Dave Studies Media

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?


  • this sounds very promising! the one thing that strikes me about your topic is that you should make distinctions between remediation and parodic practice. it might help for you to have 1) a strong understanding of what remediation means within the context of these games and 2) a good sense of how parody functions in the game culture(s) you describe. i think this will help you narrow the focus and give your reader a clearer sense of your argument.

    i hope this helps,

    By Blogger I. Reilly, At March 18, 2008 at 11:06 AM  

  • Ok, you're definitely right about making a distinction. This post was written pretty hastily. I'll work on narrowing down and developing a really solid understanding of the terms I'm using in the context I want to work in.

    By Blogger Dave, At March 18, 2008 at 4:43 PM  

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