I was already a fan of ASLE (AZ-lee) before I attended the ninth biennial conference this year in Bloomington, Indiana. After all, one of my very first conference experiences took place in Chichester, England in 2004 with a tiny group of ASLE-UK academics, poets, and environmentalists. At that time, I was busy getting the word out that nature documentary was a genre worth studying in terms of its visual and masking rhetorics, and my best buddy at the conference turned out to be a German graduate student working on Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (I’ll never think of pork in the same way again).
Years later, a couple of veteran SLS and ASLE members approached me after my talk at SLSA 2009 in Atlanta and encouraged me to bring the work to the next U.S. ASLE, at that point nearly two years away. While my co-panelist lovingly described player agency and creativity in Quake through mastery of a semi-hack “strafe” jump for our miniscule audience, I felt a growing dread that my own topic, the representation of scientific principles in digital gameplay (using Will Wright’s game Spore and the evolution vs. intelligent design framework), would seem esoteric at best. So ASLE Pauline, thank you! I was secretly relieved that someone, anyone, actually wanted to hear more.
And that brings me to this year’s ASLE, from which I have just returned, laden down with evidence of the association’s goodwill. Still somewhat concerned that my emphasis on technology would rub the naturalist bent of the core ASLE constituency the wrong way, I was surprised and flattered to receive both a Graduate Travel Award and the Graduate Student Paper Award for best scholarly paper. Though I didn’t get to meet all of them or shake their hands, I’d like to thank paper judges C.A. Cranston, Carmen Flys-Junquera, and Greg Garrard, as well as Awards coordinator Tom Lynch, and the Travel Awards Committee members (Annie Ingram, Sarah Jaquette Ray, Tom Hillard, and Chia-ju Chang). And of course, managing director Amy McIntyre, without whose gentle hint I may have missed the award presentation entirely, and president Ursula Heise.
As if all this was not enough, I was blessed to room with and present alongside Melody Jue of Duke, who spoke about Google Ocean and the experience of diving, and who has given me a long list of wonderful marine-related must-reads. My colleague Danielle Christianson of UC Berkeley was unable to attend at the last minute, but we presented her work on imaging a forest transect in Sequoia and I am always grateful to bend a working ecologist’s ear. Last but not least, I was thankful to share that Birch dorm quad with Katrina Dodson of UC Berkeley, as well, for Katrina was the incredibly open-minded guest editor of the Qui Parle special issue on ecocriticism that just came out featuring a sample of my work on games as environmental objects. It was rewarding for me to see Katrina acknowledged for all her grueling work on that issue, a true labor of love, and I hope that the issue and my own writing make their way into classrooms and instigate new pedagogical approaches.
So as I sit here at my desk in a miasma of toner-scented air, having just printed out a stack of final papers to grade, I am already looking back fondly on the events of the past week and looking forward to the next installment!