Erik Champion: Visualization and Games

Erik Champion, author of Critical Gaming: Interactive History and Virtual Heritage gave the first guest lecture for the 3DH project. Erik was originally an architect who now works in interactive history and digital culture. He has led a number of projects that adapt game engines for cultural heritage. He gave us a great tour of various 3D examples to encourage us to think of games and virtual spaces as visualization.

Erik started his talk by commenting on how the ocular (sight) dominates how we know and explore. For Erik visualization goes way back and used to be connected to the acoustic and to architecture. You didn’t have visualizations detached from a space and without a soundscape.

He then talked about how games are not just about knowing visually, but also about knowing through the game-mechanics or the interaction. He gave the game September 12th: A Toy World as an example where the game mechanics are part of the way meaning is made.

He then argued that a data visualization can be different types of things for knowing or learning:

  • A game that changes your ideas
  • A presentation of visual uncertainty where people argue about reconstruction
  • A “reading” diagram and data

He commented on how people tend to believe vizualizations. They have rhetorical power and can therefore be a way of presenting things to broader audiences. He also talked about how for many people the word “game” makese more sense than “visualization.” You tell people you have game for them to learn from and they know what to do.

He talked about what are the concerns of non-text? In his book on Critical Gaming he has an opening chapter on “The Digital Humanities and the Limit of Text.” Champion wants to go beyond text with visualization and games, not just use visualization as a way of exploring text. Some of the issues and ideas he mentioned included:

  • Preservation of Digital Heritage. Erik’s work focuses a lot on developing virtual spaces for communicating about heritage or for letting people negotiate heritage. One of the major problems of this field is that virtual heritage projects tend to disappear and disappear faster than the actual project. There are no good standards for 3D data. He drew our attention to the UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of Digital Heritage which is well meaning, but doesn’t seem to be having any effect.
  • Infrastructure. A related problem is the infrastructure for non-textual digital work. We have a significant amount of textual infrastructure that we take for granted (think libraries and archives), but less visual. How is visualization supported and by who? PublicVR seems to be one organization trying to make 3D heritage available to schools.
  • Process not Product. Fields like archaeology are a process not a product. The field cannot be communicated by texts. We need to think of how the digital can communicate process, collaboration and reflection and games could play a role in this. He mentioned Elegy for a Dead World as an example. It is a game where you write about the dead world you are exploring.
  • Counterfactual History. How can we use simulations and games to explore “what if” scenarios. This is a way of knowing too. He mentioned Muzzy Lane Software who, for example, developed Making History.
  • Pointing in 3D. How do we point in 3D worlds. Erik has a project where they have created avatars that point for you.

Champion showed a number of really interesting projects that we need to look at like Paper Machines (a Zotero text analysis tool) and Dead Men’s Eyes. Near the end he talked about Artificial Intelligence and how we can learn about AI in games. His idea is for people to play NPC’s and get the AI to figure out who they are – a reverse Turing game.

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