Syllabus for my graduate seminar this spring:
Is simulation the consummate genre of the 21st century? How can we negotiate between simulation as a trope of science fiction and cultural fantasy (the Matrix, to name one obvious example) and the non-virtual reality of the Strip in Las Vegas, or the best-selling video game franchise The Sims? The objective of this seminar will be to range freely between simulation as the essential focalizer of the postmodern, between practices of applied modeling in humanities research online (such as the Virtual Vaudeville project, which painstakingly recreates a performance in a turn of the century Manhattan theater), and between simulation as an established mode and form of digital gaming. We will read widely in the literature and theory of simulation, from obvious high postmodern candidates like DeLillo, Baudrillard, and Haraway to more exotic sites of engagement, such as military technology, theoretical mathematics, artificial life, and the philosophical discourse of modeling. Indeed, our goal will be eventually to adjudicate among three interrelated terms: simulation, modeling, and gaming; and to come to grips with their import and distinctions in the contemporary milieu. To what extent are these forms and practices rivals or competitors to the literary? Can a simulation (or a game) sustain a narrative? Is the virtual merely the latest act or art of wish fulfillment in an age-old progression of mimetic conceits, or is it something else? Something new?
A key component of the course will be a set of hands-on explorations using the popular virtual world Second Life. You will engage with the cultures and sub-cultures of Second Life by creating avatars and participating in the communities and events of this thriving virtual world (current population: 10 million). With only slightly greater investment, you may also learn to “build” in Second Life, contributing your own objects, structures, and experiences to the world. Part simulation, part model, and part game, Second Life will be the social arena in which we seek to activate and literalize our weekly conversations.