My project explored the role of bots – i.e., autonomous programs or small pieces of code that automate simple functions – in digital narratives, where they are often invoked by human users as collaborative agents or as tools for gamified interaction, and sometimes both at once. I took server-based role-playing games as a starting point from which I then investigated how "Bots are a way of thinking about how we interact with computers" (Leonard, 1997, p. 10), seeking methods of insight into how these programs and their attendant narratives underlie various important ecologies.
And I enjoyed every minute of my time at Digital Matters working on this! My background is in literature, with particular interests in adaptation and new media, so this was a wonderful opportunity to dig into the interdisciplinary approaches and advanced technologies that I really needed for a project where my primary focus was on a program.
I first began visiting Digital Matters for its speaker series and media studies reading group, both of which always gave me new ways of thinking about what constituted the "digital" and how users engage with digitality. Drawing from game studies to environmental humanities to digital humanities and more, there was always some thought-provoking interdisciplinary venture taking place at DM. From here, the graduate fellowship caught my attention as a way of participating in this space more fully, while also drawing on its resources and community to realize a project that I'd thought might have to stay on the back-burner for a while.
My time at Digital Matters is already impacting my other academic pursuits in exciting ways. I have had two opportunities to write book reviews for new scholarship I encountered here (one review for First Person Scholar and the other for The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds); in addition, I will be presenting part of my bots project at the February 2020 DHU5 conference as well as another talk at the February 2020 SWPACA conference using a critical methodology I encountered at Digital Matters. Most importantly, I plan to continue working on the bots project itself and pursue publication for it.
Digital spaces and tools offer today’s users numerous opportunities to access, discuss, critique, and participate in larger narratives, both factual and fictional, but the sheer scale of this reality makes examples difficult to parse from a single perspective. Approaching the digital subject as “just” narrative, or a piece of code, or a game token, means missing out on some part of a larger heterogeneous whole and most likely overlooking some of its applications. For example, as I discovered in working with these bots, their value to users was more than as a means of making games fairer, easier to play, or more convenient to access – all values ascribed to digitality. Instead, players brought in these bots to try and replicate material effects, thus signaling a continued value on characteristics such as manipulability and tactility even in a digital space. Though there is more I want to do in exploring connections between this particular subset of bots and the far larger range of programs used in more general contexts, I maintain that thinking about this attempted replication of materiality will be critical.
The Digital Matters graduate fellowship and community have provided invaluable support throughout this project. I was continually introduced to innovative scholarship across different disciplines and encouraged to investigate connections between this work and my own.
Quite simply, I would tell them to visit Digital Matters! There is always something new to learn from the speaker series, reading groups, workshops, and even just stopping by people’s desks to chat about what they’re working on. The community here fosters an invigorating, collaborative atmosphere, and I always found someone around to discuss ideas for our respective projects.
Digital narratives differ from their print and oral counterparts in distinct ways, and the rapid pace of technological development and user adoption means that even these differences are continually changing. Those conducting digital scholarship in this area must be aware that their work is like a snapshot of a particular time, place, and often practice, rather than an absolute or universal finding. From here, the challenge lies in making connections between that snapshot and an ever-changing larger picture. Digital scholarship in literature and narrative should be fluid in its approach but stable in its output or archive, always looking to document and connect as well as explore and theorize.
Digital narratives differ from their print and oral counterparts in distinct ways, and the rapid pace of technological development and user adoption means that even these differences are constantly changing. Those conducting digital scholarship in this area must be aware that their work is like a snapshot of a particular time, place, and often practice, rather than an absolute or universal finding.
–Maria Alberto, Fall 2019 DM Graduate Fellow