Playful Annotation in the Open: Part 2

This post is the second in an ongoing series about playfulness in open web annotation. My comments are exploratory, driven by curiosity, and rooted in the experiences of INTE 5320 Games and Learning. I am grateful to the graduate learners of #ILT5320 whose annotation with the platform Hypothesis has greatly challenged my practices and conceptions of learning. – Remi

Playfulness as Appropriation

I’ll begin where I concluded in my first post about playful annotation in the open. I drew upon Miguel Sicart’s book Play Matters to emphasize the distinction between play, as a practice, and playfulness as an attitude. As Sicart observes: “Playfulness assumes one of the core attributes of play: appropriation. To be playful is to appropriate a context that is not created or intended for play” (p. 27).

What does Sicart mean by the “appropriation” of a context? A few examples are helpful, as there are many everyday contexts – that is, contexts not specifically designed or intended for play – that are regularly and stereotypically appropriated by the physical, psychological, and emotional attitudes of playfulness. Here are a few: Stickball and various expressions of street play. Skateboarding and parkour . Graffiti on a wall. The use of an “icebreaker” to begin a meeting. That time when grocery shopping became basketball. And guerrilla theatre… to name but a few. While the idea of a “playground” likely conjures images of protected space, often with grass and perhaps defining a park, with swings, slides, and other colorful equipment or “play structures,” a playful attitude – and whether expressed individually or shared socially – can appropriate a street, the city plaza, a building facade or foyer, a store, or an office as a playground. It is as if inanimate objects and everyday settings contain a form of potential energy, some latent capacity for agency, and it is our attitude that then transforms action into play, and environment into playground.

Open Annotation and Appropriation

Open web annotation provides a distinctive perspective on the appropriation of context. Platforms like Hypothesis afford readers the ability to augment online resources – with their own written commentary, with embedded media (images, GIFs), and with connections to other ideas and networks (through hyperlinks to anywhere/one/thing). In this respect, open web annotation comprises a repertoire of practices that both contribute to – and also expand – conversation. Unlike the commenting feature of a blog, and more substantive than a tweet, open web annotation is a more democratic pathway for deep reading, reflective interaction, and layered discourse. Such expression may not only appropriate contexts unintended for play, like a graduate course, or debate about current events; such annotation also appropriates (con)texts.

By appropriating (con)texts, playful annotation in the open presents readers, learners, and educators with a “both and, and also” dynamic. First, playful annotation appropriates both texts (see our readings) and contexts (such as ILT5320’s current discussions about GamerGate and neuroscience). And second, playful annotation also appropriates a hybrid (con)text that exists somewhere between social networking and academic inquiry, somewhere between close reading and distributed commentary, somewhere between content consumption and media(ted) production. There is simultaneous engagement with text, context, and (con)text. Playful annotation is a pathway into, among, and beyond laminated and multimodal discourse.

So if playfulness means appropriating a context not intended for play, and if playful annotation in the open appropriates (con)texts, then what might curious people – whether annotators of this post (see you in the margins!) or researchers – glimpse of such playful appropriation? In other words, what are some qualities evident in the appropriation of (con)text?

Two Qualities of Playful Annotation

In the remainder of this post I’ll describe two qualities of playful annotation. These are only two qualities, not an exhaustive accounting of all possible expressions of playful annotation. And I urge readers to consider these qualities not as practices – or intentional strategies, utilized across various platforms, and to achieve specific goals – but rather as my initial attempt to name some characteristics present in ILT5320 annotation. In future blog posts I’ll describe others. The two qualities I’ll first describe are sarcasm and experimentation.

1. Sarcasm

Open annotation appropriates (con)texts through sarcasm. Perhaps sarcasm emerges because the technical affordances of Hypothesis – and the social conventions of annotation – encourage short, perhaps messy, even off-the-cuff and witty commentary.

Consider one recent example. In the current INTE 5320 cycle, graduate learners are reading about the GamerGate controversy. We have annotated a Rolling Stone interview featuring Anita Sarkeesian. At one point in her interview, Sarkeesian says: “GamerGate is really a sexist temper tantrum.” To which susanvlaws has remarked: “Feminists are ruining everyone’s fun and gamers’ rights to be immature, obnoxious and harmful.” And kdhicks2 has also responded: “HA. Right. Darn feminist. If only we could just live in a world with only men seen and heard publicly. How sad would that be?” Now, if you don’t know susanvlaws or kdhicks2… well, I suppose it is hypothetically plausible to read these annotations as advocating misogyny. However, my interaction with both individuals – alongside the collective whole of their annotation commentary, both of this interview and other texts – strongly supports the assertion that this annotation is decidedly sarcastic.

Below is an image of these annotations appropriating simultaneously the (con)texts of peer interaction, Sarkeesian’s interview, GamerGate, and social criticism.


Following the lead of susanvlaws, kdhicks2, and others, I have also begun to experiment with sarcastic annotation, primarily in my response to student blogging and through the use of images and GIFs (here’s one example and another). I appreciate sarcasm as a quality of playful annotation because:

  • First, these contributions are easily read in reference to the broader and ongoing conversation, and not as a dismissive or rude slight;
  • Second, such annotation adds levity to more rigorous discourse, and whether about controversy like GamerGate or conceptualizations of learning theory; and
  • Third, sarcastic annotation reveals certain personality traits of a reader-writer.

2. Experimentation

Open annotation appropriates (con)texts through experimentation. In this respect, I am not referring to the ways in which learners may be “playing with ideas” (though yes, that is a wonderful sentiment). Rather, there is an experimental quality to the means employed by learners to author – quite practically – their annotations.

Here’s another example featuring Anita Sarkeesian, though in this case the given text is a video of her 2014 XOXO Festival address. Despite knowing that Hypothesis (only/currently) supports the annotation of written text, a few INTE 5320 learners were eager to somehow annotate this video on Youtube:

In this instance, both Lisa and Kirk are experimenting with their annotation given the technical affordances and limitations of mashing together Hypothesis with YouTube. And here’s what happened:


Lisa utilized Hypothesis’ page commenting function (which attaches annotation to an entire webpage or text, rather than a specific location within a given text), and added multiple annotations that she then marked with video-specific timestamps (i.e. 2:45, 3:15, 7:45). For example, she watched Sarkeesian’s video and added this page comment: “2:45 – 4chan, it’s like the bottoms of the internet. Completely anonymous, a lot of hated. I don’t recommend every [sic] visiting the website unless you have a deep, unsatisfied curiosity; and then [be] prepared to be disappointed in the human race.”

As an alternative approach, Kirk was able to annotate specific moments (i.e. 0:39/16:23 and 1:20/16:23). Though he encountered some difficulty, ultimately he succeeded in contributing an experimental annotation to the various (con)texts of a course assignment, the history of video game development, and gender inequity in gaming: “‘For several decades the gaming industry catered almost exclusively to a straight white male demographic’ [Kirk quoting Sarkeesian]. I don’t know where there is evidence to back up ALL of this claim, but, a Wikipedia entry for ‘Women and Video Games’ cites ‘historical prevalence’ and uses statistics to back it from 1982-present.”

I appreciate experimentation as a quality of playful annotation because:

  • First, these contributions are akin to activity in a sandbox, pushing the technical affordances and social conventions of annotation to an edge;
  • Second, such annotation is rather game-like – a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles; and
  • Third, like sarcasm, experimental annotation reveals traits of a reader-writer as someone who is willing to try, fail, get frustrated, and share working solutions.

I’m also intrigued by experimentation as a playful quality of open annotation because of my own pedagogical opportunities. Because I’ll be teaching CU Denver’s Learning with Digital Stories course again this coming summer (as I did a year ago), I’ll soon begin to explore how annotation in the open may be complementary to the storytelling practices of DS106.


Earlier today I had the pleasure of listening to a colleague describe her attempts to build “humble theory” in one realm of mathematics education. She emphasized a “grounded” approach to perceiving – “line-by-line” and across time – the interactions and sense-making behaviors of high school students participating in a rather innovative and dynamic design experiment.

As I think about playful annotation in the open, I resonate with her humble and inductive approach. Like her, my thoughts are guided by theoretical influences – hence, why this post began with Sicart’s framing of playfulness and appropriation. And yes, learning in ILT5320 is neither overtly prescriptive nor entirely free-form. Rather, designs for graduate annotation-as-discussion have created conditions for unanticipated expressions and outcomes. As I read, respond, and analyze, I’ve noticed sarcasm and experimentation as two playful annotation qualities. There are certainly more qualities to observe, and perhaps a typology of sorts is in order. As we continue to play, and as we continue to playfully approach our annotation in the open, I am eager to name the many ways in which learners creatively engage amongst text, context, and (con)text.



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