“Playing as Making” in Disrupting the Digital Humanities (Punctum)

My essay entitled “Playing as Making” is finally out in Disrupting the Digital Humanities edited by Dorothy Kim and Jesse Stommel. The collection, with a great grumpy cat cover, features writing from a host of very smart, very cool people, including the editors themselves, Moya Bailey, Maha Bali, Fiona Barnett, Kathi Inman Berens, Lee Skallerup Bessette, Edmond Y. Chang, Cathy N. Davidson, Chris Friend, Richard H. Godden, Jonathan Hsy, Spencer D.C. Keralis, Eunsong Kim, Adeline Koh, Katarzyna Lecky, Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo, Sean Michael Morris, Angel Nieves, Annemarie Perez, Laura Emily Sanders, Liana Silva, Bonnie Stewart, Matt Thomas, Audrey Watters, Robin Wharton, Meg Worley.

The abstract/proposal for “Playing as Making” reads:

Johanna Drucker in “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship” articulates as a key transformation (and bone of contention) in the variegated and interdisciplinary terrains of the digital humanities, saying, “I am trying to call for a next phase of digital humanities [that] synthesize method and theory into ways of doing as thinking…The challenge is to shift humanistic study from attention to the effects of technology…to a humanistically informed theory of the making of technology” (87).  But what does it mean to do, to make?  And what sorts of doing and making are privileged over others?  In other words, what counts in this shift? 

For some, digital humanities making comes down to code, programming, working in the back end.  Stephen Ramsay has famously provoked, “Do you have to know how to code?  I’m a tenured professor of digital humanities and I say ‘yes.’  So if you come to my program, you’re going to have to learn to do that eventually” (“Who’s In”).  Like Drucker, Ramsay argues that digital humanities “involves moving from reading and critiquing to building and making…Media studies, game studies, critical code studies, and various other disciplines have brought wonderful new things to humanistic study, but I will say (at my peril) that none of these represent as radical a shift as the move from reading to making” (“On Building”).  It is this foregrounding of doing and making that I want to take up, think about, and tinker with, not necessarily to rehash old debates or to pick (or pit) sides.  Rather, I hope to articulate alternative modes and forms of doing that engage the modus operandi of making without depending on specialized or exclusionary barriers of entry.  As Ramsay qualifies, “Personally, I think Digital Humanities is about building things.  I’m willing to entertain highly expansive definitions of what it means to build something” (“Who’s In”).  In other words, I hope to take advantage of and take for granted that doing, making, and building can and must include a range of practices, processes, and materialities, many of which are accessible, everyday, even vernacular.  Specifically, I want to argue that playing a digital game is critical doing, that playing is making, and to embrace playing as making. 

The essay takes up the above questions and provocations and works through some ideas and answers via a close playing of merritt k.’s game Lim.

I am really excited to see the essay finally in print, and I am honored to be part of a great collection. Thank you to Dorothy Kim and Jesse Stommel for their efforts, vision, and editorial thoughtfulness.

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