Dave Studies Media

Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Cause

So, I was planning on doing some more posts eventually leading up to an epic finish, but things didn't really turn out that way, so I'll just say this.

I've taken a lot away from this course that I'm really grateful for, like a much clearer idea of where I'm headed, new friends, and a heaping spoonful of street cred. (I really like that phrase. Might have to use it again later.) Whether I end up pursuing higher education in media studies, or getting involved in (that is, employed by) the industry somehow after I graduate, I know that this is my passion and that I'm going to follow it in some capacity. Right now what I have a strong desire to do in the future is to be able to teach people (in person, through writing, whatever) about the resources/technologies that are available to them, to help them live more productive, organized, and convenient (although this one can get a little iffy) lives. I'm interested in the development/design side of things too, but I find that when it comes down to it I often prefer, or at least am content to just talk about everything that I see going on. I don't know what the future holds, (just like I'm not sure why this paragraph contains an alarming number of parentheses) but I'm feeling excited and optimistic. So thanks to everyone who was involved and helped make this class what it was. And don't stop being involved, in the greater sense. You know what I mean.

As for the future of this blog...behold:


I'm moving all the content from this blog over to the new location, which I'm going to keep as an archive of research notes - primarily for my own use, but since it's public, it's possible it will turn into a conversation hub as well. That would be neat. The current title is "On Culture", which I settled on in a creative lapse, and justified as interesting by thinking of it as "a modernization of the old essay title standard" - you know, because there are so many old papers and stuff titled simply "On blah blah blah". So here I was blending the old with the relatively new. But, I'm going to change it to something better, once I settle on an idea, although the location will stay the same. Until I decide to buy my own domain that is, in which case those of you following along will be well aware.

As always, thanks for reading and all the best to everyone.

The Retooling of Garfield

My friend showed me this great project today (I guess you'd classify it as a webcomic) where this guy takes the Garfield comics and makes some specific changes. He decided Garfield would be a more enjoyable comic without Garfield in it at all. The result is Garfield Minus Garfield, in which all traces of the lasagna loving cat are photoshopped out. It actually took this change for me to realize what a depressing person Jon is, although, I'm sure I'd have noticed if I were actually reading the comics on a regular basis as an older person. And it's that exaggerated hopelessness that actually makes these bizarre mutations work as comedy, at least from my perspective. I actually find many of these hilarious.

This struck me as interesting because it's an original way to remediate - if you can even call it that - where you merely take away from the original using new(ish) technology, instead of expanding on it. But by taking something away, the comic has been taken to new heights. It's now about a Jon Arbuckle who is apparently schizophrenic, bi-polar, and so on. And maybe he always has been, but now it's even more pronounced, because there isn't that smug-looking orange tabby to distract us from this incredibly unstable human being.

You can get to the archive, (which isn't very big so far) by clicking the link above. Here are a couple of my favourites:

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Cool Cycle

Tonight I was half-watching CNN while "doing work" on my laptop, when an ad that came on made me stop and look up. I recognized the song "In the Morning" by Junior Boys, a small group from my hometown of Hamilton. It was an ad, (part of a new campaign as I found out after a quick search) for the Marriott hotel chain.

Searching YouTube, I've been unable to dig up the exact ad I saw on TV, but the point of the new commercials is how well-equipped Marriott's rooms are now. Presumably they're referring to decent WiFi access and, well, who knows what else exactly. The ads show people enjoying a variety of different media like high-quality music and big or multiple visualizations on screens. Of course, the media are depicted through animation instead of actual footage, so the specific perks Marriott's rooms have to offer remain ambiguous.

I noticed that in the commercial featuring "In the Morning", the girl appears to be holding an iPod. If it's not an iPod, it's a very iPod-like device. This got me thinking about using already-successful products to boost your own image. We're all familiar with product placement in films, and pundits on CNN sit around at large desks armed with laptops clearly brandishing the Apple logo. However, I can't think of any examples of companies trying to cash in on the success of unrelated products. I imagine it happens though.

In any case, I thought it was ironic considering our recent observation of Apple's own advertising efforts. As Lauren pointed out recently, the old commercial employed popular ideas, a sort of pathos argument appealing to widespread reverence of certain figures like Einstein and Gandhi. The commercial reminded viewers that Apple is cool because they're edgy and rebellious. Now the cycle continues with everyone and their mother using Apple's image to hopefully sell the idea that they're as cool as Muhammad Ali.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 21, 2008

Airing on the Optimistic Side

In one of my first posts on this blog I talked about Apple's MacBook Air which had just been released.

Well, today I enjoyed this review of the MBA written by Paul Stamatiou. (For reference, Paul is a 21 year old student of Computational Media at Georgia Technical Institute. His blog is a popular destination for tech reviews, tips, and How-Tos. I've been reading it for nearly 2 years and highly recommend it. No, he did not pay me to say this.)

On the whole, he's happy with his MBA, (he gives it a 9/10) even though it's a technical downgrade from his old MacBook Pro. I think it's interesting that someone with such an investment in computers would sacrifice functionality for convenience. Granted, convenience is supposed to be what laptops are all about, and Paul doesn't seem to feel the loss in performance is enough to worry about. Still, this makes me wonder if we'll see Apple's "think[ing] different" start a trend where fun factors start taking precedence (for general consumers, at least) over practicality. I got my video iPod for Christmas, 2005, and less than a year later I had people saying to me, "Oh, you've got one of those big ones.." Because, by that time, the popularity of the Nano and the Shuffle had taken hold - even though mine holds 30g of data. I still use that iPod daily, and I still prefer it for its carrying capacity over its light-weight, more gym-friendly cousins.

I wonder if popular computers will eventually experience as much of a divide as we see with something like cars. Perhaps the MacBook Air is the first Lambo of computers. (Lamborghini doesn't look so different from Apple - at least, their site is pretentious enough. Enjoy the background music.) As for the other end of the spectrum..."Built Panasonic Tough?"

What does that make Nicholas Negroponte's XO? A smartcar?

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Onion: Wii Blamed for Rise in Effeminate Violence

This article from The Onion really tickled my funny bone.

"Three years ago, our children were not prancing after their peers and brutally flicking each other on the playground," Roberts said. "They were well-behaved wimps who spent their recess periods hiding from bullies. What are these terrible games doing to our country's sallies?"

I don't really have much to say about this. Just sharing. Enjoy.

Update: After reading the article a second time, the satire of it really hit home. The kinds of stories they think up, like the classroom brawl ending in stretched sweaters and stubbed fingers, sounds like such a typical news report about some instance of juvenile delinquency that's "connected" to video games. The writer did a great job of spoofing the things certain people say by way of argument as well. Well done, sir/madam.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Psychology of Viral Marketing?

I've been watching something very interesting transpire on Facebook. At some point this afternoon I noticed an invitation to a Facebook group called "Psychology of Marketing Project - I need your help!!!"

The group's description is as follows:

I'm doing a paper in my Human Behaviors - The Psychology of Marketing class. The paper is about the marketing world and the changes that have taken place in the last 5 years. One of the main points that I'm trying to make is how influential viral marketing can be. One individual with an average facebook account can reach 100,000+ people in less than a week just by making a group and inviting people. There have been other experiments where this worked, my paper talks about the likelihood that it can be duplicated.

What you need to do to help me is:

1. Join this group.

2. Click on "Invite People to Join" from the menu on the right.

3. Select all your friends (for this to work you must do this).

4. Click on "Send invitation"

5. Add me as a friend! (only if you want!!:))

The experiment begins now!!(Friday March 14th 4:45 PM EST). The paper is due when I get back from spring break on March 31st!!

Thank you to everyone in advance!!!

The experiment is being conducted by Monica Rockle from Los Angeles. What's amazing about this experiment is how well it's working, assuming the goal is to amass many members in a short amount of time. As of this moment, the group has 74 583 members, but that's probably changed in the few seconds it took me to switch tabs and write this sentence. You can sit there refreshing the page and watch the member count jump by 5 or 10 people each time.

On the group's discussion boards, a few conversations have sprung up about the legitimacy of this "project". There are a few reasons to doubt it, such as the mysterious link to a collection of t-shirts at cafepress. The picture of this "Monica" is also a high-quality image, and looks somewhat professional, like something from the cover of Macleans when they do the annual university review. In response to one of the discussion threads, Monica writes,

Actually I am real! This is a real assignment! The link is part of the assignment. Remember it is a psychology paper. If you know anything about Psychology experiments you use dummy stories. The link is related to the MARKETING portion of the experiment. Just to clear things up!

Regardless of the legitimacy of the group, it still effectively demonstrates what an overwhelmingly powerful tool something like Facebook is for reaching a large audience very quickly. And, on the psychological side of things, it's pretty interesting that what's powering this group's explosive popularity is people's willingness to contribute to the endless barrage of information we're all subject to, by inviting everyone on their friends list to join the group. I thought about this for a couple minutes before I did it, and then commenced checking off every individual box to add each and every one of my acquaintances to the lab rat list. I don't think I've clicked that fast since back in the days when I actually played games. I somehow felt compelled to do this, though, because I believed it was for a good cause. An interesting cause. I imagine it's those nuances of motivation and compliance that Miss Rockle will be exploring in her paper.

...Just imagine Facebook's potential to facilitate some culture jamming! The possibilities are...intriguing.

About 20 minutes after posting that first figure...
Current member count: 77 290

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 17, 2008

Term Paper Thoughts

This is an outline of what I'm thinking about for my term paper:

Topic: "The Politics of Remediation in Gaming"

I took to heart the statement about the assignment that it should demonstrate a thorough understanding of remediation. The main issue I have right now is whether or not the example I'm thinking of constitutes remediation or not.

There are two games available online that were developed by amateurs, and stirred up a lot of controversy because they dealt with school shootings. (I think it's worth mentioning that these aren't like modern mainstream titles in any sense - that is, completely unrealistic and cartoony, etc.) The first, "Super Columbine Massacre Role-Playing Game" (SCMRPG) puts players in the shoes of Eric and Dylan, the boys behind the infamous Columbine High school massacre. The second, which I know exists but haven't tracked down yet, is the same sort of thing featuring the school shooting at Virginia Tech. I have mixed feelings about the legitimacy of these creations. On the one hand, I don't think they have anything valuable to offer by being played. There's also the obvious point that it's insensitive. However, their existence provides an opportunity to discuss what are and aren't acceptable topics to be explored by the medium of games. (Not to mention a potentially important part of my own term paper!) I would also note that we were all able to laugh about Columbine when it's referenced in a playful way in this video we saw in class. Those are just some tangential thoughts, however that debate isn't what my term paper would be about.

The paper would cite references containing statements from the creators of these games that admit they were always meant to stir up controversy. From the get-go, that was the point. I remember the creator of the Virginia Tech massacre game being asked why he made it, and his response was, "to piss people off."

Now, in the mainstream we have Rockstar, the company that produces the ever-head-turning Grand Theft Auto franchise. They also produced State of Emergency, as mentioned in the sidebar of the John Frank reading from last week. One of their more recent titles is Bully, the sandbox game where the player controls a young student and must make decisions involved in balancing social and school life. As implied by the title, there are ample opportunities for players to choose violent options, be they a necessary means to a greater good or not.

I think that, whether Rockstar admits it or not, it's fairly obvious that dealing in controversial subjects is part of their marketing ploy, if not some greater social message as well. The name of the company seems to imply this, (rock stars being the archetypal figures of rebellion and controversy.) In this way, they're doing the same things as the amateur creators of the school shooting games, only less extreme. I see the school shooting games as almost a parody of video games, as if they're saying, "they can make games about WWII, so look what we decided to do." Some people are still alarmed by the idea of virtualized killing, even when the violence doesn't hit home the way a school-shooting sim does. (I'm using the term "sim" very liberally.) Of course, for people who play games, the idea of "shooting people" while playing doesn't feel shocking for very long. I think the creators of the school-shooting sims wanted to bring back that shocking feeling, like, "Oh, we're being bad."

To that end, one could argue that a new genre is developing wherein certain video games parody their own industry. It's as if they're poking fun at the fact that they have the technical capability, and the artistic freedom to create whatever content they want.

So where does remediation come in? I find it easier to explain by comparing this whole movement to the phenomenon of fake news. In many ways, examples like The Daily Show and The Onion are a parody of traditional news. They use the same technologies and customs as traditional news outlets to produce something new: comedy. In my mind, this could be called an example of remediation. (Although, perhaps I'm expanding too much on one part of the definition.)

If we can accept that fake news is remediation of "real" news, then I think we can say the same thing about the game situation. Both examples involve a new, controversial "genre" that is a parody of itself - or its "mother genre", at least.

Why is this important?

I think that, if I'm right, it's important for concerned parents, and concerned people in general, to recognize the satirical nature of these creations. Gamers who are old enough to purchase these games, (like Bully,) in the first place will be mature and intelligent enough to recognize their content as satirical. They won't take it to heart, as there's a chance a younger child might. (Update: Thinking about such games in terms of parody again, it's also worth noting that older, more experienced gamers will have acquired the cultural capitol to appreciate the humor. Like we discussed tonight in class, the art of parody runs the risk of not being fully recognized by the audience. Controversial games encounter this same danger.)

In the actual paper I'd elaborate a little more on this but I've already gone on way longer than I intended to. Sorry this turned into such a rant! Feedback is appreciated though, as always. Does this sound workable, or am I wandering too far off the beaten path again?