Twitch Plays Pokemon LIVE

Watch live video from TwitchPlaysPokemon on


Why is this here?
I’m demonstrating how the game can be embedded directly into a blog post. This post is republished from  RhetComp@Stonybrook.

You don’t like the sound??  Click the button on the bottom of the video console!  It will stop the sonorous Mario-like tones of Twitch Plays Pokemon! Or–just slide the sound controller all the way to the left on the same part of the console.


Today’s Writing ePortfolio Corner isn’t so much about eportfolios as about the possible future of interactive spaces for reflection (which eportfolios are).
I’m talking about the “Twitch Plays Pokemon” phenomenon that is taking the web by storm this week.  Full disclosure:  I know nothing about Pokemon.  I never played it.  This is a pleasure that passed my generation by–well, some of my generation will yell that’s untrue, but we had to go back and reclaim that pleasure, with our children probably.  I’ve reclaimed some gaming pleasure, but not this one.  But everyone knows that Pokemon is a major shaper of childhood experience.  (Or it was–our current students refer to it as “old school.”)


“Twitch Plays Pokemon” is a channel on Twitch.TV, which is a live streaming channel for video gamers. It is best known as a channel where people can watch other people playing games 24/7.  This is done for both education (people watch to learn how to play the games) and entertainment. TPP is very popular–the site has recorded over 300,000 unique visitors in the week since its launch– but few gaming streams have caught the imagination of academics so quickly.  Perhaps it was only a matter of time, in this year of discussions of MOOCing and the ascendancy of online education, that a crowdsourced embeddable gaming platform would be an object of intense fascination to the public and to academia.


The game channel describes it as “a stream that lets you play Pokemon with a lot of other people by typing commands into chat. It was created as an experiment to test the viability of this format, the way people interact with the input system and the way they interact socially with each other.” On the side frame of the channel itself, there is a scrolling chat log of participants’ comments.  The comments generally are of the nature of “ANARCHY!” or “bird Jesus lives,” both references to the gameplay (which is a sprawling narrative of a political and religious nature, so the comments aren’t just random silliness).   The creator of “Twitch Plays Pokemon” has been feverishly sought out by gaming newsblogs such asJoystic, but he (only gender confirmed)  is protective of identity, preferring to be referred to as “The Trainer.”


There have been quite a few blog posts reporting on (Kotaku” in particular has been buzzing), analyzing, or reflecting on this event and almost all of them actually embed the game itself, which can be shared like a YouTube video, in the blog post.  That means that anyone reading one of these blog posts has nearly instant access to jumping into the game and playing.  “The Trainer” has provided an FAQ on the channel page explaining how to do just that.


I’m fascinated by the idea of bringing actual shared interactive experiences into a personal website, like an ePortfolio or a blog.  It’s something that we can do more and more, and it changes the nature of writing in a direction that began with hyperlinking.  The nature of summary and analysis of texts, whether strictly verbal or multimodal, changes when readers can click on a link and check the text themselves.  This can be compared to the Protestant Reformation when, after printing made the Bible available and literacy expanded to a great portion of the population, members of a religious community could offer their own interpretations of the preacher’s text references without having to go through channels.  Access is easier and, if not instant, nearly so.


Some may question if this is the proper use of an ePortfolio, which should be the showcase of an individual.  However, many of our students are producing interactive media, if not in their Writing courses, in other courses (such as the Game Design course taught by Lori Scarlatos in Tech and Society at Stony Brook University).  I would love to see my students create an interactive live stream such as this and embed it into their ePortfolio along with analysis, research, and reflection–and if they don’t create it themselves, follow in the footsteps of bloggers like Xav de Matos on Joystic who embed the work of others and provide the metacommentary.  That metacommentary then becomes another potentially ground for interactivity, for conversation, in the blog comments.  Those commenters can then check out the game and play it.


The beauty of this is that there are so many way to approach metacommentary.  Some bloggers comment on the programming and the access, some on the mythology of the game, some on the sociology involved in choosing a democratic or anarchic style of play or the building of community.  All are rich conversations to have, and can lead to deeper consideration and research.


Experiments like this stretch our concept of audience as well.  Audience has a dual role, possibly:  one as participant in the original event embedded in the site and one more traditional role as audience of the metacommentary.  Prepare for this audience to be less under your spell as a writer, more easily distracted by his or her own experiences, more challenging of one’s comments.  The attraction of participation is also competition for one’s words.


There are additional logistical things to watch out for, of course, such as increased flow of traffic to the server.  Also, the platform has to allow for embedding of the live feed (in this case, a Flash object that would have required an account upgrade prevented a direct embedding. Digication currently does not support the embedding of Flash objects, but other kinds of live streams are supported, such as Ustream.) However, if a student’s ePortfolio is set to semi-public access, only those with a local account will be able to access that page.  There’s a good chance that the student’s ePortfolio may become very popular–especially if it’s set to Public access.



See other blogs and websites write about “Twitch Plays Pokemon”:


Week 14 the final: Final Presentations

We ventured across campus to the new, clean, and technically decked Frey Hall for final presentations.  The final projects have emerged over the semester from the combination of course materials, discussions, and individual paths of interest.  This is excellent and exactly what I had hoped would happen.  In her blog post, Mar commented on how amazing it is that 11 people can view the same course materials and arrive at such different places; I concur and would like to add that what’s even more amazing is how these places remain connected through shared awareness of patterns and trends in media studies.

The concept that for me applies to all of your presentations is “ethos as dwelling place.”  This is because although everyone made arguments along the way, what I remember most from the presentations is not the arguments made but the connections made and the sense of situated meaning that emerges from your work. Examples that come to mind immediately are Libby’s digital storytelling journey (how to deal with the silences, and how to walk the walk of this story) and Deborah’s poignant narration of her expectations for a project and how the materials of her digital story took her to places that she didn’t expect to go.  However, all of your presentations was a story of a journey, and your thoroughness and integrity really came through.  This has been a memorable semester and I found it a privilege to work with each and every one of you.  Kudos!

Week 12: Remix and Creative Commons

Trying to help people be creative in the current copyright climate “safely,” especially in the realm of remix, is similar to giving someone an umbrella in a hurricane, or so it sometimes seems.  No wonder so many people try to steer clear of details, unless they are headed for a career in copyright law, like Lawrence Lessig, the author of Remix, our text of the week.

Lessig explains that the current Fair Use guidelines were never really meant for average people to use.  They are highly interpretive, and were meant for lawyers originally.  We checked out a very nice tool for self-assessment of fair use standards created by the Copyright Advisory Network of the American Library Association.  If one is completely and totally honest, one can probably assess whether the source one wants to use (and most importantly, the way, intent with which, and amount of which one wants to use it) falls within the boundaries of fair use.  The Copyright Advisory Network is a resource for librarians, primarily.  In addition to the Fair Use Evaluator, there is a link to a tool to guide teachers to see if their use of copyrighted materials is exempted through the TEACH act.

Lessig takes us through a labyrinth of situations and premises, through legalities and their effects on human creative output.  In class, we started reading the Terms of Service of iTunes and Google/YouTube.  In almost every case, the ToS was more restrictive than we thought. For example, YouTube basically seems to claim it can do whatever it wants with your videos while they are in the site and take them down for pretty much any reason:

For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your Content. However, by submitting Content to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and YouTube’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels. You also hereby grant each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service. The above licenses granted by you in video Content you submit to the Service terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you remove or delete your videos from the Service. You understand and agree, however, that YouTube may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of your videos that have been removed or deleted. The above licenses granted by you in user comments you submit are perpetual and irrevocable. (YouTube Terms of Service)

Depressing stuff.  It’s yours, completely, but we can “use” it wholesale unless you remove it from the site.  This made me think of some rather hideous analogies, such as, imagine if veterinarians viewed our pets like this, or schools our children. There are laws to prevent such abuses.

There is currently a ruckus in Second Life over the ToS there, over similar kinds of claim to user-created properties in the virtual world.  Several high-profile content creators/artists have left the platform, as this story by Bixyl Shuftan relates.

As Lessig says, this is all more of an impediment to free creativity than an end to it.  It will and must continue.  Remix is not stealing when it is done well, any more than writing a book with multiple source research is stealing.  But there are a few hard rules that we can teach our students:

  • Attribution is NEVER optional.  Always give credit to a source, even when you’ve remixed it so that it can barely be recognizable.  If you remix materials in a video, always offer a list of credits in the video. It is also better to attribute in an imperfect format than not to attribute at all, ALWAYS.
  • Use the Creative Commons search engine to filter out images, videos, and audio that are licensed by the creators for use in remix.  There are six kinds of licenses issued by Creative Commons that denote various privileges to a user. Several of these are “share-alike” licenses, which means if you use these materials, your subsequent product is also licensed automatically with a similar license, whether you say so explicitly or not.
  • Use your original works when you can, and consider licensing them.

photo credit: License Some rights reserved by A. Diez Herrero


Bringing Back Ethos (and Remediation) as We Consider Multimodalism in the Classroom

I wrote this a few weeks ago, and wondered how we might think about this after reading Nicholas I. Cordova’s “Invention, Ethos, and New Media in the Rhetoric Classroom” as he describes ethos as a dwelling place:

Let me toss this out for consideration: Online communication forums (CMC) remediate ethos, situated ethos. In the same way that it remediates the embodied subject (as is shown so dramatically in Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace”), it remediates the rhetorical subject, albeit differently. In both cases, the subject becomes less transparent, somewhat in the way that modern art makes its media come into focus (rather than it just being a means to representation). In both cases, the embodied subject behind the online one has deliberately chosen elements to represent themselves online (their avatar, their constructed profile and actions in the MOO, the documentation that contributes to their reputation in a USENET group). Constructed identities push the older, “natural” subject up a notch as those older identities become more visible, more scrutinized–less transparent.

So what happens in this process of “remediating” the “human” presence? What are we making? What are we abstracting here?

What do you think of Cordova’s “reaffirmation of rhetoric as architectonic practice of lifeworlds” which “emphasizes the centrality of ethos as dwelling terrain from which a liberatory praxis of design can be launched, one ‘crucial for reading Available Designs and for Designing social futures’ (NLG 1996, 81)”?

Are Selfe/Takayoshi and Shipka also concerned with ethos as a dwelling place?  (Think about Shipka’s “history of this space” exercise.) What have we discussed during the last two months that might also serve as an example of Cordova’s remediation of ethos (which, if it is new, is also very old)?

The five pillars of Cordova’s multimodal literacy pedagogy are:
fragmentation and modularity;
circulation and dissemination;
and interface. (153-155)


Week 9 pre-discussion on hackers, hactivism, Wikileaks

Quote from “No Secrets” by Raffi Katchadourian (The New Yorker, June 7, 2010)

 He had come to understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution. As a student of Kafka, Koestler, and Solzhenitsyn, he believed that truth, creativity, love, and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by “patronage networks”—one of his favorite expressions—that contort the human spirit. He sketched out a manifesto of sorts, titled “Conspiracy as Governance,” which sought to apply graph theory to politics. Assange wrote that illegitimate governance was by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in “collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population.” He argued that, when a regime’s lines of internal communication are disrupted, the information flow among conspirators must dwindle, and that, as the flow approaches zero, the conspiracy dissolves. Leaks were an instrument of information warfare.

 The Wikileaks network is structured a great deal like the Internet itself, an information network with no center.  Because it has no center, it cannot be taken down as a whole, only in parts.  Like a creature with its brain spread out all over its body, cutting off its head will not kill it.

In the battle of individual versus institution, as Assange sees it, where do networks fit?  Even networks without reliance on a center?  Most of the readings and viewings this week show a dynamic tension between individuals, institutions, and networks.

Attribution Some rights reserved by altemark (photo credit)

WRT 614: Review of Digital Text Presentations

During our first class, I believe I told you that this class was going to be like one of those travel-Europe-in-a-week structured tours, except the continent in this case was digital rhetorics.  The digital text presentations were pretty much proof of this.  They were diverse, and engaging, and exciting samples of what the digital world has to offer, and you were all outstanding tour guides.

The presentation technology was awkward, but we still like the intimate conference room better than the vaultlike SINC.  As one of you put it, “this room is home.”  Learning to deal with challenging technology is the mark of an educational expert these days, and you are pros, or well on your way. (To paraphrase Michael’s presentation, it’s our very own Dark Souls challenge.) In related news,  I think I may have found a suitable space for our final presentations!  And someday not to far off in the future, we may be able to design a 21st-century seminar room that works on several levels.  But enough of that.

What I came away with is that you all have so much to contribute to the realm of digital literacy, no matter what your current major or interest or career path.

We had Allison’s eye-opening critique of a Common Core literature text with a digital interface, complete with real student feedback; Scott’s analysis of a virtual memorial on Facebook; Ryn’s queer reading of Sherlock’s Irene Adler episode and Nicole’s discussion of embodiment and cyborg theory related to the same; Deborah’s analysis of two different music websites and observations of engagement and interactivity therein; Mària’s rhetorical visual and auditory analysis of Tim Blais’ music video on string theory, “Bohemian Gravity” (which I have since been insufferably running around showing everyone, including all the Writing faculty and TLT director Chuck Powell); Michael’s argument about how a difficult game like Dark Souls could be used as a model for challenging middle-school students facing difficult Common Core curriculum; Bryan’s courageous descent into Grand Theft Auto V and analysis of how the game implicitly teaches social stratification; Anne’s analysis of the Google Poetics blog, which demostrates a literal evolution of William Carlos Williams’ statement that “A poem is a machine made of words;” Aneela’s analysis of a preservice teaching blog and examination of the concerns of preservice teachers about online public presentation as they enter the competitive job market; and Libby’s analysis of a virtual music idol from Japan, Aimi Eguchi, within a framework of cyborg and remediation theories.

As we move forward into the second half of the semester, I hope that we can all benefit from considering, along with which of these areas we may want to deepen for the final project, how our own networks and associates with other can be informed by the kind of work you have done here.

Week 7: Gaming and Avatar Literacies

What drives educational professionals to play video games these days?  I’m not talking about the young-uns who have been playing since they got Mario and Pokemon in grade school (who are now all grown up and in graduate school), but people like Gee, Nardi, and myself, who never touched a video game until 2010, unless you count Second Life, which I went into in 2006.  Second Life is another bag of goodies altogether, although some of the principles of gaming discussed by Gee hold for virtual worlds.  The Sims falls somewhere in between.  (To me, The Sims seemed like a watered-down Second Life without any real interactions, since you don’t play with other people.)

The answer for me was patently “for research” at the beginning, but I realize now that this was a lie.  It was more for what Bissell described as “experiences.”  It wasn’t for the thrill of uninhibited activity where I could do whatever I wanted with few or no consequences, either.  I am a very boring virtual player by those standards.  I act as morally in Second Life as I would in real life, for the most part, which is not saintly but certainly not lacking in inhibition or moral standards.  In WoW, of course, I kill NPCs and monsters on a daily basis, but take no pleasure in antagonizing fellow players or treating them worse than I do people I meet in the flesh.  Like many, I roll my eyes at those who do so, the trolls as they are called.

I think it was to have the experience of embodying a gamer.  How do gamers feel about playing?  How do games affect their lives?  And I found out, like Nardi and Gee, that games can compel one to devote time to them.  One will find time to play, despite many other personal and professional obligations.  In an MMORPG, where one plays with other people, one feels obligation to keep up with the Jonses of one’s affiliation.  And you miss them if you don’t check and and play.  Gaming, although not usually physically taxing, can be fatiguing.  It takes energy.  It also gives back energy in a rush when something wonderful is achieved.

Like Nardi, I have found the virtual worlds are beautiful.  They may be an acquired taste; compared to the breathtaking vistas of the Grand Canyon, they may suffer a devaluation.  But they are art, no matter what Roger Ebert (rip) said about them.  Crafted with devotion, they drive one in a moment of reflection to appreciate the beauty of a plant or animal, not just visually, but the animations and sounds as well.  Real talent, skill, and hours of labor go into these environments.

In WoW, I am not a good raider, but I’ve done it enough to appreciate the skill and intelligence of a good raid leader.  While gamers are frequently stereotyped as socially inept, some of the most astonishingly patient leadership I have ever seen has been in WoW.  (I’ve seen plenty of mistakes made there, as well.)  You ask why I don’t lead raids?  I can’t.  I’m too busy trying to stay out of the fire and poison pockets.  In the meantime, the raid leaders are watching everyone in the raid, noticing the fall of a sparrow, so to speak, and saving our arses more often than not by reminding us to MOVE out of the path of wrath. Many of the raid leaders are military or former military personnel, by the way.  This gives a small glimpse into the complexity of military leadership to someone like me who has only heard or read about it, or seen it in the movies.

One thing that both Gee and Nardi mention is that games can teach one to appreciate the diversity of human intelligence, that people from all different cultures, educational levels, and walks of life can play (and work–here the boundaries are definitely blurred) together, if not always successfully,  often.  There is drama and conflict, too, but probably less than you encounter in the day to day world, if you pay attention.



Week 7: Avatar and Gaming Literacies (pre-discussion)

This quote from Bonnie Nardi in My Life As A Night Elf Priest:

At a workshop on “productive play” sponsored by the National Science Foundation and hosted by Jason Ellis, Celia Pearce, and me in May 2008, virtual worlds pioneers Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer touched on the debate, remarking on what they called the “tyranny of emergence.” They observed that we all hope that online communities will emerge in bottom-up fashion from participatory activity, and we approve as participants take whatever technical affordances they are offered and appropriate them to their own ends. But at the same time these veterans cautioned that we cannot forget the “hand of God” that is the software artifact and the power of designers to shape activity (see Nardi et al. 2009). As Kallinikos said, it is the “right proportions” of the relative contributions of users and software we seek to apprehend.

Pickering’s (1995) notion of the “mangle” is a distinctive formulation of the relative contributions of user practice and technology. Unlike Farmer, Morningstar, and Kallinikos, who urged attention to the primacy of software rules and their directive force, Pickering proposed that a mangle—a mélange of user practices, socioeconomic conditions, and technologies—produces experience. This vivid metaphor suggests the entanglement of diverse elements; taking the metaphor at full face value, the conceptual mangle “mutilates” the varied elements it passes over, pressing them into one another.

…just fascinates me, especially the notion of a mangle of contributions from the user and the technology.  Remember Marshall McLuhan and “the medium is the message”?  Well, apparently there’s something to that but it’s stated too much in one direction.  When you combine Dewey’s activity theory with technological determinism, you get something that looks like a mangle.

I had a discussion that took an odd turn (I say odd because it wasn’t what I wanted to discuss, it just came up) in another class this week as we discussed James Paul Gee’s sixteen learning principles of good games, and students resisted it on the basis that people cheat in games so they can get to the “reward”  (in this case, blowing stuff up).  A long discussion of online cheat codes and cheating techniques ensured.  In such instances, perhaps the mangle is very evident as players try to rip apart the black box of the game’s technology.  I can tell you that these students seem to have a lot invested in games being considered “mindless,” which is interesting in itself.

I find myself wanting to go deeper into drawing parallels between technologies and human systems, such as educational systems.  Of course, there are problems with doing this because there are serious differences.  Gee does this to a degree that is stimulating, without proposing too tight an alliance, in his learning principles, such as the “pleasant frustration” that optimizes game progress for a player, and that he believes should accompany classroom learning, as well.

Bureacracies are similar in that there is often a parallel to the “mangle” discussed here. Nardi discusses how guild leaders help players negotiate some of the difficulties that are hard-wired into a game.  But it is also important to remember that play inhabits a magic circle:

  1. A subjective experience of freedom
  2. An absence of social obligation and physical necessity
  3. A subjective experience that is absorbing, compelling, or pleasurable
  4. Occurrence in a separate realm sometimes referred to as the magic circle (Nardi 102).

Digital Storytelling (Writing 614, Week 6)


Digital storytelling is a putting into practice of new media literacy, no matter how you approach it.  As Hull and Nelson describe their work with Japanese students in “Self-presentation through multimedia: a Bahktinian perspective on digital storytelling,” we see a creative struggle between the need to signify unique experience and the need to ensure an audience’s response.  This isn’t particular to working with visual media, as it reminds me of writing poetry.  As a poet, I often felt the need to hone an image that would be so personally iconic that it would not likely be repeated elsewhere!  It’s not very realistic, but that was part of the impulse to write poetry, I think, for me–although patterning ourselves after famous poet’s work and taking them as models was habitual–was this idea that we could be a unique semiotic brand.  The goal was not to write in a vacuum, but to active seek and find audiences that would recognize that brand and affirm its worth.

I see these impulses at work in Ying’s digital story.  His story of his move to the US and stunning success in academics and the arts  is unusual by the standards of many people his age, but the narratives stresses the ordinariness of a stable and happy family and friendships.  The story fights to make him seem like everyone else, while many student’s digital stories strive to show their “unique brand,” what makes them different and special.  The images of babies show the universal nature of emotions and that he has them.  Such images evoke a connection with the storyteller through the simplicity and innocence of one-year-olds having emotional reactions of pleasure or distress.  The best digital stories i have seen are very aware of the need to provide stimuli that evokes emotional connection to the story, often at the expense of exceptionalism.

Postscript: Looking ahead to next week’s reading, on seeing Ying’s story, I am also reminded of John Dewey’s words quoted in Bonnie Nardi’s My Life as a Night Elf Priest:

 Dewey formulated aesthetic experience as participatory engagement in activity that is organized in distinctive stages and in which a satisfying completion is the end point of actions which are themselves pleasurable. To invoke concepts such as “pleasure” or “satisfaction” is to invoke an active subject for whom pleasure and satisfaction are products of a particular personal history rather than inherent characteristics of a set of actions. Aesthetic experience for Dewey required collective expression; it connects us to others in relations of community and “common life.”

So Ying’s story sets out the telling about this aesthetic experience, which is more than the events or the accomplishments that were achieved.  It is also the story of how the experiences connected him “to others in relations of community and ‘common life’.”  (Nardi invokes Dewey’s words while describing aesthetic experience through the playing of a MMORPG.)