Tag Archives: essays

A response: Gamergate

I’d never heard of Gamergate before reading the assigned articles. Most of all, I’m surprised so many people care so deeply about games that something like this would happen. I guess people who spend considerable amounts of money and time playing games are passionate and feel deeply invested when it comes to games, who makes games and how they’re covered in the media. It still surprises me that people care.

Basically, Gamergate started because some guy blogged about how his ex-girlfriend supposedly cheated on him with five different men. Ostensibly, she “did” this for publicity purposes — to drum up interest in her own games. As it goes, some members of the game community were outraged with this immoral, pleasure-seeking woman, and they publicly attacked and threatened her. When these people realized they actually were the ones being made to look bad, they made the issue about the ethicality of people who review and write about games. They even duped Intel into being on their side.

It’s upsetting that this woman was personally and publicly attacked over unconfirmed accusations concerning her private life. It’s upsetting that some gamers supported this movement and later attempted to shift from the personal attacks to a moral high ground — a shift they made only after realizing that personal attacks and misogyny were bad colors on them. It’s upsetting that some people care so deeply about games they would attempt to harm other living people in the name of games and the industry’s credibility. It’s all very upsetting.

I don’t have much of an opinion about some of the issues that fall under Gamergate — I lack knowledge of the game industry and how such business is conducted — but the entire notion of Gamergate seems misguided. A few people were mad that this woman might have been unfaithful to her boyfriend in a ploy to grow interest in her games. When that became an unpopular and unbecoming position for gamers to have, they conveniently shifted focus to the ethics of game journalism, even though this woman doesn’t seem to have crossed any ethical boundaries. It seems as if these people are scouring their lives and the game industry for presumably nonexistent issues about which they can be upset.


A response: ‘Video games go to Washington’

I’d never heard of the Howard Dean video game before reading this article. I, like the designers of the game, pondered at first how to make a political video game that wouldn’t be seen as trivial but wouldn’t be seen as a tacky, desperate plea to voters, either. Though his campaign was unsuccessful, Dean demonstrated for future political candidates how technology could be used to advantage a campaign. Even technology normally existing outside the political realm, like video games, has a role to play.

The Dean video game points to, what in my estimation, is a broader infiltration of politics into institutions used for entertainment or recreation — institutions that used be free from politics. I tend to view politics — at least the images politicians hope to project — as traditional, professional and stately. It seems a little odd that politicians and their campaigns would venture into the realm of video games, cell phone applications and so on. But it’s happened.

And while I tend to associate video games and cell phone applications as frivolous or entertainment-based, they also have qualities that make them powerful political tools capable of swinging an election one way or another. The more I think of it, that political campaigns employ this new technology isn’t odd at all. There was a time when newspapers were news, and then came a time when they were first used by political campaigns to convey messages. There was a time when TV was new, and then came a time when political campaigns recognized the opening TV presented for advertising and public appearances that could advance the interests of a candidate. It makes sense video games would follow a similar path.

A couple characteristics of the Dean video game stick out in my mind. First, the game focused not on partisan politics but on the strength and influence of grassroots efforts. On the other side of the spectrum, I imagine an action game in which Dean attempts to take over the White House, sparing the country from the policies of the Bush administration. I think the Dean campaign was wise in its design of the game and its premise.

Second, it’s interesting the Dean campaign picked a promise rooted in civic duty and grassroots efforts. The game was able to show the ability of grassroots efforts to multiply; if you reach out to two people, they might reach out to two people and so on. The game also was entrenched in real time, counting down to the Iowa Caucus. This alerted players as to the date of the caucus, an aspect of the game that worked to eliminate the ignorance and indifference that some cite as reasons for low turnout. In this way, the game served a public good.

A response: ‘From work to play’

I didn’t understand much of this article, but I did understand some parts. I don’t play video games and don’t know much about them. One concept that caught my attention is the malleable definition of fiction and the changing aspects of storytelling. This applies not just to video games but to storytelling of all modes and methods.

I found interesting the argument that some video games are not fiction or storytelling in the traditional sense. The argument centers on the idea that users/players control the action — the structure — by pushing buttons and joggling sticks and such. It doesn’t even matter if the game has a singular ending reached regardless of the users’/players’ actions. Such games diminish the elements of shared experience and standardization — two staples of traditional pieces of fiction.

But at the same time, this argument can be made for even traditional pieces of fiction if the users/readers consume the material in unique ways. While more traditional pieces might not allow consumers to control the action with buttons and sticks, they do allow consumers to decide certain aspects of how the story unfolds: speed (all at once or piece by piece), time of day and environment (which could affect how the piece grips the consumer and emotion (how the consumer is feeling or thinking at the time he or she consumes the piece). Among these factors there is room for interpretation and variation across experiences with a single story. In this way, traditional stories and modern video games might not differ so strongly.

I also found interesting the idea that players of video games might play out the stories but not read the plots. There are arguments that work both to support and disprove this. Players of video games might play simply because it is fun or stimulating, paying little attention to how their actions relate to the broader plot. This might be because some early games had few detectable plot points; PAC-MAN, for instance, is about a yellow guy eating dots, but do players feel a connection, a responsibility to the plot?

On the other hand, the very act of playing a video game essentially requires some sort of connection or adherence to plot. Even playing PAC-MAN involves users assuming a similar mindset to that of the yellow guy, with eating the dots and avoiding the ghosts of critical importance.  A user might play more for fun than to provide impetus for the plot, but he or she still agrees to enter the fictional world and its conditions, which include plot. In this way, the act of playing is inseparable from the notion of plot.

Narrative fiction project reflection

This project was very different from projects I’ve done for other courses, in that I had to incorporate social media and technology elements into storytelling. I’ve taken fiction writing courses before. Developing characters and story lines is something I’m used to, if anyone can be used to that sort of thing. What was different was the integration of new media into my storytelling — a difference that made me think of fiction in new ways.

These ways included contemplating the most effective medium through which to tell my story. Normally when I write fiction, I think of my work as a straightforward text intended for the pages of a book. I didn’t stray too far from that medium with this project — my plan was to plug my text into a WordPress post. Still, the prospect of publishing a piece of fiction on a blog (instead of in a book), where anyone can read it and at any time, applies a new, accessible and nontraditional spin to storytelling.

Having quite a bit of experience writing fiction (and writing in general), I didn’t have difficulty conceiving ideas for my plot and characters. That’s not to say it isn’t a difficult process; when I sit down for what I think of as “serious writing,” I gruel over characters and very slowly construct plot around those characters. I didn’t approach this assignment with as much scrutiny and attention to detail. Although sometimes, I’ve found, writing quickly and less scrupulously is an effective tactic to develop ideas and identify a direction. The rough spots can always be smoothed over later.

Where I did have more difficulty was differentiating my work from traditional storytelling akin to the short story. I’m used to the short story; I’m comfortable with the short story. That’s why I wanted to write a blog post in which there isn’t a traditional plot/story arc. I heard some students planned their stories to unfold exclusively on Twitter or an email chain, which I think is interesting and inventive.

Our in-class discussions and lessons certainly influenced the way I went about this project. I tried to incorporate my favorite pieces of some of the fictions and social media projects we have been asked to read/watch. One of my favorites is “You Suck At Photoshop,” and I used “You Suck” as partial inspiration for my lead character and for tone/feel/mood ideas. I also drew inspiration from “The Onion,” which I enjoy reading in my free time.

I think this type of writing and this avenue of publication have advantages over traditional writing. Fiction writers can languish for years before they have a piece published, if they’re fortunate enough to have a piece published at all. The Internet, however, has created a forum in which writers, artists, musicians and all creators can self-publish. This, obviously, allows creators to increase exposure to their work, foster a following and receive satisfaction they might have not received had they gone the traditional publishing route.

This project and this course has stretched my understanding of what fiction can be and how it can unfold. I’m a traditionalist. I like to read books and newspapers, and some of the storytelling concepts we’ve discussed in class have seemed avant-garde. While I still prefer to sit down with a novel or work on a short story, I feel I have a greater appreciation for fiction as an open-ended concept that doesn’t necessarily need to adhere to tradition.

I don’t know whether this project will have any tangible effects on my writing. Perhaps I’ll be more likely to include elements of new media (Twitter, Facebook, email, blogging) into my preferred, traditional method of storytelling. I think the bigger impact will be seen in how and what I choose to read and watch. I’m now aware of different types and mediums of fiction, which greatly expands the catalog of pieces to which I have access.


A response: Lonelygirl15

I had a hard time not watching more (than four) of these. Lonelygirl15 is an interesting concept, and having first read about the series on Wikipedia caused me to watch the episodes with a different, more critical eye. One thing I found fascinating on Wikipedia is that viewers of the series formed a sort of coalition aimed at outing the show as fictional. They worked together to dissect details from each scene, which leads me to believe that I’ve underestimated society and its ability to organize and operate under a common goal.

The episodes actually were fun to watch. Bree was charming, and the puppet dancing to “Promiscuous” was amusing. There was a time when that song dominated junior-high computer labs. I tend to think I would have been skeptical of this show as a piece of nonfiction, but I say this having known from the beginning that it was fictional. Bree’s way of speaking (and what she says) — especially her monkey metaphor about learning to see things from a different perspective — seems a little too perfect to be the off-the-cuff rantings of a 16-year-old.

A response: Justin Hall

My initial reaction to Justin Hall is amazement at his candor. I can’t imagine recounting the story of an intimate relationship in such a public and permanent setting. I can see how such openness, paired with his seemingly matter-of-fact way of communicating, could wear thin on another person. What I admire about Hall is he seems to know this, and he seems to own it.

More, what I find unique about Hall is the way in which he has chronicled his life story. So many people post similar information about themselves on social media, but it doesn’t seem to constitute much of a fiction, much of a personal narrative. Hall simply is publishing information akin to what a lot of other people publish, but when he does it, he does it with a purpose. His work and commitment is even more impressive considering he has been doing this since 1991.

A response to Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins defines “transmedia,” a term he coined, as a form of “storytelling (that represents) a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally,” Jenkins continues, “each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of a story.” Jenkins goes on to argue that the emergence of these mediums not only supplements the original fiction — presumably a text of some sort — but that it also can have major social and political impacts. Given the extent to which certain fictions have outgrown their original boxes, spilling over into different mediums and fixtures of society, Jenkins’ view of transmedia is a difficult one to dispute.

Reading about how Jenkins sees transmedia and its potentially wide-reaching effects, I began to think about the Harry Potter series, which had relatively humble origins in print media in the late 1990s and has since exploded into a towering empire of films, theme parks, merchandise, fanfictions, etc. The Harry Potter brand has so far transcended the words J.K. Rowling put on the page that the novels seem almost like ancient texts — a foundation upon which so many other mediums have bolstered and reshaped the series. As Jenkins speaks of his vision of transmedia and what it can be, Harry Potter seems a perfect example. The books offer an in-depth, ground-level experience for “purists;” the films translate the texts into the visual realm (often adding to or subtracting from the novels); theme parks and merchandise allow fans to feel a part of the series, immersed in that world; and fanfiction gives fans a chance to sew their own threads into the series — another form of immersion. Each medium tells a different aspect of the story, which Jenkins says should be the case with transmedia.

In part one of Jenkins’ interview with Matt Ratto and Megan Boler, I found particularly interesting the concept of DIY — do it yourself — in transmedia. The authors included “DIY” in the title of their book, by doing so stating that consumers of media can more or less invent themselves by exercising free will over which fictions and pieces of media they choose to consume. Jenkins makes the argument that the way media is marketed and either pumped or deflated by society voids the notion of “do it yourself.” I hadn’t previously put much thought into it, but marketing and social norms have significant influence over the media people consume. A person doesn’t just like what he or she likes; what he or she likes is largely based upon factors outside of personal preference. The authors later admit that they shared Jenkins’ view but that they used “DIY” in the title because it is a common term people immediately understand.

I also found interesting and somewhat amusing the semantical debate over whether “DIY” is an appropriate term to describe how consumers of media shape themselves or are shaped by other forces. “You” typically is interpreted as addressing the individual, but Jenkins and the authors make note of the plural “you,” which addresses a group of people. That’s pretty misleading. The admission by the authors that they are contemplating a more relevant term — DIT (do it together) or DIO (do it ourselves) — shows how fluid and ever-evolving media and media consumption has become. I found myself thinking back to the article we read about the writer who “liked” everything on his Facebook page for two days. Twenty years ago, people simply might have liked what they liked; they had more free will. Today, the books we read and the shows we watch are determined only partly by our self interests and increasingly so by what social media, marketers and society tells us to like.

Ratto later makes a case about social media that I think is shared by many people — that it is simultaneously a source of political expression and democracy and also a source of misinformation and ignorance-sharing. Barack Obama famously used social media — Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, etc. — to win the presidency in 2008 and then re-election in 2012. The Obama campaign is evidence that social media, when wielded correctly, is a powerful tool for mobilization and political action. Conversely, social media is dubious and a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. Users have next to no incentive or obligation to verify the authenticity and accuracy of what they post, which contributes to a collective ignorance among people who take at face value what they read on social media.

Boler addressed the recent trend of media consumers, primarily younger people, obtaining their news from nontraditional sources, even sources deemed to be “fake news.” The Daily Show is probably the most famous example. News purists and political conservatives recently have argued that young people are reckless and misguided in their preference for alternative news sources — like The Daily Show — over more traditional and bonafide sources. As a frequent Daily Show viewer, I have seen Jon Stewart express many times the importance of consumers gathering their news from a variety of sources. Studies have shown that Daily Show viewers possess a stronger understanding of political and social issues than viewers of some traditional news sources — namely, Fox News. To Stewart’s point, those studies do not necessarily speak to the validity of The Daily Show as a principle news source (Daily Show viewers typically use Stewart’s show as a news supplement, as opposed to Fox News viewers, who often make Fox News their primary news source). They speak to the importance of viewers diversifying the news they consume and not investing an exorbitant amount of trust in any one source.