Alumni Voices: Ph.D. alumna Dr. Carly Kocurek named Nayar Prize finalist

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Hearty congratulations to Dr. Carly Kocurek, who was named a finalist for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Nayar Prize, an award “established to encourage and challenge Illinois Tech faculty, staff, and students to develop breakthrough, innovative projects that will, within three years, produce meaningful results with a societal impact.”

Dr. Kocurek, along with fellow IIT faculty members Jennifer Miller, Cynthia Hood, and Matt Bauer, proposed to create a videogame designed to foster language development among young children. They were awarded $100,000 to develop their project, a description of which we’ve pasted below:

Inequalities in early childhood language have a lasting impact on individual success, both in academics and careers. These inequalities inflate social welfare costs and slow economic growth. Our goal is to increase language skills necessary for academic success and subsequent economic success. Our innovation would leverage serious game design to produce a research-driven, high-impact interactive game for children aged 24–36 months. Children who use the interactive game will learn more words and be better prepared to succeed in school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised guidelines on screen use and suggests that media can be used constructively in children after the age of 2. Our game will combine community-based participatory research and cutting-edge understanding of language acquisition and learning. This project draws on perspectives from developmental psychology, linguistics, game design, and computer science, and our team is uniquely poised to combine insights and breakthroughs from a diversity of disciplines. Team members bring with them experience in language learning, serious game development, assessment, and other key areas.

The game will engage both caregivers and children through a playful learning experience that encourages high-quality interaction and engagement. The initial goal is to develop an individual game, but in the long run this will spark widespread development and rigorous testing toward optimizing educational experiences for young children.

Announcement: Ph.D. alumna Carly Kocurek to deliver lecture on video game arcades

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We’re thrilled that one of our recent Ph.D. recipients, Dr. Carly Kocurek (Illinois Institute of Technology) will be returning to the hallowed halls of Burdine to deliver a lecture about video game arcades. Please join us on Wednesday, September 10 at 4pm in Burdine 214 to hear more about her research.

A synopsis of her talk:

Over the past decade, the video game arcade has seen a small revival in the United States. Long-established arcades like New Hampshire’s Funspot have become destinations in their own right while new businesses like Austin’s own Pinballz and the growing number of bar-arcade hybrids scattered across the country draw a loyal, local clientele. This revival relies in part on a deep fascination with the video game industry’s early glory days. Arcades feature “classic” machines in meticulous repair or boast particularly exhaustive collections of rare games to distinguish themselves. In this talk, I excavate the nostalgia for the arcade’s “golden age” of the 1970s and 1980s and consider its position in contemporary narratives of American technological progress, entrepreneurship, and masculinity. Ultimately, I tie the nostalgia for classic arcades to multiple points of longing–for an imagined past that is defined by aesthetic style, by political positioning, by economic conditions, and by a particular kind of idealized young manhood.

Grad Research: Carrie Andersen writes on Call of Duty, marketing, and Eminem

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Many of our graduate students have a variety of extracurricular activities and jobs that keep them busy in addition to the scholarly work that they do within the department. Carrie Andersen, currently a doctoral student, is a writer for Kill Screen Magazine, a periodical devoted to video game criticism and cultural analysis. She recently published a piece about the viral marketing strategies underlying the latest release in the popular Call of Duty video game series, an excerpt of which you can read below (and, if you’re inclined, the full version can be found at this link).

The threat technology poses to the future of the military also looms in Ghosts, set in 2023. Once again, a sophisticated military technology—ODIN, a weaponized space station—gets hacked by a collective known as “The Federation.” Once again, the hackers turn technology against American soil. The Federation destroys more than a few U.S. cities, leaving the nation open to social disarray and invasion thanks to an almost entirely crippled military. Chin up, though! Although the military has collapsed, a few surviving soldiers band together and create a paramilitary force known as the “Ghosts.” Cue the revenge fantasy; say farewell to the Federation.

Ghosts is thus ostensibly a classic tale of rugged individualism that has its roots in early American mythology. Think vaunted figures like Theodore Roosevelt, a cowboy-style statesman who would put Dubya to shame. Or Davy Crockett, whose brief shining moment in politics as a U.S. Congressman ended with a huffy departure for the wild frontier of Texas. Such figures—again, heavily mythologized—eschewed working within sluggish, stodgy institutions in favor of manly action exercised through aggression and occasional violence.

A glance at the marketing of Call of Duty: Ghosts suggests that the game can firmly be placed in that continuum of individual prowess, but with a more menacing twist. Here’s where Eminem comes in. After meeting with members of the Call of Duty team and catching a glimpse of Ghosts gameplay footage, Eminem purportedly retooled one of his songs, “Survival,” so that it meshed more cleanly with the game’s narrative. The final music video can be seen on the Call of Duty website, where the rapper performs in front of projections of in-game video footage of guns, soldiers, and death.

Grad Research: Carrie Andersen writes on videogame glitches and joy in Flow

A videogame glitch

Apparently we have quite a bit of publishing going on this month in the American Studies department. Last week, Carrie Andersen published a column for Flow about the joy that arises from discovering absurd videogame glitches, centering on a YouTube personality and gamer named Dopefish. We’ve posted an excerpt below, and the full article can be found here:

Unsurprisingly, videogame designers and coders have been concerned with creating virtual, realistic, immersive spaces where the glitch is similarly undesirable (although perhaps not as world-ending). As designer Toby Gard writes, “When we are creating worlds in games, immersion is only possible for the player if we can convince the players that the space is authentic (whether stylized or not.).” The code that underlies the videogame holy grail—the authentic, immersive gaming world—is demystified if a character or background looks warped in such a way that players no longer buy into the illusion.

In line with Gard’s concern with the immersive virtual space, media scholar Eugénie Shinkle describes how videogames ideally use sophisticated simulations to hide their intricate, sublime technological codes, but failure events—glitches—make these codes visible and thus rupture bonds between player and game space. Consequently, players can lose control, meaning, and their senses of self. The game shifts from being a virtual arena for exercising player agency and posthuman subjectivity back into a clunky object, as lifeless as any piece of furniture.

In all of these cases, glitches occupy a space on a spectrum that spans from the minor irritation to the colossal fuck-up. But constructing the glitch so negatively ignores the real pleasure that can arise from encountering a hiccup in the technological system. What happens when failure events, rather than provoking a loss of our post-human selves or the literal end of the world, instead evoke happiness?