The More We Know: Academic Games Research and Industry Collaboration (Part One)

The following is an excerpt from the foreword I wrote for a new MIT Press book, The More We Know: NBC News, Educational Innovation, and Learning from Failure, which was authored by two of my former MIT colleagues Eric Klopfer and Jason Haas. Klopfer and Haas are part of the Learning Games Network, a joint initiative between games-based learning researchers at MIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it describes the iCue project, which began while I was still back in Cambridge. First, a bit from my foreword, and then, over the next few installments, an interview with Kopfer, Haas and Alex Chisholm about this book, which recounts some of the potentials and pitfalls in collaborations between industry and academia:

Three immovable objects walked into a bar. The first was the current world of corporate media (and especially what remains of traditional network news), the second was the current world of higher education (as it lurches towards new funding models and institutional practices), and the third, perhaps, the most immovable and intractable of them all, was the current policy and institutional mess we call public education (which is shaped by a profound mismatch between what we know of how students learn and policies setting standards that in no way reflect those insights). Each wanted to buy the others a drink, give them something that might ease their stress, sooth their tempers, or at least let them forget their problems.  But they couldn’t agree on what the ingredients of this beverage should be, or how it should be paid for, or how they should decide what it should contain, or what kind of relationship would be implied by the buying and selling of drinks, or in what order they should be drinking or....

[Imagine there’s a punchline somewhere around here.]

This is the story of the book you hold in your hand reduced to the level of a farce, as in you’d best keep laughing in order to keep from crying. But of course, the iCue saga is more than a farce. It might also be called a tragedy, in which the best of intentions are waylaid, malformed, and brought low through a series of fatal flaws which prevent each of these institutions from fully embracing change, which block them from seeing the future that the others see so clearly, or which require them to sell out what they value the most if they are going to make any progress forward.  Yet, calling the story you are about to read a tragedy is to imply that it was a perfect failure from start to finish.

And we all know nothing’s perfect.

In fact, as The More We Know makes clear, there were many localized successes along the way and as a consequence of the efforts described herein, other good things have happened. It is rather a story about imperfect failures and imperfect successes, about unintended consequences, unreached goals, and unanticipated results.

It is also an epic, involving a constantly changing cast of characters, each embodying as any good epic does, the contradictions of their times, and featuring multiple heroes, who push greater boulders up to the tops of high hills, only to watch them roll back down again.

The More We Know is also an adventure story set on the bleeding edge of innovation and reform, one which will offer some guideposts for those of you who would follow in the protagonist’s footsteps. There are relatively few post mortems on how great ideas and good intentions do not always turn out the way we expect. I would probably put this on my book shelf next to Brenda Laurel’s Utopian Entrepreneur, which describes the rise and fall of Purple Moon and the girls game movement, or perhaps Sandy Stone’s account of working at the early days of Atari. It certainly, as the authors suggest, provides a personal and extended example to illustrate some of what Mimi Ito has told us about the creation of educational software or what Collins and Halverson have suggested about the resistance of educational institutions to new technologies and practices.

Whatever its genre, The More We Know is the story of the people in the trenches on the front lines of media change and the authors, themselves key participants, tell it very well here....

In our classrooms, we were teaching our students that media change takes place through evolution rather than revolution, but in our labs, we still wanted to change the world, we wanted to blow down the walls and reshape core institutions, and we were painfully, awkwardly, sweetly naive. The path forward turned out to be harder than idealists predicted but not nearly as impossible as skeptics and cynics might insist.

The book you hold in your hands describes some of the walls we hit and the ways our faculty,research staff, and students worked around and through them. My hope is that readers will take from this the right set of lessons.  We succeeded sometimes, failed sometimes, and learned a great deal always about what it takes to make change in the imperfect world around us. The More We Know is not a warning to “avoid this path - there be monsters here”; it is a challenge to “follow us if you dare.”




The More We Know is, in some senses, what game designers would call a "postmortem." What do you see as the value of this genre of writing and why do you think we see so few postmortems coming out of academic research projects compared to their prominence within the games industry?

Much of this boils down to how differently industry and academia perceive “failure.”  There is a perception within academia that funding follows success, and that small, successful projects attract bigger funding.  In industry, there is (at least sometimes) a feeling that failure can lead to learning for teams, which, in turn, become more fundable based on that learning.  This means that in academia we only want to talk about successes.

There is another issue, though.  For academia, we perceive failure to be a failure of our product—the thing we made.  But in industry one can perceive failure any place in a system - failure of marketing, timing, audience, etc.  They can think about the whole ecology surrounding the product.  Academics aren’t as prone to thinking about these things as much.  As such, we feel the failure to be much more personal,  even as the failure of academic products can be attributed to many parts of that ecosystem as well.


Describe to us the iCue project. What were its initial goals? What problems was it intended to address? What partners did it try to bring together?


Stated simply, the iCue project was originally conceived to bring younger people to the NBC News brand while supporting important learning goals through the repurposing of old media assets and the creation of a new digital experience.  More pragmatically, NBC News needed a cost-effective strategy to digitize its vast archives without breaking the bank.  Education and the perceived abundance of technology funding in schools provided the roadmap for what this project could possibly be.

The original pitch for iCue was that it was one part media archive, one part social learning network, and one part learning games and activities.  iCue was imagined to provide young people with media and tools for learning in a more engaging way, creating a bridge between the curricula and traditional media their teachers were comfortable with on the one hand and the interactive world in which they’ve grown up on the other. It was intended to be supplemental, enabling teachers and students to engage with it in support of Advanced Placement curricula in English Composition, U.S. History, and U.S. Government.  Since NBC News is a broadcast company with radio and television assets extending back to the very earliest days of broadcasting, project leaders sought to bring together a diverse set of education, archive, and print partners, including the College Board, Washington Post, and the New York Times, among others.



Eric Klopfer is Professor and Director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program and The Education Arcade at MIT.  Klopfer's research focuses on the development and use of computer games and simulations for building understanding of science and complex systems. He is the co-author of the book, Adventures in Modeling: Exploring Complex, Dynamic Systems with StarLogo, and author of Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games from MIT Press.  Klopfer is also the co-founder and President of the non-profit Learning Games Network.

Jason Haas is Graduate Research Assistant in the Media Lab and in The Education Arcade at MIT. His research focuses on the design and efficacy of learning games. Recent research and design has been for The Radix Endeavor, a Gates Foundation-funded MMORPG for science and math learning. Previous research has involved the role of narrative in learning in the casual physics games Woosh, Waker, and Poikilia and in large-scale collective intelligence gaming  in Vanished.

Alex Chisholm is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Learning Games Network, a non-profit organization bridging the gap between research and practice in game-based learning.  He has collaborated on product and program development with Microsoft, LeapFrog, NBC Universal, BrainPOP, Federal Reserve Bank-New York, and the Hewlett and Gates Foundations, among others.

Spreadable Media Goes Retro: Pass It Along!

We continue this week with the process of rolling out the essays commissioned to accompany Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture,   the book I wrote with Sam Ford and Joshua Green and which is being released to the world at the end of January, 2013. You can start to get a sense of the shape of the book's argument by reading these essays, week by week, as they get unleashed upon the world. This week, for example, we are sharing essays which are designed to accompany the book's second chapter -- Reappraising the Residual -- which explores competing regimes of value, competing processes of appraisal, and especially the ways that old media content might regain value from the ways it moves within and across social networks online.

For those who would like a bit more of a road map of Spreadable Media, below is the breakdown of the chapters:

Introduction: Why Media Spreads                                                                                                               

Chapter One: Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong

Chapter Two: Reappraising the Residual

Chapter Three: The Value of Media Engagement

Chapter Four: What Constitutes Meaningful Participation?

Chapter Five: Designing for Spreadability

Chapter Six: Courting Supporters for Independent Media

Chapter Seven: Thinking Transnationally



To learn more about the book, check out our main website. You can go there to read the whole essays (or follow the links below).

We strongly encourage you to spread these essays through your own social networks, repost them on your blogs -- all we ask is that you acknowledge the authors and the fact that they are associated with our book.   Thanks to all of you who have recirculate previous essays we've released.


Today’s big brands are all rooted in the past. Tide, Coca-Cola, BMW, and even Apple are all connected to bygone decades. When these brands extend and use their existing brand name to introduce a new product or service, the past meanings and images that it invokes become an important element to be managed, understood, wielded, and shaped by managers. This short essay discusses and analyzes a form of brand extension strategy that has gained prominence, in which tired or even abandoned brands have been reanimated and successfully relaunched. Management will deliberately reach into the past and consciously seek to gain new value from old brands and the meaningful relationships they convey. Stephen Brown (2001) terms this a “retro revolution” in which the revival of old brands and their images have become an increasingly attractive option for marketing managers. Over the past decade, I have been involved either independently or with coauthors in a growing body of research that looks at how the past is consumed, valued, revalued, and managed, beginning with a study of the values and images of the Wal-Mart retail chain (Arnold, Kozinets, and Handelman 2001). Stephen Brown, John Sherry, and I define retrobranding as “the revival or relaunch of a product or service brand from a prior historical period, which is usually but not always updated to contemporary standards of performance, functioning, or taste,” seeing retro goods as “brand-new, old-fashioned offerings” (2003b, 20). Old brands retain value simply by being old: the value of nostalgia, the so-called retro appeal. There is also value in the communal or cultural relationships that the brand has built over its lifetime. Finally, there are values on an individual level that relate to the former two other values.

In a set of studies cutting across three different retro, “cult brand” products—the Volkswagen Beetle, Star Wars, and Quisp breakfast cereal—Brown, Sherry, and I have sought to explain the underlying principles of retrobranding and the way consumers responded to it (2003a, 2003b). The VW Beetle was a popular car associated with the 1960s era and hippies and also immortalized in Disney’s Herbie films, a series of four films originating with 1968’s hit The Love Bug (the series itself later updated and retrobranded into Herbie: Fully Loaded, a 2005 motion picture starring Lindsay Lohan). Star Wars is one of the most successful media franchises of all time. And Quisp cereal is an American breakfast cereal released in the 1960s using cartoon advertising created by Jay Ward, the creator of cult animation hit Rocky and Bullwinkle, and employing some of the same voice talents.

In each case, the entertainment connections of the brand have helped spur a type of residual and actual “brand fandom” that led to the possibility of a revival. In the case of the VW Beetle, this was the 1998 launch of the VW New Beetle. For Star Wars, it was the much-maligned 1999 prequel The Phantom Menace. For Quisp cereal, it was the quiet and limited redistribution of the cereal into select markets in the 1980s, after it had languished without support since the late 1970s. As well, Quisp’s fan-spurred and eBay-supported emergence in the mid-1990s marked it as the first so-called Internet cereal.



Existing in dialectical tension with contemporary games which trumpet their photorealistic graphics, sprawling storyworlds, and intricate, extended, networked play, retrogames preserve and celebrate a prior era of gaming often referred to as a “golden age” of arcade standards (such as Asteroids, Tempest, and Donkey Kong) from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Increasingly, the category also covers the decade that followed the industry crash of 1983, when the locus of gaming shifted to home consoles such as the Nintendo and Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES and SNES), the Sega Genesis and Dreamcast, and home microcomputers such as the Commodore 64 and Amiga, as well as the first generation of PCs and Macintoshes. Compared with games for contemporary consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 that occupy gigabytes of memory, resurrections of 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit video and computer games look like the mathematically downscaled primitives they are: their blocky resolutions, limited color palettes, and blip-bleep-bloop sound reproduction are matched by equally simple and repetitive gameplay. However, retrogames are not hopelessly antiquated museum pieces lacking the good sense to stay buried in gaming history. Their continued presence complicates easy (and industry-friendly) conceptions of technological and aesthetic progress, in which the newest equals the best equals the most expensive.

Older games thrive alongside their more sophisticated descendants, gaining popularity and influence with each passing year. Retrogames continue to be played in both authorized and unauthorized forms. Their minuscule memory footprint, easily grasped rules, and convenient fit within the interstices of daily routine make them ideal content for mobile devices. For instance, the App stores for iTunes and Google Android phones devote sections to retrogames. The Xbox Live Arcade markets “updated retro classics” alongside its “newest hits,” while the Wii Virtual Console sells downloads from “the greatest video game archive in history”—actually licenses owned by Nintendo. These monetized properties coexist uneasily with the thriving emulator scene, where every conceivable old game has its software simulacrum and renegade read-only memories (ROMs)—files containing data images copied from memory chips, computer firmware, or the circuit boards of arcade machines—circulate beyond the bounds of copyright. For both legal and illegal purposes, the Internet functions as both archive and distribution network, supporting the sharing, spreading, and mutation of content




Clothing, almost by definition, is a medium of transmission within a spreadable media ecology. It is both the means and the site for the storage and spread of information. Clothes are made to be carried by the human body (as in the French porter and the Haitian Creole pote). Textile skins were, from their origins, portable artifacts and temporary prostheses, shaped by the demands of a mobile body and inscribed with markers of that body’s history. The demands on clothing have always been high—armor (protection against shame, enemies, and the elements) and aesthetics, comfort and durability. Clothing is portable, proximate to the human body, and eminently changeable. Clothes remain artifacts in continual flux. They convey messages to the world, and they also provide the raw material for subversion of precisely these messages.

Before the industrial era, vestments were few and far between. Their production took a great amount of human and material resources. Into their tailored forms much was literally and culturally invested. In the Western tradition, throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, clothing—once shaped to a given body—might be worn for years, sometimes carried for a lifetime. The clothing wore its owner as much as the owner wore the clothing, bearing comparable markers of a personal narrative. Through the movements of a body in time, its clothes would acquire increasingly personal and human characteristics—worn knees and elbows, a stretched waist. Stains, patches, tears, and color changes accompanied a life journey, or at least several decades thereof.

Sometimes an article’s function was portable. This was especially true when even the simplest clothing was scarce: its production costly, time consuming, and labor intensive. A coat might be cut down into a vest, or a dress into a scarf. As a garment’s function evolved, so too might the identity of its wearer. A dress might be handed from mother to daughter through a gift economy. In such instances, it carried with it signs and markers of generational passing. A master might give his worn-out shirt to his servant, for whom it could serve as either bodily cover or portable currency. In the Renaissance, it was common for servants to sell their masters’ old clothing to peasants in neighboring villages. Itinerant rag and old clothes dealing grew into a veritable calling within a commodity-based economy. This was a profession of portability. The dealer became an intermediary between wearers, marking a transitional phase in an article’s mobile life history.

Spread That!: Further Essays from the Spreadable Media Project

  Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, my new book with Sam Ford and Joshua Green, is launching at the end of January. Each week, we are releasing new essays written by friends and affiliates of the Futures of Entertainment Consortium which expand upon core ideas in the book. You will see that these essays are an integral part of the book, even though they are being distributed digitally. We also see these essays as a means of sparking key conversations in anticipation of the book's release. So, in the spirit of this project, "if it doesn't spread, it's dead," so we are asking readers to help circulate these essays far and wide to as many different networks and communities as they seem relevant to the ongoing conversation.

Readers are already responding, including through the creation of "memes." Over the weekend, we received this "Slap Robin" announcement via Twitter from @amclay09.

Share with us your own creations and I will showcase this here as I am posting upcoming essays.

This week, we are releasing essays which are tied to the Introduction and first Chapter of the book. Before I do so, let me share some of the early responses to the book (i.e. the solicited blurbs):

“Something new is emerging from the collision of traditionIal entertainment media, Internet-empowered fan cultures, and the norms of sharing that are encouraged and amplified by social media. Spreadable Media is a compelling guide, both entertaining and rigorous, to the new norms, cultures, enterprises, and social phenomena that networked culture is making possible. Read it to understand what your kids are doing, where Hollywood is going, and how online social networks spread cultural productions as a new form of sociality.”—Howard Rheingold, author of Net Smart

“By critically interrogating the ways in which media artifacts circulate, Spreadable Media challenges the popular notion that digital content magically goes ‘viral.’ This book brilliantly describes the dynamics that underpin people’s engagement with social media in ways that are both theoretically rich and publicly meaningful.”—danah boyd, Microsoft Research

“The best analysis to date of the radically new nature of digital social media as a communication channel. Its insights, based on a deep knowledge of the technology and culture embedded in the digital networks of communication, will reshape our understanding of cultural change for years to come.”

—Manuel Castells, Wallis Annenberg Chair of Communication Technology and Society, University of Southern California

“Finally, a way of framing modern media creation and consumption that actually reflects reality and allows us to talk about it in a way that makes sense. It’s a spreadable world and we are ALL part of it. Useful for anyone who makes media, analyzes it, consumes it, markets it or breathes.”—Jane Espenson, writer-producer of Battlestar Galactica, Once Upon a Time, and Husbands

“It’s about time a group of thinkers put the marketing evangelists of the day out to pasture with a thorough look at what makes content move from consumer to consumer, marketer to consumer and consumer to marketer. Instead of latching on to the notion that you can create viral content, Jenkins, Ford, and Green question the assumptions, test theories and call us all to task. Spreadable Media pushes our thinking. As a result, we’ll become smarter marketers. Why wouldn’t you read this book?”—Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer and co-author of No Bullshit Social Media

This week's selections include discussions of historical predecessors,  Memes and 4Chan, the debates about free labor, co-creation in the games culture, and the power of consumer recommendations. Read the sample. Follow the links (....) back to the main site. Read.  Enjoy. Spread. Repeat next week.

The History of Spreadable Media

Media have been evolving and spreading for as long as our species has been around to develop and transport them. If we understand media broadly enough to include the platforms and protocols—to use Lisa Gitelman’s (2006) terms—that carry our stories, bear our messages, and give tangible expression to our feelings, they seem intrinsic to the human experience. Some people might even argue that the developments of vocal communication systems (language) and visualization strategies (paintings and carvings) represent defining moments in human evolution, demonstrations of man’s social nature. Human mastery of media was every bit as important as the mastery of tools. Stories of the spread and appropriation of media run across our history, each shaped by the logics of social organization and production characteristic of any given era.

Early traces of the spread and reach of media abound, even if some historical forms of media fall outside our familiar categories. For example, our contemporary understanding of the reach and influence exercised by ancient empires owes much to discoveries of coins—a medium of abstract exchange if we follow Karl Marx’s argument in Capital ([1867] 1999) and elsewhere but also a system of representation and meaning (from the value of the gold or silver to the inscribed monetary value, to the messages or portraits etched on its surface) with precise culturally defined borders. The coin, as a medium, spread with the state’s citizens, enabling their interactions with one another and at the same time attesting to the state’s reign. Ceramic dishes and tiles offer an example of a medium that was seized on for reasons of cultural exchange. The rich intermingling of styles and techniques characteristic of early-seventeenth-century Dutch, Chinese, and Ottoman ceramics speaks to the period’s trade routes and export markets and the creative appropriations of these various cultural models by its artisans. But these ceramics were also platforms, complete with highly nuanced systems of signification, hierarchies of value, and attendant associations of taste. They were carried, traded, collected, and displayed by a surprisingly large cross-section of the northern European population. As the ceramics circulated within different social groups as the vogue for ceramics rose and fell and were handed down to our present as family heirloom or antique shop curio, the journeys they undertook, and the meanings accorded them as media, attest to the energies and interests of those who helped to spread them....


In Defense of Memes

Although I agree that the terms “viral” and “meme” often connote passive transmission by mindless consumers, I take issue with the claim that “meme” always precludes active engagement—or that the term has a universal, static meaning. As understood by trolls, memes are not passive and do not follow the model of biological infection. Instead, trolls see (though perhaps “experience” is more accurate) memes as microcosmic nests of evolving content. Contrary to the assumption that memes hop arbitrarily from self-contained monad to self-contained monad, memes as they operate within trolldom exist in synecdochical relationship to the culture in which they inhere. In other words, memes spread—that is, they are actively engaged and/or remixed into existence—because something about a given image or phrase or video or whatever lines up with an already-established set of linguistic and cultural norms. In recognizing this connection, a troll is able to assert his or her cultural literacy and to bolster the scaffolding on which trolling as a whole is based, framing every act of reception as an act of cultural production. Consider the following example.

Founded in the early nineties by rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) is a Detroit-based hip-hop group infamous for its violent lyrics, rabid followers, and, as it was recently revealed, secret evangelical Christianity. ICP, which performs in full-face clown makeup, has always been a target for trolling humor. The 2010 release of the group’s single “Miracles,” however, opened the floodgates—in the video, Violent J and Shaggy earnestly extol the virtues of giraffes, rainbows, cats, and dogs, not to mention music (“you can’t even hold it!”) and the miracles of childbirth and the cosmos. The song itself, which is regarded as the group’s evangelical “outing,” is peppered with expletives and features the line “Fuckin’ magnets—how do they work?” a question which inspired immediate and seemingly endless repurposing.

Within a few days of the video’s release, dozens of remixed images and .gifs were posted to 4chan’s infamous /b/ board, many of which merged with existing memetic content. A well-known image of a cross-eyed, bespectacled man captioned with the phrase “are you a wizard,” for example, inspired a series of related macros, including one featuring a close-up shot of Violent J in full makeup. “are you a magnet,” the caption reads, referring not just to the cluster of memes related to the “Miracles” video but also to all the permutations of the “are you a wizard” family of macros.

In short, trolls pounced on the phrase “fuckin’ magnets” not just because it was memorable and amusing on its own (although that played a large part in its popularity, as did the thrill of a gratuitous f-bomb) but because it was easily integrated into an existing meme set. Once the protomeme had been integrated, its resulting permutations—“are you a magnet” being a prime example—became memes unto themselves, establishing further scaffolding onto which new content could be overlaid. By choosing to repost “are you a magnet” on 4chan or off-site, the contributing troll was able to assert his own cultural fluency and, in the process, ensure the proverbial (and, in some ways, the literal) survival of his species. In this sense, the creation and transmission of memes can be likened to the process of human reproduction—specifically the decision to have a child in order to protect one’s legacy. The sexual act is decidedly active, but the resulting zygote is a passive (that is to say, unwitting) vessel for genetic information....

Interrogating “Free” Fan Labor

Over the past two decades, large swaths of the U.S. population have been engaged in copyright wars. On one side, copyright holders struggle to defend their property against what they perceive to be unlawful appropriation by millions of would-be consumers via digital technologies. On the other, millions of Internet users fear or fight expensive lawsuits, filed by entities far wealthier and more powerful than they, that seek to punish them for sharing media online. In this combative climate, fans who produce their own versions of mass-media texts—fan films and videos, fan fiction, fan art and icons, music remixes and mash-ups, and game mods, for example—take comfort and refuge in one rule of thumb: as long as they do not sell their works, they will be safe from legal persecution. Conventional wisdom holds that companies and individuals that own the copyrights to mass-media texts will not sue fan producers, as long as the fans do not make money from their works (for instance, Scalzi 2007 and Taylor 2007).

“Free” fan labor (fan works distributed for no payment) means “free” fan labor (fans may revise, rework, remake, and otherwise remix mass-culture texts without dreading legal action or other interference from copyright holders). Many, perhaps even most, fans who engage in this type of production look upon this deal very favorably. After all, movie studios, game makers, and record labels do not have to turn a blind eye to fan works; U.S. law is (as of this writing) undecided on the matter of whether appropriative art constitutes fair use or copyright infringement, so companies could sue or otherwise harass fan appropriators if they chose. But, even if both sides of the copyright wars consider the issue of fan labor settled, one aspect of the issue has not been sufficiently explored: can, or should, fan labor be paid labor?....


Co-creative Expertise in Gaming Cultures

Gamers increasingly participate in the process of making and circulating game content. Games such as Maxis’s The Sims franchise, for example, are routinely cited as exemplary sites of user-created content. Games scholar T. L. Taylor comments that players are co-creative “productive agents” and asserts that we need “more progressive models” for understanding and integrating players’ creative contribution to the making of these game products and cultures (2006b, 159–160; see also 2006a). Significant economic and cultural value is generated through these spreadable media activities. The usual phrases such as “user-created content” and “user-led innovation” can overlook the professional work of designers, programmers, and graphic artists as they make the tools, platforms, and interfaces that gamers use for creating and sharing content. Attention should also be paid to the work of producers, marketing managers, and community relations managers as they grapple with how best to manage and coordinate these co-creative relations.

The Maxis-developed and Electronic Arts–published Spore thrives on user-created content. Players use 3-D editors to design creatures and other in-game content, to guide their creatures through stages of evolution, and then to share their creations with other players. Since Spore’s release in September 2008, more than 155 million player-created creatures have been uploaded to the online Sporepedia repository. Players can also upload directly from within their game videos of their creatures to the Spore YouTube channel. Spreading content is a core feature of Spore; the game is perhaps best understood as a social network generated from player creativity. This spreadability is not just about content, as the players are also sharing ideas, skills, and media literacies....

The Value of Customer Recommendations

With new channels of communication and old, marketers can deliver a dizzying number of advertising messages to consumers—by many accounts, the average American sees between 3,000 and 5,000 ads a day. Yet, perhaps in response to this fusillade, consumers have learned to better armor themselves against the marketing messages they encounter. The Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM) describes the extent to which consumers develop a radarlike ability to discern content whose aim is to persuade and, further, how they develop a set of skills to deal with such messages (Friestad and Wright 1994). Some of my own recent research (with colleagues Adam Craig, Yuliya Komarova, and Jennifer Vendemia) uses fMRI technology to explore brain activity as consumers are exposed to potentially deceptive product claims. Our findings show that consumers’ deception-detection processes involve surprisingly rapid attention allocation. Potential advertising lies seem to jump out of the marketing environment and rivet our attention like a snake on a woodland trail.

Advertisements are often informative as well as persuasive; consumers know this and don’t dismiss ads out of hand. But they do assess the extent to which they trust or are willing to use such information. First, and most critically, consumers seek to evaluate the credibility of a marketing message’s source. Source credibility is the bedrock of trust that precedes persuasion. People judge a source to be credible if the source shows evidence of being authentic, reliable, and believable. In the old days of marketing, firms sought to increase the source credibility of their ads by featuring the endorsements of doctors, scientists, and other authoritative experts. Once consumers became more aware that these experts were being paid handsomely for their testimony, the practice became less effective. Celebrity endorsers, who often were not product experts, provided warm affective responses but little in the way of believable, persuasive arguments.

Consumers themselves are particularly important endorsers via word-of-mouth (WOM) messages. Our past understanding of WOM (when one consumer recommends a product to another) was that consumers perceive other consumers as highly authentic but of dubious reliability. As when one’s Uncle Joe touts the superior performance of the Brand X computer, the recommender is clearly a real person but may or may not be knowledgeable enough about the product category to make credible claims. Now, with WOM increasingly occurring through spreadable media, it is more difficult for a consumer to assess both the authenticity and reliability of unknown recommenders. The practice of rating consumers’ online opinions and recommendations (e.g., Yahoo! Answers) is a direct attempt to resolve the audience’s uncertainty about who really knows something worth knowing....


Futures of Entertainment 6 Videos (Part Two)

Saturday, Nov. 10 Opening Remarks from FoE Fellows Xiaochang Li and Mike Monello

Curing the Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategy Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies With the constant barrage of new technologies, platforms, and services vying for attention, media producers and marketers are frequently lost among the potential places–and ways–of engaging with their audiences. Before they have ever truly figured out one technology, they’ve already moved to another, because of an intense desire to be “first.” As such, companies and media properties have launched–and then abandoned–their virtual world presence, their mobile app, their social game, and their QR code and are now exploring “social TV,” “Twitter parties,” Pinterest pages, augmented reality, and location-based initiatives. This leaves the web littered with old blogs, microsites, and profiles and companies blaming technologies when, too often, it’s been the lack of strategy that led to no traction. How do storytellers and communicators build a framework to more intelligently choose technologies based on how a platform aids their story and their audience, rather than a “gee whiz…get me one of those” approach? How does–or should–listening to the audience factor into this process? And what role, or responsibility, do technology creators have to help with this integration process? Drawing on examples contemporary and historical, this panel looks at how and when to take risks with new platforms, the difference between “innovative failure” and “failure to innovate,” and the deeper patterns of engagement that help us make sense of how new platforms and behaviors connect to longstanding means of engagement. Panelists: Todd Cunningham, Futures of Entertainment fellow and television audience research leader Jason Falls, CEO, Social Media Explorer Eden Medina, Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University David Polinchock, Director, AT&T AdWorks Lab Mansi Poddar, co-founder, Brown Paper Bag Moderator: Ben Malbon, Managing Director, Google Creative Lab

Rethinking Copyright: A discussion with musician, songwriter, and producer T Bone Burnett; Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California; and Jonathan Taplin, Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. As the recent legislative battles have demonstrated, it’s becoming painfully clear that our conception of copyright is ill-prepared for regulating and making sense of a world where media content is fluidly circulated by most of a society. However, in an effort make content free to spread in the ways audiences find them relevant, what is the appropriate balance to ensure that the rights of content creators are preserved and that the incentive to develop intellectual property remains? Rather than continue a debate in which audiences and critics attack copyright while media companies cling to them, how might we cut through current tensions to collaboratively imagine what a new sense of copyright, appropriate for an era of “spreadable media,” might look like?

The Futures of Video Gaming Many innovations in the creative industries owe their roots and inspiration to the gaming world, from audience engagement and storytelling techniques to distribution methods and cross-platform integration. This session examines some of the critical questions facing those working in the gaming industry as large companies and indie developers grapple with the challenging evolution of the market brought on by new networked technologies, audience practices, and business models. How are game developers embracing or rejecting the unauthorized play of games online, and how has piracy evolved as a discourse in the gaming sector? How do creators strategize around the widespread circulation of games through automated propagation (using friend invitations for social and “free to play” games) — or grassroots spreading (for unexpectedly popular titles like Minecraft) — of information through social network sites? How badly are new architectures (Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, PSN Network) clashing with old traditions (game stores, $60 game discs)? And how are business models in the gaming industry shifting as we see massive success simultaneously from high-budget technology like Kinect and low-budget distribution like the Humble Bundle? Panelists: T.L. Taylor, Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies, MIT Christopher Weaver, founder of Bethesda Softworks and industry liaison, MITGameLab Ed Fries, architect of Microsoft’s video game business and co-founder of the Xbox project Walter Somol, head of tech community outreach, Microsoft New England Research and Development Center Moderator: Futures of Entertainment Fellow and games producer Alec Austin

The Futures of Storytelling and Sports Throughout the history of mass media, sports programming has been an innovator. In today’s era of online circulation, transmedia storytelling, and 24/7 access to engaging with sports stars, teams, and fellow fans, sports franchises could be argued as the most immersive of storyworlds–with drama playing out in real-time, and the “narrative world” being our own. What is driving innovation in how sports tell their stories, and get their fans more engaged than ever, through multiple media platforms? How does operating as a media franchise in our everyday world set sports apart from entertainment properties? How are sports empowered by being “real,” and what constraints does that place on what they can do as well? How are talent engaged to be part of the storytelling? And what innovations are seen as sports are extended wholly into the fictional realm, whether through licensed extensions or various forms of “sports entertainment”? Panelists: Abe Stein, researcher at Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab; graduate student, Comparative Media Studies, MIT; columnist, Kill Screen Peter Stringer, Senior Director of Interactive Media, Boston Celtics Jena Janovy, Enterprise Editor, Jamie Scheu, associate content director, Hill Holliday Moderator: Alex Chisholm, transmedia producer and Co-Founder and Executive Director, Learning Games Network

Closing Remarks from FoE Fellow Sheila Seles and Dr. Heather Hendershot, Comparative Media Studies, MIT

Futures of Entertainment 6 Videos (Part One)

Over the next few installments, we are going to be sharing videos of the panels from this year's Futures of Entertainment conference, now in its sixth year, and developing a really strong community of followers who come back again and again to participate in our ongoing conversations. For those who do not know, FoE is a conference designed to spark critical conversations between people in the creative industries, academics, and the general public, over issues of media change. The Futures of Entertainment consortium works hard to identify cutting edge topics and to bring together some of the smartest, most thoughtful people who are dealing with those issues. It is characterized by extended conversation among the panelists in a format designed to minimize "spin," "pitch" and "pontification," and in a context where everything they say will be questioned and challenged through, Twitter, and (this year) Etherpad conversations. As someone noted this year, one of the biggest contributions of the conference has been close interrogation of the language the industry uses to describe its relationship with its publics/audiences, and this year was no exception, with recurring concepts such as "curation" getting the full FoE treatment. And we came as close as we've ever come to a Twitter riot breaking out around the "Rethinking Copyright," session on which I participated.

The conference, traditionally, opens on Thursday with a Communications Forum event. This year, the focus was on New Media in West Africa, part of our ongoing exploration of the global dimensions of entertainment. There was much discussion of what we could learn from Nollywood (even hints of the coming era of Zollywood) and a spontaneous live performance by Derrick “DNA” Ashong.

New Media in West Africa Despite many infrastructural and economic hurdles, entertainment media industries are burgeoning in West Africa. Today, the Nigerian cinema market–”Nollywood”–is the second largest in the world in terms of the annual volume of films distributed, behind only the Indian film industry. And an era of digital distribution has empowered content created in Lagos, or Accra, to spread across geographic and cultural boundaries. New commercial models for distribution as well as international diasporic networks have driven the circulation of this material. But so has rampant piracy and the unofficial online circulation of this content. What innovations are emerging from West Africa? How has Nigerian cinema in particular influenced local television and film markets in other countries across West Africa, and across the continent? What does the increasing visibility of West African popular culture mean for this region–especially as content crosses various cultural contexts, within and outside the region? And what challenges does West Africa face in continuing to develop its entertainment industries?

Panelists: Fadzi Makanda, Business Development Manager, iROKO Partners Derrick “DNA” Ashong, leader, Soulflége Colin Maclay, Managing Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University Moderator: Ralph Simon, head of the Mobilium Advisory Group and a founder of the mobile entertainment industry

Opening Remarks from FoE Fellows Laurie Baird and Ana Domb

Listening and Empathy: Making Companies More Human Media properties have long measured audiences with Nielsen ratings, circulation numbers, website traffic and a range of other methods that transform the people who engage with content into that aggregate mass: the audience. Meanwhile, marketing logic has long been governed by survey research, focus groups, and audience segmentation. And, today, executives are being urged to do all they can to make sense of the “big data” at their fingertips. However, all these methods of understanding audiences–while they can be helpful–too often distance companies from the actual human beings they are trying to understand. How do organizations make the best use of the myriad ways they now have to listen to, understand, and serve their audiences–beyond frameworks that aim to “monitor, “surveil,” and “quantify” those audiences as statistics rather than people? What new understandings are unearthed when companies listen to their audiences, and the culture around them, beyond just what people are saying about the organization itself? What advantages do companies find in embracing ethnographic research, in thinking about an organization’s content and communications from the audience’s perspective, and in thinking of “social media” not just as a new way to market content but a new and particularly useful channel for communicating, collaborating and conducting business?

Panelists: Lara Lee, Chief Innovation and Operating Officer, Continuum Grant McCracken, author, Culturematic, Chief Culture Officer Carol Sanford, author, The Responsible Business Emily Yellin, author, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us Moderator: Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy, Peppercomm

The Ethics and Politics of Curation in a Spreadable Media World–A One-on-One Conversation with Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova and Undercurrent’s Joshua Green We live in an environment where the power of circulation is no longer solely–arguably, even primarily–in the hands of media companies. However, if that means we all now play a role as curator and circulator of content, what responsibilities does that bring with it? How is curation becoming an important aspect of the online profile of professional curators? And, for all of us who participate in social networking sites or who forward content to family and friends via email, what are our obligations to both the creators of that content and to the audiences with whom we share it? If we possess the great power to spread content, what are the great responsibilities that come along with it?

The Futures of Public Media Public media creators and distributors often face a wide variety of strains on resources which impact their ability to innovate how they tell their stories. Yet, in an era where existing corporate logics often restrain how many media companies and brands can interact with their audiences–or how audiences can participate in the circulation of media content–public media-makers are, at least in theory, freed from many of the constraints their commercial counterparts face. How have the various innovations in producing and circulating content that have been discussed at Futures of Entertainment impacting public media-makers? How do the freedoms and constraints of public media shape creators’ work in unique ways? How have innovations happening in independent media, civic media, and the commercial sector impacting those creators? And what can we all learn from their innovation and experiences?

Panelists: Rekha Murthy, Director of Projects and Partnerships, Public Radio Exchange, Annika Nyberg Frankenhaeuser, Media Director, European Broadcasting Union, Andrew Golis, Director of Digital Media and Senior Editor, FRONTLINE Nolan Bowie, Senior Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Moderator: Jessica Clark, media strategist, Association of Independents in Radio

From Participatory Culture to Political Participation Around the world, activists, educators, and nonprofit organizations are discovering new power through their capacity to appropriate, remix, and recirculate elements of popular culture. In some cases, these groups are forging formal partnerships with media producers. In other cases, they are deploying what some have called “cultural acupuncture,” making unauthorized extensions which tap into the public’s interest in entertainment properties to direct their attention to other social problems. Some of these transmedia campaigns — Occupy, for example — are criticized for not having a unified message, yet it is their capacity to take many forms and to connect together diverse communities which have made these efforts so effective at provoking conversation and inspiring participation. And, as content spreads across cultural borders, these activists and producers are confronting new kinds of critiques —such as the heated debates surrounding the rapid spread of the KONY 2012 video. Are new means of creating and circulating content empowering citizens, creating new forms of engagement, or do they trivialize the political process, resulting in so-called “slactivism”? What are these producers and circulators learning from media companies and marketers, and vice versa? What new kinds of organizations and networks are deploying this tactics to gain the attention of young consumer-citizens? And, for all of us, what do we need to consider as we receive, engage with, and consider sharing content created by these individuals and groups? Panelists: Sasha Costanza-Chock, Assistant Professor of Civic Media, MIT Dorian Electra, performing artist (“I'm in Love with Friedrich Hayek”; “Roll with the Flow”) Lauren Bird, Creative Media Coordinator, Harry Potter Alliance Bassam Tariq, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days Moderator: Sangita Shresthova, Research Director of CivicPaths, University of Southern California

Closing Remarks from FoE Fellows Maurício Mota and Louisa Stein

And for your added entertainment pleasure, check out Dorian Electra's new music video, "FA$T CA$H: Easy Credit & The Economic Crash" which premiered at this year's conference.

Creating Transmedia: An Interview with Andrea Phillips (Part One)

Over the past few years, there has been a minor publishing industry emerging around books which seek to explain the aesthetics and economics of transmedia or crossmedia entertainment production. Among them: Drew Davidson (from Carnegie Melon University’s Entertainment Technology Program) contributed Cross-Media Communication (2010); Wired Magazine’s Frank Rose (2010) published The Art of Immersion; Nuno Bernardo (2011), a Portugal-based transmedia producer who has done work in Canada, Europe, and the United States, published A Producer’s Guide to Transmedia; the similarly titled A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling: How to Captivate and Engage Audiences Across Multiple Platforms  is the work of Andrea Phillips (2012), whose clients have included HBO, Sony Pictures, and Channel 4, and Max Gionavagnoli (2011), an Italian based transmedia producer and teacher who has organized the Ted X Transmedia events, recently published a more theoretical work, Transmedia Storytelling: Imagery, Shapes, and Techniques. It is not simply that these books come from both industry and academic sources or that they come from both the United States and Europe, but the individual authors also often straddle borders, as creative producers who work sometimes in academic settings, or as producers who work in multiple national contexts. These books engage in what might be described as speculative aesthetics, theorizing future directions in transmedia, alongside pragmatic advice for would be producers.  

As someone who teaches courses in this space (and regularly hears from other faculty who are developing such classes), it is great to have such a rich array of texts to use to instruct and inspire our students. I am committed to using this blog to run interviews showcasing this projects: so far, I have run interviews with Davidson and with Rose, and now, I am happy to share this exchange with Andrea Phillips.

Phillips is one of the most thoughtful writers working in this space today: she manages to hit the right balance between pragmatism and vision, between describing the conditions under which transmedia producers work today and spelling out the long term potentials of this still emerging form. She has the weight of hard experience behind her, but she is also deft at exploring theoretical and aesthetic dimensions of her project. I learned a ton from reading her book, and I learned more from her response to some potentially challenging questions I threw her way. I hope you enjoy this interview which I will run across the next few installments. I am very much looking forward to meeting her in person at the Futures of Entertainment conference at MIT next week. (And, shameless plug, it's not too late for you to register to join us there.)


I was delighted to see such a strong emphasis on the audience in the title of your book. Many people want to see transmedia as centrally about textual practices or about technological affordances. What model of audience underlies the approach you take in your book?

I come to the creation of transmedia narrative as an audience member myself, first and foremost. As a result, I'm absolutely militant about making sure that the story has value to my intended audience, even across a spectrum of consumption styles. This approach arguably has as much in common with software design as with other kinds of storytelling: use cases and user flows become just as important as emotional texture and pacing.

There's an interesting piece of mental gymnastics required when you're thinking explicitly about your audience. On the one hand, the audience is made of multiple individuals who will each have different experiences of the narrative, depending on factors like mood and context you have no control over. And for many people, that individual experience is all they'll have.

On the other hand, your audience is made up of individuals who talk to one another -- on forums or other digital communities, on social media, in person. Just as your work is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts, so too is the audience. It's smarter than the single smartest person. It's a living organism that makes decisions about how to engage with your story on behalf of a huge share of your audience.

You have to be able to hold both of these ideas in your head, and plan both for the individual and for the hive mind simultaneously. That can be a tricky maneuver. It's easier to design simple for a single-player experience or assume every audience member will be experiencing your story through the lens of a collective. But it's much better practice to take both angles into account.


Your first sentence tells us, “there’s never been a more exciting time to be a storyteller.” Why? 


We're in the middle of an epochal shift in how human beings communicate with each other. There have been other disruptions in the past, of course. The printing press and television were both incredible disrupting technologies that totally altered our communications landscape. But the internet and the mass availability of the tools of production have for the first time put the power of one-to-many and many-to-one communications in the hands of just about everyone. (Gibson's unevenly distributed future notwithstanding.)

The result is a revolution in how we view and consume news, in how we engage politically, how we promote and fund businesses, how we spend our leisure time. And more to the point, it's completely altered the landscape of the possible for art and for artists. We have new tools and new ways to reach audiences -- and that's amazing.

But the part that gets me incredibly excited is that we're experimenting with new forms, too, or changing old ones into something breathtakingly novel. We're making new kinds of art that can exist only in the intersections between media, not just taking old media to new places. It's not every generation that gets to feel like you're shaping a whole new art form.


You write in the book about the East Coast and West Coast Schools of transmedia design philosophy. How important do you think these geographic distinctions have been in the ways transmedia has evolved over recent years? And what happens when we open transmedia to a more global perspective? Surely, East and West Coast mean something different if we are talking about Europe, Latin America, or Australia, each of which has made innovative transmedia properties.

In a way, I regret codifying that West Coast vs. East Coast ideology in the book, because the distinction I was addressing has much more to do with philosophy than with geography -- it's meant to underline a cultural difference created by different underlying industries and mechanisms of productions. Of course Los Angeles transmedia is heavily influenced by Hollywood and the TV industry that exists out there -- many of the people coming into transmedia in that region happen to come in already having that skill set, and it's wise to use the skills you have.

Meanwhile, New York has a very strong live theater community, and a strong network supporting independent film. So it makes perfect sense that works in that region would be influenced by proximity to those artists.

I find it extremely frustrating that a perception exists that big franchise-style intertextual works and very personalized independent works can't both be transmedia at the same time. It doesn't need to be a value judgment. Removing either one cheapens the whole of transmedia and what's possible under that umbrella.

Of course there are tremendous transmedia works coming out of Canada, Australia, the UK, Scandinavia -- and it's not easy to slot those into East Coast vs. West Coast. They all have their own distinct style and flavor, because of varying local factors. Canada, for example, has a world-class presence for transmedia documentary and nonfiction, as a side effect of how its funding bodies operate.

As we open our eyes to even more work being done globally, we'll find more interesting variations in approach than even that. In fact, I'd put down money that distinctions in that work already exist, but they haven't yet been thoroughly documented in English. What's the state of transmedia in Bollywood? What strides are occurring in the Korean MMO community?

It would be remarkably arrogant to just assume there are none -- it's a better bet to imagine there are marvelous works being created that the English-speaking transmedia community simply hasn't encountered yet. This is doubly true when you consider how many creators in English have independently stumbled into transmedia by making it before they ever heard the term.

From the start, transmedia has been caught in the competing pulls of marketing and storytelling. But, is this really different from any other form of commercial or popular entertainment form, which have historically been described in terms of the tension between Art and Commerce? What’s at stake in seeing transmedia as a form of storytelling as opposed to a form of marketing?

It's not a brand new thing, or unique to transmedia, not at all. This is the same old song and dance that early film went through, in particular. We have to navigate a tangled web of issues ranging from the credibility of art and artists, the need to make a living, public perceptions of the form, and the filters that audiences use to view any given work. The net result, though, is that being viewed solely as a potential marketing vehicle is very definitely a huge risk to the development of transmedia storytelling as an independent industry.

These risks are threefold. First, it means transmedia is on the hook to produce successful marketing outcomes in order for ongoing production of new projects to continue. This is problematic because transmedia isn't inherently a particularly good or efficient marketing vehicle. Transmedia marketing campaigns projects have created some amazing press buzz, to be sure, but the efficacy of a transmedia marketing campaign varies tremendously. And even in the areas where transmedia marketing excels (creating depth of engagement, for example) it's notoriously hard to measure how A few high-profile, expensive failures could chill any client's appetite for transmedia work. It would be a tragedy for something like that to smother the industry in the cradle.

And it means that audiences approaching a transmedia work will always be trying to ferret out the hidden brand message. Worse, it means that the creators are beholden to stay on message, limiting the scope of possible work enormously. A marketing client may place limits ranging anywhere from a mild "no swearing" to something as confining as "no responding to Tweets or comments." These limitations can hinder the viability of individual projects. But they're invisible to the public -- all they'll see is a transmedia marketing campaign that just doesn't quite work, and before you know it, transmedia itself is written off as an unviable mode of creation.

But equating transmedia with marketing, not storytelling, also means that independent artists have a more difficult time with winning grants, for example, or even generating press coverage. This does rise from that tension between art and commerce you mention; there is a myth that real artists don't sully their hands with concerns about mere money, the romanticizing of the starving artist in a garret producing purer work. Meanwhile, some of the finest art of our time is created as design work for advertisements. But it's not considered "art" in the purest sense because it was commissioned for a commercial purpose.

Ultimately, the credibility of transmedia as an art form is on the line, and therefore the willingness for programs to permit it as a course of study, for funding bodies to award money, or for investors to contribute will all suffer.

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. Her book A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is published by McGraw-Hill. Her work includes educational and commercial projects such as The Maester's Path for HBO's Game of Thrones with Campfire Media, America 2049 with human rights nonprofit Breakthrough, Routes for Channel 4 Education, the independent commercial ARG Perplex City, and The 2012 Experience for Sony Pictures. These projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a BIMA, an IVCA Grand Prix award, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others.






A Pedagogical Response to the Aurora Shootings: 10 Critical Questions about Fictional Representations of Violence

The horrifying and tragic news of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado this weekend requires some degree of reflection on our parts. As someone who found himself very much involved in the national debates surrounding the Columbine Shootings in the late 1990s, there is a terrible sense of deja vu: we all know all too well the twists and turns the national debate will take and the dangers of what happens when "moral panic" spins hopelessly out of control.

I was deeply moved this weekend by a video blog produced by a young woman -- Lauren Bird -- from the Harry Potter Alliance who has so many thoughtful things to say about the social value of popular entertainment, the shared ritual of the midnight movie, and the dangers of pathologizing our desire to participate in the culture. (But, of course, the national AMC chain has already announced that they are banning the wearing of any costumes into their theaters, as if the problem with the shooter in this case was that he was a "crazy fan" who showed up in costume.)

Today, I wanted to share some pedagogical materials which I developed through the New Media Literacies Project in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, where, once again, anxieties about popular culture substituted for serious reflections on the many root causes of violence in American culture.

To be extra clear, I do not think media is where this debate should be focused. The conversation needs to be centered around the root causes of violence and the need to develop a much stronger infrastructure around mental health issues in this country. But, media violence issues are often used as a distraction from serious conversations about public policies in the aftermath of such incidents. If we are going to be discussing "media violence," we need to do so with sufficient nuance to have a meaningful discussion, and ideally, we need to do so in a way which moves us from thinking about simplistic models of "media effects" towards a focus on the meanings of representations of violence as understood in the context of the work as a whole. See my essay on "The War Between Effects and Meanings" in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers, for an explanation of this distinction.

First, I wanted to share a passage from a statement about violence I wrote for teachers, which expresses something I was unable to meaningfully communicate via Twitter in an online exchange yesterday:

Why is violence so persistent in our popular culture? Because violence has been persistent across storytelling media of all kinds. A thorough account of violence in media would include: fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, oral epics such as Homer's Iliad, the staged violence of Shakespeare's plays, paintings of the Rape of the Sabine Women, and stained glass window representations of saints being pumped full of arrows, or, for that matter, talk show conversations about the causes of school shootings. Violence is fundamental to these various media because aggression and conflict are core aspects of human experience. We need our art to provide some moral order, to help us sort through our feelings, to provoke us to move beyond easy answers and to ask hard questions.

Our current framing of media violence assumes that it most often attracts us, that it inspires imitation, whereas throughout much of human history, representations of violence were seen as morally instructive, as making it less likely that we are going to transgress against various social prohibitions. When we read the lives of saints, for example, we are invited to identify with the one suffering the violence and not the one committing it. Violence was thought to provoke empathy, which was good for the soul. Violence was thought to make moral lessons more memorable.

Moral reformers rarely take aim at mundane and banal representations of violence, though formulaic violence is pervasive in our culture. Almost always, they go after works that are acclaimed elsewhere as art--the works of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, say--precisely because these works manage to get under their skin. For some of us, this provocation gets us thinking more deeply about the moral consequences of violence, whereas others condemn the works themselves, unable to process the idea that such a work might provoke us to reflect about the violence that it represents. The study of literature offers a remarkable opportunity to engage young people in conversations about such issues, expanding the range of stories about violence which they encounter, introducing them to works that encourage reflection about the human consequences of revenge and aggression, and broadening the range of meanings they attach to such representations.

In order to encourage such reflections in the classroom, I developed a set of basic questions we should ask about any representation of violence. There are persistent references throughout this to Moby-Dick because it was part of a teacher's strategy guide for Moby-Dick. Our book on this larger project, Reading in a Participatory Culture , is coming out from Teacher's College Press later this year. I was struck re-reading this today that I had already written here about the role of violence in the Batman saga, though this came out prior to the Dark Knight films by Christopher Nolan.


1. What basic conflicts are being enacted through the violence?

Literary critics have long identified the core conflicts that shape much of the world's literature: Human vs. Human, Human vs. Nature, Human vs. Self, and sometimes Human vs. Machine. Such conflicts spark drama. Moby-Dick can be understood as including all three conflicts: the conflict between Ahab and Starbuck embodies deeper divisions within the ship's crew over the captain's decision to place his own personal goals above their collective well being or above the business of whaling; the conflict between Ahab and Moby Dick may be understood as a human being throwing himself full force against the natural world; Ahab struggles with his own better nature and Starbuck searches his soul trying to figure out how to respond to his conflicting duties. Any of these conflicts can erupt in violence--directly against other people, against the natural world, or against ourselves.

You might ask your students to identify which of these forms of conflict are most visible in contemporary video games, on television, or in the cinema and why some forms of conflict appear more often in these media than others. For example, video game designers have historically found it difficult to depict characters' internalized conflict (human vs. self), in part because contest or combat are central building blocks of most games.

2. Do the characters make conscious choices to engage in acts of violence? How do they try, through language or action, to explain and justify those choices?

In the real world, an act of violence may erupt in a split second: one moment, people we care about are alive; the next, they are dead. The violence may be random: there is no real reason why these victims were singled out over others; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, works of fiction often focus our attention on moments when characters make decisions, often based on aspects of their personalities which they little recognize or control, and those choices may have repercussions that echo across the work as a whole.

So, the act that took Ahab's leg may have been totally random, and we see several examples throughout the novel where a split-second decision may cause a character to be wounded or killed. We might compare Ahab's amputation with the events that lead to Pip being thrown from the boat, left adrift, and ultimately driven insane, or to the unnamed man who falls from the ship's mast and drowns. By contrast, the novel invites us to consider the choices Ahab makes at each step and how the other characters respond to those choices. Melville shows us many points where the ship could turn back and avoid its fate. He spells out what the characters are thinking and why they make the decisions they do.

The events could take a different shape, though the shape of a plot can give depicted events a sense of inevitability. Some forms of tragedy, for example, rely on the notion that characters are unable to escape their fates, no matter what choices they make, or that the final acts of violence and destruction flow logically from some "tragic flaw." In trying to make sense of a fictional representation of violence, you want to encourage your student to seek out moments where the characters make choices that ultimately lead towards acts of aggression or destruction. Often, authors provide those characters with rationalizations for their choices, offering some clues through their words, thoughts, or actions about why they do what they do.

At such moments, the work also often offers us alternatives to violence, other choices the characters could have made, though such choices may remain implicit rather than being explicitly stated. Different works and different genres may see these alternatives to violence as more or less plausible, attractive, or rational. So, if you are being chased by a mad man waving a chain saw in a horror film, engaging him in a conversation may not be a rational, plausible, or attractive alternative. Genre fiction constructs contexts where the protagonist has no choice but to resort to violence, though what separates heroes from villains may be their relative comfort in deploying violence to serve their own interests. In many American movies, the hero is reluctant to turn towards violence, seeing it as a last resort. By contrast, the villain may deploy violence in situations where she has other alternatives, suggesting cruelty or indifference.

In dealing with violence in video games, then, you may want to ask what options are available to the player for dealing with a certain situation. In some games, there may be no options other than violence, and the game itself may spend very little time offering the character a rationalization for such actions. It is fight or flight, kill or be killed. Many games are simply digital versions of the classic shooting galleries: the game space is designed as an arena where players can shoot it out with other players or with computer-controlled characters. In other games, there may be options that allow the protagonist to avoid violence, but they may not be emotionally satisfying; they may put the player at a significant disadvantage; they may be hard to execute. So, helping students to interpret the options available to characters in a literary fiction may help them to reflect more

consciously on the more limited choices available to them as gamers.

3. What are the consequences of the violence depicted in the work?

Many popular stories don't pay sufficient attention to the consequences of violence. Rambo may slaughter hundreds and yet, much as in a video game, the bodies simply disappear. We get no sense of the human costs involved in combat on such a scale. Many medieval epics consisted primarily of hack and slash battle sequences; yet, periodically, the action would stop, and the bard would enumerate the names of the dead on both sides, acknowledging that these warriors paid a price even if their actions help to establish the nation state or restore order to the kingdom. Gonzala Frasca has argued that video games inherently trivialize violence because they operate in a world where the player can simply reboot and start over if their character dies.

In contrast, westerns follow a basic formula: the protagonist (most often male) would resort to violence to battle other aggressive forces that threaten his community; his heroic actions would restore justice and order, but the hero could not live within the order he had helped to create and would be forced to ride off into the sunset at the end of the story. Susan Sontag has written about "the Imagination of Disaster," suggesting that films about apocalyptic events often create a rough moral order in which characters are rewarded or punished based on the values they display under extreme circumstances.

Moby-Dick can be said to have its own mechanisms for punishing violence: Ahab's search for vengeance at all costs means that he and his crew must pay the ultimate price.

4. What power relationships, real or symbolic, does the violence suggest?

In many cases, storytellers deploy violence as a means of embodying power. We should not be surprised by this tendency given the way sociologists have characterized rape as the deployment of male power against women or lynching as the enactment of white power against blacks. Historically, wars have been seen as a way of resolving conflicts between nations through the exercise of power, while trial by combat was a means of deploying power to resolve individual conflicts and disagreements.

Media representations of violence can give viewers a seductive sense of empowerment as they watch characters who are hopelessly out-numbered triumph or they watch segments of the population who seem disempowered in the real world deploy violence to right past wrongs. Some have argued that young people play violent video games, in part, as a means of compensating for a sense of disempowerment they may feel at school.

Conversely, stories may encourage our sense of outrage when we see powerful groups or individuals abusing their power, whether in the form of bullies degrading their victims or nations suppressing their citizens. This abuse of power by powerful forces may prepare us for some counter-balancing exercise of power, setting up the basic moral oppositions upon which a story depends.

As you teach students to think critically about representations of violence, a key challenge will be to identify the different forms of power at play within the narrative and to map the relations between them. Which characters are in the most powerful positions and what are their sources of power? Which characters are abusing their power? What sources of power are ascribed to characters who might initially seem powerless, and to what degree is violence depicted as a means of empowerment?

5. How graphic is the depiction of violence?

One of the limits of the study on violence in American cartoons released by the American Academy of Pediatrics is that it counts "violent acts" without considering differing degrees of stylization. In fact, children at a pretty young age--certainly by the time they reach elementary school--are capable of making at least crude distinctions between more or less realistic representations of violence. They can be fooled by media which offers ambiguous cues, but they generally read media that seems realistic very differently from media that seems cartoonish or larger than life. For that reason, they are often more emotionally disturbed by documentaries that depict predators and prey, war, or crime, than they are by the hyperbolic representations we most often are talking about when we

refer to media violence.

While most of us have very limited vocabularies for discussing these different degrees of explicitness, such implicit distinctions shape the ways we respond to representations of violence within fictions. We each know what we can tolerate and tend to avoid modes of representation we find too intense or disturbing. Most ratings systems distinguish between cartoonish and realistic forms of violence. We need to guard against the assumption, however, that the more graphic forms of violence are necessarily "sick" or inappropriate. More stylized forms can make it much easier to ignore the gravity of real world violence through a process of sanitization. In some cases, more graphic depictions of violence

shatter that complacency and can force us to confront the human costs of violence.

Literary critics have long made a distinction between showing and telling. We might extend this distinction to think about media representations of violence. An artist may ask us to directly confront the act of violence, or she may ask us to deal with its repercussions, having a character describe an event which occurred before the opening of the narrative or which took place off stage. Some very famous examples of media violence--such as the torture sequences in Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction --pull the camera away at the moments of peak intensity, counting on the viewer's imagination to fill in what happens, often based on cues from the soundtrack, or in the case of Pulp Fiction , the splattering of blood from off-camera. Again, we need to get students to focus on the creative choices made by the storytellers and artists in their construction of these episodes, choices especially about what to show and what not to show.

6. What function does the violence serve in the narrative?

Critics often complain about "gratuitous violence." The phrase has been used so often that we can lose touch with what it means. According to the dictionary, "gratuitous" means "being without apparent reason, cause, or justification." So, before we can decide if an element in a fictional work is gratuitous, we have to look more closely at why it is present (its motivation) and what purposes it serves (its function).

Keep in mind that we are not talking here about why the character performs the violent act but rather why the artist includes it in the work. An artwork might depict senseless killings, as occur at certain moments in No Country for Old Men where the killer is slaughtering people seemingly at random. This doesn't necessarily mean that the violence is "gratuitous" since in this case, the violence sets the action of the story into motion, and the work is very interested in how other characters react to the threat posed by this senseless violence. There is artistic motivation for including the violence, even if the directors, the Coen Brothers, are uninterested in the killer's psychological motives.

An element in a work of fiction may be motivated on several different levels: it may be motivated realistically, in the sense that a story about contemporary urban street gangs might be expected to depict violence as part of their real world experience; it might be motivated generically, in the sense that people going to see a horror movie expect to see a certain amount of gore and bloody mayhem; it may be motivated thematically, in the sense that an act of violence may force characters to take the measure of their own values and ethical commitments; it may be motivated symbolically, in the sense that a character dreams about performing violence and those dreams offer us a window into his or her thinking process. In each case, the violence has a different motivation, even though the actions depicted may be relatively similar.

By the same token, we might ask what functions an act of violence plays in the work. One way to answer that question is to imagine how the work would be different if this element were not included. Would the story have the same shape? Would the characters behave in the same way? Would the work have the same emotional impact? Some acts of violence motivate the actions of the story; some bring about a resolution in the core conflict; still others mark particular steps in the trajectory of the plot; and in some rare cases, the violent acts may indeed be gratuitous, in that their exclusion would change little or nothing in our experience of the work

But keep in mind that the violence which disturbs us the most on first viewing is not necessarily gratuitous and is often violence which has ramifications throughout the rest of the story. Describing a scene as "gratuitous" is easy, especially when it shortcuts the process of engaging more critically with the structure and messages of the work in question. For example, the film Basketball Diaries became the focus of controversy following the Columbine shootings primarily because of a single scene in which the protagonist wears a long black coat and imagines shooting up a school. Those discussing the sequence failed to explain that it was a dream sequence, not an action performed by the film's protagonist, and that it is part of a larger story which explores how a young man overcame his rage, his addictions, and his antisocial impulses to become a poet. Without the representation of his aggression, the power of the story of redemption would be weakened, whereas the scene removed from context seemed to endorse the antisocial values the work itself rejects.

7. What perspective(s) does the work offer us towards the character engaging in violence?

Media theorists have spent a great deal of time trying to determine what we mean when we say we identify with a character in a fictional work. At the most basic level, it means we recognize the character; we distinguish the fictional figure from others depicted in the same work. From there, we may mean that the work devotes a great deal of time and space to depicting the actions of this particular character. Typically, the more time we spend with a character, the more likely we are to see the world from her point of view. Yet, this is not always the case. We may be asked to observe and judge characters, especially if their actions and the values they embody fall outside of the stated perspective of the work. We may grow close to a character only to be pushed away again when the character takes an action we find reprehensible and unjustifiable.

There is a distinction to be drawn here between the structuring of narrative point of view and the structuring of moral judgments on the character. Part of what helps us to negotiate between the two is the degree to which we are given access to the thoughts and feelings of the character (and in the case of an audio-visual work, the degree to which we see the world from his or her optical point of view).

Consider, for example, the use of first person camera in a work like Jaws where scenes are sometimes shot from the perspective of the shark as it swims through the water approaching its human prey. At such moments, we feel fear and dread for the human victims, not sympathy for the sharks. Filmmakers quickly learned to manipulate this first person camera, sometimes duplicating the same camera movement, tricking us into thinking the monster is approaching, and then, demonstrating this to be a false alarm.

So, it is possible to follow characters but not get inside their head, and it is possible to have access to characters' thoughts and still not share their moral perspective.

And indeed, all of these relationships may shift in the course of reading a book as we may feel the character's actions are justified up until a certain point and then cross an implicit line where they become monstrous. Homer shares Ulysses's point of view throughout much of the Odyssey, but we still are inclined to pull back from him at a certain point as he brings bloody vengeance upon Penelope's suitors in the final moments of the epic.

Wyn Kelley identifies a similar pattern in Moby-Dick where we are invited to experience what whaling would be like from the point of view of the whale, and in the process, we are encouraged to reflect on the bloody brutality of slaughtering an innocent animal, stripping the meat off its bones, and boiling its flesh to create oil. Here, a break in the following pattern gives us an opportunity to reassess how we feel about the characters with whom we have up until that point been closely aligned. We might think about a common device in television melodrama where we've seen a scene of conflict between two characters who believe they are alone and then at the end, the camera pulls back to show the reaction of a previously undisclosed third-party figure who has been watching or overhearing the action. Such moments invite us to reassess what we've just seen from another vantage point.

In video games, the category of "first person shooters" has been especially controversial with critics concerned about the implications of players taking on the optical point of view of a character performing acts of violence; often, critics argue, the player doesn't just watch a violent act but is actively encouraged to participate. Gamers will sometimes refer to their characters in the third person ("he") and sometimes in the first person ("I"), pronoun slippages that suggest some confusions brought about by the intense identification players sometimes feel towards their avatars.

Yet, even here, we need to be careful to distinguish between following pattern, optical point of view, and moral attitude. In games, we typically remain attached to a single character whom we control, and thus we have a very strong following pattern. In first person shooters, we see the action through the optical point of view of that character, though we may feel no less connected to the characters we control in a third person game (where we see the full body of the character from an external perspective). The Second Person video game confounds our normal expectations about optical point of view, inviting us to see the action from an unfamiliar perspective, and thus it may shake up our typical ways of making sense of the action.

Those who have spent time watching players play and interviewing them about their game experiences find that in fact, identification works in complex ways, since the player is almost always thinking tactically about the choices that will allow her to beat the game. Winning often involves stepping outside a simple emotional or moral connection with an individual character. Players are encouraged to think of the game as a system, not unlike taking a more omniscient perspective in reading a work of fiction, even as other aspects of the game's formal structure may encourage them to feel a close alignment with a

particular character whose actions are shaped by their own decisions.

Game designer Will Wright (The Sims, Sim City) has argued that games may have a unique ability to make players experience guilt for the choices their characters have made in the course of the action. When we watch a film or read a novel, we always reserve the ability to pull back from a character we may otherwise admire and express anger over choices he or she has made or to direct that anger towards the author who is reflecting a world view we find repugnant. Yet, in a game, because players are making choices, however limited the options provided by the designer, they feel some degree of culpability. And a game designer has the ability to force them to reflect back on those choices and thus to have an experience of guilt.

8. What roles (aggressor, victim, other) does the protagonist play in the depiction of violence?

Many of the media texts which have been most controversial are works which bring the viewer into the head of the aggressor--from the gangster films of the 1930s through contemporary films like Natural Born Killers and American Psycho, television series like Dexter and The Sopranos, and games like Grand Theft Auto. All of these works are accused of glamorizing crime.

As we've already discussed, we need to distinguish between following pattern, optical and psychological point of view, and moral alignment. Many of these works bring us closer to such figures precisely so that we can feel a greater sense of horror over their anti-social behavior. Consider, for example, Sweeney Todd, which depicts a murderous barber and his partner, a baker, who turns the bodies of his victims into meat pies she sells to her customers. We read the story from their perspective and we are even encouraged to laugh at their painful and heartless puns about the potential value of different people as sources for human meat. Yet, our strong identification with these characters allows us to feel greater horror and sorrow over the final consequences of their actions.

At the other end of spectrum, literary scholar James Cain describes how a whole genre of literary works arose in the Middle Ages around representations of saints as victims:

"The persecutions of early Christians gave rise to an extraordinary collection of tales commemorating the supernatural endurance of victims who willingly suffered heinous atrocities and ultimately gave their lives bearing witness to their faith. From accounts of the stoning of the first martyr, St. Stephen, to the broiling of St. Lawrence on an open grill, the strapping of St. Catherine to a mechanical wheel of torture, the gouging-out of St. Lucy's eyeballs, the slitting-open of St. Cecilia's throat, the slicing-off of St. Agatha's breasts, the feeding of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas to the lions, the piercing of St. Sebastian with a barrage of arrows--the graphic brutality undoubtedly exceeds even the most violent images in media today.... The strong emotional responses these images conjured up in their observers were deliberately designed to produce lasting impressions in people's memories and imaginations, to enable further reflection."

Far from being corrupting, representations of violence are seen as a source of moral instruction, in part because of our enormous sense of empathy for the saints' ability to endure suffering.

Most American popular culture negotiates between the two extremes. In the case of superheroes, for example, their origin stories often include moments of victimization and loss, as when young Bruce Wayne watches his mother and father get killed before deciding to devote his life to battling crime as the Batman, or when Peter Parker learns that "with great power comes great responsibility" the hard way when his lack of responsibility results in the death of his beloved uncle. In the world of the superheroes, the villains are also often victims of acts of violence, as when the Joker's face (and psyche) are scarred by being pushed into a vat of acid. The superhero genre tends to suggest that we have a choice how we respond to trauma and loss. For some, we emerge stronger and more ethically committed, while for others, we are devastated and bitter, turning towards anti-social actions and self-destruction.

A work like David Cronenberg's A History of Violence is particularly complex, since we learn more and more about the character's past as we move more deeply into the narrative and since the protagonist moves from bystander to victim and then reverses things, taking his battle to the gangsters, and along the way, becomes increasingly sadistic in his use of violence. Cronenberg wants to have the viewer rethinking and reassessing the meaning of violence in almost every scene of the film.

The filmmaker Jean Renoir famously said "every character has his reason." His point was that if we shift point of view, we can read the aggressor as victim or vice versa. Few people see themselves as cruel; most find ways to justify and rationalize acts of even the rawest aggression. And a literary work may invite us to see the same action from several different perspectives, shifting our identifications and empathy in the process. So, for example, the moment when we see the hunt from the whale's point of view reverses the lens, seeing Flask and his crew as the aggressors and the whale as the victim, a perspective we don't get in the rest of the novel.

Even when the artist doesn't fill in these other perspectives, critics and spectators can step back from a scene, put themselves in the heads of the various characters, and imagine what the world might look like from their point of view. Consider the novel and stage play, Wicked, which rereads The Wizard of Oz from the vantage point of the Wicked Witch and portrays Dorothy as a mean spirited trespasser who has murdered the witch's sister.

9. What moral frame (pro-social, antisocial, ambiguous) does the work place around the depicted violence?

Some fictions focus on violence as the performance of duty. The police, for example, are authorized to use certain sanctioned forms of violence in the pursuit of criminals and in the name of maintaining law and order. Some of these--for example, the television series The Shield--find great drama in exploring cops who "cross the line," seeing brutality or unnecessary use of force as a symptom of a police force no longer accountable to its public.

Similarly, much fiction centers on themes of war, with works either endorsing or criticizing military actions as forms of violence in the service of the state and of the public. There is a long tradition of national epics, going back to classical times, which depict the struggles to establish or defend the nation with violence often linked to patriotic themes and values. In the American tradition, this function was once performed by the western, which depicts the process by which "savagery" gave way to "civilization," though more recent westerns have sometimes explored the slaughter of the Indians from a more critical perspective as a form of racial cleansing.

So, even within genres that depict the use of force in pro-social or patriotic terms, there are opportunities for raising questions about the nature and value of violence as a tool for bringing about order and stability.

On the other hand, many stories depict violence as anti-social, focusing on criminals, gangsters, or terrorists, who operate outside the law and in opposition to the state or the community. The cultural critic Robert Warshow discusses the very different representations of "men with guns" found in the western, the gangster film, and the war movie, suggesting that all three genres have strong moral codes which explain when it is justifiable to use force and depicting what happens to characters who transgress those norms. The westerner can not live in the community he has helped to create through his use of force; the gangster (see Scarface for example) frequently is destroyed by the violence he has abused to meet his personal desires and ambitions; and the hero returns home at the end of the war, albeit often psychologically transformed by the violence he has experienced.

Just as fictions that seem to depict the pro-social use of violence may contain critiques of the abuse of power by the police or the horrors of war, fictions which depict the anti-social use of violence may include strong critiques of the gangster lifestyle. Robin Woods has famously summed up the basic formula of the horror films as "normality is threatened by monstrosity." In such a formula, there are three important terms to consider--what constitutes normality, what constitutes the monstrous, and what relationship is being posited between the two. Some horror films are highly moralistic, seeking to destroy anything which falls outside of narrow norms; others use the monster as the means of criticizing and questioning the limits of normality.

In many works, there is a core ambiguity about the nature of the violence being depicted. We may be asked to identify with several characters who have different moral codes and thus who see their actions in different terms. Our judgments may shift in the course of the narrative. The characters may understand their actions as pro-social even as the author invites us to read them as antisocial. Or the work may be saying that there's no simple distinction to be drawn between different forms of violence: it's all equally destructive. We might even imagine a truly nihilistic work in which all violence is justified. It isn't that we want students to fit works into simple either/or categories here. Rather, asking this question can force them towards a more complex understanding of the moral judgments the work is making--as opposed to simply those being made by the characters--about the value of the violence to society.

10. What tone does the work take towards the represented violence?

We've already seen the importance of distinguishing between the forms of violence being depicted in a work and the position the work takes on those actions. We've seen that identification with a protagonist is fragile and shifting across a work, so that we may sometimes feel a strong emotional bond with a character for much of the story and yet still feel estranged from her when the author reveals some darker side of her personality.

A work may depict the pro-social use of violence and either endorse or criticize the Establishment being depicted. A work may depict anti-social forms of violence in ways which are conservative in their perspective on those groups who use force outside legal contexts. Or a work may depict forms of violence that are hard to classify in those terms and thus invite readers to struggle with that ambiguity.

Similarly, we need to consider the range of different emotional responses a work may evoke through its use of violent images. Some fictions about violence, such as the action sequences in an Indiana Jones movie, may thrill us with exciting, larger than life heroics. Some, such as Saving Private Ryan or Glory, may appeal to our sense of national pride towards the brave men who gave their lives defending their country. Some, such as the scene in Old Yeller where the boy is forced to shoot his dog, may generate enormous empathy as we feel sorry for the characters who are forced to deploy or suffer violence against their will. Some, such as depictions of human suffering around the world, may seek to shock us into greater social consciousness and civic action. Some, such as slapstick comedy, may encourage us to laugh at highly stylized depictions of physical aggression. And still others, such as Saw or Nightmare on Elm Street, may provoke a sense of horror or disgust as we put ourselves through a series of intense emotional shocks in the name of entertainment.

We can not understand what representations of violence mean, then, without paying attention to issues of tone, and part of teaching close reading skills is helping students identify the subtle markings in a text which indicate the tone the author is taking towards the depicted events. Popular texts tend to create broadly recognizable and easily legible signs of tone, though many of the works of filmmakers like Tarantino or Scorsese generate controversy because they adopt a much more complex and multivalent tone than we expect from other texts in the same genre. We might compare Tarantino or Scorsese to certain writers--William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor come to mind--who also seek complicated or contradictory emotional reactions to grotesque and violent elements in their narratives.

"It's 2012. Do You Know Where Your Avatar Is?": An Interview with Beth Coleman (Part Two)

You reference your own avatar many times across the book but you do not tell us much about why you chose this self-representation or how you relate to your avatar. So, what's the story?

Henry, it's a tale of two cities, one academic and one engaged. Practically speaking, I had to make an avatar to do research in Second Life, as I would with any social media platform. In the same way, I had to have actual experience with the augmented reality and alternate reality games I describe in the book. So, on the one hand, my avatar is a simply a device, a way into the different platforms and communities I investigate. In a sense, my avatar is like a microphone. I need to have it to conduct research.

With that said, I am glad to be upfront about how my avatar functions because it has everything to do with me--who I am in my different facets as academic, artist, etc. So I will describe Hapi, my Second Life avatar, as an example of this positional Jujutsu. Hapi is a cute, white robot diminutive in size and genderless in affect that designed with Jenny Mu, a graphic artist and game designer from Parsons School of Design. From my point of view, Hapi was happily free of race, gender, or even humanness and that's how we had intentionally designed that avatar.

In my experience, the highly identifiable avatar bodies of MMORPG and other graphical virtual worlds could carry a serious burden of identity. It felt heavy to me to have to represent so exactly a gender or race or even species. Additionally, I needed to find an avatar that other avatars would talk to in neither an overly aggressive nor sexualized way. So, I landed on a cute robot, which is a figure personally near and dear to me. In other moments, you and I have discussed the place of race and gender in the contemporary world, where we both find ourselves liberated from some forms of the historical trappings and, yet, also recreating them. And so, I saw my avatar persona not so much as an alternative or different me, but as a strategic extension of myself.

You include an interview where Cory Doctorow describes himself as "offloading" reading to his students and playing to his wife. I realize he is to some degree joking, but it does raise the question about whether one sentient being can function as an "avatar" for another under your definition. How much control must we be able to exert and how much identification must we feel in order to see something as an Avatar?

Cory, as we know, is scrupulous researcher and a person intensely committed to seeing through to completion the project of a networked open-source world. With that said, he is also an avatar of economy. He makes part of his work the work of outsourcing to the right sources. Alice Taylor, his partner, is an accomplished gamer; Cory will never be that. Thus, free riding over her shoulder is his best education., the massively popular blog site of which Cory is one of the founders is based on the premise that other people find the stories on which the blog posts are based. The bloggers of Boingboing do not do "original" research in the traditional sense; they aggregate information (one of the exceptions to this is Xeni Jardin and Cory's first hand reports from Occupy Wall Street last winter). Cory describes this process of managing what would be for most of us information overload. He has tagged something about the aggregated now--the avatar effect as it were--that we need to attend to in moving forward. As for his students, Cory is pretty clear that he gives away books and asks students to report anything interesting. The students become proxy readers, but in a way that seems mutually beneficial and relatively transparent. If you think about the medieval formulation of the university and how graduate students are apprenticed, this seems like a relatively ethical approach.

What roles do you think telepresence plays within participatory culture?

Telepresence, or what I am calling copresence (the sense of being present with someone via mediation), is huge for participatory culture. We are moving unerringly toward a more graphic and increasingly real-time mediation. One of the things I underscore in the book is the idea that people in their everyday engagement of networked media create all kinds of innovation and intervention. I cite your work and that of Stefana Broadbent and Mimi Ito to support this point. I see copresence as one of the critical factors in how we move forward.

If my ideas of X-Reality hold--that online and worldly engagement become increasingly meshed--then copresence is a critical aspect of that progression. We feel each other across the networks. We strategize for regime change or denial of service attack or group buying power across these networks. The more vividly we feel each other's presence the more effectively and passionately we can work together to achieve our ends.

What do you see as the distinction between "users" and "agents"?

Users, as I quote scholar Wendy Chun, get used. Agents are activists. I don't mean exclusively political activists but, rather, the profile of one who engages. You yourself have talked about the importance of avid fan networks in the transitional state of moving from active viewer to active maker. I see this formulation of agency as the critically important to the theories of network society and open-source models that we find in influential thinkers such as Manuel Castells, Yochai Benkler, and Lawrence Lessig. In One Way Forward, Lessig's most recent book, he takes as a given that We the People are agents, the authors of our destinies. He also says that that We the People is a sleeping giant that needs to awake to its power. I agree that we need to awaken to the power of networked agency. In my mind, X-Reality and copresence are tightly bound up in a notion of twenty-first century agency.

You use various metaphors - especially "supplement" and "augment"--to describe the ways we use digital communications in relation to face-to-face contact. Both of these imply a complimentary rather than oppositional relationship between the two. Elsewhere, you make the claim that human agents are "not entralled by technology." How would you respond to critics who think we spend too much time in "virtual worlds" or in front of "screens"?

We spend a lot of time in front of screens. For my two bits as a media designer, I want to see us take these screens outside as often as possible, and I would like to see as much heads-up engagement as we can muster. What I see is people making the technology work for them by any means necessary. I invoke the Malcolm X adage because it is crucial to our sense of freedom and agency that we control our network outlook--our avatar.

I say this because of the data battles on the horizon. We have a shockingly new and powerful economic model where our data flows fuel the engine of Google or Facebook or other social media sites. We are at a moment when we need to consider seriously how we use network media to augment our lives--create greater opportunity for real-time and copresent exchanges. We are also at a moment when we need to reclaim our avatar

imprint, our data trail, as our own.

In this sense, my concept of augmented reality and mediation as a supplement to face-to-face presence are not metaphors at all. We actually use these mechanisms as we would a pair of glasses or a cane--we use them to see ourselves and each other more clearly. Think about whether you would rather lose your computer or your cell phone.

Most millennials would say without hesitation junk the computer. The hardware is nothing. The pervasive connection is everything.

You attempt to update Sherry Turkle's discussion of people as "cycling through" virtual identities. What do you see as having changed since she wrote her book, Life on Screen?

I don't think people cycle through. I think people use their online personas to extend, augment, and help actualize who they are in the world. I see what has historically been called "the virtual" as a contemporary aspect of augmentation. We don't think of a telephone call as "virtual;" we think of it as extending connectivity beyond geographic limits. I am suggesting that online engagement should be thought of in the same way.

For business people whose only engagement with "cyberspace" in the 1990s was their Blackberry connectivity, this has always been the case. Today for teenagers using mobile and social media to make status updates in real-time, this is also the case. There is no

separation between the "virtual" and the "real."

You compare your "virtual cannibal" with "Bungle the Clown" in Julian Dibbel's classic essay, "A Rape in Cyberspace." What has changed about "transgression" in online communities since Dibbel wrote his essay?

When Julian wrote that essay in the early 1990s we were both working as copy editors at the Village Voice. I saw in that piece and in that moment Julian framing a generational experience: we were the first generation of networked users to play wildly and freely in this undefined space of online. Subsequently, post-deluge, there are multitudes of us online. Julian translated a boutique experience to many.

Now, as I describe with the virtual cannibal, anyone can embark on a quest to find the edge of comfort and culturally acceptable behavior. There are two main points for me in understanding the experience of the virtual cannibal. First, we can Google extremist cultures and fairly easily join in the rumpus; in effect, as all things are more findable,

the historical idea of marginal cultures changes. The global jihadist movement illustrates this vividly. So does the sustained glee of the burners (Burning Man participants).

Second, the things we experience in simulated or virtual space are actual events in our lives. Julian's story of Mr. Bungle has often been interpreted as a cautionary tail of the raging id of online life. I see it in a different way. I think "A Rape in Cyberspace" tells us, from very early one, that our actions online have clear, connected impact on our lives in the world. I think he tells one of the first proto-X-Reality stories, even if it has not been generally interpreted as such. The difference now is that transgression is normal, not exceptional, in an era of avatars and that everyone can be Mr. Bungle. 4chan certainly figured that out.

You end the book with a discussion of alternate and augmented reality games. What do these experiences teach us about living in relation to "x-reality"?

I think the most important technologies we see coming online today augment reality in some form or another. Whether it is a game played across a city (an alternate reality game) or a handheld-device with real-time feeds, we are experimenting and rapidly prototyping technologies of augmentation. We see a profound augmentation of reality in how movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the occupation of Tahrir Square or even the Tea Party all use network media for collective action. This is X-Reality in action. But I still hold near and dear to my heart (and my analysis), the everyday use of avatars as augmenting reality. X-Reality describes the way in which people right now make manifest a collective power and individual agency. I know, it's a tall order. Nonetheless, it seems that we have amazing, vivid examples of this kind of heroism all around us.

Professor Beth Coleman believes in the power of storytelling to transform the world. She works with new technology and art to create transmedia forms of engagement. She is the director of City as Platform, Amsterdam, a Faculty Fellow at Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University, as well as a professor at the Institute of Network Cultures, Hogeschool van Amsterdam. From 2005-2011, Coleman was an assistant professor of comparative media studies at MIT. As an artist, she has a history of international exhibition including venues such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, and Musée d'Art moderne Paris. She is the co-founder of SoundLab Cultural Alchemy, an internationally acclaimed multimedia performance platform. As the newly appointed co-director of the Critical Media Lab and a professor of English Literature and Languages at the University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada, she continues to work internationally with collaborators in through Africa, Europe, and Asia. Her book Hello Avatar is published by the MIT Press.

"It's 2012. Do You Know Where Your Avatar Is?": An Interview with Beth Coleman (Part One)

I first met Beth Coleman when she spoke at the first Race in Digital Spaces conference, one of two joint events hosted, curiously enough, between MIT and USC in 2001-2002. I wrote at the time, "

Cyberspace has been represented as a race-blind environment, yet we don't shed our racial identities or escape racism just because we go on line...The concept of 'digital divide,' however, is inadequate to describe a moment when minority use of digital technologies is dramatically increasing. The time has come to focus on the success stories, to identify examples of work that has increased minority access to information technologies and visibility in digital spaces."

Coleman was there as an academic speaker on one of our plenary panel and in her guise as Dj Singe from Soundlab Cultural Alchemy, she performed alongside DJ Spooky and others. This helped to cement in my mind the image of Coleman as a gifted theorist/scholar, artist/performer, and activist, who was going to help teach us to think in new ways about digital experiences and identities.

Flash forward to the present moment. I brought Coleman to MIT to be a colleague in the Comparative Media Studies Program where she taught for many years. She's continued to do cutting edge work not only in sound design but also in transmedia and locative media experiences. And she's just come out with a hot new book, Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation, which is making people's heads explode.

You may think you know all about avatars and virtual worlds: this was what we were talking about with great anticipation five or six years ago, and what has fallen from grace once everyone got past the buzz about Second Life. But, Coleman is turning this concept on its head, getting us to think about what she calls "x reality" which lies at the intersection between our digital and physical identities, thinking of our new social media as themselves places where we construct and deploy avatars, and thinking about new forms of information and entertainment which are going to be part of our fused identities in the not so distant future. I had watched the book develop over time, but nevertheless was surprised and intrigued by some of the reframing of its core concerns which had taken place in the past few years. It's a short book but it packs a wallop, as I think will be suggested by this interview.

Reading Clay Shirkey's introduction, I am reminded of our three way exchange about the future of Second Life which was conducted via our blogs. You and I were far more optomistic than Shirkey about the long-term impact of this early virtual world. What are your thoughts reflecting on the issues of that debate with 20-20 hindsight?

In a nutshell, Clay was right. Second Life was too hard to use and too

essentially dorky in its "sexy avatar" ethos to achieve and sustain a broad

popular interest. Although it aspired to be a kind of Facebook, where people

would use it as hub for information, it was not that for multiple reasons. That said, Henry, I think that you and I got the spirit of the thing right. We were both pointing to the aspirational uses of the site, where people as represented by their avatars strove to create often utopian spaces. I am suggesting that those utopian space (even when they come in rather dystopic forms like my virtual cannibal) present actual events in

peoples' lives that they use, often, as a point of leverage to transform themselves. And that is what I argue in the book. Sure, Second Life was a powerful chapter in the innovation of graphic networked engagement. But the big change in network engagement is what I am calling X-Reality: the sense that all our worlds, spanning the simulated to the bodily, are working toward a greater sense of an avatar existence. In short, we are neither "virtual" or "real" but rather these networked creatures whose technologically mediated exchanges directly impact our worldly experience. The #occupy movement, the Arab Spring, even Obama's election campaign make it achingly clear that we are now occupying X-spaces in a way that we were not at the turn of the century or in the 1990s. I think Linden Lab (the creators of Second Life) got their own message wrong. If they were creating a cyber-escape from reality, then they did not realize what

century they were working in.

Given what we now know about Second Life, what do you see as the likely future of virtual worlds?

We will only see more graphically rich interactive spaces. In my definition of virtual worlds, I include Facebook and other kinds of social sites where we create by text, image, and sound the image of ourselves--the avatars as it were--that we use as our public faces. This type of "virtual" representation is not new. In the book, I talk about the concept of "persona" in ancient Rome, where one's reputation as citizen was based on how one crafted a public face.This crafting of a public face is happening at a global scale today with the support of social network platforms. In this sense, the virtual worlds of our

network persona are now a part of daily life. And the scale at which we engage

this type of virtual world is immense.

In terms of the traditional, more narrow definition of a virtual world as a walled garden of text or graphic space....well, small, distinct user communities will always populate these platforms. But for the real future of the virtual world, we have to think about the value of shared, real-time visualization tools applied to the pressing issues of the day. Mapping radiation levels in Japan, crisis mapping across Kenya...these are recent historical events that illustrate the value of shared real-time graphical/informational tools. It is

no longer a virtual world. It's a networked one.

A key concept running through the book is that of "x-reality." What do you mean by this term and how does this approach differ from some older ways of talking about online experience?

At base, I use the term X-reality to signal that we are no longer role-playing online, trying out identities as it has been proposed, but, rather, that we have harnessed the power of online networks to build the world we would like to see. That it is a real world we are building is clear; that this real world includes all kinds of technological mediation is also clear. In this sense, X-Reality is a break from prior theories of online engagement.

Historically, and here I am thinking of Sherry Turkle and Julian Dibbells' seminal work in the 1990s exploring online communities (but we find the same perspective in the cyberpunk of William Gibson, the technofuturism of Wired, and the libertarian hacker ethos of the code writers and legal activists of the "free" Internet), cyberspace was a space away from the rest of the world. It was a place of adventure, play, and marvelous experimentation for the few who learned how to engage in that technologically compelling and difficult space.

So it is a moment of legend, where hackers were cowboys and everything was up for grabs as long as you left the body and any ideas of embodied experience out of it. Now, some twenty years after launch of the World Wide Web as the popular (and graphical) adoption of the Internet, we see a different world. In my estimation, it is an X-reality world. I mean by this idea of X-reality that we, as networked subjects, as people who engage in mediated communication of many sorts all the time, live our daily lives somewhere between what had been the virtual and what had been the real. In other words, when you send me a text message or follow me on Twitter, you are using all manner of real-time mediation without even worrying about the fact that we are reaching each other in what might reasonably described as "cyberspace." As with the telephone and other real-time media technologies we have incorporated into our lives, we have reached a point with online networks where the distinction between the virtual of mediation and the real of embodied experience mash up into each other. In other words, increasingly we understand our world to be a porous one where the events of online exchange influence the events of the physical world. We are neither virtual nor real but a mix of theses states. And this is what I am calling X-Reality. One of the things I am grateful for is that we do not see a strong first world-versus-emerging world bias here. This is not about reliving the PC revolution of North America and Central Europe of the 1990s. The shift to X-Reality is a global one.

Another core concept here is that of the Avatar which you descirbe as a "figure of transition." How are you defining avatar in this book? What roles do avatar play in social and mobile media as opposed to in virtual worlds?

As I discussed a bit above, I think that we all engage in deep avatar play, regardless of the platforms we use. So, for example, in a classic virtual world, you will have a little figure running around a graphical or textual world that represents you, one way or another. But the space for greatest cultural shift around avatars has not so much been virtual or game worlds but the pervasive use of social media. We are everyday using mediated forms to represent us as proxies. Avatars are figures of transition in the sense that we have already arrived at a moment where it is normal to have your Twitter persona or your Facebook page convey important information about who you are. Essentially, I think James Cameron got it right with his vision of science fiction jungle utopia. In the film Avatar, the avatars were figures of transitions, conduits to a fuller self for the protagonist Jake Sully. In our everyday experience of avatars we may not be blue, giant, or quite as magical, but we are increasingly recognizing the power of our connectivity and how we might transform ourselves. The transition I see is the shift from an idea of role-playing online to the instantiation of avatars as ambassadors--the networked presence that precedes or augments the face-to-face encounter.

Professor Beth Coleman believes in the power of storytelling to transform the world. She works with new technology and art to create transmedia forms of engagement. She is the director of City as Platform, Amsterdam, a Faculty Fellow at Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University, as well as a professor at the Institute of Network Cultures, Hogeschool van Amsterdam. From 2005-2011, Coleman was an assistant professor of comparative media studies at MIT. As an artist, she has a history of international exhibition including venues such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, and Musée d'Art moderne Paris. She is the co-founder of SoundLab Cultural Alchemy, an internationally acclaimed multimedia performance platform. As the newly appointed co-director of the Critical Media Lab and a professor of English Literature and Languages at the University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada, she continues to work internationally with collaborators in through Africa, Europe, and Asia. Her book Hello Avatar is published by the MIT Press.

How to Ride a Lion: A Call for a Higher Transmedia Criticism (Part Three)

2011 C3 Research Memos and White Paper Series edited by Prof. Henry Jenkins, Prof. William Uricchio and Daniel Pereira

How to Ride a Lion:

A Call for a Higher Transmedia Criticism


Geoffrey Long

Futures of Entertainment Fellow

Alumni Researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium (C3)

(Author's Note: Since this paper was originally authored in 2010, I've been delighted to discover an increasing amount of transmedia critics. Whose analysis of transmedia projects do you most enjoy? Please let us know in the comments! -GL)

PART 3 of 3

4. Conclusions and Next Steps

By now, the value proposition for transmedia criticism should be clear, even if the challenges involved in developing it are daunting. Even if one believes (as I do) that the rewards do justify the labor involved, the question remains of where such criticism will be found. Who will these transmedia critics be, and where will they publish their work?

It's easier to imagine a home for transmedia criticism than one for transmedia reviews. Academically speaking, an easy place to begin would be a Journal of Transmedia Studies, but so far that has yet to come into existence. As more conferences and academic programs begin to appear with transmedia as their focus, more critical thinking about transmedia projects will continue to be produced as a result, and will likely be released either as conference proceedings or on blogs dedicated to particular courses or research projects (not unlike the C3 blog in its heyday)[18]. Programs to keep an eye on for such resources include the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, the IMAP program at USC, the Center for Future Storytelling at the MIT Media Lab, and the nascent Center for Serious Play at the University of Washington.

To date, many discussions of transmedia projects at levels that begin to approach true transmedia criticism can be found around the burgeoning alternate reality game sub-industry, such as ARGNet, the mailing list for the IGDA ARG SIG (or the International Game Developers' Association Alternate Reality Game Special Interest Group, for the uninitiated) or the blogs of ARG authors like Andrea Phillips, whose April 6, 2010 post analyzing the Why So Serious ARG campaign for The Dark Knight explained what that campaign did exceptionally well and, in so doing, showed why the first Twilight book is so poorly designed for transmedia extension. Phillips:

One: Experiences like Why So Serious have come under criticism because they arguably don't create audiences where none were before. At the end of the day, the people who were really involved in Why So Serious were all people who were going to see the movie anyway, right? It's uncomfortable to admit it in public like this, but... yeah, it's probably true.

Two: The most successful transmedia experiences are the ones where there is space for the player to live in the world. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings; these are all worlds that are very much bigger than the action on the main stage. And that's what we do in the ARG space; we provide walk-on roles that let people live in our worlds, while not requiring them to step onto the main stage themselves.

That's why the first Twilight book is poorly suited to transmedia; there isn't much of a world there outside of the couple in love. But the subsequent books increase the scope of the world more and more, incorporating group dynamics and government structures that add up to a world bigger than just Bella and Edward and their true, sparkly love.

So why was Why So Serious such a big deal? It's because it took a world that did not have space for an audience to live inside it - Gotham - and created canon spaces where players could dwell, for the first time. They became voters and accomplices. It turned a property that was previously not very well suited to a transmedia experience and created one that suddenly is. It's not just Batman and his allies and enemies anymore.

And while the people participating in that world are probably the ones who loved the property before, all of that energy and excitement brings more people in. The person with the Joker mask was already going to see the movie, but maybe their roommate wasn't going to, or their cousin, or the person they enthuse about the film to at work or at the coffee shop or on the bus.

I know I started reading Harry Potter because of all of the fan energy around it; that's also why I read Twilight. Giving your audience the freedom and an outlet for their passion for your work leads to them converting peripheral audience members into fans, and people who were never a part of the core audience into peripheral audience members. Participation is the engine that drives fandom, and fandom drives success.

So there you have it, one of the most important keys to making a great transmedia world: Scope. Make it roomy enough for your audience to play in your world. They'll love you for it, and their love brings rewards.[19]

I read that post and heaved a sigh of contented relief, as if I'd just been given a tubful of water after marching across the Sahara. It's not long, but it's insightful, and is an excellent example of how some sample transmedia criticism might work: pick a transmedia project to criticize, break it apart to determine what worked and what didn't, bubble up the learnable observations, and draw connections from that observation to other examples to give it context (and your argument more weight). To my mind, this was a brilliant example of nascent transmedia criticism, and I constantly go back to Phillips' site in hopes of finding more.

Another up-and-coming source for transmedia criticism is Christy Dena's cheekily-named You Suck at Transmedia (, which includes comments from Comparative Media Studies and C3 alumnus Ilya Vedrashko and friend of C3 Jeff Watson. Although the site is relatively sparse (24 posts over six months), many of the articles to be found there are really interesting. Here's an excerpt from Dena's opening post:

You Suck at Transmedia!!

Yes, this is something many of us have been wanting to say for a others (mostly) and to ourselves (sometimes).

But don't worry, this site isn't about trashing specific people or projects. I'm a practitioner too, and so I know how even though we learn quickly, we cringe at old mistakes. But importantly, I also know how bad design is often the result of processes and people you don't have control over. You know it sucks but nobody listened, or believed you, or worse didn't tell them. This site is part of that conversation. Encouraging us all to feel confident about what we know (and find out) sucks.

... How do you/we/us stop sucking at transmedia? Well, this site is a step in that direction. This site welcomes contributions that really do aim to progress the state of the art. Here we can discuss the consequences of transmedia design, production and execution decisions.

In short, this site will cover transmedia decisions that never, sometimes, and always work.[20]

As of this writing, Dena's posts have titles like "YSA Directing Meaning Across Media," "YSA Being an Artist", "YSA Being Human," and "YSA Sucking".[21] As of this writing, most of Dena's posts haven't been critical evaluations of particular transmedia experiences so much as reflections on the trials and tribulations of life as a transmedia experience designer, including videos of Quentin Tarantino talking about being an artist and a critique of the National Theatre's recent mishandling of a Twitter snafu, but the site has a great deal of promise.

A third newly-released resource for transmedia criticism is The Pixel Report, from Power to the Pixel's Liz Rosenthal and Tishna Molla. TPR declares itself to be "devoted to showcasing new forms of storytelling, film-making and cross-media business development that is in tune with an audience-centered digital era. It is an essential tool for content creators, a vital resource for policy-makers & funding bodies and a unique guide for anyone interested in the future of film and the media."[22] Unfortunately, the site seems to be a thinly-veiled set of hooks to draw people to the Power to the Pixel conference or order the proceeds from the conference. Although the site ostensibly includes case studies of such projects as beActive Entertainment's Final Punishment, Tommy Palotta's Collapsus, and the National Film Board of Canada's Waterlife, the site's pages for these case studies amount to little more than an overview of each project, video clips of people discussing these projects from the previous conference, and a big button encouraging people to order the case studies. This feels less like transmedia criticism and more like advertising for Power to the Pixel and their consulting services.

Finding a home for transmedia reviews are much more challenging. Let us for a moment ignore the (very real) possibility that the entire print magazine world is going belly-up. So far most articles on transmedia have been either mile-high "What is Transmedia?" articles in publications like Wired or slightly deeper and more directed pieces in publications dedicated solely to one medium, such as those found in Filmmaker Magazine. Although book reviews, film reviews, music reviews, video game reviews and even technology reviews are commonplace in mainstream publications, is it realistic to expect the New York Times to employ a transmedia critic alongside their film and book critics? How likely is a New York Review of Transmedia, or an On the Transmedia show on NPR?

It's possible that the very structure of transmedia experiences, where ideally each extension in each medium is of sufficient quality and modularity to serve as an ambassador for the rest of the franchise to the 'native' fans of that medium, also extends to critics. If Escape from Butcher Bay is good enough to garner a high score on Metacritic, perhaps it's good enough to be reviewed by video game critics who will serve as multipliers (to steal a term from Grant McCracken) and advocates for the rest of the franchise to their audience. However, this still leaves us wanting for critics who will advocate for transmedia experiences that do transmedia well, evaluating and recommending the "greater than the sum of its parts" super-experience of the franchise as a whole. It's possible that such reviews will be relegated to the review sections for the medium in which each franchise has its mothership - so reviews of the transmedia franchise surrounding The Matrix will be found in the film section, reviews of the transmedia franchise for Assassin's Creed will be in the video game section, and so on - but as transmedia experiences continue to evolve into massive things that touch on every part of our lives, will the notion of "mothership" continue to exist? Only time will tell - but it seems likely that, if such a scenario comes to pass, by that time our reviews systems will have evolved to accommodate such vast experiences as well.

Finally, returning to the notion that newspapers, magazines and other print-centric media structures might be dead anyway, it's possible that the very notion of curated collections of reviews will dissipate as well. We already have big blogs dedicated to particular audience demographics, like Engadget or io9 or Blastr, that, like special-interest basic cable channels, cover everything that might be of interest to that particular demographic.[23] This suggests that students interested in becoming transmedia critics might first attempt to become staff writers for such blogs - and supplement their writings there with a constant stream of insights posted to their own blogs (a tactic similar to that of both Phillips and Dena).

As transmedia continues to trend towards mainstream acceptance and continues to gather mass as a key area of development in the entertainment industry, all of these options are likely to flourish. It's only a matter of time before a Journal of Transmedia Studies appears to support the research coming out of these new academic programs, only a matter of time before sites like io9 have to figure out how to review projects from transmedia shops like Fourth Wall Studios, Quixotic Transmedia, Campfire, or Blacklight Transmedia, and only a matter of time before more rich resources begin to appear online that cater specifically to producers and fans of transmedia experiences.

Our next steps now are for more of us to start engaging in close analyses of transmedia experiences, to start breaking them down and figuring out why they work or why they fail. More of this exploration must be done in order to help us understand how to really leverage the unique affordances of transmedia experience design as its own particular art, both individually and as a whole. Tearing into these new transmedia experiences to figure out what makes them tick, sharing those insights with one another and then using those lessons to create more astonishingly fantastic transmedia experiences, teaching each other how to ride these lions, is how we will push the medium forward. Writing more transmedia reviews to spread the word about those experiences to a broader audience is how we will ensure that we will all keep riding lions for a long time to come.

Geoffrey Long is a media analyst, scholar, and author exploring transmedia experiences and emerging entertainment platforms at Microsoft. Geoffrey received his Master's degree from the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, where he served as a media analyst for the Convergence Culture Consortium and a researcher for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. Through his work with the Convergence Culture Consortium, Geoffrey authored "How to Ride a Lion: A Call for a Higher Transmedia Criticism" and "Moving Stories: Aesthetics and Production in Mobile Media". His personal site is at, he can be reached at, and he can be found on Twitter as @geoffreylong.


[18] The Convergence Culture Blog ran from 2005 through 2011.



[21] The YSA stands for "You Suck At," naturally.


[23] Unsurprisingly, is operated by genre cable channel Syfy.


Bloom, David. "A Critical Shortfall: Who Rates the Transmedia?", March 21, 2010.

Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing About Film, 7th Ed. Longman, 2010.

Delaney, Samuel. Shorter Views.Wesleyan, 2000. [GL10]

Dena, Christy. "Transmedia Practice: Theorising the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World across Distinct Media and Environments." PhD Dissertation. University of Sydney, 2009.

Eagleton, Terry. The Function of Criticism. New York: Verso Press, 2000 ed.

Heer, Jeet and Kent Worcester. Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium. University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

Ito, Mimi. "Intertextual Enterprises: Writing Alternative Places and Meanings in the Media Mixed Networks of Yugioh."

Jenkins, Henry. "Revenge of the Origami Unicorn."

Johnson, Derek. "Learning to Share: The Relational Logistics of Media Franchising,"

MIT Comparative Media Studies, Converegence Culture Consortium White Paper,

Kochalka, James. The Cute Manifesto. Gainesville: Alternative Comics, 2005.

Long, Geoffrey. "Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company," MIT Comparative Media Studies Master's Thesis,

Philips, Andrea. "Why So Serious: Lessons in Transmedia Worldbuilding." Deus Ex Machinatio, April 6, 2010.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephelia: Film Culture in Transition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.

Schwartz, Ben. The Best American Comics Criticism. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2010.

Thompson, Brooke. "A Criticism on the Lack of Criticism.", June 1, 2010.

Wolk, Douglas. Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2007.

How to Ride a Lion: A Call for a Higher Transmedia Criticism (Part One)

As people here on the west coast are getting ready for the April 6 Transmedia Hollywood conference to be held at the USC Cinema School (hint, hint - tickets still available), my old colleagues on the East Coast -- the fine folks in the Futures of Entertainment Consortium (formerly the Convergence Culture Consortium) which I helped to establish back at MIT -- released a significant new white paper which calls for more critical engagement with what does and does not work in the current generation of transmedia entertainment. Geoffrey Long, an alumni of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, was part of a remarkable cohort of students who helped me work through some of the core ideas in Convergence Culture and who have continued to engage with issues of transmedia in their professional lives. Long, from the start, has asked some of the most thoughtful questions about the aesthetics and poetics of transmedia as a mode of storytelling, and some of that core thinking comes together here in an especially powerful way. I hope to see many of you at the Transmedia Hollywood conference in just a few weeks but in the meantime, Long's white paper gives us all something to chew on. Talk amongst yourselves.

2011 C3 Research Memos and White Paper Series

edited by Prof. Henry Jenkins, Prof. William Uricchio and Daniel Pereira

How to Ride a Lion:

A Call for a Higher Transmedia Criticism


Geoffrey Long

Futures of Entertainment Fellow

Alumni Researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium (C3)

(Author's Note: Since this paper was originally authored in 2010, I've been delighted to discover an increasing amount of transmedia critics. Whose analysis of transmedia projects do you most enjoy? Please let us know in the comments! -GL)

PART 1 of 3

Executive Summary

As we move past the "Transmedia 101" stage of definitions and early experiments, the next stage of development for transmedia experiences may require transmedia criticism.

Such a move is not without its challenges. Transmedia criticism is inherently difficult (Should transmedia criticism only focus on transmedia's unique characteristics? Should it evaluate how well each individual component performs as an example of its medium? Must a transmedia critic be 'fluent' in every medium in a franchise?), and unleashing a horde of vicious critics on a medium still in its infancy could be horrifically damaging. There's also the question of where such criticism might ideally begin, as it is likely to evolve in three distinct directions - first in an industry-educating role like that of E.W. Sargent in the early days of cinema, second in an "educate the public sphere" role like that of early literary criticism in 18th-century England, and third in the lonelier role of isolated education to which literary criticism eventually found itself exiled.

Despite these issues, a robust system of transmedia criticism will be well worth the difficulty. As the future of entertainment becomes increasingly dominated by transmedia experiences, the entertainment industry will require both more informed practitioners (who will need both insights into leading transmedia experiences and a shared language of transmedia akin to the language of cinema) and a broader audience for transmedia as a medium (who will need ways to find new transmedia experiences and recommendations of which are worth their time). All of these breakthroughs can be attained through a robust transmedia criticism.

1. Introduction


I've been thinking a lot lately about this one weird word. 'Good' is a horrible word, really, because it's not only wholly subjective, it's also inherently subjective, fleeting, and hyperlocalized. What I think is good might be garbage to you, what was good yesterday isn't good today or what's good today may be passé tomorrow, and what's good in Los Angeles may be worthless in Tokyo or even in the next building over.

Yet 'good' is also an intensely powerful word. In 2006 I wrote a white paper for the Convergence Culture Consortium (C3) in which I half-jokingly declared that Rule One for creating anything is "Don't Suck." The awkward truth at the heart of that joke is that in order for a work to succeed it must first be good. This brings us back to the subjective, fleeting, hyperlocalized nature of 'good', and round and round we go.

And yet, as maddening as the pursuit of 'good' can inherently be, this is where both transmedia production and transmedia studies must go next. The majority of the papers written and talks given about transmedia to date have focused on defining the terminology or recounting early experiments: "this is what we think transmedia is, and this is how we're tinkering with it". A lot of this is Transmedia 101, or, when we're lucky, Transmedia 201. What we need now is Transmedia 701, 801 and 901, to tell us how to create good transmedia experiences, how to succeed at transmedia as a medium in and of itself.

Measuring transmedia success objectively will require some form of transmedia metrics, to tell us which transmedia experiences are gathering audiences, retaining audience attention, converting new audiences in one medium into fans that pursue the experience into additional media, and so on. Alas, we're not there yet. For now, we must satisfy ourselves with subjective forms of success, observing tactics adopted by various transmedia experiences and evaluating how well they appear to function in the service of the whole. We can also attempt to evaluate how well a particular transmedia experience succeeds as a transmedia experience by setting a number of tightly-defined criteria for evaluation, and then determining how closely the subject under examination adheres to those criteria - but attempting to do so for any medium, much less one as early in its infancy as transmedia, may be a fool's errand. The edges of any medium (and, arguably, any definition) will always remain what Samuel R. Delaney calls a 'fuzzy set', and so a fixed definition of 'transmedia' will always be as elusive as a fixed definition of 'film' or 'comics'.[1]

This isn't to say that pushing and pulling at the boundaries of a definition isn't a worthwhile pursuit - such experimentation is what leads to the expansion of any enterprise, and often leads to the creation of wholly new types of things. Some folks will happily bicker for years over whether a truly transmedia experience has to have community involvement, whether all Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) are transmedia experiences, if it's really transmedia if it's just a jump from a digital version of a comic to a print version of a comic, ad infinitum and ad nauseum.[2]

Yet there are now a sufficient number of us playing in this particular sandbox that we can move on to more advanced debates. We can stop pointing to examples of what transmedia storytelling is or is not, and start creating some in-depth, insightful criticism of what we consider to be good or bad examples of what we call transmedia, why we consider them to be so, and what they did that appears to have worked. In his Cute Manifesto, comics artist and theorist James Kochalka states:

Art is not a way of conveying information, it's a way of understanding information. That is, creating a work of art is a means we have of making sense of the world, focusing to make it clearer, not a way of communicating some understanding of the world that we already hold. (Kochalka 2005)

This is similar to the role that transmedia criticism can play in our understanding of this emerging medium. Kochalka's comment could easily be remixed into the following:

Transmedia criticism is not a way of conveying knowledge about transmedia, it's a way of understanding transmedia. That is, transmedia criticism is a means we have of making sense of this new medium, focusing to make it clearer, not a way of communicating some understanding of transmedia that we already hold.

Simply put, we don't yet know enough about transmedia to communicate firm, definitive truths about it that we already hold. However, this demonstrates the value of engaging in such analysis now, while general understanding of - and the creative practices in - transmedia is still relatively malleable. We should engage in earnest transmedia criticism now to gain a clearer focus, a better understanding, and ideally both a broader audience for transmedia and deeper, richer, more engaging, more profitable, and generally better transmedia experiences overall.

This explorative tactic is my chosen approach for this extended essay. The pages that follow include a few examples of what transmedia criticism already exists and draw on a history of criticism and examinations of criticism in other media (particularly comics and film) to lend them some context. By the end, this essay will have sketched out who's calling for such transmedia criticism, what role transmedia criticism might play and why it's important, where such criticism might be found, who might do it, and where might be a good place to start.

Some of us - especially those of us familiar with the work of the Convergence Culture Consortium (C3)[3] - are starting already, groping around in this dark direction. While I wouldn't call the recently-published doctoral theses of either Derek Johnson[4] or Christy Dena[5] transmedia criticism per se, both documents make me long to read what criticism Johnson and Dena would write given the chance. Therein lies the problem - some of this work exists, but we need more of it - a lot more - and we need it quickly and broadly disseminated. This essay is designed as a resource for those of us already thinking about transmedia criticism, to help us step up and write that criticism and get it out there where it can start to do some real good.

At the end of the day, all of this Transmedia 101-level "This is what transmedia is, and this is how we're experimenting with it" panels and papers feel a bit like "There's this thing called a lion, and this is how we poked it with a stick." The challenge is to go further: not just "this is how to tame a lion" further, not just "this is how to ride a lion" further, but "this is how to ride a lion well". We have proven the existence of lions. There are plenty of people out there who are not only starting to ride lions, but are getting really good at riding lions. It's time we point out who's riding their lions through fire - and to tell the world why that's so amazing.

2. Who's Calling for Transmedia Criticism?

I once had a conversation with a high-ranking executive who was a transmedia skeptic. I was describing how important this notion of transmedia was becoming to the future of experiences, until he cut me off. "If it's so important," he said, "why aren't I hearing people calling for it?"

The first response that sprang to mind was Henry Ford's famous quote about how if he had only listened to what people were asking for, he would have built a faster horse. My second dismissed candidate was that people are calling for it - but then I realized that these people calling for transmedia experiences are themselves already converts, and are in fact calling for more advanced transmedia experiences. The response I chose? Those familiar with transmedia experiences are calling for more, and those who aren't just haven't been properly introduced to good transmedia experiences yet.

Not unsurprisingly, the same thing can be said of transmedia criticism. In a recap of the March 2010 Transmedia Hollywood event, journalist David Bloom wrote:

Fans are eating up all the cryptic, dystopian alternate-reality game experiences and spinoff comic books and book-length novelizations, participants said. But just as importantly, what once were just marketing-driven afterthoughts now often are aesthetic achievements that stand on their own. The only questions (and they're big ones) are deciding what counts as a success, based on what criteria, and judged by whom.

...One audience member tartly observed that, "Anything that is concerned with ROI (return on investment) isn't art." Yes, he clearly hadn't talked to a studio executive in a long time (despite saying he was in the middle of post-production on a science-fiction film). But his point went to a core question of the day, one panelists didn't really answer: how do you evaluate a transmedia project's success? Is it artistic/aesthetic? If so, is it judged on its own merits, or just on how it connects and fleshes out the connected "mothership" project, typically a film or book? Should it be judged on financial terms, like a stand-alone book or movie or videogame? If it is financial, is that based only on what the project cost? Or do you have to figure out how to measure what it did for the mothership? How do you value a transmedia project that keeps fans engaged in a major franchise during the lulls between new mothership arrivals? What Hollywood suit is equipped to pencil this one out? And, in the wake of widespread layoffs by print publications of their film, music, TV and theater critics, who's qualified to make any judgments on aesthetic or financial grounds (ahem, Variety, we're looking at you, again)? If, as with some recent projects, it's an elaborate creation that ties together multiple web sites, phone numbers, video material, documents, puzzles and more, who's going to work through all that, and decide how it rates?[6]

Transmedia designer Brooke Thompson voiced similar concerns in a June 1, 2010 blog post called "A Criticism on the Lack of Criticism":

It strikes me that one of the biggest problems hindering the growth of transmedia (and all the various things that fall under it, such as ARGs) is the absolute lack of critical looks at projects. That's not to say that criticism doesn't exist - it does, but it's scattered in conversations and hidden in forum posts or mailing lists. And it is, usually, not about a project as a whole and, instead, focuses on a single issue or is a broad look at the field.

Thompson is referring to the nascent form of transmedia criticism on the message boards of sites like Unfiction or ARGNet (both of which specialize in alternate reality games) and in the blog posts of individuals like Andrea Phillips (another transmedia artist) and Christy Dena (a prominent transmedia scholar). More on their attempts to address this need appear in sections V and VI of this paper, but the main point is that calls for criticism are being issued by fans, practitioners and scholars.

Such calls for criticism have been issued in other media before. In fact, the subtitle of this extended essay pays homage to an article called "A Call for Higher Criticism" published in October of 1979 in The Comics Journal #50. In it, the author pleads:

First, let me make it clear that I'm not trying to promote a standard for "fan" criticism or "professional" efforts. I write this in the hope that I might make discoveries when I read criticism of comics art, and not merely read opinions of an issue, a story, or a creator. What criticism of our medium needs is a frame of reference, and a sustained level of introspection.

The author was a young comics writer and DC editorial staff member named Paul Levitz, who happened to go on to serve as the President of DC Comics from 2002 until 2009. Levitz was calling for a comics criticism that transcended mere reviews of individual stories and included more insightful examinations into the context in which those stories existed. As Levitz concluded:

Many professional comics writers and artists, for whatever reasons, think no further about their work than the job they're currently finishing. Many others, of course, give deep and intense thought to the medium they use. Many critics of comics criticize issues or stories as the be-all and end-all. Few take the time to consider the bigger picture, and to make criticisms that can give both readers and professionals lasting insight into what they do. It's this lasting insight that is a critic's opportunity to make changes in a field - changes great enough to last beyond his lifetime.

...Look back over the numberless thousands of comics you've read when next you criticize a single one. Consider the context, not as an excuse, but as explanation - or at least as the raw data of which an explanation can be made. Communicate your likes and dislikes not on the level of "loved panel seven of page eight," but on a level of theory that may revolutionize the thinking of someone who reads your criticism. That's your golden opportunity to use your critic's throne to change the future, because all you have to do is communicate one ever-so-special thought to the right person at the right time, and you might help genius reach fulfillment. And wouldn't that be a nice change?

A number of established critics stepped up to answer that question, and The Comics Journal published their responses to Levitz' article in the very next issue. The tone of these replies was predictably mixed. Pierce Askegren, for example, noted that "Levitz should bear in mind the comparative youth of comics, comics fandom and comics fans; maturity comes to institutions more slowly than it does to individuals." It's Bill Sherman's response, though, that bears the most relevance to our current purposes:

We should make a distinction here between reviewing and criticizing. Reviews ask - and, one hopes, answers - the simple question: "Is this piece of art worth my time?" In a review the writer acts as an educated consumer, giving a context for his opinion (which may involve history as well as some critical comments) and then telling readers his answer to that question. Most reviewing is by nature ephemeral, though if a writer is consistent and works long enough without taking the easy way out (overusing the cursory cop-outs Levitz mentions, for example), he will produce criticism of a general sort. An example of this happening might be James Agee's series of movie reviews in the '40s: collected, they provide an excellent critical overview of the period.

Criticism speaks to a larger audience: both consumers and those artists willing to look and think about what they and their cohorts are or have been doing. It's analytical, tries to figure out how a piece of art works in relation to other pieces of art, and to a degree it ignores the question of "Is this worth my time?" "Of course it is," criticism says, although that answer may not imply the work being criticized is any good in the critic's eyes, only important. Criticism is lengthier and usually takes a degree of distancing... It takes time for critical vision to develop, which is why so many highly touted favorites have been known to lose their sheen after several years' perspective. For all its analytical value criticism frequently lacks a journalistic sense of what's happening now.

Where does this leave us? With the need for both good criticism and good reviewing, with the need for reviewers with enough critical/historical insight to produce writing that - while short of Levitz's ideal - carries thought behind it, with the need for creators who aren't afraid to have their work looked at from a consumer's point of view and who aren't lackadaisical about the critical process. Levitz's call is just, but there's need for good thoughtful writing on all levels of analysis.

Sherman is absolutely right. The type of criticism Levitz calls for - the deep, insightful examination of how a piece of work is built and the context in which it was made - is intensely useful to practitioners, but it might be overkill for general audiences curious to know whether something is worth their time - and this question takes on even more importance when dealing with transmedia franchises that represent massive time investments in order to consume the whole thing.[7]

This suggests that instead of merely 'transmedia criticism', what we need is actually both a type of 'transmedia criticism' and a form of 'transmedia reviews'. A richer, deeper understanding of transmedia among academics and professionals may require an equally rich, deep form of transmedia criticism, which develops its own language of transmedia akin to the language of cinema (more on that later), wrestles with the lasting import of any particular example of transmedia (in other words, debates the existence of and admission into some form of transmedia canon) and enjoys all the delightful tensions between industry and academia inherent therein.

At the same time, broadening the audience for transmedia experiences may require transmedia reviews, which concern themselves more directly with communicating to the general public (and the generally curious) which transmedia experiences are worth their time and money - and, ideally, which components of those franchises will be the most interesting to a given sub-section of the audience, which component would be the best place to start, and so on. There's clearly a place for both such criticism and such reviews, but it is the combination of the two which will most likely result in both better transmedia and a broader audience for it.[8]

The task at hand, then, is to sketch out not just a form of transmedia criticism, but an ecosystem of transmedia criticism, one that's broad enough to include both criticism targeted at educating the industry and reviews broadening the public. Such a combination might finally provide the ideal answer to the question posed by the executive at the beginning of this section: to hear more people calling for transmedia, first you have to produce something worth wanting, and then show them why they want it.

(Next: What Role Might Transmedia Reviews Play?)

Geoffrey Long is a media analyst, scholar, and author exploring transmedia experiences and emerging entertainment platforms at Microsoft. Geoffrey received his Master's degree from the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, where he served as a media analyst for the Convergence Culture Consortium and a researcher for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. Through his work with the Convergence Culture Consortium, Geoffrey authored "How to Ride a Lion: A Call for a Higher Transmedia Criticism" and "Moving Stories: Aesthetics and Production in Mobile Media". His personal site is at, he can be reached at, and he can be found on Twitter as @geoffreylong.


[1] For an example of what a nightmare this is, see the ongoing debate over Scott McCloud's famous definition of 'comics'.

[2] We should let them do so. For many of them, tenure depends on it.


[4] A version of the ideas in Johnson's thesis can be found in his C3 White Paper: "Learning to Share: The Relational Logistics of Media Franchising" -

[5] Transmedia Practice: Theorising the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World across Distinct Media and Environments -


[7] More on this in section V.

[8] Over a quarter-century later, a new generation of comics scholar-critics have emerged to answer Levitz' call. One such critic is Douglas Wolk, who has written comics criticism for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Salon and Rolling Stone. In his 2007 book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, Wolk writes, "...It's my responsibility as a critic to be harsh and demanding and to subject unambitious or botched work to public scorn, because I want more good comics: more cartoonists who challenge themselves to do better, and more readers who insist on the same" (Wolk 22). One hopes it won't take nearly as long to generate the ecosystem of transmedia criticism I'm lobbying for here.

What We've Learned About Games and Learning: An Interview with Kurt Squire (Part Two)

In the design world, "fail and fail often" has become a mantra. What were some of the most instructive failures you experienced working on the first phases of the Games to Teach project and how did they inform later developments in games-based learning?

Oh, there are so many. I have to start with Supercharged, though, which I still get requests for to this day (and the longer it sits, the better it becomes in my memory). We de-emphasized art production and style prioritizing the real-time simulation, for reasons including too few artists at MIT, the fact that scientists didn't really care if it looked good but did care if it was an accurate simulation, and funders' interest in having a fully 3D game. We could -- and probably should -- have prototyped much more in 2D and put the story and fiction through more cycles of refinement.

The biggest failure, though, is that we weren't up front enough about these limitations and failures. The nature of academics (in this area, at this time) required foregrounding successes (which we had). I wish, though, we had been more candid about our failures and implored our colleagues not to make the same mistakes we did.

This is one area I gain inspiration from the game developer's community. It's not uncommon to see a game developer throw down at GDC and challenge designers to stop making the same mistakes. In fact, they create a space for it through sessions such as the game designer's rants. I can easily imagine Harvey Smith or Eric Zimmerman threatening to disown any colleagues who repeated their mistakes. We don't have any space for that.

A few things we did right: Offering a suite of games instead of "one game to rule them all". Mapping out genres and affordances. Using academics as a chance to explore concepts like Augmented Reality. Experimenting with commercial game engines and tools like Neverwinter Nights to understand their potential for education. In retrospect, I wish we would have been even more daring. The work on Environmental Detectives has blossomed to the point where there's now a Spanish class at the University of New Mexico that uses iPods to get kids in their community learning Spanish, and there's a direct line between a conversation between Eric Klopfer, Walter Holland, and Philip Tan at MIT and a classroom full of kids who realize that they can learn Spanish by becoming actively engaged in Spanish speaking neighborhoods, and that's pretty cool.

Throughout the book, you address the constant push for "evidence" that games-based learning works and for measures to assess participatory culture's value in the classroom. What is the current state of our knowledge about the success of such practices? What criteria should we use to evaluate the kinds of projects and programs you are describing?

The current state of the evidence is that we've privileged certain questions (i.e. "Is this working to meet educators' learning goals) over basic questions such as "Is this a good game, when judged by the standards of participatory culture?" We haven't had, that I'm aware of, an educational game that has inspired fan fiction, for example. We need to stop evaluating games primarily by evidence for learning gains along relatively constrained measures and develop more robust measures to understand whether games are inspiring interest in target domains, connecting learners to new social networks, or leading them to produce things.

These critiques aren't wholly new, but I think as educational researchers, we may have copped out on answering these questions. It's easy to blame No Child Left Behind or even Race to the Top, but the real challenge and opportunity is to design a game that might, say, connect youth to more wide reaching social networks and then to empirically demonstrate how a game succeeds in doing so. (Fortunately, the geographically-based nature of school districting and "sequestering" model of educational assessment ensures that schools will look relatively weak as comparisons).

I want to see mechanisms for measuring if playing an educational game inspires youth to create a work of fiction, a film, or build a game. We need to develop longitudinal research programs that analyze youth development over time and begin to model how youth who participate in such a game playing (and production) network differ from those in more traditional environments. This means getting beyond statistical models borrowed from agriculture (which involve simple causality), and looking more broadly toward areas like data mining or machine learning. These kinds of analyses happen now in marketing through sites like Facebook; let's hope it finds its way to education.

Early in the book, you cite Will Wright as saying that anyone who wants to design an educational game should "start with systems." What do you see as the value of games for teaching systems-thinking and why is this approach so central for redesigning American education?

Most games can be productively understood as simulations -- representations that seek to depict systems evolving over time. It's one thing that games (especially Will's) do that other media do less well. Even relatively linear fighting games include fighting "systems" that must be mastered to excel. You might argue that even adventure games -- the most linear of games -- require players to take a step back and to understand the game as a system in order to succeed.

The importance of systems understanding is something near and dear to me personally. My own undergraduate education was in Interdisciplinary Studies, and my course work involved studying natural and social phenomena as systems rather than as discreet disciplines. The world itself does not naturally occur by disciplines, which is something I think we often forget the longer we live with categories such as biology, chemistry and so on. Research on the cutting edge of each of these disciplines crosses over into others as we try to understand phenomena.

The global challenges we face today -- from global warming to poverty to the Middle East -- won't be solved by single solutions. The painfully simple, yet still instructive September 12th game arguing that a war that kills innocent civilians only breeds new terrorists is a good example of something games do more easily than other representational systems.

We have to guard against fetishizing systems thinking, I think, just as we need to guard against computational, design, logical, procedural, metacognitive, or critical thinking, all of which at one point or another were offered as "the new Latin" (or the new Algebra, or more recently Logo). There is no panacea, but there certainly are models of thinking that are of increased importance in today's work. So far, none of these ideas has itself cured the world's problems. We might also go too far in dismissing how Latin / Algebra / Logo may not have solved all of society's ills, but they can be robust ways of thinking (or toolsets) that people employ. I've met many people who trace their love of language to an inspiring Latin teacher or their love of programming to Logo. But I digress.

As you note, many teachers express concern that games are not "perfect simulations," that there are built in biases in the ways they represent the world. How valid is this concern?

I don't see this as a valid concern, any more than the concern that a book would have authorial bias or that a filmmaker would employ a frame. We need more, not less critical understanding of how particular media shape the kinds of messages they tend to produce (to paraphrase McLuhan). I'd rather see a teacher use a horribly biased game and use it as a springboard for conversation than to treat a text as the ultimate authority.

You advocate passion-based learning, such as that which surrounds games, yet, as you note, many educators insist that learning is a discipline and that students should value learning for learning's sake. How can we resolve this disagreement about the role of pleasure and personal interest in schooling?

My wife, Constance Steinkuehler likes to distinguish between "learning for learning's sake" and "learning the things that I want you to learn for learning's sake". Meaning that when pushed, even the most liberal educator who wants to inspire a love of learning may not be entirely comfortable with a student who loves learning about monster trucks or bow hunting. Indeed, it's hard to separate the ideal of learning for the intrinsic value of learning from the content itself.

For example, the scientists I've met working at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, for example, tend to describe their work in terms of a passion for understanding the universe, or even unraveling the mystery of how stem cells form IPS cells and then somehow know how to self-organize into tissue and organs. They don't, however, spend a lot of time talking about learning for learning's sake although many (not all) come across as genuinely inquisitive.

So, we have evidence that most people will throw themselves into passion-based learning, whether it's a passion for bow hunting or a passion for writing fan fiction around The Gilmore Girls, which schools usually don't recognize. We have a set of values that are recognized in formal schooling, although it often doesn't match up well with what people in the world care about.

I like the idea of promoting genuine inquisitiveness as a value (or passion) that schools should produce. I can't think of any better way to kill inquisitiveness than No Child Left Behind, which depending on the day, I might chalk up to being an unfortunate consequence of that legislation or a designed attempt to stifle independent thought.

Either way, we need to acknowledge that most people organically develop passions for things. These passions may not be the same that parents, teachers, or society might want them to have. Liberals like me tend to offload this concern toward a general "love of learning" without really considering that there are certain things we "want" them to love or develop passions for. I think we'd be much better off if we did, and asked, "What kind of a curriculum would truly inspire a love for history, biological systems, or an inquisitiveness toward the world?".

To borrow a page from James Paul Gee (and yourself Henry), we do (in America at least, I think) have an uneasy relationship with pleasure, particularly with kids. Perhaps it's our Puritanical roots, but Americans seem peculiarly suspicious of pleasure, which in most cases I've studied, is wrapped up in learning (as is perhaps pain). Pleasure is often something to be denied (especially so for women, who are socialized to care for others before themselves). One of my favorite political thinkers, Al Giordano often challenges his (very liberal) readers to fully embrace pleasure, and you can almost see them wince at this challenge to simply do things that make them happy. Fortunately, Henry, this isn't a quality I associate with you.

Kurt Squire is an Associate Professor of Digital Media in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Interim Director of the Education Research Integration Area at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. He is the author of over 75 workson digital media and education and most recently Video Games & Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age.

Futures of Entertainment 5: The Videos (Day One)

A few weeks ago, I made the trip back to Cambridge, MA to participate in the fifth iteration of the Futures of Entertainment conference. This conference emerged from the work we did at MIT through the Convergence Culture Consortium. The goal of the conference is to provide a meeting ground for forward thinking people in the creative industries and academia to talk with each other about the trends that are impacting how entertainment is produced, circulated, and engaged with. Through the years, the conference has developed its own community, which includes alums of the Comparative Media Studies Program who see the conference as a kind of homecoming, other academics who have found it a unique space to engage with contemporary practices and issues, and industry leaders, many of them former speakers, who return because it offers them a chance to think beyond the established wisdom within their own companies. Our goal is to create a space where academics do not read papers and industry folks don't present prospectus-laden powerpoints or talk about "take-aways" and "deliverables," but people engage honestly, critically, openly about topics of shared interest.

Read by these criteria, this year's event was arguably our most successful venture ever, ripe with sometimes heated debates about the nature of the "crowd" (and of the relations between artists and consumers within crowd sourcing models), about the struggles over privacy, piracy, and self identity which shape everything from our relations with location-based entertainment to children's media, about the ways that global perspectives complicate some of the assumptions shaping American media practices, and about the ways that grassroots control over circulation complicate established business models.

On a personal level, I was deeply proud to see so many of the CMS alums in their new professional identities, showing that they have continued to grow in intellectual stature and cultural authority after leaving MIT, including Sam Ford who has taking over as the primary person in charge of the event and of our newly renamed Futures of Entertainment Consortium. I was delighted to see so many of my new friends from the west coast fly to Cambridge to join us for this year's event, including Ernest Wilson, the Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. Formally, Futures of Entertainment is the sister conference to Transmedia Hollywood, which we host here in Los Angeles, swapping years between USC and UCLA. But this was the year where the two families mingled with each other and the bridges between the two conferences were strengthened. By the way, I've gotten lots of questions about the next Transmedia Hollywood conference: there's not a lot of information to share yet, but it will be held on April 6 2012 at the USC Cinema School, if you want to save the date. Watch this blog for further announcements.

Finally, I was deeply proud of the diversity we achieved in our programing this year, making further progress in a long struggle to get greater gender balance on our panels, and making a huge step forward in terms of bringing transnational perspectives into the mix. We welcome recommendations for speakers at our future events in general, but we especially welcome recommendations for female, minority, and international speakers.

I am also proud that we continue to maintain a tradition of making webcasts of the conference available free to all. I am posting the videos of the Friday events today and next time, of the Saturday events. We will end the week with a focus on a special event on Global Creative Cities, and with some further reflections of our announcement of a new partnership with the City of Rio.

Check out this very thoughtful response by Jonathan Gray to the conference's focus on "crowdsourcing" and collaborative production.

While I was at MIT, I dropped by my old stomping grounds at the Comparative Media Studies Program and had brunch on Sunday with the newly arrived crop of Masters Students and some of the Program's Alums. What a smart group! After several years of regrouping, CMS has come back strong as ever, has maintained strong standards in terms of the quality and diversity of the community. I wish them all the best.

Introduction (8:30-9:00 a.m.)

William Uricchio (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Ilya Vedrashko (Hill Holliday)


Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society. (9:00-10:00 a.m.)

How are the shifting relations between media producers and their audiences transforming the concept of meaningful participation? And how do alternative systems for the circulation of media texts pave the way for new production modes, alternative genres of content, and new relationships between producers and audiences? Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green-co-authors of the forthcoming book Spreadable Media-share recent experiments from independent filmmakers, video game designers, comic book creators, and artists and discuss the promises and challenges of models for deeper audience participation with the media industries, setting the stage for the issues covered by the conference.

Speakers: Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California), Sam Ford (Peppercom Strategic Communications) and Joshua Green (Undercurrent)


Collaboration? Emerging Models for Audiences to Participate in Entertainment Decision-Making. (10:15 a.m.-11:45 p.m.)

In an era where fans are lobbying advertisers to keep their favorite shows from being cancelled, advertisers are shunning networks to protest on the fans' behalf and content creators are launching web ventures in conversation with their audiences, there appears to be more opportunity than ever for closer collaboration between content creators and their most ardent fans. What models are being attempted as a way forward, and what can we learn from them? And what challenges exist in pursuing that participation for fans and for creators alike?

Moderator: Sheila Seles (Advertising Research Foundation)

Panelists: C. Lee Harrington (Miami University), Seung Bak (Dramafever) and Jamin Warren (Kill Screen)


Creating with the Crowd: Crowdsourcing for Funding, Producing and Circulating Media Content. (12:45-2:45 p.m.)

Beyond the buzzword and gimmicks using the concept, crowdsourcing is emerging as a new way in which creators are funding media production, inviting audiences into the creation process and exploring new and innovative means of circulating media content. What are some of the innovative projects forging new paths forward, and what can be learned from them? How are attempts at crowdsourcing creating richer media content and greater ownership for fans? And what are the barriers and risks ahead for making these models more prevalent?

Moderator: Ana Domb (Almabrands, Chile)

Panelists: Mirko Schäfer (Utrecht University, The Netherlands), Bruno Natal (Queremos, Brazil), Timo Vuorensola (Wreckamovie, Finland) and Caitlin Boyle (Film Sprout)


Here We Are Now (Entertain Us): Location, Mobile, and How Data Tells Stories (3:15-4:45 p.m.)

Location-based services and context-aware technologies are altering the way we encounter our environments and producing enormous volumes of data about where we go, what we do, and how we live and interact. How are these changes transforming the ways we engage with our physical world, and with each other? What kind of stories does the data produce, and what do they tell us about our culture and social behaviors? What opportunities and perils does this information have for businesses and individuals? What are the implications for brands, audiences, content producers, and media companies?

Moderator: Xiaochang Li (New York University)

Panelists: Germaine Halegoua (University of Kansas), Dan Street (Loku) and Andy Ellwood (Gowalla)


At What Cost?: The Privacy Issues that Must Be Considered in a Digital World. (5:00-6:00 p.m.)

The vast range of new experiments to facilitated greater audience participation and more personalized media content bring are often accomplished through much deeper uses of audience data and platforms whose business models are built on the collection and use of data. What privacy issues must be considered beneath the enthusiasm for these new innovations? What are the fault lines beneath the surface of digital entertainment and marketing, and what is the appropriate balance between new modes of communication and communication privacy?

Participants: Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard University) and Helen Nissenbaum (New York University)


OurSpace: Being a Responsible Citizen of the Digital World (Part One)

Our Space: Being a Responsible Citizen of the Digital World is a set of curricular materials designed to encourage high school students to reflect on the ethical dimensions of their participation in new media environments. Through role-playing activities and reflective exercises, students are asked to consider the ethical responsibilities of other people, and whether and how they behave ethically themselves online. These issues are raised in relation to five core themes that are highly relevant online: identity, privacy, authorship and ownership, credibility, and participation. The casebook is available for free online and you can access it here, on the Project New Media Literacies team website, among other places. Our Space was co-developed by Project New Media Literacies (established at MIT and now housed at University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism) and The GoodPlay Project (Harvard Graduate School of Education). The Our Space collaboration grew out of a shared interest in fostering ethical thinking, and conduct, among young people when they exercise their new media skills. We recently released the finished product to the world, after many years of hashing through these complex issues together, and we are eager to get response from other educators who are interested in applying some of these activities in their own contexts. Today, I am going to share my own reflections about the project, which are part of a joint afterword which I wrote in conversation with Howard Gardner, the leader of the GoodPlay project. You can read that full exchange here. Next time, I will share one of our initial activities --- "Our Space, Our Guidelines" -- which is intended to help teachers develop a safe space through which students can engage in conversations about ethical issues.

Excerpt from How We Got Here:

Peter, a typical American teenager, lives in a major metropolitan area in North America. The product of a broken home, he currently is under the supervision of his aunt and uncle. Peter considers himself to be a master of the Web, able to move rapidly from site to site and applying his emerging skills to promote social justice. Peter has engaged with typical identity play, adopting a flamboyant alter ego, an avatar that allows him to do and say things he would be hesitant to do otherwise. Peter belongs to a social network with kids from a nearby private academy who share his perception of being different from others around them. Peter uses Flickr to publish his photographs, some of which have been published professionally by the local newspaper under a Creative Commons attribution; the editor has been so impressed by Peter's work that he now lets him work freelance. Peter often interacts with adults who share his geeky interests online. Peter uses his computer to monitor suspicious activities in his community and is able to use a range of mobile technologies to respond anytime, anywhere to issues that concern him. He uses Twitter to maintain constant contact with his girlfriend, Mary Jane, who often has to stay after school to rehearse for drama productions.

Peter and his other friends are part of a generation that has embraced the expanded capacities of new media to more actively participate in their society. Peter doesn't like to consider himself a hero, but he has made a difference in the lives of the people around him. Indeed, Peter's Uncle Ben has told him that he enjoys the kind of power and knowledge that previous generations could only imagine but warns him that "with great power comes great responsibility." Peter knows less than he thinks he does, but more than the adults around him realize. While he makes mistakes, some of them costly, he is generally ready to confront the responsibilities thrust upon him by his circumstances.

Alert readers will have already recognized that Peter Parker is the protagonist of Marvel comics long- standing Spider-Man franchise. I've treated his story as if it were a case study from our research to make a point. Most of us already accept the idea--at least through fiction--that young people might be able to assume greater responsibilities than previous generations, that they might learn ways to use their emerging "powers" responsibly and ethically, and that the value of doing so may outweigh the risks or challenges. Within the pages of a comic book, things, such as identity play, which sometimes worry adults, are much more normative, much as they are for the young people who have grown up defining their identities in relation to the online world. And there, we come to accept the value of young people "geeking out," rehearsing and deploying their skills within communities defined more through their shared interests than through fixed relations between adults and youth, and we come to recognize that young people may take on their own "missions" that motivate their learning and shape their understanding of their place in society.

The Spider-Man comics even allow us to see Peter and his friends at Xavier Academy (The X-Men) make and learn from mistakes, often as part of a supportive social network which is there to pick up the pieces and offer valuable advice on the next steps in their personal journey. And it's a good thing that the Avengers, the predominantly adult organization of superheroes to which Spider-Man belongs, are not age-conscious, since one longtime member, Thor, is a five-hundred-plus-year-old immortal god and compared to him, all of us are "immature." Many of us grew up reading such stories, though we often forget them when we are confronting the messy business of helping adolescents acquire and master adult responsibilities.

For me, this project started with the recognition that there was a whole generation of youth who, like Peter, are deploying new media technologies and the processes associated with them to develop a clearer understanding of themselves and their place in the world. Many of these youth are becoming media makers, expressing their emerging understanding of the world through fan fiction, game mods, mp3 downloads, websites, YouTube videos, social-network profiles, Flickr photographs, and a wealth of other grassroots production practices. As they do so, some, though not all of them, are stepping into the support systems around what we call participatory culture. They are using these technologies to construct their identities, to make sense of their social networks, and to gain respect from adults who share their goals and backgrounds. Some of them are joining online communities that, at their best, meet their needs, but in other cases, fail them. Despite a tendency to talk of "digital natives," these young people are not born understanding how to navigate cyberspace and they don't always know the right thing to do as they confront situations that were not part of the childhood worlds of their parents or educators. Yes, they have acquired great power, yet they--and the adults around them--don't know how to exercise responsibility in this unfamiliar environment.

Those of us on the Project New Media Literacies (NML) team felt that it was too easy to talk about "media effects," as if these young people were simply victims of these new technologies, or to identify risks without recognizing the many potential benefits of teens' online lives. As a society, we have spent too much time focused on what media are doing to young people and not enough time asking what young people are doing with media. We need to embrace an approach based on media ethics, one that empowers young people to take greater responsibility for their own actions and holds them accountable for the choices they make as media producers or as members of online communities....

The pronouns surrounding these digital practices suggest an uncertainty about the balance between individual and collective experience in the online world. Consider, for example, the "you" in YouTube. In English, "you" can be both singular and multiple, blurring distinctions that are carved into other languages. So when we talk about YouTube, do we see it as a space of personal or individualized expression, or do we see it as a space for shared, networked communications? What about the "my" in Myspace, given the fact that our personal sites are simply portals into a much more fully integrated social network that links us, directly or indirectly, to every other user of the site? We've chosen to call this guide "Our Space" to emphasize the social dimensions of participatory culture: "Our" suggests a shared ownership and responsibility over what happens in the online world. Ideally, transforming the pronoun here encourages us to recognize that our individual choices have social consequences, that what we do online may impact others, and as such, online sites should be sites of ethical reflection....

Our conversations with the GoodPlay Project have been generative for all involved, bringing a much broader array of experiences and expertise to the table than either team could have mustered on its own. Howard and I came to this project with different disciplinary backgrounds, different intellectual commitments, and different experiences with digital media and popular culture. These differences were reflected as well in the graduate students and researchers who worked on our respective teams. We have not always agreed and, indeed, we've sometimes had heated disagreements. Bringing these teams together has meant that in any given conversation, there was a healthy skepticism displayed towards all claims, allowing for a finished product that reflects both the risks and the benefits of the online world, explores both the decisions of individual agents and their larger socio-cultural context, balances traditional and emerging pedagogical practices, and can be deployed in a school that has one laptop per child and one that has no laptops at all. We hope that educators will not simply embrace those materials that match their preconceptions but rather will integrate the disagreements and debates around new media into their pedagogy. None of us know where all of this is going, so it is far too soon to adopt fixed positions.

Not every activity proposed here will work in every educational context. We are trusting educators to make their own decisions about which activities to deploy and how to adapt them or adjust them to local particulars. But we hope that educators will seek the same balanced perspective that has emerged through our multi-year conversations together--not giving themselves over to fear of the new media landscape, but always taking a skeptical, though not cynical, perspective....

While the activities we've developed often expose students and their teachers to new tools and technologies, our real emphasis is on helping all involved to explore some of the emerging cultural practices that have grown up around new media platforms. Even those students who have rich and remarkable online lives may be too narrow in their exploration of the online world, while we imagine that future generations will need to acquire skills in navigating and negotiating across multiple communities, each with its own norms, practices, and traditions, and each posing its own standards and expectations. At the same time, because our emphasis is on skills and competencies, rather than on technologies, we have sought low-tech activities that might help those who have limited digital access to acquire habits of mind that will enable a fuller transition into cyberspace when and if the opportunity presents itself. Many of the skills we identify are not new; many have long been part of the educational process; but they have acquired new importance and new meaning in response to shifts in our information infrastructure.

These emerging skills are unevenly distributed across the culture, making it difficult to create a "one- size-fits-all" intervention that will serve the needs of these diverse constituencies. NML, thus, has developed a more modular approach: one that provides scaffolding for new teachers and inexperienced students but also serves the needs of more experienced participants. We see educators as important partners who are themselves appropriating and remixing our content on the ground and often on the fly. We want teachers to apply their own knowledge and experience to flesh out our activities. As we've seen our materials brought into school and after-school programs, they are deployed most effectively when teachers trust young people to make meaningful choices and value their own insights. Wherever possible, we want our activities to be open-ended and flexible. And wherever possible, we want students and teachers to go to the actual sites where cultural change is occurring rather than simulating these practices in the classroom.

In my book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (Jenkins, 2006), I warn about some of the challenges of bringing participatory culture into formal education:

"It is not clear that the successes of affinity spaces can be duplicated by simply incorporating similar activities into the classroom. Schools impose a fixed leadership hierarchy (including very different roles for adults and teens).... Schools have less flexibility to support writers at different stages of their development. Even the most progressive schools set limits on what students can write compared to the freedom they enjoy on their own."

And indeed, NML's field testing of our materials has shown just how realistic many of these concerns are. The fixed power relations between students and teachers sometimes ensures the imparting of knowledge across the generations, but may also constrain youth from seeking meaningful advice about ethical dilemmas they encounter from adults around them. By comparison, young people and adults who share the same interests are meeting online, often collaborating on projects together, in ways that respect and value what each participant has to contribute. Teachers in the classroom struggle with how to preserve their own expertise without recognizing that young people also may know things that need to be brought to the table. Popular culture often embraces values at odds with those of the schoolhouse, and students and teachers need to negotiate a set of guidelines about appropriate or inappropriate use of those materials in the classroom.

In the digital age, classrooms are no longer isolated environments, cut off from the surrounding society, but rather nodes in a complex learning network. Our materials exploit the porousness of this new learning ecology, expanding the range of opportunities schools have historically offered their students, connecting learners to larger knowledge communities, and encouraging young people to voice their perspectives and share their creations with a larger public. As we prepare young people for a world that is more and more defined around collaboration and collective problem solving, we must help them acquire the social skills necessary to meaningfully contribute to a network of other learners. In a world where people who pool their knowledge and share their expertise can solve more complex problems than those working alone, we need to offer our students more difficult questions and give them an opportunity to confront them together.

Too often, educators are adopting positions that close off the exploration of the new media, rather than encouraging young people to acquire the skills needed to meaningfully participate, and fostering an ethical perspective that allows them to deploy their resources responsibly and safely. The activities included in this casebook adopt a different perspective, suggesting ways that teachers and young people might engage with Facebook and MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube, Second Life and World of Warcraft. Without such training, young people are being left to deal with these new environments on their own. Some of them are being left out or left at risk as a consequence. Some teachers are advocating "just say no" to Wikipedia, for example, rather than helping young people understand the processes and norms through which Wikipedians evaluate and assess the reliability of information they are providing. Some schools are shutting out YouTube rather than helping young people to reflect on their roles as the

producers and distributors of media content. Some educational programs stress the rights of copyright holders but do not expose students to the fundamentals of fair use or to the emerging practices around Creative Commons licensing. And many adults worry about issues of personal privacy without understanding why young people might also place a value in sharing their personal experiences and insights within their extended social networks.

All of these, and many other issues, have been debated back and forth by the two teams in the course of developing this casebook. We know that different teachers will take different perspectives on these cultural, ideological, and pedagogical concerns. We've tried to design these materials in such a way that they can be taken in many different directions and still convey some fundamental ethical concepts that will help young people chart a meaningful course for themselves as media producers and members of online communities.

David Buckingham has suggested the value of approaching young people's use of technology in terms of their "beings" (respecting who and what they are now) rather than their "becomings" (seeing their present state as some stepping stone to their adult identities). While some of our activities confront the long-term consequences of their decisions, we also are trying to take seriously the activities that young people are already engaging with and the ethical issues they are already confronting in their day-to-day interactions with online communities.

We also know that young people are not the only ones who will be learning as they work through these units: Many adults still know little about these emerging social communities and cultural practices; most are uncertain about what parts of our existing ethical toolkit still apply in these unfamiliar situations. We hope that educators will use these materials to test and strengthen their own conceptual frameworks, remaining open to new possibilities, even as they hold tight to long-standing values and standards. As educators, we are obligated to act through reason and not out of fear; that responsibility requires us to continually ask questions of ourselves and of our students. We are teaching them not to be too trustful of the information they read on Wikipedia; perhaps we also should learn not to trust sensational news stories that provoke moral panic about young people's digital lives.

Like Spider-Man, you have been given both great power and great responsibility. What are you going to do with it?

"The Revolution Will Be Hashtagged": The Visual Culture of the Occupy Movement

Since September 17, the Occupy Wall Street movement has produced an overwhelming array of visuals, offering a significant lens on the movement itself, its ties to history, its divergent voices, perspectives and styles, as well as its multiple distribution channels from mainstream outlets to social media. Despite the criticism from experts who do not necessarily see much potential in Occupy's "brand," the visual aspects of the protest clearly have impact and traction. Although it would be impossible to fully assess this rich visual output, this blog post attempts to understand its emergent themes as well as the potential uses and value attached to visual commentary and protest. Throughout history, visual culture has played an important role in protest and social change. Although "high" art had long been used to venerate political figures as well as members of the upper classes, with the revolutionary tides of the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and America, we see a shift and an increase in pictorial depictions of political resistance. These historical examples demonstrate the way visual culture has been fundamental to the politics of protest. They serve as witness and document. They can incite and instigate action.

Thus begins a rich, compelling, and timely post over at the blog maintained by the USC Civic Paths Research Group. Dr. Alison Trope, Clinical Associate Professor, and Lana Swartz, PhD Student, both in USC Annenberg, have assembled an amazing archive of images drawn primarily from the Occupy rallies from around the country and across the globe.

As this opening suggests, their primary emphasis is on visual media -- the signs, costumes, spectacles, which have been deployed to define the terms of the debate. Given the visual rich nature of their post, I can't cross-post it here, so I can only send you there to examine it more closely. But, believe me, it is worth hitting the link...

The Civic Paths team has been studying alternative forms of activism, especially those which involve the intersection between popular culture, participatory culture, and youth, for more than two years. We are affiliated with a research hub focused on Youth and Participatory Politics funded by the MacArthur Foundation and led by Mills College's Joe Kahne. Our own involvement stems from my long-standing interest in fan activism, the theme of a special issue our group is editing for Transformative Works and Culture, which will come out early next year. But, our interest has grown far beyond this.

Our current case studies include work on the young activists who are working to pass the Dream Act to give greater educational and citizenship rights to undocumented youth (Arely Zimmerman), research on youth involvement in Libertarian politics (Liana Thompson), research on Nerdfighters, the Harry Potter Alliance, and Imagine Better (Neta Kligler-Vilenchik), and research into Muslim-American politics post-911 (Sangita Shreshtova). Along the way, though, we have also been looking closely at a broader range of case studies -- from Racebenders to labor organizing in Madison, Wisconsin. This site looks at some of our preliminary examples, which helped pave the way for our current research. Altogether, we have nearly 20 PhD and Masters students contributing to this research, many of whom have posted some preliminary insights through the Civic Paths blog, so if you come to visit the Occupy archive, stay around and check out some of their other contributions.

I was lucky enough to have been able to pay a visit to Washington Square, the home of Occupy Wall Street, a few weeks ago, when I was in New York for the Mobility Shifts conference. An army of people in Zombie costumes, many of them from Zombiecon, a horror fan convention, had arrived at the Park just a few minutes before I did, and they were mingling with folks dressed up like characters from Game of Thrones and carrying signs warning that "the Winter is Coming." Elderly tourists were stopping them and seeking to better understand why they were dressed the ways they were and how they were connected with the Occupy moment, resulting in a series of exchanges which would further spread awareness of the protest. And that's part of the point.

Occupy is not so much a movement, at least not as we've traditionally defined political movements, as it is a provocation. If the mainstream media has difficulty identifying its goals, it may be because its central goal is to provoke discussion, to get people talking about things which our political leadership has refused to address for several decades now -- the profound shifts in economic wealth which have created conditions of gross inequality in opportunity, the role of what Sarah Palin has called "crony capitalism" (and which is really an indication of the role of capital in shaping our political process), and especially the degree to which economic policies under both Republican and Democratic presidents have been written with more regard for Wall Street than Main Street.

The values that Occupy represents are shared by the vast majority of Americans, if recent surveys are any indication, yet they are rarely expressed by mainstream political leaders or the mass media. So, part of the point of these protests is to provide what Stephen Duncombe might call an "ethical spectacle" as a means of focusing attention. And the old women who are asking Zombies questions are part of that process, no doubt sharing what they saw with their friends back home, and thus providing yet another chance to talk about what's been going on here.

The blurring between fan and activist that I observed demonstrates a different relationship between popular culture and politics than we saw in previous protest movements. The Popular Front in the 1930s sought to influence the development of popular culture, giving rise to Aaron Copeland, Norman Rockwell, Frank Capra, and many others, whose work shaped our current image bank of what democracy looks like. The protest movements of the 1960s sought to tap into the language of popular culture -- especially those of rock and comics -- to create an alternative culture, one which was implicitly and often explicitly critical of corporately-owned media and which sought to express the worldview of a younger generation. The protest movements of the early 1990s embraced a DIY aesthetic, giving rise to the Indie-Media movement, and helping to fuel talk of a digital revolution which might democratize access to the channels of communication.

The Occupy movement, by contrast, has laid claim to the iconography of existing popular culture as a set of cultural resources through which to express their collective identities and frame their critiques. Thus, we see a much more playful style of activism, one which owes much to the traditions of fan culture, one which assumes that images and stories from superhero comics or cult television series are shared by many of the participants (and will be understood by a larger public which has not yet joined the protests). So, they are dressing up, designing signs which re-ascribe meanings to familiar characters, creating their own videos, and sending them out into the world, where they will be seen by many who are not going to go to Washington Square, Los Angeles City Hall, or any other site of occupation.

This is protest media designed to spread through social networks -- one which has the homemade qualities of the DIY movements of the past (thus, as Trope and Swartz note, the cardboard signs), the high tech qualities of digital activism, and the playful engagement of fan activism, all rolled into one heady combination. These tactics are not without their contradictions -- Trope and Swartz note that the Guy Fawkes masks, inspired by Alan Moore's V for Vendetta and now symbols of the Anonymous movement, are based on IP owned by Warner Communications who profits for everyone sold in this country.

But, it does seem to reflect the way we are conducting politics in the early 21st century. We saw some of these same images "test marketed" as it were during the pro-labor protests in Madison, as Jonathan Gray noted a while back, and we are seeing these tactics play out on an even bigger stage with Occupy.

There are many other aspects of the Occupy movement we recognize from our ongoing research. More and more contemporary political movements are decentralized, claiming loose affiliations with each other, yet playing out on very local levels, often with significant differences between the various chapters. This approach has proven highly effective for the Dream Activists, for example, where the struggle shifted from Federal to State and Local levels when Congress failed to pass the national Dream Act. These activists have tapped into social networking tools in order to be able to quickly learn from each other, allowing images, messages, and tactics to evolve rapidly. If traditional immigrant rights groups tended to observe ethnic, racial, and national boundaries, these young people have formed coalitions across different immigrant populations, and something similar is going on with Occupy, where many different ideological interests are organizing around the shared frame which Occupy offers.

These groups are refusing to create a simple unified message of the kind that are familiar from "disciplined," hierarchical, and established political movements. Rather, they seek to multiply the messages and to expand the range of different media framings so that they may speak to a broader range of different participants. No one piece of media reaches everyone; rather, media is produced quickly and cheaply and spread widely so that each piece of media produced may speak to a different set of followers.

As Sasha Costanza-Chock, a recent transplant from USC to MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program, wrote in his thesis about the Los Angeles Immigrant Rights Movement:

Effective transmedia organizers are shifting from speaking for movements to speaking with them. Transmedia mobilization thus marks a transition in the role of movement communicators from content creation to aggregation, curation, remix and circulation of rich media texts through networked movement formations. Those movement formations that embrace the decentralization of the movement voice can reap great rewards, while those that attempt to maintain top down control of movement communication practices risk losing credibility.

Occupy, if anything, pushes tactics of transmedia mobilization even further. Refusing to anchor a singular meaning behind the movement keeps the conversations alive, allows for more people to join and help reshape the message, enables quick and tactical responses to outside challenges, and supports creative responses from all participants. As they chanted in the 1990s, this is what democracy looks like. Or as Trope and Swartz write, "The Revolution Will Be Hashtagged."

In the case of the Harry Potter Alliance and the Nerdfighters, there has been a move away from single issue activism to create structures that can be quickly deployed in response to a broad range of concerns and participatory structures that allow local chapters or even individual members to identify and take action around their own issues.

All of this can be confusing to media that keeps looking for the one cause, the one message, and the one spokesperson. Such efforts also compound some of the division within academic thought, since the message of Occupy seems to come from the realm of Critical Studies and Political Economy, where-as much of the tactics and imagery reflect the domains of Cultural Studies.

All of this suggests that we need to rethink the ways we've discussed the relations between politics and culture in the past. That's a central goal of the Civic Paths research group and we invite others to join us in researching not simply the Occupy movement but the ways it illustrates the nature of political engagement in a networked culture. We'd welcome hearing about what other research groups are doing to document and analyze the Occupy protests in their local areas.

"What Is Civic Media" Revisited: A Conversation with John Palfrey (Part Two)

JP: One of the tensions that emerged from my interviewing was around this issue (broadly) of what community means. It operated as a tension on various levels. One was a sense among the staff that they weren't quite sure what Knight Foundation had in mind about where to focus: locally near Boston, around the US, abroad. (I'm sure that Ethan Zuckerman's focus in his own work will have an impact on future thinking in this regard.) Another hard question related to the term "communities": what are they, do they really exist in the ways that paradigmatic examples might suggest, and so forth. I think there's good, hard, conceptual work still to be done about what it means to "meet the information needs of a community" and what empowerment looks like in the C4 model. I love the approach taken so far, and I think it can bear fruit in terms of informing theory, too.

HJ: John, your questions about whether communities exist is a key one which I've struggled with from the start. Benedict Anderson tells us that communities are "imagined" in that no member of a community in practice has regular contact with every other member of the community but they act as if there were strong social ties and a shared identity among this somewhat abstracted group of people.

So, when we talk about doing projects in "communities," what are we talking about? Are we describing an actual group of people who interface regularly with each other? Are we dealing with a population, such as prisoners, who are locked out of the dominant social institutions and yet seek some kind of interface with a community beyond the prison walls? Are we seeking tools, such as Hero Reports, which seek to strengthen the imagined ties between people who pass each other on the subway? Are we seeking to decrease social conflicts or to give people tools to more meaningfully engage with those conflicts, as seems to be the goals for some of Chris's projects?

The mandate for the center assumes that we are working within existing communities, yet often we may be helping to constitute the communities the projects serve by giving them resources through which they may better "imagine" and start to more fully realize the potential ties between them. The range of projects the center has developed so far suggest many different understandings of what a community is and how media relate to communities, though we have a way to go before they/we articulate fully the theoretical implications of this work.

JP: This concept of in fact "constituting" communities by giving them resources is completely fascinating. I think this is one of the common beliefs about the web, in particular: where there are humans who are far-flung in geographic terms, share an interest, find one another through the web, and then work together, have we "constituted" these communities in the process?

An interesting case study might be Global Voices, the signature project that Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon founded and which joins an extraordinary network of citizen journalists and activists around the globe. Was there a GV community before GV? Or was it in fact constituted by the creation of tools, the services, and the passion that went into the founding of GV?

I realize that this is not exactly on point, vis-a-vis much of the existing work of the Center, which has defined much of what it's done in geographic terms, but I wonder if there might be insight there. Diaspora communities, connected by digital media in richer ways, might be another case to consider.

HJ: I am struck by the contrast between the Center's view that civic media may enhance a sense of community among participants and the fears being expressed by political leaders and news media in Great Britain that social media may have contributed to the riots which disrupted community life across England last summer. How might we contrast between these two models for thinking about the impact of new media technologies on community life?

There seems to have been a persistent strand of criticism that new media is leading to greater social isolation, that it is inspiring anti-social behavior, that it contributes to the disintegration of traditional civic associations, etc. In what ways can we see what the Center has done as an effort not simply to question those claims on a theoretical level but also to demonstrate on a practical level how new media can be used in the service of strengthening social ties?

JP: This too is a tension worth exploring in my view. I've had the Arab Spring uprisings alongside the riots in the United Kingdom in my head. In terms of our reaction to these two events, why do leaders like the Prime Minister in the UK on the one hand say that we should be studying the Egyptian marches in our schools, while raising the specter of restricting social media use when people take to the streets in his hometown?

OK, so the politics of the situation are obvious; also, there are ways to distinguish the two types of uprising. But the core problem remains the same: it's dangerous for us to make any assumptions about how a given "community" will use digital media tools in any given circumstance. They may have a salutary effect on one day, and a disruptive one on the next -- if your perspective if law-and-order. And from a social fabric perspective, we ought to note the possibilities for multiple outcomes as well, as you note.

HJ: I am struck in your report by some comments which Chris makes about "disruptive technologies" rather than "gradual change." And that points to another creative friction that shaped the early days of the Center. It's not clear that we would have agreed about the model of social change underlying our work.

Chris, certainly, embraces disruptive uses of technology, yet there is also an argument to be made for the use of civic media as a way of sustaining traditional institutions and practices, of maintaining social ties, which are being disrupted by other forces in contemporary life. This is not necessarily conservative in a political sense, but it may be conservative in the sense that it seeks to protect something vital in our communities which is being threatened by changes that are not under the control of community members.

For example, I used to talk about town pageants as an old civic ritual which connected current residents of a town to their past -- and not simply on the level of representing their history. If the same pageant is performed year after year, there is a social sharing across generations that take place - shared memories, even shared identities (as people feel close to others who have played the same character in the performance). We don't have such rituals any more and so it is easy for people to lose sense of their own history or to feel disconnected across generations. I wondered what the contemporary equivalent of a town pageant might look like. And I am not sure whether this line of inquiry has born fruit yet in terms of the projects the Center has developed.

JP: I like the connection around the word "disruption" between these various points. Of course, I was most influenced by what I heard from those in the Center as of the end of 2010 and start of 2011, so Chris's approach was dominant in the discourse and in the shape of the projects that I observed. I don't think that means that the questions you posed have been asked and answered yet; they seem to me still out there for exploration.

HJ: Bringing on Ethan Zuckerman as the new Director of the Center almost certainly means a further expansion of our notion of community -- one which moves the Center much more decisively towards global interventions and pushes it further from a focus on its own backyard. There will be radically different conceptions of community life at play as we deal with national contexts radically different from the U.S.A. and where we will encounter a different set of challenges to community life.

A central concern across such projects should be with who gets to participate, who gets to be a member of a community, given that all communities exclude as well as include, and given that access to and familarity with technologies are a central dividing line in our culture. As I sign off, I want to press the Center to remain attentive to the digital divide and the participation gap and to use technologies as a means of bridging between sectors of communities.

JP: And as I sign off: thanks so much to everyone in the Center's community for letting me and Catherine Bracy go so deep into your work. It was fascinating. Plainly, what you are doing -- regardless of whether it is disruptive or gradual, local or international, place-based or virtual -- is so very important to the future of our culture and societies. And thanks, Henry, for the chance to reflect together on this great set of issues. You always push me in my thinking (your critique of the digital natives frame comes to mind, among many other examples) and I consider myself lucky to be able to learn from what you say and do.

John Palfrey is a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, vice dean for library and information resources, and the Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He led a reorganization of the Harvard Law School Library in 2009. He is a principal investigator on the Open Net Initiative, a collaboration between Harvard and the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge that studies the Internet filtering of countries such as China, Iran, and Singapore, among many others He is co-author or editor of several books, including Access Denied (MIT Press, 2008), Access Controlled (MIT Press, 2010), and Born Digital (Basic Books, 2008).

"What Is Civic Media" Revisited: A Conversation with Harvard's John Palfrey

Henry Jenkins: On September 20 2007, we officially launched the MIT Center for the Future of Civic Media, a joint venture of the Media Lab and the Comparative Media Studies Program.

Our launching event include myself, Chris Csikzentmihalyi, Mitchell Resnick, Beth Noveck, and Ethan Zuckerman. At the time, Chris, Mitch and I were the co-directors of the Center. It was announced several months ago that Ethan Zuckerman would now be taking over the leadership of the lab starting this fall, and a review of the first four years of the Center's research by John Palfrey was made public. I was asked if I would be willing to participate in a conversation about the nature of Civic Media and the work of the Center with Palfrey, which will run on both my blog and the blog for the Center.

As I thought about how to initiate this conversation, I went back to my original blog post about the Center, which asked the core question, "What Is Civic Media?" And this is a question which everyone who has been affiliated with this project continues to ask. My answer at the time was deceptively simple:

Civic media, as I use the term, refers to any use of any medium which fosters or enhances civic engagement. I intend this definition to be as broad and inclusive as possible. Civic media includes but extends well beyond the concept of citizen journalism which is so much in fashion at the moment.

I left the Center when I left MIT, though I've continued to do work on civic media through my new post at the University of Southern California.

Here's how I defined the concept of Civic Media at the head of a syllabus of a class I taught last year on this topic:

Civic Media: any use of any technology for the purposes of increasing civic engagement and public participation, enabling the exchange of meaningful information, fostering social connectivity, constructing critical perspectives, insuring transparency and accountability, or strengthening citizen agency.

This much more elaborated definition reflects the conversations which took place through many meetings with the Lab's affiliated faculty, students, and researchers, especially through the exchanges I had with Ellen Hume, who was for a time the Research Director at the Lab, and Colleen Kamen, a CMS graduate student whom we asked to help think through our vision of civic media. It also has emerged through my classroom practice at MIT and now USC and more recently, my involvement in a MacArthur Research Hub focused on better understanding youth, new media, and participatory politics. For a rich snapshot of our early attempts to define "civic media," check out the series of videos at the Center's homepage.

What the two definitions share is the idea that civic media is not simply citizen journalism, a framing which seems to limit the kinds of community practices we are describing and the ways they meet the information needs of communities, to use a phrase the Knight Foundation has been exploring in recent years. Both are technology agnostic -- which is to say any set of practices around any set of technologies can become civic media if it is applied towards certain ends. The more recent definition offers some expanded sense of what those ends are which grows out of a much deeper dive into the literature around the notion of the informed citizen and around participatory politics more broadly.

From the start, I was most interested in understanding how the emergence of new media and participatory practices might be reshaping our understanding of the civic, responding to some of the disruptions of community life which had characterized the second part of the 20th century. It seemed like an important conversation to be having, and it was a key theme which emerged through the early Communication Forum events and conferences hosted by the Center.

John Palfrey: Henry, I think your starting point, pushing on the definitional issue and driving from there, is right on. In my review of the Center's first four years, I worked with a close colleague, Catherine Bracy, to interview as many of the people involved in the Center as we could. Taken as a whole, the overwhelming view of the community was how valuable C4 has been in the lives of individuals involved and also in many of the environments where C4 faculty, staff, fellows, and students have been active.

A secondary finding was a hunger for understanding civic media as a concept. People had plainly been drawn to what you'd set up, even with a nascent definition; I think a lot of participants came to help in the active shaping of what it would become. I like very much your refinement over time. I've found myself, also, puzzling over the definitional issues and enjoying the process of thinking about them.

HJ: There was from the start some, hopefully productive, tension between the Media Lab participants who were strongly invested in the idea that we could design new tools which would be especially conducive to serving civic needs and the bias of the Comparative Media Studies participants who felt that we needed to be more focused on the social and cultural practices by which people integrated those tools into their everyday lives. We used to have heated debates about whether we should build the tools first and then apply them to communities or whether we should start with a deeper understanding of the community's existing practices and needs and then design to serve them better. Such debates are inevitable when working in an interdisciplinary space and could be generative or distracting depending on how well the people involved dealt with them.

JP: Yes! This productive tension jumped out of the review that we did. I think the idea of tempering one approach with another, in a way that made more of whole, is a deeply profound concept. The critical nature of the CMS discipline and the "let's go build it!" nature of the Lab's discipline have a peanut butter-and-chocolate quality to them. I think those debates have been, and can be in the future, extremely textured and important. One question I have is how C4 can tease them out and make them more public than they've been so far, so others of us can share in them somehow.

HJ:From the start, Knight wanted to keep the focus on geographically localized communities rather than more dispersed communities of interest, though we debated among ourselves how easily the two could be separated. For example, as the Center launched we were still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. George Lipsitz had described the working class communities of New Orleans as being "network rich and resource poor," that is to say, very strong social networks had emerged over decades which supported the sustainability of that community and insured the well-being of its members. But the hurricane had disrupted these networks on the ground, scattering the people across the country, and had done so in a way that made it difficult to imagine these communities ever being put back together again in the ways they had once functioned.

So, for me, the question was always whether we could separate out the local community in southern Louisiana from the more dispersed, diasporic community of folks from New Orleans, still strongly identified with that city, now living across the country, once part of strong social networks which they now tapped into via digital and mobile technologies. Surely, any technology-enhanced practice which strengthened the bonds between these communities would be civic media.

John Palfrey is a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, vice dean for library and information resources, and the Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He led a reorganization of the Harvard Law School Library in 2009. He is a principal investigator on the Open Net Initiative, a collaboration between Harvard and the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge that studies the Internet filtering of countries such as China, Iran, and Singapore, among many others He is co-author or editor of several books, including Access Denied (MIT Press, 2008), Access Controlled (MIT Press, 2010), and Born Digital (Basic Books, 2008).

Announcing Futures of Entertainment 5 Conference

Registration Open for Futures of Entertainment 5 By Sam Ford

We're excited to announce that registration has officially opened for our fifth Futures of Entertainment conference, which will begin on 11/11/11. The conference--which will run Nov. 11-12--will be held at the Kirsch Auditorium on the first floor of the Frank Gehry-designed Ray and Maria Stata Center on the campus of MIT in Cambridge, MA.

Full details on the line-up as it stands is below. Registration is available here. Please keep in mind that seats are limited, so--if you plan to attend--register soon.

The Futures of Entertainment conference brings together professionals from academia and the marketing and media industries to discuss how communication between media producers/brands and audiences are changing, and how the nature of storytelling is shifting in a digital era.

On Friday, we will tackle some of the pressing questions and new innovations on the media horizon: new models of media creation and distribution--and challenges/questions related to participation--in a "spreadable media" landscape; new models aimed at representing fan interests in media production; innovations in crowdsourcing for content creation, funding, and distribution; the impact of location-based technologies and services; and privacy concerns raised by these developments. On Saturday, we will look at particular media industries to how these innovations are evolving: serialized storytelling; children's media; nonfiction storytelling; and music.

The conference will run from 8:30 a.m. until 6:45 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a reception scheduled for Friday evening.

On Thursday evening, Nov. 10th, from 5-7, MIT will be hosting an "eve of FoE" Communications Forum event on "Cities and the Future of Entertainment" in the Bartos Theater in MIT's Wiesner Building.

Cities and the Future of Entertainment. Today, new entertainment production cultures are arising around key cities like Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro. What do these changes mean for the international flow of media content? And how does the nature of these cities help shape the entertainment industries they are fostering? At the same time, new means of media production and circulation allow people to produce content from suburban or rural areas. How do these trends co-exist? And what does it mean for the futures of entertainment?

  • Moderator: Maurício Mota (The Alchemists)
  • Panelists: Parmesh Shahani (Godrej Industries, India)
  • Ernie Wilson (University of Southern California)
  • Eduardo Paes (Mayor of Rio de Janeiro)



  • William Uricchio (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Ilya Vedrashko (Hill Holliday)

Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society. How are the shifting relations between media producers and their audiences transforming the concept of meaningful participation? And how do alternative systems for the circulation of media texts pave the way for new production modes, alternative genres of content, and new relationships between producers and audiences? Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green--co-authors of the forthcoming book Spreadable Media--share recent experiments from independent filmmakers, video game designers, comic book creators, and artists and discuss the promises and challenges of models for deeper audience participation with the media industries, setting the stage for the issues covered by the conference.


  • Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California)
  • Sam Ford (Peppercom Strategic Communications)
  • Joshua Green (Undercurrent)

Collaboration? Emerging Models for Audiences to Participate in Entertainment Decision-Making. In an era where fans are lobbying advertisers to keep their favorite shows from being cancelled, advertisers are shunning networks to protest on the fans' behalf and content creators are launching web ventures in conversation with their audiences, there appears to be more opportunity than ever for closer collaboration between content creators and their most ardent fans. What models are being attempted as a way forward, and what can we learn from them? And what challenges exist in pursuing that participation for fans and for creators alike?

  • Moderator: Sheila Seles (Advertising Research Foundation)
  • Panelists: C. Lee Harrington (Miami University)
  • Seung Bak (Dramafever)
  • Jamin Warren (Kill Screen)

Creating with the Crowd: Crowdsourcing for Funding, Producing and Circulating Media Content. Beyond the buzzword and gimmicks using the concept, crowdsourcing is emerging as a new way in which creators are funding media production, inviting audiences into the creation process and exploring new and innovative means of circulating media content. What are some of the innovative projects forging new paths forward, and what can be learned from them? How are attempts at crowdsourcing creating richer media content and greater ownership for fans? And what are the barriers and risks ahead for making these models more prevalent?

  • Moderator: Ana Domb (Almabrands, Chile)
  • Panelists: Mirko Schafer (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
  • Bruno Natal (Queremos, Brazil)
  • Timo Vuorensola (Wreckamovie, Finland)
  • Caitlin Boyle (Film Sprout)

Here We Are Now (Entertain Us): Location, Mobile, and How Data Tells Stories. Location-based services and context-aware technologies are altering the way we encounter our environments and producing enormous volumes of data about where we go, what we do, and how we live and interact. How are these changes transforming the ways we engage with our physical world, and with each other? What kind of stories does the data produce, and what do they tell us about our culture and social behaviors? What opportunities and perils does this information have for businesses and individuals? What are the implications for brands, audiences, content producers, and media companies?

  • Moderator: Xiaochang Li (New York University)
  • Panelists: Germaine Halegoua (University of Kansas)
  • (other two panelists still being confirmed)

At What Cost?: The Privacy Issues that Must Be Considered in a Digital World. The vast range of new experiments to facilitated greater audience participation and more personalized media content bring are often accomplished through much deeper uses of audience data and platforms whose business models are built on the collection and use of data. What privacy issues must be considered beneath the enthusiasm for these new innovations? What are the fault lines beneath the surface of digital entertainment and marketing, and what is the appropriate balance between new modes of communication and communication privacy?

  • Participants: Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard University)
  • Helen Nissenbaum (New York University)



  • Grant McCracken (author of Chief Culture Officer; Culturematic)

The Futures of Serialized Storytelling. New means of digital circulation, audience engagement and fan activism have brought with it a variety of experiments with serialized video storytelling. What can we learn from some of the most compelling emerging ways to tell ongoing stories through online video, cross-platform features and applications and real world engagement? What models for content creation are emerging, and what are the stakes for content creators and audiences alike?

  • Moderator: Laurie Baird (Georgia Tech)
  • Panelists: Matt Locke (Storythings, UK)
  • Steve Coulson (Campfire)
  • Lynn Liccardo (soap opera critic)
  • Denise Mann (University of California-Los Angeles)

The Futures of Children's Media. Children's media has long been an innovator in creating new ways of storytelling. In a digital era, what emerging practices are changing the ways in which stories are being told to children, and what are the challenges unique to children's properties in an online communication environment?

  • Moderator: Sarah Banet-Weiser (University of Southern California)
  • Panelists: Melissa Anelli (The Leaky Cauldron)
  • Michael Levine (Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Sesame Workshop)
  • John Bartlett, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Futures of Nonfiction Storytelling. Digital communication has arguably impacted the lives of journalists more than any other media practitioner. But new platforms and ways of circulating content are providing vast new opportunities for journalists and documentarians. How have--and might--nonfiction storytellers incorporate many of the emerging strategies of transmedia storytelling and audience participation from marketing and entertainment, and what experiments are currently underway that are showing the potential paths forward?

  • Moderator: Ellen McGirt (Fast Company)
  • Panelists: Molly Bingham (photojournalist; founder of ORB)
  • Chris O'Brien (San Jose Mercury News)
  • Patricia Zimmermann (Ithaca College)
  • Lenny Altschuler (Televisa)

The Futures of Music. The music industry is often cited as the horror story that all other entertainment genres might learn from: how the digital era has laid waste to a traditional business model. But what new models for musicians and for the music industry exist in the wake of this paradigm shift, and what can other media industries learn from emerging models of content creation and circulation?

  • Moderator: Nancy Baym (Kansas University)
  • Panelists: Mike King (Berklee College of Music)
  • João Brasil (Brazilian artist)
  • Chuck Fromm (Worship Leader Media)
  • Erin McKeown (musical artist and fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Univeristy)
  • Brian Whitman (The Echo Nest)

"Does This Technology Serve Human Purposes?": A "Necessary Conversation" with Sherry Turkle (Part Two)

In many ways, both of us have been profoundly shaped by our time amongst MIT Students. And you wrote very explicitly about MIT hacker culture in The Second Self. What do you see as the strengths and limitations of MIT as a testing ground for your ideas?

I don't see MIT as a testing ground for my ideas. I would say rather that MIT is the place where my ideas are most challenged because there is a tendency at MIT to want to see human purposes and technological affordances as being one. Technology has purposes; technology is made by people. Technology and people are at one in their purpose.

From my point of view, every technology offers an opportunity for people do ask: "Does this technology serve human purposes?" and this is a wonderful thing because it enables us to ask again what these purposes are. We are well positioned to create technology whose purposes are not in our best interests. And then, it is time to make the corrections.

So, from this point of view, I find that my favorite sentence in my books is "Just because we grew up with the Internet, we think that the Internet is all grown up." From my point of view, this is a distortion of perspective, one that is very common at MIT. From my point of view, we are in early days and it is time to make the corrections.

Perhaps the greatest ongoing difference of opinion I have had with close colleagues at MIT has been about the meaning and prospect of sociable robots. I take a very strong position in Alone Together that nanny-bots and elder-care bots who pretend affection are seductive. And that my research shows that we are vulnerable to them. We are alone with them, yet we feel a faux-intimacy with them.

Indeed, the arc of the book is that with robots, we are alone and feel a new intimacy. In our new mobile connectivity, we are together with each other, and yet experience new solitudes.

I worked on my studies of sociable robots with colleagues at MIT who are some of the most brilliant and creative developers of sociable robotics. We had deeply-felt, serious conversations about the purposes and possibilities of these machines. Some think that their ultimate significance will be profoundly humanistic. I'm listening, but I am not convinced. Conversations with robots about love, sex, children, the arc of a life - in other words, about human meaning - to me, this has no meaning. These are things that the robot has not experienced. These are not appropriate topics for conversations with robots. So, being at MIT has kept me more aware than I would ever have been about the broad differences of opinion in what the purposes of machines can be.

I took you to task, ever so mildly, in my blog a while back about some of your comments about MIT students and multitasking in the Digital Nations documentary. You can see what I said here. I wanted to offer you a chance to respond to my arguments.

I most often run into our disagreement about multi-tasking in the context of parents who say, "Well, is it so bad if I text while my kid is in the kitchen with me; my mom used to do the dishes while I hung around?" Or, "My dad used the read the newspaper when we watched sports on TV; what's the difference between that and my doing my email while I watch sports with my son on Sunday?"

Having interviewed the children who feel abandoned by their parents, who feel almost desperate for parental attention, has led me to do a lot of thinking about the kinds of attention that digital devices require. We don't give them the kind of attention we gave to doodling or to a newspaper or for that matter, to cooking or watching TV. We are drawn in in quite a different way. This is made apparent when I interview teenagers who say things like "When I was little I used to watch Sunday football with my dad and we would talk. Now, he is on his BlackBerry and he is in the 'Zone.' I can't interrupt him." Or, stories, many stories of daughters who come into the kitchen to hang out with their mothers and find them texting and cannot make eye contact with them and who are shushed away. I observe parents and children in the playground with children desperately trying to get their parents attention; parents are absorbed in their devices and cannot "multi-task" attention for their kids.

So, I think that the narratives we use to think about our students multi-tasking in class needs to be informed by the nature of what it is to absorb oneself in digital media. Beyond this, I am persuaded by the research that suggests that when we multi-task, our performance degrades for each task we multi-task, even as we receive a neurochemical reward for our multi-tasking. So, through no fault of our own, our biology has us feeling better and better even as we do worse and worse.

I do think that smitten by what computers enable us to do, we have allowed multi-tasking to seem like a twenty-first century alchemy. I think that classrooms, will soon be in the position of being the places where uni-tasking is taught, places where students learn to concentrate and where, additionally, they learn to cultivate the capacity for solitude.

I think that the two learning skills that are in the most jeopardy in our hyper-connected world are the ability to concentrate on one thing and the capacity for the kind of solitude that replenishes and restores.

I am going to be running a summer-long conversation on this blog about the value of the autobiographical voice in cultural criticism. You have now edited a series of books where people share autobiographical reflections on what you call evocative objects. Can you explain what you mean by evocative objects and what you think is the contributions of these kinds of reflections?

Evocative objects are objects that cause us to reflect on ourselves or on other things. Put otherwise, they give us materials that help us to do this in new and richer ways. Objects can be evocative for many different reasons. Some of these reasons have been widely studied. So, for example, objects that are "betwixt and between" standard categories are classically evocative because they cause us to reflect on the categories themselves. This is why computational objects, standing between mind and not-mind, between the world of the animate and not animate, have been so evocative as objects-to-think-with.

Other evocative objects partake of elements of what Winnicott called "transitional objects." These are objects that blur the boundaries between self and not-self, object that we experience as being in a special, blurred, sometimes fused relation to self. Here, too computational objects have had a special role to play. From the very beginning, people experienced a kind of "mind meld" when using software, saying things such as "When I use Microsoft Word I see my ideas form someplace between my mind and the screen." Now, in talking about always-on-them digital devices, there is an ever greater sense of the device being part of the body.

Evocative objects provide a special window onto life experience, one that is grounded and cannot avoid issues of depth psychology. Science studies, sociology, anthropology have each in their own way welcomed the study of objects but have been hostile to depth psychology. When one pays careful attention to evocative objects, one "hears" psychodynamic issues, one "hears" family history, one "hears" a close attention to personal narrative and the texture of a life in all of its peculiarity and deeply woven interconnections with others. In science studies, studying objects and life narrative has the additional virtue of making the point, which seems to need making for every new generation of students, that technologies are not "just" tools, that our relationships with objects are profoundly interconnected to how we make meaning out of lives and think through who we are as people.

You describe both children and the elderly being drawn to robots as companions. In your discussion of social networking sites, you seem to accept the distinction between digital natives and digital immigrants, implying that generational differences matter in response to those technologies. Do these same differences matter in talking about human relations with robots?

There are of course important differences in how people who grew up with a given technology appropriate it in contrast to those who adopted it in adulthood. But what most fascinates me these days are common vulnerabilities of grownups and younger people, both in the area of communications technology and in the area of sociable robotics. I did many interviews with people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are willing to entertain the idea of a robot that might love them, care for them. But certainly, the sensibility of the "robotic moment," the idea that we are ready for robots that might care for us is most apparent among the young.

Their science fiction and imaginative toy and game worlds suggest to them that robots may soon be in a position to teach people how to love; they have a way of thinking about the nature of aliveness that considers objects with a new pragmatism. That is, previous generations talked about computational objects as "sort of alive" or "kind of alive." This new generation talks of computational objects as "alive enough" to do certain jobs. Robots are thus considered "alive enough" for the job of care and companionship, at the limit, alive for affection.

Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and the founder (2001) and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Professor Turkle received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist.

Professor Turkle is the author of Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution (Basic Books, 1978; MIT Press paper, 1981; second revised edition, Guilford Press, 1992); The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (Simon and Schuster, 1984; Touchstone paper, 1985; second revised edition, MIT Press, 2005); Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (Simon and Schuster, 1995; Touchstone paper, 1997); and Simulation and Its Discontents (MIT Press, 2009). She is the editor of three books about things and thinking, all published by the MIT Press: Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (2007); Falling for Science: Objects in Mind (2008); and The Inner History of Devices (2008). Professor Turkle's most recent book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, published by Basic Books in January 2011.

'Does This Technology Serve Human Purposes?": A "Necessary Conversation" with Sherry Turkle (Part One)

After more than twenty years of living in the heart of the machine, I have concluded that there are two ways of doing humanities at MIT (perhaps anywhere): the first is entrenched and embattled, defending the traditions, from a broom closet, trying to civilize those who see virtue in the technological and who undervalue the cultural; the second is engaged, confronting the technological and demanding that it serve human needs, asking core questions about the nature of our species, and exploring how the cultural and the psychological reasserts itself through those media which we make, in Marshall McLuhan's terms, into extensions of ourselves. There is at MIT no greater advocate for humanistic engagement than Sherry Turkle, whose work on technologies as "second selves," as "evocative objects," as intimate tools and "relational artifacts", the central theme of her work. It has been my joy and honor to consider Turkle my friend for more than two decades. Our paths crossed too rarely in the years I was in Cambridge, but each time they did, I left the conversation changed by her insights about core questions which shaped both of our work. Here is a video recording of our most recent in-person exchange, a public dialogue about solitude and participation in the digital age, which we conducted at the Scratch conference hosted by our mutual friend, Mitch Resnick, at the MIT Media Lab. It will be clear there that our shifting alignments, sometimes agreeing, but often coming at the world a bit askew to each other, brought out some fresh thinking from both of us.


Sherry Turkle shared with me some years ago the insight that we are both victims of the public's desire for simple answers. No matter what Sherry says, which is often layered and sometimes paradoxical, about the complexity of human's relations with technology, there will be those who see her as too pessimistic and no matter what I say, people are going to see me as too celebratory. In both cases, at the heart of our work is the desire to "complicate" our understanding of technological change through a focus on core human experiences.

I was reminded of her statement when I saw the response to her most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other. Critics and supporters alike tended to read the book as a diatribe against new media and as thus a turning of her back on the work of many at MIT who stress the ways new tools are expanding rather than constraining human potentials. Many wrote to ask me what I thought of the book, often with the expectation that we were fundamentally at odds with each other.

I should have known better, but I found myself entering the book on the defensive, looking for points of disagreement, and there are certainly some of those as the following exchange will suggest. But, as I read, I found myself struggling to answer the challenges she posed, and finding the book anything but simplistic and one-sided. She is demanding that we all enter a new phase of the "conversation," one which accepts that technological changes are fundamental and unlikely to reverse course, but one which demands that we shape technologies to core human needs and goals rather than the other way around.

This is the great theme which runs across the remarkable interview I am sharing with you this week, resurfacing again and again as she presses beyond simple one-sided perspectives and forces us to address our fundamental "vulnerability" to technological shifts. Do not enter into this interview expecting to disagree with Turkle or to simply reaffirm your own comfortable and well rehearsed arguments. Rather, use her comments to reshape your thinking and to redirect your energies to some of the core struggles of our times. What you will find throughout this discussion is a powerful intellect engaging with the shifting borders between the human and the mechanical, between psychology and technology, and between pessimism and skepticism. As always, I learn so much from reading Turkle's work, even where, or perhaps especially where, we disagree. But, again, I would stress, we disagree far less often than many, ourselves among them, might imagine.

I was struck by one of the very first sentences in the book: "Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies." Can you dissect that evocative phrase a bit for me? In what forms does the proposal take and how do we signal whether or not we accept?

From the earliest days that I came to MIT, struck by the intensity of people's emotional engagement with their objects - and most especially with their computational objects - there were many people, and especially many colleagues, who were highly skeptical of my endeavor. And yet, I am inspired by Winston Churchill's words, who said, before McCluhan rephrased: "We make our buildings, and in turn, our buildings make and shape us." We make our technologies, and our technologies make and shape us. The technologies I study, the technologies of communication, are identity technologies. I think of them as intimate machines. They are not only, as the computer has always been, mirrors of our mind; they are now the places where the shape and dimensions of our relationship are sculpted.

I think of the technological devices as having an inner history. That inner history is how they shape our relationships with them and our relationships with each other. Another way to think of this is in terms of technological affordance and human vulnerability. Technologies have certain psychological affordances, they make certain psychological offers. We are vulnerable to many of these. There is an intricate play between what technology offers and what we, vulnerable, often struggle to refuse.

There would have been a time when technology was understood as the opposite of intimate -- as something cold, impersonal, mechanical, and industrial. In a sense your three books have mapped the process by which we have come to embrace technology as intimate. What factors has led to this shift in our relationships to technology?

I think there are two ways of answering your question. The first is to say that technology has never been cold, impersonal, and industrial. We simply chose to understand it that way. Technology has always had a role in shaping the inner life, the intimate life. The telephone - surely a shaping force in the making and shaping of self. The telegram, the letter, the book.

As a teenager living in Paris in the 1960s, I remember the telephone being shunned as too "impersonal" - for significant apologies, a request for a meeting, an assignation - it was explained to me that one sent a pneumatique. All the post offices of Paris were connected with pneumatic tubes. One wrote a letter in a sealed envelope. It was picked up at one's apartment and brought to the post, put in the tube, sent to the post office closest to the destinataire's address and hand delivered. The pneumatique had the touch of the hand on the correspondence. This, too, was intimate technology. There was nothing cold about the letter.

Nor was there anything cold about how industrial technologies such as cars and trains shaped our sensibilities, our sense of self, of our sensuality, our possibilities. If we have succumbed to an ideology of technological neutrality that is something that needs to be studied as an independent phenomenon; it is not to be taken as a given.

But there is another way of approaching this question. And that is to say that I do believe that information technology and the digital revolution has changed something fundamental in our way of seeing the world. There is something new in our current circumstance. The computer is a mind machine, not only because it has its own very primitive psychology but because it causes us to reflect upon our own.

From the very beginning, people saw the computer as a "second self" - an extension and reflection of self. The computer seemed much like the psychologist's inkblot test: the computer as Rorschach, a projection of personal concerns. Indeed, I got the title of my first book on the computer culture from a thirteen year old who said, after an experience with computers: "When you work with a computer, you put a little piece of your mind into the computer's mind and you come to see yourself differently." A second self. So, one might say that in a context where I believe that all technologies shape and make us, the computer takes this vocation to a higher power. Or perhaps, one might say, this vocation is a centerpiece of its identity. I think of it as an intimate machine.

This vocation has been heightened in the age of always-on/always-on-you communications devices, which of course are the focus of my current work. They move from being tools or perhaps prosthetics to giving people the sense of being near-cyborg. The devices seem like a phantom limb, so much are they are part of us.

Your discussion of our shifting relations to Robots remains focused primarily on the actual technological devices and the roles they play in our lived experience. Yet surely our shifting understanding of the robotic has also been shaped in profound ways by the cultural imagination. After all, the very term, Robot, emerges from a work of science fiction -- Karel Capek's R.U.R. (1920) and surely our relations with actual robots have been shaped by science fiction representations from Asimov's I Robot and Robbie the Robot and Gort to C3P0 and R2D2. So, what relationship might we posit between the creative imagination and our shifting relations to the robots in our physical surroundings?

This is a very important question for me. I have been tracking the flowering of a genre - there are of course antecedents - but now we have a flowering - of the robot who teaches people to love, and more than this, and crucially, teaches people how to be human. For me, the prototype here is WALL-E. The people have forgotten their sensuality, their capacity for love, their capacity for interconnectedness. It is a robot designed for industrial cleanup who rediscovers all of this, who falls in love and who, transcendent in this capacity, is in a position to teach it to humanity. In fact he saves humanity not just in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense as well.

In Alone Together, I talk about our having reached a "robotic moment." This is not because we have robots who are capable of loving us, but because so many of the people I interviewed say that they are prepared to be loved by a robot. There is no question that imaginative literature and film have been part of this shift. We used to look to machines for physical help. Now we feel we are missing things on an emotional and spiritual dimension and we look to the machine world.

Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and the founder (2001) and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Professor Turkle received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist.

Professor Turkle is the author of Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution (Basic Books, 1978; MIT Press paper, 1981; second revised edition, Guilford Press, 1992); The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (Simon and Schuster, 1984; Touchstone paper, 1985; second revised edition, MIT Press, 2005); Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (Simon and Schuster, 1995; Touchstone paper, 1997); and Simulation and Its Discontents (MIT Press, 2009). She is the editor of three books about things and thinking, all published by the MIT Press: Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (2007); Falling for Science: Objects in Mind (2008); and The Inner History of Devices (2008). Professor Turkle's most recent book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, published by Basic Books in January 2011.