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weekend reading

Last week Friedrich summed up some of the things the (now digital?) theater scene in Germany is exploring in terms of new meeting places for performing and socializing. What Friedrich didn’t mention is that he himself has been building such a space, and over the last 2-weeks introducing our students to it in order to provide them with a tool-set/platform with which they can now build and conduct their own experimental experiences.

I won’t write much more about Friedrich’s platform (except that it is a Unity instance hosted on a server in Frankfurt, allowing us to build custom digital spaces that many many people can then enter very very easily through a browser!) in the hopes that he himself will elaborate some more on it next weekend. Plus, over the course of the next weeks we can also report on the student’s experiments on the platform (or maybe they will even do so themselves).

While Friedrich’s course (titled Vernetzte Räume / Networked Spaces) dove into the PC/smartphone (mouse+keyboard+screen/touchscreen) common setup that would allow many access. My own interest is more on how our bodies interact physically with technologies (objects.things.materials). And what possibilities arise when we are able to mediate these interactions (digitally) over the network to other humans (and non-humans). Building custom sensor/actuator controllers results in setups that are harder to make accessible to larger audiences, but this is a limitation of time&energy, not of the controller things themselves.

Since I will be teaching my workshop starting coming Tuesday, my head is quite completely occupied by it. So I thought to use this weekend reading space as a place to write down some things I’ve learned by translating my course contents that I would “normally” teach very hands on in a space full of materials and tools, into something that “makes sense of” the new circumstances – communicating remotely via audio/visual networked devices and the preparing and shipping of material KITs across town.

The Boardgame as Remote Teaching Tool?

Over the past month, I’ve been working to turn two of my courses/workshops into boardgames. Using the game board as a format for organizing and communicating the workshop contents in order to teach, or rather to lead participants through a learning experience.

This sounds so simple, but the realization that the boardgame format would work to communicate with, and lead participants through, new terrain, was an incredible one. It lead me to so many other ideas for communicating aspects of teaching, learning and making with materials by using playfulness as a means of engagement.

Preparing content to be learned/experienced in a different way, brings with it an opportunity to be(come) aware of the situatedness of the content in its new format/context. In general I’m a fan of exploring different ways of doing things as opportunities to open up knowledge spaces to people (audiences) who were not previously drawn to them. See far bellow for some more links and readings on these topics of Epistemological Pluralism and Situated Learning.

The fact that you have a boardgame in front of you, not a book, zine, online tutorial/video, situates you in a certain place where all of a sudden I can start to introduce a coin currency to be spent on certain resources (materials, knowledge, time-outs…). Limiting the number of coins you have to spend, and what items are deemed valuable enough to require purchase, is a pretend limitation, but I implement it as a reflection of the “real-world” process I (as an educator) am hoping to share with you (as a learner).

The first time I did this was for a workshop that was going to be about building dioramas and animating them in order to tell short stories.

MaterialAdventures the_boardgame (beta version)
>> https://www.plusea.at/?p=6605
instruction booklet: http://plusea.at/downloads/games/20-MaterialAdventureGame_instructions_current.pdf

The second time I did it, and am still amid the process of doing so, is for the workshop I will be teaching coming week:

from SPACE to SPACE (with NO SCREENS?) (in process)
>> https://www.kobakant.at/DIY/?p=8182

THE WORKSHOP/GAME DESIGN PROCESS

Basically, translating my former workshop topics into the boardgame format is less a process of translation and more of re-thinking them entirely. Embracing the new opportunities provided by the play/game elements to shape the flow, but also the contents.

The process of re-thinking is a constant back and forth of working through the following aspects:

*title, subtitle, introductory paragraph (laying things out in words)
These help me maintain an overview/focus of the overall learning content/experience I am aiming for.

*layout a schedule (laying things out by content and timing)
This helps define a flow. It can branch, circle back… but the linking of the contents to positions in time help arrange a kind of narrative for both me and the player.

*sketching out a path (laying things out in space)
Working physically on paper and on a 1:1 scale is incredibly important here. This process brings together the content and flow

*the graphics/aesthetics (making strong use of visual communication)
Trying out different aesthetics for the board, the visual elements (mixing and matching computer design with hand drawing, collage….)

*to-do lists (keeping track of what is possible)
Keeping track of all the things that need to get done and making sure I am able to do them in time. But also a means of deciding

The whole while, every one of these aspects has the ability to inspire or lead to a new idea. For example trying out an old game-boy icon aesthetic might lead one to discover that jump-and-run metaphors are great for explaining electron flow…….

THE GAME/PLAY

A big motivation for me to produce the physical elements was so that a majority of the workshop time could be spent playing at one’s own pace, “alone” with the materials/technology. That the connectedness with the other players could be kept rather discrete and sporadic, because I find it very consuming to have continuous audio/visual channels to others open while being amid a process of focussing-in (concentrating) on new materials/technologies, code, knowledge. At least until we build more wholesome (for lack of a better word) means of remote communication.

The BOARD and the GAME ELEMENTS are physical things that I have players print out and assemble (or I distribute as KITs to them), the COMMUNICATION between players happens over the Internet. We will use a mix of Skype for video/audio and Discord for chat/video/audio. I still need to come up with a good solution for sharing code and documentation among players……

THE BOARD

The graphical interface of the boardgame is an amazing opportunity for arranging information in a single image/instance. Not separated out over the pages of a book or navigated via endless scrolling/clicking through webpage(s).
You can perceive the entirety of the content in one go, while at the same time needing to zoom in (by focussing your attention and looking/reading) in order to take in detail. And ultimately you have to actually play the game in order to really understand all the meaning(s) embedded within.

So each time I’ve translated my workshop content into a boardgame the graphical layout of the information, and the aesthetics used to communicate with, have been extremely important elements. So much opportunity here, and such a challenge to do it well!

StoS_gameboard_v6_BW

GAME ELEMENTS

Here a list of the game elements I have implemented so far:
*the rules and the commitment of all players to play by these rules
*start and end, and the path/route between
*choosing/creating a character to play with/through
*interactions between characters
*currency/coins as value system (introducing constraints/limitations)
*resources for purchase, gifting, collecting, exchange….
*decision moments and randomizations (chaos)
*help-cards, time-outs
*punishments and rewards
*ways to cheat (and get caught….. or feel guilty)
*competition and collaboration
*moments of suspense and disappointment

COMMUNICATION & IMAGINATION

In practice: the game(s) start with a video-call where we say hello and go over the instructions/rules together. We maybe even play some of the first steps together (if they were designed for this), but at some point the games no longer require a continuous audio/visual channel, and players retreat into their own spaces to play (play-to-make).

The board, the rules and the elements of the game now lead the player on their “material adventure”. Knowing that there are others abiding by the same rules, going through the same steps….. is what I think of (and have experienced to be) as a remote social connection. The fact that the connection “works” despite there not being any high-res digital/electronic data-transmission. The fact that we are able to IMAGINE the other and feel connected with them in the absence of an open communication channel is what draws me to this format.

Writing and sending discrete letters via snail-mail bridges time and physical distances between people, while creating continuous shared intimacy because of our ability to bridge these gaps with our imaginations. But we also need the technologies (language, symbolic notation systems, paper, pen… the postal service……. electricity, code, transistors, networks, protocols……devices ) to establish the communication channels that spark our imaginations.

GAME OVER

I think this is a good moment to end for now.

Thanks for reading!

Hannah


P.S. Interested in exploring technology and play, networked experiences, material adventures and their stories….. Come study with us in Berlin! We are NOW accepting students for next semester!
>> https://spielundobjekt.de/bewerbung/


// FURTHER READINGS

Epistemological Pluralism is a term used to refer to different ways of knowing things.

Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert published their article “Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete” (1992) in which they studied and reflected upon different approaches that different people have in learning how to write computer code.
https://www.mit.edu/~sturkle/epistemologicalpluralism.html

“Our central thesis is that equal access to even the most basic elements of computation requires an epistemological pluralism, accepting the validity of multiple ways of knowing and thinking.”

Situated Learning and Situated Knowledges are terms that lead to much reading on a (to me) very interesting field of work and practice.

“Situated learning is a theory that explains an individual’s acquisition of professional skills and includes research on apprenticeship into how legitimate peripheral participation leads to membership in a community of practice. Situated learning “takes as its focus the relationship between learning and the social situation in which it occurs”.
–https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situated_learning

Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective (1988) by Donna Haraway
https://philpapers.org/archive/harskt.pdf


// REFLECTIONS

Now the workshop is over and in this post I will briefly reflect on how it went went as well as provide some further reading on the topic of networked communication, art, spaces.

The gameboard worked well to lead through the week, but it functioned as an information display rather than a playable platform. The fact that it lay open on everybody’s table meant it was an ever-present shared reference, but the making of a player character and the spending of money to purchase resources remained entertaining features and did not become playful means to a learning experience.

StoS_gameboard_v6_BW

WORLD MEETS COMPUTER
We started the week by going over networked communication between computers, servers, clients, brokers, routers…….
And then implemented a concrete instance using Processing to publish and subscribe and and MQTT broker (https://shiftr.io) with a really nice browser visualization of the system.

GETTING PHYSICAL
Next we switched from screen-based processing to physical-computing tool Arduino. But rather than switch to a wifi enabled Arduino board we kept with the simple setup and still communicated over the network via Processing.
Most of the day was spent building textile sensors, converting their analog resistance values into voltages (Voltage Divider!) and then converting them to digital with the Arduino’s ADC (analogRead!).

TAKING CONTROL
We connected a servo motor as output and controlled it’s angle using the sensor’s value. The challenge was to pull the string from the party popper…..
…. but the motor was too week. Instead the motor could push something heavy from the table that could pull the string….. but we needed more time to build stable setups.

ROAMING FREE
We made the switch from Arduino Uni <—> Processing to the ESP32 Dev Module DOIT, which is a wifi board that can be programmed using the Arduino language and IDE. It was a struggle to get the setup running on everybody’s computer, but we got it working for everybody just in time for lunch! We managed to send and receive sensor data over the network, but did not manage to pull the string….

THE END
Making the transition from learning to imagining. Everybody is now working on their own small projects. To control characters in unity with sock-puppets, to send onion-data and graph it, to play pong with breath over the network, to build datagloves and pressure matrixes to capture physical gestures and feed them into virtual spaces.

weekend reading

After some time of working behind the scenes to restructure our communications for the school and figuring out how to move forward with classes, we are now back to resuming our regular schedule with the weekend reading (and will post updates on what we are working on here on the blog soon).

The cultural sector is re-negotiating its possibility space in providing access to the experiences we used to share and get inspired by. In many ways, I feel reminded of the late 90s and up to the 2010s, where many artists tried to figure out ways in which social situations could be delocalized and, sometimes, atemporalized.

Examples of recent online-social spaces and experiments include:

Paolo Pedercini‘s likelike Arcade, which has been revamped into a full-blown MoMa-like (pun intended).

click goes to ever-wonderful rockpapershotgun.com

Christiane Hütter, who is, among many many other things, also one of our visiting lecturers, and Christian Römer, who is, among many other things, one of our MA students, have recently startet a series of Workshops titled Weltübergang:

projects that startet development during the first round of workshops

TAG Montreal‘s new Minecraft server

After the Consequences is a bit different from the modpacks that have been seen on previous TAG servers. TAGsters will be playing in a world rebounding after an unnamed apocalypse. Nature is quietly reclaiming the remnants of a society that clearly ran rampant, made evident by the sprawling urban landscapes that dominate the game world. These city biomes are alternately quiet, brutal, and violent, filled with darkened skyscrapers and long subway tunnels holding unknown secrets. Nature biomes are enchanting, diverse, and lush — rich with a diverse array of flora, fauna, and even magic.”

“A screenshot from After the Consequences

Epic Games (who used to be called Epic Megagames) and Travis Scott have created an interactive Public-Viewing Music video (link goes to Forbes article).

And finally, the FFT Düsseldorf will be hosting an online Symposium, in which a newly developed theater play by Machina Ex will be playable.

Meanwhile, our friends at the Akademie für Theater und Digitalität are collaborating with nachtkritik.de and the Berliner Festspiele, to put together a Version of this year’s Theatertreffen online for people to experience. We are happy to see our MA student Christian Römer, our team member Janne Nora Kummer, and our visiting lecturer Christiane Hütter as part of this event.

click goes to Theatertreffen Blog

Last week was the first week of online classes. As you all may or may not know by now, online education is a horrible way for a group of people to gather and disseminate knowledge. But it’s the only way we have for now. Here is a super quick “three things” that we found in our experiences (building on many other best-practices that you might have read online already):

  1. As a teacher, you can use OBS Studio to set up transitions between different workspaces. I have a computer with Pen input, so i like to have a Whiteboard Window running – we use Microsoft Whiteboard, other use Miro.com, I am sure there are lots more. OBS Studio has a virtual camera plugin that works with most videoconferencing tools.
  2. Remember that many videoconferencing tools use different Codecs for sharing your screen or sharing your webcam image. I ended up using Screen share on Skype and had that point to my OBS Studio window.
  3. We experimented with moving Q&A to a separate chat-based service. So i could ask a question in Skype, and every participant can immediately start answering the question in Discord. In our experience, the discussion and interaction was a lot more lively, with people engaging with each other more when typing (and emoting).

It is a space of constant negotiation though. You and the people you want to share knowledge with will probably have to find your own dos and don’ts. It is probably a good idea to have feedback sessions outside of classes, in which different ways of interacting can be suggested and experimented with. We have to re-build all the small nuanced subtleties that we use to negotiate our roles and the situations we are in. The ones we are used to from Face to Face Communication most definitely don’t work as well anymore.

That being said, and on a lighter note, I think there are few better ways of teaching an Introduction to Erving Goffman’s Behaviour in public places.

Oh, and one last thing. If you know someone, or are someone, who might be interested in studying with us (and are pretty okay with speaking german), why not check out our Bewerbungsverfahren – it’s still running until 18th of May.

weekend reading

Dear friends,

our school discord channel

Both faculty and students are currently in the process of continuously assessing the situation. In the coming days and weeks, we will develop a stronger online presence, to make our work and research, but also spaces for discussion and collaboration available to you. Right now, we are working internally to provide stable infrastructure for communication and social exchange.

We have had experience using the software Discord for organizing Spiel und Objekt, and will be using it more to provide classes, lectures and support. We have also moved the school proper to discord, recreating similar channels of communication to what we had when we still saw each other. It’s not the same, but it works well to provide a space for atemporal and documented discussion, when email and phone calls and skype can all only provide some part of that. It is also comforting to see hundreds of people checking in and out throughout the day.

With all these hastily established digital tools come new challenges. Limiting your screen time, organizing your availability, and, separating channels of communication between work and social life. Making appointments, even though people can get notifications on their phone, and providing help to those that have not had the necessity to develop their online literacy are super-important. It is new grounds for all of us, at least on this scale. The amount of notifications, experimental ways of creating culture and always online mindset can lead to heightened stress, especially when your day-to-day is changing so rapidly.

We firmly believe, that theatre is a shared social space. What we don’t know yet, is how these social spaces work without bodily co-presence. We will experiment and share, just as many of you do, and we will try to create groups for people to share their experiences, and create safe spaces for experimentation, where mistakes can be made and not everything has to be for everyone. For that, we want to take our time, and slowly establish these new channels, so as to make them robust and understandable and meaningful and not overextend ourselves. There are many weeks ahead of us, where urgent social and medical issues will rightful be at the center of our attention. But we will try to continually inform you about the services, knowledges and tools we can provide.

Weekend Reading

We have just returned from an international workshop on participatory and interactive theatre that was held at FFT Düsseldorf this past week. As you might imagine, the recent measures regarding the Corona-Virus pandemic have left their mark on everyone involved. Still, during the past couple of days, many conversations took place, many ideas were exchanged and we started accumulating and sharing a lot of knowledge on digital tools, dramaturgies and best practices, that we are in the process of sharing more widely.

Preliminary Documentation happened in Form of a Zine created by Participants, which you can read and download here:

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More Information has been published to the Hyperdramatik.net Wiki.

We are both saddened to witness the complete shutdown of cultural life in Germany and see this as a reasonable course of action, giving current developments. Our hearts go out to those in need of aid, be it physically, mentally or financially.

We do believe that theatre is, first and foremost, a social gathering, and that digital spaces can only go so far in recreating this space. We also understand, that not having any sort of cultural input (or output) for an undetermined amount of time, is an untenable situation. In the coming weeks, we will be evaluating how we can provide information regarding digital toolsets that might help people with their artistic output.

As for our university – as with all other universities, we have postponed all physical lectures until at least April 20th. Our application period will still start tomorrow with the publication of our online form. And we will keep you updated on any developments.

Stay home, stay safe.

&& Prof. Hannah Perner Wilson

We are super-happy to announce, that Hannah Perner-Wilson has joined the Spiel und Objekt team as a Professor for digital media.

Hannah’s work combines conductive materials and craft techniques to develop new styles of building electronics that emphasize materiality and process. She creates working prototypes to demonstrate the kinds of electronic artifacts we might build for ourselves in a world of electronic diversity. A significant part of her work goes into documenting and disseminating her techniques so that they can be applied by others. She is a frequent collaborator with artist Mika Satomi.

In order to get to know Hannah a bit better, we asked 4 questions relating to her practice and the performing arts:

S&&O: What is your current research interest?

HPW: My current work is leading me to explore making’s potential as more than a means of prototyping and production.

We blame our styles and systems of making for much of what we see to be wrong in the world today (environmental pollution, resource depletion, exploitation of human labor, capitalism and consumerism). Yet my own experience of making has led me to believe that it holds many other potentials. Making as an opportunity to re-imagine other ways of creation and being in the world. Making as a process of understanding the world and our current situation. Making as a means for re-making our relations with the world.

Read more

SO! Magazine release

The very first issue of the student-created SO magazine is now online for you to read:

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Happy reading, Feel free to download and share!

weekend reading

It’s semester break, so the readings will be rather short these coming weeks. And, sometimes, a bit late in the day.

A durch court has haltet facial recognition usage, after its algorithm turns out to be biased in its selection (via wired):

The case demonstrates how privacy regulations and human rights laws can rein in government use of automation. It’s among several recent examples of European regulations limiting government programs that turn algorithms and artificial intelligence on citizens. In the US, however, such guardrails generally are lacking.

Teens are grouping up on instagram to avoid personalized data tracking (via cnet);

But unlike many of Instagram’s users, Mosley and her high school friends in Maryland had figured out a way to fool tracking by the Facebook-owned social network. On the first visit, her Explore tab showed images of Kobe Bryant. Then on a refresh, cooking guides, and after another refresh, animals.

And the news that kept everyone occupied all week. And will keep us occupied for the foreseeable future. Bye for now.

weekend reading

In today’s weekend reading: Games as simulated experiences, offering agency in the face of uncontrollable circumstances. We need to talk about this more.

And hopefully on a deeper level than this article on Quartz (although props to Jane Li for bringing attention to this):

On China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, many joked darkly about the similarities between the games and the real situation. “The best way to get rid of fear is to face the fear itself,” wrote 17173, a Chinese game news site, commenting on Plague Inc.’s sudden rise in popularity. Some users said that in order to have a more immersive experience, they chose China as the origin country that exports the virus to other regions in the game.

Regarding sustainability and materiality of digital media, Low Tech Magazine reports on their solar powered website:

A website that goes off-line in evening could be an interesting option for a local online publication with low anticipated traffic after midnight. However, since Low-tech Magazine’s readership is almost equally divided between Europe and the USA this is not an attractive option. If the website goes down every night, our American readers could only access it during the morning.

And finally, the thing I am reading right now:Rodrigo Ochigame on The long history of algorithmic fairness.

Take care, and hug a British person.

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