Category Archives: reading response

Final Project

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Internet phenomena

In response to the  articles about Susan Boyle and other such phenomenon:

Something inherent about internet phenomena is that they are completely unpredictable. It’s impossible to gauge when something like lolcats or Susan Boyle  is going to become a viral hit-or how long it will remain a hit. In Manjoo’s article, he points out that lolcats didn’t instantly become popular, then fade. Its popularity has only grown. Yet the basis of the site is extremely elementary and kind of ridiculous, and I think the people who read it know that, but they love it anyway.  

Which raises the question: are internet phenomena a good judge of what people genuinely like? Unlike people’s TV preferences, which are limited to what is actually produced and how many people watch it, websites can be made by anyone and don’t need a large fan base to exist. Consequently, they can start out small and explode into popularity. Or things from TV (like Susan Boyle) can become even more popular online. This kind of ties back into the machinima readings. If it’s the amateurs that know what people really like, then mainstream might be shifting towards incorporating more work from amateurs than from actual professionals.  

There are definitely dangers that come with this. Like Bergeron says in his article, this kind of instant fame can make and break a person. The popularity that comes with it isn’t lasting, like the popularity that comes from more seriously invested-in movies and TV shows (think the Sopranos or Titanic). But I don’t think it poses a real threat to quality media. People might be crazy about the latest YouTube video or website, but will always want quality movies and TV. I think the danger is more for those experiencing the 5-minute fame than the state of media itself.


I would be interested in tackling the amazonfail incident a little more directly. I’ve got a couple of good articles that raise some interesting points, especially about meta-data and what it means to define something through such tags.

This is a great summery/examination of the entire fiasco. It raises a lot of key issue around metadata/internet response and has interesting links to most of the other main responses.

This is one of the original posts by one of the authors that started the uproar.

This is a simpler version of the first link by BBC. It provides a nice summery of things.

Suggested reading: “My Crowd,” by Bill Wasik

Perhaps you’ve heard of the flash mob, a phenomenon that became vogue in the early/mid 00’s, generally defined as “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.” Flash mobs are organized anonymously, through e-mail, text messaging, or social networking sites.

In the 2006 article “My Crowd, or Phase 5: A report from the inventor of the flash mob,” Harper’s editor Bill Wasik revealed that he created the first flash mob in May 2003. Wasik conceived of the flash mob as a social experiment to comment on the conformist behavior and “scenesterism” of urban hipsters, but soon found that his experiment had become a media sensation: a flash mob murder was a major plot point in a 2004 episode of “CSI: Miami”, and Wasik describes attending a “flash concert” organized by Ford and Sony to promote the Ford Fusion.

Wasik’s article is also an insightful (and frequently funny) commentary on a weird paradox inherent in today’s digital media culture: while it gives us the tools to create new and interesting forms of expression (the flash mob, for instance), it also enables the “mob mentality” on a massive scale.

I think this would be a great reading for either Monday or Wednesday, but I can’t decide which–maybe we should put it to a vote?

Second Life in schools

I could have an entire discussion on how current teaching methods in public schools are awful and how they don’t fully educate a student, but instead, I’d like to expand on the DeWinter article. I think it’s a fantastic and necessary idea to increase computer and virtual literacy through Second Life.

The article says “many students do not recognize the breadth of their online audience; they also are often unaware of the ways their personal information contained online may be used without their consent.” In today’s world, we must acquaint kids with how the virtual world works, instead of focusing on pen and paper standardized testing methods. Not doing so would be a disservice to graduates; with an increasingly digital world, it is imperative that their education teaches them about virtual spaces. Schools need to rework their curriculums, which can be difficult when teachers have little computer literacy themselves or they have been accustomed to teaching out of the same text book for 20 years. How can kids learn these 21st century definitions of privacy and intellectual privacy when their teachers themselves don’t fully understand? Obviously, there is also a financial constraint for meagerly-funded school systems.

Like the article suggests, Second Life can help the user reexamine themselves by observing what their avatar looks like, what activities are important to them, and how the interact with other players. Second Life, and other social online programs, are no longer an activity for geeks who live in their parent’s basement, but rather a legitimate cultural phenomenon that deserves to be studied and talked about in high school classrooms. Things like dealing with harassment, conflict resolution, and learning and thriving in a system with set rules are all life skills that should undeniably be included in everyone’s education. Second Life can educate people about corporate interests and consumerism and give students a sense of familarity in dealing with digital spaces which is indespensable today. Yes, I agree with DeWinter. We should use Second Life in the classroom, because to not do so would be a disservice.

Second Life

OK. Late post, but I’ll try to bring this up in class.

I’m really curious on where the boundaries between real life and second life fall. I think the Wall Street Journal article points towards this question, but does not really answer it. Is that man cheating on his wife? I don’t know. Is an online murder murder? Is an online marriage marriage? I think the answer the article is getting at is that online actions only become “real” (or meaningful) once they’ve impacted real life. The man’s wife feels like she’s being cheated on (and the signs it are pretty much there). But would he still be cheating on her if she wasn’t bothered by it?

Well, maybe. It wouldn’t make interesting journalism, so we probably wouldn’t hear about it. But the situation, a virtual relationship, would be the same. I suppose I have to wonder: do we need to create guidelines or clear boundaries between real and virtual life? Or do we wait for them to have an impact on our reality first?

The Definition of Machinima

So, we discussed this a bit in class, but I think it’s still a bit of an issue.   As such, I’d like to put forth a few pieces and ask if people think they are Machinima.

Obviously, RedvsBlue is Machinima.   It’s people controlling the characters in highly intentional ways to create a traditional (if absurd) narrative.

“Leeroy Jenkins,” too, seems to be Machinima, although it is posing as an unscripted gameplay video.


But what about this video?   It’s a serious attempt on (at the time, several years ago) a new boss.   However, they do have a dedicated “cameraman,” since no UI is showing on the recording.   The use of music, too, seems to have a pretty big impact on the footage.   And there’s definitely a narrative here.


I’m not sure if it’s Machinima or not, but I can’t say I can just clearly dismiss it.

Anyway, I think it’s worth questioning how much you have to be “using things in unintended ways” for it to be Machinima, since the act of recording video games is (until recently) rather unintended in and of itself.


When starting to read these pieces, it seemed completely foreign to me. Firstly I don’t play Halo and the idea of creating a film using videogame characters seemed a bit absurd. Not that I didn’t think videogames lacked the potential to be turned into movies (since we have examples like Laura Croft, Silent Hill, and…Resident Evil, though I wasn’t a fan of that last one), but the thought of doing it within the confines of a virtual world seemed hard. There are some games with exceptionally intricate and vast worlds but the limitations on the characters and their actions seems the greater difficulty. The enlightening part within the FAQ was just how much time and money Machinima can save in the production of a film/episode. While animation has progressed from being hand drawn frame by frame to some digital rendering, moving to ready made 3D videogames seems like it would hinder the creative process. If you don’t collaborate directly with the videogame producers, you are left to deal with a handful of limitations. People most likely will have to become inovative because of this, but it is likely that lots of the merit from these Machinima works will have to come from the script. Another key limitation I think exists is that representations of humans within videogames are not realistic yet to create believeable portrayals. There still remains an alien factor while watching these 3D characters in situations going past their roles within their respective games. I don’t think it would qualify as Machinima, but the only example I’ve seen where I think videogame characters had sucessfuly translated into film was “Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children“. I don’t think Machinima can produce great works of art…or anything beyond comedy just yet. Will be interesting to see how it develops in the future.

Machinima, Art, and Brody Condon

In “The Xbox Auteurs”, after posing the question of whether machinima can be “art,” Clive Thompson mentions a piece by Brody Condon composed entirely of footage of player characters committing suicide in various game scenarios. The piece is “Suicide Solution” (2004), which Condon describes as an “in-game performance.” You can find an excerpt from “Suicide Solution” and documentation of a lot of other really interesting work with gaming, machinima, and digital imaging on his website, tmpspace.

In “The Xbox Auteurs,” Thompson is trying to create an analogy between independent, “auteur” filmmaking practices and machinima. The analogy falls flat, however, when you realize how beholden machinima filmmakers are to the prefabricated and limited game scenario. Even the most low-budget filmmaker has a huge variety of options in terms of crafting a film narrative compared to the machinima “auteur.” As Thompson observes, until the character-based, dialogue-heavy machinima project “Red vs. Blue” became popular, Halo characters couldn’t even lower their weapons.

The question of whether machinima can be “art” is a loaded one, and Thompson doesn’t do a particularly good job of framing it in the article–“serious emotional depth” is not the sole qualification for artistic merit. Nevertheless, it’s a question worth asking. I would argue that machinima is art, to the extent that any use of any technology can be art. But as an artform, machinima is distincly different from cinema. It’s not just showing us a mediated “reality,” it’s showing us a doubly mediated vision of an already mediated game world.

Getting back to Brody Condon, I think his characterization of his work as “in-game performance” is more accurate than Thompson’s comparison of machinima to indie filmmaking. No matter what kind of story one tries to tell, machinima can’t help but at some point become a commentary on “world” it represents–and, consequentially, the world outside that one. To me, the most interesting thing about machinima is its ability to represent a counter-narrative to the imposed narrative of the game–for instance, Thompson’s jokey example of the innocent Canadian tourist wandering around Grand Theft Auto, or Condon’s  intentional “suicides.” Machinima is not simply telling a story, it’s telling us what it means to be “in-game.”

Machinima on the future

Thompson’s discussion of the makers’ reactions to “machinima” might foreshadow what is to come with mainstream video and music. The companies like Bungie, he said, are not suing Red & Blue, not even upset about it. In fact, the companies are utilizing Red & Blue for marketing purposes. They’re paying amateurs to produce commercials for a far cheaper price than professionals would charge. This is much like the Flight of the Conchords video contest, and other TV shows that are encouraging fans to send in clips. It benefits the company and the amateur, by at least getting their stuff out there and receiving recognition.  

Since video and music reproduction is inevitable, and only going to grow, video game makers are embracing it and finding ways to use it to their advantage. It’s much easier for them, since the advantages are much more clear cut and easier to tap into. (A clip of Red & Blue only raises awareness about Halo. It’s not like it gives the viewers free access to the game.) Video and music reproduction are going to have to move that direction eventually, too. Instead of spending so much time trying to find ways to prevent it from happening, they should invest in figuring out how they can profit off of it- which I’m sure they can.

What struck me the most in Thompson’s article was the fact that real soldiers love Red & Blue, and other similar reproductions. It’s interesting that they found Red & Blue to be closer to what it’s like in Iraq than Halo. This might signify that amateur reproductions are a lot closer to reality than mainstream productions, foreshadowing the direction our entertainment might be moving. Kind of like television’s overwhelming move toward reality TV.  

Regardless of the direction entertainments takes, gaming and machinima are definitely going to have an effect.