Weeks 3-6: A Pivot and a Return

Hello, dear thesis. Though you haven’t heard much from me here, I’ve been following leads, hunting down resources, and seeking out experts and experiences to inform and recenter my thinking about you. During my investigations, I realized that my orientations towards language and participation originated from a project about conversation that I started last spring. Though I was pleased with the outcome at the time, it always lingered in the back of my mind as one-of-those-to-finish-some-day, and lo and behold, I just completed a long, circuitous path to ironically pivot back to a project born or an earlier pivot (which you can read about in reverse chronological order here). Learning is sometimes (always?) messy.

It’s time to catch you up. But so much as happened since we last spoke, and instead of writing one long mega-post that chronicles my week-to-week trajectory, I’ll split it up into thematic progress updates.

Let’s begin.

First, a recap: I spent the winter holiday reading and reflecting, and from that “realized that I really enjoy making work with collective play and shared experiences, often using conversation or engagement with compelling content as opportunities for making connections with others” (Week 0: Initial Research). Then I got excited about birdspeak (and frankly, still am) but quickly derailed into nowheresland. I sought out my PComp professor, Ayo Okunseinde, for creative research practices to find my way out (thank you, Ayo!). A brainstorming exercise helped me realize that my core question was not specifically about birdsong, but rather, what if the rules of conversation were different? Which led to the realization that I’d started a project that asked this very question nearly a year before.

Word Ninja, as we called it then, is a game inspired by The Tonight Show’s Word Sneak, in which players are challenged to slip random words into the conversation without disrupting the natural flow. While The Tonight Show version runs as an improv comedy sketch for entertainment value, this game introduces the challenge of not getting caught in the act by other players and the competition defines a clear winner. Finally, it also aims to deliver the game to a greater number of people. (Fortunately U.S. copyright law “does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it, “ it only protects how those ideas are expressed.) Adding the game mechanic of catching others’ sneakiness forces an awkward dynamic into the familiar realm of cooperative conversation, hence the potential for fun and the play. Yet a year ago I couldn’t articulate the reasons for the awkwardness, only that I sensed we had stumbled into a much larger discussion about conversation norms to which we intuitively abide yet cannot name. Resurrecting this as my thesis provides the perfect opportunity to examine this closer and push the development of the game accordingly.

My research approach breaks down into the following areas*:

  • Conversations with faculty and experts in related areas of study

  • Research of related games / events / content areas

  • Weekly iterations and playtesting

*this is also list of upcoming posts until I return to the format of a weekly summary