The study of computer games and their culture has been a significant research area in the College of Letters and Science for more than a decade. With other colleagues in the College and University, faculty have improvised an informal, interdisciplinary game-studies community. More than a dozen graduate students have been part of this enterprise since 2010, mainly in Anthropology and English. There have been important synergies between their activities and undergraduate programs, including Film Studies and Digital Arts and Culture.
Institutional boundaries constrain these activities, though with the opening of the Digital Humanities Laboratory in 2012, collaboration notably intensified, driven to an important degree by the commitment of doctoral students. This rising interest has brought the emerging conception to a new stage of development: formation of a formal research project.
The subject and technical foundation of this project is game-play streaming, the ability to broadcast the output of a video game over the Internet with simultaneous audio commentary and an accompanying text-based chat channel. Primary support for this activity comes via Twitch.tv, popularly known as the Twitch network, a service with more than a million broadcasters and regular audiences totaling in hundreds of millions. We find three compelling interests in this technology: as an emerging social medium, it is a significant subject for critical study; the medium provides new and intriguing ways to represent and investigate gameplay itself; and crucially, the global reach of Twitch suggests a way to publicize the work of our students and raise awareness of UWM and its programs.
HISTORY AND LOGIC OF THE GROUP
In addition to Anthropology, English, and JAMS, significant support for game study has come from the Golda Meir Library and its Digital Humanities Laboratory. The Lab was in large measure the invention of Ann Hanlon, the Director of Digital Connections and Initiatives. Nathan Humpal, Metadata Librarian, played a formative role both in startup of the Lab and the project from which this Collaboratory evolved, a series of activities known as “Serious Play.” Proposed by Moulthrop and his doctoral students in 2013, this enterprise began as an occasion for lectures, workshops, and seminars. As Malaby, his students, and others joined in, Serious Play embraced podcasters from outside the University, play testing of games developed by student entrepreneurs, and most recently, the streaming project. Sustained and developing organically over four years, Serious Play has been a natural combination of the library’s mission and student and faculty research, with important and established practices of reaching beyond the University to the broader community.
The streaming project began as a collaboration between Humpal and doctoral students in Anthropology and English, Laya Liebseller, Justin Schumaker, and Kris Purzycki, along with Malaby’s recent PhD, Krista- Lee Malone. Known in its experimental phase as “The Lunch Zone” because its limited operations had to fit into Humpal’s lunch break, the activity consisted of occasional streaming of play-with-commentary.
In 2016 the effort was reconceived as “Koffee Klatsch,” moving onto a regular weekly schedule. Other streaming ventures were added, including a tabletop role-playing campaign. Partly at the urging of current doctoral students, we are making this proposal to expand, formalize, and raise the standards of our work.