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Minecraft Day 2018, Lancaster Uni – 09 July 2018

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After months of intense planning, Lancaster University’s inaugural Minecraft Day event ran on Monday – to resounding success. Sally and James led a funding bid for the idea of bringing together research from around the university that uses Minecraft in some capacity, and bringing in pupils from a wide range of schools in the area, in order to demonstrate how fun and creative our resources can be. Also to make local schools aware of the support and projects we would like to provide them – the communication of which is always a tricky aspect. 4 separate project sessions, 80 children, and representatives from several potential partners… so much could have gone arwy, but the day ran smoothly, to everyone’s delight.

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We provided a great range of projects, from Science Hunters exploring geothermal physics (and how they correspond to their in-game counterparts), Sarah Twiggs running narrative coding around stories using MC elements, Chris Dixon running a range of things around the measuring and design of the buildings and space ISS’s scaled campus map , and – of course – our very own Litcraft. Several iterations of Minecraft featured, including Education Edition and the Oculus Rift version, providing new experiences aplenty for everyone involved.

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Feedback was resoundingly positive across the board (the teachers were as fascinated with the ideas as much as the children), and many schools are now interested in working with us all further. Exactly the intent of the HEIF funding that allowed us to run the event – this would not have been possible without their support.

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Likewise, the day wouldn’t have run anywhere near as smoothly without the tireless support of Dawn Stobbart and all the assistants involved, on both the individual projects and the English student helpers attached to each grouping. And no-one ended up in the moat with the ducks! (well, James very almost did when taking down the banners, but that’s par for the course really…)

5Here’s hoping for an even bigger and better still event next year!

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Continue, British Library – 03 July 2018

The team’s latest showing was once again wrangled through our Co-I Stella Wisdom who graciusly allowed us a portion of time for her discussion of how her role enables her to encourage the use of videogames in exploring cultural themes. The event was an intimate gathering, organised by Alice Roberts, and held at our ‘home away from home’.

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Unfortunately, train timetables and a hotel mix-up meant we missed the morning session which was an analogue gamejam – extremely disaapointing, as this is exactly James’ forte. But we got to sample some of the designs over lunch (we suspect this wasn’t many participants’ first rodeo!)

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Any event that features polyhedral dice has to be a-ok!

Although the crowd was small, interest in Litcraft was extremely high, and we made a number of contacts who were interested in the dataset and schema from the project proper – and it hasn’t even been shown at a DH-dedicated event yet!

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Rightfully welcoming any opportunity to show off Sally’s Minecrafting skills.

Video Games and Literature, St. Andrews – 20-21 June 2018

Half-way through an event-filled few weeks, the entire team was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at an event hosted by the University of St. Andrews (in collaboration with Abertay University and the University of Glasgow).

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For an event that was only 2-days, the organisers managed to pack it full with fun talks, a special conversation with noted games writer Rhianna Pratchett, and a game jam event. This was Sally’s first encounter with the latter – and she embraced it fully! The speakers ranged from postgrads through game designers (introducing the fascinating Austen-centric MMORPG Ever Jane), providing a wide array of perspectives and thoughts on the subject matter.

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One of Sally’s team mates discussing their take on a literary classic

Check out #vglit to see plenty of photos and thoughts from the event

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Someone even managed to capture a decent image of James mid-talk! First time for everything…

James and Becca presented on their side-projects incorporating literature into interactive visualisations, whilst Sally presented on the project proper. We made several new contacts, and swapped ideas, concepts, and thoughts… and sincerely hope some further collaborative opportunites may arise from the event.

The message emphasised throughout the event (and jam) was the broad – mistaken – assumptions throughout the industry that anyone who could write could create, and that narrative and mechanics were disparate parts of the gaming experience that could be entirely separated.

It was fascinating to see other researchers’ thoughts on walking sims (amongst many other game formats), and has certainly inspired us to delve into exploring new ideas for our own visualisations.

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Team photo, on a lovely Scottish summer’s day.

Our thanks, once again, to Prof. Margaret Anne Hutton and Dr Matthew Barr for organising such a fascinating conference – we hope it will be the first on many for our fledgling field.

Narrative Data, University of Sussex – 12-13 June 2018

James was fortunate enough to be invited to an annual two-day event hosted by the Humanities Lab at the University of Sussex – which this year was organised and run by our superb Co-I, Alex Butterworth. The name of the event itself provides so much scope for considering the simple premise of data use that is so easy to accidentally overlook – covering researchers with all manner of thoughts, practices, fields, and approaches – and the days did not diasappoint in the slightest!

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Openly billed as a ‘sandbox forum’, the days were filled with lightning talks (kept firmly in line with a boating horn *honk*), provocation talks, working practice rundowns, and group work to practically design a means of examining how data can be used to present narratives. Or vice-versa.

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Our gracious host – with his not-so-gracious means of keeping time

The cohort was incredibly diverse, covering journalism (The Times), performance design (the RSC), mixed and virtual reality art, and experimental poetry (although the artist may shoot me a wither glare for classing it as such, sorry JR!) and all manner of projects that categorise, tag, and re-shape information into new forms. Audio, visual, tactile, and experimental text formats – all of which fed into our team project design. It was a pleasure getting to work with materials in ways we had never considered before – and really opened our eyes to new approaches to re-presenting materials within the digital humanities.

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All in a day’s work – Team UrbX ftw!  Pictured : Samuel von Ransbeeck, Bob Jarvis, Daniel Chavez Heras, Annabella Massey, and yours truly.

The team would like to thank our gracious hosts – Alex and everyone else from the labs that worked to keep things running smoothly – at the Humanities Lab once more for inviting us down. We made a number of valuable new contacts from the event, that we hope may lead to some interesting developments in the near future…

Vacancy on the team

Some exciting news – we are pleased to be able to offer an exciting full-time postdoc for 2 years with the rest of the team here at Lancaster. More information on the RA post can be found on the LU Vacancies page, and is still open to applications for a few weeks yet.

We are looking for someone who can form interesting visualisations using our coding schema and gaming-based adaptations of any type (we love being surprised by creative engine use!).

It is a great opportunity to join @lancaster_words and work at the forefront of digital literacy innovation – please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any queries or interest in applying.

Mapping the Text, NYU – 20-22 April 2018

A small charger-cable mishap (not James’ fault in any way, shape, or form!) has led to the slight delay of this blogpost, but nevertheless we can now talk about a fantastic event the team was kindly invited to: Mapping the Text 2018 (the first of hopefully many more), held at NYU and hosted by Prof. Moacir P. de Sa Pereira and the NYScapes research network.

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The sessions in full.

Although the team’s exciting explorations of the city could fill several blog posts, we had best stick solely to the event…

The Friday session was a training event, where the NYU Data Services team demonstrated the creation of simple GIS databases (using song titles that reference New York places for the dataset) using the Awesome Geocode plug-in for google docs, and in turn using the co-ordinates to form interactive story maps. Fantastic deep mapping opportunities, that the team will be exploring in greater detail.

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GIS made simple – story maps could prove very useful for a digital literature class.

Saturday was the event itself – and never have we attended an event where every single paper was of such relevance to our work. The entire event was live-streamed, so if you are interested in any of the panels (including all three of ours!) the recording can be found here. The organising team also live tweeted under , with plenty of pics and snippets. James spoke first in the afternoon, examining the CLAYE XML schema we have developed; Rebecca presented in the following session on the Romantic Bristol app (emphasising it was not a dating app!); and Sally closed the day wth a plenary discussing the concept of the Bahktinian chronotope (delighting the audience with wonderful examples of literary maps from Pilgrim’s Progress). Our work resonated with so many of the attendees, and will hopefully lead to ongoing contact with everyone involved in the event.

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A great shot of Becca – we couldn’t not post this pic. #phenomenological

The event hammered home the difficulties in integrating fictional spaces within traditional models, so our focus on linguistic and non-standard visualisations of narrative worlds really does stand alone in the field.

The following day held a final session – a ‘hackathon’ – where a few of the attendees gathered over coffee and doughnuts (traditional coding fare) and discussed some of the methodologies of our research in greater detail. Dr Elton Barker ran us through the Recogito aspect of the Pelagios Project (an extremely versatilte toolset but still heavily dependent on places being ‘real’), and Sally introduced Litcraft to everyone. It took most of the audience by surprise, but… that is exactly what we aim for! A little different in scope from the rest of the session, but it demonstrated nicely how we have ‘hacked’ the text into a new iterative form to encourage a whole new dimension of engagement for a targetted audience.

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The team along with our host, Moacir (a little blurry, sadly, but after 9 hours who wouldn’t be?)

 

The event was unparalleled in how it connected to our research, and once again the team would like to express its gratitude to everyone involved in organising it. It was a great event, that presented several new ideas to explore and introduced us to so many people with which to keep in touch. As Moacir stated in his welcome, we hope the weekend doesn’t mark a culmination point, but rather serves as just one node on our own path of contact.

ASCEL Digital Training Day – Tue 13 March 2018

The team’s second event this week was at the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians’ digital training day (ASCEL) held in Middlesborough’s Great Library.

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It was a long drive across the country – but very much worth the early start. The event had around 40 attendees who worked (for the most part) in library services across the North East. An entirely new (but extremely relevant) audience for us. The other sessions explored the ways in which different institutions were exploring and integrating technology, coding, and gaming platforms into their services. All sorts of innovation, from the Code-a-Pillar (and connecting it with The Hungry Caterpillar, for example) through Escape Room boxes (to teach indexing, referencing, microfiche – all skills relating to info seeking).

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Stella had been invited to present, given her role in developing a staggering array of digital and gaming initiatives at the BL, and she was extremely kind in giving up over half her session for us. Despite a technical hiccup interfering with James’ new training module map, the attendees readily leapt right into the game – despite a lack of experience with Minecraft. A few pointers helped guide the way, but navigation and control was picked up with remarkable adeptness. And – most importantly – it was enjoyed.

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In gathering feedback, the response was incredibly positive, with many really liking how we had intergrated the text in such a novel manner. It wasn’t a re-telling of the story, but of exploring a wonderful setting and slowly uncovering parts of the text, building up to an understanding of how it formed the pirate archetype. Exactly what we had hoped would form a core goal of the resource resonated with the audience. We were thrilled with the level of enthusiasm showed, and the team has made many new contacts with whom we hope to trial other litcraft resources in the near future.

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It was an excellent event, which would have stood outside the attention of traditional academic work, had we not had Stella on the team. But the resources’ potential userbase has now doubled – exciting times ahead as we develop new lesson ideas and plans accordingly.