Zackariasson Ph.D. defense

HUMlab friend Peter Zackariasson will defend his Ph.D. thesis on June 5 at 1.15 pm in Lecture Hall G in the Humanities building here at Umeå University. The title is “World Builders: A Study on the Development of a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game”. Great news!


This dissertation is a study of the development of a video game called Anarchy Online. This game was developed by the Funcom company between 1995 and 2001, and is a so-called Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). This genre of video games differs from traditional games in that it offers a persistent virtual world that gamers can access at all hours of the night or day. It is also a world where gamers make avatars that play with or against each other. All in all, it is as much a social sphere as a game. The popularity of MMORGPGs has continued to increase, and today there are several million gamers worldwide who participate in these virtual worlds. Because virtual worlds are places where many people socialize, play, and spend a great deal of time, there is a need to form an understanding of them. In this thesis, I am studying how Anarchy Online was produced in order to understand the assumptions behind the rules governing the interaction in this specific virtual world were selected and organized. In doing so, I am using material from two sources: the developers and the game itself. This material was gathered through interviews, documents, and virtual ethnographic observations.

Ultimately, games consist of codes; but in order to program the code, they need to be specified by a game content. The analysis shows that the content of the game is defined by the developers’ view of a good society – the belief in a human being’s need for self-actualization and social interaction. The thesis thus concludes with the observation that the need to select the discourses and/or philosophies for content and possible gamers’ actions requires the development of games and virtual worlds such as Anarchy Online to be more than the creation of an entertaining product. Rather, discourses were recreated from the physical world in which the developers live. In the end, gamers are locked into a discoursive prison created by the developers.

Pdf version of the thesis available from here. Bibliographic information here.

Robot Ethics and “Love Machine”

At 13:15 on Thursday, May 31, Peter Asaro will present a lecture on “Robot Ethics” in the HUMlab.

This lecture will be an overview of his research at the HUMlab on Robot Ethics, particularly on the ethics of military robots. Peter is one of the new Postdoctoral Fellows at the HUMlab and the Department of Philosophy.

His film Love Machine will be shown in HUMlab at 15:30 on this Friday, June 1.
This is part of the “Love, War & Robots Film Series”

Love Machine flyer

Love Machine (2001), directed by Peter Asaro, 110 min,

This independent feature-length documentary looks at the development of robots capable of human social relations of love, caring, and friendship. It investigates the technologies being developed, and the motives behind their development. It also explores the social interests and fears surrounding their potential as sexual partners and life-partners, augmenting or replacing intimate human relationships.

It features interviews with leading roboticists, philosophers, sexologists and inventors, including: Rodney Brooks, Hans Moravec, Ken Goldberg, Hubert Dreyfus, Daniel Dennett, Manuel Delanda, Carol Queen, Robert Morgan Lawrence, Ernest Green, Lisa Palac, and others.

A Report from Second Life

The process of establishing a HUMlab presence in the virtual online world Second Life is going ahead. I expect to be able to announce the location of our site soon.

I have made some good connections in SL, and some not so good ones. The drive to make money is very much a factor in the world but it is not the only one. I have ‘met’ people who are there to make things happen, to develop aesthetic considerations (especially art) and to connect with others who are interesting to them. This is a big week in SL if you are part of the Swedish contingent, because on Thursday at 9am the embassy of Sweden will open. All the hype however about ‘the first embassy in SL’ has been deflated by the establishment of the Maldives mission:

Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid said the virtual embassy “offers another channel for us to provide information on the country, to offer our viewpoint on issues of international concern, and to interact with our partners in the international community.”

Information about the opening of the Swedish mission (speeches by politicians and music I think) is HERE. Twenty four hours exactly after the embassy opening on Thursday at 9am I will be leading the last HUMlab short course for this term on Living and Building in Second Life. There are places available if you are interested in exploring SL and would like to share ideas and theories with others. If you are a staff or student at Umeå university you can book a place in the course HERE. I will send out information tomorrow to those who have booked.

In yesterday’s Dagens Nyheter (for the Swedish speakers) there was an article in the financial section on the national telecommunications company Telia Sonera’s plans to enter Second Life. This is nothing radical as SL is full of big companies. What was different is Telia Sonera plans to hold a competition for university students to submit their best ideas for how the Telia project will look in SL. If you are interested in contributing the details are HERE.

HUMlab researcher on robot ethic

Peter Asaro, postdoc researcher at HUMlab, just had an article published in International Review of Information Ethics. The current issue mainly focuses on Ethics in Robotics. Information on Peter’s article follows:

What Should We Want From a Robot Ethic?
by Peter M. Asaro

abstract: There are at least three things we might mean by “ethics in robotics”: the ethical systems built into robots, the ethics of people who design and use robots, and the ethics of how people treat robots. This paper argues that the best approach to robot ethics is one which addresses all three of these, and to do this it ought to consider robots as socio-technical systems. By so doing, it is possible to think of a continuum of agency that lies between amoral and fully autonomous moral agents. Thus, robots might move gradually along this continuum as they acquire greater capabilities and ethical sophistication. It also argues that many of the issues regarding the distribution of responsibility in complex socio-technical systems might best be addressed by looking to legal theory, rather than moral theory. This is because our overarching interest in robot ethics ought to be the practical one of preventing robots from doing harm, as well as preventing humans from unjustly avoiding responsibility for their actions.

The article is available in full text from here.

Thoughts on Digital Research

The end of term mania started well and truly this week here. I have not had time to be in HUMlab so much but everybody seems to be very busy when I have been in the lab. In my home department (Modern Languages) tired looking lecturers are eating lunch in their rooms or heating something in a microwave while (a) student/s wait nearby for a meeting. Student parties are appearing all over campus. This weekend the student housing area that I live in is hosting the biggest party for the end of term. Trees are going green and the sun is gaining strength. Summer is upon us.

I did however manage to get to the seminar of fellow HUMlab doctoral candidate Stephanie yesterday. Linguistics is not my strong point (ask anyone) but I did feel comfortable with the web based subject of Stephanie’s presentation. Looking at the possibilities for gendered language use in a defined corpus of blog entries Steph is in the process of developing an interesting method that looks like it could have results. What motivates me to write here on this is not so much the content of Steph’s research (which I struggle to really understand outside the literary frames I am myself developing) but rather the reactions that her work got in the seminar. These reactions seemed to me very similar to what my own work meets with in the context of a mostly traditional literature department. This is interesting.

The basis for research in digital subjects seems to be able to benefit from the larger/older/tested body of knowledge that has been built up over the long history of say linguistics, literature, sociology, and so on. We are not reinventing the wheel here and many of the things that happen online have been happening offline for a longer time. So we the digital researchers have to be familiar with the predigital, slower, more static ‘old’ stuff.


Then there is digital discourse. In yesterday’s seminar words like fluid, changing, temporary, network, community, link, representation, status, genre, effect, and communicative bounced round the room. In my own work I had a long chat this week with another HUMlab digital literature researcher concerning materiality, response, depth, form, conventions of use, subjectivity and embodiment. In all these exchanges there is the feeling of creating or adapting new systems for explaining and contextualising the subjects we deal with. The older (and much larger) body of knowledge is completely indispensable but it does not accommodate the evidence we are finding in digital subjects. Contact across disciplines is a great way to get a bearing on how others are profiting from the dynamic relations of digital research.

5 minute teaching format?



There are two types of Internet users, those that use RSS and those that don’t. This video is for the people who could save time using RSS, but don’t know where to start. (

I like these little 5 minute clips. They are not only good for highlighting the main points, but are also a useful discussion starter for both the theory behind the points, as well as hit or misses in the explanation.

Virtual Real at Umeå Culture Night

This week has been a busy one in HUMlab. I was very glad yesterday when I found the time to attend the first of a two part short course in Maya modeling, Skapa 3D med Maya led ‘3D’ Anton. While this was going on many of the HUMlab workers were preparing for the Umeå Culture Night tomorrow night. HUMlab will be leading a series of events and presentations around the theme of digital humanities in the Umeå Town Library. The presentations begin at 17:30 and run until 20:00. My part in this extravaganza will be a performance of sound/music in the library that will be streamed live in the 3D virtual world Second Life. This is why I am blogging here, as while there are many talented people doing things tomorrow night (with films, seminars, performances and demos) I will be ‘visible’ on the internet. At 18:25 in the Sagorum my real self will start playing 30 minutes of ambient acoustic didgeridoo, bells, drums, clap sticks and other stuff. At the same time in the Mare Mare Cafe in Second Life on the island of Hikuelo (Coordinates 65.111.22) my avatar Didge Burroughs will sit down with his newly acquired virtual didge and begin playing exactly what I play (with maybe a ten second delay).

I am very interested in how the so called ‘virtual’ and this world we call ‘real’ intersect with each other. I am very inspired by the work of the artist duo Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby. They work in Second Life as The Port where they fragment the accepted boundaries between the virtual and the real. My own effort is not so complex but I wanted to raise questions about what it means to broadcast live action in a virtual space. Plus it may be an introduction for many people to the phenomenon that is Second Life.
So, if you are stuck at home tomorrow night, get a free Second Life account and come into the world, teleport to the Mare Mare (just enter: Hikuelo 65.111.22) and experience it for yourSELF…whoever that may be.

Finally thanks so much to Maria Bäcke for making the Mare Mare cafe available to us for the inworld performance. With some luck and the skills of Jon with Shoutcast it should all come together. Here is an image of the other me and his new didgeridoo:
Didge Burroughs Plays Didgeridoo

Katherine Hayles on literature departments and e-literature

Here are Jill Walker’s notes from Katherine Hayles’ keynote on “The Future of Elctronic Literature” at ELO 2007. Very useful (not least for the article I am working on) and interesting. It seems like Kate’s talk was set within the framework of literary studies (no suprise of course). She discussed different strategies (according toJill) for integrating electronic literature into universities:

1. Department of media arts – film people, computer people, literary people.
2. An interdisciplinary program where students from different departments come together.
3. Depts of English or other literatures that introduce electronic literature as a component of their faculty lines, curriculum etc. Such a dept is often hard to convince of the importance of e-lit in the general study of literature.

I am thinking of the role of something like HUMlab in this context. I think there is something to be said for disciplinary transformation as well as bringing faculty, students and others together in a transdisciplinary, dialogic setting. For the digital humanities as an enterprise, I am not totally sure that only doing one works. But, of course, this also depends on the context. There is a major different between a comprehensive university and a technical university college, for instance. You need to adopt different strategies.

Love, War & Robots: A Film Series (Revised)

Everyone seemed to enjoy the first installment of the Film Series last Friday! There were a lot of interesting elements to the films that many of us had forgotten.

Due to the holiday this week, among other things, there will be NO FILM THIS WEEK!

We will start up again next week, though. And with a slightly revised schedule.

I decided to revise the schedule due to the time it will take to get some of the films, because this week’s film had to be canceled, and to rearrange the order for those people who will not be around over the summer. This loses the organization by parts, but should be a good sequence nonetheless.

Here is more information about the films:
Love, War & Robots: A Film Series

Here is the new schedule:

May 11
The Terminator (1984) directed by James Cameron, 108 minutes
RoboCop (1987) directed by Paul Verhoeven, 102 minutes

May 18

May 25
Fail-Safe (1963) directed by Sydney Lumet, 112 minutes (black&white)
War Games (1983) directed by John Badham, 114 minutes

June 1
Love Machine (2001) directed by Peter Asaro, 110 minutes

June 8
Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) directed by Joseph Sargent, 100 Minutes
Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) directed by Stanley Kubrick, 96 minutes (black&white)

June 15
A.I.:Artificial Intelligence (2001) directed by Steven Spielberg, 146 minutes

June 22 – July 27

August 3
Runaway (1984) directed by Michael Crichton, 99 minutes
Westworld (1973) directed by Michael Crichton, 88 minutes

August 10
Demon Seed (1977) directed by Donald Cammell, 99 minutes

August 17
Blade Runner(1982) directed by Ridley Scott, 117 minutes

August 24
Ghost in The Shell II: Innocence [Inosensu: Kokaku Kidotai] (2004) directed by Mamoru Oshii, 100 minutes

August 31
Desk Set (1957) directed by Walter Lang, 103 minutes
Making Mr. Right (1987) directed by Susan Seidelman, 98 minutes

3D class and lab space

There is a 3D modeling course going on in HUMlab this afternoon, and when I was there an hour ago, I was struck by the multiplex use of the lab space. Not only was this really interesting course going on, but also many other activities – and there was also a fair deal of communication going on in between.


All these shots are from the same, translucent lab space: HUMlab (taken over a period of approximately five minutes). And think that we are actually going to expand the space – based on many of the same principles although the new part is going to be very different from the one we have now.