Slice of Life: Gaming the Gaming System

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I am always impressed when my students find new ways to “hack” or game a system. Last week, one of my students created a new video game in Gamestar Mechanic that everyone in the grade began playing. Not because it is a good game or a fun game or a challenging game. In fact, quite the opposite.

The game is called Spam Enter, and as soon as you hit play, you win the game. Hit replay. You win again. Again and again. No, the “game” my students were playing, which began with one or two kids and soon became a viral challenge across classes, was to help the game achieve more than 10,000 plays.

This morning, when I looked, it had more than 13,o00 plays.

One on hand, it’s nonsense. This means a bunch of kids were just hitting replay on the computer. They were. And it was rather funny, as kids had their fingers on the return button of their computer keyboards while holding conversations with each other about the coming vacation and the Olympics and such.

On the other hand, they saw the activity as a way to game the Gamestar System, to see what would happen if a single game suddenly got thousands of plays. One student starting telling others to rate the game high. Their informal plan was to move the game into the Gamestar Mechanic featured game section of what is known as Game Alley.

Did it work? I don’t know. But they keep hitting play.

Peace (in the game),

Book Review: Wishtree

If, like me, you were blown away by The One and Only Ivan, then you will be swept up with the same magic in Wishtree, as writer Katherine Applegate weaves another powerful story told in such simple language.

Applegate gives voice to a neighborhood tree, called Red, whose long-view of the people and animals that inhabit her space provides her with deep compassion and love for the ways in which everything is connected. And what a voice she is. Red, a tree, is a character you won’t likely forget.

Red, a red oak, is also a Wish Tree, meaning it is a place where each year, people come to hang notes with their dreams and desires on her branches, in hopes that they might come true. She is a gathering point for the neighborhood, and in this story, Red also becomes a flashpoint for hate and intolerance.

An immigrant family is targeted. A word is carved on Red as a message to the family. Vandalism happens. A young immigrant girl feels abandoned and friendless, and Red works with the animals of her tree to give the girl her one wish from the tree: to have a friend. Meanwhile, the owner of the property where Red has her roots has decided the time has come for the tree to be cut down, for safety, and only a story from the past can save Red from the stump grinder.

Applegate artistically weaves these strands of story together with delicate writing, always guided by the calm, compassionate voice of Red. This novel would be a perfect read-aloud for elementary school, and the topics of how we welcome new families — particularly those who speak a different language or come from a different culture — is central to the theme of Wishtree.

As it is to the world outside our door. May we all be like Red.

Peace (and wishes),

Inside the #NetNarr Alchemy Lab: An Open Invitation to Collaborate

NetNarr Invitation to Collaborate

A group of us who are in the Wide and Wild Open Community of Networked Narratives decided we want to put into practice the elements of those networks and narratives with a collaborative transmedia project. Transmedia concepts involve various forms of digital media, and digital platforms, connected together into one larger story thread.

We’re calling this project “MediaJumpers”, and our tagline is “Every Object Tells a Story.”

We’re using the concept of the magical “Alchemy Lab” as the setting for the backbone of our narratives, and folks like you who join in will have their own digital art and stories connected inside elements of the lab. We’ve got a cool idea brewing in the background for how this might all work as a final project.

Come play the invitation and sign up to be part of what we think will be an interesting collaboration.

We hope the students in the Networked Narratives classes (Mia Zamora and Alan Levine are professors in the US and in Norway this semester, and Maha Bali will be joining in later from Egypt) as well as friends and collaborators from other networked spaces — like CLMOOC and DS106 and beyond — will join us.

We hope YOU will join us.

The first step is to play the invitation … then sign up at the form at the end of the game … the Master Alchemist will be in touch in the days ahead with further instructions (basically, create some digital work).

It’s going to be a blast! And the more, the merrier.

Peace (and MediaJumping),

Video Annotation: Emilio Vavarella and the Art of the Digital

Emilio NetNarr Visit

A Networked Narratives hangout last week with digital artist Emilio Vavarella provided some keen insights into how an artist might use digital tools and technology to make statements on the connected world. I popped the video of the interview into Vialogues so I could watch at my leisure and add comments/ questions/ observations as I went along.

Emilio has done some pretty interesting art endeavors and museum installations, including:

  • The Captcha Project, which critiqued the concept of human labor in the digital age
  • Do You Like Cyber? — an audio installation using digital voices of bots from dating sites
  • Animal Cinema, of animals caught taking pictures with cameras
  • Driver and Cameras, which focuses in on the selfie images made by mistake by Google drivers taking images for its Streetview Maps
  • Digital Pareidolia, in which Emilio documents the errors of Facebook’s face recognition software

I invite you to join me in the margins of the video.

Peace (asking questions),

The Fragmented Me (Exploring Selfies in an UnSelfie World)

Eye selfie #tdc1111 #dailycreateWe’re exploring the art and act of Selfies in Networked Narratives, as Mia Zamora and Hannah Kelley are researching the impact of selfies and plan to curate a public art exhibit under the banner of #SelfieUnselfie in Norway. Both are on Fulbright Scholarships right now and focused on digital literacies (I think).

Take a look/listen to their project and their invitation:

True story: an hour after watching that video by Mia and Hannah and thinking about the idea of the Unselfie the other night, my wife and son and I sat down to watch an episode of the Modern Family sitcom, which opens with the parents berating the older daughter for laying around all day, taking selfies on her phone. (Later, we learn she’s been building a blogging site for fashion and making money of her images of herself and her fashion choices).

My 13-year-old son pointed to the television.

“That’s what the girls do,” he observed, “at school. All the time. Selfies, all day long. It’s annoying.”

Not boys, we asked?

“Some,” he admitted. “Not like the girls. It’s like they want their image everywhere.”

There are a lot of layers to the act of creating Selfies — from identity in the digital world, to capturing moments as memories, to connecting in social media with others, to artistic choices that get made (or not). More and more apps now help you “touch up” the Selfie, which seems at odds with its original intent to me (which might say more about me, as a middle aged white man, than many selfie takers.)

I went into my own Flickr account to search for “selfie” and only a few popped up. Either I haven’t done many, or I don’t save them. I suspect I don’t often think enough of the Selfie itself to put them into my Flickr for saving. Selfies seem more … momentary, temporary, fleeting. Interesting.

Bad Selfie (with Webcomic Photobomb)

Some of these I found (like the eyeball image at the top) are from DS106 prompts, I realized. And a few are from an old webcomic site I used with my sixth grade students. In it, they would create avatars as representations of themselves.

Remember that year, those movie stars at the Oscars created that famous group selfie? Suddenly, everyone knew what a Selfie was.

I used that a visual prompt for students that year to create webcomic selfie collages. I did one, too. Some of the characters in here are avatars of friends from the Connected Learning MOOC and other social spaces.

My Self, My Selfie (comic-style)

And my students did their own Selfie collage activity, with friends avatars joining them.

Comic Selfie Collage

The SelfieUnselfie project asks us to create an unselfie, so the other night, I did.

They also ask for an Artist Statement:

With my comic, I was trying to capture the idea that instead of us using our technology to capture an image of us as Selfie, it would instead be the reverse: our technology using us, on a Selfie Stick, to capture a representation of it for the world. Sort of like a cultural mirror. And of course, the devices wants to know how it will be perceived on social media.

Underlying the lightheartedness of this comic Unselfie is the real concern about technology driving our agency for us, instead of the other way around (us, making decisions with technology as a tool for expression), and how our devices seem to become a larger part of how we sculpt and curate our digital identities. Are we pushing boundaries or are we falling prey to our devices?

Selfie unselfie

Peace (capture it),


Book Review: What Would She Do? (25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women)

This might be the perfect book for our times. What Would She Do? (25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women) does what it says — it gives us stories of some amazing women who fought against stereotypes and prejudice and brought women, and the world, a little bit further along.

From Cleopatra to Frida Kahlo to Harriet Tubman to Marie Curie to Junko Tabei to Malala Yousafzai, this book is packed with interesting biographical sketches of these women. It’s hard not to be inspired and to be at least optimistic in the face of this presidency that the power of women to make change in the world is not only set in motion but also has historical roots (I knew that already, but our sons and daughters and students need to be reminded of that).

Along with an engaging style of writing that shows these women in the positive light of rebels who refused to take no for an answer from the men in their lives (and a few who were supported by the men n their lives but looked down on by others in culture), and some beautiful illustrations that will take your breath away, the book includes short little advice pieces for readers, using questions about body image and bullying and social media and family to provide some advice based on the biographical piece just read.

The authors never say, this is what this particular woman would have done (they are not that presumptuous), but instead, say, this is what they might have done in this situation, given the obstacles they overcame in their lives. The message of the advice is always encouraging, positive and empowering.

I have two copies of this book, via our Scholastic account (I see it is not yet available via Amazon), and I aim to put them front and center for all of my students to explore. This book seems geared towards upper elementary to middle school readers, but there are plenty of edges to that reader span.

Peace (in the world),

Slice of Life: A Meme Walks Into the Classroom

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Most mornings, we have a Circle of Power and Respect in our sixth grade classroom. It’s a version of Morning Meeting, aimed more for older students. At this point in the year, I have my students lead all aspects of our morning.

One element of Circle of Power is the initial greeting, and there are all sorts of variations of activities that one could do, and I encourage my students to invent their own way of saying hello to every students in the classroom community, and making sure everyone feels welcome into the day.

The other day, the student leader — a bit of a goofball who straddles the line between serious and goofy on a regular basis — told us that the way we would greet each other is with the phrase “Do you know the way?”

Or, as he pronounced it with exaggerated emotion: “Do you know de wae?”

I did a little double-take because as soon as he said it, there was a lot of laughter in the room. I had never heard the phrase, but I could sense immediately this was some sort of online joke, video, game or meme that was outside my field of vision.

I had three options as teacher at that moment:

  • I could say, find another greeting, but that seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to youth culture
  • Stop everything and search online, but that would have gummed up the morning meeting time
  • Ask for more information, which I did

The student told me the phrase was from a game that became a meme, and he assured me it was not inappropriate for school. I decided to trust him, and the phrase of “Do you know de wae?” made its way around the circle.

Later, I immediately went into Know Your Meme, a database in which memes are deconstructed and traced back to their origins. According to Know Your Meme, the “Do you know de wae?” and found that it originated from a character in a Sonic the Hedgehog game called Uganda Knuckles.

From Know Your Meme:

Ugandan Knuckles is the nickname given to a depiction of the character Knuckles from the Sonic franchise created by YouTuber Gregzilla, which is often used as an avatar by players in the multiplayer game VRChat who repeat phrases like “do you know the way” and memes associated with the country Uganda, most notably the film Who Killed Captain Alex? and Zulul. The character is associated with the expression “do you know the way”, which is typically spoken in a mock African accent and phonetically spelled as “do you know de wey.”

The meme has gone in all sorts of strange directions.

There have been accusations that the meme has racist overtones, however, with the pronunciation in fake African accent and may be built upon African stereotypes. Roblox, a very popular gaming platform site, apparently even banned the character from its server games because of concerns about negative stereotypes.

After talking some more with my students about using the meme, now that I had some information to speak from, I realized that they were not even aware of the racist possibilities. They were just amused by the funny character who repeats the same ridiculous phrase over and over again. Still, a discussion helped frame the meme, and I haven’t heard it in the classroom since then.

I did ask my own 13 year old son when I got home that same day if he had heard of the “Do you know de wae?” meme. He goes to a different school in a different community, with a different crowd of kids, and he immediately knew of the meme, too. (A year or so ago, we had a long discussion with him about using Pepe the Frog and he was startled by the how the far-right had appropriated that meme for its own dark purposes.) Needless to say, he immediately knew the meme and said many kids in his school were saying it in the hallways, as they moved from lockers to classrooms — sort of as a directional sarcasm of the school-day experience.

All this goes to show the cultural power of memes and the difficulty we adults have in understanding their stickiness, never mind the origins and the mad rush of social sharing across platforms. Memes often are part of the language of youth, even if they don’t always comprehend the underlying cultural appropriations and potentially negative messages embedded in the memes they use.

Peace (meme-ing it),

Wandering Around the Neighborhood Soundscape

I’m still not all that satisfied with this, as I was searching for a way to bring together six musical pieces I had written as inspired by my neighborhood a few months ago (and this post has been in my draft bin since then). It was part of the CLMOOC mapping month. I used ThingLink with Soundcloud files (with a map created in another program called MapStack.)

While each musical piece evoked (for me) something of my local wandering/mapping, I wanted to layer the pieces on a map (but didn’t want to give away too much of my privacy.)

You can still hear the songs on one surface map, and I added some text for context. My friend, Wendy, and I were over other possibilities at the time (I had this vision of an AR overlay) and I wonder if yet another project Wendy and I and a few others are planning might give me some ideas to revisit this sound map later on.

Peace (on and off the imagination map),

#NetNarr Flash Echo: Watching the Unfolding of Digital Art

Recipe for Story

The folks in Networked Narratives have held two “flash” events on Twitter, examining a piece of Digital Art and tweeting to a series of questions. Both of the Flash events happened when I was either working or sleeping (which is fine, since part of the NetNarr community is overseas).

I decided to keep exploring, anyway. So, this is a bit late. Consider it an echo.

The first piece of Digital Art examined is called Sky Magic Live at Mt. Fuji: Drone Ballet.

The artist group explains: “This was done so by utilizing more than 20 units of these flying machines, flight swarming formations, music, and 16,500 LED lights to combine into a single audio visual extravaganza.”

Sky Magic Live at Mt.Fuji : Drone Ballet Show from Sky Magic on Vimeo.

My reactions:

That was stunning in its coordination and synchronization. I almost felt like I had too many lights on in the house as I watched. What came to mind is how the drones and the LED lights was the art in movement and Mt. Fuji was the landscape backdrop to the art. You never lose sight of the mountain, even as the lights on the drones dance to create the ballet. You do lose sight of the drones, however, which is interesting. The technology disappears. The mountain is left in sight. The lights dance. I wondered about the ways they pulled this off, with the music (which I really loved) and the dance and the drone flight patterns. I’d love to see the blueprint for this ballet, and be the fly on the wall as they grappled with the technological challenges. Is this art? Yes, this is art.

The second piece is entitled Eunoia II.

The artist, Lisa Park, explains: “Throughout the performance of ‘Eunoia II’, the intensity of my feelings at the time are mirrored in the intensity of the sound in terms of volume, pitch, feedback, speed, and the panning of the sound output. The result was that the water responded in real-time creating different formations of ripples and droplets in unpredictable patterns.”

Eunoia II from Lisa Park on Vimeo.

My reactions:

Huh. First, I liked how we could see her setting up the art, the water. The views of the world, of humanity, at the start led me to expect something else, entirely. Maybe a piece of public art. But this art was very private, and I was having trouble making the leap from that public space, and her emotional response to the crowd and city, to the ripples on the water. It wasn’t clear to me what emotions she was tapping to make the water dance. The intention — of using emotions to create sound to create physical interpretations with nature — is intriguing. There was something very beautiful of the views of the water in motion, connected to her feelings, but I wanted more from this piece, although I would be hard-pressed to say exactly what I wanted.

I wonder and marvel at how artists see the media and technology around them and think, can this be used to create art? Is this art? Like our struggles with defining (or not) the term Digital Writing, this concept of Digital Art continues to be something we grapple with, play with, argue for and against, and celebrate when our hearts are touched by the experience.

Further investigation of Digital Art continues with the Net Art site, which has all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Peace (it’s in art),