Sweet Spots: Fox’s Tavern
Sweet Spots: Fox’s Tavern
In 2000 Professor Julia Fox got a sign. Out house hunting after officially joining the department, Fox found a house with a bar in the basement. Mounted above the bar a wooden sign read “Fox’s Tavern.”
By sheer coincidence, the previous owners shared Fox’s last name, and when it came time to draw up the contract, the new owners of Fox’s Tavern requested that the sign remain in place.
Set up in the basement, Fox’s Tavern runs the length of the house; the simple wooden bar equipped with a sink and a mini-fridge overlooking the room. Little knick-knacks and a large picture of a fox with cubs add to the Fox motif. Two other pictures adorn the walls. One depicting Chicago, where Fox and her husband grew up, and one depicting Ithaca, where they met. To top off, Fox’s Tavern features a walk-out porch equipped with grill for warm weather barbeques.
While Fox’s Tavern has hosted numerous parties over the years, some are more memorable than others. A surprise birthday party for Annie Lang, Nancy Schwartz, and Bob Affe (whose birthday happened to be a month earlier) stands out in particular. Assisted by party planner extraordinaire Susan Eastman, the tavern was covered in green. Attendants were encouraged to give presents wrapped in green paper to represent Lang’s love of gardening, while dollar bills hung from the walls to celebrate a big grant Lang had landed. Attendants were even given red bandanas, reflecting Lang’s red hair (Based on the pictures, most people just ended up looking like pirates).
For Fox, the party stands out for other reasons. Prior to the party, Fox had learned that she had cancer and had to tell her family. In addition, Lang had learned about the coming surprise. She was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Tell her family she had cancer, or tell Eastman that Lang knew about the surprise party. After telling Eastman both bits of bad news, Eastman, a cancer survivor herself, shrugged it off, “cancer-schamncer, we’ve got a party to plan.”
A few months prior to the birthday bash, Fox had hosted her husband’s 50th birthday party. The night of the party, Fox received a letter in the mail from the doctor’s office. During her routine mammogram the doctors discovered an abnormality that could be cancer. It was Friday night and the doctor’s office wouldn’t be open again until Monday. Sick to her stomach, a houseful of people on their way, some from out of town, Fox decided that there was absolutely nothing she could do about it until Monday. She diverted her attention to the party.
While those stand in particular, Fox’s tavern has played host to numerous lab parties, graduation parties, birthday parties, New Year’s Eve parties, going away parties, and end of semester parties for spring grad classes (hint hint students still looking for spring classes).
When the bar isn’t filled with partyers, it’s filled with the sound of her husband and son’s music. Her husband plays the bass guitar while her son plays the electric guitar. Although both play well, it may be time to fill Fox’s Tavern once again with the sound of a lively party.
Russell and Ken’s Board Game Journey
It may have seemed that Telecom grad students Russell McGee and Ken Rosenberg have just been playing around over the past several months. But, it’s not all fun and games. Along with Theatre and Drama grad students Carle Gaier and Eric “C” Heaps, they are deep in the developmental process of a Dr. Who-inspired board game, the final project for Professor Ted Castronova’s Storytelling and Video Games course. While the connection between Telecom students and game design is clear, what attracted grad students from Theatre and Drama to the Ted’s class? Carle explains, “Games tell a story in a live and interactive way, similar to a theatre performance. The audience is involved and composes a crucial element of the experience, unlike other formats such as film.” On the other hand, Eric was drawn to the course because he is a self-confessed game junkie – the fact that a course was offered on the topic simply justified his addiction.
Over the course of the semester, students formed groups in order to create and develop a game design. Russell first came up with the game idea, which was supported by the rest of the group members, as a modification of a storyline of British science fiction TV program Doctor Who called War Games. In the War Games story, soldiers from the past are removed by an alien race from their respective time periods and pitted against each other with the goal of the ultimate Army. Doctor Who is out to stop it. The corresponding board game design is a hex-based war-strategy game. Eric explains that while many ideas were floated around, all members of the group wanted a card driven game, where the cards would add spontaneity to a rule based system.
Fresh off a trip to the annual Doctor Who Convention in Chicago to playtest the game, spirits of the game design team are high. The group even got their names on the official program and held a play test for three hours. Ken was thrilled with the experience. “We had access to the right type of fan and demographic. Everyone from 8 year olds to 60 year olds were able to play our game.” Russell reflected on the convention as well. “We really got a chance to talk to the audiences we are going after with this game. It was a really great experience.”
Looking ahead, the best case scenario for the game would be to sell the design to BBC or receive a percentage of the licensing. This is where some of the group members have different perspectives on where they would like to see the game goo. Carle is not looking to make money off the project. “Creative control is important to me and I’d be afraid to sell the design otherwise.” Ken, on the other hand, would like to see it go as far as it can. So far, the group has been in contact with BBC’s licensing department but has not yet heard back.
Reflecting back on their experiences over the course of the semester, they all agree that the group dynamic was extremely important. Carle states, “Having a concrete deadline reinforced the idea that this is a doable task – a group can design a game from scratch within a reasonable time frame.” Indeed, Ken knows that he could have never done this alone. To see something take shape as a group while learning to let go of certain things as an individual is part of the give and take that occurs in collaborative projects – an important learning experience. Russell seconds that the frustrations you go through at the beginning become rewards at the end and to experience this as a team is really special.
So, what’s the end goal? For Carle, seeing it on the shelf at a board game store would be the ultimate achievement. Ken is excited about the potential fan community that could grow around it, while Eric explains that this project has a much longer shelf life for him than participating in a play. “Once a play is over, it’s done. This is different. I can get this thing out and play it again and again.” And as for Russell? “I think Ted should give us an A.”
This week’s Brown Bag Presentation featured visiting speaker Thomas Malaby, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research focuses on games, practice, and interderminacy. You can listen to the full audio of the presentation here: Thomas Malaby
Title: Digital Anthropology, Games, and the Cultural Logics of Modernity
Abstract: Anthropology is currently turning toward a new engagement with what may have been Weber’s central question: How do people come to understand the distribution of fortune in the world? Such a question troubles productively our discipline?s recent and fruitful examination of the uses of the past to ask how stances toward the future, in all its indeterminacy, are both the product of cultural logics and the target of institutional and market interests. In this paper I compare the instrumentally nonchalant stance toward the future found in Greek society with a markedly different disposition, one of individual gaming mastery that is architected into the digital domains of human experience, though quite pointedly in the virtual world Second Life. Through them we can glimpse how and why institutions today have become so interested in contriving games and game-like experiences, and in what ways cultural subjectivities are implicated in them and also transformed by them. I close by considering why the cultural form we call game has come to be the primary site for such contests, and how its importance may come to be comparable to that of ritual for digital anthropology.
I hope you enjoyed the feature on Ken this week; you’ll be hearing a lot more from him as he takes over my writing position with the blog. To have the opportunity to chat with so many different students, staff members, and faculty of the Department – individuals I may not have otherwise – was really wonderful. Thanks for reading. And, for those of you that I kindly stalked for blog content over the past year and a half, I’m sure I’ll be getting what’s coming to me. Ken has already sent out a warning: “Now that you’re off the blog, you’ll be on the blog!”
Nicky Lewis: Ken and Russell’s Board Game Journey and Brown Bag
Mike Lang: Fox’s Tavern