Arts, Science + Culture Profile: Arianna Gass

Arianna Gass is an Arts, Science, + Culture Initiative (ASCI) Graduate Fellow and a second-year student in the joint English and Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) PhD program. She joins the University of Chicago from Vassar College, where she earned her BA in English and Drama (2013). At Vassar College, she took a formative course in e-poetry, which focused on the intersection of games and literature. Prior to attending the University of Chicago, she lived in Philadelphia, where she worked full-time at Drexel University's Entrepreneurial Game Studio, a non-academic incubator program focused on student entrepreneurship through video game development. As the Program Manager, she devised programming for 50 graduate and undergraduate students while also working on several grant-funded serious games projects. In the course of her tenure, she became familiar with game development tools like Unity, Twine, and Inform.

Arianna is pursuing her PhD at the University of Chicago to cultivate her knowledge and practice of complex emergent systems at the intersection of digital literature and games. She is presently working on a year-long research project that explores the relation of contemporary Twine games to early twentieth-century word games, or "literary ludics."  By turning her research into a Twine game, Arianna investigates how authors like Gertrude Stein and Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven utilize tactics of spatial linking and encoded meaning to explore subversive desires. She demonstrates the ways Twine, as a networked medium, intensifies the spatial linking with hyperlinks and makes encoded meanings precariously visible with code.

The Arts, Science, + Culture Initiative has provided Arianna with a platform to share her interest in what she has termed "gaming theater." While based in Philadelphia, Arianna co-founded a theater company, Obvious Agency, and developed Go to Sleep (2017), a real-world walking simulator and environmental storytelling game about insomnia. Her frustration with the generally nonconsensual nature of immersive theater compelled her to develop a co-creative piece that cultivates a video game materiality. The piece invites one audience member at a time to enter a room where engaging with objects animates live video and audio mixing, and live vocal performances that imbue objects with a magical quality.

Arianna sees ASCI as a fantastic opportunity to learn about and assimilate the types of questions and methodologies pursued by disciplines conventionally foreign to her own. She hopes that exposure to outside disciplines will hone her skills in translating content across broad fields such as the humanities and the sciences. She additionally intends to utilize the support of ASCI to explore live action role-playing games (LARP) as a hybrid form that combines historical improvisation traditions and tabletop role-playing games.

By Sila Ulug
ASCI Management Fellow

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