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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Tag / media archaeology lab

An Interview with Bernard Perron, Guillaume Roux-Girard and Carl Therrien at Ludiciné Lab, Université de Montréal

What is your lab called and where is it?

Our lab is called the Ludiciné Lab, and is located in the Department of Arts History and Films Studies at Université de Montréal (Montréal, Québec, Canada). You can find the basic information about our installations and collection (70+ platforms, 3500+ games) under the “L” at <www.ludov.ca>

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

The primary focus of the lab is to support pedagogical activities such as classes and seminars provided within the undergraduate Minor in game studies as well as the Master degree with an option in game studies. The lab also supports research projects such as the “Video game genres and discourse communities” project conducted by the Ludov team (supervised by Bernard Perron, Dominic Arsenault, and Carl Therrien), and the “History of the game experience” project (supervised by Carl Therrien). Acquisitions reflect the needs of our classes and projects, which focus on technological, formal, psychological and aesthetic properties of video games and game playing, and the evolution of these dimensions in history. Game boxes, magazines and other epi/paratextual elements are also collected and made accessible.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

All of the above, but it is mainly used by students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce (writing, demonstrations, patents etc.) and how is it circulated (e.g. conference papers, pamphlets, books, videos, social media)?

The lab is a great space to host internal presentations for Ludov related research projects. It will also host game demonstrations for students in the upcoming semesters. The creation and objectives of the lab have been the subject of conference papers, and its role in the production of knowledge is always acknowledged in the journal papers published by members of the research teams. More information about these contributions can be found on the pages for each research project, under the “O” (for “observation”) at <www.ludov.ca>.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

Yes, we indeed have a designated space. The first small space we had was redesigned in the Summer of 2013. It is divided between a play space, and a storage room where the material is kept, filed and maintained. We now have around 15 play stations (HD, PC, Retro and Emulation). We are open 16 hours per week. We hire two undergraduate students per semester to prepare the playing materiel for the students. The latter reserve online the day before their visit.

What sorts of support does the lab receive? (e.g. government grants, institutional grants, private donors)

All the support comes from university funding, more specifically from the Arts and Sciences Faculty. It was based on a 5-year development plan. After this, we’ll need to be more creative. However, we also had a lot of donations from students and private collectors. Video games companies such as Warner Bros. and Ubisoft Montréal have sent us some of their games. Professors also use their own research funds (from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds Société et culture of Québec) to add to the collection.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

Video game history, media archeology, genre studies, paratextual studies. The Lab is an ideal resource to develop case studies of specific platforms, studios or games.

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An Interview with Stefan Höltgen of the Signal Lab

Nostalgia is a very important “first trigger” for re-using old/dead/vintage hardware and software. But […] nostalgia isn’t really the energy for [users’] engagement because you can’t use an “old medium”: the moment you turn it on it is totally present/in presence.

Stefan Höltgen runs the Signal Lab in Berlin as well as the Media Archaeological Fundus, founded by Wolfgang Ernst who is chair of Media Theory at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

Can you start by telling us a bit about the Signal Laboratory – how did it start and what is the main function of the Lab? How does it relate to the Media Archaeological Fundus

SH: The Signal Laboratory (SL) was founded 2003 as a lab for studying media hardware and their signals by opening them and measuring frequencies, sound outputs, and voltages. When I joined the Center for Musicology and Media Studies in 2011 I began to collect vintage computer hardware, peripherals, and software for my research project (“on the archaeology of the early microcomputer and its programming”) and as examples for my teaching lessons about hardware, programming and computer history. The SL soon became a place where my colleagues and I repaired and restored those old machines to learn about their functioning. That is the main difference from the Fundus, where media archaeological artifacts are collected and restored to function in principle which means: to show how their technology work(ed).The intersection between the SL and the Fundus is the question we both ask: How do those technologies relate to their history and their presence when you don’t look at them as economical, techno-historical, or social (e.g. the effects on the user, the society …) gadgets but as “signal processing” media – where the media in the SL are mostly produce programmable digitally coded signals and those of the Fundus are of both sorts: analogue and digital – but not programmable.

Following the boom concerning “Media Labs” (at MIT and then other places too) in the 1980s, we are now building more and more Humanities Labs – some connected to Digital Humanities, some to Design, some to other sorts of Humanities spaces and activities. How does the Signal Lab relate to the broader theme of labs in contemporary humanities that are being faced with the technological (as Kittler has noted)? 

SH: There are no actual research connections to those kinds of labs. But when we come to the point of the SL as a teaching space I think we are doing basic work for people who want to work in those technologically “infected” humanities labs: We are teaching electronics, programming, and topics of the informatics/computer sciences from the viewpoint of media theory. So our students won’t become proper programmers but merely hackers that are able to estimate the technological connections between the medium (especially electronic computer) and its user.

A more specific connection lies with technological practices – critical design, DIY, the maker movement and more. Furthermore, the existence of “Fablabs” has gathered momentum over the past years in different contexts. What are the specific connections and disconnections to such labs that also engage with a “making”, hands-on approach to technology, but seem to be built on different premises (not least, around much talked about kits like 3D printers, laser cutters, and various other sorts of technologies)? 

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