I write across the fields of computer graphics and UGC, computer games, visual culture and art history. Here is a selection of my publications:
Computer Games As Landscape Art [Monograph]
Palgrave MacMillan, 2023
This is my monograph on art history and computer games. In the 19th century, landscape paintings were a great shortcut to understanding all sorts of things that were changing in the world, from patterns of land ownership and colonisation, to the evolution of our conceptual division between the external 'nature' and whatever it was that we saw ourselves as becoming. In this book, I argue that computer games can serve as a similarly useful shortcut today, and if we can find a way to read them, both from the perspective of a player, as well as by seeing them as pieces of software that exist in physical and digital economies, we can read them like an art historian might read a painting, and see all sorts of fascinating things about our world reflected back at us.
Claustrophobia, Repetition and Redundancy: The Economy and Aesthetics of User-Generated Content in Sandbox Computer Games, Game Studies (2023, Volume 23, Issue 2).
Computer game sandboxes have facilitated an immense wave of user-generated creative content. Titles such as Roblox, Minecraft and Garry’s Mod combine sophisticated digital tools for producing, consuming and sharing such work, increasingly within the same software environment. The game sandbox and creation system Dreams presents a complex enfolding of creative tools, a game engine and a game-sharing platform, where there is no importing of external media other than sound, and virtually all game content is created within the system itself. By integrating the socio-historical context of modding with the technological aesthetics of software studies, this article identifies a dynamic tension between the precarity of the user and the precarity of the platform and examines how we might understand the works created and the system itself on an aesthetic level. Cultural theorists such as Sianne Ngai have pointed to aesthetic categories such as the “zany,” “cute” and “interesting” as affective qualities that index key social and economic structures, which can be applied to a large portion of internet culture (Ngai, 2012, pp. 1-2). As sandbox platforms evolve in complexity, this article identifies three variations of Ngai’s aesthetic categories -- namely claustrophobia, repetition and redundancy -- which can help us understand the significance of a new generation of creative software and practice. Using Dreams (Media Molecule, 2020) as a case study, I examine the functionality of the system, works created within it and its extrinsic legal and economic circumstances to form an aesthetic critique. In analysing these extrinsic circumstances, I also revisit the literature on modding and suggest that material critiques based around the economic exploitation of modders might benefit from a more balanced reading that looks at the precarity of both the users and the platform. I argue that the dynamic tension between copyright holders and users offers a more useful and accurate socio-historical context.
Realism in the Age of the Simulated Image: Two Black Holes
Leonardo (2022, Volume 55, Issue 5).
This paper examines the production and reception of two scientific images of black holes, the 2019 image of the M87 black hole and Gargantua from Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar. The author argues that these two images of unobservable phenomena crystallize a definition of contemporary realism. In an information-rich society a simulated image achieves realism by compressing large amounts of data into an intelligible image using an algorithmic methodology that the viewer trusts as scientifically reliable and therefore realistic.
Encoding the Symptom or the Cause? Values in the Design of Computer Games that Represent School Mass-Shootings.
Proceedings of The Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, 2018.
This paper explores psychological literature surrounding school mass shootings relative to two computer games that represent the same phenomena. The first is a Counter-Strike mod made by a young player, the second is a shooting simulation game produced by a government agency. Throughout this comparison, the paper explores the representations of computer games relative to other social factors that have a closer statistical relationship between these acts of mass violence.
Reconstructing a Historical Site Within a Computer Game.
Catalog Essay for Serious Games, HowArt Museum Shanghai, 2019.
Proceedings of The Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, 2018.
This essay examines the practice of 3D site reconstruction in virtual archeology using the case study of a Counter-Strike mod I co-authored. It argues that digital site reconstruction is shaped by the software that it uses, and it highlights certain limitations we encountered when using the Valve Source Engine to reconstruct a historical site in Hong Kong.
Starcraft II and Chinese Scroll Painting: Narrative Ideas for RTS Computer Games
International Symposium on Electronic Art, 2016.
This essay builds on previous scholarship examining the historical connection between oblique projection in Chinese scroll painting and the use of isometrics in sprite-based Real-Time Strategy games. Where modern RTS games have struggled to merge narrative storytelling with the isometric format, this essay suggests that the spatial storytelling of scrolls might hold some answers.
A Game Made From Other Games: Actions and Entities in Garry's Mod
Proceedings of The Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, 2017.
This paper examines user-generated content in sandbox computer games. Sandbox games are those where the typical features such as goals and win/lose conditions have been removed and players are given an expanded ability to reconfigure the game environment. Using 'Garry's Mod' as a case study, I examine computer game sandboxes as a highly innovative example of the Situationist practice of derive as well a software that can be repurposed for completely new uses such as encrypted stenographic communication.
Colliders with Context: Trees in First Person Shooter Computer Games
Proceedings of The Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, 2016.
This paper compares the function of trees as obstacles and collision objects in computer games with their aesthetic qualities and visual reference material. It is an essay on the inseparable relationship between computer game functionality and representation.