On Monday, I successfully defended my Master’s thesis “Playing at History: Resurrection Man and Historiographic Game Design.” I feel especially accomplished considering that I prepared the power point just an hour before my presentation… which, you might think would lead to disastrous consequences. On the contrary, my words flowed very naturally and the overall structure was smooth– to the extent that I almost feel like I’ve become a “natural” at public speaking. In any case, I think that the lack of “hiccups” reinforced my familiarity with the research and design goals (as I should be, I’ve only been working on it all semester!) and made a positive impression on my committee and audience.
I’m quite proud of how the thesis defense version of Resurrection Man looks and plays. There’s still a few “kinks” but I hope to smooth them out with time and experience. I’ve definitely learned a lot and gained valuable skills– as well as a new appreciation for game designers and coders. Speaking of which, I owe many thanks to USC Computer Science & Engineering Ph.D. candidate J.J. Shepherd for his contributions to this project. The latest version will be available soon for download.
Tomorrow, I’m re-mixing my thesis defense presentation for USC’s Graduate Student Day– only, I’ll have to be much more concise because I’m allotted 12 minutes to speak AND demo the prototype. I spent 18 minutes for my thesis defense. So there’s some trimming to be done that I’ll work on later tonight.
Overall, I’m pleased with how the semester is shaping up. I have a few reasons to feel pretty darn good about my academic accomplishments:
- Resurrection Man is to be showcased at IndieBits, Columbia, SC’s independent game festival on April 15th.
- I’ve defended my thesis; final version to be submitted to the graduate school by April 18th. From there, it’s all down hill…
- I’m due to receive a Media Arts Award for Research on April 17th for contributions to USC’s Ghosts of the Horseshoe mobile application.
- Last but not least: I’ve accepted a fully-funded offer to study in the graduate program in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University– a top tier school and program with impressive faculty and research.
After several productive conversations with Evan Meaney, a member of my thesis committee, I’ve decided to overhaul the final version of Resurrection Man.
These changes include:
- First-person perspective. Evan suggested that I play the first-person stealth game Dishonored. I’ve come around to share his opinion that it can successfully work for this genre.
- Removal of as much GUI as possible, again, as argued by Meaney, and I’ve come around to realize how distracting it is.
- No more integrity (health) system. The player either gets caught or manages to escape with the corpse. This simplifies the mechanics and treats the subject material as less “arcade-like.”
- Larger cemetery to explore, with smaller enclosed plots inside the main fenced-in area.
- Way pointing! So, making objects in the environment purposeful, i.e. that they “coax” the player to investigate a certain area in the environment. Examples in RM include lit torches (they cue the player visually to the location of the fresh grave).
All in all, it’s already shaping up to look more visually impressive than the first version. I just need to finish the “landscaping” of the cemetery. Soon I’ll be experiencing the ups and downs of coding again!
Also, my thesis defense in Monday, April 7th. Less than one month away! That would be the “due date,” folks. More updates coming in the near future!
Resurrection Man is my video game project, currently in alpha phase, that compliments and serves as example for my written Master’s thesis of Media Arts. I will graduate from the University of South Carolina Media Art’s program in May 2014. My written thesis will be available online at that time.
For my thesis, project and written, I am exploring the ways in which games and gameplay serve a pedagogic or interpretative role for thinking about and evaluating historic individuals, moments and events. Other scholars, such as Tracy Fullerton, Steven F. Anderson and Ian Bogost have discussed and elaborated on the documentary function of computational artifacts. In video game scholarship, these types of games are often categorized as “documentary games,” or “docu-games.” However, I posit that this label is insufficient to describe how video games and other digial media may represent and simulate the past. I argue for a historiographic approach to designing historically contextualized games and play. Video games, via simulation and player-based interaction, can do more for history than simply preserve it as documentary record of the past. I believe that the interactive experience afforded by a gameworld engages players within a historical instance and that this may lead to new insights and perspective regarding the past.
My game project, Resurrection Man, is historically situated via character, narrative and play. Players are historically situated in the 19th century and control slave turned body snatcher Grandison Harris. Harris was a Gullah man purchased from the Charleston, SC slave block by the Georgia Medical school in Augusta in 1852. The medical school was in desperate need of fresh corpses for the student’s dissections and anatomy lessons and this unsavory task was given to Harris. In the game, player’s sneak into a moonlight cemetery to avoid detection from night watchmen, dig graves, axe coffins, and steal cadavers to return them to the medical school. Through the simulated grave robbing scenario, players are invited to question, evaluate and interpret the institution of slavery in service of 19th century medical education and practice.
Of course, there is a lot more covered by my research and much that I will continue to learn and expand upon as I read, write and design. For now, this post simply serves as an introductory discussion of what I am pursuing for my written thesis and game project.
Approaching a grave.
Digging a grave.
Exposed coffin and corpse retrieval.
Grandison “haunted” by medical dissection photography.
My thesis video game project, Resurrection Man, is available for download from my video game design course instructor’s blog. He has it featured as one of the “exceptional games” from the class.
Note: The version available for download is the copy I turned in at the end of last semester. I’ll be releasing a new version, soon, for download that will have less glitches. This is the alpha version of the game and I will continue to improve/expand it this semester as a complimentary project to my written thesis on historiographic game design and play.