So long, farewell…

After five years and six months exploring how new media have impacted on how people represent themselves, the Ego Media Project ended on October 31st 2019.

So, for our final blog post, here’s a list of some of our team members’ relevant articles and books by team members during the project.

Clare Brant

“Devouring Time Finds Paper Toughish: What’s Happened to Handwritten Letters in the Twenty-First Century?” A/b: Auto/Biography Studies 21, no. 1 (January 1, 2006): 7–19.

Eighteenth-Century Letters and British Culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

“Imaginative Agency: New Possibilities.” European Journal of Life Writing, Vol Viii, DM143–DM170 2019.

Rob Gallagher

“Eliciting Euphoria Online: The Aesthetics of ‘ASMR’ Video Culture.” Film Criticism 40, no. 2 (2016).

Videogames, Identity and Digital Subjectivity. New York; London: Routledge, 2017.

Videogames, Identity and Digital Subjectivity book jacket

“Minecrafting Masculinities: Gamer Dads, Queer Childhoods and Father-Son Gameplay in A Boy Made of Blocks.” Game Studies 18, no. 2 (September 2018).

“‘The Game Becomes the Mediator of All Your Relationships’: Life Narrative and Networked Intimacy in Nina Freeman’s Cibele.” European Journal of Life Writing 8 (May 18, 2019): DM33–55.

“‘ASMR’ Autobiographies and the (Life-)Writing of Digital Subjectivity.” Convergence 25, no. 2 (April 1, 2019): 260–77.

“‘All the Other Players Want to Look at My Pad’: Grime, Gaming, and Digital Identity.” G|A|M|E Games as Art, Media, Entertainment 1, no. 6 (2017).

“Volatile Memories: Personal Data and Post Human Subjectivity in The Aspern Papers, Analogue: A Hate Story and Tacoma.” Games and Culture, April 15, 2019, 1555412019841477.

“’Gaiety George’ and the Making of Modern Celebrity.” Strandlines, September 13, 2017.

“Plotting the Loop: Videogames and Narratability.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Narrative Theories, edited by Zara Dinnen and Robyn Warhol, 174–86. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

Gallagher, Rob, and Ana Parejo Vadillo. “Animating Sight and Song: A Meditation on Identity, Fair Use, and Collaboration.” 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 2015, no. 21 (December 10, 2015).

Alexandra Georgakopoulou

With Teresa Spilioti, The Routledge Handbook of Language & Digital Communication. London: Routledge (2015).

“Friends and followers ‘in the know’: A narrative interactional approach to social media participation”. In Mildorf, J. & Thomas, B. (eds.) Dialogue across media. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 155-178 (2016).

“‘Friendly’ comments: Interactional displays of alignment on Facebook and YouTube”. In S. Leppaenen, S. Kytola & Westinen, E. (eds.) Diversity and identification on social media. London: Routledge. 178-207 (2016).

With Cedric Deschrijver. “The social mediatization of the economy: shifting discourses, audiences & participation”. Language @ Internet 16, (2018).

“Communicating time & place on digital media. Multi- layered temporalities and relocalizations”. Special Issue. Discourse, Context & Media 9, (2015).

“Sharing the moment as small stories: The interplay between practices & affordances in the social media-curation of lives”. Narrative Inquiry 27: 311-333, (2017).

“‘Whose context collapse?’: Ethical challenges & clashes in the study of language & social media in context”. Applied Linguistics Review 8: 1-32, (2016)

“Introduction: Communicating time & place on digital media. Multi-layered temporalities and relocalizations”. Special Issue. Discourse, Context & Media 9, (2015).

“Sharing as rescripting: Place manipulations on YouTube between narrative and social media affordances”. Discourse, Context & Media 9: 64-72, (2015).

Bamberg, M, and Alexandra Georgakopoulou. “Small Stories as a New Perspective in Narrative and Identity Analysis.” Text & Talk 28 (2008): 377–96.

“Storytelling on the Go: Breaking News Stories as a Travelling Narrative Genre.” In The Travelling Concepts of Narrative., edited by M Hatavara, L.-C. Hydén, and M Hyvärinen. Amsterdam: Benjamins, n.d.

“From Narrating the Self to Posting Self(Ies): A Small Stories Approach to Selfies.” Open Linguistics 2, no. 1 (2016).

“Small Stories Transposition and Social Media: A Micro-Perspective on the ‘Greek Crisis.’” Discourse & Society 25, no. 4 (July 1, 2014): 519–39.

Small Stories, Interaction and Identities. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2007.

“‘On MSN with Buff Boys’: Self- and Other-Identity Claims in the Context of Small Stories.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 12 (2008): 597–626.

“Small Stories Transposition and Social Media: A Micro-Perspective on the ‘Greek Crisis’’.’” Discourse & Society 25, no. 4 (July 2014): 519–39.

“Small Stories Research: A Narrative Paradigm for the Analysis of Social Media.” In The Sage Handbook of Social Media Research Methods, edited by Anabel Quan-Haase and Luke Sloan, 266–81. London: Sage, 2017.

Georgakopoulou, Alexandra, and Korina Giaxoglou. “Emplotment in the Social Mediatization of the Economy: The Poly-Storying of Economist Yanis Varoufakis.” Language@Internet 16, no. 6 (December 28, 2018).

“Reflection and Self-Disclosure from the Small Stories Perspective: A Study of Identity Claims in Interview and Conversational Data.” In Telling Stories. Building Bridges among Language, Narrative, Identity, Interaction, Society and Culture., edited by D Schiffrin, A De Fina, and A Nylund, 226–47. Washington, DC: Georgetown UP, 2009.

Sloan, Luke, Anabel Quan-Haase, and Alexandra Georgakopoulou, eds. “Small Stories Research: A Narrative Paradigm for the Analysis of Social Media.” In The SAGE Handbook of Social Media Research Methods, 266–81. Los Angeles; London: SAGE Publications, 2017.

Alison McKinlay

McKinlay, A.R, and L.L Ridsdale. “Views of People With Epilepsy About Web-Based Self-Presentation: A Qualitative Study.” Interactive Journal of Medical Research 8, no. 7 (2018): e10349.

Pearson, C, R Swindale, P Keighley, A.R McKinlay, and L Ridsdale. “Not Just a Headache: Qualitative Study About Web-Based Self-Presentation and Social Media Use by People With Migraine.” Journal of Medical Internet Research 21, no. 6 (2019): e10479.

Alisa Miller

“Blogging the Iraq War: Soldiers, Civilians and Institutions.” European Journal of Life Writing 8 (2019).

Rupert Brooke in the First World War, Liverpool University Press, 2018

Rupert Brooke in the First World War book jacket

‘War writing as Ego-Media’, RUSI Journal (2019).

Feigel, Lara & Alisa Miller, ‘’This is something which we know, in our bones, we cannot do’: Hopes and fears for a united Europe in Britain after the Second World War’ in Ina Haberman (ed.), The Road to Brexit (Manchester University Press, 2019).

‘England and France in the First World War: Translating the myth of the poet soldier’, 49-64 in Nicholas Bianchi & Toby Garfitt (eds.), Writing the Great War/Comment écrire la Grande Guerre? (Peter Lang, 2017).

‘Aesthetic Mobilisation in 1914: Looking at Europe,’ British Journal of Military History, 2.2 (2016), pp 12-41.

Leone Ridsdale

McKinlay, A.R, and L.L Ridsdale. “Views of People With Epilepsy About Web-Based Self-Presentation: A Qualitative Study.” Interactive Journal of Medical Research 8, no. 7 (2018): e10349.

Pearson, C, R Swindale, P Keighley, A.R McKinlay, and L Ridsdale. “Not Just a Headache: Qualitative Study About Web-Based Self-Presentation and Social Media Use by People With Migraine.” Journal of Medical Internet Research 21, no. 6 (2019): e10479.

Ridsdale, L, and S Hudd. “What Do Patients Want and Not Want to See about Themselves on the Computer Screen?” Scand J Prim Health Care 15, no. 4 (1997): 1–4.

Ridsdale, L, C Virdi, A. J. Noble, and Myfanwy M. Morgan. “Explanations given by People with Epilepsy for Using Emergency Medical Services: A Qualitative Study.” Epilepsy and Behavior 25 (n.d.): 529–33.

Ridsdale, L, I. Kwan, and M Morgan. “How Can a Nurse Intervention Help People with Newly Diagnosed Epilepsy? A Qualitative Study of Patients’ Views.” Seizure 12 (2003): 69–73.

Ridsdale, L, M Morgan, and C O’Connor. “Promoting Self-Care in Epilepsy.” Patient Educ. Couns. 37 (1999): 43–47.

Saunderson, E, and L Ridsdale. “General Practitioners’ Beliefs and Attitudes about How to Respond to Death and Bereavement: A Qualitative Study.” British Medical Journal. 319 (1999): 293–96.

Rebecca Roach

Masschelein, Anneleen, and Rebecca Roach. “Putting Things Together: To Interviewing as Creative Practice.” Biography 41, no. 2 (July 19, 2018): 169–78.

“Epilepsy, Digital Technology and the Black-Boxed Self.” New Media & Society 20, no. 8 (August 1, 2018): 2880–97.

Literature and the Rise of the Interview. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018.

Literature and the Rise of the Interview book jacket

“Hero and Bad Motherland: J. M. Coetzee’s Computational Critique.” Contemporary Literature 59 (2018): 80–111.

“J. M. Coetzee’s Aesthetic Automatism.” Modern Fiction Studies 65, no. 2 (Summer 2019).

Max Saunders

Futurology: how a group of visionaries looked beyond the possible a century ago and predicted today’s world” In The Conversation (August 2019)

‘Science and Futurology in the To-Day and To-Morrow Series: Matter, Consciousness, Time and Language’, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 34:1 (March 2009), 69-79; in a special issue devoted to To-Day and To-Morrow, ed. Max Saunders and Brian Hurwitz. https://doi.og/10.1179/174327909X421461

Feigel, Lara, and Max Saunders. “Writing Between the Lives: Life Writing and the Work of Mediation.” Life Writing 9, no. 3 (2012): 241–48.

‘The Future in Modernism: C. K. Ogden’s To-Day and To-Morrow Book Series’, in Utopia: The Avant-Garde, Modernism and (Im)possible Life, Ed. David Ayers, Benedikt Hjartarson, Tomi Huttunen, and Harri Veivo, in the series European Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies (Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2015), 397-410. ISBN 978-3-11-043478-1

“‘Fusions and Interrelations’: Family Memoirs of Henry James, Edmund Gosse, and Others.”, A History of English Autobiography, edited by Adam Smyth, 255–68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

‘The To-Day and To-Morrow Book Series and Aldous Huxley’, in Aldous Huxley Annual, vol. 17/18 (2017/2018). Ed Bernfried Nugel, Jerome Meckier. Zurich: LIT, 2019

Saunders, Max. Imagined Futures: Writing, Science, and Modernity in the To-Day and To-Morrow Book Series, 1923-31. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2019.

Imagined Futures book jacket

Still to come… Ego Media: The impact of new media on forms and practices of self-presentation our digital publication, should be out in 2020.

Until then…

Focus on Dr Stijn Peeters

portrait of Stijn Peeters

This week’s post focuses on Dr Stijn Peeters. Stijn is now a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Amsterdam, working on research and research tools that focus on online political subcultures, as part of the Odycceus project and the Digital Methods Initiative.

Stijn completed his PhD with the Ego Media project. His study focused on the history of platforms like IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and Twitter, and the ways in which the features that shape how we present ourselves on these platforms have evolved through the years.

Before starting with the project, Stijn studied both Media Studies and Industrial Design. He was attracted to the Ego Media project because of its interdisciplinarity, and the opportunity it offered him to design his own research project.

Platforms and self-presentation

“My point of departure,” he explains, “was that when we present ourselves online, we always do so on a platform. So, this can be Twitter or Instagram, or if you go back a few decades it could be Usenet or ICQ. My project aimed to shed light on the relation between platforms and people’s self-presentation, or self-expression on them. The people and organisations that made those platforms obviously had some ideas about how people will use them, and what they could do with them. So they provided a certain set of affordances and features. My goal was to find out how that process works.”

“How do people start with ideas about what other people may do with the platform or the site they are making? And what happens when people actually start using that platform? Do they follow those initial ideas? Do they find our own uses for it? And is there a significant difference between platforms, between design philosophies?”

Stijn found that the combination of Twitter and IRC offered a useful set of differences and similarities to work with. “The idea was that I then could see how the design of those platforms and what people did with them relate to each other, and how that process works.”

image of phone with various social media icons

Design & self-expression

His main focus was the role of the platform design: “that means the design in terms of the actual features: the buttons and the text fields and how the software is designed. And very practical things, like the character limit on Twitter, for example, which obviously has an influence on what you can do with it, how you express yourself.”

One of the issues that he – like many Ego Media team members – needed to contend with was the fact that he platforms he was researching are still evolving. “This was less the case with IRC, obviously, but Twitter is being changed all the time, and that affected my research in a very practical way. For example, I had a paragraph about character limits, and then halfway through my research that changed from 140 to 280 characters. So I had to rewrite part of my thesis! On one hand, that’s a challenge. But it also underlines how relevant studying and documenting all this subject matter is.”

Watch Stijn discussing his research

When Stijn started his research, he hoped that he’d be able to interview people at Twitter, and track down the people that created IRC. But this turned out to be impractical. “In the case of IRC a lot of the people either aren’t around anymore, or are very hard to find. And Twitter is now a very big company that doesn’t want to really reveal too much about itself and its design process.” But luckily, Stijn discovered a lot of material from the time these platform were designed. “Design documents, blog posts, mailing lists and netzines were still online. And, in a lot of cases, these hadn’t really been covered in research. So that was an opportunity for me, one which also provided great sources of data about what went into the design of the social media platforms, written by the people who did the design work, at the time that they did it.”

Stijn’s research – which looked at specific use cases including citizen journalism, memes, cybersex and online harassment – yielded interesting results. “Paradoxically,” he says, “there’s a limit to how far these platforms actually shape our expression and identities. While there are clear differences between the shapes these use cases take – Twitter, as it supports videos and images is, of course far more visually oriented than IRC, which is text based – you still find examples of citizen journalism on both platforms, and you find examples of harassment and organised harassment and ways of organizing that harassment on both platforms that are remarkably similar. Memes exist on both platforms and even though IRC has far less potential for things to go viral, there are still instances of humour and memetic content being shared in a very similar way to Twitter.

Testament to human creativity

So if you look at the specific genres within which someone may express an identity or express themselves, I think these exist on all platforms. And even if there are qualitative differences, people are remarkably creative in how they appropriate these platforms for their own needs.

My research is testament to our creativity in expressing ourselves.”

Focus on Dr Rob Gallagher

This week’s post focuses on Dr Rob Gallagher. Rob is a postdoctoral researcher with the Ego Media Project and a teaching fellow in literature and the digital at Royal Holloway, University of London. His book Videogames, Identity and Digital Subjectivity was published by Routledge in 2017.

Rob’s Ego Media research has explored the cultural functions of digital avatars and the nature of the networked voice, and has broken down into five subprojects:

“There’s my work on ASMR videos on YouTube, there’s some work on grime music and gaming, there’s the book project – which is about videogames and identity – there’s a project called Moving Past Present, that was a collaboration with Janina Lange and looked at reanimating the Gaiety Girls as digital avatars. And there was a project with Ana Parejo Vadillo, which produced a digital edition of a poem from 1892 that we thought about as part of the prehistory of digital identity work and avatar play.”

The Gaiety Girls

The Gaiety Girls project came about, in part, because of Strandlines – the online archive that runs out of the Centre for Life-Writing research here at King’s. Strandlines looks at all aspects of the history of the Strand.” Rob had seen works of Janina’s that used digital motion capture technologies to remediate performances by early female film comediennes like Sarah Duhamel. “I knew that the Gaiety Theatre been on the Strand, and that the Gaiety Girls were, in some sense, early mass media personalities, and through our discussions we thought it would be fun to do a project reanimating them digitally, and drawing out some of those parallels between 1890s media culture and contemporary self-branding and performance.”

Rob and Janina looked primarily at two performers: Constance Collier and Ellaline Terriss.

image of Constance Collier
Constance Collier

Both women began their careers on the stage, and transitioned into film as that technology developed. “Obviously, with early film, there’s no sound, there’s a certain kind of stutter that has to do with the frame rate. So there were all these ways in which the technology writes itself into the performance – something Janina’s very interested in as an artist.

And that resonated strongly with a lot of critical work on digital media, and how aspects of technologies – whether it’s resolution or frame rate, whether it’s the 280 character limit on Twitter, other kinds of affordances, and limitations – elicit certain kinds of performance and modes of identity work.”

Ellaline Terris
Ellaline Terris

Michael Field

Rob’s project with Ana Parejo Vadillo – an academic at Birkbeck who researches proto-modernist poetry, and has looked at the role of railways and photographic reproductions in connecting cosmopolitan cultural networks – developed after he read her work on the possibility of using digital technologies to reframe fin-de-siecle literature. “We were both very interested in poets Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley who wrote together as Michael Field, and in how, in some respects, their work anticipates digital culture. They wrote poems using Renaissance paintings, figures from Renaissance paintings, as avatars, really, for exploring some of the questions around identity that mattered to them. They’ve become queer icons online for certain communities. So we wanted to explore that relationship.” See some of the gifs from the edition.


ASMR stands for ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’. The term was coined to describe a tingling sensation that certain people seem to experience in relation to particular audiovisual triggers. Having begun to share accounts of this sensation and given it a name, online communities started creating and sharing media designed to elicit it using platforms like YouTube and Reddit. Part of Rob’s research has entailed exploring that culture and talking to people who make those videos.

“I became interested in ASMR in part because I don’t experience it myself, so I only had this kind of second-hand access to it through these accounts that people were sharing online, through which they determined that they were describing the same thing. I had done some work on videogame role-plays, where people on YouTube perform as their avatars, because I was quite interested in how the voice was being used there, where it’s obviously the person’s actual voice, but they’re performing a role, but the role is one they’ve created for themselves. And there turned out to be overlap between this genre and the actually much bigger online genre of ‘whisper videos’ or ‘trigger videos’ that people with ASMR consume. And at that point I thought, oh this is a fascinating phenomenon, this whole culture has sprung out of the internet, I should look at it.

So I worked with two ASMRtists who make videos on YouTube, and produced a series of texts that they read for a podcast, and then we talked about the ideas in the texts.”

In all three collaborations, Rob found it really valuable working with people who employ technologies with which he isn’t particularly familiar. “You can obviously get people to talk about their process, or about these platforms and technologies in the abstract. But if you’re working together to produce a particular product, it gives it a frame of reference and a concrete goal. And that’s really illuminated types of practice and types of technology that I didn’t know too much about.”

Videogames, Identity and DIgital Subjectivity book jacket

Combining theory & practice

For Rob, theory and practice both have a role to play in studies of digital culture. “There’s sometimes a tendency to place too much emphasis on practice at the cost of theorizing and thinking. It was a useful duality for me to try to address the ideas both of the level of abstract arguments in articles, and at the level of these projects, or these artworks, or performances that try to convey them in another form.

Also, working with both theory and practice, provides you with at least one example of what you’re trying to talk about. And I also think there’s an ethical dimension with studies of digital culture where rather than appropriating something someone else has made, and not necessarily knowing the context from which it emerged, or whether they would be happy with what you’re doing with it or saying about it, you’re inflicting that on your own creations.”

Watch Rob speaking about his Ego Media collaborations


Focus on Dr Rebecca Roach

This week’s blog focuses on Dr Rebecca Roach. Rebecca was a postdoctoral researcher on the Ego Media Project, and is now Lecturer in Contemporary Literature at the University of Birmingham. Her book Literature and the Rise of the Interview is available now from OUP.

As someone who has always done interdisciplinary research, Rebecca’s work spanned the whole Ego Media project. She developed the questions for and interviewed the participants in the study exploring how people with epilepsy interact with health-related information online; initiated the work with the Mass Observation Archive and worked on her own project exploring the relationships between computing and literature. Her role also involved reflecting on Ego Media’s methodology(ies) which – given the range of the project’s work, proved a huge undertaking.

Mass Observation

Rebecca explains how the project with the Mass Observation Archive came about: “We were trying to explore how we might get self-reflexive material from social media users because we very much wanted people to reflect on their own social media usage and practices, which is quite a tricky thing to do. And I had known about the Mass Observation project – which has been running on and off since the 1930s – through which willing participants are asked to keep diaries and/or reflect on a topic of interest in writing, and then contribute it to an archive where it’s stored anonymously. It’s a really valuable resource and their responses provide incredibly rich, detailed life writing and reflections on different topics.”

I thought why are we trying to reinvent the wheel when we could write a ‘directive’ – a series of prompts which the people who contribute to the Mass Observation Archive could respond to?”

The project worked well. “We got these wonderful responses from people we would not otherwise have been able to reach. While the Mass Observation Archive participant group is not reflective of the population as a whole, it’s really good for getting people who might not actually have engaged in social media at all, and those who are older, who are from a very different social group to those who one might expect to engage with social media.” The responses were rich in detail, and sometimes quite surprising. “I was really pleased with what came out of it,” says Rebecca.

Methodologies and ethics

“I’ve had quite a large role in sort of thinking through methodological question and was also responsible for the ethics application for much of Ego Media’s research” This meant that Rebecca had to do a lot of thinking about different methodological and ethical questions an about how to conduct research. “What kind of methods do literary studies use, versus social science? Do literary studies have methods? How well do we articulate them? How are all these questions changing with the advent of digital media?”

Rebecca also collaborated with Anneleen Masschelein on a special issue of the journal “Biography” focused on the role of interviewing and interviews in life writing. “With the advent of social media, there’s been something of a crisis in the social sciences. Why do interviews when you can use all this social media data? What can interviews tell us that big data can’t? We were interested in responding to this perceived crisis in the social sciences by looking at interviews from the perspective of literary studies, the arts and life writing, and considering the role and place of interviews as part of a larger discussion about methods and practices and the digital realm.”

Literature and computing

Rebecca’s project on the relationships between literature and computing is still on-going. During her time on the Ego Media project, she investigated what’s happened – and is happening – to conversation in the era of computation. “I looked at the author, J M Coetzee, who worked in computing before he worked in literature, and published some research based on his archives, exploring the conceptual influence of his computing on his notion of what literature is and does in the world.”

She also worked on chatbots: “While Ego Media is interested in self presentation, what I’m interested in is interaction. So, for example, in literature and life writing more generally, we tend to be more comfortable with single-authored texts. I’m interested in what happens when you look at dialogue, or conversation. What that does that do to muddy our assumptions? What might that tell us about literature, or, particularly, processes of reading and writing?”

Rebecca is especially interested in the assumptions built into chatbots, how they are conceived historically. “There’s a lot of research to be done into how chatbots are gendered and racialized in really unfortunate ways, into how they are increasingly utilised in a way that isn’t always visible online. I think it’s worth literary scholars thinking about these forms. We have a lot of skills and expertise to bring to these new objects.”

As well as writing about literature and computing for the Ego Media digital publication, Rebecca has also written about the cybernetic metaphor of black boxing, that is increasingly adopted by other fields. As she explains, ‘this is the notion that you look at the inputs and the outputs but can’t see inside the box. It evolved from the notion that, maybe, the box is a missile, so you don’t want to open it up, because it might explode. So you can only analyse input and output.

In terms of methods, that’s a really interesting question for what is we’re doing when we’re analysing something as literary scholars. What happens to our notions of subjectivity and interactivity when we’re thinking about digital media? We’re now in a situation where digital technologies can move faster than human cognition. We don’t necessarily know what’s going on inside the black box of the algorithm. How do you think about analysis or critique in those situations? Those I think have been really formative questions for me. I still don’t have a great answer. But I think they’re interesting questions.”

Listen to Rebecca Roach talking about her Ego Media work

Focus on Dr Rachael Kent

This week we focus on Dr Rachael Kent’s work. Rachael – whose background is in media and communication studies – completed her PhD with the Ego Media team, and is now a teaching fellow in digital media and culture in the Department of Digital Humanities

Self-tracking & health identity

For her PhD, Rachael focused on how users of self-tracking technologies and social media use these technologies to represent their health identity online, and how that influenced the ways they managed their health offline. “So, she says, “I was interested with how users of both self-tracking and social media technologies were using these technologies in their everyday lives to track their health, manage it, and share and perform certain identities. And then once they shared this content how that influenced, under the gaze of the community, how they actually performed and managed health – in comparison to others as well. How did community surveillance and the technologies they were using affect their health management? How did it mould and direct what they shared online, and how they felt about their bodies offline?”

Initially Rachael planned to focus on one or two self-tracking technologies and how that content was being shared online. But because the self-tracking movement and social media changed over the course of her project, her research broadened. “Self-trackers,” she says, “have shifted to using more than one tracking device. Rather than just relying on say, Nike Running Club, or MyFitnessPal, people now use different apps for different reasons.” Additionally, Rachael noticed the younger participants in her study switch their focus from Facebook to Instagram.

What is health?

Rachael’s research made her more self-reflexive about health and what health is. “One of the first questions I asked my participants was about what health meant to them. Interestingly, a lot of my participants couldn’t answer that, or even give me a definition of health. Thinking about my own health practices, that really resonated with me.”

Her decision to study self-tracking evolved from her own experiences. “I’ve always been interested in health and health management,” she said, “and I started looking at self-tracking technologies in my Master’s dissertation. I used a Nike Running application to try and increase my health and fitness, and also a nutritional app to follow some raw food
juicing diet trend that was quite popular at the time. I over-exercised, didn’t provide my body with the nutrition it needed, and ended up in hospital with multiple organ failure and sepsis. Fortunately I recovered, and after about a month – while still in hospital – I turned my phone on, and my phone was still nudging me to remind me to go for a run, and telling me ‘Rachael look at what your friends have done’, during the time I’ve been in a hospital bed. I still felt this really odd sense of guilt about the fact that I hadn’t been able to run X amount of miles as my friends had during this time, even though I’d obviously been extremely ill.

And, in that moment, I realised that there’s something quite mad about following the guidance of an app to damage your body. Also why did I still felt a responsibility to the app, even after I’d been through what I had?”

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Research findings

One of the research findings that most interested Rachael was how users would perform health for the gaze of the community. But she also fascinated to discover how – even once they stopped certain health practices, stopped tracking their health and sharing their health practices – “they would still embody this idea of a ‘healthy self’, a ‘healthy person; from previous self-tracking and performance of representational behaviours. This was particularly the case with Instagram users. “So, even if they had changed their behaviours, they still held on to their self-tracking healthy identity.”

Ego Media’s life writing approach enabled Rachael to look at her research from a different perspective. “It helped me look at these technologies and practices in more of a diarising or autobiographical sense, in terms of how users would look back on their data and the content that they’d created and shared. They would perceive the body as malleable based upon their past behaviours, and they would feel that their future would be healthier – more optimal – based upon this construction of a life log identity over time.”

The “health self”

And so she developed the idea of the “health self”. “The health self”, she says “is a continually improving, optimal being, that is never quite attainable or achievable, but was a goal for these users. And I think that was the interesting thing, that despite their focus and their everyday lives on health, they were never quite sure what the word health meant to them, or how they could even attain optimal health. It was a goal to continually work towards.”

This concept is the focus of Rachael’s first book: The Health Self’ – Digital Performativity and Health Management in Everyday Life, which will be published by Bristol University Press as part of the Quantified Societies and Selves Series.

The book explores the cultural significance and social implications of the pervasive adoption of self-tracking technologies and social media as tools of health performativity and management. It examines the ways in which these technologies are integrated into individuals’ everyday lives to track, regulate and perform health practices, exploring the perspectives of those working towards specific health goals – like marathon training or dieting – people experiencing illness and chronic disease, and everyday lay users.

Video: the health self

Self-tracking, Rachael explains, has moved from being exclusively quantitative to both a qualitative AND a quantitative movement. “Originally it was about collecting data –numerical, valued data; quantified data. Whereas now we have added in more qualitative aspects likes mood, or performing identity in certain ways on, for example, Instagram.” There are also broad generational differences. “The younger generation are coming away from Facebook because it’s just not cool anymore. Instagram is now the more desirable platform. So, while older generations seem to be sharing more autobiographical and even confessional content on Facebook – using it almost as a therapeutic space – younger people are sharing more visually. It’s capturing that image to represent something about your identity.”

More than data…

“Users of self-tracking tech, for example, don’t want to just have their quantified data from their run. They want a picture of a beautiful bit of scenery they passed, or something interesting they saw on their run. That’s more than just ‘data’. It has to depict more about their personality, their lifestyle, where they’re running and what they see. They’ll run further to get a good shot so they can put it on Instagram – as opposed to running further because they want to or they need to hit a training goal.”

While some of the participants in Rachael’s study were self-tracking to improve athletic prowess, others were doing so to help manage acute illness or chronic disease. For these people, “sharing this self-confessional, very personal aspects and journeys of their of their health or illness on Facebook and Instagram, was a therapeutic part of the process. They found that this process of sharing helped them deal with the illness and its impact on their lives.”

Watch Rachael discuss her research


Previously, we listed the themes the Ego Media team will cover in the essays in our digital publication. This week, we’re highlighting our work on Time. The lead author of this essay is Professor Clare Brant, and this post offers a brief outline of some of the questions the essay will explore.

selfie of Clare Brant with mountains in the background

Time, Clare writes, “is arguably one of the most important concepts in digital and social media”, and this theme essay reflects on our ideas of and research into the phenomenon of time, investigating how the digital age privileges immediacy and the present tense, the “what’s happening”, rather than the what has happened, or will happen. The main areas we will explore in this essay include:

The global reach of digital time

The local offices of international businesses often had several analogue clocks on their walls, showing the time in, say, London, New York and Tokyo. Now a few clicks brings us three time zones on our smartphones or laptops. What does global digital time do to our sense of time? Our bodily rhythms?

Always on, or the rise of 24-7

What’s the relationship between always on-ness and authenticity? How can you find the most interesting 24-7 webcam accounts … and how interesting are they?

Time and space

How does digital time – and our attention to it – impact on our relationship with space? How can we navigate effectively when we’re looking down at our phones. And what about the physical space (and energy resources) required to service those giant data centres powering our online experiences, and concealed the “Cloud” and other nature-friendly metaphors.

Breaking news: ‘happening now’

While Facebook’s timeline colonises the (recent) past, and its “memories” hoik past moments into present attention, Twitter’s “What’s happening?” occupies its users’ now. What’s happening to those of us living in a world where news is constantly breaking? What does it mean when news breaks?


hand holding phone showing time & date
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Streaming services allow us to watch, when we want: to make media, at least. happen in a “now” of our choosing. What does this do to our sense of “what’s happening”.


We surveil ourselves and others via health apps and social media and are surveilled. What light can surveillance art – the use of technology intended to record human behaviour in a way that offers commentary on the process and tools of surveillance – tell us about not only about power, control and the attractions of voyeurism, but also the nature of time?

Time short, long, too much, compressed

Have you read this far down the page? How long are our attention spans? How long do we take to decide whether something is worth devoting our time (attention and money) to? What impact does adding reading times to an online text have on people reading that text? #longreads, short forms and acronyms: how has the way we read – the way we think – changed with digital time? How far have digital media have recreated ideas and practices of instaneity?

And finally…

To what extent is the Ego Media team’s research complicit with particular models of time in terms of choice of methodologies? The interview, for instance, catalyses retrospection in relation to a present established and bracketed by the interview itself; the questionnaire similarly plays on a time transactionality between actions (past and present) and reportage (necessarily presentist.) Academic arguments tend to acquire authority by referencing arguments made authoritative by being recently published: given this, how far have scholars anticipated social media users in valuing keeping up with the latest?

Ego Media projects with an explicit time focus

Moving Past Present
Imagining the Future
Dear Diary
Life-writing of the moment: The Sharing and updating self on social media
The Use of Self-Tracking Technologies and Social Media in Self-Representations and Management of Health

Watch Professor Clare Brant talk about her Ego Media projects

Mixed Media Landscape with Slime: Notes on the Digital Games Research Association 2019 conference

Last month I visited Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University for the 2019 Digital Games Research Association conference, where I gave two papers about my Ego Media research on videogames and life writing. But let’s not worry about my papers; let’s talk about the rat.

Chequered and chunky, red of eye and pointy of ear, the rat has page 121 all to herself. While I’ve played Tomb Raider (Core Design, 1996) many times over the years, it’s only since purchasing a Japanese guidebook to the game that I’ve really felt moved to think about the rat. (The guidebook, since you ask, was going for roughly a pound at the Nishiki market branch of Surugaya Speciality Store, a retro gaming emporium located some 6 kilometres from Ristumeikan’s Kinugasa campus).

The topic for DiGRA 2019 was ‘Game, Play and the Emerging Ludo Mix’ – a reference to the ‘Media Mix’ strategy pioneered by Japanese entertainment companies, who have long focused on creating memorable characters that can be neatly slotted into new contexts and scenarios, from games, animations, movies and manga to fan works, clothes, toys and novelty foodstuffs. While the rat’s co-star Lara Croft has done quite well in the media mix-up (Hollywood movies! Comic books! A Lucozade sponsorship!), the rat herself is not, let’s be honest, such a character. But when the rat lies awake at night, wondering what might have been, it’s not Lara she’s jealous of – it’s the slime.  

The slime as it appears in the NES version of the first Dragon Quest

In a way, the slime and the rat are peers. Like the rat, the slime (who debuted in Dragon Quest (Chunsoft, 1986)) is a low-level enemy. In some ways the slime is inferior to the rat: where she, according to my guidebook, has 5 health points, the slime has just 3. And yet, while the rat has faded into obscurity the slime goes from strength. Has the rat ever starred in its own series of spin-off games? No. Are there currently rat-shaped steamed buns on sale in a Tokyo bar? Or rat-shaped PlayStation 4 and Switch controllers? No and no. While the word ‘iconic’ is sorely overused, the slime (which was designed by famed mangaka Akira Toryama) can fairly lay claim to it: how many other lumps of red, white and blue pixels have this much character? I was born under the sign of the rat, but I know this is a race it can’t win.

The Media Mix strategy has been undeniably successful, birthing globally known icons like Pokémon’s Pikachu and setting a precedent for contemporary transmedia franchises worldwide. Scholars like Hiroki Azuma argue, however, that it has had a detrimental effect on storytelling, moving the focus away from cause-and-effect narratives in which complex characters develop as they face up to the consequences of their actions. The slime might be instantly recognisable and incontrovertibly kawaii, but compared to Anna Karenina or even Lara Croft (who was saddled with all manner of issues in 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot) he doesn’t have much of an arc.

Moreover, and as Eiji Ōtsuka argued in DiGRA 2019’s first keynote, celebratory accounts of the media mix gloss over some disturbing precedents for contemporary transmedia strategies. Ōtsuka’s talk detailed the propaganda practices of Japan’s far-right wartime government, the Taisei Yokusankai, and their creation of a group of characters known as the Yokusan Ikka – a family who featured in puppet shows, picture books, radio plays, advertisements, records and comic strips. Like the slime, these were simple characters, designed to be easy to draw (especially if you bought the how-to guides the party produced). Citizens were encouraged to make their own comic strips about them and the tonarigumi (neighbourhood association) of their town. Apparently Osamu Tezuka – venerated as the godfather of manga and anime, and a schoolboy sat the time of World War II – was among those who drew Yokusan Ikka stories. Where official histories tend to cite his New Treasure Island (1947) as a germinal moment for Japanese media, Ōtsuka insisted on the importance of remembering this unsavoury episode.

A slide from Ōtsuka’s talk, showing a picture book containing advice on how to draw the Yokusan Ikka characters.

T.L. Taylor’s keynote adopted a different stance on the media mix, and was one of many presentations to address e-sports, streaming and vlogging. There are obvious areas of overlap here with Ego Media’s research into the forms of self-presentation (and self-commodification) that individuals develop in response to the architectures and affordances of different digital platforms. As Noemie Roques and Samuel Couravoux argued in their presentation, streamers and commentators must negotiate competing pressures. While fans want candour, humour and (perceived) authenticity, sponsors and publishers look for professionalism. Tom Brock also addressed the demands placed on high-profile gamers, looking at how competitive players use data to try and optimise their performance, and at how they negotiate anxiety and burnout. In a similar vein, KCL’s own Feng Zhu built on Bourdieu to address questions of strategy and skill acquisition, arguing that gamers exemplify the kinds of reflexivity and malleability that digital societies require of workers and consumers.

Mia Consalvo and Christopher Paul, meanwhile, discussed four makers of YouTube ‘Let’s Play’ videos. For some, games become props, grist for their performances of irreverence, excitability or connoisseurship; for others connecting with a community of viewers is the main focus. Where some LPers favour particular platforms, others distribute content across YouTube, Twitch, Facebook and Mixer – though one of their subjects, KPopp, had just signed a lucrative exclusivity deal with Facebook. Other talks gestured towards the power of distribution platforms like Steam. With so many games released on Steam each week, developers are increasingly focused on forms of ‘discoverability labour’ intended to build awareness and distinguish their games from those of competitors. Keeping players and pundits updated, fielding feedback and cultivating evangelical ‘superfans’ is all part of the ‘indie’ game for studios like those Bart Simon and Jessie Marchessault are researching. If I had to decant a single message from these panels, it’s that platform capitalism is forcing us all to become more like the slime: responding to changing conditions with blob-like pliancy and plasticity while aspiring to the instant legibility of long-familiar cartoon characters.

The conference’s other keynotes were essentially works of life writing, and saw industry heavyweights Tetsuya Miziguchi and Yosuke Hayashi talking through their ludographies while teasing upcoming projects. As a Sega fan I’ve long been fascinated by Mizuguchi’s career trajectory; in the space of five years ‘the Miz’ went from directing Sega Rally (Sega AM3, 1995), a hit arcade racer noted for its graphical realism, to developing Rez (United Game Artists, 2000), a strikingly abstract ‘rail shooter’ that took inspiration from Kandinsky, Tron (Lisberg, 1982) and techno, using quantization techniques to synch the sounds of players’ actions to thumping dance tracks. In the two decades since he’s released a series of games that use cutting edge technologies – VR headsets, motion sensors and haptic actuators – to explore what he sees as the ‘synaesthetic’ potential of interactive audiovisual media. Framing his life in games as a story of better technologies opening the way to more intense experiences, Miziguchi’s techno-meliorist spin on gaming’s history was winningly optimistic, if a little simplistic. If nothing else it underscored how gamers tend to understand their biographies in relation to the generational cycles of the games industry and the development of new and more capable hardware.

The 2000 Dreamcast version of Rez, since remade in HD and for VR.

Hayashi began by detailing his boyhood love of Koei’s Nobunaga’s Ambition series (1983-2017), joking that he used to use these historical strategy games, based on sixteenth-century warlord Oda Nobunaga’s bid to unify Japan’s warring states, to revise for history exams. The bulk of his talk, though, was devoted to discussing his studio’s recent hit Nioh (Team Ninja, 2017), a game (very) loosely based on the story of William Adams, a shipwrecked English sailor who became a confidant of the Shogun. It’s fair to say Hayashi’s is a laissez-faire stance on biographical accuracy; while he argued that, when dealing with figures like Nobunaga or Adams, one has a duty to accurately represent when and how an individual died, he also saw nothing wrong with taking the odd liberty – thus Adams, one of the few Westerners to be made a samurai, is reimagined in Nioh as a ruggedly handsome demon-slayer.

Also of interest were a series of panels centred on ugly feelings and bad behaviour (boredom, transgression, ‘dark play’, trolling) and an exhibition of student games on the theme of ‘danran’, or togetherness. If videogames are often seen as atomising (and are frequently invoked in discussions of the hikikomori phenomenon, which has seen as many as half a million Japanese youths voluntarily shut themselves off from the outside world) these projects sought to foster more sociable forms of play. In one, players wearing motion sensitive belts had to coordinate their movements to control two in-game turbines, blowing a shared avatar away from obstacles and towards the goal; another was controlled via a pressure-sensitive double mattress; a third invited players to challenge one another to karaoke rap battles (no one was brave enough to do this); a fourth riffed on the fact that in Japanese arcades, game cabinets are usually arranged back-to-back, so that you can’t see who you’re playing against – here a lightbulb and two-way mirror conspired to give the victor a glimpse of their vanquished foe. The back-to-back cabinet convention has always suited me just fine, but then I normally lose at competitive games – a tradition I faithfully upheld the next evening back at Nishiki market, where, having set a pretty creditable score in the singleplayer mode of Virtua Fighter 3 (Sega AM2, 1996), I rashly challenged a local to a match and saw my avatar stomped, slapped and whirled round like a ragdoll before being flung off of the Great Wall of China. Much like the rat, I never really stood a chance.

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Recent Publications

While this blog has been quiet over the summer, the Ego Media team has been busy. As well as completing the draft of our digital publication, team members have been writing and publishing widely.

The current issue of the European Journal of Life Writing features a special section co-edited by Clare Brant and Rob Gallagher. Titled ‘Digital Media: Life-Changing Online’, it showcases work originally presented at the International Auto/Biography Association Europe’s 2017 conference, which Ego Media hosted during the final throes of the UK’s last general election campaign. Reflecting on the extent to which the internet has altered everyday life, the special issue also considers how, by facilitating new forms of self-presentation, digital devices have altered our understanding of ‘the life’ as a literary form.

As one would expect, several articles address the use of social media to share stories and perform personae. Emma Maguire’s ‘Constructing the “Instagirl,” Deconstructing the Self-Brand’ looks at Amalia Ulman’s feted Instagram artwork Excellences and Perfections. Situating Ulman within longer histories of feminist art and life-writing, Maguire argues that while she has been dismissed by some as a hoaxer poking fun at would-be influencers, her real target is the artworld’s expectation that young artists should conform to highly gendered conventions of self-branding. Felice McDowell’s ‘Inside the Wardrobe: Fashioning a Fashionable Life’ also addresses performances of femininity in the creative industries, offering an analysis of Vogue’s YouTube series ‘Inside the Wardrobe’, in which sartorial tastemakers use favourite garments as autobiographical props and prompts. Korina Giaxolglou’s ‘Sharing Small Stories of Life and Death Online: Death-writing of the Moment’, meanwhile, considers digital mourning etiquette on Facebook, asking which lives are considered grievable and which content is shareable on digital platform.

Other papers look beyond social media to address other kinds of apps and devices. Rong Huang’s ‘Real Money, Real Me: Life Told by Third-party Mobile Payment Platforms’ addresses the proliferation of mobile payment software in China. Outlining the terms on which services like AliPay and WeChat Pay frame users’ identities, she argues that where the former presents individuals whose personality traits can be inferred from their transactions, the latter places more of an emphasis on the circulation of money among social groups, foregrounding collective identities. Ursula Hurley’s ‘Printing a New Story: Self-representation, Disability, and Digital Fabrication’, meanwhile, reflects on an AHRC Connected Communities project that explored dis/ability and identity through poetic uses of 3D printing.

There are also three contributions from Ego Media team members. In ‘Blogging the Iraq War: Soldiers, Civilians and Institutions’ Alisa Miller charts the rise of ‘milblogging’ in the 2000s. Showing how the enlisted blogger has, at different times, been framed as both a liability and a secret weapon by the US military establishment, she also laments the marginalisation of Iraqi voices, highlighting missed opportunities to foster communication, understanding and solidarity. My article “‘The game becomes the mediator of all your relationships”: Life Narrative and Networked Intimacy in Cibele offers a reading of Nina Freeman’s autobiographical ‘desktop simulator’. A digital epistolary romance, Cibele is also a love letter to MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer online role-playing game…. Finally, Clare Brant’s article ‘Imaginative Agency: New Possibilities’ laments the neoliberal co-optation of the term ‘creativity’ while proposing an alternative framework for discussing the cultural endeavours of artists, amateurs, trolls, fans and bots.

Nina’s desktop in Cibele (image Star Maid Games).

Rounding out the special issue is the Creative Matters section, for which contributors were asked to highlight sites and resources they think devotees of digital life writing should know about. This brief generated an impressively varied range of responses, from biographical databases and underwater web cams to a feminist porn site where crowdsourced confessions are turned into erotic shorts. Particularly noteworthy is Sarah McRae’s in-depth account of sites commemorating GeoCities, Yahoo’s fondly remembered DIY webpage service.

Meanwhile, Professor Max Saunders’ “Futurology: how a group of visionaries looked beyond the possible a century ago and predicted today’s world” in The Conversation has been attracting attention.


Alison McKinlay and Leone Ridsdale have published “Should GPs have direct access to imaging for headache? A qualitative study of patients’ views in the UK”. And their paper “Not Just a Headache: Qualitative Study About Web-Based Self-Presentation and Social Media Use by People With Migraine” was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, earlier in the summer.

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Focus on Mikka Lene Pers

portrait of Mikka

This week we’re featuring Mikka Lene Pers’s work on the Ego-Media Project. Mikka – a clinical psychologist who has studied and practised narrative therapy – is completing her PhD, which focuses on the phenomenon of mummy vloggers.

Mummy vloggers

“Mummy vloggers,” Mikka explains, “are a genre of social media microcelebrity that has emerged in social media. They started appearing on YouTube around 2006-2007, making YouTube vlogs about everyday life as mothers. And since then this whole community has emerged online.” These followers, Mikka argues, are invested in practices related to following and making sense of mummy vloggers’ personal lives. 

Mikka has been conducting a focused case study of how the lives of seven mommy vloggers are emplotted. In other words, “how stories about them are told and the plots are circulated in social media.” This also involves exploring how people adopt different kinds of participation roles in these stories, and how they negotiate the ownership and entitlement to tell these stories in social media.  

“When I started being interested in the storytelling activities surrounding mummy vloggers,” Mikka says, “the communities that gathered around them, and their channels, were still quite small.” This, Mikka explains, was in 2013. “Since then, many of the mummy vloggers have become very well established, quite well-known, and treated a bit like celebrities”.

Watch Mikka discussing her research

Growing professionalisation of mummy vlogging

Over the past five years, Mikka has observed a change in the sharing and following practices surrounding mummy vlogging. Mummy vlogs have become increasingly professional and commercialised. “Nowadays,” she says, “as a mummy vlogger you can become a celebrity and gain social status and also make a living from vlogging. 

So suddenly there’s a lot at stake. What I’ve seen is that mummy vloggers suddenly face new kinds of challenges. Because vlogging has, in a way, become their job, they have to invest a lot of time in it. This kind of investment in something that actually started out as a hobby can be quite hard because they live off showing a life in which they carry out a very labour-intensive form of motherhood. It means they have to be professional mothers, and professional vloggers at the same time.”

Narrating (M)others’ Lives

The risks of mummy vlogging

In order to stand out online, mummy vloggers face the challenge of having to produce content and establish a personal brand that sets them apart from other vloggers.  “That,” says Mikka, “can be dangerous, because it makes them vulnerable to accusations of being inauthentic, or being a bad mother. So, for instance, kids’ suffering makes for high value content. But, at the same time, the vloggers have to find ways of showing this sort of thing while still appearing to be a good mother.”

Losing control of the stories of (m)others’ lives

The version of their lives that mummy vloggers share online in mummy vlogs is scrutinised, shared and discussed by their followers. “This,” says Mikka “is basically what interaction in this particular community is all about – trying to make sense of the information that the vloggers offer.” This level and mode of audience involvement means that mummy vloggers are often unable to keep control of their stories, and sometimes “the stories that vloggers put out are taken apart and reconfigured in ways that can surprise them.” In some cases, Mikka argues, “this can lead to quite interesting discussions about what it means to be a mother. Which kind of experiences are hard? Which kinds of experiences are hard to talk about and share?” 

Blog summer break

The Ego-Media blog is taking a break for the summer, while we focus on completing our digital publication. See you back here in September!

Ludic Lives, Lewd Hacks and Digital Labour: Gameplay, Life Writing and Auto/Biography

On June 21st King’s played host to a symposium on ‘Indisciplinary Approaches to Digital Play’, which I helped KCL colleagues Feng Zhu, Stephanie James and Conor McKeown to organise. The idea was to structure the day around ‘provocations’ calibrated to spark cross-disciplinary conversation and debate. I’m not really the kind of thinker who thrives on the cut and thrust of duelling theses, but proposing a panel on gameplay, life writing and auto/biography turned out to be provocative enough in this context.

After all, much of the symposium was devoted to exploring how digital games push us to think in terms and on scales other than those auto/biography has classically dealt in. Rather than focusing on discrete individuals, we considered how games anchor messy assemblages of humans, machines, algorithms and even (in the case of Ida Kathrine Hammeleff Jørgensen’s work on ‘ACI’ or ‘Animal-Computer Interaction’) animals. Informed by Karen Barad’s ideas, Conor’s ecologies panel proposed that framing reality in terms of subjects exercising agency upon objects fundamentally misrepresents the realities of quantum entanglement and infra-action (grammatical imperatives notwithstanding). Feng’s panel on play and habit, meanwhile, focused not on the kinds of introspection and retrospection we expect of autobiographers, but on the unconscious accretion of embodied knowledge, the pre-personal domain of affective transmission and the split-second reactions required of high-level players for whom thousandths of a second may be the difference between victory and defeat.

Cassie McQuater’s Black Room (2018), an autobiographical game I’ve been thinking about lots recently

In such surroundings asking people to think biographically risks seeming retrograde, parochial or downright sentimental. Scholars of life writing have, however, been among the keenest critics of the conceptions of selfhood, time and agency that biography as a form has traditionally upheld, using particular acts of self-presentation to unpack the cultural implications of digitization and ludification. With this in mind, my goal was to highlight work happening at the junction of gaming and life writing while demonstrating that attending to individual lives and can further the kinds of projects outlined in the other panels.

In truth, some participants had already acknowledged as much, with Tom Brock citing Margaret Archer’s dictum that habits are best understood within their biographical contexts and Anne Mette Thorhauge arguing for the need to understand cases of compulsive ‘problem gaming’ contextually. Perhaps inevitably for a day about disciplinarity, academic biographies and career trajectories also factored into many of the sessions, not least the brilliant keynotes by ITU Copenhagen’s Espen Aarseth (who claimed to have been ‘raised by Digital Humanists’ before such a term existed, and affirmed the need for critical, as well as sociological and vocational, approaches to games education) and William Huber, who expressed his fear that UK Higher education just isn’t set up to properly support the kinds of inquiry that contemporary play cultures require.

While William’s concerns were echoed by many attendees, my panellists (all of whom had been asked to prepare 5 minute presentations as a prelude to a more general discussion) provided plenty of evidence that UK-based scholars are managing to do valuable work nonetheless.

The UCL Knowledge Lab’s Diane Carr kicked things off with an account of her recent work on digital games and disability for the AHRC research programme D4D: Disability and Community. Foregrounding gaming’s preoccupation with quantifying and evaluating bodily performance, Diane situated videogames within longer histories of sorting and evaluating bodies according to normative criteria. Highlighting the role of eugenicists like Francis Galton in these histories, Diane also asked how we deal with shameful episodes in the biographies of the institutions we work for – a question at the centre of a recent collaboration with Subhadra Das, curator of UCL’s Galton Collection.

Ego-Media’s own Lisa Gee gave us a demo of Hayleyworld, her interactive ‘zoegraphy’ of the poet and biographer William Hayley (1745-1820).  Hayley is best known these days as a friend and patron of 18th century cultural luminaries like Romney, Cowper and Blake. He was, however, famed at the time for his phenomenally successful Triumphs of Temper, a kind of husband-hunter’s guide formatted as a Spenserian epic poem. Mercurial and multifaceted, Hayley seems like the perfect subject for Lisa’s playful approach to life writing, popping up to engage visitors to Hayleyworld in branching dialogues that evoke contemporary ‘visual novels’ even as they take inspiration from 18th century conceptions of the art of conversation.

William Hayley

Abertay’s Emilie Reed, who works at the intersection of academia, the artworld and DIY gaming culture, talked about the recent Lost Histories jam, which saw her inviting participants to create pieces about ‘something specific to the way that you played or experienced videogames that you feel like hardly anyone ever talks about’. Providing alternatives to the reverently nostalgic paeans to bygone gaming blockbusters that litter social media, the jam yielded dissections of in-jokes in Super Mario Bros. fan game communities, a zine about playing bootleg games in 90s Argentina, an upload of rudimentary music production software once given away via CD-ROMs inserted into packs of Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain cereal and a virtual  exhibition of lewd Dragon Warrior (Chunsoft, 1986) hacks. Emilie also talked about her experiences of putting together a zine for the recent Now Play This festival of experimental game design, to which visitors were encouraged to add doodles, reminiscences and collages.

Nilson’s Brief History of Perverted Dragon Warrior ROM Hacks (2019), a submission to the Lost Histories Jam

The next presentation came from Zoyander Street. Having long made ‘para-academic’ contributions to the field of videogame criticism and history (I’m a fan of Dreamcast Worlds: A Design History, which uses interviews and anecdotes to illuminate the role games like Phantasy Star Online (Sonic Team, 2000) played in the biographies of individual players), Zoyander recently joined Lancaster University to conduct PhD research on how game designers have conceptualised players’ emotions. He’s also cultivated an art practice that has resulted in works like Interactive Portraits, which appeared alongside Emilie’s zine library at Now Play This. The project presents interviews with Japanese trans artists and activists via handheld devices inspired by Tamagotchi virtual pets (which, by prioritizing care over competition, provide a model of digital play that Zoyander suggested contemporary designers can still learn from). Framing this work in relation to auto/biographical games like Squinky’s you used to be someone, he proposed that games are facilitating new forms of life writing informed by queer and trans critiques of normative biographical temporalities.

Finally, the Oxford Internet Institute’s Jamie Woodcock gave a presentation explaining the model of worker’s inquiry he has developed across his work on the games industry, call centres, and ride sharing platforms like Uber – a model concerned not just with describing working conditions in the digital economy, but also with helping workers to organise and improve those conditions. Highlighting Marx’s little-discussed turn to surveys late in his career, Jamie framed his own work within a continuum of using first-hand experience to inform radical theory and praxis. He also discussed the emergence of the Game Workers Unite movement – part of a push towards unionisation in the games industry that, as Jamie underlined, seemed unimaginable to many until very recently – and looked back on the game jam on the theme of ‘organising at work’ that Game Workers Unite UK recently held.

If game studies has sometimes had a tendency to consider ‘the player’ in the abstract, and to turn a blind eye to the material circumstances within which specific games are made and played, the panel made a strong case for the value of situated perspectives on gameplay and game production – and, for that matter, games scholarship. Covering interactive auto/biographies and ‘ludobiographical’ accounts of particular subjects’ experiences of play alongside research methodologies in which forms of life writing (from interviews and oral histories, ethnographies and diaries to archival materials) play a role, the panel showed just how much exciting work is happening in these areas.

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