Thinking Through Doing While Losing My Marbles

Last Monday, at the suggestion of our Scholars’ Lab mentors, the Praxis cohort divided into two teams to start wire-framing some of our ideas for the Ivanhoe Game. The initial thought was to divide into groups along a theoretical Type I/Type II DH divide, as identified by Stephen Ramsay. Many of us Praxers, however, are not absolutely committed to one or the other DH type, thereby throwing a bit of a wrench into that plan. So instead, we decided that we’d try wire-framing two versions of the Ivanhoe Game with no particular constrictions – not even feasibility.

Yes, we’ve had the opportunity to design what we would build in an ideal world with unlimited time, resources, and abilities.

And so the fun began.

In the past ten days or so, Francesca, Zach, and I have met a couple of times to discuss how we visualize our version of Ivanhoe playing out (pun intended). Jeremy ran us all through the essentials of wire-framing and user interface design, and at his suggestion we’ve consulted J.J. Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond to figure out how, exactly, we want to go about building our game and conceptualizing the user experience.

Simultaneously, the entire Praxis fellows group has been engaged in a rather entertaining and informative e-mail-based game on the history of the Parthenon marbles. Stephanie chose the Parthenon marbles for us because of the wealth of information available, the extensive debate surrounding them, and their 2,500 year history touching upon questions close to many of our disciplines. We’ve taken carefully-defined roles (I myself am arguing a position I personally find rather unpalatable and untenable, other players taking on roles from history and mythology) and we have worked towards building a moderately-coherent narrative of the Parthenon marbles through our various game personae.

One of the reasons we decided to start another communal game was to experiment with adding more structure to the format of game play (e.g. a points system, a game/move time-line, and explicitly-stated roles) to see if it would improve the quality of the game and, perhaps, better sustain game-play. Additionally, we thought it would be helpful to simultaneously play and design a game so that we could think more critically about what type of interface would enable the various moves, connections, and conversations we would like to foster but simply cannot in the platforms available to us.

Upon further reflection, I realized what this whole process reminded me of: dissertation research and writing. Last Fall, I read Joan Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day in which the author advocates for writing each and every day to improve one’s productivity and quality of research. Additionally, Bolker insists that, while research and thought are (obviously) fundamental to a dissertation, writing is often the only way to think through ideas, questions, and problems. In essence, to push beyond the vague generalities and variably-substantiated theories which float around in our heads as we conduct research, it is necessary to articulate the arguments in concrete form to expose the strengths and weaknesses of their logical structures and underlying suppositions. Likewise, we have reached a point with Ivanhoe at which designing something, no matter how amateurish, incomplete, and flawed, is absolutely necessary to determine the next step in creating a workable game. We are, in theory, thinking by doing, while still pushing our ‘research’ forward with the Parthenon marbles game.

As a bit of a post-script, I seem to be finding Ivanhoe-esque objects and ideas everywhere, such as J.J. Abrams and D. Dorst’s S., an annotated version of a book, the Ships of Theseus, written by the fictional author V.M. Straka. Though the game Francesca, Zach, and I are designing is more of an open-ended space for creating and visualizing the connections between various data-sets and less of a resource for annotating text (like our first game on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart), I’m eager to get my hands on a copy of S. soon – and maybe I can call reading that research.

2013-14 Praxis Fellow and PhD Candidate in Classical Art & Archaeology working on South Italian Pottery and Vase-Painting. Indulges in reading sci-fi, petting cats, and eating chocolate.

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