Orgeron, Taylor. “Reading at Scale: Teaching with Voyant.” Digital Texts and Textual Data: A Pedagogical Anthology, edited by Lauren Coats and Emily McGinn, Dec 2019, pp. 60-64. http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/hz1h-g741
This artifact, outlining a pedagogical workshop in which instructors learn to use Voyant, was prepared and published as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities 2018-2019 Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities, “Textual Data and Digital Texts in the Undergraduate Classroom.” Hosted by the University of Georgia, Louisiana State University, and Mississippi State University, this year-long institute focused on the humanities classroom as a site for teachers and students to learn Digital Humanities methods.
The workshop “Reading at Scale: Teaching with Voyant” was designed as part of LSU’s Writing Program’s Engaged Educator Distinction, an honor that UWP faculty and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) can earn by attending or hosting professional development workshops during the academic year. From previous conversations with
UWP faculty and GTAs, I understood that there was an interest in using digital tools in the composition classroom, but some UWP instructors struggled with how best to integrate these tools into their established syllabi. Voyant works as a good introduction to digital pedagogy because it is fairly simple to use and understand for both instructors and students, and has enough flexibility that one can imagine a multitude of uses for it in the undergraduate classroom. The notes from the lecture can be found in the link located in the citation above.
Orgeron, Taylor. “Writing to Gaming Audiences: A Case Study.” Playing with the Rules: The Ethics of Playing, Researching, and Teaching Games in the Writing Classroom. Editors: Richard Colby, Rebekah Colby, and Matthew S. S. Johnson.
This chapter investigates one method of ethically incorporating video games into the college composition through a reflective analysis of a previously taught course: a sophomore-level composition course which emphasized the larger media ecology of video games, including an analysis of gaming audiences. By critically engaging with my gaming audience-centered course’s successes and failures, this chapter adds to the conversation surrounding video games as pedagogical frames in the writing classroom, especially as we consider the ethics of video game-focused pedagogy. I argue that by focusing on gaming audiences, especially audiences that are usually underrepresented in gaming spaces—including women, gamers of color, LGBTQ+ gamers, and gamers with disabilities—students are required to think about video games as sociopolitical objects that have the capacity to affect or reflect the injustices of the real world. A pedagogical framing which takes various gaming audiences and their response to gaming objects into account allows for space within the classroom to consider the roles that games and gamers have played in these real world injustices, thereby asking students to reflect on their own position as audience member/player.
Working title: “Video games, Blackness, and the South: the Procedural Antiracist Praxis of Mafia III”
The highly anticipated continuation of 2K Games’ Mafia franchise, created by 2K Games’ newest game studio Hangar13, launched a new direction for the series in its October 2016 release of Mafia III. While the first two video games in the Mafia franchise centered on the underbelly of Italian crime organizations in fictionalized hybrids of major northern American cities, Hangar13 decided to move the third game in the franchise south, setting Mafia III in a fictionalized version of New Orleans called “New Bordeaux.” Additionally, though the playable characters in previous installments were Italian-Americans, Mafia III tells the story of Lincoln Clay, an orphaned biracial Vietnam War veteran, who additionally serves as the game’s player-avatar. Set after Clay’s return from Vietnam in 1968, Mafia III chronicles his rise to power in the criminal underworld of New Bordeaux against the backdrop of post-Civil Rights white nationalist backlash. The game was highly anticipated by the online gaming community, especially by players of color, who had long waited not only for further representation in an AAA title, but also for representation which might “subvert the negative stereotypes that follow us around like seagulls to trawlers,” as game journalist Marlon McDonald writes (McDonald). Here, I will argue that Hangar13’s Mafia III answers this call, since the game’s player-avatar relationship becomes an interactive progressive text with a specific pedagogical purpose in mind, both in regards to the game’s stance on black identity, and the game’s portrayal of its southern setting. Though Mafia III struggles to escape the generic tropes of its organized crime-based action adventure predecessors, particularly those established by the Grand Theft Auto series, Mafia III nevertheless refuses to showcase a reductive view of black identity or the South’s role in shaping that identity through Clay’s interactions with the game’s non-playable characters and the events of the game’s narrative. More specifically, Mafia III does not assume its criminal underworld as the representative or ideal role for black men, nor does it treat the South or southerners as a scapegoats for America’s racist past; rather, the game sees Lincoln Clay’s struggles with the hyper-masculine expectations of his black identity and his experience of racism from both southern and non-southern characters as symptomatic of the racial tensions prevalent across the nation. In doing so, the game establishes a rhetorically antiracist praxis which asks video game players to reflect on and potentially amend their positions in the ecology of racism, implicating not only its regional setting in this ecology, but the ongoing complicity of racism within larger nation.
 A game with a high advertising budget, developed and/or published by a mid-sized or major publisher. AAA title is analogous to the film industry’s term “blockbuster.”
Working title: “Undertale and Gaming Culture: Queer Love as Resistance”
proposed for an edited collection on the theme of “resistance” in popular media
In Toby Fox’s 2015 video game Undertale, players inhabit the role of a nonbinary human child who has fallen into the Underground, a region below the Earth’s surface where all monsters were banished after the war between monsters and humans. The player’s quest to return to the Earth’s surface is plagued by attacks from various monsters who were told that the human soul could be used to destroy the magical barrier that separates the monster and human worlds. It is in these encounters with the monsters of the Underground that Undertale differs most from other role-playing games (RPGs). Where in other RPGs, a player’s success is directly linked to the number of violent acts she commits and the number of monsters she kills, Undertale resists violence; players can compliment, flirt with, encourage, or engage with a host of other nonviolent actions that ultimately cause the opposing monster to lose interest in the fight, and become friends with the player. In the end, the game has the player working with the monsters to destroy the magical barrier through the power of love.
Through the incorporation of these alternative game mechanics and convention breaking narrative, Undertale becomes a rare game in which players are not required to kill monsters in order to progress; in fact, players are discouraged from acting violently thorough the game’s morality-based progression system and its story as conveyed through on-screen text. But Undertale doesn’t merely eschew violence, it also rejects the culture of masculinity that loves and demands violence—especially as it exists in AAA video games, where fantasies of male power and its relationship to violence can be enacted presumably without consequence. Rather, through its thematic and material foregrounding of queer love, Undertale resists the undercurrent of toxic heteromasculinity rampant throughout games and gaming culture. In a space where such themes are often characterized as unwelcome intrusions by those seeking to categorize a hegemonic ordering of “real” gamers, and “real” games, Undertale calls for a radical rethinking of games and play by self-reflexively cultivating a multifaceted critique of hate-mongering violence in video gaming, joining the likes of recent prolific movements in gaming, including the rise of the counter-culture Indie games scene, Tanya DePass’s #INeedDiverseGames, the rapid increase of intersectional identity-based game studies scholarship (Malkowski and Russworm 2-3).
While previous scholarship on Undertale tends to focus solely on the game’s queerness as expressed through its representation of queer characters and queer relationships, my reading of Undertale supposes that Undertale’s queerness moves beyond narrative representation to become a subversive reimagining of typical RPG conventions. In this way, Undertale’s diverse cast of predominantly queer and nonbinary characters, paired with the game’s reparative gameplay experience, creates a narrative of resistance that speaks directly to the prescriptive toxicity of games and gaming culture.
Recent Conference Presentations
“Whose Fantasy?: Toxic Masculinities in Video Games.” Southwestern Popular/American Culture Association 41st Annual Conference. Albuquerque, NM. February 2020
This presentation will investigate how intersectional marginality is treated as biological determinism in fantasy games like Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series and Blizzard’s World of Warcraft in order to create utopian spaces for their presumed white, heterosexual, cisgender, and male players. Succeeding within these fantasy spaces often includes buying into male power fantasies that pervade the history of video game plots. Tropes like violent action over negotiating, rescuing damsels, and the reward of riches and women as the game’s end goal each presume the player exists within a homogenous sociopolitical identity. What happens, then, when the player does not fit into this presumed homogenous group? How did games begin exhibiting this exclusionary practice? And how can games create fantasy spaces for those beyond the stereotypically imagined gaming audience?
“The (digital) Book and the (disabled) Body: Procedural Language for Embodied Storytelling.” South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) 91st Annual Conference. Atlanta, GA. November 2019.
This presentation will discuss the prominence of disabled narrators in “digitally marked” or hypertextual novels, particularly in the early part of the 21st century. By disrupting the conventional reading process through unconventional page layouts, concrete poetry, and other digital “markings,” these works actively engage readers with the materiality of the work as object, and of themselves as both “reader” and “body”. This engagement is further solidified by the novels’ use of procedural language—language that is uncovered not through words or visuals, but through process, or action. By asking the reader to navigate their text through unconventional physical activity (flip-books, mirrored pages, and labyrinthine chapter jumping), these works create an embodied storytelling experience which attempts to simulate the day-to-day experiences of their physically and mentally disabled narrators. Ultimately, I will argue that disability becomes a way for these works to self-consciously reflect on the ethics of fictional representation more broadly, since expressing the conventions of narrative communication in disarray welcomes a consideration of the function and efficiency of conventional narrative for the fictional representation of disabled bodies.
“Teaching Through Game Design.” College English Association 50th Annual Conference. New Orleans, LA. March 2019.
In my ENGL 2123: Videogames & Literature course which I taught in the spring of 2017 at Louisiana State University, I had my students adapt a work of literature that we had previously read and analyzed earlier in the year into an interactive fiction game using the Twine software. Throughout the semester, we had been thinking about the relationship between literature and video games by discussing what makes literature “literary”, what makes a game “gamic”, and what rhetorical moves are present in both mediums. The major questions we explored in the discussions surrounding this assignment were: what is lost and gained in transferring a narrative from one medium to another? How does the medium affect how we receive the narrative, and how the argument concerning that narrative is made?
In completing the assignment, students were tasked with combining group members’ skills in graphic design, computer programming, literary analysis, and creative writing to create a new version of their chosen older story, employing the affordances of the Twine software to the best of their ability. The assignment was undoubtedly one of the most valuable learning experiences for both me and my students, as they utilized the skills concerning rhetorical effectiveness and video game culture learned in my class with their abilities gained in their major courses to create an entirely new composition. This, I will argue, is the core effectiveness of multimodality in the English classroom: it allows for an engagement with students across disciplinary lines, allowing them to flex their already established skills while learning new ones, and to ultimately think of the writing process in a new and productive light.
“STEAM Camp for Middle School Girls: Adding the ‘A’ to STEAM.” Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) 2020: Hindsight • Foresight • Insight. Dallas, TX. October 15-18, 2020.
The Southwest Alliance for Girls’ Enrichment (SAGE) in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Humanities, and Mathematics (STEAM) Camp at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) is a weeklong residential summer camp for middle school girls in Oklahoma. It was conducted for the first time in 2018 after transitioning from Tech Trek STEM Camp, a program of the American Association of University Women, which ran from 2013 to 2017. The SAGE STEAM Camp is innovative in the enhancement of STEM by incorporating the arts and humanities, using technology as the foundation from which campers experience the interconnectedness of these fields. The decision to incorporate arts and humanities programming into the camp follows an international educational trend that focuses on interdisciplinarity between fields. Additionally, the SAGE STEAM Camp targets middle school girls in particular, as research indicates that interest in STEM fields decreases sharply in girls during their middle school and early high school years (Heaverlo 2011). Ultimately, the SAGE STEAM Camp is designed to allow girls unique opportunities to engage in STEAM activities in order to reignite interest and bolster confidence, including educational workshops, interactive field trips, and exposure to careers and mentors in each of these fields. Based on eight years of camp experience, we will explain how the integration of arts/humanities into a residential STEM camp for rising eighth grade girls may increase their interest in seeking STEAM-related careers, as we share our methods, successes and failures related to integrating the arts and humanities into a formerly STEM-focused endeavor.
In my four chapter dissertation, “Intertwined Markings: Metafiction in the Digital Age,” I uncover the historical and thematic relationship between videogames and contemporary works of metafiction by applying new materialist and game studies methodologies to both videogames and print novels, noting the ways in which both contemporary video games and contemporary novels use metafiction in order to explore the materiality of their medium, as well as the materiality of their readers/players. My introduction, in addition to establishing the methodological framework of my study, argues that transposing games studies methods onto the field of metafiction studies restructures our understandings of not only these texts, but the larger conventions of literary production, since (1) the historical development of new media forms and the history of metafiction are fundamentally connected, and (2) the goal of metafiction has always been to create self-referential spaces for play in order to pose questions about the implicit conventions of all literary works.
In chapter one, “Metafiction and the (Horrifying) Mark of the Digital,” I begin applying the methods outlined by my introduction to select contemporary works in order to analyze how these texts view their own aesthetic and material reliance on digital technologies. The works discussed in this chapter each contain a sinister re-imagining of the novel’s power, a self-reflexive “horrifying mark”, which reveals the text’s digital production while also reaffirming the novel’s cultural significance. In examining the metafictional horror of these “horrifying marks,” I argue that it is the intertwined relationship between digital technologies and literary production that gives literature this power to be horrific—that is, to experiment with function through form in ways that exude the horrific power of the novel.
My second chapter, “Metafiction and Marked Bodies,” explores another convention theorized by contemporary metafictional works, noting how select hypertextual novels actively engage readers with the materiality of the work as object, and of themselves as both “reader” and “body” through the depiction of narrators with various physical and mental disabilities. I argue that disability becomes a way to self-consciously write about narrative, since representing the conventions of narrative in disarray welcomes a consideration of the function and efficiency of those conventions for fictional representation. Metafiction allows these authors to reflect on narrative itself, its conventions, constraints, and usefulness, at the same time that it allows the reader to consider the ways in which traditional narrative might be ineffective for capturing any lived experience.
My final two chapters explore metafiction as it is expressed in new media works. First, in “Moral Combat: Violence and Metafictional Indie Games“, I argue that indie game developers have begun incorporating metafictional elements in the form and content of their games in order to self-reflexively critique the problematic tropes and toxic insularity of the mainstream gaming industry, creating embodied play experiences meant to stimulate feelings of guilt about the player’s role in the larger gaming ecology.
I conclude my project with exploring what I call “Metafiction’s New Frontier”: virtual reality simulations, and the growing use of motion and haptic gear in gaming—all of which, I argue, complicate our understandings of narrative and posthumanism. In concluding my study with this new frontier of technological discovery, I drive home my argument that we must change how we think about metafiction and its relationship to new media, so that we can begin to usurp our disciplinary narratives—which dictate the reading of narrative forms—in order to develop better critical practices.