Digital Humanities Abstracts

“Ivanhoe: A Game of Interpretation”
Geoffrey Rockwell McMaster University and University of Virginia Johanna Drucker University of Virginia, Media Studies Bethany Nowviskie University of Virginia, SpecLab Andrea Laue University of Virginia, SpecLab Jerome McGann University of Virginia, English Chandler Sansing Henley Middle School, Virginia Nathan Piazza University of Virginia, ITC Group

Ivanhoe: A Game of Interpretation

Jerome McGann Johanna Drucker
To date, the digital technology used by humanities scholars has focused almost exclusively on methods of sorting, accessing, and disseminating large bodies of materials. In this respect the work has not engaged the central questions and concerns of the disciplines. It is largely seen as technical and pre-critical, the occupation of librarians, and archivists, and editors. The general field of humanities education and scholarship will not take up the use of digital technology in any significant way until one can clearly demonstrate that these tools have important contributions to make to the exploration and explanation of aesthetic works. The Ivanhoe Game has been developed to begin such a demonstration. Its purpose is to use digital tools and space to reflect critically on received aesthetic works (like novels) and on the processes of critical reflection that one brings to such works. Digital tools bring great advantages to these kinds of reflective goals. First of all, because digital environments increase one’s resources for morphing and transforming aesthetic works, they are apt for exploiting the inherently transformational character of such works. Second, the tools also foster acts of reflection by diversified persons and groups, and their storage mechanisms greatly augment the scale and number of interactive dynamic relations. Third, the environment encourages a (so to speak) theatrical deployment of these operations. Ivanhoe Game players will intervene and engage with aesthetic works in performative ways, and -- equally important -- they will act in spaces that put their critical and reflective operations on clear display. If the game is thus, most immediately, a game of critical reflection/aesthetic interpretation, it is ultimately a game for studying and reflecting on those acts of critical reflection themselves. Finally, that its critical reflection is executed in game form is crucial. Humanities scholarship without gameplay, even when the scholarship explicitly devotes itself to self-reflection, inevitably fails to engage with essential features of the works it means to study, including the workings of the mind engaged with such works. The co-creators of the Ivanhoe Game, Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker, will make an introductory essay on the project available to the audience before the conference.

Is Gaming Serious Research in the Humanities?

Geoffrey Rockwell
Games are used to teach the humanities not for research. We are not even comfortable studying games seriously, let alone proposing that games could be a form of research. It is only recently that computer games have become the subject of serious humanities inquiry. ° At the same time there is a tradition that proposes that what we do in the humanities is a form of play, even if it is serious play. In theorists like Huizinga, Bakhtin, and Gadamer play is presented as a component of humanities practice.° The playful dimension of the dialogue of the humanities is that which distinguishes our (hermeneutical) methods from those in the social and natural sciences. If we want to resist becoming a (human) science we need to reassert the playfulness of representation and interpretation. That means acknowledging the place of games and game theory in our practice. In this component of the panel Geoffrey Rockwell will make the case for building games and playing them as a way of modeling and then reflecting on our activities that is in the spirit of the humanities. Geoffrey Rockwell was invited to sit in on the design of the Game and will provide a concluding presentation that reflects on the witnessed process of developing Ivanhoe as itself a recognizable form of research that combines the play of the symposium with the implementation demands of digital practice.


M. M. Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination; Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. University of Texas Press Slavic Series. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. No. 1.
M. M. Bakhtin. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. University of Texas Slavic Series. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1986. No. 8.
Hans-Georg Gadamer. Truth and Method. New York: Continuum, 1996.
Johan Huizinga. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1950.

A Wrinkle in Play: Building the Ivanhoe Game for Classroom Flexibility

Chandler Sansing
Secondary school teacher Chandler Sansing will discuss tests of the Ivanhoe Game in several classroom contexts and will show student-generated game material. Five major classroom case studies and several in-house beta tests have been undertaken, using (among others) the texts of Scott's Ivanhoe, Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Shelley's Frankenstein, L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, CS Lewis's Narnia books and Henry James's The Turn of the Screw as discourse fields. These practical exercises, conducted without the use of a highly-articulated software framework for organizing player moves and enforcing rule systems, are helping to reveal latent assumptions in the game model and shape its implementation. Sansing will argue that the strengths of successful instructional technologies lie in their flexibility -- that teachers need open-ended software they can adapt to their evolving content areas and specialized methodologies. Proposals for a user-configurable Ivanhoe Game rule and scoring system which builds this flexibility into the software model are presently under consideration.

The Ivanhoe Development Process: Managing Complexity and Communication

Nathan Piazza
The developers of the Ivanhoe Game are, most of us, veterans of other development projects affiliated with the University of Virginia's Media Studies Program or Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities. By now we are well-versed in the difficulties of navigating the waters of digital humanities development efforts. However, Ivanhoe presents a unique challenge in the sense that it is not chiefly a collections initiative, nor is it a straightforward software development project. Instead, it will be a medium for doing pedagogical and critical work in ways that, frankly, have rarely been done before. As a result, it has been crucial for the participants in the Ivanhoe group to develop satisfying methods of working together, methods that insure that every voice is heard while still sustaining the momentum of the project. Successful communication of complex ideas between humanists and technicians has been, and will continue to be, essential to the project's success, because the form and structure of the application itself is the project. As a result, we have down-streamed the issue of user experience, answering questions of interface and interactivity even before the development of the data models. This has allowed us to identify issues that might make our technical infrastructure too inflexible to meet the rigorous goals we have set for game play quality. We have used a process that is informal, and iterative, taking inspiration from the idea that software is built more after the fashion of a novel than a skyscraper. It evolves over time through a process of constant revision, and no set of blueprints will survive the construction phase without alteration. Nathan Piazza will discuss the way of working that has allowed us to continue to sustain ourselves with the creative verve and critical insights from which the project vision first evolved, even as we fit that vision into an appropriately constraining technical framework.

Implementing Ivanhoe: Modelling a Discourse Field

Andrea Laue
I will review past, present and proposed implementations of the Ivanhoe Game, focusing on the construction and representation of the discourse field °. Particular issues discussed include the modeling and visualization of the game text, the association of roles and players, and the display and typing of links °. Played using email, Blogger or pen and ink, early instances of the Ivanhoe Game couldn't produce an adequate game text. In addition, these implementations didn't offer the option of anonymous roles. In the prototype, we used XML, XSLT and JSP's to build a game text with a corresponding visualization. The prototype also made possible the separation of players and roles, prompting a debate about the relationship between the two and the related game text. In our forthcoming beta, we will build a more robust game text and correspondingly more sophisticated visualizations. I will discuss topic maps and their potential for modeling discourse fields and generating game texts in the beta °. Although most often used to structure metadata that describes existing corpora, topic maps also present tremendous potential for generating dynamic documents and visualizations, separating roles and players, and typing links and moves in a manner that might someday be useful for rules and points engines °.

Patterns and Models: Some Applications of Game Theory to Digital Game Design

Bethany Nowviskie
Until recently, game and educational software makers have worked intuitively, virtually ignoring established ontologies and fields of enquiry in engineering, design, and the humanities. However, pressures in the industry are creating a new impetus toward establishing a common vocabulary which critics, theorists, and developers can employ to analyze games. As an introduction to the use of models and pattern languages in digital game development, Bethany Nowviskie will describe a branch of game theory called mechanism design, with particular attention to models employing Denettian or irrational agents as players in non-zero sum games and games of incomplete information. Economic game theory, as an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing human behavior and the interaction of agents in closed systems, offers digital game designers a rich vocabulary with which to express and interrogate game models. Mechanism design employs the same vocabulary in developing algorithms for games -- like Ivanhoe -- involving multiple self-interested agents, each with private objectives and preferred outcomes. Nowviskie will discuss the evolution and testing of game models in Ivanhoe and suggest that, by taking an intentional stance toward the computer as player, designers could appropriate and adapt formal, game-theoretic patterns to aid in digital game creation and analysis.


C. Alexander. Notes on the Synthesis of Form. : Harvard UP, 1964.
C. Alexander S. Ishikawa M. Silverstein. A Pattern Language. : Oxford University Press, 1977.
D. Church. “Formal Abstract Design Tools.” Game Developer Magazine. 1999. 3: .
C. Crawford. The Art of Computer Game Design. : McGraw-Hill, 1984.
D. Dennett. The Intentional Stance. : Bradford Books, 1987.
B. Kreimeier. “Content Patterns in Game Design.” Proceedings of the GDC 2002. : , 2002.
D. Nguyen S. Wong. “Design Patterns for Games.” SIGCSE 2002. : , 2002.
A. Rollings D. Morris. Game Architecture and Design.. : The Coriolis Group, 2000.
D. Ross. “Dennett's Conceptual Reform.” Behavior and Philosophy. 1994. 22: .