval fear of empty spaces and the way in which this relates to videogames (such as Tetris which Janet Murray views as a metaphor for the overtasked lives of the American people).

Paul Martin from the University of Nottingham, Ningbo presented on the landscape and gamescape in Dwarf Fortress. For Paul, landscape is experienced as tension and the ‘over-thereness’ is not experienced; one interesting description of gameplay by Paul is that it is ‘souplike’ and the different ingredients cannot be separated. Paul was followed by Ivan Mosca who focused on social ontology as a means of analysing videogame spaces as maps vis-à-vis game-boards. Other presentations included Guglielmo Fels on truth in videogames, Jonne Arjoranta on mapping cognition spatially, Velli-Marti Karlulahti on defining videogames and Emil Hammar on postphenomenological play. I was intrigued by Arjoranta’s suggestion that we need to take cognition into account in our design of videogames and experiment with going against what we use normally. Emil Hammar, another very promising student of ITU Copenhagen, happened to be my roommate at the youth hostel where I put up and we had quite a few deep conversations about the field. Hammar discussed games as technology from the standpoint of Don Ihde (who, incidentally, was the keynote speaker at the previous PCG conference) and the phenomenological analysis of Merleau-Ponty. Karlulahti’s presentation started with the rather intriguing question about whether academics texts have an implied author but his main premise, the definition of videogames as anything that evaluates performance, is one that I cannot agree with and find limiting.

Equally problematic (albeit a masterful presentation) for me was the concept of analysing (literally ‘breaking down’) videogames into ‘ludemes’.  In his keynote, Espen Aarseth referred to the signified of the ludemes (which are units in the same manner as Levi-Strauss’s mythemes); the concept while appealing seems to me to assume what Derrida problematizes as a ‘transcendental signified’. In his talk titled, ‘Fictionality is Broken’ (after McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken), Aarseth questioned those who state that games are a form of fiction. This leads back in new ways to the old videogames as fiction (or not) debate and this is perhaps not the space to engage with it yet again. Talking of space in videogames, Aarseth put forward a more developed and robust form of his concept of ‘ludoforming’ that he had first introduced at the Ludotopia workshop in Copenhagen in 2010.

Daniel Vella’s Heideggerian take on game space in Minecraft and Proteus drew attention to the double ontology of spaces in these games – where trees are to be seen as trees (and part of the landscape) but as an arrangement of a resource block, simultaneously. He views the space in these games as the congruence of virtual and actual environments. Speaking about the virtual experience of space, Rune Klevjer spoke of the virtual as a positive entity rather than a negative and as an ontologically irreducible category. As he expresses it best, for him the solution ‘is to accept that the simulation of physical reality in computer games, unlike the abstract and concrete models of non-computerised mimetic play, is able to constitute its own irreducible ground of perception and action.’ Rune also made an interesting comparison, in passing, between the theological concept of transubstantiation (whereby the blood of Christ turns to wine at Communion) and virtuality: Christ’s flesh and blood although not present in front of us are nevertheless ontologically independent and irreducible entities. Some of the other presentations that I remember well are those of Patrick Coppock on aesthetics in videogame spaces, Olli Leino on ‘from game spaces to playable worlds’, Carl Mildenberger on evil in games, Kristin Jorgensen on the game interface and Daniel Milne on spaces of moral and narrative possibilities in videogames. Patrick’s presentation reminded me that I need to read up my John Dewey; regarding evil and morality in videogames, I have my own take as my article on videogame ethics illustrates – however, I guess I need to think through issues like griefing and suicide ganking within the framework that I have devised for myself to make sense of ethics and morality. Olli’s presentation, in his own words, dealt with the: ‘(post-)phenomenological tradition, I argue that while this terminology is useful for analytic projects seeking to shed light on the structure and form of the game artifact and the processes it facilitates, spatial notions do not necessarily resonate with the first-person experience of computer game play, especially in cases of playing games of genres which do not rely on simulated locomotion and proprioception in three-dimensionally modeled space.’

I had to leave before the conference ended and I missed two papers that I really wanted to listen to: the keynote lecture on mazes by Alison Gazzard (Alison’s new book on the subject has been published recently) and Anita Leirfall’s talk on orientation in computer game space. Other paper such as that by Ian Jones on the intersection of spatial knowledge and bodily skill  were also much praised, as I gathered from the comments on Twitter., afterwards. As I write this, it is all the more obvious that summarizing so many extremely and intensely learned papers and what I have provided here is a mere sampling of what I gleaned. The full papers are available here (http://gamephilosophy2013.b.uib.no/papers-and-slides/), except for the keynotes.

‘Give me a hundred battalions of British line infantry and I shall conquer your countries’

My own paper was on empire, its spatial understading and how it is portrayed in videogames. This is a new area for me but one that I have thought about often (especially since I come from India – with its centuries of British imperial rule).The key points that I made were as follows: spatiality in empire and that in videogames where you can play at empire have many similarities; however, although empire has become a politically dirty word elsewhere, videogames seem happy to celebrate it. One of the reasons why may be the ease with which empire builders used to perceive the machinery of empire as a game – rule based, competitive and fun with clear goals. I go on to examine how Creative Assembly, the designers of Empire: Total War have coded  in their own version of imperial history and how that it is still governed by the Western notions of the East and itself embodies a rhetoric of Empire. Countering the game’s construction of empires, players often subvert historical events through their gameplay. Could one call the player’s intervention a challenge to empire or another means of reinforcing the logic of empire? At this point, I discuss how the gameplay inevitably involves a ‘thirdspace’ ( a concept from postmodern geographer, Edward Soja)where the often unnoticed lived spaces (in the sense in which this is used by Henri Lefebvre) of the empire also constitute its spaces of protest and the spaces that strive towards an-Otheredness that challenges Empire intrinsically. I ended with a hint that such videogame spaces as in Empire: Total War are illustrative of the way in  which the logic of empire still pervades every aspect of our society, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue in their rather controversial book.

I was happy to have received many questions and support from those who were there. There was quite a bit of discussion afterwards and some solid suggestions for improving the paper. One of the questions that I could not answer too well was whether there were other games that addresses the logic of empire so well and Alison told me about High Tea, a game based on the opium trade in China and Olli mentioned a game (mod?) of Civilisation IV. When I came back home, I also saw the East India Company game staring at me from my shelves. I was also asked whether this concept of imperial spaces extends into other genres of the videogame, namely the FPS. Having limited my thinking to a particular scenario, I think that extending the argument sounds tempting but will need much more thinking.

And here’s what people were saying on Twitter:

@GauteKAndersen3 OctThe Empire Needs You! A concept of Empire entails protest. also the segahistory of british emp. S. Mukhrjee. #pcg2013 pic.twitter.com/FEbXuczBTY@d_nielv3 Oct Interesting - empire as female body, possession. cf Donne, "To His Mistress...": "My America! My new-found land!" @Prosperoscell #PCG2013 Favorited by Gaute K. Andersen@GauteKAndersen3 Oct S.Mukherjee critical look on Empire:total war, with postcolonial studies, possession of space as paramount feat. of empirial space #pcg2013@d_nielv3 Oct Envisioning an alternative history where Malta is a Barbary pirate nation. @Prosperoscell #PCG2013@boundedspace3 Oct "The Sega history of the British Empire" @Prosperoscell #PCG2013@jilltxt3 Oct Provocative critique of video games and their infatuation with empire-building by @Prosperoscell at #pcg2013 pic.twitter.com/1eWhIKw3zg@boundedspace3 Oct Great Eddie Izzard clip by @Prosperoscell talking about empire and videogames #PCG2013@endecasillabo3 Oct #wololo #wololo #aoe time: conversion and Empire #PCG2013@lycitea3 Oct Mukherjee quotes Cecil Rhodes: "I would annex the planets if I could, I often think of that." #pcg2013

The full paper is available here (http://gamephilosophy2013.b.uib.no/files/2013/09/Souvik-Mukherjee-Bergen-2013.pdf) and the slideshow can be found here. Any comments and suggestions are most welcome.

It was a very short but refreshing stay in Bergen and a not-too-great journey back but it was great to meet the Game Studies community again and get out of the humdrum life of Calcutta for a bit. I forgot to say, I took a longish walk around the city after I reached and here’s what I found up in the hills (the Floyen):

Straight out of a videogame ?

Will end with another photo. We sampled the local brew and chatted with the game developers and enterpreneurs from Norway about indie games there. 'Konsoll' is a fest organised by the Norwegian game developers and it coincided with the PCG 2013. I left wondering if we could explore synergies between them and the Indian game industry. The NASSCOM GDC is coming up - time to think about it then.

A Norwegian Indie game projected on a wall at the Konsoll inauguration

No comments :

Post a Comment

A Belated Blogpost: The Digital Humanities Workshop at Presidency

1 comment
Another year in India and already so much has happened while I try to keep the ship of Digital Culture Studies afloat. My alma mater Jadavpur University has launched its Digital Humanities diploma course, more students now read on tablets and I was even invited to a colloquium on developing DH in India, quite recently as readers of Ludus Ex will know. For me, formal academic discussions on DH started off in India with a bang at the first Indian DH conference held at Presidency University, last year.  Jadavpur’s Bichitra project and other key archival initiatives had already made key contributions to some aspects of the Digital Humanities; the DH conference was a suitable forum to take this forward on a national and international level.

Liz Losh on Facebook: 'Me near the home of Thackeray. (And -- yes I have read Henry Esmond, not just VF)'

In keeping with the plan for developing DH in India, this year I organised a smaller event at Presidency. Three talks on the rather varied topics of digital archiving, e-portfolios and how DH relates to hacktivism, feminism and play formed part of the workshop. These were followed by a question-answer session where many expressed their concerns about and support for the newly emerging field. The speakers were Elizabeth Losh (from the University of California, San Diego), Amlan Dasgupta (from Jadavpur University, Calcutta) and Shiladitya Raychaudhury (from Auburn University, Alabama). The abstracts can be found here:

Dr Elizabeth Losh. ‘Whose Digital Humanities? Activism, Hacktivism, Feminism, and Play’

The digital humanities is sometimes called the “digitized humanities” in Europe and North America, because DH efforts still tend to privilege print culture and to overlook born-digital objects of study, such as video games, online video, digital images, or computer programs.  National digital humanities organizations also often ban political engagement or controversy in funded projects, on the grounds that neutrality is a paramount value for cultural heritage projects. This talk provides an overview of recent trends among #transformdh participants, who are bringing more seemingly subversive practices to the digital humanities field from queer theory, feminism, human rights activism, hacking, game studies, and critical making communities.

Dr Shiladitya Chaudhury, ‘The role of multiple representations in building 21st century scientific literacy’

Scientific literacy in the 21st century requires the learner to master fluency in moving between different representations of information - be it graphical, diagrammatic, symbolic, numerical, textual or verbal. The learning sciences offer us some clues on how to structure instruction to best utilize these representations. Modern technological tools are also making it easier for learners to both deconstruct existing representations (e.g. a physics video of an accelerating object) as well as generate their own representations (e.g. graphs of position versus time of the object).  New forms of assessment, such as ePortfolios, offer a mechanism to allow students the opportunity to demonstrate competency in these various literacies. My talk will present a couple of examples to illustrate these points and open the door for discussion on exploring the different types of literacies that are implied in mastery of a particular type of content knowledge. 

Lady Bracknell.  [Shaking her head.]  The unfashionable side.  I thought there was something.  However, that could easily be altered.
Jack.  Do you mean the fashion, or the side?
Lady Bracknell.  [Sternly.]  Both, if necessary, I presume. 
 Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest, 1894
The presentation considers the question of digital surrogacy in archival practice. Does the digital file at some point stop being a "surrogate" of a physical "original"? If so, when, and under what conditions? The question seems to be of importance in conceptualising image and audio-visual archives. 

Liz Losh, of course, is a well known name in Digital Culture circles and I was very happy to get to meet her at last. We went for a walk down Esplanade all the way up to Free School Street where I showed her William Makepiece Thackeray’s birthplace (the present-day Armenian College). Liz proudly announced that (pace all critics of DH who think we DH researchers haven’t read books) she had not only read Vanity Fair but also Henry Esmond. I must confess I haven’t ever ventured near the latter! The conversation veered on to the status of DH in academia and how she felt that the time of ‘Digital Humanities’ as opposed to ‘Digitizing Humanities’ (or that understanding of DH that sees the field as being about creating digital texts only). The issue of digital surrogacy, brought up by Amlan Dasgupta was also something that came up a few times. It is important that such questions are being asked in the early days of DH in India and that our students are beginning to engage with them. For me, it was a treat to have such a discussion yet again in my home city and to have experts from the field advise us on how to develop the area further.

1 comment :

Post a Comment

The Gaming is Afoot: Sherlock Holmes in Videogames

No comments
A Facebook update yesterday announced yet another Sherlock Holmes adventure: Sherlock Holmes in Japan, written by Indian author Vasudev Murthy.  In the Mark  Gatiss and Steven Moffat production of BBC’s new Sherlock series, Holmes himself discusses his detection on his website and Watson records their adventures on his blog. True to his technology-friendly Victorian avatar in the canonical stories, Sherlock Holmes has adapted himself to digital media effortlessly. In fact, if one is to think beyond current digital technology into the blue-skies tech of Star Trek’s Holodeck, the ‘Elementary, Dear Data’ episode of the cult SF TV-series features the android protagonist Lt Commander Data playing Sherlock Holmes’s role and attempting to solve a crime that would challenge the wits of Holmes himself. The Saudi Arabian bestselling author, Mohammed Bahareth, in the Introduction to his  Sherlock Holmes in 2012 series, thanks Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) as a major inspiration. Judging by the very diversely digital contexts created by Murthy, the BBC, Star Trek and Bahareth in recent times, Sherlock Holmes, with his mastery over technology and his futuristic appeal in Conan Doyle’s stories, has adapted himself to the current digital ethos  using his ever-current technical knowledge to overcome boundaries of space and time.Arguably the most involving digital Holmesian adaptation and one closest to Data’s playing Holmes on the Holodeck, however, is the experience of ‘becoming’ Holmes in digital games. Retracing the steps of the Victorian ‘consulting detective’ and the continuation of his adventures has always fascinated Holmes enthusiasts and the writers of pastiche, numbering among them famous literary figures such as Anthony Burgess and Neil Gaiman.  The Holmes videogames involve both the virtually embodied experience of ‘being Holmes’ simultaneously with the creation of Holmesian pastiche. Before entering a discussion of Sherlock Holmes videogames per se, it might be useful to look at the ludicity or playfulness of the stories themselves. Holmes’s famous phrase ‘the game is afoot’, adapted in the title of this essay, is a point of departure here. Allegedly a borrowing from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 (Act 1 Scene 3), this Holmesian quote features in the Canon in ‘The Adventure of the Abbey Grange’ where Holmes tells Watson: ‘Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’ This usage plays on the many meanings of ‘game’:  game as something that is hunted and game in the sense of the ludic. The association is carried into the world of Holmes pastiche: the film, Sherlock Holmes and the Game of Shadows and the third episode of Sherlock (‘The Great Game’). In both of these adaptations, Holmes meets his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty and both contain elements of puzzle-solving, riddles and overtly gamelike activities. In ‘The Great Game’, Moriarty, Holmes and Watson (after all it is he who has an explosive jacket strapped to him), seem to be playing an Alternate Reality Game (ARG).  ARGs usually connect closely with videogames because of the multiplicity of networked narratives and the transmedial storytelling that such games facilitate. This rather oblique association of Sherlockiana with videogames is intriguing and perhaps the topic for another discussion.  For now, it will be useful to return to the broader discussion of the detective story as game.

The hunting of the criminal by the detective operates in the sense of tracking game while the detective story is itself a rule-based entity that involves a play-like experience. As such, many commentators on detective stories are quick to point how they seem to follow sets of rules and conventions, almost like games. The rules of the detective story get a greater focus in  Roger Caillois’s 1941 essay ‘The Detective Novel as A Game’ (published as Le Roman Policier):
[T]he reader opens a thick folder similar to a dossier of a case in progress. It is filled with police reports, the depositions of witnesses, photographs of fingerprints […] which together constitute the necessary evidence.  Everyone must study this evidence and deduce from it the identity of the criminal: his name is sealed in an envelope which the enthusiast can always rip open in a moment of despair and which contains in addition the whole solution of the problem he was supposed to solve himself.
Caillois goes on to say that ‘when the novel is freeing itself from all rules, the detective novel keeps inventing stricter ones. Its interest, its value and even its originality increase with the limitations it accepts and the rules it imposes itself.’  For Caillois, therefore, the detective novel is ‘not a tale but a game’. As one of the pioneering theorists of games, Caillois makes a substantive link between games and storytelling when it comes to detective fiction. Pace the so-called Ludologists, who invoked his theories in their foundational research of Game Studies and argued that games and storytelling were mutually exclusive entities, Caillois’s definition of detective fiction clearly points to an obvious synergy between the two. However, to return to the discussion of the rule-based ludic narrative, Umberto Eco in an essay on the narrative structures in the James Bond thrillers describes the story as a set of game rules, almost chess-like in the terminology used (Bond moves and gives a check to the villain).

However, in his own detective novel, The Name of the Rose, Eco creates ‘a mystery in which very little is discovered and the detective is defeated’. Brian McHale calls Eco’s novel ‘postmodern’ precisely because of its strategies for destabilising the world it projects and its disorientated and displaced notion of space. According to Michael Holquist, postmodern novels, such as the works of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Jorge Luis Borges, ‘use as a foil the assumption of detective fiction that the mind can solve all’. The rule-bound and formally structured idea of the detective novel is challenged in such notions. If, as Caillois claims, the detective story keeps inventing stricter rules that it imposes itself and thereby plays itself out like a game, then one needs to accept that as in any game the rules themselves allow for such a variety of play-experiences.  Helmut Heissenbüttel, in his essay ‘Rules of the Game of the Crime Novel’,  argues for a ‘between-ness’ in detective novels that enables the ‘reconstruction of the trace of the unnarrated’, which is the governing logic of the detective story.  Something remains that is not revealed; the detective can only reconstruct the event through a ‘trace’ and this, by definition, is something that can turn into the ephemeral.  Heissenbüttel’s search for the rules of the game that he sees in detective fiction leads him to the following conclusion: ‘Within the framework of its rigorously calculable schema, the reconstruction of the trace of the unnarrated permits ever new combinations of possible contents.' The detective story, like a game with its rule-based framework, can be played over and over to produce ever new combinations of tales.

Like a videogame, one might argue. It is now a critical commonplace that some videogames easily qualify as storytelling media, despite many earlier debates in the still-young discipline of Game Studies.  In More Than A Game, his early analysis of the story in videogames, Barry Atkins states that ‘it is at least as important to pay close attention to the ways in which games designers and players have exploited the strengths and weaknesses of the modern computer as a vehicle for the delivery of fictional texts’. In his book, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Dylan Holmes states that ‘it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that a different kind of medium emerged, one that allowed the consumer to actively change a story rather than simply absorb and interpret it. This was the videogame.’

Of the detective stories themselves, perhaps the most common objects of pastiche are the Sherlock Holmes stories; like videogames they have involved active reworkings of the Holmesian narrative.  Consider stories such as the series by Laurie King where Holmes has married the younger detective, Mary Russell, or in The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes where Holmes meets H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional monstrous cosmic force,  Cthulhu and other famous contemporary literary creations. Not surprisingly, then, the Sherlock Holmes pastiche has found a suitable medium in the videogame. Starting with the DOS-based games such as Sherlock and The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes (1992), the Sherlock Holmes videogames became part of the adventure game genre, providing players with the options of interacting with characters through a command menu with speech / action icons and navigating to various locations in Victorian London.

 Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy (2002), developed for the PC, was the first in the line of a Holmes videogame franchise created by the game studio Frogwares. The company went on to make other Holmes games such as Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Silver Earring (2004), Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (2006), Sherlock Holmes versus Arsene Lupin (2007), Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper (2009) and the recent Testament of Sherlock Holmes. Adapted from an unpublished Holmes pastiche by the game’s designer Jal Amr, The Case of the Silver Earring earned mixed reviews. Gamespot, the international videogame review website, gave it 7.3 out of 10 and the reviewer described the game thus:
All you do is exhaust a preset series of dialogue choices. There's no true interaction here, which can make it feel like you're just along for the ride. Searching for clues can sometimes make looking for a needle in a whole row of haystacks seem easy by comparison. The game's environments are richly detailed, and you're expected to find little strands of hair or suspicious smudges in them. Real-life crime investigators might engage in the equivalent of pixel hunts, but this is a game, and games should be fun, not frustrating.
Although The Silver Earring is an early game in the series, it nevertheless reflects how players have responded to the Holmes videogames by Frogwares On the one hand, there is criticism on account of often frustrating gameplay; on the other, these point-and-click games, as carryovers from the popular mystery adventure-game Myst (1991), manage to capture the interest in puzzle-solving that is characteristic of the game’s genre and also stay true to the Sherlock Holmes canon. In many of the later games, Holmes encounters illustrious fictional contemporaries such as the master-thief Arsene Lupin, Jack the Ripper and Cthulhu thus expanding the Holmesian experience into the world of pastiche.

To take a case in point: while diehard fans acclaim the Arsene Lupin game (the third in the series) for its intricate storyline and plot twists saying that it is ‘a “game” within a “game,” a meeting of the minds and a remarkable battle of wits’, others find the gameplay involving looking for clues in a vast 3-D environment quite frustrating. As in the earlier The Awakening game, the combination of standard shooter game controls and adventure game mechanics proved cumbersome for the ordinary gamer and more so because these same controls made the gameplay experience much smoother in contemporary shooter games such as Half Life (1998) and Max Payne (2001). Sophia Tong, reviewing the game calls it ‘a solid adventure title if you like pixel hunting in a 3D environment while solving riddles and the occasional obscure puzzle’ but with the caveat that ‘[h]aving the game in 3D allows the player to feel like they're in the world, however it impedes the gameplay when items are difficult to find.

Within the adventure game genre itself, the critique of the later Frogwares games changes. GameSpot, in its review of the more recent Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper, praises its storyline and detailed investigative procedures but agrees that ‘anyone who favors innovative adventure gaming might find that the quests and puzzles are a little too orthodox.’ The game’s graphics have been criticised: ‘It isn't quite as gruesome as it sounds, because the bodies are replaced with cartoonish dummies that bear just the slightest imprint of the murderer's attentions with his knife. Slashed throats, for instance, look like they could have been drawn on with lipstick.’ Nevertheless, the very experience of being able to investigate the notorious Whitechapel murders and the lure of solving one of the world’s most intriguing unsolved crimes is a bonus for any Holmes fan. Indeed, besides the printed stories, Holmes has come face-to-face with the Ripper in films such as Murder by Decree, starring Christopher Plummer as Holmes, and in works of fiction such as Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story  Given the mixed responses to the ‘canonical’ Holmes videogames, it would be instructive to examine how far the adventure-game genre itself fits in with the idea of the Holmesian experience. The adventure game  is comparable to Tzevetan Todorov’s description of the whodunit where he sees the detective story as the story of a crime and the simultaneous story of its detection (which is usually also an explicit acknowledgment that a story is being told). The clues need to be discovered, pieced together and the narrative woven into place. Usually, if even one clue is not unearthed, the game becomes a frustrating activity that refuses to go beyond a fixed narrative point. In Todorov’s other type of detective fiction, the thriller, suspense is a major characteristic and the movement from the cause to effect is one that happens as the reader reads the narrative. This is perhaps the type of narration that is most often associated with videogames. When Max Payne, the protagonist of the eponymous videogame, walks through the noir environment of Manhattan hunting for the city’s drug lords, the player experiences the spine-chilling fear of imminent death at the hands of some armed junkie lurking in the next street corner. Arguably, although reported as closed cases by Watson, the experience of Sherlock Holmes stories is often every bit as immediate, whether one follows Watson on the Grimpen Mire or Holmes at the Reichenbach. As Steven Doyle and David Crowder remark in Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, ‘the most common event is for Holmes and Watson to go to the scene of the crime and investigate. Time and again the famous duo is on the case together, and these scenes are often crowned by an exciting example of forensic crime-scene investigation by the Great Detective’. Indeed, not always is Holmes provided a risk-free future – he ‘dies’ in ‘The Final Problem’ albeit to be resurrected by Doyle because of public demand.  As such, one might argue that, especially in an interactive medium that lets the player be Holmes, the point-and-click clue hunting and puzzle solving does not adequately capture the thrill of the Sherlock Holmes experience. What  would better address the complaints of the reviewers and the gamers the world over would be a Sherlock Holmes videogame that brought together that complex mix of hands-on investigation and reflective deduction, or in effect combined Todorov’s two categories of the whodunnit and the thriller, which is typical experience of the original Holmes stories as well as pastiche in various narrative media.

Two recent videogames that remediate the detective fiction genre  are useful  models for how future Holmes games could better reflect the experience of the original stories.  Heavy Rain (2010), released for the PlayStation 3 console, has been described as a ‘murder mystery, albeit with some of the trappings of the filmic thriller’. The game is a powerful interactive drama (its developer David Cage calls it ‘interactive cinema’) that succeeds in creating an emotional bond between the player and the game characters through a plot that involves the tracking down of the ‘Origami Killer’ whose victims are all discovered drowned four days after they go missing.  As the protagonist whose son has gone missing and as a variety of other characters such as an FBI-operative, a journalist and private detective, the player builds up a tissue of narratives that are ‘defined by its choices and its actions’. In further praise for the game, Dylan Holmes states:
Heavy Rain strips away all possibility for power-gaming. My character has no stats, no clear foes to battle, no inventory to fill up with collectable objects. The game is focused solely on its narrative, and so I can make choices only within the context of the story. In the opening scene, I chose to blow off my work and watch TV because I wanted to watch TV, not because I thought it would aid me in any way. This freedom to choose for choosing’s sake has always been rare in gaming, largely lost in the shuffle towards clear consequences for every action.  
The freedom of choice within the narrative’s boundaries adds to the intensity of the experience. Moreover, there is no ‘Game Over’ screen when the character you are playing as dies; unlike in other videogames, death is final – although the story carries on through the other characters. The game stresses the importance of drama and emotional experience and many of the decisions need to be made in the heat of the moment as opposed to the repetitive puzzle hunts in the adventure games described earlier. Now, is this also not what one would expect from Sherlock Holmes were he to be in search of the Origami Killer? Despite the common impression of him as a cold thinking machine, even within the canon Holmes shows emotion for Irene Adler and also for Watson, when the latter is wounded in the ‘The Adventure of the Three Garridebs’. In later adaptations such as the 2009 film, one finds that ‘Sherlock Holmes has been injected with a new energy. In 2009 we are just as likely to find him waking up naked while tied to a bedpost following a night of (heterosexual) passion, or swinging on a chandelier to escape in the Lord Chief Justice’s palace in London, as assessing incriminating evidence’.  Clearly, the adventures of Sherlock Holmes involve  a considerable degree of thrill and adrenalin (and even emotion) in the canonical stories and, therefore,  pastiche as well. Holmes, therefore, would make an ideal protagonist of a first-person shooter or roleplaying videogame that involves puzzle-solving as well as the thrill of facing imminent danger such as the hunt for the Origami Killer of Heavy Rain would entail

Heavy Rain is not the only detective story to make its mark in the videogame medium in recent times. Even those who did not like Heavy Rain, as much, are enamoured of a later crime-thriller videogame, L.A. Noire  (2012) as blogger Zachary Oliver reports:
I’m not too big a fan of the “interactive movie” style, yet I really think L.A. Noire has a great handle on how this thing should work. Of course, the key is “interactive”, and not movie. […] The game puts you into the shoes of an honest-to-goodness detective from the late 1940s, and you do exactly what the technology of the time allowed you to do – no DNA, no security cameras, just some natural good sense and deductive reasoning (both of which I have neither). That’s great! I like this; I was never a fan of adventure games, simply because the logic and reasoning behind the sequences was mostly a one-off, and divining the developer’s intentions wasn’t fun at all – it was frustrating.
Cole Phelps, the protagonist of L.A. Noire , drives around Los Angeles and has considerable leeway  to carry out  investigations . Although the game  makes the player choose from a number of options, it provides a large number of choices and leaves crucial decisions to the player’s own intelligence or intuition, especially when the player interrogates suspects. One is tempted to imagine the same happening in  Sherlock Holmes games – driving around in the proverbial hansom across Victorian London and trying to outdo Holmes himself by using one’s own methods to solve his cases would be  a dream come true for  Holmes fans. Data, in the Star Trek episode, aims to achieve just that through the Holodeck, albeit with near-disastrous consequences in his case. Although not replicating Data’s Holodeck experience, it is heartening to see that  recent Frogwares titles such as Testament of Sherlock Holmes have been shifting towards more complex modes of gameplay.  Commenting on a forthcoming title, Olga Ryzhko from Frogwares tells us what players can now look forward to:
With Crimes and Punishments, the player has to decide who is guilty and why. We’re giving you the ability to decide peoples’ lives and your choices can save or damn them. I’d say the game sets two main questions for players to answer: ‘Who is guilty?’ and ‘How are you going to handle the situation?’. You’ll have to assume responsibility for your choices after you’ve made them, and you’ll end up facing the moral consequences, whatever they might be. Altogether the game has eight cases to solve, with every case having three to five possible solutions decided by your choices.
 The new Holmes game in the series, Crimes and Punishments will be using the Unreal 3 game engine ( used to build famous shooter games such as Gears of War and BioShock: Infinite) and this might be a game-changer, literally, for videogames based on Holmes’s stories. 

Bran Nicol, in his essay in Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multimedia Afterlives , points at the remediation of the concept of Holmes as a thinking and crime-solving machine. Nicol states the 2009 film envisages Holmes ‘as a figure just as “computerised” as the gaming action heroes who feature increasingly in popular cinema, such as the Prince of Persia or Neo from The Matrix , and transmogrifies the Holmesian method into a kind of onboard computer geared up to enhance bodily performance’. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a similar impression in his portrayal of Holmes from the very first scene of the Sherlock series where he hacks the mobile phones of all the journalists at a press conference called by the police with the text message ‘Wrong’. With the digital appropriation of Holmes’s character itself, the narratively-rich space of possibilities in Doyle’s stories  lends itself to digital recreations where Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts can explore new combinations of Holmes mysteries. It is possible, today, to argue that in the videogame medium, Sherlock Holmes is ready to go the next step beyond earlier narrative media by adding to the complexity of videogames and to the way the very genre of detective fiction has been hitherto conceived. Doyle himself has left readers with the freedom to ‘do what you like with him’;  It is hardly surprising, therefore, if they want to step inside 221B Baker Street and become Holmes himself. Judging from the extremely immersive narrative experience that videogames provide, it is evident that the expectations for such interactivity as raised in the printed stories certainly finds a fuller expression in videogames. However,  although the present Sherlock Holmes games are yet to meet such expectations, they are not too far behind as game design keeps evolving and the videogame grows up as a storytelling medium.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Gaming Ek Khoj, or In (re)Search of Gaming at the ‘Khoj Gaming Residency’

No comments
It has been a week almost since I was in Delhi speaking at the Khoj gaming residency. I was supposed to send in a report as the visiting speaker, consultant or what-have-you and I’ve been quite late with it. What I saw amazed me. From a card game on Malaysian politics to a potential adventure game / RPG on a mysterious severed hand of a Georgian queen buried in old Goa, the resident artists and developers came up with some superb ludic ideas.  Since this ‘Ludus ex’ post has to double as a report, I’ll discuss my sessions with the participants, one by one. I should also say a few things about my own talk; well, perhaps, more so about the fifteen questions that I fielded after I finished.

The Buddha with a gas mask: wall painting near 'Khoj'

After making its way through the labyrinthine bylanes of Malviya Nagar, the auto-rickshaw stopped near a bizarre painting on a dirty yellow street wall: Buddha with a gas mask on. My sixth sense told me I was approaching Khoj. Once inside the plush cafeteria of the institute,  my hosts introduced me to Zedeck and Munkao. They wanted to know what I do with narratives and videogames and soon the conversation turned to why we differed over Fallout 3 and New Vegas and whether Rome: Total War could be more real than Livy or Tacitus. After all, historians’ accounts are never un-mediated. But is a videogame capable of reflecting and reflecting on reality? Zedeck and Munkao have created the Malaysian Politics card game and this has now gained popularity in Malaysia and they have a photo posing with a leading politician to prove this! So how could one improve the idea? How could more layers of story be made to meaningfully add to the game? Coming back to the issue of whether representations of events can be unmediated, one of the ideas that emerged was the importance of media in putting forward political messages. Politics itself, as construed through the newspaper medium, is a major force in molding public opinion and culture. This is a rule-bound activity usually with set goals and a set of people who agree to ‘play along’. In a way, then, a game.  Made me think of the narratives that are constructed in the quotidian interaction of the adda sessions in North Calcutta, where armed with a newspaper, the couch (or rather, the charpoy) politicians gather together to play out the political future of the state or the country.  Effectively, the newspaper, cut-up into very subjective chunks now forms a card game through which the political opinion is then mediated. Sometimes, you play one newspaper ‘card’ against another such ‘card’. This plays out as a critique of how media shapes political opinion and how different newspapers play against each other to create ‘news’. Think about it: it is a game that we play every morning.  Zedeck and Mankao’s game Politiko ‘examines such an artificial set of rules submerged in the real set of rules’ they say. But who knows whether the game itself is the real.

'Politiko', the Malaysian politics card game by Zedeck and Munkao

After this, we met Vishal (Vishal K. Dar) and his team. Vishal has recently installed a Mother India statue behind India Gate – on Google Maps, of course. A keen reader of the philosophy of Paul Virilio, he uses games to problematise whatever risks slipping into the zone of easy acceptability and essences. Space, the gaze, memory and immortality were issues that we spoke about. He thinks that the future is clunky and the machine needs to be given its due. Vishal is the perfect speaker for the Philosophy of Computer Games conference and I told him so. We had a long chat on Indian films that have a ludic quality  - Mani Kaul’s Duvidha was an example he gave (like Twykwer’s Run Lola Run or Kurosawa’s Rashomon). I could only think of Paheli but it turned out that it was an adaptation of Kaul’s film. He has recently made a graphic novel on Ramayan and here he explores how ideas of disorientation work at every level – even when the hero is hunting; the huntspace is disorientating, he feels. Here, the one appears as multiple and the multiple as one. Deleuzian almost. We also had a discussion of how immortals experience time and how videogames could be used to explore this. Memory was yet another topic that we spent much time over – how does an immortal remember , or forget? We linked this to the memory(ies) of the many saves and reloads of the player in videogames. We ended on the more mundane consideration of whether he could port his graphic novel app to non-Mac platforms.  As I was to discover later, the residency artists could be broadly categorised into the ‘serious gaming’ group and the ‘philosophical games’ group. Such a categorisation is mine entirely and the groups are not mutually exclusive. 

                                              Raavan Chhaya by Vishal K. Dar

Akshay Rathore and Pramod Kumar again fit into these respective groups. Akshay is designing a game on the rising onion prices – a ludic socio-political statement. The immediate connect that I made was with newsgaming (www.newsgaming.com‎ etc) and the book Newsgaming by Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari and Bobby Schweizer. Over a couple of cigarettes, we went into deeper discussions about what the game mechanic would be if the onion / whatever commodity the game was on could think for itself. Would it not change the parameters for the economic policies? Akshay’s target audience comprises of the farmers of a few states in Northern India and the challenge is to teach them how not to get cheated by the bureaucratic apparatus. As such, we thought we needed the game to use local languages and to incorporate an interface from media that farmers are familiar with e.g. newspapers and the radio. This again will reflexively make them question the authenticity of such media as well. With Akshay’s work, I was introduced to yet another potentially successful concept for a serious ‘indie’ game and I felt that Zedeck and Akshay were working in a similar paradigm and it might be useful for them to bounce ideas off each other.  Pramod Kumar, who met me after Akshay, was another artist pondering the philosophical question of the many and the one. Pramod, however, is doing this by remediating a game played in his village in Bihar, Bagh Bakri (which translates as ‘tiger goat’). The game is deceptively simple and he has made an electronic version that he demo-ed on his Macbook. He has been researching this game and trying to make a connect with his philosophical problem for a while now. Although our philosophical orientations are very different, I am very keen to learn more about what he discovers. Currently, it seems that he is also looking at ludic history and has found other very early games in Egypt that are similar to Bagh Bakri.

So after playing Bagh Bakri, what do you do when you are faced with a promising young filmmaker coming to you with a bizarre (and not pejoratively so, at all) concept for a game. Nay, it wasn’t just a concept with Gayatri Kodikal but it seemed like a mission of hers as she told me the story of the Georgian queen who was executed in Iran and whose hand was buried in Goa by the Augustinian Friars (see this ToI article: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-04-08/goa/27997831_1_relics-dna-report-dna-analysis). Okay, so this was started by a Georgian filmmaker who made it his mission during the later years of the U.S.S.R and who died without finding the buried hand. The Archaeological Survey of India, however, kept looking and they found the buried hand not very long ago. So how to make an adventure game on the queen? I asked, ‘do you start with the queen or the hand?’ The hand was the clear choice. So we had long discussions on mystery games, slick narrative stuff such as in Heavy Rain and L.A.Noire that she could look at, gameplay as different avatars (one of them her own) and elements of moral choice-making. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to walk around 16th century Iran to track the queen and then to time-travel to modern day Goa for unraveling some secret clues that are being guarded by the local mafia? Well, I’m holding my breath for this one. 

After meeting the Georgian queen (or her hand at any rate), I was ready for anything – even sneaking into someone else’s body and ‘becoming’ that ‘some body’ (pun intended).  Dhruv Jani has created a sneak-em-up with a difference. There is a puzzle to be solved and there are random people who say random things; the only way to make any sense of anything in Dhruv’s  game-world is to ‘be’ those people. This immediately connects to game studies research on immersion / involvement / becoming (these are not interchangeable terms and I personally use ‘involvement’ although I also like Gordon Calleja’s usage, ‘incorporation’). What happens to the self when it enters the other ? Is the initial state of the player a non-self or a some-self? What happens to the some-self when it enters  (an)other-self? There’s much to play around with here, methinks. Significantly, the book that I spotted on Dhruv’s workdesk wasn’t a manual on Unity: it was Borges’s Ficciones. My own talk was to begin in a few minutes and I went down the garden towards the forking paths which led to my talk.

I have spoken on gaming and narratives many times before.  I can do this talk without any prep, nowadays. I mainly focus on the problems that traditional ideas of narratives encounter when videogames appear on the scene. I started with the issue of multitelic (many-ended) narratives in videogames and how the flow of time is messed up in the most Borgesian ways possible.  Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is my favourite example of a self-reflexive analysis of temporality within a videogame. The scene where the Prince rewinds time after being rebuffed by Princess Farah as he kisses her is a case in point. If you can rewind time and replay events, what happens to your memory? Is there a ‘true’ memory at all? After this, I moved on to a discussion of immersion and submergence and thereonwards to games and ethics; serious games and a broad conspectus of issues in game studies. Then the questions came pouring.

I faced questions on agency (a topic that I always sneakily manage to avoid) and spent some very entertaining minutes discussing Run Lola Run and the priest who only took photos in GTA (for those, interested in my views on agency, I am happy to share the relevant sections of my research). I had people asking me about how videogames work as theatre and how contemporary theatre has been borrowing from ARGs such as The Day of the Figurines by Blast Theory! I quickly pointed back to Augusto Boal’s ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ and how it, in turn, had influenced some videogame designers and theorists. Then I was asked about whether videogames could not be coded to recognize the player’s age and thereafter intelligently decide the kind of gameplay. The reflexivity of games, the role of the player and how games relate to earlier narratives (I showed the contents page of Cortazar’s Hopscotch) were among the many other topics discussed. I even had a question on technicity and what I meant by it. I thanked God that my PhD supervisors had given me a thorough grounding in JD’s (non) philosophy so it wasn’t too difficult to respond to my ex-Presidencian interlocutor. 

My visit to Khoj was a breath of fresh air. Or in gaming terms, finally a new level after replaying that trick scene over and over and getting killed by the game boss. The auto-rickshaw took me past the gas-masked Buddha and then through different bylanes that led to Savitri Nagar, where I had spent my first month in Delhi in a tiny prison-cell like room on top of a motor mechanic's shop. Memories again. Reload.

Before I end, I think I should announce that the residency's programmes will carry on until 22nd September. My heartfelt thanks to Pooja Sood, Prayas Abhinav (who is curating this residency) and Charu Maithani for having me here and being such great hosts. 

No comments :

Post a Comment

Digital Humanities Consultation - IISc Bangalore

No comments
I confronted that old ghost yet again: that ever worrying question ‘What is Digital Humanities?’ Like any spectre, this one too is substance-less yet present. It is like the proverbial trace – the mark that remains when the thing itself is not there.

A spectre is haunting us; the spectre of (the) Digital Humanities. Is it here to replace the Humanities or to take away the primacy of the Sciences? The spectre never ceases to scare.  At IISc Bangalore, scholars from all over the country (well, almost) met for a ‘consultation’ on designing curricula on the Digital Humanities. It is here that the spectre rose again. For those interested in a more objective account,  Sara Morais of CIS has taken detailed notes of the entire proceedings and these should be available on the CIS website. This blog post, however, is about my subjective and often impressionistic engagement with the spectre that I mention.

There was much discussion about the very origin of research on digital media and its use in India.  Ravi Sundaram of SARAI spoke about the Sarai mailing list, that excellent and incessant (later somewhat annoyingly so) resource that filled up my mailboxes with news of cutting-edge research that would have been impossible without Sarai funding. He spoke of Media Nagar, where contributors published and posted online and of his experience, in the early days of digital archiving, with the Labour History archive. Questions were asked about how we can set up collaborative networks and research writing through text culture. Nishant Shah of CIS, on Skype from Germany and after suffering the travails of the digital incompetence of the Indian passport office, expressed skepticism at the growing enthusiasm about DH.  According to him, in a world which considers data the sole reality, the time-honoured close-reading that is part of the Humanities is about to suffer a sad end. This met some stiff opposition from respondents (including yours truly) who saw close-reading as always have gone hand in hand with data analysis. Indeed, think of the concordances and unique tools that have been used since time immemorial by scholars close reading literary texts.

Messing up the order of the presentations somewhat, I think I need to mention one of the most hands-on papers of the day. Tanveer and Asha presented on their four-year project of bringing ICT closer to less privileged children from schools and colleges in different states in India. It was interesting how, according to their research, the children and their teachers were quick to dissociate the digital from the Humanities and how the less privileged children took to the Humanities easier than those who were more affluent. A quick point to note here is that the Humanities experience of these children was digitally mediated anyway (via Facebook, Youtube etc) so the distinction does not really hold. It is perhaps indicative of a mindset that takes to a watertight categorisation more easily because of the comfort that such fixed and finite parameters posit. Ashish of IISc spoke about Digital Ecosystems, using the Indian Government’s UID (Universal Identity ) or aadhar project as his key example. Jim Nye, of Loyola University, Chicago reiterated the need to teach people how to handle analogue material before allowing any digitisation initiatives to be started. He cited the instance of the destruction of invaluable of archival material in Urdu due to the ignorance of the team that attempted to digitise these texts. Nye also expressed the need for DH initiatives in India to link with those elsewhere on the subcontinent.

However, the major ‘find’ for me was Arun Menon – a fellow game studies scholar when I had lost all hope in finding a kindred soul in India (can you believe it!) and someone who, like me, ekes out his living doing other things while secretly remaining committed to the cause of bringing gaming to academia. Arun and I will have many occasions to disagree, especially when it comes to the telos in videogames and suchlike things. However, there is much synergy in our work and it is heartening to see people like Arun braving all odds and correcting Masters papers on videogames written by students from English departments. Arun’s paper was on the potential risks of digital humanities. He sees in DH initiatives an intense need to legitimise the Humanities by inserting or adding-on a statistical rigour and a faux scientism (my phrase). He sees as some kind of last-ditch response of a Humanities that is in crisis. Because of DH, it is possible that the traditional Humanities will be taken to task and the support that could have come to the Humanities as such will shift to DH. Again, a spectre.

I do not agree with such a conclusion but I think I understand where this is coming from. Here is some brave and plain speaking that needs to be respected for what it is. The statistical fetish that DH has shown since its recent birth and the beeline that many Humanities scholars who still cannot tell the difference between Excel and excellence have made towards DH, is indicative of the fact that DH is the ‘in’ thing today. Suddenly my research on gaming has become respectable and even newspapers are writing about me; shouldn’t I be a happy boy now! Educational bodies and research councils have started moving their lumbering girths towards a digital starry-eyed future. Arun is right: the reason behind the sudden focus on DH is a problem. However, as he half apologetically says, DH escapes disciplinarity. So what the heck is going on?
Before I attempt an answer, I will need to bring in another person into this gameplay. Amlan Dasgupta’s contribution to DH in India (together with that of Sukanta Chaudhuri) is of phenomenal import and the recent Bichitra project or the online Tagore variorum, completed at Jadavpur University, is perhaps the single largest such DH project in the world. How they managed to get this done I do not know  … or maybe I do know – my few trips to the School of Cultural Texts and Records revealed how extremely dedicated and smart their team was. But I digress – Bichitra deserves a much more thorough analysis in a separate space of its own.  I was about to mention a few key points that Sir  raised in relation to the future of DH in India.  First, he stressed the importance of teaching Digital Humanists how to handle analogue material (so that no more archives get messed up!); secondly, he insisted on the importance of developing and tweaking tools to suit specific operations in DH and finally, he agreed with me and stated in no uncertain terms that DH is not a discipline but is rather an ‘indiscipline’ or non-discipline. Arguing that DH has entered its third-wave, he wondered aloud about digital surrogacy. So, is the  Bichitra archive a digital surrogate? I would think not but the question intrigues me still. The other major point that Sir made was about the incompleteness of the archive – the archive is always being added to and there is no single heroic authorial character here. It is a community at work. Through and through. And of course, it is not possible to ask whether you are digital or whether you are a humanist.

(Fig) My Presentation

I will not dwell on what I had to say as I have discussed my thoughts many times on ‘Ludus Ex’. Suffice it to say that I made a strong claim that DH is not a discipline and that its fun lies in its being a (non) discipline. It is possible to teach it as a discipline if one is after convincing funding bodies but then that’s like creating a Theory discipline in the same way that we have Film Studies or Cultural Studies. DH, is for me, a research modality and not a discipline. Whatever it is, it certainly does not mean digital archiving alone; if it did, we would have called it so. I stressed the importance of Digital Culture, introduced Game Studies and showed everyone the splendid microfiction that Presidency students have been creating on Facebook. I ended with a Youtube of an Indian bureaucrat vehemently insisting that having data on the Cloud was disastrous as vital datasets could be lost when the cloud started raining! The moral was plain: DH teaching and research needs to take into account digital and web 2.0 processes and technology seriously. An old-guard luddite turned sudden digital humanist will struggle if he or she is not able to engage with technology. I’m not a techie can be an excuse for a few days at most but if we want to do DH, then as the Digital Humanities Manifesto says, ‘Let’s get our hands dirty.’ That is the only way in which I can face the spectre: by engaging with DH and doing so smartly.

No comments :

Post a Comment