A possibly interesting talk on “Second Life” today at UM

There is a talk taking place at UM today, on the virtual body in Second Life. My guess, on reading the announcement, is that it is intended primarily for professors and graduate students and not for undergraduates, since these colloquium seres tend to be aimed at professors and graduate students. At the same time, I’m sure they won’t turn away any undergraduate student who shows up.
In any event, it is interesting to know that anthropologists are thinking about such things as Second Life!
The announcement is below.
The Colloquium Series in Sociocultural and Linguistic Anthropology and the
Program in Science, Technology, and Society welcome

Tom Boellstorff

Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine

Editor-in-Chief, American Anthropologist

Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg

Monday, March 21

4 PM

411 West Hall

Virtual worlds are places of online culture in which persons appear as “avatars.” How might these socialities transform understandings of the body, online but also offline? Bringing together ethnographic research in the virtual world SecondLife, anthropological work on embodiment, and insights ranging from phenomenology to Greek philosophy, I work toward a theory of the virtual body. Emphasizing that avatars are not merely representations of bodies but forms of embodiment, my framework is centered on the constitutive emplacement of a body within a world.

Students running their own schools

This past Monday, the New York Times had an interesting op-ed article titled “Let Kids Rule the School”, which caught my eye. The article’s author, Susan Engel, writes:

I recently followed a group of eight public high school students, aged 15 to 17, in western Massachusetts as they designed and ran their own school within a school.

Apparently, the students in this program “designed their own curriculum,” and “critiqued one another’s queries, but also the answers they came up with.” Of course, this reminded me of Ender’s Game. The author of the article concludes: “We need to rethink the very nature of high school itself.”

The article also reminded me of a book (which I have seen referred to in several places over the course of the past year or so, but have not yet had a chance to read): The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, by the French philosopher Jacques Rancière. The book seems very interesting, and I mean to read it this summer, when I have some free time. This short wiki page about the book suggests that Rancière’s argument in the book is that “all people are capable of learning, without explication by a teacher.” While the total absence of a teacher may be rather extreme, are not initiatives such as Quest-to-Learn pushing education in this direction, at least to some extent?

On a (only somewhat) related note, there is the Ann Arbor Free Skool (sic), which consists of groups of people teaching, and learning from, each other. And apparently, in the 1970s, Ann Arbor Public Schools did some  experiments on its own in this direction, opening a school that ran on the basis of a “schools-without-walls” philosophy, in which students assumed responsibility for their own learning. But the legendary UM campus personality, arwulf arwulf, who himself was a student in that school, says that the experiment “didn’t work out for everybody.”





Course at UM in Summer 2011: Video Games and Japanese History

This course may be of potential interest to some in the class. Reading the course announcement made me think that our readings and discussion in the class (not unreasonably, for this is a course being taught in a US university) have focused mostly on the US school system and video games popular in US culture. However, other countries (notably Japan) also have a thriving video game culture (which may or may not differ in significant ways from video game culture in the US).

Department of Asian Languages and Culture

ASIAN 255: SimSamurai– Video Games and Japanese History (Summer 2011)

How is experiencing—or creating—history different with video games? Why are big budgets and hours of research poured into designing the characters and settings for Total War: Shôgun 2 or Ôkami? This course will explore the questions surrounding the historical representation of Japan in video games. By exploring how certain concepts of Japanese history emerge in games, we will discover how integral an understanding of history is to enjoying the story and setting. We will also see why and how certain historical concepts, like the ‘way of the warrior’, are connected to important issues of modern identity. This course is designed to meet two audiences: 1) students interested in understanding the connection of fiction and history, and 2) students interested in understanding how they can research and use history to create video games.

UM classical studies professor touches on video games

Richard Janko,  professor of classical studies at UM, gave a talk at the Rackham Amphitheater a couple of days ago, in which he discussed how “ancient manuscripts that discuss Plato and Aristotle, buried for centuries in the lost Roman seaside town of Herculaneum, provide insights on how violent television programs, films and video games may affect young minds.”

Unfortunately I missed the talk — I found out about it just now.  It seems that Prof. Janko disapproves of violent video games. The article about the talk in the University Record states:

‘ “Aristotle had a theory that we learn to be virtuous by being habituated to be virtuous and that literature gives us emotional experiences that we would not have in real life,” Janko says. “The corollary to that is that people can also be habituated to violence. Aristotle felt this applied to young minds. Although adults might be able to handle such situations, young people should not be exposed to them because they may affect them. I saw this recently when I sat next to someone in a library, who was playing a violent video game, and realized that he was being trained to shoot.” ‘

Although this pessimistic take on video games may be considered to be the equivalent of a wet cloth dampening the generally upbeat tone about video games that our guest speakers in class have had on the subject, I found this news about Prof. Janko’s talk to be of interesting for the reason that it is not every day that you see classical studies professors thinking about video games!


The New York Times reported a couple of days ago (1/29/2011) that “LittleBigPlanet 2, Sony’s stunning new entertainment ecosystem for the PlayStation 3” is “allowing players to assume the ultimate role: game creators“. (This is interesting for us in the light of this week, as Gamestar Mechanic, in a way, is a game for creating games….)

A striking metaphor in a book review in the N.Y. Times: Does it bode a mainstreaming of video-game culture?

A line in a book review published in this past Tuesday’s New York Times made me realize how mainstream video-games are gradually becoming, as the reviewer used a pretty arresting gaming metaphor to make a point. (The book in question was: Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and it has nothing to do with video games.) Coining the phrase “first-person thinker” by way of analogy with “first-person shooter”, the reviewer wrote:

You climb inside her [the author’s] skull as if this book were a first-person thinker video game: Call of Duty: Memoir Academy. Ms. Rhodes-Pitts makes her meta-processes part of this story.

Ten years ago, such a line in a mainstream book review would have been quite unthinkable, I believe. Perhaps this mainstreaming of video games, as it penetrates even the higher reaches of literary culture (as shown in this line from a book review in such a venerable newspaper as the New York Times), bodes well for the eventual acceptance of the video-game metaphor in mainstream circles, including education policy?

From the New York Times: RNA Game Lets Players Help Find a Biological Prize

A recent article (Jan 10) from the New York Times about how a free game will “serve as a training ground for a cadre of citizen-experts who will help generate a new storehouse of biological knowledge.”