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Interdisciplinary New Media Education, Serious Games, and Locative Gaming

The third day here at PerthDAC has started, and kicks off with a paper by Jean Bridge. She's involved with the interactive arts and science undergraduate programme at Brock University in Canada, and in this programme encourages thinking with and thinking about interactive technologies, which are situated in a wider social and cultural context. It is a humanities-based programme which concerns itself with the content and analysis of the products of human creativity, by following four core principles: capitalising the fact of computing as central to contemporary life, identifying the need for constant evaluation of the role of content and form, accepting the necessity for new and innovative methodologies, and achieving a centrality of interdisciplinarity and praxis. Students in this programme are largely digital natives who are content creators, aggregators, and intertextualisers, who think though codes, strategies, and roles, and who are willing to probe, manipulate, set goals, and construct their own pathways. The programme, then, aims to prepare them as people who can bridge theoretical and practical aspects of working creatively in new media - as creators, writers, directors, designers, managers, scholars, critics, and policy makers.

The IASC programme builds on students' experiences and aggregates courses and concepts from a wide variety of disciplines, enabling students to pursue their individual pathways; it stimulates and supports creation and experimentation. Its core principles speak to: the emergence of pervasive computing (making it fundamental to cultural literacy), and this also has implications for the learning environment, of course (it must support flexible, on-demand learning), and for pedagogies (focussing on networking, alternative ways of doing things, learning by doing, exploring and adapting tools, working collaboratively, and evaluating ideas and creating accountability); to the role of content and form (building on a modernist tradition of form as content, as well as on a postmodernist understanding of everything as fundamentally being content, and of meaning as constructed by the user), which especially also requires a focus on the effects of technology on form and content, and an examination of the role of exchange and interaction in transforming content; to the need for methodological innovation (flowing from a paradigm of interactivity which raises the need to define and create the behaviour of a system which must respond intelligently), which is also manifested in pedagogy in inquiry-based learning approaches that ask students to carry out projects, and to represent their actions and synthesise their knowledge on projects and portfolios that follow their own interests and take risks; and to the question of interdisciplinarity where questions, methods, and topics transcend disciplinary boundaries and instead bridge arts, humanities, computing, and social science perspectives.

Key challenges for this approach are a continuing institutional resistance to genuine interdisciplinarity; it remains difficult to adapt existing structures to interdisciplinary approaches. Similarly, pursuing technosocial and technocultural learning opens a new educational and research context which can be seen as watering down disciplinary knowledges in students. The disciplinary status of students as well as staff also threatens their possible career progressions, as well as making it difficult to know what infrastructure and supporting technologies may be required for such diverse, emergent work. Indeed, the overall programme exists in an emergent state and will need to continue to be defined and redefined.

Ana Sanchez-Laws now shifts our focus to the museum environment, and specifically to a museum-based computer game called "Angie against the World" about the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. The invasion, dubbed "Just Cause" by the American military, took place with the aim of arresting dictator Manuel Noriega, and some 400-6000 people were killed in the process; it reasserted U.S. hegemony over Panama and the Panama Canal. Building on an earlier video documentary of grassroots memories of the invasion, Ana developed a serious computer game to explore the meaning of the invasion; it combines first-person shooter aspects with fictional video, interviews from the documentary, and footage from the invasion (as well as from the first gulf war in 1991, for which the invasion was seen as a training exercise), and with background information about the invasion.

"Angie", then, is a serious game. The problem with serious games is that they tend to play differently from standard games. In standard games, binary actions allow players to retrace their steps, and to retry sections of the game, removing any consequence to life and death in videogames; against this, there is a suggestion that serious games should be able to played only once in order to emphasise the real repercussions of life and death in the game world. "Angie", on the other hand, can be played multiple times, but allows only for very limited player influence over the gameplay - ultimately, players only have the ability to accept or dismiss the memory of the invasion (a very real choice for Panamanians to this day). In this way, "Angie" remains a very tangible piece of the fragmented Panamanian identity. At the same time, audience responses to the game are also interesting in their diversity (from Panamanians wanting to share their own memories to Europeans interested in whether Panama is pursuing reparations for the invasion, and games researchers asking about the role of games in promoting social change).

The final speaker in this first session is Mary Flanagan, who continues our political focus and considers the role of locative games in activism. This also links to data visualisation and mapping, which has been used for example to map political power structures in projects like They Rule or The Great Game. Maps reflect the power of the people who make the maps, of course; at the same time, the study of everyday life would be absurd if it is not explicitly directed at transforming everyday life, as Guy Debord has suggested - so, locative play which locates games in everyday spaces can act as a tool for empowerment leading to collaborative social change, overcoming the weighting-down of the contemporary city and realising the transformative power of such game forms. Mary now highlights a number of recent locative games, including for example PacManhattan (which transformed part of the Manhattan street grid into a Pac Man arena) and Big Urban Game (which explored citizens' ideas for transforming the urban space). The AURA project used geolocator devices to allocate specific sounds to individual urban spaces which users could explore as they moved through the space, affecting one another's aural experience.

Much locative gaming theory links back to the idea of the flâneur, of course (and locative play is only possible when players decide that it is possible, and this involves permission and agreement between players). The Situationists further extended such ideas by adding a specifically activist dimension; to this, Mary adds the idea of psychogeography - the effect of the geographic environment on the individual's psyche. Mary now runs through a few of the locative game examples constructed by her students in keeping with such principles, intervening in the urban space of New York City (and she argues that such games must necessarily be location-specific if they are to be meaningful, rather than being able to be transferred without difficulty from one urban space, one city, to another). There is a need here to be mindful of many more layers of history and context which location-specific games must be aware of.

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