Saturday, 30 July 2022

Call for Papers: Digital Geographies Research Group 2022 Annual Symposium

The Materiality of Digital Geographies: Agencies, Affects, and Impacts

Symposium Date: Friday November 4th, 2022
CfP Deadline: Monday September 12th, 2022
Location: Online. Details TBA

Symposium Theme

Digital geographies pose important questions of how digital technologies reshape the production and analysis of geospatial knowledge, and what implications this has on everyday spaces, territories, and places. As digital geographic research continues to attract a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives, the materiality of digital technologies, software, and data, and their impacts on the natural and built environment has become a focal point of discussion that engender key questions of dematerialization, and the need to better understand the agencies and materiality of technology.

This symposium seeks to discuss and reflect on the agencies, affects, and impacts of the materiality of digital geographies. The objective is to reflect on the everyday relations of technologies, infrastructures, objects, bodies, and institutions that stabilise digital geographies into a coherent body of research. In turn, it is also important to consider the socio-cultural, and politico-economic forces that sustain material investment in digital geographies to better understand the material politics of knowledge production.

This symposium aims to extend our understanding of the materiality of digital geographies by focusing broadly on the historical materialisms, political economies, material affects, and infrastructural affordances that shape the production and dissemination of geospatial knowledge. We aim to better understand the material politics and economies that can steer digital geographic research, including the kinds of tools, labour, platforms and data used to produce spatial knowledge; the impacts of the private sector on academic research; and the ways in which space and place are shaped by political and economic forces.

The Digital Geographies Research Group invites theoretical and empirical contributions that broadly relate to critically understanding the materiality of digital geographies from researchers and practitioners at any level. Topics may include, but not limited to:

- Materiality, agency, and affects
- Political economy and historical materialism
- Infrastructures, interfaces, and Science and Technology Studies
- Everydayness and mundaneness of digital geographies
- Mobilities, boundaries, and hybridities of digital geographies
- Critical theories of inequalities, divides, and exclusions
- Environmental, embodied, and ecological issues of digital geographies
- Digital cartography and territoriality
- Dematerialization, software, and data
- Financialization and digital technologies

Submission information

We welcome abstracts for paper submissions at any stage of research. Beyond paper proposals, we also welcome abstracts for contributions in the form of digital shorts. Digital shorts are short videos (between 2 and 5 minutes in length) that provide an introduction to, or summary of, an aspect of your research. Your video could discuss:

- Recent research findings
- An emerging research idea or interest
- A new or upcoming research output, publication, creative work etc.
- Research methodology
- Approaches to teaching
- Uses of digital technologies within academia

This format has been deliberately designed to require limited preparation, so is ideal for postgraduates, early career researchers, those with caring responsibilities, or other commitments. You can view examples of digital shorts on the DGRG YouTube channel.

Abstracts should aim to be approximately 250 words and submitted before Monday, September 12th.

Please email your abstract to harrison.smith@sheffield.ac.uk before the deadline.


Wednesday, 8 June 2022

YouTube Video: Engaging with Place through Location-Based Games


The video above was produced by me for the Digital Geographies Research Group's Work in Progress YouTube series. The series shares recent or current work being undertaken by researchers on a wide range of topics that connect geography and the digital.

This video briefly summarises findings I made from my PhD research, outlining the key ways that the development and play of location-based games engages with place (where a place, broadly speaking, is a meaningful location). I explain how location-based games are designed to tap into the close relationship between how you navigate an environment and how you perceive the 'story' of it as a place.


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

DGRG Work in Progress YouTube Series: Spring Showcase 2022

For the past two years, I have served as Postgraduate Representative on the committee of the Digital Geographies Research Group (DGRG), a research group of the RGS-IBG focused on the relationship between geography and the digital.

Working together with fellow Postgraduate Representative Daisy Curtis, and Events Co-ordinator Maxwell Mutanda, one of the main innovations I have overseen during my time on the DGRG committee is the creation of our YouTube channel. As well as hosting recorded video content from events like our Annual Symposium, the channel is home to our Work in Progress series.

This series consists of short videos between 2 and 5 minutes in length, aiming to communicate recent or current work being undertaken by researchers on a wide range of topics that connect geography and the digital. Topics can include emerging research ideas, approaches to research methodology, research findings, approaches to teaching digital geographies and discussion of research outputs.

Through this series, we want to promote the fascinating, diverse work being done in digital geographies throughout the academic calendar and across the globe, developing our research community further.

By keeping the videos concise, our aim is that making them will require limited preparation and time commitment, helping to ease participation from postgraduates, early career researchers and those with caring commitments, for example. The short video format also makes this content highly shareable, helping contributors to communicate their ideas in a digestible way that can reach a wide range of audiences.            

Towards the end of last year and early this year, we announced a new call for contributions to the Work in Progress series. These videos would make up our 2022 Spring Showcase. I’m very pleased to say that this new batch of videos launched two weeks ago, beginning with a beautifully edited video by Jude Jabali (UCL) on the relationship between digital media and the built environment in the redeveloped area of Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea, London.

Yesterday, we published our second video of the Spring Showcase, featuring Dr. Jamie Halliwell (Manchester Metropolitan University) discussing how fan and sexual identities are expressed within the digital ecosystem of Eurovision fan spaces.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing videos on topics including digital privacy during COVID-19 and the influence of GIS (geographical information systems) on economic geographies. I will also be contributing a video to the series, discussing findings from my PhD research on how people engage with place through location-based games.

New videos are added to the series every fortnight. Subscribe to the DGRG YouTube channel to be notified whenever a new video is released. You can also follow updates from the research group on Twitter @digital_RGS. We have some exciting plans to develop new ways to engage with digital geographies research in 2022, so look out for more announcements soon from the DGRG.


Friday, 17 December 2021

Call for contributions: DGRG Work in Progress YouTube Series

The Digital Geographies Research Group (DGRG) of the RGS-IBG invites interested researchers, academics, students, or practitioners from around the world to contribute to our Work in Progress YouTube series.

This series consists of digital shorts (videos between 2 and 5 minutes in length) exploring topics across the full breadth of research connecting geography with the digital. Your video could discuss:

  • Recent research findings
  • An emerging research idea or interest
  • A new or upcoming research output, publication, creative work etc.
  • Research methodology
  • Approaches to teaching
  • Uses of digital technologies within academia

View existing videos here to get a flavour of the wide range of topics and approaches showcased in the series. All videos in the series are accurately subtitled.

This format has been deliberately designed to require limited preparation, so is ideal for postgraduates, early career researchers, those with caring responsibilities, or other commitments. In the spirit of being inclusive, staying in touch and trying to support each other, we want to use our channel to promote the fascinating and diverse work being done in digital geographies throughout the academic calendar. We see this as an opportunity to foster community, research development, membership growth and international outreach.

If you’re interested in participating, please submit an abstract to Daisy Curtis (d.curtis@exeter.ac.uk), Jack Lowe (jack.lowe.2017@rhul.ac.uk) and Maxwell Mutanda (maxwell.mutanda@conted.ox.ac.uk) by 21st January 2022 for the Spring 2022 showcase period. 

Anyone that would like to follow the Work In Progress series can do so by subscribing to our YouTube channel and following the DGRG on Twitter @digital_RGS

 

Monday, 18 October 2021

Interrobang?!: The Curious Departure of Dustin Spektor

This Wednesday 20th October sees the launch of Interrobang?!, a genre-busting theatre-meets-online gaming experience that draws you into a real-time thriller, where you become the investigator in a shadowy murder case.

It’s a unique experience full of intriguing characters, interviews, challenges, moral quandaries and puzzles. It’s theatre away from the theatre, and gaming away from the console.

Players use QR code technology and a custom-made website to take a journey through multiple digital spaces. You’ll delve into a database of documents and video interviews, with original music and the odd surreal musical number.

And that’s just what you can play from home. Take your sleuthing outside in Interrobang?! Local, an immersive location-based audio experience that expands the Interrobang?! universe.

Set in the town of Brentford, decipher the locations of hidden messages to uncover the mystery of powerful forces shaping the very places we live. Look out for copies of The Echo newspaper at Watermans and other places around Brentford to begin your journey.        

Interrobang?! Has been created by trailblazing immersive theatre company Gideon Reeling in collaboration with StoryFutures and supported by Watermans, West London’s leading arts centre.

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Hopefully what is written above has whetted your appetite!

You may be wondering what connection I have to this thrilling project.

Throughout my PhD at Royal Holloway, I’ve been a consultant for StoryFutures, an initiative that helps to create and fund R&D projects focused on immersive storytelling. Part of their remit is to connect academics with companies and organisations that can benefit from their expertise.

Back in March, StoryFutures approached me to say they’d had an enquiry from a company called Gideon Reeling, who had just reached their crowdfunding target to develop an interactive murder mystery game. The game would be partly location-based, and they were looking to work with an academic who could help to finesse the user experience and game mechanics to achieve their vision for the project.

I’ve always been a massive fan of murder mysteries as a genre of fiction. And after looking at their Crowdfunder and learning more about Gideon Reeling’s vision, history and ventures as a company (they were once sister company to the immersive theatre pioneers Punchdrunk and have worked with huge names across different industries), I was sold.

Since then, my actual contribution to the development of Interrobang?! has morphed into something much more hybrid and more deeply invested. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

One of my main roles has been helping to shape the game’s narrative design.

In the initial pilot version of Interrobang?! that I tested, there was no website hosting the database of evidence you explore as a player. The whole mystery was divulged via documents, emails and QR codes contained within them, which led to videos.

I was blown away by the detail and intricacy of the story, as well as the acting and humour throughout. I was engrossed with the challenge of identifying the important details in the case and very satisfied when I’d correctly solved puzzles or noticed crucial bits of information.

But there was so much content that I had to play it over two days, taking over 10 hours in total! Part of that was down to me being the kind of player that wanted to note down every detail that might be important. But many of the videos were also very long.

It also wasn’t the smoothest experience moving between all the different pieces of evidence, via the individual documents and emails.

So together with the artistic directors and web developer at Gideon Reeling, we worked to make navigating the game content more intuitive, identify any plot holes and decide what could be cut down (e.g. times when evidence was corroborated by more than one character) to make the experience more streamlined.

One of the most impactful suggestions that I and other testers had was to host the game on an integrated website framed as a police database, which would allow players to view and move between the different pieces of information more smoothly.

I also thought it would be effective to incorporate the player’s note-taking and information-gathering process into this website, through something like an interactive evidence board.                                    

Both of these ambitions have come to fruition. The evidence documents and videos (now much shorter edits) are all accessed via the police database website, which has an interactive evidence board that updates depending on which information you’ve uncovered. It’s a much tighter, more user-friendly experience that envelops you in the Interrobang?! universe.

My other main role in working with Gideon Reeling has been to lead the development of the location-based element of Interrobang?!.

In the pilot version of the game, the only way the player’s physical location mattered was in the suggestion that players go to (or imagine they were in) certain kinds of places to watch the videos that loaded when the QR codes were scanned. The characters would say things like ‘go to the local church’ or ‘find somewhere quiet’, with the idea that the game could be played anywhere.

But we found that players unanimously preferred to be accessing evidence sitting at a desk, preferably in front of a computer, where they could easily take notes, watch/read things multiple times and not use lots of mobile data loading content on their devices. The story also stood so well by itself that being in certain kinds of places made little difference to how it was received.

Through my prior experience in location-based game design, I knew that this component of the game would need to be something much more bespoke; making the most of the specific affordances of engaging with material outside and in physical places.

This led to the creation of brand-new, tailored content that expands the Interrobang?! universe through the use of location-based audio. QR codes positioned around Brentford (home of Gideon Reeling and local arts centre partner Watermans) play a series of voice notes when scanned. These follow the story of one very important character and how they became entangled in the wider mystery and peril of Interrobang?!.

I would love to say more, but I can’t give too much away!

I’m proud to say that I came up with the concept behind this new design of Interrobang?! Local and also wrote the scripts for all of the voice notes, which I then edited together with Gideon Reeling.

Thankfully, Gideon were on-hand in Brentford to do the location scouting, place the QR codes and make the necessary local contacts to turn our vision into a reality.

So, again, when can you take part in these dual online and location-based experiences?

They launch officially this Wednesday, 20th October!

This current version of Interrobang?! is live until 27th January 2022. I say current version because Interrobang?! is an ongoing project. Not only will we be addressing any feedback from this run, but there are plans to add more exciting features to the game website in future versions.

Furthermore, we’re planning to bring the location-based experience to places other than Brentford, partnering with local theatres and arts companies across the country to bring a slice of Gideon Reeling’s immersive magic to different audiences. The script is deliberately designed to be adapted to other places and it’ll be fascinating to see how to story connects to a completely different set of sites.

I’m really excited to hear what people make of both the online and location-based aspects of the game. Do get in touch with me if you want to know more about the project or have any feedback that you want to share.          

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How to take part

Visit the Interrobang?! booking page on the Watermans website to book your ticket to play the game online. Tickets cost £15 and the game takes approximately 2-4 hours to complete. It is suitable for anyone aged 12 or over (contains moderate bad language).

You’ll be asked to provide an email address for each player.

Register to play by following the email link. Log in and begin.        

You’ll need a laptop or desktop for the best viewing experience and a trackpad, mouse or direction keys to make choices through the game.

To take part in the Interrobang?! location-based audio experience, look out for copies of The Echo newspaper at Watermans and other locations in the Brentford area. You’ll find everything you need in The Echo.


Thursday, 2 September 2021

RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2021: Designing digital games as a geographical research method


Above is a recorded version (with subtitles) of the paper I presented in the Innovative Digital Geographies session at the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) Annual International Conference on 31st August 2021. This paper discussed designing digital games as a geographical research method and considered the relationship between this method and digital geographical knowledge more broadly, particularly in terms of what we consider 'innovative'.

I'd like to thank Zoe Gardner, Stefano de Sabbata, Katy Bennett and Tess Osborne for convening this fascinating double session, and the Digital Geographies Research Group (DGRG) for sponsoring it. Thank you also to the other presenters in the two sessions for sharing such inspiring research insights and techniques.


Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Digital Geographies Research Group 'Work in Progress' YouTube Series

Since the beginning of this academic year, I have been a Postgraduate Representative on the committee of the RGS-IBG Digital Geographies Research Group (DGRG). The DGRG brings together scholars and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines, whose work engages with the relationship between the digital and geography.

As part of our work within the DGRG committee, we’ve been thinking about ways we can better provide a platform for sharing the research that is happening in our community.       

One popular and successful feature of DGRG events in recent years has been our ‘digital shorts’. These are 2 – 5-minute videos made by researchers to give an overview of an aspect of their work.

Digital shorts have proven particularly popular during the pandemic, as a simple and quick way to communicate research that does not require too much work from the presenter. There were 13 shorts presented during last year’s DGRG Annual Symposium and 11 created for the DGRG-sponsored session Digital Geographies and the Everyday at the RGS-IBG Postgraduate Forum Midterm Conference earlier this year. Other research groups such as the Participatory Geographies Research Group have recently even begun to use the digital short format for their own events.

Following the utility and popularity of the videos in these events, we considered whether we could create an ongoing programme of digital shorts, as a way to share the diversity of digital geographies research with a public audience on a regular basis.       

This idea has led to the launch of our new Work in Progress series on YouTube (also linked at the bottom of this post). This series will feature digital geographers at different career stages and from different disciplinary and methodological backgrounds discussing a wide range of current research.

A couple of weeks ago, we released our first digital short by Phil Jones, discussing the opportunities and challenges of analysing VR content.

Today, our second video has been released. Created by Jeremy Crampton, it discusses his research interests in facial recognition technology and its implications for surveillance in urban life.

We are aiming to publish a new digital short roughly every fortnight from now on.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in hearing more about digital geographies research, you’re in luck. Our annual symposium ‘Where Next for Digital Geographies? Pathways and Prospects’ is taking place online this Wednesday 14th July and is completely free to attend. You can find the full programme and Eventbrite page to book your ticket here.