Rear Left


Posted in DigiCult, Dog Food, Media & Movements, Personal/Meta by rearleft on January 15, 2012

My very first academic journal article has been published. Yeah!

The paper was first written as an in-class assignment for a class in my Master’s called Digital Research & Publishing, led by Dr Morgan Richards. I presented some similar ideas at the Making Links conference in Perth, November of 2011. I’ve excerpted parts of it in these pages before.

This was one of the first pieces of writing I did after coming back to study. I don’t think it’s earth-shattering stuff by any means, but for me it helps frame some of the basic questions on the role of new media in social movements that I plan on exploring in much greater depth in the coming years.

It was also very cool to originally write this for a course on academic publishing in digital culture and then actually taken what I’d written there through a real peer review process and see it published on an open access journal.

DigiPopEd: Popular Education and Digital Culture (link)

OReillyRowe_DigiPopEd_JoCI (pdf)


Mapping Fauxrabia

Posted in Dog Food, Gaming the System, Personal/Meta, Race/ism by rearleft on December 10, 2010


The school year’s done and I’ve made it half way through my Master’s degree in Digital Communication and Culture. I came back to school with the plan to take the work that I’d been doing at the intersection of media, education, and activism, and rethink what that work means and how it works when this stuff we call media mutates into new shapes and streams. Below is an extract of an essay I wrote in the second semester on space in video games (as in geography, not outer space), and the construction of arab/muslim/oriental identities in video games. Full text downloadable here: MappingFauxrabia.odt


Fauxrabia […] is a way of articulating the contradictory nature of this imagined (and in some sense experienced through gameplay) country that is both unreal and contributes to the production of reality. To describe the cultures represented in these games as being arab, or muslim is to conflate the vastly diverse cultures of people from as far afield as Morocco and Kashmir, Kazakhstan and Somalia into a singular signifier of Otherness when held in oppositional relationship to the Western player-character.

Fauxrabia is a simulacrum (Baudrillard, 1994). It is a lie that expresses a truth about the West’s conception of itself in opposition to the Other. It is a computer-generated, player-navigated, screen-represented space. It is a contemporary cultural manifestation of Saïd’s model of Orientalism:

…it not only creates, but also maintains; it is rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power…”

-Edward Saïd, Orientalism (1978, p 12). Italicisation from the original.

Mapping Fauxrabia

The spatiality of video games is suggested in the very fact that we refer to them by the visual medium of the interface through which we interact with them. In all but a few novelty games where audio monitors or haptic devices are foregrounded, the video or computer monitor takes primacy as the device used for human-computer interaction with the underlying code that embodies the game’s rule system and its representation through a graphical user interface. Furthermore, the vast majority of games involve the simulation of a spatial environment, often organised as one or a series of maps, segmented into levels. These two geographies taken together, the space of the interface-screen and the space of the game map, constitute what I will refer to as the gamespace. McKenzie Wark (2007, pp006-008) has argued that the logic of gaming has become such an integral aspect of contemporary culture that it has “colonised reality”, moving out of the sites of processor and screen that support the virtual world and extending the gamespace into material space.

Transcending the contentious narratology-ludology debates of video game studies, Jesper Juul (2005) suggests that games should be considered “half-real” in that they are comprised of both rules, the underlying system of game mechanics, and fiction, the narrative and representative aspects of the game. Thus, descriptions of characters, spaces, and events in a game are real insofar as they describe the mechanics of the game-system, and unreal, in their description of a fictional story or abstract setting. Questions of spatiality bring up an interesting challenge to this binary.

“[…] space in games is a special case. The level design of a game world can present a fictional world and determine what players can and cannot do at the same time. In this way, space in games can work as a combination of rules and fiction.”

Jesper Juul, Half-Real (2005, p 163). Italicisation from the original.

    To put it another way, game level maps determine the affordances of a gamespace available to the player, as well as the representation of simulated space that is mapped onto a video monitor.

    Maps are inherently political (Wood, 1992, Kolko 2000). They include and exclude aspects of geography, simplifying and distorting the material world to frame their users’ interaction with space through the embedding of their creators’ worldview. The computer interface can be seen as a map that allows human interaction with the underlying system of a software’s code (Selfe & Selfe 1994), which in turn also carries ideological assumptions (Nakamura 2005, Kolko 2000). In their study of the politics of computer interfaces in educational settings, Selfe & Selfe note:

    “Within the virtual space represented by these interfaces, and elsewhere within computer systems, the values of our culture – ideological, political, economic, educational – are mapped both implicitly and explicitly, constituting a complex set of material relations among culture, technology, and technology users.”

    – Cynthia Selfe & Richard Selfe, Politics of the Interface (1994, p 485)

    In Fauxrabian geographies, the ideologies that we see encoded in these maps remediate stereotypes of the oriental Other from older cultural forms such as cinema and literature (Shaheen 2001), as well as from contemporary political and journalistic portrayals of Western conflict with Islam.


    Consider the above remediation of militarist aesthetics in regards to the nature of the United States’ current military engagement in Pakistan. Predator drones are controlled by pilots at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas, using an interface that features a screen and joystick. As satellite imaging has extended the US military’s map across the entire globe, the distance between the seer and the seen has both been extended to tens of thousands of kilometres and collapsed to the space between eyeball and screen. Viewing the terrain from above, the drone pilot is able to see and therefore to control, with the power of death from above, the territory on the ground on the other side of the world pictured on their screen. This space, framed by the ideologies of military and moral superiority, contains an alien Other whose domination defines the character of its observer in opposition. The alienation of the remote cyborg warrior in the US from their targets on the ground in Pakistan parallels that of the Modern Warfare player from their Fauxrabian enemies.

    “Once games required an actual place to play them, whether on the chess board or the tennis court. Even wars had battle fields. Now global positioning satellites grid the whole earth and put all of space and time into play. Warfare, they say, now looks like video games. Well don’t kid yourself, war is a video game – for the military entertainment complex. To them it doesn’t matter what happens on the ground. The ground – the old-fashioned battlefield itself – is just a necessary externality to the game.”

    Mckenzie Wark, Gamer Theory (2007, p10). Italicisation from the original.




    M066 G33k

    Posted in DigiCult, Dog Food by rearleft on August 27, 2010

    Across this past weekend I was one of about 100 people related in some way or another to this Frankenstein’s monster known as the Digital Humanities to take part in THATcamp Canberra. One of an international series of loosely affiliated events that are self-organised by groups of theorists and practitioners working in The Humanities And Technology (ie THAT), the gatherings are billed as “unconferences“, informal spaces for the exchange of knowledge and the development of relationships between people working on connected but diverse projects. THATCamp is built around a number of key principles that can be sumarised into three key points (paraphrasing Tom Sheinfeldt):

    1. THATCamp is FUN – everyone attends to participate in something that will hopefully enable them to do their work better, but the sessions should be enjoyable, stimulating, exciting, intellectually liberating.
    2. THATCamp is PRODUCTIVE – participants are encouraged to think about what sort of outcomes they’d like to see come out of each session and the program as a whole.
    3. THATCamp is COLLEGIAL – unlike many academic conferences, this is not about grandstanding, competitive, careerist intellectual work. This is about developing supportive, collaborative professional relationships that help to advance an emerging set of disciplines.

    As a Master’s level student, I came at the event with a great deal of trepidation. I was fully aware that I was entering a space full of people who’ve been working on these ideas with great focus, rigour, discipline (and in many cases institutional support) for a whole lot longer than I have been. I tried to enter this space with humility and an open yet critical outlook. I was relieved to find that the promise of a challenging yet welcoming space was actually delivered, even for a relative novice like me.

    The event ran over a day and a half, and in that time I attended sessions covering a range of topics: the semantic web, data visualisation, API data mashups, research tool zeitgeist, collaborative play-based learning, digital objects and texts. Some of these sessions were broad ranging discussions with no concrete objective or outcome, others were designed to address a particular problem that one ‘camper was bringing to the group, and some fell into the BOOTCamp program of practical trainings and surveys of a the digital humanist’s tools.

    As I have said already above, my experience of THATCamp CBR was overall very positive, and I left the weekend with an invigorating sense of possibilities for my future studies and for the important and exciting course that this young field is charting. In the name of constructive critique, here are some reflections that I have on the content and process of THATCamp CBR.

    Warm (stuff I liked, thought went well)

    • The sense of collaboration, collegiality was very present and very genuine throughout. In spite of being one of the least experienced, least connected people present I felt able to ask basic questions and to bring my own perspective into discussions.
    • The overall logistics of the weekend (space, wifi, transportation) went as smoothly as anyone could hope for, and this was obviously a result of very hard work done in advance by the co-ordinating team.
    • The diverse nature of the sessions (some broad discussion, some specific problem-solving, some training) felt very balanced and rewarding. The facilitators and participants generally did a good job at the tricky task of managing rooms of people with wide ranging levels of expertise in any given topic and the diverse contexts they were coming from.

    Cool (stuff that I think needs attention or change)

    • The openness of the event, both on the session scheduling level and in the facilitation of each session felt too loose to me. I would have like to see some more active facilitation to ensure that everyone had equal ability to speak, rather than those people who felt most comfortable as a result of their social and professional experience with other people present, or simply the most confident people in the room, being able to direct the conversations. This was not the case in many instances, but it was only as a result of the general generosity and self-confidence of most participants that domination of spaces did not occur more.
    • I don’t think I have ever participated in a more overwhelmingly white event. I recognise that the makeup of THATCamp CBR is probably representative of the makeup of the upper levels of digital humanities/archives in universities, governmental, other institutions. This factor became particularly problematic for me in conversations around the semantic web and the creation of historical and educational tools in which we were discussing the development of ontological schema and historical narratives that are intended to serve or represent diverse (if not global) populations.

    A number of THATCamps are scheduled for the coming months, beginning with Cologne, Germany in September. THATCamp Melbourne is being planned for early 2011. I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the intersections of technology and the humanities to get involved. Frequent updates can be found at and by following #THATCamp on twitter.