Imagine Otherwise: Amanda Phillips on Critical Digital Humanities

by | Nov 16, 2016

How can digital media transform the way we organize, teach, and relate to our bodies and the world?

In episode 24 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach chats with guest Amanda Phillips about the politics of video game realism in an era of increasingly visible police violence, why so many marginalized communities have turned to digital media for organizing, how hashtag syllabi have transformed what it means to teach about current events, and how teachers and students can together use the classroom as a space in which we teach each other how to imagine and create the kind of worlds we want.

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Guest: Amanda Phillips

Amanda Phillips is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Georgetown University.

She writes about gender, race, and social justice in gaming communities and the digital humanities.

Her publications can be found in Games and CultureDigital CreativityThe Fembot Collective, and Understanding Minecraft: Essays on Play, Community, and Possibility.

Most recently, Amanda has been involved with the #transformDH Collective’s efforts to encourage and highlight critical cultural studies work in digital humanities projects.

AManda Phillips wearing a grey blazer, plaid button-down shirt, and glasses. Text reads: The pedagogical work that I do is trying to enable a world in which people know how to identify what it is that they want and what it is we need as a society to create more justice.

We chatted about

  • What happens when what you love the most and your job are the same thing (05:00)
  • The draw of “the digital” for marginalized communities (10:50)
  • Wearable technologies as an accessible and impactful creative site (17:30)
  • Amanda’s new digital humanities project, Mechropolitics (21:50)
  • How media representations tie into real-world political events (27:00)
  • Imagining otherwise (35:00)

Takeaways

The digital and marginalized communities

There was still this sense that you had to be able to do something really programmatically or technologically sophisticated to make it interesting, which is not at all the case, at least from our perspective.

Mechropolitics

Death is really interesting and prevalent within gaming, particularly in the way that notions of realism get batted around with these animation technologies.

Digital scholarship and structures of violence

There’s something about the headshot that’s really salient, that brings out this moment where gaming culture and wider political things come together.

Public engagement

My scholarship is going to be next to useless unless I can find a way to tap into and change [public] conversation.

Imagining otherwise

The pedagogical work that I do is trying to enable a world in which people know how to identify what it is that they want and what it is we need as a society to create more justice.

More from Amanda Phillips

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

Transcript

Cathy Hannabach (00:03):

Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.

Cathy Hannabach (00:23):

Welcome to the Imagine Otherwise Podcast, which is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive interdisciplinary scholars write awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds. This episode is brought to you by our new publication Book Marketing for Academics, which teaches interdisciplinary authors how to identify and engage your book’s audience, harness your unique skills and expertise, and help people use your book to make a change in the world. You can get your copy at ideasonfire.net.

Cathy Hannabach (00:58):

Welcome to Episode 24. My guest today is Amanda Phillips. Amanda is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Georgetown University. She writes about gender, race, and social justice in gaming communities and the digital humanities. Her publications can be found in Games and Culture, Digital Creativity, The Fembot Collective, and Understanding Minecraft: Essays on Play, Community, and Possibility. Most recently she’s been involved with the TransformDH Collective’s efforts to encourage and highlight critical cultural studies work in digital humanities projects.

Cathy Hannabach (01:33):

Here’s my interview with Amanda in which we discuss the politics of video game realism in an era of increasingly visible police violence, why so many marginalized communities have turned to digital media for organizing, how hashtag syllabi have transformed what it means to teach about current events, and how teachers and students can together use the classroom as a space in which we teach each other how to imagine and create the kind of worlds we want.

Cathy Hannabach (02:00):

Thank you so much for being with us, Amanda.

Amanda Phillips (02:03):

Thank you for having me.

Cathy Hannabach (02:04):

So your work kind of across the board brings feminist, queer, and critical race studies to bear on digital media and video games in particular. I’m curious how you got into that field. What drew you to video games as a platform?

Amanda Phillips (02:20):

Part of it is I’ve been a lifelong gamer and I’ve always had a sense, even as a kid, that I responded much more strongly to characters and stories within video games than I did in novels or in films or that sort of thing. At the same time, I was always also a literature geek as a kid, so my sort of formal entry into game studies occurred fairly early in my academic career. So I was actually an undergraduate at Rice University and Rita Raley was my dissertation director. She actually came for a sort of visiting fellowship at Rice and she taught a class on electronic literature. I took the class and it was the first class that I was able to write a paper about video games.

Amanda Phillips (03:15):

I grew up in Florida in sort of a core area of town and at the time we were still busing low income kids into the rich neighborhoods. Neither of my parents went to college, but I went to school with kids who were children of professors at the University of South Florida. I promise this all connects.

Amanda Phillips (03:40):

When I was around these kids, their life goal was I’m headed to grad school. I’m getting a PhD. So I kind of grew up around that environment of all my other classmates and going to grad school, so clearly I’m going to grad school too. But I didn’t realize until I got to college that to go to grad school you needed something that you could really sink your teeth into and devote your life to. So I was feeling kind of lost on that. Like, oh, I want to go to grad school, but I have no idea what I really could devote my life to. When I took this electronic literature class, it sort of all opened up to me and I was like, I can definitely play video games for a living and think about them and write about them and really kind of devote my life to the study of this particular media.

Amanda Phillips (04:25):

So I kept in touch with Rita over time and when it was time to apply for grad schools I asked her where I should go and she gave me a couple of suggestions. She was also like, by the way, you could also come here. So I ended up over at UC Santa Barbara studying video games.

Cathy Hannabach (04:41):

Nice. That sounds like a pretty cool job, I have to say.

Amanda Phillips (04:45):

It’s a lot of fun. I mean, it’s the double edged sword, right? Now playing games is part of my job. While I initially thought that, oh, I’ll be able to keep that separation, really now all I can stand to play sort of for fun or in my free time are things like Candy Crush and Bejeweled and those sorts of casual games. Because any other game is, I should be writing this down or I should thinking about this.

Cathy Hannabach (05:13):

I think a lot of fields work like that, right?

Amanda Phillips (05:15):

Yeah.

Cathy Hannabach (05:15):

When you turn the thing that you loved to do for fun into your career, there are times when you need a break from it, when you need just the pure pleasure, pure fluff, pure just enjoyment, that you have to turn off that part of your brain. So I think it’s like literary scholars who like to read, I don’t know, John Grisham novels or something like that. I was like, what’s the like worst example of like crappy literature I could think of. But it’s pleasurable.

Amanda Phillips (05:46):

Don’t offend the John Grisham scholars out there.

Cathy Hannabach (05:47):

Sorry everyone in the world. But whatever it is for people in their various fields, right?

Amanda Phillips (05:54):

Yeah, yeah, totally. So, I mean, I experience that too.

Cathy Hannabach (05:59):

So amongst your many projects, your many talents, you’re a founding member of TransformDH, which is a fantastic collective. I’d love for you to explain just a little bit about what TransformDH is, kind of how it evolved, if you all are doing any particular project these days, and why is it important? What is it transforming?

Amanda Phillips (06:23):

Sure. So the really interesting thing about TransformDH is it is actually just a hashtag, or it was intended to be just a hashtag. We sort of formed this collective around a hashtag whose origins came from a panel that we held at ASA that was called Transformative Digital Humanity. In order to shorten that we just said, oh, our panel hashtag is TransformDH.

Amanda Phillips (06:52):

This original panel was a bunch of younger scholars and we were scheduled up against some really heavy hitters at ASA. So I think we had more panelists than people in the audience initially, and then I think Lisa Nakamura showed up and we were like, oh, finally the balance is in our favor. So it started out as just young people who were involved in digital humanities, broadly conceived. So there were a couple of us in game studies, some people doing the more sort of computational digital humanities, some people in media studies. We just wanted to have a conversation with the people who were interested in this topic about what types of work we could be doing as transformative sort of political work within the digital humanities.

Amanda Phillips (07:42):

When the hashtag Transformative Digital Humanities got shortened to TransformDH and people started circulating it more widely, we really kind of released it into the wild and said we want people just to tag work that you think is transformative within the digital humanities with this hashtag. Then we can just see what’s going on out there. But in going from transformative to transform, it kind of looked like an imperative, right? Or some kind of a challenge to whatever you might call it, DH establishment.

Amanda Phillips (08:15):

Which was not the original intent, but then it became an intent that we kind of took up because we were young. We were like, I don’t know if we’re ready to do all that. But then we were like, no, we really should be transforming DH from within. So there were certain of us who were at the panel originally, but the sort of name I think we hoped for everyone to use and for everyone to contribute to this project.

Amanda Phillips (08:45):

The only kind of organized things, I mean, we did have a book project in the work at one point. I’m not really sure what the status of that is right now. But Alexis Lothian at the University of Maryland, she was the first one of us to get a solid tenure line faculty job, and the first thing she did in that position was to host a TransformDH Conference, which happened last year, last October.

Amanda Phillips (09:10):

So that was really neat to see not only those of us who were starting to advance more in our careers get together, but then to get this influx of young graduate students in particular who were participating in our workshops. It was a sort of unconference format. Well the first day was panel, the second day was an unconference format. Just the energy in the room was really incredible just to see all these young feminists, young women of color, young people who are really interested in doing this kind of work, but also being told that you’re not going to get a job unless you can do something with the digital.

Amanda Phillips (09:54):

So that was really rewarding to kind of be with those people and kind of see ourselves in a way and say, no, first of all, just claim the digital for yourself. Right? That’s part of what we want to do is let lots of people claim digital humanities as a strategic method or a strategic critical method, because it is attached, that moniker is attached to a lot of funding out there, right? So we did have some conversations within this unconference about how can you leverage these buzzwords to get funding for your projects that ultimately may be more or less traditional digital humanities. But if you get funded under a digital humanities grant, guess what? You are digital humanities, even if you’re doing radical feminist work or something like that.

Cathy Hannabach (10:45):

What do you think the draw is to the digital for marginalized communities? I mean it seems so much of the most exciting work, in my opinion, you’d probably agree given the work that you do, so much of the most exciting digital work in general and digital humanities work in particular is being done by women, by queers, by trans people, by people of color, by low-income undocumented people. That’s where the vibrancy is. That’s where the passion is. That’s where the smarts are, frankly.

Amanda Phillips (11:17):

Right.

Cathy Hannabach (11:17):

Why is that? What is it about the digital that allows marginalized communities that are marginalized both within the academy and in broader social and political spheres, what is it about the digital that gives them freedom, or space, or a methodology to do radical work?

Amanda Phillips (11:41):

I mean, some of it, and going back to sort of cliche conversations about the digital, is access, a question of access. So there are a lot of digital platforms out there like Twitter, for example, or Tumbler, that don’t require a high barrier of technology or don’t place a high barrier of technology or expertise or that sort of thing. Communities find each other on the internet and sort of create this beautiful energy through these platform.

Amanda Phillips (12:14):

I would say that a lot of people within TransformDH agree, and some of those people, such as Jessica Marie Johnson and Moya Bailey, who have been really at the forefront of using these social media tools to do really impressive and wonderful scholarship. It’s kind of weird when mainstream DH is surprised that this kind of work is happening because that’s where it started really.

Cathy Hannabach (12:47):

Yeah.

Amanda Phillips (12:48):

So for me, yeah, it’s partially access or partially this is where the communities are going. Then part of what we try to do in kind of raising the profile of this is because for us, and for me in particular, it has felt, going through my career and I know people have been over and over these conversations about the hack versus yak, and that’s not exactly what I meant kind of thing, that there was still this sense that you had to be able to do something really programmatically or technologically sophisticated to make it interesting, right? Which is not at all the case, at least from our perspective. So being able to acknowledge things like social media as a technology and as a critical methodology, I mean, you have all of the hashtag syllabi that have cropped up around the Ferguson Syllabus.

Amanda Phillips (13:52):

Actually, by the way, I’m really geeked to be at Georgetown with Marcia Chatelain, who started the Ferguson Syllabus, and to see all of these tools that help us organize our knowledge so quickly. Yeah, it’s great, and it’s easily spreadable, and it’s easily transmissible for people even if you only have a cell phone or even if you don’t have a expensive gaming computer.

Cathy Hannabach (14:21):

So what are some of your favorite digital humanities projects that you see happening these days?

Amanda Phillips (14:28):

Yeah.

Cathy Hannabach (14:29):

Aside from your own, of course, which we’ll talk a little bit more about in a minute. But what are some of the ones that get you excited?

Amanda Phillips (14:36):

So, actually, if you check out the TransformDH Conference website, there were some really fantastic projects that came out of or that were sort of exhibited at this conference. One of the ones that stood out to me, partially because I was really steeped in this work at UC Davis, being part of the ModLab there, was this Digit(al) Shakespeares project that is done by Tyrone Giordano and Jill Marie Bradbury of Gallaudet here. Gallaudet, of course, being the university here in DC for the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Amanda Phillips (15:17):

So their title, Digit(al) Shakespeares, the A-L is in parentheses, right? So they’re talking about gestural Shakespeare and about Shakespeare in sign language. First of all, I think that play on the word digital is really fantastic and I loved it. I think they’re sort of going back to Shakespeare performance as this really gestural thing and how the deaf community can really engage and get into that in a different way than hearing folk. That to me was a really exciting cool project to be a part of.

Amanda Phillips (15:54):

The thing that we were working on at Davis that kind of linked up with that was a game called Play the Knave, which was sort of a Shakespeare karaoke game with the Microsoft Connect. You choose your avatars, there are two avatars on screen, and you choose whatever Shakespeare scene that you want, it’s kind of preloaded. The lines pop up on the screen and the people in front of the screen act them out. Their motions are captured by the Connect motion capture camera and animates the avatars.

Cathy Hannabach (16:26):

Oh, that’s so cool. How fun.

Amanda Phillips (16:27):

Yeah. So it’s a fun little game and it’s an interesting sort of performance teaching tool, but then put alongside a project like Digit(al) Shakespeares, I think you have a really powerful way to kind of engage a new mode of performance, or at least sort of offer a different kind of tool for the performance class room or even for research on this type of performance.

Cathy Hannabach (16:56):

Definitely.

Amanda Phillips (16:58):

Yeah. So that’s one of the ones that I liked a lot. The other one wasn’t at a conference per se, but [Yara Mosch 00:17:20] , who I think actually it is also DC-based. But I first actually ran into their work at ASA a couple of years ago, but Mosch does a lot of really cool disability design stuff and a lot of sort of semi personal scholarship that I find really thought provoking and exciting. Just kind of browsing over some of the projects he has going on right now, being really invested in wearable technologies, she’s got some interesting wearable technology projects that sort of investigate the disabled body or the body and pain.

Cathy Hannabach (17:50):

Interesting. A couple episodes ago we had Micha Cardenas on here who was talking about wearables and kind of how marginalized communities have kind of harnessed the power of wearables, right? Her current collaborative project, Unstoppable, she’s talked a lot about.

Amanda Phillips (18:09):

Yes.

Cathy Hannabach (18:09):

So it seems like wearables are an interesting site where communities that haven’t traditionally had access to, and indeed being kind of explicitly denied access to technologies, have found literally little ways, little technologies, these kind of very physically small and often overlooked everyday kind of mobile technologies, that have these really huge political impacts, or can when they’re mobilized in kind of creative ways.

Cathy Hannabach (18:41):

So it’s an interesting… Trend isn’t really the right word, because that seems too flippant. But it’s an interesting pattern across various marginalized communities who are doing projects that overlap but aren’t necessarily the same, right?

Amanda Phillips (18:54):

Yeah.

Cathy Hannabach (18:55):

But they’re turned to wearables as this creative site.

Amanda Phillips (18:58):

Yeah, definitely. So the last Haystack Conference at ASU in Phoenix or Tempe, I went to a wearables design workshop that was led by Jacque Wernimont and her collaborator there. God, how am I forgetting her name? I think Jessica Rajko? Anyways, the two of them kind of work as a team to do these really cool sort of feminist wearables. Right? So, yeah, I definitely think that wearables is one of those things. All of Micha’s projects since I have ever come into contact with her have been really brilliant, and then the stuff that Jacque is doing.

Amanda Phillips (19:50):

It was really neat because Jess Rajko, who is a performance professor and scholar of performance, she ran these sort of almost dance workshops for us so that when we were at this, they called it a design charette, the first thing we did is kind of sit with our bodies and move with our bodies and be with our bodies and kind of get a feel for how our bodies are moving before we even started talking about wearable technology and what that does for the body or how we can design it in different ways. So that was a really neat experience for me to kind of be at this technology design workshop, but it was all about your own body.

Cathy Hannabach (20:34):

Yeah. There’s a great resource here in Philadelphia, I’m based in Philadelphia, called The Hacktory, and there’s a lot of wearable workshops that they do, and particularly wearable for people who don’t have a lot of experience with building things themselves or who want to explore how they can be used for activist purposes. So it seems like more and more organizations and individuals and community groups and campuses and departments and stuff are turning to this, which is really exciting.

Amanda Phillips (21:07):

Yeah, definitely. It’s one of those things that is seemingly difficult to get into, but again, once you kind of hold these workshops or introduce people to things like the Lily Pattern [inaudible 00:21:22] or whatever wearables kind of open up for different communities is really fun and exciting to do. We actually at the ModLab last year, or two years ago, I guess, Micha came in and held a workshop for us on wearables.

Cathy Hannabach (21:38):

Oh nice.

Amanda Phillips (21:38):

Yeah.

Cathy Hannabach (21:41):

So I think this is a good point to kind of transition to the work that you’re doing right now on your new project, and I’m sure it will connect to some of this stuff we’ve been talking about so far. But you’re tackling a new project called macropolitics and I’d love to hear about that. Is that a more kind of traditional scholarly book project? Are you doing something more creative, particularly with video games? I know there’s a big video game component to it. So I’d love for you to just explain a little of what that project is.

Amanda Phillips (22:12):

Sure. So the idea of macropolitics is actually sort of my creating a term out of necropolitics, right? Because it comes a lot out of critical race theory and the sort of philosophies of death and dying or governance by death and dying and thinking about video game mechanics or digital technologies that in some ways simulate death. I mean, this has been one of those ideas that I’ve had in the back of my mind since I was kind of working on my dissertation, because death is really interesting and prevalent, I think, within gaming. Particularly in the way that notions of realism kind of get batted around with these animation technology.

Amanda Phillips (23:01):

I have an article out that sort of starts to define what macropolitics is and it’s about head shots in video games. head shots being the sort of moment when a player gets a bullet in the head of some bad guy, right? Which could be another player, which could be just a digital person. The head shot has become this sort of moment or act of virtuosity within video games that’s really highly celebrated, right? There’s a lot of weird YouTube videos about head shots and celebration of this sort of performance of gaming convertuosity.

Amanda Phillips (23:42):

So what I wanted to do in thinking that through a necropolitical lens and then the macropolitical lens is think about how that mechanic in games sort of interacts with our own attitudes towards death and towards the management of populations, particularly of people of color. Where I got was thinking about the head shot as something that has evolved since, well, first of all, you have the sort of photographic head shot of actors and that kind of thing, through the sort of imagination that surrounds the assassination of JFK and the filmic obsession with the exploding head.

Amanda Phillips (24:24):

In video games it’s a little bit about the exploding head, for sure, but it’s also very much about this affective experience of the twitch response, right? So head shots are something you can line up carefully and get, but more often, particularly in the multiplayer arena, what’s so exciting about getting head shots is that you are scanning for people that are running around on this combat field and picking them off one by one in the head, right? So it’s about a twitch reflex as opposed to necessarily the aesthetic experience of seeing your opponent’s head explode.

Amanda Phillips (25:03):

For me, that really brought up this culture we have in policing about the turn and shoot, right? My life is in danger. I had to respond very quickly. That’s a twitch response. That’s a turn and shoot response. So my goal is not necessarily to blame video games for this kind of violence, right? There’s been a lot of psychological studies. It’s up in the air, right? We can’t find a conclusive link between video games and violence. But at the same time, the way that people understand these incidents is very much inflected by their experience with the media.

Amanda Phillips (25:43):

So I found some psychological evidence done at… I want to say the University of Michigan. I’m not 100% remembering that right now. But that when you get people in front of a game and you get them to play games, particularly games that encourage head shots at like a zombie, a horror game or something like that, and then you send them out onto a gun range. These people who’ve had no firearms training experience, they are much more likely to shoot for the head when they’re put out on the range.

Amanda Phillips (26:14):

Now this contradicts what actual firearms training is like. I’m the daughter of a retired law enforcement officer, and my dad has been a firearms instructor for many years, and they don’t actually teach that. Shooting for the head is only good in particular circumstances and it’s just not good firearms practice. But you see more and more, as this sort of like culture of head shots within video games bleeds over into more general culture, you see people doing really weird things like getting head shots in deer when they’re hunting, which is-

Cathy Hannabach (26:46):

Which makes no sense, yeah.

Amanda Phillips (26:47):

Right. It makes no sense, particularly if it’s trophy hunting, right? So it becomes about this weird, again, the performance of virtuosity and this valuation of a particular type of reflex. So the macropolitics project is trying to discover where these things bleed together, right? So if we’re seeing a higher incidence of people getting actual head shots out in the real world with real guns, and, of course, my example in that was the autopsy of Mike Brown, one of the real sticking points for people who find the testimony of Darren completely unbelievable is the fact that he shot him in the head at a downward angle. So there’s something about, I think, the head shot that’s really salient, and that brings out this moment where gaming culture and these wider political things that are happening in the world come together. Right?

Cathy Hannabach (27:51):

Definitely.

Amanda Phillips (27:51):

It’s not necessary. I mean, good law enforcement training I think eliminates some of this type of behavior. I mean, there’s partially a fear of, okay, well, if we’re getting cops that are going out there and growing up on getting head shots in video games, are they going to be more likely to shoot for the head? But for me the more pressing issue is, well, how are all the gamers out there going to receive these public events, and how are they going to understand, well, this guy was running at me? In gaming, if you bring a charging opponent down very quickly, that’s a good thing, right? That’s an exciting thing. That’s a win. So I’m more interested in how it causes the public to receive these kinds of stories.

Cathy Hannabach (28:42):

Yeah. Well, I think this gets to my next question kind of nicely. The way that you’re tying a media project, in this case a video game project, about kind of representation and about how death and dying in this case are represented on screen and represented interactively, how media representations tie into real world political events such as police shooting unarmed largely black men, and how scholarship can be a way to interrogate those patterns, to demonstrate those patterns, to make those patterns visible, but also to provide kind of critical understandings of the structures of violence going on in those actions, in those kind of split second messy actions, right? What are the racist ideologies at work there that may not be conscious, that are not slow, right, but that are shaping those real world political events.

Cathy Hannabach (29:48):

So I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about how you see your work combining political activism, your political investments, academia, your scholarly work, and art. In this case, your interest in video games and digital media.

Amanda Phillips (30:08):

Yeah. Well, I mean, the scholarship side of it is for me also pedagogical, right? So I am really interested and I really love getting in the classroom with students who are very invested in video games and then kind of turning their perspective on them sort of on their heads, and at the very least giving them a more sophisticated vocabulary with which to consume this media. For me, that is the most useful part of what I do, is to sort of reach out to younger people and getting them to think about games more critically.

Amanda Phillips (30:51):

I mean, the sort of the more high scholarship that I do comes out of an interest in pushing conversations forward. If we have within popular culture discussions about popular culture, for example in video games, this real attachment to the notion of the male gaze, right? Which is a fairly old concept that has been reformulated over and over and over again, and yet we’re still in 2016, 2017, having public conversation about the male gaze as it was proposed in 1970-whatever. For me, that’s a real problem, and it’s a failure on the part of the academy to really communicate in a real level with the wider public and intervene on these conversations. So for me, my scholarship is going to be next to useless unless I can find a way to tap into that conversation and sort of change that conversation as well.

Amanda Phillips (31:59):

In terms of the art part of it, I’m not an artist at all. But what I am, I’m a little bit of a facilitator of creativity. So I actually, also, as part of my pedagogy, I teach students how to make really simple video games and sort of put that into their hands. Of course, this runs it along long tradition of particularly queer and trans game designers like Anna Anthropy, Mattie Bryce, and those folks who really want to see a democratization of game design.

Amanda Phillips (32:37):

There are many critics now, increasingly people sort of consider video games the, quote-unquote, medium of the 21st century. If that’s true, we need to empower more people, and particularly people who feel like they don’t have a stake in this conversation or will never be able to create a video game because they don’t know how to program or they don’t know how to use a computer or that kind of thing.

Amanda Phillips (32:57):

So to do this, I worked with a graduate student named Joseph Wen, who’s now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. We put together a series of workshops at UC Davis called Game Camp, where the idea was we held game design workshops all year round for people who didn’t know anything about designing video games. Most of these workshops are paper-based, right? So you’re teaching sort of game design fundamentals and then introducing them to easy tools like GameMaker or Twine, and we did a little bit with Unity, which is a more professional platform. But just kind of getting people out there and giving them these tools and saying, look, you can do this, for me is really powerful.

Amanda Phillips (33:51):

I also did this as a class when I was a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, a game design class for social justice. This is a class full of English majors, only one or two of whom had any game design experience. Most of whom did not have any tech experience beyond like normal day to day computer use. At the end of 10 weeks, it was a 10 week course, which is an incredibly short amount of time, they’d broken down into teams and every single team had created a fully functioning prototype of a digital game at the end of that quarter that had to do with everything from domestic violence, environmental justice. There was a game that tried to teach about intersectionality. It was a really amazing sort of experiment that I wasn’t sure it was going to work out, but the students really rose to the occasion and I think really a sense of empowerment over this technology, in a sense, that like, oh, maybe I can also make games.

Cathy Hannabach (34:51):

That’s awesome. I think that’s actually a really good segue into my final question, which is my favorite question that I get to ask everybody which kind of gets at the heart of this podcast. So this podcast is called Imagine Otherwise, and all of the people that I’ve had on here do that in their work, whatever it is. Whether they’re teaching their classes or publishing their books or creating their art, or whatever it is that they create, they’re doing so in the service of a different kind of a world. So I’ll ask you, what’s the world that you’re working towards? What’s the world that you want?

Amanda Phillips (35:31):

I mean…

Cathy Hannabach (35:34):

It’s a giant question, I know.

Amanda Phillips (35:35):

It’s such a giant question, and the sort of like initial response that I have is I want chocolate fountains flowing everywhere and unicorns and bunnies and all those sorts of things. But I think so many of us are working just toward, well, toward a just world, I guess. Toward a world in which people aren’t hopeless and they don’t feel disempowered. The sort of question of feeling of empowerment is a tricky one because that doesn’t always mean that there’s justice afoot if you feel empowered. But I think a world with more possibilities for people to live in and do, be the people that they want to be.

Amanda Phillips (36:21):

A lot of, again, the pedagogical work that I sort of point toward, I guess, is trying to enable a world in which people know how to identify also what it is that they want or what it is we need as a society to create more justice. Right? Because sometimes that’s a really hard thing to figure out, is what exactly it is that we need to fix this problem.

Amanda Phillips (36:56):

So yeah, my imagining otherwise or my sort of otherwise world that I think about is a world in which we have access to the language and to the interpretive skills necessary to determine what it is that we need to do.

Cathy Hannabach (37:15):

Well, thank you so very much for being on this podcast and talking about your fantastic work and giving us your way that you imagine otherwise.

Amanda Phillips (37:26):

Thank you, very much. This has been a really great conversation. I really enjoyed it.

Cathy Hannabach (37:33):

Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Be sure to check out our website at imagineotherwise.com to listen to full episodes, read show notes, and see links to the people, books, and projects discussed on the show. You can also subscribe to us on iTunes.

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