Please find a full list of my publications below. These include both academic and professional works:
United We Stand: Platforms, Tools and Innovation With the Unity Game Engine. (2019). Published in Social Media + Society.
- The skirmish between game engines Unity and Unreal presents a new front in the platformization of cultural production. This article argues that such programs are “platform tools.” They enable amateurs and professionals to not only build content for platforms but also “lock-in” industry ideologies in the ideation, production, implementation, and distribution of digital creative work, resulting in a homogeneity of developers, practices, and products. The Unity engine’s history, features, and place in the game production pipeline makes it a paradigmatic “platform tool.” Findings from 90 interviews with VR enthusiasts show that Unity set the boundaries or “rules” for developers’ everyday activities and, despite enthusiasm about the medium’s potential, compelled them to create content which conformed to popular gaming genres and standards.
Playing with Virtual Reality: Early Adopters of Commercial Immersive Technology. (2018). Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Phd at Columbia University
- This dissertation examines early adopters of mass-marketed Virtual Reality (VR), as well as other immersive technologies, and the playful processes by which they incorporate the devices into their lives within New York City. Starting in 2016, relatively inexpensive head-mounted displays (HMDs) began to be manufactured and distributed by leaders in the game and information technology industries. However, even before these releases, developers and content creators were testing the devices through “development kits.” These de facto early adopters, who are distinctly commercially-oriented, acted as a launching point for the dissertation to scrutinize how, why and in what ways digital technologies spread to the wider public. Taking a multimethod approach that combines semi-structured interviews, two years of participant observation, media discourse analysis and autoethnography, the dissertation details a moment in the diffusion of an innovation and how publicity, social forces and industry influence adoption. This includes studying the media ecosystem which promotes and sustains VR, the role of New York City in framing opportunities and barriers for new users, and a description of meetups as important communities where devotees congregate. With Game Studies as a backdrop for analysis, the dissertation posits that the blurry relationship between labor and play held by most enthusiasts sustains the process of VR adoption. Their “playbor” colors not only the rhetoric and the focus of meetups, but also the activities, designs, and, most importantly, the financial and personal expenditures they put forth. Ultimately, play shapes the system of production by which adopters of commercial VR are introduced to the technology and, eventually, weave it into their lives. Situating play at the center of this system highlights that the assimilation of digital media is in part an embodied and irrational experience. It also suggests new models by which future innovations will spread to the public.
Mainstreaming Misogyny: The Beginning of the End and the End of the Beginning in Gamergate Coverage. (2018). Published in Mediating Misogyny.
- Nieborg and Foxman discuss the event known as Gamergate, a niche misogynistic online movement primarily targeting female game developers and critics. Drawing on both discourse and content analyses of a corpus of U.S. news publications, this chapter focuses on how Gamergate events were “mainstreamed,” or normalized and subsequently cited by mainstream outlets. Analysis shows that such coverage breaks down into two phases. First, Gamergate can be considered “the beginning of the end” of an era in game culture, during which an industry, developing and publishing games by and for young men, heavily favored masculine themes and marketing approaches. Second, Gamergate signals “the end of the beginning:” a new era in which online misogyny is increasingly recognized, scrutinized, and criticized by leading news organizations.
The playful newsroom: Iterating and reiterating the news and its publics. (2017). Published in First Monday: The Peer Reviewed Journal on The Internet.
- The crisis in the journalism industry, intensified with the popularization of the World Wide Web, warrants radical rethinking of the professional identity of journalists and their role in society. This paper first suggests replacing the Habermasian public sphere with Dutch historian Johan Huizinga’s magic circle of play to describe the relationship between the press and its audience. Within this new model, the writer configures the rules and boundaries in which the reader is free to respond and subvert, an interplay that increasingly shapes both current news production and expectations of the public. This paper then explores play and playful attitudes in newsroom practices and output through semi-structured interviews with journalists, game designers and educators. The “Game Team” at the news and entertainment Web site BuzzFeed acts as a primary case study of a group of journalists who make a variety of playful products — from full-fledged games to interactives — which they iterate and improve over time, in response to readers’ feedback.
Advertising in Schools (2017). Published for Data and Society. With Alexandra Mateescu and Monica Bulger.
- Debates over digital advertising in schools have inherited the frames through which older, pre-digital forms of advertising have been conceptualized, and have also been characterized as departing from them in significant ways. But what, exactly, is new and how have older practices evolved? We examine how digital advertising can impact students and call for more transparency on how data collection of students is being utilized in a new primer.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Games Coverage and its Network of Ambivalences. (2016) Published in the Journal of Game Criticism. With David Nieborg.
- It’s as tough a time as ever for game critics, who seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place—an industry that acts as gatekeepers to most of the information they cover and an increasingly combative readership. Because of these tensions, an exploratory study was conducted first of the emergence of game criticism and the historical role of critics in creating the conception of gamer identity and, second, the effect of that identity on critics’ self-perception of their profession. We find that throughout the late 1980s and the end of the 20th century the game press was complicit in reinforcing the notion of the hardcore, primarily male “gamer,” while at the same time wrestling with their role as mediators between the industry and audience to which they were beholden. Through a subsequent study of articles and public meta-criticism by prominent figures in the field, we describe a network of ambivalences over the basic elements of their practice—particularly style, content, and format—as well as what motivates their daily work. In order to cope with these ambivalences, game critics, in recommending changes to their craft, rely not on the occupational ideology—or a common set of shared professional values—but instead their personal background and ancillary careers. Finally, after reviewing this network of ambivalences and its effect on games writing, we suggest critics make efforts toward establishing a common critical authority for their field, particularly as their occupation enters the mainstream.
Play the News: Fun and Games in Digital Journalism (2015). Published for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.
- More than ever before we’re consuming news in strange contexts; mixed into a stream of holiday photos on Facebook, alongside comedians’ quips on twitter; between Candy Crush and transit directions on our smartphones. In this environment designers can take liberties with the form of the news package and the ways that audiences can interact. But it’s not just users who are invited to experiment with their news: in newsrooms and product development departments, developers and journalists are adopting play as design and authoring process. Maxwell Foxman‘s new Tow Center report, Play The News: Fun and Games in Digital Journalism is a comprehensive documentation of this world. Also available via Columbia Academic Commons.
Foursquare: Bodily Transgression in Gamified Spaces. (2015). Published in Analog Game Studies.
- When do we stop playing? As games pervade diverse aspects of our everyday lives, the play experience seems to never cease and this question becomes progressively difficult to answer. Studies of “gamification,” a concept commonly defined as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts,”1 tend to focus on the creation and production of games rather than the bodily experience of their players. These technically-minded analyses, however, are much akin to a study of soccer pitches that ignores soccer players. Interactions between a gamified application’s “rules” and the activities of its players provide many moments of insight that are not apparent when focusing strictly on the game itself. Transgression is one such moment. Also available as a part of a collected volume by Carnegie Mellon University ETC Press.
Book Piracy as Peer Preservation. (2014). Published in Computational Culture. With Dennis Tenen.
- In describing the people, books, and technologies behind one of the largest “shadow” libraries in the world, we find a tension between the dynamics of sharing and preservation. The paper proceeds to contextualize contemporary book piracy historically, challenging accepted theories of peer production. Through a close analysis of one digital library’s system architecture, software and community, we assert that the activities cultivated by its members are closer to that of conservationists of the public libraries movement, with the goal of preserving rather than mass distributing their collected material. Unlike common peer production models emphasis is placed on the expertise of its members as digital preservations, as well as the absorption of digital repositories. Additionally, we highlight issues that arise from their particular form of distributed architecture and community.
Electing to Play MTV’s Fantasy Election and Changes in Political Engagement Through Gameplay. (2014). Published in Games and Culture. With Michelle Forelle.
- In 2012, MTV explored a new approach to voter engagement through “Fantasy Election.” The game had players draft candidates in the congressional and presidential elections onto personal teams in order to compete for points and prizes, which were distributed based not only on the candidates’ actions but also when players themselves took action to become better informed and involved during the campaign. In the end, Fantasy Election drew over 10,000 active participants. This article scrutinizes the design and effect of the game by using data from MTV’s exit survey of Fantasy Election users to explore whether and how games can be used to encourage voter engagement. By considering the self-reported motivations of players, and a broader discussion of the role of play, competition and reward in fostering political and civic participation, we consider how gamification strategies have ambivalent effects on developing a more informed and cooperative civil society.
How to Win Foursquare: Body and Space in a Gamified World. (2014). Published in Rethinking Gamification.
- With the proliferation of mobile technologies and the ascent of social media as a primary mode of interaction, software developers are deploying game mechanisms and principles as a means of fostering interaction within the prodigious and chaotic digital landscape. The result is applications which convert pedestrian activities into structured competitions and contests, capitalizing on the universal desires for glory and expenditure on behalf of the community. Using autoethnographic techniques, I argue that a larger cultural transformation is occurring, in which play becomes one of the primary elements of everyday communication, governed and coaxed by digital technology. While many have investigated the effects of gamification on various social entities, from healthcare to politics, significant research is wanting on fundamental questions about why, in the current social and digital landscape, people are driven to these applications, and what accounts for their fervent attraction and rise and fall in popularity.
Digital Death: The Failures, Struggles and Discourses of the Social Media Spectacle. (2012) Published in Proceedings of the New York State Communication Association.
- Celebrities have always capitalized upon various media to give voice and substance to their own mute causes. From Live Aid to PBS fundraisers, they have utilized their public personae to support the downtrodden, sick and underprivileged. However, in December of 2010, when Alicia Keys and over a dozen other celebrities banded together to raise money for World AIDS Day by eradicating their Twitter and other social media profiles, their much-hyped campaign to raise one million dollars fell short of its goal by nearly half. This paper explores the discourses surrounding the Digital Death “Pseudo-Event,” and the effects of the disjuncture between the real and digital self when the Celebrity Spectacle is moved from traditional media to the social sphere. Consumer awareness of that gulf ultimately precluded the Digital Death campaign’s ability to succeed, not only as a fundraiser, but also as a media spectacle. Ultimately, such revelations point to the inherent natures of social media to promote a certain type of celebrity spectacle that does not conform uniformly to the celebrity of traditional media.