11/08 responses

This week’s readings were an interesting selection of work dealing with open access, copyright and archiving in the digital age. 

I was particularly interested in the juxtaposition of Willinsky’s The Access Principle and Lessig’s Free Culture, though I must admit I came into these readings already in agreement with much of what both authors said. It is interesting though to consider how many scholars are pushing for a greater degree of access to their work. Willinsky attributes this drive to a variety of factors including prestige and citations, but also the fact that subscription journals have been creating knowledge ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ which is particularly a problem in developing countries. The impression I got from his writing is that scholars are concerned with both of these factors in that there is a desire to fix the latter problem but also a need to do so while being mindful of the former.

The desire for one’s work to be read, and copied by way of citation, is of course fundamental to academia and knowledge production. In reading Lessig’s chapter I found myself wondering how it came about that in the academy we worry about plagiarism a great deal, but seem mostly content to rely on internal methods to deal with it. In my experience copyright rarely factors in, or at least is much less of a concern than plagiarism. The differing “norms,” to use Lessig’s term, between the academic community to culture at large are interesting, and while I would like to think they are somewhat attributable to academic high-mindedness, the cynic in me thinks its because there is simply less money in journal articles than in Disney films.

Similarly the Rosenzweig piece was interesting but largely stuff I was familiar with. Coming from a department that was very much doing digital humanities a lot of the ideas presented this week were familiar, so I wanted to take a moment to talk about some direct experience I have.

In 2011 I my adviser and I published an article in the online journal Game Studies, which was one of the very first academic journals devoted to the humanistic study of games. The journal has always been freely available online and collects no authors’ fees. It is supported by The Swedish Research Council, The Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils for the Humanities and the Social Sciences, the IT University of Copenhagen, and Lund University. The journal is obviously run on a pretty low budget: when our article was published they had nobody on staff who was technically-minded. I ended-up providing HTML support to the lone staff member for the formatting of our tables, and you can see from how badly they look that it did not go well. 

That said, I’m quite happy that the field’s flagship journal is open access. I would much rather have to offer a little technical help than to have to pay fees, or know that my work is locked behind a paywall. This is also my most-cited work, though at 5 citations that is not exactly Earth-shattering. 

This article also illustrates some of the problems with archiving digital data that Rosenzweig was discussing. This article comes from a study of Faunasphere, an online casual game that was different from most games in many respects. The game was only playable online, and shortly after this article was published the game was shut-down, and its accompanying forums closed. If you click on any of the 10 or so forum posts we cite in the article the links will redirect you to the homepage of the game’s developer. They used to redirect to a message explaining that the game had been shut-down, but now there is no indication whatsoever that Faunasphere existed. 

For game scholars the preservation of our material is exceedingly problematic. We are often working with commercial products, like Faunasphere, that are extremely resistant to archiving and preservation. The source code for the game presumably lives on somewhere at Big Fish Games, but the release of code by a game company to the public, even when the game is no longer available, is almost entirely unheard of (it does happen, just very rarely). Video and computer games are also extremely vulnerable to platforms and hardware becoming obsolete, and many scholars use emulation to illegally play old or unavailable games for research.

To return to my article, it also demonstrates the problem of citing Web sources in a Web-based article: they can vanish. Nobody can verify that what we wrote about the Faunasphere forums is true. So here is a scholarly work about something that does not exist using nonexistent evidence.   

I’m not really sure what the solution is here. In this particular case we were not claiming anything controversial, and my coauthor is extremely well-regarded in the field, so I can’t imagine any negative fallout coming from this. As a research though it is disappointing.

 

Lastly, I wanted to mention a thought I had regarding the Korsakow projects. As I was watching them I found myself enjoying them much more than the other digital projects we have looked at this semester. I occurred to me that the reason for this is that they were not created to present, provide, or deliver information, but were much closer to art projects and documentaries. In this context I was much more willing to engage with their nonlinearity and experiment, and I realized it was because I was much less concerned with missing something. Unfortunately I think this is probably a bad sign for digital projects. 

 

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6 Responses to 11/08 responses

  1. Hi Jason,

    I just wanted to comment on your note about the Korsakow projects and how you like that you don’t feel like you’re missing out on something. I had the opposite feeling. Since it isn’t linear I found that it was hard to keep track of where I was in the film and whether or not I would be able to do full circle and view all of the video clips. I really enjoyed the films and think it’s an excellent way of presenting a more complex story, however I guess I am just worried about my own project and how, using korsakow, I would make sure that all aspects of my film would be seen. Though, maybe that’s the point of these films, that the viewer doesn’t need to see the whole thing and can make their own assessment based on what they chose to see.

    • jasonhistory says:

      For me I liked the meandering quality to them because that is very much how life is. In particular I liked how the film about the family moving to France was open-ended and let the user explore and discover, in much the way the family had to when they moved there. I felt like their experience was more authentically conveyed to the viewer because the viewer was involved in the same process. Missing something felt less critical here than in a work attempting to make an argument, where missing an idea or data point can lead to incoherence.

  2. Hello Jason

    Aside from the fact that the Game Studies journal is about gaming and therefore suited to your topic did you consider any other journals to publish your work in or any other areas outside of a journal format?

    • jasonhistory says:

      We actually considered submitting to First Monday, which was mentioned in at least one of this week’s readings (I forget which). We wanted to submit somewhere that was open access, and as I recall part of why we went with Game Studies was that an appropriate CFP popped-up at just the right moment. Sometimes you don’t go with your first choice just because your first choice isn’t accepting submissions at the time.

      At this point more of my work has been published in conference proceedings than in journals, although I have more journal articles in the pipeline. The former are easier to get into, and they have the benefit of being seen by a wider audience, but they are certainly less valued than journal publications. Conferences also have the benefit of presenting your work to an audience, so you immediately know that a bunch of people have been exposed to it; with journals you don’t have that guarantee. I think conferences are more valuable when you’re starting out because you don’t have any name recognition yet and they are a great way to meet people.

  3. Hey Jason,

    You raise an interesting point in that many digital sources, such as website citations, might not exist in the future. Luckily, the scholarly work that we base on these sources is still around – but does it lose something if the material becomes unverifiable? I wonder how we can address this as scholars. Should we be taking screenshots of any online material that we use? If so, then we begin to get into problems with digital storage. Do we create hard copies of the images? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I think it’s a great point.

    Cheers,

    Lachlan

    • jasonhistory says:

      With the faunasphere project I was taking screenshots of the forums for a little while but it quickly became enormously unwieldy. Not because of the storage space they were taking up but just trying to sort and organize them became impossible. Part of that is the nature of forum threads as long, multi-page documents. A former classmate of mine wrote his Master’s thesis on an online community and used a lot of forum posts as sources, and he actually wrote a script that could download entire threads automatically. However it only worked for that forum in particular, and when we were writing that article it never occurred to me to try and archive it. If I do something that web-based again I will make more of an effort to save things.

      I personally believe that storage is far less of an issue that organizing. Over time data storage becomes almost free because it gets cheap so quickly. It’s keeping track of everything that bogs you down.

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