Dr. Spencer Keralis, Head for Digital Humanities and Collaborative Programs at the University of North Texas Libraries, is the recipient of the 2017 Innovative Outreach Award from the Texas Digital Library for his work on Digital Frontiers.
From the TDL announcement:
As founding director and ongoing chair of Digital Frontiers, Dr. Keralis has created and continues to foster a space that blurs the often rigid line between the makers and users of digital resources utilized in humanities, research, teaching, and learning. Currently in its 6th year, Digital Frontiers is a project of the UNT Libraries that explores advances and research in humanities and cultural memory through the lenses of digital scholarship, technology, and multidisciplinary discourse. … Under Dr. Keralis’ leadership and vision, the project’s impact has moved beyond reflection and placed itself at the forefront of the field’s future
Dr. Keralis will accept the award on behalf of the Digital Frontiers community at the Texas Conference on Digital Libraries, May 23-25 in Austin, Texas.
Video games have cemented themselves in modern culture as the kingpin of entertainment and art form. They are everywhere; in arcades, on our computers, on our phones; we even have dedicated computer systems devoted specifically as consoles for video games. It is hard to imagine someone living in western society that doesn’t play video games in some way, be it Candy Crushor Dark Souls. It is for this reason that I find it important to make distinctions in how we can distinguish and evaluate video game elements as means of better understanding their impact in our culture. In order to begin doing this, though, we must create some general definition of what can constitute as a video game.
What is a game?
What is a game? This question has plagued scholars and fans alike for as long as games and game study have existed, although it has come to recent light due to video games, and its answers are somewhat critical to our understanding of how to define video games. After all, a video game is typically majorly comprised of game elements, and therefore an understanding of the study of games is important to our understanding of video games. It’s important to note that games and video games are two separate but overlapping creations. To me, a video game is much more than just a game; it usually has some kind of story or lore, music and sound effects are often involved, and in many cases, video games don’t entirely qualify as games. So to define video games as entirely within the realm of games is severely limiting to the kinds of things that video games have accomplished. I’ll provide an example in the following.
One of the most popular ways of defining games comes from computer game designer Chris Crawford. His definition comes in the form of a series of dichotomies to make a taxonomy, beginning with creative expression. The Wikipedia page I linked to does a good job of verbally explaining the taxonomy, but a graphical representation is especially useful for visual conceptualization so I will include one here:
via the Proto-Knowledge blog http://proto-knowledge.blogspot.com/
It is through this taxonomy that the distinction between video games and games becomes ever clearer. Crawford even points out in his book Chris Crawford on Game Design that video games like The Sims do not inherently qualify as games, but rather as “software toys,” meaning that a video game can be a video game while not being a game in the traditional sense. It is also important to understand, as Crawford points out, that much of this can be subjectively based on the player’s perception. For example, with The Sims, there is no inherent goal of the video game (making it a toy by Crawford’s taxonomy), but the player may decide they want to have their character make a sandwich. This distinction moves The Sims from being a toy to being a puzzle, as the player now has a goal, but no competitor. This principle can be applied to other video games that don’t necessarily fit the definition of a game, such as Minecraft, to move them throughout Crawford’s taxonomy.
Disputes within the industry
The definition I have provided is by no means the absolute definition of games, nor the only one. Many scholars, professionals, and enthusiasts have contemplated, created, and debated innumerable ideas for how to define games. Some even call into question the importance of the idea, claiming that it is used more often to exclude creators or players from discussion, rather than as a building tool for study. I won’t add much more as to definitions here, as the one I have provided is the one I will primarily refer to. I encourage you to read other ideas on games and video games, as these can only serve to better shape our ideas on these subjects and broaden the creative horizons for the industry. I’ll add a video playlist here of several people discussing the idea of what a game is and why this matters, most of which cite Crawford’s definition of a game:
So what’s the point?
Video games are an undoubted oddity both in the realm of entertainment and in the world of art. Their strange concoction of irregularity concerning story and game elements make them increasingly difficult to study and understand, from both design aspects and scholarly aspects. They are by far the most unique and unexplored mediums of the modern era. And this can be seen by people constantly pushing the boundaries of what we might consider to be a video game, with titles like Mountain, The Stanley Parable, and Goat Simulator. At the end of the day, we all love our video games and all the many things that make them so unique. And that’s the point of this series, to point out unique elements of video games and determine how to understand and evaluate them. With the basis of game definition this post has provided, we can move forward in breaking down more individual elements of games.
I hope you’ve learned something new; I know I learned a lot in researching for this. Let us know what you think by tweeting us @DH_UNT or commenting below, and let us know, how do you define a game? What are some of your favorite video games that might not be considered games?
Screen capture of “The Voice in Music” from Organs of the Soul
What is it?
Dr. Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden (UNT College of Music) created Organs of the Soul: Social Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris when she was a Ph.D. candidate in musicology at Duke University. The goal of this interactive multimedia project is to historically and culturally situate hearing and listening in eighteenth-century Paris by exhibiting archival and primary source materials from this time. Materials range from opera librettos and descriptions of church bells to writings from the Dictionnaire de musique.
The digital sound archive is designed in a “choose your own adventure” format. Visitors are given the option of which pages they wish to explore and in what order they’d like to explore them. There are all kinds of narrative pathways to explore, giving each individual user the freedom to customize their interactions with the project.
When Dr. Geoffroy-Schwinden joined the College of Music at UNT, she continued to add to and refine Organs of the Soul. In her MUMH 5110 course (“Quarreling about Opera in Eighteenth-Century Paris”), masters and doctoral students created a series of podcasts that were added to the project. In these podcasts, the students re-enact quarrels about opera in eighteenth-century Paris, revealing tense relationships between French and Italian opera in Louis XIV’s France.
What you’d need to know
Scalar is a free, open source authoring and publishing platform that enables users to bring together media from many sources and combine them with their own writing. Scalar gives the user the ability to create various pathways and connections between their media and gives visitors the option of hopping around the site at will to experience the “choose your own adventure” narrative.
Dr. Geoffroy-Schwinden explored several web publishing platforms and ultimately settled on Scalar because it fit all of her needs. For more information on the platforms available, see her blog post, Exploring Web Publishing for DH Sound Projects.
SoundCloud is an online audio distribution platform allowing users to upload, record, promote, and share their originally created sounds. SoundCloud was used to store the audio clips that are featured in the Organs of the Soul.
Below are the web publishing platforms that were considered for hosting Organs of the Soul. Take some time to explore each one and make the decision about which would best fit the needs for your project.
The Delaunay Triangulation is another visualization available through RAWGraphs that can be used to represent dispersions. The visualization creates a planar, triangular mesh for a given set of points. For the following example, I downloaded a public data set from Kaggle of data from 5000+ movies on IMDB. I refined the data set and decided to look only at movies from 2014.
The Delaunay Triangulation only requires two fields: the x-axis and y-axis, both consisting of numbers or dates. In order to demonstrate the visualization, I chose to show the relationship between movie budget (x-axis) and gross revenue (y-axis). The result is shown below:
This type of visualization shows the correlations are present in a set of data. For instance, there seems to be a positive correlation in terms of money spent and money earned up to a certain point, after which the correlation plateaus.
It is important to provide some context when using this visualization, as there are no labels on the axes or data points, nor is there an option to add them. However, general trends in data are represented well using the Delaunay Triangulation, making it useful for all types of data sets.
If you’re a fan of video games, chances are that you’re more than familiar with Let’s Play’s. These series of gameplay commentaries have gained massive success within recent years, and now make up a large and thriving community on websites like YouTube. People everywhere are starting channels and producing these videos at an ever increasing rate. But how do they do it? How do you get started? Where do you begin? If you’ve never done anything like video editing or screen recording, these can be difficult questions to tackle. Luckily there are guides like this one to help you figure out how to record your gameplay, commentary, and then edit it all together.
How to record gameplay
So, the first issue to tackle is recording the gameplay itself. This greatly depends on what platform you intend to record games from: console or PC, as each one has its own separate solution. Let’s start with consoles
It doesn’t matter if you’re an Xbox or PlayStation fan, either way you’ll want to get a game capture card. While most modern consoles (like the Xbox One or PS4) can record gameplay natively, the result is often sub par in video quality and difficult to export to a computer for editing. So to get good quality video that will be easy to edit, you’ll want a capture card.
Shown above is the Elgato HD60, which can be found here. It works by passing your console’s HDMI output to Elgato’s software on your computer. While it is expensive, it is one of the most recommended ways of recording console gameplay. Easy to use software that works out of the box is pretty hard to beat, and Elgato reigns in that case. Press record, give your video a title, and it takes care of the rest.
Now, if you’re wanting to record gameplay on a computer, you’ve got a much cheaper, but slightly more complicated option. Open Broadcaster Software, more commonly referred to as OBS, is a free and open source option for screen capture software and can be downloaded from here. It’s used by everyone from Let’s Play beginners to veterans of the trade. While it can be a little tricky to set up and fine tune, the result is good quality video of whatever you need from your computer. Here’s a video to help guide you through the set up process:
It’s important to note that I do not recommend using the mic recorder in OBS for your voice over commentary, as this will put your mic audio and game audio in the same track, making it difficult to edit your commentary audio later. We’ll cover how to record your commentary next.
How to record voice over commentary
Now that you have the basics for game recording, it’s time to record your voice over commentary. This will serve as your main way of interacting with your audience. Your commentary should consist of your reactions to events within the game, your thought process as you solve problems in the game, and engaged reading of relevant in-game text (ex., signs, character dialogue, etc.).
But what about the hardware to record this brilliant commentary? What about the mic? Well, that’s easy. If you’re gaming on a laptop, chances are that you’ve already got a webcam with a mic, so you can just use that. If you’re using a desktop without a built-in microphone, and you don’t have a spare webcam lying around, or you just want to upgrade your audio quality, you’ll probably want to pick up a standalone mic.
The Blue Snowball iCE and Floureon BM-800 are excellent starter mics. While the Snowball is essentially ready to go out of he box, the Floureon needs a little more set up, as it doesn’t come with a stand. Thankfully NEEWER makes a pretty good boom arm for a reasonable price. These are excellent places to start recording your commentary.
Another great mic recommendation is the Audio-Technica AT2020. While it is more expensive than the previously listed mics, it is an excellent mic with great audio quality, and would definitely make for a good upgrade path.
How to edit everything
Now that we’ve figured out how to record both your gameplay and your commentary, it’s time to get editing. There is an abundance of video editing software available, both free and paid, but I will try to limit my recommendations.
When it comes to free video editing, Lightworks is a pretty hard hitting competitor. Boasting work with many Oscar award winning films, it’s easy to see how it could be useful for even simple video edits. The only difficulty is that the software has a steep learning curve, and a fair amount of its capabilities may be beyond the needs of basic editing to get started.
For something a little more basic, VideoPad offers a simple and easy-to-use layout, while still remaining a powerful and versatile editing tool. Either of these pieces of software make solid choices for editing your Let’s Play, but if you want to gain a little more edge, here are some paid options as well.
Sony Vegas Pro is a widely popular choice. Its powerful and sleek design make it an excellent choice for bringing your videos to that next level of content and entertainment.
Adobe Premier Pro is another popular choice among paid video editing software. With plenty of tutorials online, you’re bound to figure out how to do just about any editing trick you can think of. If you want to add any kind of graphics to your video, you might also check out Adobe After Effects to really make your videos pop out.
I’ve given you the tools, now how do you actually do this?
Well, this is a hard question to answer. Every Let’s Player has their own style and way of doing things to give their videos their special bit of flare. But there are still some basics I can offer.
To begin, start recording your gameplay on OBS or your capture card, then start recording your mic audio on Audacity for your commentary. It might be beneficial to have these on the same hotkey shortcut. Now, move around the menu or click around before you get started, while saying out loud what you’re doing. This will help you sync up your mic audio to the rest of your video later. Now, start playing your game. Give an intro at the title or menu screen, something to introduce your audience to the game and its basic principle. As you start playing, make sure you keep talking. This is important to video game commentary, as you should want to enhance the game with your input. Make jokes, talk about observations of the game, think out loud about puzzles or interesting features of the game, anything and everything you can talk about, you should. But be mindful of when characters speak in game, especially during cut scenes. It can be annoying if you end up talking over important in-game audio, and you can end up detracting from the enjoyment of the game for your audience. You can attempt to play though the game in one sitting, but it can be far more beneficial to play in manageable chunks. Try and stop in places that make sense in terms of the story line, where the game naturally breaks and pauses. This will help give your final videos a sense of structure and flow, rather than random bits of gameplay. When you’re finished recording, leave a few seconds of silence at the end of your audio. This will be important for cutting out background noise.
With recordings in hand, it’s time to get busy editing. Starting with the audio, fire up Audacity. Earlier in this guide I showed a video on how to apply basic editing to your audio, and I will link to it again here. Essentially, you just want to smooth out your audio levels and minimize the background noise. Now import your commentary audio over your gameplay, and use the bit where you clicked around the menu to sync everything up. It may be beneficial to do a quick scrub through the rest of your video to make sure everything is timed perfectly. You don’t want your scream to start before the actual jump scare in a horror game, or any other issues like that. Now start editing the video. Basic editing is mostly cutting out the “boring bits.” Things like long character creation, outside interruptions (i.e., someone knocking on your door), long scenes with little happening, etc. can all be cut out. For instance, let’s say you’re playing a survival game. You just cleared an area of enemies, and it’s time to check the surroundings for loot. It might not be the best idea to include this footage, unless you discuss something within that time, such as the direction of the game or how a recent in-game event reminds you of something that happened to you in real life. The important thing to remember is that you want to keep your audience engaged, and you can accomplish this by adding content to the game via your commentary. So, if whatever is happening doesn’t enhance the game in some way, it’s probably best to leave it out.
Once you’re done with that, you can see if you want to add any kind of graphics or effects. Many Let’s Players include this to give their content a little more edge. Things like sound and visual effects can add comedy and intrigue for your audience. For instance, if something in the background of your game moves and it startles you, a zoom shot on the movement with an alarming sound effect can add a little character and humor to your shock. You can also add little boxes of text to characters in the game, adding joking insight. None of this is necessary, but it can certainly give your video a little more intrigue.
Now that we’ve covered all the general ideas of how to make a Let’s Play, you might be wondering where to start. This is where it can be helpful to look at what other Let’s Players are doing and finding inspiration from them. This can be anything from seeing what kind of game would be popular to play to seeing what kind of visual effects they’re implementing. There’s always something you can learn from seeing what others do successfully. That being said, here are some Let’s Players to draw some inspiration from.
It would be wrong of me to not start with the king of Let’s Play’s himself, PewDiePie, real name Felix. Holding the world record for most subscribers on YouTube, Felix has made a huge name for himself and can practically be considered the face of gameplay commentary. iHasCupquake is known for her cutesie style of commentary, as well as her game-based baking videos. Next on the list would be Markiplier. Mark is known for his overactive style of playing and constant fan interaction, as well as his iconic pink moustache logo. Another prominent figure is jacksepticeye, real name Seán. His style is very high energy with lots of excitement, which has garnered him millions of views and subscribers. Geek Remix is a duo of female commentators who collaborate in their content. Their videos are recognizable for their pushing of societal norms and expectations, as well as a large amount of content outside of just Let’s Plays. The Yogscast is a group of Let’s Players and video game commentators who work on all kinds of projects together. Simon and Lewis are the original duo that started the Yogscast, but members now include Duncan, Sjin, Hannah, Kim, Martyn, Rythian, Nilesy, Zoey, Zylus, and Caff.
That’s all folks!
And that’s it! You’ve got all the tools to make your own Let’s Play. The rest is just practice and patience. Share your Let’s Play with us at @DH_UNT!
Visualization of the quantity and quality of scanned historical newspapers.
What is it?
Mapping Texts began in 2010 as a collaborative project between the University of North Texas and Stanford University. The goal of the project is to develop a series of experimental new models for combining the possibilities of text-mining and geospatial analysis to enable researchers to develop improved quantitative and qualitative methods for finding and analyzing meaningful language patterns embedded within massive collections of historical newspapers.
What you’d need to know
Several tools were used to build this project, including:
GNU Aspell is an Open Source spell checker that was used to correct recurring errors introduced by the OCR process.
MALLET was used for topic modeling, which uses statistical methods to uncover connections between collections of words (“topics”) that appear in a given text.
Stanford NER is a program that attempts to identify and classify various elements in a text (i.e., nouns such as people or location).
GitHub – The source code was uploaded here for downloading and re-use.
RAWGraphs is an open source data visualization framework that strives to make the visual representation of complex data easy for everyone. The source provides step by step instructions for uploading data and creating unique, aesthetically pleasing visualizations that tell stories and make arguments using data in new ways.
There are several options available, depending on the type of data you have and the arguments you are trying to make. We will take some time to look at each type of visualization and provide some examples of ways to use it.
The first visualization available is the Convex Hull. It is used to represent dispersions in data by displaying convex shapes containing a set of points. The visualization is overlaid on top of a scatterplot, making it useful at identifying points belonging to the same category.
Using sample data provided by RAW, we’ve displayed various stats of movies, including their production budget (x-axis), total domestic box office earnings (y-axis), and their rating on IMDB.
By choosing to display this data using a Convex Hull visualization, we can show the relationship between the amounts of money spent producing a movie and how much the movie grossed in the box office. We also see an interesting relationship when we group the movies by IMDB rating. Perhaps the most dramatic relationship we see is that Avatar received the same rating as Jurassic Park and Monsters, Inc., despite the fact that much more was spent in production.
A Convex Hull is just one of the many data visualization options available through RAW. Be on the lookout for our next post on the Delaunay Triangulation!
Mean Green Mapped is an interactive web map utilizing GIS software to illustrate UNT’s history through photographs and other media. It began with the goal of providing an opportunity for students, faculty, and members of the Denton community to interact with the history of campus by showing changes in the landscape and architecture from the 1900s to the present.
Work began in May 2015 after the project team was awarded the Dean’s Innovation Grant and continued until August 2016. The premise behind mapping the history of UNT’s campus comes from the idea that maps can display complex patterns, trends, and relationships across time quickly and easily.
What you’d need to know
When building any digital project, it is crucial to have the right tools at your disposal. Mean Green Mapped was created using the following platforms:
ArcGIS Online Platform is a cloud-based mapping platform that connects people with maps, data, and apps through geographic information systems (GIS).
ArcMap 10.3 is used to create maps, perform spatial analysis, manage geographic data, and share the results.
ArcGIS for Server 10.3 is software that makes geographic information available to anyone with an Internet connection.
GlobalMapper 16.2 uses GIS to offer access to a variety of spatial datasets.
DH @ UNT is a forum for all things digital humanities related at the University of North Texas. We’ll be blogging about projects, tools, and current events, and highlighting some of the creative digital work done by faculty, students, and staff at UNT.
If you have information you’d like to contribute, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DH_UNT on Twitter for additional updates.
This blog is a project of the Digital Humanities and Collaborative Programs Unit of the UNT Libraries Public Services Division.