Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Department of Cinema and Media Studies
Walker 504
(773) 702-4840

Ph.D., Duke University, 2010.

Research interests: New media; post-1945 American fiction and culture; videogames; network films; virtual worlds; transmedia storytelling; long-form American serial television; history of communication networks; science studies; literary theory; science fiction; encyclopedic novels; theories of globalization and worlding.

Broadly speaking, I work on the fields of new media 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 first book, Network Aesthetics (University of Chicago Press, 2016), examines American narrative, visual, and interactive artworks that encourage a critical and even transformative engagement with the network as a dominant category of life since the mid-twentieth century. With the rise of complexity science, which promoted the interdisciplinary study of complex systems in the 1970s, networks became both the principal architecture and metaphor of a globalizing world. The language of networks now describes the Internet, the global economy, the human brain, and terrorist organizations. Though networks seem more appropriate to fields such as computer science and mathematics, they have also occupied a central place in the humanities. My book undertakes a comparative media analysis of the way that popular cultural forms, including the novel, film, television serial, videogame, and transmedia narrative have kept pace with science and mediated our experience of networks. The first half, turns to linear narrative forms, including maximalist novels from the late 1990s such as Don DeLillo’s Underworld, multiprotagonist films such as Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana, and complex serial television shows such as David Simon’s The Wire. Through experiments with network form, these works examine the American situation of domestic and transnational crisis. In the second half of the book, I turn from predominantly representational and narrative texts to digital media and videogames such as thatgamecompany's Journey that are interactive, nonlinear, and dependent on networked audiences. Network aesthetics, I argue, are not simply the qualities of a new genre that is available across contemporary fiction, film, and digital media. More substantively, the diverse cultural works that I study use aesthetic strategies to render, intensify, and influence the way we understand the network imaginary and our embeddedness within it.

 
My current book project, tentatively titled Experimental Games, explores the rise of “gamification” in American culture. Gamification, a term that derives from behavioral economics, is the use of game mechanics in traditionally nongame activities. This buzzword emerged only in the twenty-first century but the idea of game-based behavior modification already appears as early as the 1950s in writing on business, marketing, psychology, and warfare. This project explores games as a prominent metaphor and form that economic, social, and cultural life have taken in the U.S. from Cold War victory culture through our present digital moment. Though gamification is the starting point, the core of the project focuses on an aesthetic study of games that deviate from an instrumental and behaviorist approach, experimenting instead with more complex affects, experiences, and possibilities of play. These works estrange game form from the sense of “fun” to which it is commonly tethered, instead exploring experiences such as difficulty, reflection, contingency, boredom, and discomfort. The designers on whose work I focus take games seriously as a medium of thought, a technique of analysis, and a mode of experiment. Many of these creators are thinking through not only form but also political issues of gender, sexuality, class, and race.
 
Another one of my core research endeavors has been the co-founding and management of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab. This lab uses digital storytelling, videogames, and emerging new media forms to explore social, emotional, and sexual health issues with marginalized and sexual minority youth on the South Side of Chicago. In 2012, I began this lab with Melissa Gilliam (Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Pediatrics). 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), a videogame about sexual harassment and sexual violence (Bystander), a board game suite about public health issues (Hexacago), and two citywide games about youth civic engagement and collaboration (The Source and S.E.E.D.). 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 National Institutes of Health, the Hive Learning Network, and the Wohlford Foundation. We have published work from this project in varied journals targeted at researchers in the humanities, education, health, and new media art.
 

S.E.E.D. Alternate Reality Game (2014)

Finally, another part of my practice-based research focuses specifically on alternate reality games and forms of transmedia storytelling. Two of my 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. I am currently working on my next alternate reality game (planned for 2017) in collaboration with Kristen Schilt (Sociology) and Heidi Coleman (Theater and Performance Studies).

Books

Edited Special Issues

  • "Comics & Media." Critical Inquiry Special Issue. Edited and introduced with Hillary Chute. (Summer 2014)
  • "New Media and American Literature."American Literature Special Issue. Edited and introduced with Wendy Chun and Tara McPherson. Volume 85, Number 4, December 2013.

Selected Publications

  • “Network Ambivalence.” Contemporaneity. Vol. 4 (2015), pp. 108-118.
  • “Digital Games and Science Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction. Ed. Gerry Canavan and Eric Link (Cambridge UP, 2015), pp. 139-152.
  • “Gaming the Humanities.” differences. 25:1 (2014), pp. 189-215.
  • “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, 2014: 501-516.
  • “Fabulously Procedural: Braid, Historical Processing, and the Videogame Sensorium.” American Literature. 85:4 (December 2013), pp. 745-779.
  • “Gamification and Other Forms of Play.”boundary 2 40:2 (2013)
  • “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.
  • "Wired." Critical Inquiry (Fall 2011)
  • "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)
  • “Terror Networks and the Aesthetics of Interconnection.” Social Text 105 (2010): 65-90.
  • “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

  • “Worlding Through Play: Alternate Reality Games, Large-Scale Learning, and The Source.” Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Peter McDonald, and Chris Russell. American Journal of Play. Volume 8, Number 1 (Fall 2015), pp. 74-100.
  • “LifeChanger: A Pilot Study of a Game-Based Curriculum for Sexuality Education.” Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Stephen Heathcock, Sarah Orzalli, Carolyn Saper, Jessyca Dudley, and Claire Wilson (2015).
  • “Reinvigorating Adolescent Sexuality Education through Alternate Reality Games: The Case of The Source.” Co-authored with Alida Bouris, Jenny Mancino, Brandon Hill, and Melissa Gilliam. Sex Education (October 2015).
  • “InFection Four: Development and Evaluation of a Youth-Informed Sexual Health Card Game.” American Journal of Sexuality Education. Co-authored with Melissa Gilliam, Ainsley Sutherland, and Stephen Heathcock. Volume 9:4 (December 2014), pp. 485-498. 
  • "Game Changer: Collaborative Alternate Reality Game Design, Transmedia Storytelling, and Health Education." International Journal of Learning and Media (Forthcoming with Melissa Gilliams, Ainsley Sutherland, and Stephen Heathcock)
  • “Speculation: Financial Games and Derivative Worlding in a Transmedia Era.” Critical Inquiry. With N. Katherine Hayles and Patrick LeMieux. (Summer 2014)
  • “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


The Source Alternate Reality Game (2013)

 

 

 

Education

Ph.D., Duke University, 2010. Teaching at Chicago since 2010.

Personal website

CV