Department of English
Co-editor, Critical Inquiry
Co-founder, Game Changer Chicago Design Lab
Office: Walker 504
Phone: (773) 702-4840
Broadly speaking, I work in the fields of new media studies and twentieth and twenty-first century American literature and culture. Within these areas, my teaching and research focus on digital games, electronic literature, virtual worlds, television, cinema, the novel, and media theory.
My current book project, Network Aesthetics, explores the ubiquity of networks, as metaphors and material systems, in the post-1945 period. If it is now commonplace for scientists and social scientists to organize the late twentieth and early twenty-first century world in terms of global networks, I contend that American artistic expressions have played a major part in this paradigmatic shift. My research examines how contemporary American literature, film, television, and new media deploy different forms to render the complexities of global networks. I study what I call “network aesthetics" by exploring narrative, visual, and algorithmic approaches to interconnection. In contemporary American culture, networks are still often imagined as sublime technologies (e.g., a seamlessly global Internet) or as terrifying threats (e.g., terrorist networks). In contrast, I approach networks as dynamic processes that transform systemic relations among human and nonhuman actors through time. My key texts, from Don DeLillo's novel Underworld to David Simon’s television show The Wire to Jason Rohrer's computer game Between, enable readers, viewers, and players to think about networks not merely by knowing them in a cognitive manner, but by feeling and inhabiting them. Moreover, they create critical distance by intensifying material encounters with the technological, cultural, and political experiences of neo-liberalism and globalization. Network aesthetics are not merely an analytic that informs a wide range of contemporary art, but a critical corollary to an era in which interconnection has become a dominant structure and material metaphor.
I am also working on a collaborative transdisciplinary initiative with Melissa Gilliam (Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Pediatrics) that includes a series of projects organized through our Game Changer Chicago Design Lab. In this Lab, faculty and university students collaborate with Chicago youth to create digital stories and transmedia games that explore issues related to health and social justice. We have created or are in the process of creating a number of digital projects, including an interactive narrative about teen decision-making and sexual health (Cache), an alternate reality game about economic and health disparities in America (Stork), a transmedia story with mini-games about sexual assault (Lucidity), a card game about Sexually Transmitted Infections (inFection Four), and a citywide game about youth civic engagement (The Source). The Lab fosters research across the humanities, arts, and social sciences that includes work on digital media and learning, emerging cultural and narrative genres, and the social and emotional health of youth. These projects are supported by organizations that include the MacArthur Foundation, the Neubauer Family Collegium, the Hive Learning Network, and the Wohlford Foundation.
My other primary research area has to do with alternate reality games and forms of transmedia storytelling. Two of my recent large-scale collaborative projects in this area have crossed lines that typically separate theory and art practice. The first is Speculation (created with Katherine Hayles and Patrick LeMieux). This science fiction alternate reality game explores the logics of finance capital and Wall Street investment bank cultures within the context of the 2008 global economic collapse. The second is The Project (created with Sha Xin Wei and supported by a Mellon Fellowship in Arts Practice and Scholarship at the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry). This narrative-oriented alternate reality game unfolded in Hyde Park and included elements of invisible theater. Both Speculation and The Project were not limited to any single medium, hardware system, or interface. They incorporated textual narrative, video, audio, email, websites, social media, original software, and even live performance. The stories of both games were broken into discrete pieces that player groups had to actively rediscover, reconfigure, and influence through their actions. These projects have allowed me to explore issues pertaining to the nature of play in our postindustrial period, spatial and collective storytelling practices, digital archiving, and questions of the relationship between critical theory and new media design.
- “Gaming the Humanities.” differences (Forthcoming, 2014).
- “Fabulously Procedural: Braid, Historical Processing, and the Videogame Sensorium.” American Literature (Forthcoming 2013).
- “Gamification and Other Forms of Play.” boundary 2 40:2 (2013)
- "The Next Level: Alexander R. Galloway’s The Interface Effect.” Los Angeles Review of Books, January 25, 2013.
- "Wired." Critical Inquiry (Fall 2011)
- “Terror Networks and the Aesthetics of Interconnection.” Social Text 105 (2010): 65-90.
- "Between: An Interview with Jason Rohrer." Critical Inquiry, Online Feature (Fall 2011)
- "The Transmedia Turn in Popular Culture: The Case of Comic-Con." Post45, Contemporaries (August 2011)
- “Speculative Security.” Cyberspace and National Security: Threats, Opportunities, and Power in a Virtual World. Ed. Derek S. Reveron. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2012
- “Hollywood and the Novel.” The American Novel 1870-1940. Volume 6 of The Oxford History of the Novel in English. Ed. Priscilla Wald and Michael A. Elliott. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Forthcoming).
- “Clacking Control Societies: Steampunk, History, and the Difference Engine of Escape.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3:1 (2010), pp. 46-71.
- "The Terror Complex: Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis." Exit 9 Vol. IX: Textuality and Terror (2008): 93-116.
Selected Collaborative Publications
- “Speculation: Financial Games and Derivative Worlding in a Transmedia Era.” Critical Inquiry (Forthcoming with N. Katherine Hayles and Patrick LeMieux).
- “Lucidity: Connected Learning and Transmedia Games.” Audiovisual Thinking: The Journal of Academic Videos, Issue 5, 2013, video essay (with Melissa Gilliam, Seed Lynn, and Ainsley Sutherland).
- “From Intervention to Invitation: Reshaping Adolescent Sexual Health through Storytelling and Games.” African Journal of Reproductive Health 16, no. 2 (June 2012): 189-196 (with Melissa Gilliam, et. al).
Stork Alternate Reality Game (Game Changer Chicago, 2012)
Digital Media Projects
- Game Changer Chicago Design Lab (digital game, transmedia narrative, and health initiative, 2011-present)
- The Source (alternate reality game, summer 2013)
- The Project (alternate reality game, 2013, collaboration with Sha Xin Wei)
- Lucidity (interactive narrative, 2013)
- Speculation "Player X, A ©oltan ©omic" (ASCII Art, 2013, collaboration with Patrick LeMieux)
- Speculation (alternate reality game, 2012, collaboration with Katherine Hayles and Patrick LeMieux)
- Stork (alternate reality game, 2012)
- Oscillation (alternate reality game, 2011)
Ph.D., Duke University, 2010. Teaching at Chicago since 2010.