DIY Media 2010: Video Blogging (Part One)

This is the sixth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following is a curatorial statement by Ryanne Hodson, author of The Secrets of Videoblogging.

Videoblogging emerged as the bandwidth hogging stepchild of podcasting or ‘audio blogging’ in early 2004, a little over a year before YouTube. We can put media files in a blog and have it delivered right to people’s computers as we update? This is it! This is what we as artists, filmmakers, cable access producers, frustrated television editors and moms and dads with camcorders have been looking for for so long. The big D, Distribution. We have all these ideas floating in our heads, now we can get them out and share them with no gatekeepers or higher ups telling us it’s not ‘broadcast quality’ or ‘green light worthy’. We’re “making stuff up and…putting it on the internet, and you can’t do shit about that ” (Michael Verdi, Vlog Anarchy).

Technical note: In the beginning, videos were uploaded in the Quicktime format and not easily embeddable/sharable on other blogs like Flash (and soon the HTML5 video tag) is now, so I’m linking to the original blog posts for viewing. My second round of videos will be embedded for your viewing ease.

First Mantra- Kicked To The Head- Daniel Liss- 11/25/2005

there are so many kinds of videos to choose from made by videobloggers since 2004. For the first 24/7 DIY Video Summit in 2008 I chose a selection based on personal connections.

Excited- RyanEdit- Ryanne Hodson- 12/01/2004

Many of these people have become my close friends and collaborators over the past 5 years.

Vlog Anarchy- Michael Verdi- 2/20/2005

I’ve slept on their couches, I’ve played with their kids, I’m about to get married to one of them.

Became A Nurse- Miss B Havens- 3/10/2006

Videoblogging can be anything the creator wants it to be. Some say it’s just simply video on a blog, or even broader, just video online.

This Cheese Sandwich- The Faux Press- Jan McLaughlin-7/17/2006

Most of us were video makers before we were bloggers.

Private Screening- Scratch Video- Charlene Rule- 2005

Blogging was just a way to distribute our creations free and wide- whether it was a conversation, a documentary, a political statement, a home movie or just a tiny moment that was recorded.

Mad As Hell- Twittervlog- Rupert Howe- 7/13/2007

These are people whose work from 2004-2007 inspired and changed me. All of them are still active videobloggers. Some, including myself, have morphed their methods to include more instant videoblogging through iPhones, flickr, Facebook and Twitter- our ideas scattered throughout the web.

Hand Carved Tusk- Hopper Video- Rob Parrish- 6/10/2006

For the most recent 24/7 DIY Video event, I explored these creators’ evolution into more experimental endeavors. I will be sharing these in my next installment. Enjoy!

The End- Twittervlog- Rupert Howe- 6/11/2007

ryanne_miami_sq.jpgRyanne Hodson (, co-author of the first published vlogging book, The Secrets of Videoblogging, started her career as a video editor at WGBH PBS Boston and in Boston public access television. From Bangkok to Delhi, Amsterdam to San Francisco, Ryanne has taught diverse audiences the hows and whys of videoblogging. With partner Jay Dedman, she produces featuring stories of individuals hacking everyday life and exchanging notes on survival.

“Deep Media,” Transmedia, What’s the Difference?: An Interview with Frank Rose (Part Two)

You draw a range of comparisons here to older, even pre-20th century forms of storytelling — from Daniel Dafoe to Charles Dickens. What continuities and changes do you see between deep media and older forms of serialized fictions?

That’s a question I became increasingly intrigued with as I worked on the book. Collective entertainment may be new, but there’s nothing new about entertainment that’s participatory and immersive. In fact, every new medium from the printing press on has been considered dangerously immersive at first. TV, movies, books–Don Quixote went tilting at windmills because he’d lost his mind from reading too much. And in order to gain acceptance, each new medium has tried to pass itself off at first as something familiar. In his preface to Robinson Crusoe, which is generally considered the first novel in the English language, Defoe declared the entire story to be fact. Fiction was considered an inferior branch of history that had the glaring defect of not being true, so when Robinson Crusoe came out in 1719, it had to be passed off as autobiography. Nearly a hundred years passed before the novel became a generally accepted literary form in England. And then when Dickens came along in the 1830s and his publishers started putting out his novels in monthly installments, critics decried that as dangerously immersive. Bad enough that people were reading novels when they could have been engaged in social pursuits, like conversation or backgammon–but now they were going to be losing themselves in a fictional world for months on end.

But the really remarkable thing about Dickens was the way he communed with his readers. That was something serial publication made possible–and serial publication was purely a product of technology. Better printing presses, cheaper paper, trains that could deliver things reliably, rapidly growing cities with a lot more people who could read. Few of these people could afford to purchase entire books, but they could pay for short installments. An unanticipated result of this was that when books were published over a period of 19 or 20 months, readers had a chance to have their say with the author while the novel was still being written. And Dickens relished this. He took note of their comments and suggestions, and he loved interacting with them on the lecture circuit as well. One of his biographers described it as “a sense of immediate audience participation.”

But seeing new media as a threat–that’s a pattern we fall into again and again. Now it’s video games and the Internet. Before that it was TV, and before that it was the movies, and a couple hundred years ago it was serial fiction and people like Dickens. The only constant is that whatever is new is threatening. And usually it’s considered threatening because it’s too immersive–you could get lost in it. But that’s exactly what fiction is. If it’s good enough, people are going to want to inhabit it.

You argue that the digital world has created an “authorship crisis.” What do you mean? How are audiences and producers responding to this crisis?

With a certain amount of confusion, I think. It’s certainly understandable. We’ve spent the last hundred-plus years with a strict delineation between author and audience–you read a book, you watch a movie, and that’s it. You’re a consumer. We came to think of this as the natural order of things, but in fact it was just a function of the limitations of our technology. Mass media, which is the only media we’ve ever known until now, had no mechanism for participation and only very limited, after-the-fact mechanisms for feedback. But there was nothing natural about that. That’s why you had stuff like fan fiction springing up in the shadows, mostly out of sight of the legal operatives whose job was to enforce this regime.

Before culture became a consumable, it was something people shared. The problem is, that was so long ago we’ve forgotten how to do it. So when I talk about participatory storytelling, a lot of people think I mean choose-your-own-ending or something like that. Actually, that’s not what I mean at all. I see branching storylines as a really primitive mechanism. Giving people a say in the story isn’t as simplistic as letting them decide what happens next–A, B, or C.

But what does it mean, exactly? That’s what everybody’s trying to figure out. Technology has finally created a mechanism for people to have a voice, but authors are still working out how to deal with it.

I had a really interesting exchange about this with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the guys who ran Lost. The fans want a say in the story, Lindelof said, but they also want to be reassured that the producers know where the story is going–and those two impulses seem mutually exclusive. Except they’re not, really. Lindelof and Cuse demonstrated that themselves with Nikki and Paulo, the slimy lowlifes who turned up out of nowhere in season 3. Viewers hated them. So 11 episodes later, they got killed off in spectacular fashion–buried alive by the other survivors after being bitten by a fictional species of spider whose venom brings on a paralysis so complete it makes you look dead. So Lost took the whole idea of authorship-sharing back to where Dickens got it 170 years ago–which is progress. But it’s still a long way from there to the narrative version of an open-world game, where the author creates a world and sets the parameters for the player to live out a story.

You cite Jon Landau as describing Avatar as “not just a movie. It’s a world.” and arguing that the film industry “has not created an original universe since Star Wars.” What do you see as the implications of these two statements for our understanding of deep media?

That’s from an interview I did with Landau and James Cameron in Montreal in 2006, when Cameron had Avatar in development but Fox hadn’t yet agreed to take the plunge. It’s the same exchange in which Cameron talks about the best science fiction as a “fractal experience” that can be enjoyed at any level of depth–anybody can enjoy the movie, but if you want to you can go in an order of magnitude deeper and see a whole new set of patterns, and an order of magnitude deeper after that, and so on. That’s how the idea of deep media originated for me, though it was two years later before I began to see that it was part of a larger pattern.

The thing about fantasy worlds–Avatar, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings–is that they give us license to imagine ourselves in entirely novel circumstances. Watching The Social Network we can imagine ourselves at Harvard–nice place, but populated entirely by humans. We know it already. There’s an allure to something utterly unknown, with its own geography and its own flora and fauna and unique experiences to be had. At the same time, it’s comforting in a way to see the basics–gravity, humanoid appearance, stuff to eat and drink–remain unchanged. The guy at the cantina on Tatooine might be four feet tall and have a head like a beat-up football, but he still likes a nice, cold beer.

This is one of the many places where Star Wars crops up as a reference point in the book. It does seem to be the ur text for many of the trends you describe. What do contemporary artists take from this now classic franchise?

I think above all it’s the possibility of engagement at so many different levels of depth. Star Wars predated the Internet, of course, but it made use of all the different kinds of media that the Internet now delivers to us. It wasn’t just the movies, though the vast majority of viewers stopped there. If you were a true fan–and a lot of people in Hollywood were, from Cameron to Lindelof to JJ Abrams–there were all sorts of other experiences to be had. Comics. Action figures. And what made all this work is what George Lucas calls “immaculate reality”–a level of verisimilitude that made the fantastic seem real. It’s all very fractal.

To what degree do you think deep media represents the global circulation of the idea of “media mix” which first took shape in Japan around anime, manga, and games?

I think it’s largely unconscious–I don’t know anybody in the US or Europe who says “media mix” to mean storytelling across different media, and it’s not just because we use different terms here. Star Wars certainly owes something to Kurosawa, but there’s no evidence Lucas was influenced by Japanese media-mix business strategies. Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner was aware of it because he grew up in Hawaii, but I think he’s the exception. But it’s an important precursor to what we’re seeing now, a sort of proof of concept that was adopted by Japanese manga and anime producers way before the Internet. Ideas take hold when people are ready for them, and in Japan people were ready early.

You cite a Madison Avenue type who says, “Advertising used to interupt life’s programming. Now advertising is the programming. And if you’re actually being marketed to successfully, you have no idea.” So many of the works you and I like to talk about were funded as promotion yet consumed as part of the story/world of the fiction. How do we reconcile those two different experiences/goals? Are fans manipulated when they invest value into things which are purely promotional or has deep media/transmedia turned promotion into an art form?

It’s all part of the blur. It isn’t just stories and games that are blurring together, it’s author and audience, fiction and nonfiction, advertising and entertainment. Because the Internet is so relentless about dissolving boundaries, this is pretty much inevitable.

Marketing is all about manipulation–that’s the whole point of it. But people today, young people in particular, are so much more media savvy than people 20 years ago, not to mention 40 or 50. I was struck by how commentators in Advertising Age would talk about “blatant” product placements on a show like Chuck at the same time that Chuck fans were using the same advertiser in a social media campaign to pressure the network to renew the show. So who, exactly, is manipulating whom?

What’s happening I think is that like other forms of storytelling, advertising is breaking its bounds. It used to be that commercials were in a neat little box 30 seconds long and there was a clear distinction between them and the show. And that was reassuring–it meant we could compartmentalize our entertainment away from the advertising that paid for it, even though the commercial breaks eventually swallowed up eight minutes out of 30.

Now things are getting homogenized. Alternate reality games like Flynn Lives and Why So Serious? are obviously promotional events for Tron: Legacy and The Dark Knight, but nobody objects because they also add depth and personal resonance to the story. People think Nike+ was developed by Nike and Apple, but they forget that R/GA, one of Nike’s ad agencies, was instrumental in making it happen as well. Nike+ is a runner’s tool that’s also a marketing platform. And if people register that at all, they’re mostly okay with it. The fact is, we live in a commercial culture. Let’s acknowledge it. I don’t think hypocrisy is ever healthy.

You talk about games as relying upon our “foraging instincts.” What do you mean by that? How conscious do you think designers are of how they expect audiences to behave?

This may be the most unexpected thing I came across while I was working on the book. I got very interested in how games and stories work on the brain, and it quickly became apparent that games work by stimulating the dopamine system, which is key to our sense of reward. This makes sense–games are all about rewarding your achievements, and dopamine release is stimulated by the anticipation of reward. But if we get rewarded all the time, the dopamine release goes down and we begin to lose interest. And if we never get a reward for what we’re doing, we get frustrated and lose interest even faster. The most effective reward pattern, it turns out, is one that has a certain amount of randomness built into it. Slot-machine operators have known this for decades, but it was a neuroscientist at Washington State named Jaak Panksepp who connected it to the behavior he calls “seeking.”

Seeking, or foraging, is one of the most basic survival instincts in the animal world. It keeps us focused on whatever jackpot it is we’re seeking–food and sex, originally, but also other kinds of payoffs–points, social recognition, whatever. I think game designers are very conscious of this, but so are people who are porting game mechanics to other areas of existence. Foursquare gives you points for walking out the door. This is a remarkably effective means of manipulating people. Because it’s so powerful, there’s a pretty high potential for abuse. On the other hand, all entertainment is about being manipulated at some level. If you’re not being manipulated properly, you’re not going to have a very good time. Nobody wants to go to a movie where you laugh at the wrong places.

Several times in the book, you refer to that moment just before 9/11 when several key experiments in deep media were first being launched — Majestic, The Beast, The Runner. In some ways, you are suggesting, we are just now getting back to that moment. What took us so long? What can we do now that was not on the drawing board back then? What have been the consequences of that delay?

It’s kind of tantalizing, isn’t it? Like a lost moment that could have happened but didn’t. I think people just weren’t ready. The Web browser was only a few years old. Broadband hadn’t taken hold yet, so online video was painful at best. Blogging was just beginning to take off. Social media hadn’t happened yet–Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter. The Web was dominated by new media publishers like Yahoo and AOL that were basically just like old media, except the people running them didn’t wear suits. And the dotcom bust had a lot of people convinced that the whole Internet thing was just a fad anyway–the CB radio of the ’90s.

What’s happened in the meantime is that we’ve had ten years to figure out what the Net is really about. It’s not about publishing, it’s about participating. It’s about immersiveness. It’s about redefining our relationship to entertainment and marketing and each other. People need time to absorb that. Stuff is coming at us at amazing speed, but that doesn’t make us any faster at knowing what to make of it. We think we’re living on Internet time, but the Internet is in no hurry to reveal its secrets.

“Deep Media,” Transmedia, What’s the Difference?: An Interview with Frank Rose (Part One)

Wired contributing editor Frank Rose is releasing a new book this month which will be of interest to many of my regular readers — The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the Way We Tell Stories. It is a highly readable, deeply engaging account of shifts in the entertainment industry which have paved to way for more expansive, immersive, interactive forms of fun. He’s talked to key players — from Will Wright and Jeff Gomez to James Cameron and George Lucas — and brings back their thinking about the changing media landscape. As he wrote me, “at various points in my career I’ve focused on technology and at other times on entertainment, but when I joined Wired in 1999 I started writing about both together.”

Rose has been exploring some of the key concepts from the book through his blog as he’s been working through the project. I suspect when I teach my transmedia storytelling class again at the USC Cinema School next fall, this book will be on the syllabus, since it manages to condense down many of the key conversations being held around these much discussed topic into language which is accessible and urgent.

When I first heard of his concept of “deep media,” during a talk Rose gave at South by Southwest, I was intrigued by its relationship with what I’ve called transmedia entertainment. And in fact, I’ve been asked about the relationship many times and didn’t really know what to say. So, naturally, given a chance to interview Rose for the blog, that’s where I started. It sounds like his own thoughts on the relationship have evolved over time and in interesting ways. As the interview continues, we talk about world-building, the relationship between games and stories, the interweaving of marketing and storytelling, and the impact of 9/11 on interactive entertainment.

You write in the book about what you call “deep media.” What do you see as the core characteristics of deep media? How do you see your concept relating to others being deployed right now such as transmedia or crossmedia?

To me it’s mainly a question of emphasis. Are we focusing on the process or the goal? Transmedia, or crossmedia, puts the emphasis on a new process of storytelling: How do you tell a story across a variety of different media? Deep media puts the focus on the goal: To enable members of the audience (for want of a better term) to delve into a story at any level of depth they like, to immerse themselves in it. Not that this was fully thought out when I started–the term was suggested by a friend in late 2008 as a name for my blog, and when I looked it up online I saw that it had been used by people like Nigel Hollis, the chief analyst at Millward Brown, so I adopted it.

That said, I think the terms are more or less interchangeable. I certainly subscribe to the seven core concepts of transmedia as you’ve laid them out. I also think we’re at an incredibly transitional point in our culture, and terms like “deep media” and “transmedia” are needed to describe a still-evolving way of telling stories. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if both terms disappeared in 15-20 years as this form of storytelling becomes ubiquitous and ultimately taken for granted.

Throughout the book, it seems you see these creative changes towards a more immersive and expansive entertainment form being fueled by the emergence of games. Why do you think computer and video games have been such a “disruptive” influence on traditional practice in other entertainment sectors?

Because they engage the audience so directly, and because they’ve been around long enough to have a big influence on other art forms. Movies like Inception, as you’ve observed, are constructed very much like a game, with level upon level upon level and a demanding, puzzle-box approach to narrative. If you’re a gamer, you know intuitively how to approach this. If you’re not, well, good luck.

One of the reasons I started this book was that I’d begun to meet screenwriters who’d gone from TV to games and back again, and when they came back it was with a different approach to narrative–moving across multiple levels, thrusting you directly into the story and letting you figure it out for yourself, that kind of thing. But at first I just had this vague sense that games and stories were blurring into each other–that in some way that I didn’t fully understand, games were becoming stories and stories were becoming games. I got obsessed with trying to understand the relationship between the two. I spoke with a lot of game designers, but it wasn’t until I got to Will Wright that I found someone who could really answer my question.

We all know that games are in some sense a rehearsal for life–a simulation that models the real world. That’s why kids who never play games tend not to pick up the skills they need to navigate adult existence. Wright said that at bottom, stories are an abstraction of life too–an abstraction we share with one another so we can all make sense of the world. This took on added depth for me when I stumbled across, in a neuroscience paper of all places, an 1884 exchange between Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson on the nature of fiction. James described it as an “impression of life.” Stevenson countered that life is “monstrous, infinite, illogical” while art is “neat, finite, self-contained”–a model, in other words. Steven Pinker took this a step further a century or so later when he described fiction as “a kind of thought experiment.” Jane Austen novels? Rehearsals for womanhood in Regency England. All those Hollywood disaster movies? Rehearsals for the apocalypse. And so on.

So stories and games are intimately connected because they’re two sides of the same impulse. Stories give rise to play, and play gives rise to stories. Think of Star Wars, and all those action figures, and the fan fiction that came out of it–story transmuted to play and then to story again.

The big question now is, will games and stories actually merge? Will we ever have the experience of being at the center of a carefully constructed dramatic narrative? That’s certainly the way things seem to be headed, but I’m not convinced that anybody in the business today will achieve it. Probably there’s a nerdy freshman at Harvard or USC who will. My advice would be, watch out for the Winklevosses.

Another key idea running through the book is the idea that entertainment is now designed to be engaged by collectives, often of the kinds that form in and through social network sites. What are some of the consequences of perceiving audiences as collectives of people who interact with each other and with the producers rather than as aggregates of isolated eyeballs?

I’m not entirely sure, and I don’t think anybody else knows either. It’s too new, it’s too different from anything we’ve ever experienced before. It’s not that we haven’t had participatory entertainment–we’ve had game shows on TV ever since the late ’40s, and on radio before that. But the idea of people working together to “solve” or interpret a story at any scale beyond the water cooler is unprecedented, simply because no technology has enabled it before. Will it change storytelling? It already has. Inception, Lost–because its narrative was so convoluted, Lost implicitly demanded that people connect online to figure it out. No one ever dared do that on TV before. Does this herald some emerging facet of connected existence? Definitely. How will it change us as a society? Too early to say.

Frank Rose is the author of The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Genera-tion is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories, to be published in February 2011 by W.W. Norton, and a contributing editor at Wired, where he has written extensively about media and entertainment. Before joining Wired in 1999, he worked as a contributing writer at Fortune and as a contributing editor at Esquire and at Travel + Leisure. He is also the author of The Agency, an unauthorized history of the oldest and at one time most successful talent agency in Hollywood, and West of Eden, a 1989 best-seller about the ouster of Steve Jobs from Apple, now available in an updated edition.

Manifestos for the Future of Media Education

A few months ago, I was asked if I might contribute a short essay to a United Kingdom based project to frame a series of arguments around the value of media education in the 21st Century. The project is intended to spark debate within the Media Studies field and beyond about the value of our contribution to secondary and post-secondary education.

This week, Pete Fraser, Chief Examiner of OCR Media Studies & Jon Wardle, Director, The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, Bournemouth University, launched a website which includes ten such manifestos, including mine, and which they hope will host ongoing discussions around these issues. Here’s part of the rationale they provide for the project:

There are those who would dismiss the very idea of studying the media. The Daily Mail might argue that it is only on the national curriculum and available at degree level to ensure that the participation numbers for young people engaged in formal learning and gaining good qualifications remains high- the ‘dumbing down’ agenda. They might argue that studying Soap isn’t a serious pursuit and will be frowned upon by University admission tutors and employers. Implicitly this argument is promoting a high brow / lowbrow divide; we can’t remember the last time we read an ‘angry from Tunbridge Wells’ letter complaining that the tax payers money was being used to fund the teaching of metaphysical poetry instead of physics….

Twenty five years of scholarship have bought about broad consensus on the theoretical framework for Media Education – 1) that media is representation not reality, 2) that the media is produced by organizations and individuals and therefore can and should be read critically 3) that the media is now not only read and received, but reinterpreted by audiences. We would nonetheless argue that we are still some way from identifying a broader teaching and learning framework for media education and most critically – and the focus of this work – we are yet to articulate a clear purpose for the work we do. What is the point of media education? – whether it be media studies, media practice, media production, media literacy – what is the point?. You may argue the clue is in the title of each of these subsets of media education – as on the surface the differences between media production and media literacy seem pretty straightforward. However, the purpose of each still feels rather opaque.

Are we seeking to develop the media producers of tomorrow, or to nurture individuals capable of holding power to account, are we seeking to hold a looking glass up to society in order for society itself to better understand itself, or perhaps we are hoping to develop a more media literate society capable of protecting itself from evil media conglomerates?…

I used my own response to their provocation to reflect a bit on what we learned through the decade plus that I ran the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT and especially how we might extend the thinking behind Project New Media Literacies to include more advanced studies in media. Here’s part of what I had to say:

We should no longer be debating the value of media education. The real question is whether media education should be a stand-alone discipline or whether expertise in media should be integrated across all disciplines, just as the ability to communicate is increasingly recognized as valuable across the curriculum….

Beyond these core skills which need to be integrated into K-12 education [those in the MacArthur white paper], though, I might also argue for kinds of contextual knowledge which are vital in making sense of the changes taking place around us. All learners need to acquire a basic understanding of the processes of media change, an understanding which in turn requires a fuller grasp of the history of previous moments of media in transition. All learners need to acquire a core understanding of the institutions and practices shaping the production and ciculation of media — from the Broadcast networks to the social networks, from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley….

Media education offers skills, knowledge, and conceptual frameworks we need in our everyday lives as consumers and citizens, members of families and communities, but they should also be part of the professional education of lawyers, doctors, businessmen, people entering a range of professions and occupations. At the present moment, there is a tremendous need across all sectors for what the industry calls “thought leadership” — the ability to translate big picture change into language that can be widely understood and engaged — as well as the capacity to deploy such media expertise to shape pragmatic and practical decisions.

Grant McCracken (2009) has argued that this hunger for insights into how media and cultural change impacts economic decision-making may lead many business to hire “Chief Cultural Officers,” ideally people who can bring humanistic expertise on culture and society into the C-Suite. If this vision came to pass, we might imagine media educated students entering not only the academy or the creative industries, but business of all kinds, policy think tanks, arts curatorships, journalism, advertising and branding, and a range of other jobs, many of which do not yet have names. Current media education tends to focus on reproducing the professoriate, despite declining numbers of jobs, and treating the vast number of our alums who get jobs elsewhere as if this was a failure of the system, an unfortunate byproduct of the decline of higher education. What if we reversed these priorities and saw the expertise media education offers as valuable in a range of different kinds of jobs and presented these options to our students at every step in the process.

The kinds of media education required for such a context differs profoundly from what we have offered in the past. For starters, it requires a much more conscious engagement with the relationship between theory and practice — not simply production practices (itself a big change given how often theory and production faculty sit at opposite ends of the conference table at faculty meetings) but the practices of everyday life. We need to compliment the current theoretical domains of media study with a more applied discipline, which encourages students to test their understanding through making things, solving problems, and sharing their insights with the general public.

The site’s participants include some of England’s top thinkers about media and learning, including David Buckingham, David Gauntlet, Cary Bazalgate, Natalie Fenton, and Julian McDougall. Having just spoken at a British media literacy conference in November, I came away with a deeper understanding of the caliber of scholarship and pedagogy emerging there and of the particular nature of the political struggles they are facing over education at the moment. I welcome the chance to learn more about their thinking through the ten remarkable essays the site assembles.

To whet your appetite for more, let me close by sharing a chunk of David Buckingham’s manifesto. Buckingham notes that he often finds the rhetoric by which we justify our profession overblown and deterministic, so he labels himself a poor choice to write a manifesto. In fact, it is precisely because Buckingham is so cautious in the claims he makes, so skeptical in the way that he reads the world, that his work carries such weight and impact:

I have always felt that media education suffers from an excess of grandiose rhetoric. We have all heard far too many assertions about how media education can change the world, save democracy or empower the powerless. As a classroom teacher, I was always painfully aware of the gap between this sort of rhetoric and the messy realities of my own practice (and I don’t think that was just about being a useless teacher). While it can be morale-boosting in the short term, this overblown rhetoric does not serve teachers very well: we need to cast a more dispassionate eye on what really happens in the classroom, however awkward or even painful that might feel.

In my view, we can make the case much more effectively by showing in concrete ways what and how children can learn about media. Most of the critics of media education do not have even the faintest idea of what it actually looks like in practice. Media education can be intellectually challenging; it can involve intense and rigorous forms of creativity; and it can engage learners in ways that many other school subjects do not. Even experienced teachers can be positively surprised by the quality and sophistication of students’ thinking as they engage in media education activities – and by the forms of oral and written work that result from it. Like any other school subject, media education can also be undemanding and boring, and it can result in pointless ‘busywork’. I am not calling here for rose-tinted accounts of ‘good practice’, of the kind that most teachers tend to find somewhat implausible. Rather, we need to come up with evidence that media education actually works – that it can engage, challenge and motivate young people, as well as enabling them to understand and to participate more fully in the media culture that surrounds them.

A New Culture of Learning: An Interview with John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas (Part Two)

You describe educators in the new culture of learning as mentors, rather than teachers. Can you explain the difference between the two?

The key difference for us is that in the new culture of learning mentors are very likely to be peers who may have picked up something a little ahead of the curve or who may have more experience in something than their peers. Mentorship is a much more flexible concept and one which is tied less tightly to authority. Since so much of what we see as the key to future learning is passion-based, we think it makes more sense to understand the process of learning as something that can be guided by a mentor, as opposed to being taught by a teacher. No one can teach you to follow your passions, but they can help guide you once you discover what motivates you.

You write about learning collectives. Often, when I try to describe this concept, I run up against the deeply embedded tradition of individualism, which has made all forms of collective sound, well, “socialist.” Have you found effective ways of responding to American’s ideological revulsion against collective identities and experiences?

Collectives, as we use the term, have nothing to do with the politics or economics of socialism. Instead what we are trying to capture is the formation of new institutional structures that are radically different from more traditional notions of community. Collectives are literally collections of people who form around a central platform. What is interesting is that collectives tend to promote individual agency and may actually be more consistent with individualism than they are with even community based theories of social interaction. Collectives, as we use the term, are actually institutions that enable and enhance individual agency. And because the costs of entry and exit are usually negligible, they tend to have much less persistence than more traditional institutions have had in the past and hence they don’t outlive their usefulness as the world changes around them.

One of the key contrasts we need to draw is between notions of communities and collectives. Communities are institutions that are designed to facilitate a sense of belonging. Collectives are institutions that facilitate individual agency. Anyone who joins a collective looking for a sense of belonging is going to wind up disappointed, because that is not how they function. Collective are more social platforms than social entities. Communities may form within a collective, but they need not form in order for the collective to function. The key point is that because collectives are agency driven, they form the perfect environment for the cultivation of imagination. In other words, the collective amplifies what I can do by tapping its collective experience.

In that sense “collective identity” is something of an oxymoron. Collectives are spaces in which individual identity is critically important. It makes no sense to talk about the “Facebook community” or the “Google community” because people are using those platforms in such incredibly different ways. Yet at the same time, Facebook and Google have become such common and shared practices that they are almost regarded as part of the fabric of online life. No one goes to Google for a sense of belonging, yet there is no denying it has had a powerful, even transformative, social effect. Our book is an argument for these collectives as environments where the cultivation of imagination is possible like it never has been before. But we are also very careful to say it is not just a matter of exposure. Cultivation is a purposeful act, not something that just happens as a result of exposure or access, but what we are discussing may also be a new sense of cultivation, one where the collective itself is committed to making the individual better.

You draw on the concept of “concerted cultivation” or what others called the “hidden curriculum” to explain why what happens outside of schools has a powerful influence on young people’s performance in the classroom. To what degree does it make sense to extend this well established educational principle to think about the informal learning which takes place online? Isn’t part of the point the alignment of the values in a middle class home and the classroom? Would this principle work only if schools were ready to embrace the values of the online world? Yet, elsewhere, you suggest some core conflicts between the two.

This goes back to the core thesis of the book. What we were able to identify were two radically different learning environments, one which was overly structured (such as the contemporary classroom) where boundaries are put in place to actually discourage play, experimentation and real inquiry based learning. The other environment is completely unbounded and unlimited, best represented by the information explosion on the Internet. Absent some sort of structure or boundaries, learning is not any more likely to happen in an unrestricted space than it is in a tightly controlled one. What we see happening in the most successful learning environments is a fusion of these two ideals. Like a petri dish, the best learning environments have boundaries which control and limit them, but within those boundaries permit almost unrestricted growth, experimentation and play. Neither innovation nor learning can happen in a vacuum and we have seen time and again that it is the constraints that students face that provide the opportunity for really innovative learning to happen.

The core conflict is a matter of mentality. Our schools believe that teaching more, faster, with better technology is preparing our students for the 21st century. Their answer to dealing with change is to keep doing the same thing faster. To our way of thinking, this is like trying to fix a leaky bucket by pouring more water in it. We do think there needs to be more of an alignment on both sides. We hear over and over again how our schools are broken. That metaphor only works if you treat them as machines. When you think of schools as learning environments, it no longer makes sense to say the environment is “broken.” What we hope this book does is, like the work on concerted cultivation, help people see that the line between schools and the world or the world place and daily life is illusory. Learning is happening everywhere, all the time.

This brings us back to imagination and the last line of the book: Where imaginations play, learning happens.

As you note, people not only learn in “different ways” but they also learn “different things” when confronting the same information. Yet, doesn’t this insight run against the current culture of schooling with its emphasis on standardized testing? How can we as a culture work past this contradiction between our understanding of learning and our policies for measuring classroom success?

What no one seems to pick up on is that innovation by its very nature runs counter to the idea of standardization. Something is innovative because it is outside of the standard. If we are serious about learning and embracing change in the 21st century, we need to also start thinking about evaluating learning in more sophisticated ways. Standardized testing is easy. It is also efficient. Again, these are the standards that we use to judge machinery. But we should be surprised when our students who go through the machine end up emerging looking like cogs.

Another key distinction we are trying to make is to understand the difference between creativity and imagination, two terms that are often used interchangeably. Creativity is a much later stage and something that can not be taught. It is the product of a fertile imagination. Imagination, on the other hand, is something that can be cultivated in response to a learning environment. Much of what we found in our research was that there is no creativity without imagination and that imagination, the true life of the mind, is something that is not given much (if any) space in classrooms or workplaces. Part of why we think collectives are such powerful environments for learning is that they stimulate imagination by encouraging activities like play, experimentation, and inquiry.

You describe inquiry as a core principle of the new culture of learning. In true inquiry, we follow our interests where-ever they lead us. Is true inquiry possible within the current structure of disciplines which shape our schooling practices?

Is it possible within the current structure? Probably not. What this book is pointing to is the need for a complete overhaul in our educational philosophy. Our schools are training people for the jobs of the 20th (and sometimes 19th !) century. Inquiry is not a new idea. Is was a core principle of Plato’s academy and it was the cornerstone of John Dewey’s education philosophy. Until now, however, it has not really been possible on a large scale. We now possess a technological infrastructure which makes it possible to engage in inquiry and to truly follow our interests. But at the same time, we believe there need for some constraints or boundaries on how far and in what direction those interests go. In large part, the role of the teacher needs to shift from transferring information to shaping, constructing, and overseeing learning environments. We take the idea of cultivation very seriously. You don’t teach imagination; you create an environment in which it can take root, grow and flourish.

How do we understand the value of diversity in this new culture of learning? Do learning networks work better if they include homogenous mixes of people pursuing the same goals or heterogeneous groups pursuing different interests? To what degrees are our current schooling practices a product of a historically segregated culture?

This is a great question that we don’t get to go into much in the book. The thing that makes learning different in the 21st century from any other time in the past is the diversity of information, knowledge, experience, and interaction that is available to us in the digital age. This new culture of learning only works if it can be fed by an enormous influx of constantly updated information. It is driven by change, so it is a way of looking at the world that is maladjusted to homogeny. In the theory of inquiry we spell out, we talk repeatedly about the questions being more important than the answers and the idea that solutions to one problem are gateways to dealing with increasingly more sophisticated problems and deeper questions. People in learning environments are inherently curious. Diversity is not only a value; we would say it is the key ingredient in formulating a new culture of learning in the 21st century.

What do you see as the value of remixing as a means of learning? Many teachers confuse remix culture with plagiarism, which they have been taught to prevent at all costs. How can you help educators resolve these competing understanding of what it means to build on the work of others?

The crux of the issue is one of content versus context. Plagiarism is the intentional misrepresentation of someone else’s ideas as your own; it is about content. Remix is an effort to fundamentally transform meaning by shifting or altering the context. The idea of making meaning through context is a relatively new one, because it is only recently that we have had the technological tools available to us to reshape contexts and then disseminate that information on a large scale.

What we have had, however, are things like parody, social satire, and commentary, all of which rely on very similar mechanisms to make arguments about meaning. Once you start thinking of remix as reshaping context rather than content creation, it becomes much easier to understand both its power and it utility. Of course as an added benefit, the easier it is for the average user to manipulate context, the more transparent the tradition of mainstream media doing the same thing becomes. There are countless examples of editing, tight focus, perspective and so on which have radically remade the meaning of events and have reshaped national and international perspectives.

You talk about learning, making, and playing as the core mindsets that support education. Despite a decade now of work on games for learning, many will be surprised to see “playing” on this list, in part because our schools are shaped by a puritan work ethic which distrusts play as frivolous. What would need to change for formal education to fully grasp and embrace the value of play?

There are two critical things to realize. First, play is not trivial, frivolous or non-serious, in fact, quite the opposite. Play can be the place where we do our most serious learning. And second, it is something we do all the time. When we explore, we play. When we experiment, we play. When we tinker or fiddle, we play. Science is play. Art is play. Life, to a great extent, is play. Every great invention of the past hundred years has had an element of play in its creation. So we are using the word in a very deep and serious way. A big influence on our work was Johan Huizinga’s book Homo Ludens, which goes so far as to make the argument that culture grew out of play, not the other way around. So, from Huizinga’s perspective play is the most basic and most human part of us.

When education became more “mechanized” it began to lose that sense of play. After all, who wants “play” in their machinery? Play is not precise or efficient; it is messy. But play also exemplifies what we think of as the ideal learning environment. Play is defined by a set of rules which form a bounded environment. But within those rules players have as much freedom as they like to create, innovate and experiment. Just think of all the amazing athletic feats that have emerged from a game like soccer, simply from the rule “you may not touch the ball with your hands.” It is that boundary that sets off an incredible set of innovations and ideas and in doing so, forms an extremely rich learning environment.

Those same principles can be applied to any environment that values learning and we believe that if we follow those ideas, we will see a revolution in education that will create a new generation of explorers, innovators, and people who understand both the ways to and value of embracing change.

Douglas Thomas is an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His research focuses on the intersections of technology and culture. It has been funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and the Annenberg Center for Communication. Doug is also the author of the book Hacker Culture and a coauthor or coeditor of several other books, including Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears that Shape New Technologies and Cybercrime: Law Enforcement, Security and Surveillance in the Information Age. He is the founding editor of Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, an international, interdisciplinary journal focused on games research.

John Seely Brown is a visiting scholar and an adviser to the provost at the University of Southern California and an independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge. He is an author or a coauthor of several books, including The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion; The Only Sustainable Edge; and The Social Life of Information, which has been translated into nine languages. He has also authored or coauthored more than 100 papers in scientific journals.

Prior to his current position, John was the chief scientist of Xerox and, for nearly two decades, the director of the company’s Palo Alto Research Center. He was also a cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education.

A New Culture of Learning: An Interview with John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas (Part One)

It is my privilege and pleasure from time to time to showcase through this blog new books by important thinkers who are exploring the relations between digital media and learning, concerns which have become more and more central through the years to my own interests in participatory culture. Today, I want to call attention to a significant new book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, written by two of my new colleagues at the University of Southern California — Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown.

Asked to write a blurb for this book, here’s what I had to say:

A New Culture of Learning may be for the Digital Media and Learning movement what Thomas Paine’s Common Sense provided for the American Revolution — a straight forward, direct explanation of what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against. John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas lay out a step by step argument for why learning is changing in the 21st century and what schools need to do to accommodate these new practices. Using vivid narratives of people, institutions, and practices at the heart of the changes and drawing from a growing body of literature outlining new pedagogical paradigms, they place the terms of the argument in language which should be accessible to lay readers, offering a book you can give to the educator in your life who wants to become an agent of change. My hope is that our schools will soon embrace the book’s emphasis on knowing, making, and playing.

This book really is a gift, one which arrived too late for the Christmas season, but just in time for the start of the new semester. I know that I will be drawing on its insights to shape my own New Media Literacies grad seminar this term and to inform the new afterschool program we are launching at the RFK Schools here in Los Angeles. I admire it for both its clarity of vision and clarity of prose, not a common combination. In the interview which follows, I play devil’s advocate, challenging some of the core premises of the book, with the goal of addressing critics and skeptics who may not yet be ready to sign on for the substantive reforms in pedagogical practices and institutions they are advocating.

Doug, you shared a story of how your students gradually took over control of your class. On one level, this sounds like teachers’ worst nightmares of where all of this may be leading, but it sounds like you discovered this process has its own rewards. Can you share some of what you learned about student-directed learning? How might you speak to the concerns of educators who are worried about their jobs and about satisfying various standards currently shaping the educational process?

This was a fascinating experience for me and it speaks directly to the distinction we are making throughout the book between teaching and learning. Even after having thought long and hard about what it means to be an educator and being open to ideas such as student-directed learning, I still found that I was carrying a whole lot of baggage about what it meant to be a responsible educator. Primarily, what that meant was transmitting valuable information and testing how well that information was received, absorbed, and processed. What I had not really thought about was the ways in which that limits and cuts off opportunities for exploration, play, and following one’s passions.

The fear is easy to understand. What we are essentially doing when we move to student-directed learning is undermining our own relatively stable (though I would argue obsolete) notions of expertise and replacing them something new and different.

That doesn’t mean there is no role for teachers and educators. Quite the opposite. One of the key arguments we are making is that the role of educators needs to shift away from being expert in a particular area of knowledge, to becoming expert in the ability to create and shape new learning environments. In a way, that is a much more challenging, but also much more rewarding, role. You get to see students learn, discover, explore, play, and develop, which is the primary reason I think that most of us got into the job of teaching.

“Lifelong learning” has become a cliché. What is it about the world of networked computing you describe which transforms this abstract concept into a reality? Are the kinds of learning experiences you discuss here scalable and sustainable?

We take it as a truism that kids learn about the world through play. In fact we encourage that kind of exploration. It is how children explore and gain information about the world around them. Since the time of Piaget we have known that at that age, play and learning are indistinguishable. The premise of A New Culture of Learning is grounded in the idea that we are now living in a world of constant change and flux, which means that more often than not, we are faced with the same problem that vexes children. How do I make sense of this strange, changing, amazing world? By returning to play as a modality of learning, we can see how a world in constant flux is no longer a challenge or hurdle to overcome; it becomes a limitless resource to engage, stimulate, and cultivate the imagination. Our argument brings to the fore the old aphorism “imagination is more important than knowledge.” In a networked world, information is always available and getting easier and easier to access. Imagination, what you actually do with that information, is the new challenge.

Essentially what this means is that as the world grows more complicated, more complex, and more fluid, opportunities for innovation, imagination, and play increase. Information and knowledge begin to function like currency: the more of it you have, the more opportunities you will have to do things. To us, asking if this kind of learning is scalable or sustainable is like asking if wealth is scalable and sustainable. But instead of finances, we are talking about knowledge. Education seems to us to be one of the few places we should not be afraid of having too many resources or too much opportunity.

You argue that many of the failures of current teaching practice start from “the belief that most of what we know will remain relatively unchanged for a long enough period of time to be worth the effort of transferring it.” Granted the world is changing rapidly, how do we identify the narrowing range of content which probably does fall into this category and which provides a common baseline for other kinds of learning?

The problem is not with facts remaining constant. There are some things we know that we have known for a very long time and are not likely to change. The force that seems to be pushing the knowledge curve forward at an exponential rate is two fold. First, it is the generation of new content and knowledge that is the result of simply participating in any knowledge economy. This leads to a second related dimension: while content may remain stable at some abstract level, the context in which it has meaning (and therefore its meaning) is open to near constant change. The kind of work you have been examining from the point of view of convergence culture is a prime example: users are not so much creating content as they are constantly reshaping context. The very idea of remix is about the productions of new meanings by reframing or shifting the context in which something means. The 21st century has really marked the time in our history where the tools to manipulate context have become as commonplace as the ones for content creation and we now have a low cost or free network of distribution that can allow for worldwide dissemination of new contexts in amazingly brief periods of time.

If you look at something as simple as Google News, the simple act of viewing a news story provides data which is fed back into the system to determine the value and placement of that story for future users. Millions of micro-transactions, each of which are trivial as “content” powerfully and constantly reshape the context in which news and current events have meaning.

You challenge here what James Paul Gee has called the “content fetish,” stressing that how we learn is more important than what we learn. How far are you willing to push this? Doesn’t it matter whether children are learning the periodic table or the forms of alchemy practiced in the Harry Potter books? Or that they know Obama is Christian rather than Muslim?

Ah, this question throws us into one of the key traps of 20th century thinking about learning. Learning is not a binary construction which pits how against what. In fact, throughout the book, we stress that knowledge, now more than ever, is becoming a where rather than a what or how.

Where something means or its context raises questions about institutions and agency, about reliability and credibility and it always invites us to interrogate the relationship between meaning and context.

In our framework, we stress that every piece of knowledge has both an explicit and a tacit dimension. The explicit is only one kind of content, which tells you what something means. The tacit has its own layer of meaning. It tells why something is important to you, how it relates to your life and social practices. It is the dimension where the context and content interact. Our teaching institutions have paid almost no attention to the tacit and we believe that it is the tacit dimension that allows us to navigate meaning in a changing world.

Knowledge may maintain consistency in the explicit, while undergoing radical changes in the tacit and we believe that understanding how knowledge is both created and how it flows in the tacit is the key to understanding and transforming learning in the 21st century.

Douglas Thomas is an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His research focuses on the intersections of technology and culture. It has been funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and the Annenberg Center for Communication. Doug is also the author of the book Hacker Culture and a coauthor or coeditor of several other books, including Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears that Shape New Technologies and Cybercrime: Law Enforcement, Security and Surveillance in the Information Age. He is the founding editor of Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, an international, interdisciplinary journal focused on games research.

John Seely Brown is a visiting scholar and an adviser to the provost at the University of Southern California and an independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge. He is an author or a coauthor of several books, including The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion; The Only Sustainable Edge; and The Social Life of Information, which has been translated into nine languages. He has also authored or coauthored more than 100 papers in scientific journals.

Prior to his current position, John was the chief scientist of Xerox and, for nearly two decades, the director of the company’s Palo Alto Research Center. He was also a cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education.

DIY Media 2010: Video and Gaming Culture (Part Three)

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following is an interview with Matteo Bittanti, a Social Science Research Associate at Stanford Humanities Lab.

Your curator’s statement sets up the opposition between the way game videos might be seen in the traditional art world and the ways they are perceived in the fan world. Yet, one could argue that the Machinima community in particular has been developing its own art world — including festivals, exhibitions, critical authorities, and canons. What can you tell us about how this alternative art world functions and what role it plays in shaping the aesthetic evaluation of the videos you are sharing with us?

As artworlds, Machinima and Game Art have had different gestation periods. The former is actually younger – the first examples can be found in the mid-Nineties, but artists have been experimenting with games – at various levels – since the Eighties. Nevertheless, machinima – as an artworld – has reached a fascinating level of complexity. Although the vast majority of machinima productions are still self-referential – therefore primarily intended for the gaming community, i.e. the connoisseurs who possess the necessary gaming capital to recognize and appreciate the intertextual connections between the game and its visual commentary – there’s also a significant production of machinima intended for different crowds and contexts – art galleries, new media arts festivals and even film festivals (mainly because for long time, film people thought of games as “interactive cinema” – an oxymoron, obviously, a contradiction in terms, a classic example of the “rearview mirror” syndrome, that is, they could only understand/relate to those elements of games that resembled film, which became the trademarks of the medium itself – a major strengths but also its Achille’s heel (I’m just trivializing what Espen Aarseth said, much more convincingly, here).

Machinima thus represented a good trade-off since what we are dealing with here is basically (non-interactive) digital animation. If machinima is “an animated cartoon” then it can be featured – read: tolerated – alongside film festivals, media art events, retrospectives etc. That second order of machinima, the machinima that flirts with the Contemporary Art World rather than the Videogame world, includes artists like Frenchmen Benjamin Nuel and Yann Bauquesne.

Performance in Counter Strike from Foke on Vimeo.

The latter is the author of a series of performances in Counter-Strike that I find absolutely brilliant but most fans of the game would dismiss with an irreverent “Huh?/WTF?”. Incidentally, Bauquesne is the same artist who created Violent Waste (2010), a sculpture of Super Mario entirely made of cartridges – pun intended.

Not too long ago, Salman Rushdie said that the best way to free Iran is to drop gameboys and bigmacs”, basically comparing videogames and junk food to weapons of mass distraction/destruction. In this sense, Bauquesne’s scultpures acquires another layer of meaning, both literal and allegorical. Anyway…

Again, the context is everything: it’s interesting to see how the ‘same” artwork is received, for example, by the readers of Kotaku and by the readers of Flash Art/Artforum etc…

To answer your question, Henry: I am afraid that if we over-emphasize the text over the con-text and the pre-text) we risk of losing sight of the real importance of machinima. That is, although the essence of a medium cannot be considered independently of its technical aspects, the question concerning technology is not exclusively technological. I’m more interested in understanding the ways people use, think and talk about a medium.

Example. When John Hillcoat, the director of The Road (2009) created Red Dead Redemption. The Man from Blackwater, a machinima based on Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar Games, 2009) he was basically legitimizing the medium (machinima) in a broader context while simultaneaously promoting the game.

There was a time when several machinima practitioners believed that machinima was going to revolutionize digital filmmaking. It was around the time Tom Pallotta directed a video for Zero 7 in machinima-form, “In The Waiting Line“. That scenario has not materialized (yet) and perhaps it does not really matter.

What matters is that right now there are many ideas of what machinima is and what machinima does – machinima as an artform per se, machinima as an inexpensive yet versatile alternative to digital filmaking, machinima as video commentary about gaming culture for gamers etc. All these ideas are competing with each other right now, but in the future one or possibly two may become dominant and redefine the perceived meaning of machinima. A Kuhnian paradigm shift, if you will.

In just a few months, MIT Press will release The Machinima Reader, edited by two scholars who have written extensively on this topic: Henry Lowood and Michael Nitsche. I believe this collection of essays will simultaneously answers many questions about the nature of the medium and raise new ones.

Given these two parallel art worlds, is it possible to define an “avant garde” and “popular aesthetic” for thinking about the videos which have been produced through and about games?

I love to repeat myself, so I would simply say that the context matters more than the text. That is, the same artifact could be perceived as “avant-garde” or “popular aesthetics” depending on factors like “where”, “how”, “who”, “why” etc. Think of Cory Arcangel’s entire ouevre…

Moreover, a video distributed via YouTube prompts a certain response and attracts a certain crowd (also, for an artist to choose vimeo over YouTube as a channel of distribution has political rather than simply technical/design implications). But if I take the same exact video and show it in a physical art gallery, it will attract a vastly different feedback. Plus, cultural and social biases play a significant role as well in defining the nature of what we consume.

I’ll give you an example. A friend of mine, let’s call her D., recently told me about her experience at Leonard Cohen’s concert in Oakland. D. was born in Poland but lived in the US most of her life. Nevertheless, she still has strong ties with her home country. Once Polish always Polish, so to speak. Anyway, the Canadian singer was playing at the Oracle Arena. His first concert in NorCal after a long hiatus. He’s 77 – in great shape – but still, 77. Now, D., who practically worships Cohen, at one point took out her cellphone to take a picture of the living legend performing on stage. The man seated next to hear – yes, the audience was seated – yes, at a rock concert – tapped on her shoulder to tell her that she was “Being obnoxious and should be “Ashamed of herself”. She also got the stink eye from many other attendees around her (average age: 50-60+) and felt mortified.

When she went home, the first thing she did was opening the browser to check out the videos from previous gigs – Cohen played in Poland as well. The European Eastern crowd (which ranged from twenty-somethings to fifty-somethings) was dancing like crazy, and everybody was taking pictures and recording videos that eventually found their way on YouTube. Thus one act that was considered “disrespectful” and “blasphemous” in one context, was perceived as a heartfelt manifestation of appreciation in another: the more videos and pictures the crowd captures of a performer, the higher the level of appreciation.

The point that I am trying to make is that although Cohen performed the same songs, the reaction from the crowds, the locale, the written/unwritten rules of conduct changed the very nature of the performance. In Oakland, the concert was a religious experience, in Poland a Dionysian party.

Another example. Last Saturday I attended the screening of Mahler on the Couch (Felix Adlon, Percy Adlon, 2010), a film about the life of the famous composer. The most interesting aspect of an otherwise forgettable/predictable story of love and betrayal is a somehow minor episode, that takes place at the very end [MINOR SPOILER AHEAD], when Mahler is fired after a ten-year tenure as the director of the Vienna Opera House. The crowd is outraged by the fact that the new director immediately changed the rules of attendance, forbidding the audience to clap and chat. “Opera used to be fun,” one of the enraged spectator says, “Now it’s only art”.

One of the reasons why the new rules of conduct were imposed so abruptly has more to do with the changing media landscape of the early 20th century than with personal politics. Opera – which used to be a popular form of entertainment – was being challenged by film – a medium still in infancy, still perceived as a technical novelty, a childish, somehow juvenile pastime (Gunning’s “Cinema of attractions”), deemed “artistically” inferior to theater by the intelligentsia of the day (Pastrone’s Cabiria and Griffith’s Birth of the Nation were still a few years away).

So in order to distinguish itself from the increasingly popular new medium, opera “changed” with the introduction of new rules of engagement, new behaviors, new codes of conduct. It became “only art”. The ways we interact – or are expected to interact – with a text change the nature of the text.

Let me give you one last example: Second Life. Second Life looked like a videogame, behaved like a videogame, and yet it was not a videogame. You know why? Because gamers hated it. They found it pointless, cumbersome, boring. They checked out for about ten minutes and then left. This is exactly why the art community found it intriguing and exciting. Finally they had a playspace they could tinker with. Heck, even Chris Marker became a believer. And they did a lot of interesting things. Yet, in many cases, the kind of artists’ performances/practices in Second Life were not essentially different from gamers’ performances/practices in game-spaces. Example. Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101’s “Synthetic Performances” (2007-) is a series of re-enactments of famous art performances (e.g. Marina Abramovic’s Imponderabilia, Vito Acconci’s Seedbed, Chris Burden’s Shoot) in Second Life. How do they differ – conceptually – from gamers’ remakes in LittleBigPlanet? I’m talking about Duckhunt, Pitfall and a million of others? Yes, it’s a rhetorical question.

You seem drawn towards the expressive or performative dimensions of games-related videos rather than the narrative. There has been a long debate in game studies between approaches focused on narratives and approaches focused on game play. Can we see the aesthetic distinction you are making here as reflecting this larger debate about the nature of games as a medium?

I followed that debate from its inception which means that I am very old. It was a clever strategy to put game studies on the academic radar, a perfect example of agenda-setting. It worked well: the Ivory Tower discovered digital gaming, which means we could talk about games without feeling ashamed as long as we – the game scholars, another oxymoron, a lovely one – made the “right” connections with Deleuze, Guattari, Eco, Baudrillard and company. And we could also explore, and map, and colonize the new “virgin” territory, which is always fun.

And we laughed and cried and sat on the edge of our seats for years while the Scandinavian school of Ludologists fought its battles against the US Army of Digital Narratologists. I loved those conversations. (For some reason, I’m thinking of Bryan Ferry’s “More than This: “It was fun for a while/There was no way of knowing/Like a dream in the night/Who can say where we’re going?”). And we all cheered when the armistice was declared.

Although we now pretend to be looking at other issues, that seminal diatribe never really disappeared, like all major diatribes (e.g. “iconoclasts vs. iconolaters”). Mutatis mutantis.

Having said that, what I find exciting is that what we are seeing right now is the emergence of new game aesthetics, brought on by a new generation of designers and artists that use games as a form of expression, as raw material. Young, talented individuals that attended art/design schools and universities that have strong programs in digital media (both theory and practice). “Hands-on” students who read Roland Barthes alongside Judith Butler, Bill Moggridge & Andre Bazin, Michel de Certeau & Erwin Panofsky, Slavoj Zizek and Janet Murray.

Nobody is really surprised by the fact that several influential game critics awarded a tiny, independent production called Limbo, created by a Danish studio called PlayDead, as their favorite game of the year. On the surface, Limbo is a simple side-scroller action/platform game. Deep down, it is a reflection on the human condition, delivered with a black & white, sepia tone aesthetics, minimal soundtrack, etc. etc.

Equally interesting, but on the game criticism side, is the impressive work done by an art student from Washington State, Cory Schmitz, who was able to turn his school projects in some of the most exciting paper-based game/art criticism I’ve seen in a long while – EXP and The Controller. While everybody is hyping the iPad – tablets and e-reader – here we are, celebrating a cellulose-based lascivious fanzine about gaming! Ha! So, to make a long story short, the gaming as a medium is changing dramatically and it’s not really about rules vs. stories anymore. Or maybe it is. Who knows. We are just beginning a new journey into gaming. “A journey which along the way will bring to you new colour, new dimension, new value.”

Grassroots video making around games has, as your selection illustrates, been profoundly shaped by specific gaming platforms — from Quake to Spore and LittleBigPlanet. What can you tell us about how the videomakers represented here work within or against the constraints of those platforms?

Today more than ever, the constraints are more political than technical. That is, while the PC is (still) a (relatively) open platform, consoles (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii) are (still, relatively) closed systems, tightly controlled by the respective manufacturers, which can considerably influence/limit the creative efforts of the game community. The history of the PlayStation 3, for instance, is marked by the continuous struggle between the hackers – that jail-braking the console on a weekly basis – and the Japanese company, which is doing all it can to suppress such “illicit” operations (when the users get tough, the users get sued).

This perfectly exemplifies the dynamics between tactics and strategies described by de Certeau. And the struggles between the producers and the users, the way a company reacts to such creative/disruptive efforts, defines the very nature of that technology – the way you talk, or not talk, about a technology, a feature, etc. So, a hacker who tinkers with the Microsoft Kinect is a creative genius because Microsoft tolerates or even encourages such tinkering (within limits). A hacker who unlocks the PlayStation 3 is “a pirate” and a criminal. “Terrorists” vs. “Freedom fighters”: reality is always defined by who gets to call the shots.

It’s obvious that if I want to create something using LittleBigPlanet as my plaftorm/canvas I need to be aware that my creation could be erased overnight without any warning, that I might be censored by Sony for “copyright infringement”, “offensive content” etc etc. whereas if I mod/hack a PC game, I can have multiple outlets for displaying my creations. I can do interesting and potentially controversial things like a first-person shooter starring Jesus Christ or simulate the battle in Waco, Texas and play a deathmatch game at the MoMa and elsewhere. Nevertheless, there are several levels of LittleBigPlanet that really pushed the boundaries – from the Little Big Cremaster cycle to the re-enactment of 9/11 – that are just waiting to be “discovered” by the Artworld.

Much of the early Machiniema content was focused specifically on the concerns of the gaming community. Yet, many of your examples here connect games-based videoing to larger internet “memes”. What does this suggest about the relative porousness of the cultural communities represented here? What points of contact exists between these games-based video-makers and other kinds of grassroots cultural production in the era of YouTube?

There is a high degree of porousness between mainstream pop culture and the gaming community because today (almost) everything is one click away, instantly accessible 24/7, and content migrates easily from one platform to another, from one screen to the next. In the age of television flow, channel hopping, “500-channels and nothing to watch” etc., writers and artists invented cut-ups and similar techniques. Today such production is not limited to niches anymore.

In the era of convergence, media literacy has expanded considerably. Finally, thanks to Windows and Facebook geeks became powerful and respected within our society – their fashion, language, and idiosyncrasies/inferiority complexes migrated to the mainstream. Steve Jobs is a rockstar. Julian Assange is the man of the year…

To quote Jen from the I.T. Crowd (S01, e01), “Ideas are coming, things are happening here”. To answer your question, we could certainly come up with a taxonomy of memes – scholars fetishize taxonomies – or a series of case studies – economists love case studies – to get a sense on how digital gaming is influencing other grassroots cultural productions.


Case one. All Your Base Are Belong to Us (1998). A game-based video that becomes an internet meme. By game-based I mean that its “materiality”, i.e. the phrase “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” and game footage used came from a videogame, namely the the 1989 side-scrolling arcade shooter Zero Wing, itself rather niche within the game community dare I say.

Case two. The Downfall/Hitler Meme (2006). In this case, a Spanish game player appropriates a sequence of a film, namely Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004), to express his disappointment about a videogame, Flight Simulator X by Microsoft. The video spreads first within the game community – spawning other game-related spoofs/parodies/responses (my favorite, “Hitler Gets Banned from Xbox Live“), then goes “global”, and, bingo!, next thing you know is that The New York Times is writing about it.

Case three. The Fail meme (2003?). Like “All Your Base Are Belong to Us”, here’s an example of a game-based term, “fail” (from the Engrish line “YOU FAIL IT” from the 1998 Neo Geo video game Blazing Star -also very niche) which was used – right from the inception – to illustrate, visually, examples of failures – failures tout court, not necessarily game-based.

…But we should also remember that there are memes in the Game Art world as well, but they are not necessarily called memes, but “homages”. One recurrent theme among Game Artists to is to recreate a gallery or a museum in a game space with the explicit goal of destroying a) the space itself, b) the artworks it contains, c) eventually, the artists/curators/spectators. The origin of this meme, pardon, theme, can be traced back to ArsDoom (1995), Created in 1995 by Orhan Kipcak and Reini Urban, ArsDoom was shown at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz the same year. Using the Doom II engine and Autodesk’ AutoCAD software, Kipcak and Urban created a virtual copy of the Brucknerhaus’ exhibition hall and invited artists to create or submit virtual artworks that could be displayed in the new map. Armed with a shooting cross, a chainsaw or a brush the player could kill the artists and destroy all the artworks on display.

Others point to Palle Torsson and Tobias Bernstrup’s Museum Meltdown (1996) as the main culprit. These two enfants terribles – at that time art students in Scandinavia – created a mod of Duke Nuke’m 3D that allowed the “player” to destroy everything that moved – and did not move, like paintings – on the screen. This idea spread like fire in the Game Art community, and became an almost required practice. A playful subversion the rules of the Artworld by using videogames became a rite of passage among art students… Among the others: Chris Reilly’s Everything I Do is Art, But Nothing I Do Makes Any Difference, Part II Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gallery(2006), Michiel Van Der Zanden’s Museum Killer (2008) and Christopher Wyant’s Team Fortress 2 Ceramics (2011).

In short, endless fun.

Matteo Bittanti is an Adjunct Professor in the Visual Studies Program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland. He writes about technology, film, games, and popular culture for various publications (WIRED, Rolling Stone, LINK, Duellanti). His online projects include GameScenes, a blog about game-based art.

DIY Media 2010: Video and Gaming Culture (Part Two)

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following selection of videos was curated by Matteo Bittanti, a Social Science Research Associate at Stanford Humanities Lab.


Seakitten Collective (Belgium)


genre: the video uses a blend of real footage and in-game footage

keywords: LittleBigPlanet, fandom, comedy

LittleBigRevenge uses a blend of real footage and in-game footage of Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet in a creative and engaging way The video, starring the game avatars Sackboy and Sackgirl, asks the viewers “what would happen if a diplomatic mistake causes [sackboys] to take revenge on humanity? A Belgian couple finds out right in their living room…”

“MTBig Planet”

DanteNeverDies (Spain)


genre: machinima music video

keywords: Music video, Montage, parody

An irresistible spoof of famous dance music videos created with Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet. PlayList: Flatbeat – Mr Oizo; Sing it Back – Moloko; Satisfaction – Benny Bennasi; Destination Calabria – Alex Gaudino; Right Here Right Now – FatboySlim; Who’s Your Daddy – Benny Bennassi; Starlight – Supermen Lovers; DANCE – Justice; My Boobs are Ok – Lene Alexandre; Hey Boy; Hey Girl – The Chemical Brothers; Call on me – Eric Prydz; Invaders Must Die – The Prodigy; One More Time – Daft Punk.


DanteNeverDies (Spain)


genre: machinima music video

keywords: Music video, Montage, parody

A visual medley of Draft Punk’s most celebrated songs recreated with Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet by DanteNeverDies.

“I’m On a Boat”

Matthew Gallant (Canada)


genre: machinima music video

keywords: Machinima Music Video, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Nintendo), Saturday Night Live

Matthew Gallant mixes Saturday Night Live with Zelda and creates the (explicit) Wind Waker version of I’m On a Boat. In his own words: “Like all stupid ideas, it began on the Internet”

“Half-Life2: All sounds replaced with my voice”

-Trase- aKa Patcher aKa Tr45e (Ukraine)


genre: Gameplay footage

keywords: BHuman beat Box, Mod,

The author replaced 1327 sound files with his voice (“I did not edit any of them, its fresh from the microphone”). The result is incredibly funny and started a new meme on the internt. (He left untouched: “Ambient noises like wind; some zombie voices; character voices (it would sound dumb); maybe i missed some minor physics like a trap door hidden somewhere in ravenholm and no one ever opens it”).

“Infinite Mario AI -Long Level”

Robin Baumgarten (United Kingdom)


genre: Gameplay footage, speedrun

keywords: speedrun, skill, AI, music

This incredible video won the Super Mario Competition in September 2009 which invited players to submit their game performances. Robin Baumgarten, a PhD student at Imperial College, London, produced an enhanced run which pulls off a major coup halfway through when it walljumps out of a pit. In his own words: In this version of Mario, when you’re jumping while sliding on a wall, you jump backwards and upwards away from it”).

“Project Blackjack: Trials HD – Stunt Video”

BLKJ Son (United States)


genre: Gameplay footage with Music (Bonnie Tayler’s “I Need a Hero”)

keywords: Skill, Trials HD, montage

Videos stunts performed in Trials HD, a motorbike game available on Xbox Live arcade. The author – BLKJ Son – presumably filmed his television screen and edited the video adding a rock soundtrack (the screams and wows from the player can be heard as well). BLKJ Son’s description: ” Trials HD is the sickest game ever. You know how we get down … BLKJ Son”. I law the “raw footage” nature of this video.

“What A Wonderful L4D”

James McVinnie (originally from the UK, living in Canada)


genre Edited gameplay Footage with soundtrack

keywords: Gameplay, montage, music

This video creates a powerful cognitive dissonance by juxtaposing scenes from the ultra-violent horror game Left 4 Dead (Valve) and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. The effect is similar to Microsoft’s famous TV ad for “Gears of Wars” featuring Gary Jule’s “Mad World”.

In his own words: “I play Left 4 Dead waaaay too much. It deserves a vid. Please ignore the lag spikes and such, i rushed this out over 2 days and didn’t really have time to fix up all the bugs. The reason Louis doesnt make much of an appearance is the fact that i’m always Louis, so he was doing all the camera work.”

What a Wonderful Left 4 Dead (Machinima) from James McVinnie on Vimeo.

“The Adventures of Ledo and iX”

Emil Carmichael (US)


genre Game-Inspired Animation

keywords: Homage, 16-bit aesthetics, lo-fi

The Adventures of Ledo & Ix online is a low-fi (but conceptually rich) five minute faux-16-bit short by Emily ‘Kid Can Drive’ Carmichael.

In His Own Words: “In many ways, Ledo and Ix are just like us. Sleeping under the stars makes them philosophical. Sometimes they wonder if they should have chosen different careers. They avoid dens of monsters when possible. But in one crucial way, they’re different–they’re fantasy adventurers in an extremely small-scale video game epic. What exactly do video game characters do when we’re not around? What if they chat and bicker like we do, wonder and dream like we do, feel boredom and dread like we do, despite being 48 pixels tall? A sort of eight-bit tribute to Waiting for Godot, The Adventures of Ledo and Ix uses the visual vocabulary of retro video games to explore the human fear of both the unknown and the known.”

“Creepy Mario 64”

LightningWolf3 (US)


genre Manipulated Game Footage of Super Mario 64 (Nintendo)

keywords: Gameplay Footage

A manipulated version of Super Mario 64 that evokes David Lynch’s cinematic nightmares.

Matteo Bittanti is an Adjunct Professor in the Visual Studies Program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland. He writes about technology, film, games, and popular culture for various publications (WIRED, Rolling Stone, LINK, Duellanti). His online projects include GameScenes, a blog about game-based art.

DIY Media 2010: Video and Gaming Culture (Part One)

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following is the curator’s statement from Matteo Bittanti, a Social Science Research Associate at Stanford Humanities Lab.

I have always been fascinated by the tension between different forms of cultural productions, by the ongoing diatribe between the artistic nature of gaming, which to me has much more to do with the notion of gaming as a set of practices rather than gaming as a specific set of artifacts. That is: I am more interested in understanding the broad range of gaming performances by different social players than defining/defending a canon. A key assumption is that there is nothing intrinsically artistic about the medium of the videogame – or any medium/artform for that matter, although one could argue that “interactivity” is the special ingredient that does the magic for digital games. Whatever. It all comes down to rhetoric. As for art, well, it is simply a label, a socially constructed definition that serves a political, ideological, and economic agenda.

My selection for the DIY festival juxtaposed two forms of game-related productions that are simultaneously close – in terms of aesthetics – and distant – in relation to their cultural positioning. There are several fan-made productions -e.g. the LittleBigPlanet music videos – that have limited “artistic” appeal, that is, are extremely popular and well received among gamers but ignored/dismissed in the “official” artworld – that is, the marketplace that values sharks in formaldehyde and museum sit-ins performances. And there are a few “artistic” productions that are highly regarded among art practitioners, but unknown/dismissed or even derided by “gamers”. There are two set of mutually exclusive forms of capital at play in two different factions/subculture: the “gaming capital” of gamers celebrating skill-based performances (e.g. speedruns, stunts, replays, machinima that expand/reflect upon/joke about the narrative world of the games they are based on, and so on) and the “cultural capital” of the artworld – that rewards marketable ideas and intents (e.g. illustrating, via a specific installation to be installed in a specific context – an art gallery – the ‘essence of the gaming medium’, ‘its effects on human psyche’, ‘the commodification of leisure’, ‘the game of identity’, ‘the blurring between the so-called real and the so-called ‘virtual”, ‘hacking/modding as a political subversion’ etc. etc.).

While they both use digital games a platform/canvas//raw material for creative expression, their nature as fan-art objects or artistic artifacts is not specifically defined by technical craft, but by a dispositif/apparatus that is both cultural (thus social =>human-based) and technical (machine-based). A network that comprises both human beings in various contexts (intellectual production/criticism/consumption) and automated delivery systems (e.g. Youtube, vimeo, flickr etc). Just to clarify: I am not suggesting that a speedrun is not artistic. The matter to me is almost irrelevant. I am just saying that until an influential art critic demonstrates that a speedrun is “artistic” by placing it in a socially recognized artistic context (e.g. a museum, an art gallery, a prestigious film festival), a speedrun will remain confined to a fan-only context. The context is everything. If I can have my speedrun on display at the Gagosian, Saatchi, or at the MoMa, I can sell it in the market place for $$$ – if that’s my goal. Clearly, in order to sell my speedrun for $$$, I need the aforementioned influential art critic(s) that will justify the market value of my piece with a convincing critical assessment that will explain/justify/make up its cultural relevance to a broader public, a public unfamiliar with – and likely uninterested in – the conventions/language/aesthetics of the medium.

This also applies to those videogame-based artworks that have acquired weight (= market value) in the “official” artworld – I’m thinking about works by artists such as Cory Arcangel, Miltos Manetas, Joseph Delappe, Feng Mengbo and more (but not many more). For instance, I consider Miltos Manetas the first machinima-maker not because he was the first one to make machinima – today being “first” only matters if you’re writing comments online, and especially if you are a troll – but because he was the first one to have his game-based videos recognized as a significant, groundbreaking artistic achievements by a critic who matters (Nicolas Bourriaud), in a NY gallery that matters, in the mid-Nineties, while the Ill Clan was creating the first Quake movies. Obviously, if one’s goal is to gain reputation, admiration and status within the gaming community by being the greatest player in the world, the most skilled performer, the greatest e-athlete, the funniest commentator, then she/he will not give a toss about “Art”. Or pretend not to: dismissing the artworld as “irrelevant” in today’s society is instrumental in acquiring/increasing/solidifying street cred in other contexts.

This eclectic selection features a variety of video-game videos ranging from gameplay footage to game music videos. The main criterion behind this extravagant assortment is the urgent need to redefine the very notion of machinima in order to include the most enthralling audiovisual experiments produced, shared, and discussed by and within the game community. It also represents an explicit criticism toward the narrative-based machinima: the vast majority of the videos included steer clear of a traditional, conventional, linear form of narration. The success of DIY/Sandbox games like Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet and the proliferation of movie editing tools have spawned a new generation of creators that transcend the confines of game culture. This is a small sample is by no means an adequate reflection of the ginormous (sic) production of game videos currently floating in the seven seas of the electronets. Nonetheless, I hope you’ll find them interesting. Expect the unexpected.

Street Fighter Deconstructed

Dylan Hayes (US)


genre: gameplay videos

keywords: abstract, deconstructionism; glitch art

Dylan Hayes is literally tearing down Capcom’s Street Fighter to its constituent parts in order to bring in the foreground the true essence of this seminal beat’em up game. The result is a series of mesmerizing experiments in ludic abstractionism and glitch art that nostalgically evoke an 8-bit past that never was. We begin with “Palette Change Test” (described by the author as “palette change tests on SFII. almost 8-bit, i kinda dig it”), we continue with “Shapes” only to end with “Block Test 01”, where the original game is so deconstructed that it becomes almost unrecognizable.

Palette Change Test from Dylan Hayes on Vimeo.

Shapes 02 from Dylan Hayes on Vimeo.

Block Tests 01 from Dylan Hayes on Vimeo.

DM Spectrum

Matthew Bradley (UK)


genre: gameplay video and teaser of a computer mod

keywords: teaser, gameplay video, music, abstract

DM-Spectrum is a custom UT3 deathmatch level developed by Matthew Bradley. The video selection includes a teaser and a gameplay video.

DM-Spectrum from Matthew Bradley on Vimeo.

DM_Spectrum Gameplay from Matthew Bradley on Vimeo.

Matteo Bittanti is an Adjunct Professor in the Visual Studies Program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland. He writes about technology, film, games, and popular culture for various publications (WIRED, Rolling Stone, LINK, Duellanti). His online projects include GameScenes, a blog about game-based art.

Introduction to Communications Technologies

For those who might be interested, this entry has been translated into Ukrainian by Aloyna Lompar”>here.

Well, it is hard for me to believe that the University of Southern California semester starts back today. I think spending 20 years at MIT spoiled me. MIT has this glorious month long “Independent Activity Period”, which allows faculty to both catch up on their own research and to test innovative new ideas, host public lectures, and otherwise engage in the intellectual life of the university. It was my favorite time of the academic year and I could use it this year as I have been grinding all break trying to finish up our (Sam Ford, Joshua Green, and my) new book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society. I will be saying more about the book here throughout the year, but for the moment, let me just say that our draft is so close to being done that we can taste it!

That said, I am also very excited to be teaching my first big lecture hall class since moving to USC. At MIT, my biggest class was 75, while enrollment for this class is over 200 students. I have a great team of TAs to help with the teaching. This class is one which rotates between a range of Annenberg faculty and is intended to introduce undergraduates to basic issues around technology and society. I am using new media in two senses here — one is focused specifically on digital and mobile technologies, the wave of emerging communication tools and practices that have emerged over the past few decades and the other is focused on the process by which any emerging media technology gets absorbed into the culture. So, there is a constant movement in the class between contemporary and historical developments. For example, the first session we will watch The Honeymooners episode (“To TV or To Not TV”) where the two couples go in together and buy a television set. Lynn Spigel introduced me to this episode several decades ago and it remains a staple in my teaching because it shows so many of the conflicts and tensions which surrounded the introduction of television into the home. I will then unpack it for a lecture, drawing on ideas from Raymond Williams and Nancy Baym, about the social construction of technologies. And from there, we will venture into the early history of the web. I am hoping that this constant movement between past and present will off-set a tendency to talk about new media as if they were without precedent and as if their social impacts were inescapable.

I’ve thought a lot going into this class about the issue of laptop use in large lecture hall classes and we’ve decided to make that issue an explicit part of our strategies for the class. Specifically, we are going to be deploying a Backchannel platform which we have experimented with at the Futures of Entertainment conferences back at MIT. It allows people to post questions and for the audience to vote them up or down so that one gets a rough ranking of their priority for the group as a whole. The questions will be projected onto a second screen in front of the class. This will allow me to respond on the fly to what the audience is thinking and at the same time, ideally, will keep laptop use focused on what’s going on in the class. We will see what happens.

Anyway, I have made it a habit since moving to USC to post my new syllabi on this blog for anyone who might be interested. So here’s the syllabus for my Intro class. You will see that I’ve worked hard to find the most accessible versions of certain arguments, including the use of interviews, bog posts, and journalistic writing by key thinkers on issues of media change.

For those wondering, I will also be teaching my graduate seminar on New Media Literacies this semester. This is the version of the syllabus I posted last year, which still forms the core of what I am doing this term. The key difference is that I will be involving my students in developing and teaching lessons through an afterschool program which Project New Media Literacies will be launching this semester through the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles. I will have more to say about this down the line.

Henry Jenkins

COMM 202

Introduction to Communications Technology

This course is intended as an introduction to the ways new and emerging communications technologies impact our culture. While the primary focus will be on digital and mobile technologies and practices (contemporary new media), the course will also consider a range of older media when they were new – including print culture, cinema, television, recorded sound, photography, and the telephone. The course is divided into three broad units:

  • Understanding Technological Change is intended to offer broad conceptual frameworks for thinking about the relations between technology and culture.
  • Reinventing… takes as its starting point the ways that the emergence of digital, networked, and mobile communications technology has impacted pre-existing media forms.
  • Rethinking… examines a range of institutions and practices as they are re-imagined in response to the introduction of new communications technologies.

Taken as a whole, this class will introduce students to:

  • Core issues concerning the study of communications technologies
  • The process of media in transition
  • The ways that new media impact existing media and institutions
  • Core digital platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, eBay, Flickr, Second Life, etc.) and the ways they are reshaping our everyday lives.

The course readings are intended to introduce core thinkers and debates surrounding these technological and cultural shifts. And student assignments are designed to introduce a range of research methods and conceptual models commonly deployed to examine the interface between new communications technologies and cultural practices.


1. Participation in online forum. Every week, students will be expected to use Blackboard’s Forum to share a core question or thought that emerges from the assigned readings. These questions can be a paragraph or so and informal, but they are intended to help the instructors better understand how the students are relating to the class materials and content. Such questions are also intended as springboards for the recitation session. (20 percent)

2. Autobiographical essay. Students will draft a short (5 page) essay exploring their own relationship to new communications technologies and practices. There are many valid ways of approaching this assignment. You might describe a particular program you use regularly and how it impacts your day to day activities. You might trace your evolving relations to computers from elementary school to the present. You might describe a specific activity that is important to you and talk about the range of technologies you deploy in the pursuit of these interests. In each case, the paper is going to be evaluated based on the ways you deploy your personal experience to construct an argument about the nature of new communications technologies and practices and their impact on everyday life. The more specific you can be at pointing to uses of these technologies, the better. You do not need to make sweeping arguments about “Today’s Society” but you do need to argue how they impacted specific aspects of your own experience. (10 percent)

3. Contextualizing a YouTube video. Each video on YouTube has a story. While it can be hard to trace the origins of some of these videos, each was posted by someone, for some reason. Most reflect ongoing conversations within particular subculture communities. Each may inspire comments either as written texts or response videos. And each may travel from YouTube to other communities through social networking tools. Choose a video and help us to better understand where it came from, how it relates to the existing genres of participation on YouTube, how the YouTube community responded to the video, and how it has been taken up by other online communities. Tell us that story in a five page analytic essay. The core goal of this paper is analysis and documentation, not description. You will be expected to refer to specific outside sources to support your core factual claims. You will be evaluated based on the amount of research performed, on the quality of the analysis you offer, on how you build off concepts from the readings and the lectures to help frame your analysis (including, ideally, direct references to specific readings), and on how well you understanding the nature of the new communications environment. (20 Percent)

4. Reporting on Wikipedia. Identify a Wikipedia entry that has undergone substantial revision. Review the process by which the entry was written and the debates which have surrounded its revision. Write a five-page essay discussing what you learn about the process by which Wikipedia entries are produced and vetted. How does the discussion and debate around the entry draw on the core principles of the Wikipedia community? Again, this paper is intended to combine research and analysis. You will be evaluated based on the amount of research performed, on the quality of the analysis you offer, on how you build off concepts from the readings and the lectures to help frame your analysis (including, ideally, direct references to specific readings), and on how well you understanding the nature of the new communications environment. (20 Percent)

5. Midterm and Final Exams. The exams will be open-notes, open-text. They will combine identification terms, short answer, and essay questions. The terms and essay questions will be selected from a list circulated in advance. The Midterm Exam will cover material from the first two units of the class; the final exam will cover material in the final unit. (15 Percent for each exam)

Students will be allowed to revise one of the three essays to be considered for a higher grade. The paper must be turned in at least two weeks after the original paper was returned. The grade will only be raised if the revisions substantively address one or more of the criteria for the paper’s evaluation. Students who simply correct cosmetic or grammatical errors identified by the grader will not receive a higher score.

Assigned Books:

James Paul Gee and Elisabeth R. Hayes, Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010)

Remaining readings can be found on the course’s Blackboard site.

Part One: Understanding Technological Change

Week 1

January 10 Overview of the Course; Thinking about Technological Change

screen: The Honeymooners, “To TV or Not To TV”

January 12 The Problem of Technological Determinism

Raymond Williams, “The Technology and The Society,” Television: Technology and

Cultural Form (New York: Schoken, 1974)

Nancy Baym, “Making New Media Make Sense,” Personal Connection in the Digital

Age (New York: Polity, 2010)

William Boddy, “The Amateur, the Housewife, and the Salesroom Floor: Promoting Post-War U.S. Television,” New Media and the Popular Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Week 2

January 17 NO CLASS

January 19 The Origins of Digital Culture

Steven Levy, “The Tech Model Railroad Club” and “The Homebrew Computer Club,”

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (New York: Anchor, 1984)

Fred Turner, “The Shifting Politics of the Computational Metaphor,” From

Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network, and

the Rise of Digital Utopianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Week 3

January 24 The Myth of the Digital Revolution

Nicholas Negroponte, “The Post-Information Age,” Being Digital (New York: Vintage,1995)

John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” 1996

John Battelle, “The Data Base of Intentions,” The Search: How Google and Its Rivals

Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture (New York: Portfolio, 2006)

Chris Anderson, “The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet,” Wired, August 2010

January 26 From Mass Culture to Participatory Culture

Henry Jenkins, “Nine Propositions Towards a Cultural Theory of YouTube,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, May 28 2007.

Henry Jenkins, “What Happened Before YouTube,” in Joshua Green and Jean Burgess,

YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture (New York: Polity, 2009)

Andrew Keen vs. David Weinberger,” The Wall Street Journal, July 18 2007.

Week 4

January 31 From Technological Utopianism to Steampunk

Howard P. Segal, “The Technological Utopians”, Technological Utopianism in American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985)

Bruce Sterling, “Introduction,” Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (New York: Ace, 1988)

Sharon Steel, “Steam Dream,” The Boston Phoenix, May 19, 2008.

February 2 From Pirates to Policy Makers

Debora L. Spar, “The View from Partena,” Ruling the Waves: From the Compass to the Internet (New York: Mariner, 2003)

Thomas Streeter, “Blue Skies and Strange Bedfellows: The Discourse of Cable

Television,” in Lynn Spigel and Michael Curtin (eds.), The Revolution Wasn’t

Televised: Sixties Television and Social Conflict (London: Routledge, 1997)

Week 5

February 7 Adjusting to a New Media

Lynn Spigel, “Designing the Smart House:Posthuman Domesticity and Conscpicious Production,” in Chris Berry, Soyoung Kim, and Lynn Spigel (eds.) Electronic Elsewheres: Media, Technology and the Experience of Social Space (Minneapolis: University of Minnesotta Press, 2010)

Lisa Gitelman, “New Media Users,” Always Already New: Media, History and the Data of Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006)

February 9 Is Print Culture Endangered?

Sven Birkerts, “The Fate of the Book,” in Sven Birkerts, Tolstoy’s Dictaphone:

Technology and the Muse (Boston: Graywolfe, 1996)

Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic, August 2008.

Clay Shirky, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” Clay Shirky, March 13, 2009.

Part Two Reinventing…

Week 6

February 14 The Library

James J. O’Donnell, “From the Alexandrian Library to The Virtual Library and Beyond”

and “From the Codex Page to the Homepage,” Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998)

Scott D. N. Cook, “Technological Revolutions and the Guttenberg Myth,” in Mark Stefik (ed.) Internet Dreams: Archetypes, Myths, and Metaphors (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996).

February 16 Television

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming),Chapter 4.

Week 7

February 21 NO CLASS

February 23 Music

William W. Fischer, “The Promise of New Technology” and “An Alternative

Compensation System,” Promises to Keep: Technology, Law and the Future of Entertainment (San Francisco: Stanford University Press, 2004)

Sam Carroll, “The Practical Politics of Step-Stealing and Textual Poaching: YouTube, Audio-visual Media and Contemporary Swing Dancers Online,” Convergence, 2008, 14, 183-204.

Week 8

February 28 The Telephone

Claude S. Fischer, “Educating the Public,” America Calling: A Social History of

the Telephone (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994)

Misa Matsuda, “Discourses of Keitai in Japan,” Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006)

March 2 Midterm Exam

Part Three: Rethinking…

Week 9

March 7 Production

Trebor Scholz and Paul Hartzog, “Towards a Critique of the Social Web,” Re-Public: Reimagining Democracy

Axel Bruns, “Who Controls the Means of Produsage?,” Re-Public: Reimagining


Jeff Howe, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” Wired, June 2006.

Brendon I. Koerner, “Geeks in Toyland,” Wired, February 2006.

March 9 Consumption

Tim O’Reilly, “What is Web 2.0,” O’Reilly Media, September 30, 2005.

Cory Doctorow, “The Branding of Billy Bailey,” A Place So Foreign and Eight More

(San Francisco: Running Press, 2003)

Week 10

March 14 NO CLASS

March 16 NO CLASS

Week 11

March 21 Circulation

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media:

Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society, (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming), Chapters 1-2, 6

March 23 Innovation

Kevin Driscoll, “The Hip Hop Approach,” Stepping Your Game Up: Technical Innovation Among Young People of Color in Hip-Hop, MIT Master’s thesis, 2009.

Jonathon Zitrain, “The Generative Internet,” Harvard Law Review 119.7, 2006

Week 12

March 28 Privacy

danah boyd, “Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity,” South by Southwest, March 13 2010.

March 30 Knowledge

Henry Jenkins, “Spoiling Survivor,” Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006)

Andrew Lih, “Community at Work (The Piranha Effect),” The Wikipedia Revolution (New York: Hyperion, 2009)

Week 13

April 4 Learning

“Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: A Conversation with the Digital

Youth Project,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, November 21, November 24,

November 26, 2008,

Jeffrey J. Williams, “Culture and Policy: An Interview with Mark Bauerlein,” The Minnesota Review, Winter 2005.

April 6 Play

James Paul Gee and Elisabeth R. Hayes, Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010)

Week 14

April 11 Community

Julian Dibell, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” The Village Voice, December 23, 1993

danah boyd, “White Flight in Networked Publics? How Race and Class

Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook.” in Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White, Digital Race Anthology (London: Routledge, forthcoming).

April 13 The Public Sphere

Dayna Cunningham, “Can African-Americans Find Their Voice in Cyberspace?,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, March 2009.

Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change,” The New Yorker, October 2, 2010.

Week 15

April 18 Piracy

Nancy Baym, “The New Shape of Online Community: The Example of Swedish Independent Music Fandom,” First Monday, May 16, 2007.

Mizuko Ito, “Contributors Vs. Leechers: Fansubbing Ethics and a Hybrid Public

Culture,” Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011)

April 20 Originality

Lawrence Lessig, “Re-Examining the Remix,”

Aram Sinnreich, “Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” Mashed-Up: Music,

Technology and the Rise of Configurable Culture (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010)

Week 16

April 25 Final Reflections: What Happens Next

April 27 Review for Final Exam