The Community Arcade team met yesterday, with valiant efforts from many members to show up despite illness, deadlines and other imponderable events. In the end, Scott and I shared a fascinating conversation about the partnership grant I am a member of as well as the broader topic commercialisation of ideas in the humanities and social sciences from the perspective of graduate students. Minutes and thoughts herein.
I was invited by Bertand Gervais (UQAM, Literature) to join a SSHRC Partnership grant project dubbed Littérature Québécoise Mobile (LQM). In addition to a dozen of researchers from universities in Québec and Europe, this project brings together a coalition of trade associations and publishers from La Belle Province. The goals are to (1) document, (2) support, and (3) take part in enabling the literary community to embrace the cultural, social and economic dimensions of the digital universe. The focus is on “self declared” book publishers and authors, in the classic sense. I will focus my energies on legal and institutional issues, thinking about topics involving copyright, legal deposit, public lending rights, libraries, metadata, and probably the kitchen sink.
My main motivation to align my research activities to this partnership are twofold. On the one hand, I want to describe the current state of “cultural laws and institutions” in Québec, which is referred by some as the cultural exception à la française, implemented in the North American context. This is a unique opportunity to take a snapshot of “how things are” before they are swiped away by what I fear will be a neoliberal digital storm caused by online platforms, populist governments and, well, evolution. On the other hand, I want to confront “self declared” publishers to the realities of the digital world, essentially exploring the hypothesis that the digital universe has shifted the agency they may have had to exclude certains socio-economic agents from from their networks – I call this “supply-side” issues in cultural economics. Librarianship stems from the “demand-side” of cultural markets and confronts industry desires with the needs of communities.
So, I want to describe at how things are all the while looking at how they could shift. Copyright law is my environment and open access is my hypothesis. Books are the object at hand but I sense that video games will provide for a meaningful counterfactual object to study. I’m already having a lot of fun just thinking about all this! (imagine this: last week, I was at a conference discussing digital kids lit and I asked questions about playfulness and games – which lead to some aha moments in the hallway! Here is the equation I proposed: ebooks + interactivity = game. Shocking!)
At this point, the conversation shifted to Scott’s projects. Of all the things we discussed, I do want to highlight a part of our exchange which centered on how a graduate student could leverage graduate work, research labs and the peer community to build a sustainable and ongoing initiative (let’s not call it a business) after having completed their studies. This meant aligning research contracts, thesis work, teaching gigs and other projects around the idea of transforming ideas and research projects into various forms of intellectual property. We discussed research ethics, open access mandates of tri-council funded research and, well, hacking neoliberal rhetoric using utilitarian theory in economics to generate a public good.
As Scott aptly pointed out, this is exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with the Community Arcade initiative. You know, creating a physical object to hack very complex legal and institutional issues with an elegant solution. In a moment of self-reflexive criticism, of which I may one day become famous for, I declared that my single most important contribution to TAG would be to continuously fail at this, providing the fertile ground for others, namely amazing grad students to best this drunken master at his own game…
Needless to say, you had to be there to really get the most from our dynamic and inspiring exchange !
We had a very productive meeting today. Around the table were Jessie, Michael, Kalervo, Valérie, Scott, Fabio and your humble servant (some people had to run in or out, but most were around for the duration). Hope I didn’t forget anyone!
Of the many things we discussed, I wanted to flag that we are “rebranding” the initiative as “Community Arcade” rather than Indie Games for Libraries. The goal is to make it more meaningful for non-librarians (ahem) and open up the boundaries of our action. Of note, Jessie is working on “discoverabilitty” of games and it dovetails nicely on the metadata work Michael and Valérie are involved with (more on that in a second). Scott is looking at games in community centers, also close to libraries but not quite the same. So, the focus is not only on libraries, but settings where games are contextualized beyond the consumer… other institutions (like museums, archives) or groups (the idea of sharing). I have to admit that libraries are a strong focal point still, but I’m happy to broaden it up a bit. I also love the concept of the “commons” as a non/post-proprietary field of research (yeah, like “creative commons” but with an institutional twist). Tip of the hat to Prem for this very interesting tweak.
Now, Michael and Valérie reported on their research around metadata standards for describing games & preservation. They are compiling an annotated bibliography of papers on this thread and will look into migrating it to Zotero (if you don’t know what that is, that means you are creating your bibliographies manually… Zotero is a citation managent tool and used correctly, it can really accelerate the citation process – let me know if you want some training on this!)
I reported on some news: I am co-applicant on a successful SSHRC partnership grant! The project entails looking at digital book publishing in Québec with threads about interactivity and thinking at the “edges” or “boundaries” digital objects including installations or experiences. As you would suspect, I’ll be picking up a lot of the copyright and law-of-the-book research (yeah, that’s a thing), which intersects directly with digital games and our work with libraries and other institutions/contexts. I’m speaking next week at a conference on school (K-12) digital book publishing and will be at the kickoff meeting of the partnership grant the following week. More on this soon…
Another thread involves contacting devs at indie studios and librarians to talk about needs, prospects, possibilities… The group will start compiling the names of people we want to contact but first, I have to submit ethics approval forms . I’ll be sharing the ones we had worked on during the 2015 Knight Foundation project (remember Alice, that video game console we created then?) to expedite the process.
We also started to dig around “getting games in libraries” – specific next steps & action items. There was sone discussion of a process to select games, describe them and similar threads. Of course, this implies talking to devs and librarians so we need ethics approval should we want to write about all of this (and we do). So, next meeting we will work on the “indie pitch” – essentially, the 2-3 page document we would use to explain the project once the ethics-approved protocol is completed. We would want a selection that is diverse, local and interesting, amongst other dimensions. But right now, we are aware that we’ll probably focus on studios which are “close” to TAG… Tip of the hat to Kalervo for suggesting this.
Another salient thread is training of librarians and school teachers. They have different needs but this is seen as a meaningful activity to further our goal of launching & curating Community Arcades.
So, our next meeting is Tuesday May 21st 4-6pm at TAG. We’ll probably go share a beverage afterwards on a yet-to-be-determined location.
Long term preservation (legal deposit, national bibliographies, literary archives and fonds management)
Research and scholarship (academic labs, academic library acquisitions, interlibrary loans, copyright exceptions)
Certify & contextualize (publishing, bookstores, fan culture)
Access (public libraries & schools)s
We discussed a few points from this list…
Long term preservation
I’ve asked around (informally) about digital preservation initiatives in libraries & archives. All of my contacts indicated the same information: everyone is trying to “feed” existing initiatives rather than hosting/launching new ones. Most cited initiatives to preserve software (e.g.: digital games) include UNESCO’s https://www.softwareheritage.org as well as the Internet Archive’s https://archive.org/details/softwarelibrary. Valérie and Michael are digging into this thread.
Research & scholarship
We talked about the idea of a games anthology. The main question centered on the process by which we would “pick” games to be included in the listing. One of the goals of this anthology would be to promote (or kick start or support) the long-term preservation of games (e.g. a studio would have to deposit their games in a software archive to be considered for the anthology). This fits well with the work done in an academic research lab (e.g.: TAG) and identifying “important” games is a key element of certification and contextualization.
Certify and contextualize
We discussed the idea of donations as in-kind support of the research and scholarship in games. A “crazy idea” would be to offer indie studios a “ticked to eternity” : by “gifting” their games for long term preservation and offering flexible licensing terms to allow for research and scholarship, we would then consider them for inclusion in a publishing/access model funded by library subscriptions. This is a very complex idea essentially summarizing the “institutional structure” around other, more “mature” cultural copyrighted works, are handled in our society. Prem is really interested in this area.
There was a lot of talk around the training/education/pedagogical needs of librarians and other professionals. In fact, Scott and Valérie are interested in this, and are working on a way to establish a relationship with professionals in how they express their learning needs about games. Prem flagged that he would focus on the relationship with a narrower set of settings, more in the pilot project scenario. This final thread makes me think that we should perhaps broaden our scope to look beyond libraries as there are similarly unmet needs in the school (K-12) setting.