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Participant Journals

All of my core participants are given their own official journals in which to keep their thoughts. I offered several different sizes, shapes, and abilities of journals so they they could choose on that best suited them. Both Toni and Peter opted for the smaller sized journals with Peter choosing the waterproof one (that you can’t use pens on), and Toni opting for the top-bound mini-drawing pad.

They are tasked with writing an entry everyday, and tackling these four guideline question/tasks (which are glued inside the journal).


Questions for Research Journal

For each day please document your experiences. Here are four questions to also answer for each entry:
1. Describe an animal (or human (or robotic)) performance which you have witnessed or participated.
2. Physically act out one specific detail of the performance now in a new context. Tell us what you selected, why, and any insights to this displaced, separated, reenacted behavior.
3. Did you create, test, or repurpose any tools or techniques today?
4.  In the way that your tool performed, how did it change yours or the animals behavior?
Other questions for inspiration:
How could you turn the behavior into a game? a love story?
What superpowers would let you change the meaning of the behavior? Can you trick the animal? Can you make it do the opposite of normal?
What props or objects could help you embody life as your animal?



Peter Marting – Collaborator

Peter Marting is a PhD Researcher at Arizona State University looking into collective behaviors of the cecropia tree -symbiotic Azteca ants.


Here is a short documentary which summarizes a bit of his research into this mutualism.

Gamboa Field Experimentation 2013

In the summer of 2013, I am embarking on an exploratory mission to test out some of the techniques and performances I have been reading and theorizing about over the past year.

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Gamboa Assay 2012

In 2012, I went down to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to collect research video of social animals behaving in their natural environs. I also took this opportunity to beging some of my earliest research in “Digital Naturalism.” I kept a journal holistically describing my encounters with the wonderful wildlife and people there!

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Before I even got here, the scientists in this strange vibrant community were already coming up with great ideas for experiential performances involving the animals.


Walking through the jungle, all naturalists are randomly struck by the impromtu passing of a brilliant blue morpho fluttering by. Now they will be physically struck also! An adaptation of the traditional “punch – buggy” or “slug-bug” games, this is a new tradition that Ummat started doing which serves a fun recognition ritual for an event that is commonplace but unpredictable.


Drunk Natural History

Based on the “Drunk History” concept by Derek Waters at FunnyorDie , several of the people in gamboa have apparently been discussing recording descriptions of animal behavior by inebriated scientists, and then going out in the field and recreating these performances. FunnyorDie’s popular original concept could provide an excellent framework for reflexive performances since  a) it has a readily understandable script for action and b) can serve as a productive use of leisure time.

This could be quite like Rossellini’s Green Porno series but perhaps sillier than strange.

Experimental Solidarity

Toni, one of the Bat-girls working under Rachel Page, was talking about a 24 – hour observation experiment she was going to have to do with her bats. Since this was also going to be such an endurance feat on the human’s part she also wanted a way to document and experiment upon herself. She does not have all the details decided yet, but really wants to submit herself to the same sort of tests that the bats are undergoing during this test. For instance while the bat was being kept awake and subjected to mazes at regular intervals, she was going to time herself playing a “memory”  game with cards.


Rock in the Jungle

Peter Marting’s band, Ptarmigan is actually slated to have a performance here on june 15 (which unfortunately I will be gone for). This is due to a lucky coincidence of his fellow band-mates coming down to visit in combination with an open-mike night.



In keeping with last year’s traditions, I show up at La Tienda to buy my first set of food and supplies during that no-man’s zone between 1-2 pm. Gives a good opportunity to write down my first field entry.

Got an hour of sleep after unpacking and am now scouting locations for setting up the Digital Biocrafting station. I was happy to see that my tiny version of the old biocrafting station was still intact!

The school house will probably be ideal if they let me have a desk. All of this would be much easier if I could bank on actually being officially funded or not, and could then proceed on a particular strategy for acquiring a tiny bit of room to set up for the community. But, even as May draws to a close, I still have to wait to see what will become of me this summer. Either way, glad I was able to organize the trip on what I already had.


Had a relaxing yet also invigorating morning straight into the jungle. Walking from the airport to the car at 3am Ummat poses me a question that brings a large smile to me: “So, are you excited to go back into the jungle? More excited than tired? Let’s go to the observation tower!”  Am already feeling the  time crunch though in only my first few hours here.

Stopped by Rachel Page’s office and chatted with her and May Dixon, so fun to see them again.  With a new bat-girl, Toni, I dropped off some of my first sets of “Digital Naturalism” propaganda. It seemed to do its job of initially providing an attractive bundle that invites further contemplation. Excited to see how this pans out. One of the excellent parts of having ready-made material when entering a zone of activity intensity is that it can provide a brief mental reprieve to oneself  Where I am now constantly thinking and list-making about all the things I needed to do before I came down, and all the multiple facets I must now plan, it is nice to be able to just pull out something in a situation, and have that responsibility of thorough explanation offloaded to an object.

Surprised at how much I perfectly remember about Gamboa and specific pathways in the jungle. For such a relatively short stay that I had last time, I have so many vivid memories seared into my brain.




Performances discussed today:

– Toni, Rachel, and May indpendently brought up doing a 24 hour observation where they would also include fun tasks for the

Michael Nitsche – Advisor

Michael Nitsche is an Associate Professor at the School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the primary advisor leading Andrew Quitmeyer’s research into “Digital Naturalism.”

He teaches courses mainly for the Digital Media Masters and PhDs, as well as for the Computational Media undergrad program. He is founder and Director of the Digital World & Image Group (DWIG), which is the home for all his current projects. Some of our work is done in connection with the Experimental Game Lab.

I am active member of a number of interdisciplinary centers and groups, these include the Graphics, Visualization & Usability Center (GVU), the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology (GTCMT), and in the past, the Responsive Objects, Surfaces, and Spaces (ROSS) initiative.

His main research interest are interactions in hybrid spaces. These include real-time 3-dimensional virtual environments as well as the physical locations where we engage with digital media.

He runs an irregular blog about machinima, Freepixel and together with his students we run our studio blog. More recently, he has kicked off the CoLab teaching experiment, which has its own blog.

He has been collaborating with a variety of academic and commercial partners on different research projects: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE), the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) in Cambridge, Alcatel-Lucent, the Georgia Tech Broadband Institute, as well as game developers Funatics, and EA‘sTiburon. Currently his work is supported by the National Science Foundation, the GVU, and Google.

He holds an MA in Drama and German language from the Freie Universitaet Berlin. The final thesis was about writing screenplays for interactive environments. He did a MPhil in Architecture and the Moving Image at the University of Cambridge with a final thesis on ‘The Architecture of Interactive Storytelling.’ He finished my PhD in 2004 on ‘Virtual Story Spaces’ also at the University of Cambridge (Darwin College). You can find a one page summary of my thesis here. A completely re-worked version of the thesis was the basis of my first book ‘Video Game Spaces. Imagery, Play, and Structure in 3D Worlds‘ (MIT Press, spring 2009).

If not immersed in some digital adventure he collects screenplays. In a former lifetime, he gathered some experience in independent film production, scriptwriting, and even before that he worked as Improv actor for some years at the Fast Food Theater, Munich. More currently, he is getting more and more fascinated by puppets and crafting.

You can download his CV (excluding service and teaching) here.

Packing \ Preparing

Last year before my trip I had little knowledge about what awaited me. Back on that trip the mission was to collect as much high quality footage of social insects as possible. So I packed three DSLRs, two gopros, tons of SD cards, hard-drives and backup hard-drives, and lighting equipment. It was easy to pack for the mission because the mission was straightforward, but I had no idea what the living environment would be like at all. Thus, that year I went overboard on survival supplies due to my cluelessness about the everyday life. I packed tents and sleeping bags and a full bee suit. I had mosquito nets and tarps and space blankets. I didn’t realize then that we would be staying in re-appropriated tropical resort villas next to the jungle instead of in the jungle.


I now face the reverse problem. I have a very good concept of how the area functions and what supplies I truly need for general life, but for carrying out my research I had to stay as open-ended as possible. I ended up with a kitchen-sink style, basically bringing as much of my digital toys and physical computing / biocrafting equipment as possible.


Determining the way to optimize the packing to avoid 200 dollar overweight fees on the airline, as well as balance out pesky TSA rules about carrying potentially hazardous material like LIPO batteries or CO2 canisters was tricky and took me 3 days of thinking to sort. I tried to be overly cautious since most of the equipment is out of my own pocket, and I included notices for the TSA officers and a full inventory printout that I placed in each pelican case. This social hacking attempted to over-weigh the suspiciousness of my boxes full of wires and strange devices with the pseudo-authenticity of an “official” research scientist going into the jungle with lots of “official” forms.