My final project is an interactive timeline of the U.S. government’s involvement in the development of sex education in public schools. In pondering my own high school’s sex education curriculum, and hearing experiences from friends and peers over the years, I decided to dig deeper into how public schools have come to teach sex education to young people. It turns out, both the federal and state government have more of a say in what we are taught in health class than I originally thought. So, in order to better understand this connection, I used an open-source timeline software called Knightlab to track the development of sex education over the last 100 or so years.
When I was first brainstorming for this project, I wanted the content to go in many different directions. Initially, I planned to create a dual timeline with one section focusing on major events in American history that influenced sex education, and the other timeline to show how sex education changed as a result of those events. I also wanted to emphasize feminist history, and highlight historical instances when women took ownership over their bodies, sexuality, and pleasure.
As I found our time in class coming to an end, I simultaneously realized that my original project plan might have been too complex for Knightlab. So instead, I decided to make a simple yet engaging timeline tracking major time periods and dates when American society was changing, and the government’s implementation of sex education was responding those changes.
Knightlab is a relatively easy software to use. Their website provides you with a pre-formatted excel spreadsheet, and you simply copy and paste the spreadsheet’s URL, plug it into the Knightlab website and it provides you with a link and converts the information into a timeline. I would argue that the most challenging part about using Knightlab is inputting images. The software will not convert images to the timeline that are only inserted onto the spreadsheet. Instead, you have to use the image’s URL with “jpeg” at the end in order for the images to show up on the timeline. Having a history background, I had already picked out archival images for my timeline before I started experimenting with the software. However, many of those images did not allow you to access a working URL, so I deferred to using images from google (which felt so wrong in my historian brain.)
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to use Knightlab and creating this sex education timeline. It was nice to be less worried about complex historical scholarship, and just focus on organizing basic information in an interesting way. I also really loved being as creative as I could with the photos and focusing on making attention grabbing content. I hope to continue my research on this topic for future use.
Here is a link to a Word Press site I created for the bibliography:
This week we are looking at Videogames, Interactivity, and Action. Like many of you, I saw the title for this week’s book, Critical Play: Radical Game Design, and thought, “woohoo! A fun book about games and playing? This is going to be a breeze!” However, this book is highly complex and discusses some complicated concepts. Let’s dive in!
Key Terms & Concepts
Some key terms and concepts Flanagan provides in the introduction to help facilitate easier reading:
A straightforward definition of an artist provided by Flanagan is someone “creating outside commercial establishments, and often those who are ‘making’ for ‘making’s sake.’” (3-4) Flanagan makes it a point to feature games and projects that come from outside the popular software, board-game, or theme park industries. She wants to focus on independent game developers and artists as she believes that “ideas about politics, play, and games” are most interesting in these settings. (4)
Flanagan discusses multiple scholarly perspectives on play, including theories from Brian Sutton-Smith and Johan Huizinga. But ultimately, she agrees with most anthropologists and historians who define play as, “central to human and animal life; is generally a voluntary act; offers pleasure in its own right (and by its own rules); is mentally and psychically challenging; and is separated from reality, either through a sanctioned play space or through an agreed upon fantasy or rule set.” (5)
There are two quotes from Flanagan that I think best capture how she defines critical play: “to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life,” and critical play “is characterized by a careful examination of social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces.” (6)
Flanagan defines games as, “instances of more-or-less constructed play scenarios,” and “situations with guidelines and procedures.” (6-7)
Flanagan has a complex definition of technology as it applies to games and play. She asserts that games themselves act as technologies, even if they don’t involve gadgets or devices. According to Flanagan, “games and play activities themselves, with their emphasis on order and conventions, act as technologies that produce sets of relationships, governed by time and rules, played out in behavioral patterns.” (8)
Subversion is defined as “an action, plan, or activity intended to undermine an institution, event, or object.” (10) In regards to games and play, subversion can be a player who is pushing the boundaries, the rules, or expectations of the game. This could look like using cheat codes to maneuver through the game more quickly.
Activist games typically engage in a social issue in order to achieve a certain outcome, and go beyond simply entertaining players. The most common ways that activist games encounter social issues are through themes, narratives, roles, settings, goals, and characters. (13)
Games & Play – More Than Just Entertainment?
Flanagan begins by posing a question to get us thinking about games, and reimagining their traditional function:
“What if some games, and the more general concept of ‘play,’ not only provide outlets for entertainment but also function as means for creative expression, as instruments for conceptual thinking, or as tools to help examine or work through social issues?” (1)
Flanagan’s overall goal, is to analyze various types of games and play, and use her analysis to propose a theory of radical game design. As shown from the excerpt above, she believes that games and play are more than just for thoughtless entertainment, they can serve a deeper purpose and be used to incite critical thinking about larger social, cultural, and political issues in our society.
Historical Context for Critical Play
Chapters two through seven explore the histories and development of various forms of play such as: domestic play (playing house or with dolls) board games, language games such as word puzzles, performative games such as make-believe, locative games such as mass games played in the public sphere, and computer games such as World of Warcraft. In addition to accounting for each game genre’s historical context, Flanagan also details how artists and social movements engaged with these concepts of play. (14)
Radical Game Design
In chapter eight, Designing for Critical Play, Flanagan proposes a critical play method for future game designers and artists based on traditional game design plus the various approaches to play she discusses throughout the book. This quote from Flanagan really summarizes what she hopes to accomplish with her critical play game design methodology;
“By proposing this design model and creating games with this set of strategies, it is hoped that other practitioners, artists, designers, scientists, and researchers will be able to question and elucidate many of the so-called ‘norms’ embedded in our current play frameworks and technology practices, ultimately including a more diverse set of voices in the game design community and a wider spectrum of game experiences.”
The major difference in the traditional game design model and Flanagan’s critical play design model is introducing the concept of human concerns. An example of how she incorporates human concerns into her design model is the “playtest with diverse audiences” step. This step ensures that throughout the development of the game, the feedback and perspective of a diverse population will be incorporated, thus creating a meaningful gaming experience that encapsulates more than just entertainment and leisure.
Initial thoughts on the book? What chapters felt the most significant and why?
Did you feel like this book was accessible to a general audience? Who is Flanagan’s intended audience?
What do you think of Flanagan’s discussion of art and artists throughout the book? Did you find it was helpful in forming her argument?
This book was published in 2009, computer/video games have obviously evolved immensely since Flanagan proposed her Critical Play game design model. Do you think contemporary game designers have been influenced by any aspects of Flanagan’s work? If so, which games and how?
What are some examples of activist games? In your opinion, do they effectively address social issues? What are some examples of how computer games can serve as forms of activism?
What are some of the strategies/tools for game designers and innovators Flanagan pulls from the various methods of play and games that she analyzes throughout the book?
When I was in high school (2011-2015), public school sex education curriculum taught us about puberty, the male and female reproductive systems, various methods of birth control, and most memorably, the dangers of teenage pregnancy and STI’s. We were taught that the best and only way to have safe sex with zero risk of pregnancy or STI’s was to remain abstinent. It was in this classroom, as I flipped through my outdated sex-ed text book and watched VHS tapes from the 90’s about STI afflicted teens, that all of my anxieties around sex and sexual health were solidified.
As I have gotten older and learned more about sexual wellness, the human body, the patriarchy, and sexual stigma, I feel so bad for my younger self and peers who were given limited information and shamed into silence about our bodies and sexualities. I often wonder what it was like for older generations who had to deal with even greater shame and stigma, and I hope for a more honest, inclusive, and open sexual education curriculum for future generations. For my digital project, I would like to explore the history of sex education in the United States, particularly in public schools, to better understand how the majority of Americans have been raised to understand themselves, their sexuality, and gender, specifically focusing on women. Simultaneously, I would like to research women’s liberation and the sexual revolution up to the present day, to see how these social movements were reflected in sex education curriculum. I plan to focus this research on the 20th century and into the 21st century up to the present day, highlighting instances when women took ownership over their bodies and sexuality.
In order to complete this digital project, I would like to create an interactive timeline. There are many templates online to do this, including TimelineJS by knight lab, and Free Timeline Maker by Visme. I would like to create parallel narratives, one focusing on social issues in the U.S. regarding women, sexuality, and gender, and a corresponding narrative showing how these societal changes were being reflected in sex-ed classrooms. It would be interesting to have each narrative on separate sides of the timeline, or even color coded along one single timeline. Either way, I want this to be an interactive project, where people can click around, look at many compelling images, and be provided with more resources and information to educate themselves on these topics.
Living in a beautiful city like Historic Annapolis means that interacting with tourists is part of daily life. Whether they are coming in to town to for the Blue Angels Show, holiday events, or just to shop and dine, tourists are flowing in and out of town constantly. On any given day I can expect to give directions to confused travelers, offer recommendations for the best seafood restaurants, or simply shuffle out of the way so people can take the perfect picture of the colonial architecture and charming cobble stone streets. I often think to myself, “I bet those pictures are going straight to the Gram,” (Instagram that is.) For my print project proposal, I would like to survey the Instagram hashtag #HistoricAnnapolis, and analyze the ways that tourists, or anyone for that matter, have used the hashtag. In recent years, I have become interested in the tourism industry, specifically its relationship to historical interpretation, ethics, and representation. It would be interesting to see what aspects of Annapolis’s history people deem Instagram-worthy, and how those posts fit into Instagram user’s overall social media identity; are they a tourist or a local? Do they have some kind of project or business they are trying to promote? Are they visiting a museum of historic site, or just walking around the city?
I could execute this project by searching #HistoricAnnapolis, and looking at the first 15 posts under both the “top” tab, which show the most liked posts with the hashtag, and the “recent” tab, showing the most recently posted posts using the hashtag. Then, I could analyze each post, collecting data such as the content of the post and any information each user volunteers about themselves. I could also compare the post using #HistoricAnnapolis to the rest of their profile to gain a better understanding of their perspective on Historic Annapolis, and what they found interesting or Instagram-worthy about the city. After I collect as much data as possible, I could create a spreadsheet to organize the data with various graphs and charts to provide visual representations of the results.
Although this project focuses on one social media site and would only give us a small glimpse into how people interact with Annapolis and its history, it provides us with valuable information nonetheless. The results of a project like this can reveal demographical data about the people who engage with the city’s history, sites or narratives that are popular, and the ones that could use more interpretation and visitor engagement. As an Annapolitan myself who is familiar with the city’s history and interested in the public’s perception of it, determining what people find most interesting, relevant, and Gram-worthy would be a compelling project.
Google N-Gram is a search engine that allows users to explore words or phrases that appear in books ranging from 1800-2019. Users have the option to change the language and dates they are searching within. Results are shown on a graph, providing users with a visualization of the frequency a word or phrase has been used over time. The case sensitivity can be altered as well as the measurement of the frequency by percentage.
Searching “Malcolm X,” from 1950-2019 in American English gives us the following results. This search shows that in American English literature, Malcolm X was at peak popularity in 1970, 1995, and 2012.
Users can also combine words and phrases to get advanced results. For example, searching “Malcolm X, Black Power,” gives us the following results showing the trends of both subjects in comparison to one another.
Both subjects follow a similar trend initially, however, “Malcolm X” spikes in the early 1990’s and goes back down in the late 2010’s, while “Black Power” steadily increases. After being presented with the graph, users can scroll down and choose from a selection of books organized by groups of dates.
Clicking on “1971-2006” for Malcolm X provides us with an abundance of books on Malcolm X published during that time period. Google N-Gram is a great resource for anyone researching a topic (or topics) who wants to know when that topic(s) was the most popular. Whether you are a seasoned researcher, or just getting started, Google N-Grams provides users with an easy and unique option.